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A Simpleton's Reading of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


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Posted

1. I admit it. Heidegger is beyond me.

2. One work of philosophy that I've wanted to conquer for a while is Wittgenstein's Tractatus.

3. I'm reading it now.

3.1 The Kindle edition.

4. I'm going to make some brief posts as I go along.

4.1 Feel free to comment, criticise, ridicule etc. as you see fit.

5. I trip-up on the second sentence - proposition 1.1:

"The world is the totality of facts, not of things."

At first, this seemed wrong to me. Surely, things precede facts? On reflection, I think I get it. Things... "things" ... are created when we talk about the world. They are an expression of our categorisation of our experiences. There is nothing to say that our categorisations reflect the actual structure of the world. If we wish, we can come up with alternative categorisations. So facts are all we have. I take it that a fact is something that not only can be true or false, but actually is true. If something cannot be true or false it cannot be a fact. If it could be true but actually is not, then it is not a fact.

Obviously, Wittgenstein is going to go deeper into this and what I just said may be vaporised when he does, but that's the way I see it two sentences in. Equally obviously, a lot's going to hang on those ideas of truth and falsehood; on what they mean and, indeed, on whether they survive at all.

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Posted

The TLP is basically composed of a small number of propositions that are not truly independent (they're contextual, dependent upon one another) and they are elucidated with dozens of additional propositions (1.1 elaborates 1, etc).

Obvious suggestion: Read the entire book at once instead of stopping to review each proposition & you'll save yourself a lot of time.

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Posted

I think you have it about right. Things are determined by facts and our view of what things are in the world may not represent what there really is, since our perceptions may be distorted or in error. More importantly, we are probably supposed to notice that if the world is the totality of all facts then it is itself not a fact.

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Posted (edited)

Peter, if all statements describe possible facts and the totality of these facts is the world, then anything we say about the world, everything that might make it valuable to us, must lie outside the world. The world, in terms of the kind of logic expressed in the proposition, cannot be expressed.

With this reading, the question of significance of the world cannot be raised so long as we are bound within this kind of logic, that is, so long as one is fettered to merely formulating statements about things or events in the world, where the world is conceived solely in terms of a multiplicity of facts. We might even want to refer to the following possible interpretations. One: the question and meaning of the world has already been bracketed from us; two: that the world is unable to be expressed in a set of propositions; and three: that perhaps the world cannot be formulated at all.

I appreciate that this is only one of a number of possible readings, but maybe to get at the world, it shouldn’t be conceived solely in terms of what-content; that the type of logic which reduces the world, its significance and meanings to merely a multiple of whats should be itself questioned, open to critique and possible liquidation.

Edited by soleo
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Posted

SPOILER ALERT! What follows is my interpretation and should be read only after you've finished the entire book.

According to my interpretation, the entire book Tractatus is a dialectic that moves from nonsense to nonsense. Contrary to the Hegelian dialectic, there's no final resolution that includes what was true about all the antecedent theses/antitheses because it bottoms out in complete, utter repudiation, rather than the pie-in-sky Absolute. :whatever:

The Tractatus is a dialectic as long you keep interrogating the book while you read it, and understand with each transitional step is surmounted, each rung stepped up, that the main proposition was nonsense, and admit in the end that the entire book is nonsense.

Conant first came up with this interpretation in Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein & Nonsense, and made out Wittgenstein to be a post-Kierkegaardian, a Kierkegaard for the logicians and epistemologists of the early 20th century. A radical one that causes more sober minded scholars to truly shit bricks, but this is only my interpretation. :lol:

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Posted

There's another interesting position which may arise from this sentence. I've thought about it a little this morning and offer up the following:

One could argue that there are 'things' and 'facts' and that the latter are things given value, given cultural predicates; we lay a function of meaning onto brute things which in their collective make up the world of significance. So, for example, in this game, we have a brute paper-thing with ink-stuff on it, or a brute slab of wood and hole and they are imbued with meaning and taken up as the fact of being money or a door.

This is a valid position and makes up the world of 'science', but could we suggest that it misses another world, a world which is already meaningful, a world already structured in significance which is already there before we are born? As we grow up in the world, when something is encountered, say the door, the chairs or the floor, they already have significance, aleady have an involvement.

This is difficult to put into words, but let's imagiine a little toddler. I'm figuring she does not go about projecting cultural predicates onto the things out there, but discloses the meaning of the things by way of its use. The door, say, is the to go out and the baby's skillful coping, its familiarity of its world, already has an understanding of that door which is - until abstracted and thought about - not a fact, not a value, but does already have a transparent, unreflective, non-factual, unnoticeable, meaning.

And just as importantly, none of this meaning need necessarily be 'in' the mind. It is, for example, the door which draws us to go out, it is the chair which draws us to sit upon, not that we imbue them with a cultural fact like 'that is the to go out' or 'that is the to sit on' and then behave accordingly.

In this way, we can also suspect from the quote that it is assuming the ontology of a self-sufficient subject which is the source of meaning, the thing which melds intentional content onto the things out there, and this itself is another paradigm open to great critique.

Just some thoughts on a morning.

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Posted

Soleo is pitting Heidy against Witty. :)

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Posted

David, FYI:

Rorty interprets Heidegger as an inverted or backward Wittgenstein in which both thinkers passed each other in mid-career, by going in opposite directions.

No question, Being & Time is more enlightened and richer than Tractatus, but Wittgenstein in his later work, after 10 years of holing himself down in the forest away from philosophy, he moved towards pragmatism, and towards radical doubts about philosophy as a provided for knowledge, and to a naturalized & detranscendentalized concept of philosophy as therapy, as techne instead of theoria.

Heidegger, OTOH, moved away from pragmatism, and slipped back into the escapist allure of the Tractatus in order to rediscover "thought," or the same sort of sublimity the early Wittgenstein saw in logic. Despite beginning with doubts of theoria, Heidegger lost his nerve and ended up inventing "thought" as a replacement of metaphysics in which language is an ubiquitous deity within which we exist, and all preceding thought: mere shadows, faint echoes of this superstructure.

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Posted

If it's any help to anyone, I recently found a structured html version of TLP here.

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Posted (edited)

SPOILER ALERT! What follows is my interpretation and should be read only after you've finished the entire book.

According to my interpretation, the entire book Tractatus is a dialectic that moves from nonsense to nonsense. Contrary to the Hegelian dialectic, there's no final resolution that includes what was true about all the antecedent theses/antitheses because it bottoms out in complete, utter repudiation, rather than the pie-in-sky Absolute. :whatever:

It could be argued that it was Wittgenstein's interpretation too, and not just because of the change in his later philosophy. In fact, he overtly states it:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them - as steps - to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throwaway the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright. (TLP 6.54)

Wittgenstein recognised that it was impossible to convert, as he may have termed it in his later philosophy, people to his positivism by simply describing states of affairs, which he (arguably) regarded at that stage as the necessary aspiration of philosophy. He recognised his dilemma. Of course, you know this because it's one of the key passages in the debate as to the extent and manner of his recognition. :) Some people say that it was purposeful nonsense, such that Wittgenstein did not heed his warning not to say what couldn't be spoken of, in order to draw the limit as to what is neither thought nor proposition. As such, there's useful and useless nonsense of some sort.

There are, of course, more radical readings like the one The Heretic refers to. As far as I understand it, it has strength in as much as it does not accuse Wittgenstein of doctrinally advocating the problem it seems evident he is rather exposing. However, I can't help but wonder if we perhaps read too much of history into this account - it's perfectly possible Wittgenstein incidentally, or unconsciously, or half-consciously, revealed the problem he was trying to solve, and we realise it now because he ultimately realised later.

Whatever the case, it is nonsense. ;)

Edited by A Fool Persisting In Folly
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