THE FATE OF ANALYSIS, #10–Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: A Brief Synopsis.

By Robert Hanna


I. Introduction

II. Classical Analytic Philosophy

II.1 What Classical Analytic Philosophy Is: Two Basic Theses

II.2 What Classical Analytic Philosophy Officially Isn’t: Its Conflicted Anti-Kantianism

II.3 Classical Analytic Philosophy Characterized in Simple, Subtler, and Subtlest Ways

II.4 Three Kinds of Analysis: Decompositional, Transformative, and Conceptual

II.5 Frege, The First Founding Father of Classical Analytic Philosophy

II.6 Frege’s Project of (Transformative or Reductive) Analysis

II.7 Frege’s Dead End

II.8 Frege’s Semantics of Sense and Reference, aka Meaning

II.9 Some Biggish Problems For Frege’s Semantics

II.10 Husserl, Logic, and Logical Psychologism, aka LP

II.11 What LP is, and its Three Cardinal Sins

II.12 Husserl’s Three Basic Arguments Against LP

II.13 Has Husserl Begged the Question Against LP? Enter The Logocentric Predicament, and a Husserlian Way Out

II. Moore, Brentano, Husserl, Judgment, Anti-Idealism, and Meinong’s World

III.1 G.E. Moore, the Second Founding Father of Classical Analytic Philosophy

III.2 Brentano on Phenomenology, Mental Phenomena, and Intentionality

III.3 Husserl on Phenomenology and Intentionality

III.4 Moore and the Nature of Judgment

III.5 Moore and the Refutation of Idealism

III.6 Meinong’s World

IV. Russell, Unlimited Logicism, Acquaintance, and Description

IV.1 Russell Beyond Brentano, Husserl, Moore, and Meinong

IV.2 Russell and Mathematical Logic versus Kant

IV.3 Russell’s Unlimited Logicist Project

IV.4 Pursued by Logical Furies: Russell’s Paradox Again

IV.5 Russell’s ‘Fido’-Fido Theory of Meaning

IV.6 Knowledge-by-Acquaintance and Knowledge-by-Description

IV.7 Russell’s Theory of Descriptions

IV.8 Russell’s Multiple-Relation Theory of Judgment

IV.9 Russellian Analysis, Early Wittgenstein, and Impredicativity Again

IV.10 Russell and The Philosophy of Logical Atomism

V. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 1: The Title, and Propositions 1–2.063

V.1 A Brief Synopsis of the Tractatus

V.2 The Tractatus in Context

V.3 The Basic Structure of the Tractatus: A Simple Picture

V.4 Tractarian Ontology

V.5 Reconstructing Wittgenstein’s Reasoning

V.6 What Are the Objects or Things?

V.7 The Role of Logic in Tractarian Ontology

V.8 Colorless Objects/Things

V.9 Tractarian Ontology, Necessity, and Contingency

V.10 Some Initial Worries, and Some Possible Wittgensteinian Counter-Moves

VI. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 2: Propositions 2.013–5.55

VI.1 What is Logical Space? What is Real Space?

VI.2 Atomic Facts Necessarily Are in Manifest or Phenomenal Space, But Objects or Things Themselves Necessarily Aren’t in Manifest or Phenomenal Space

VI.3 Logical Space is Essentially More Comprehensive than Manifest or Phenomenal Space

VI.4 Why There Can’t/Kant Be a Non-Logical World

VI.5 A Worry About Wittgenstein’s Conception of Logic: Non-Classical Logics

VI.6 What is a Tractarian Proposition?

VI.7 Naming Objects or Things, and Picturing Atomic Facts

VI.8 Signs, Symbols, Sense, Truth, and Judgment

VI.9 Propositions Again

VI.10 Language and Thought

VII. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 3: Propositions 4–5.61

VII.1 The Logocentric Predicament, Version 3.0: Justifying Deduction

VII.2 The Logical Form of Deduction

VII.3 Logic Must Take Care of Itself

VII.4 Tautologies and Contradictions

VII.5 What is Logic?

VII.6 Logic is the A Priori Essence of Language

VII.7 Logic is the A Priori Essence of Thought

VII.8 Logic is the A Priori Essence of the World

VIII. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 4: Propositions 5.62–7

VIII.1 Tractarian Solipsism and Tractarian Realism

VIII.2 Tractarian Solipsism

VIII.3 Tractarian Realism

VIII.4 Is the Tractatus’s Point an Ethical One?

VIII.5 The Meaning of Life

VIII.6 Three Basic Worries About the Tractatus

VIII.7 Natural Science and the Worry About the Simplicity of the Objects or Things

VIII.8 Natural Science and the Worry About the Logical Independence of Atomic Facts

VIII.9 Tractarian Mysticism and the Worry About Metaphilosophy

IX. Carnap, The Vienna Circle, Logical Empiricism, and The Great Divide

IX.1 Carnap Before and After the Tractatus

IX.2 Carnap, The Vienna Circle, and The Elimination of Metaphysics

IX.3 The Verifiability Principle and Its Fate

IX.4 The Davos Conference and The Great Divide

X. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 1: Preface, and §§1–27

X.1 From the Tractatus to the Investigations

X.2 The Thesis That Meaning Is Use

X.3 A Map of the Investigations

X.4 The Critique of Pure Reference: What the Builders Did

XI. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 2: §§28–242

XI.1 The Picture Theory and the Vices of Simplicity

XI.2 Wittgenstein’s Argument Against The Picture Theory: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.3 Understanding and Rule-Following

XI.4 Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: The Basic Rationale

XI.5 Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.6 Kripkenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: Why Read Kripke Too?

XI.7 Kripkenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.8 How to Solve The Paradox: Wittgenstein’s Way and Kripkenstein’s Way

XI.8.1 Wittgenstein and The Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.8.2 Kripkenstein and The Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XII. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 3: §§242–315

XII.1 What is a Private Language?

XII.2 The Private Language Argument: A Rational Reconstruction

XII.3 Is Wittgenstein a Behaviorist? No.

XII.4 Wittgenstein on Meanings, Sensations, and Human Mindedness: A Rational Reconstruction

XIII. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 4: §§316–693 & 174e-232e

XIII.1 Linguistic Phenomenology

XIII.2 Two Kinds of Seeing

XIII.3 Experiencing the Meaning of a Word

XIII.4 The Critique of Logical Analysis, and Logic-As-Grammar

XIV. Coda: Wittgenstein and Kantianism

XIV.1 World-Conformity 1: Kant, Transcendental Idealism, and Empirical Realism

XIV.2 World-Conformity 2: Wittgenstein, Transcendental Solipsism, and Pure Realism

XIV.3 World-Conformity 3: To Forms of Life

XIV.4 The Critique of Self-Alienated Philosophy 1: Kant’s Critical Metaphilosophy

XIV.5 The Critique of Self-Alienated Philosophy 2: Wittgensteinian Analysis as Critique

XV. From Quine to Kripke and Analytic Metaphysics: The Adventures of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

XV.1 Two Urban Legends of Post-Empiricism

XV.2 A Very Brief History of The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

XV.3 Why the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction Really Matters

XV.4 Quine’s Critique of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction, and a Meta-Critique

XV.5 Three Dogmas of Post-Quineanism

XVI. Analytic Philosophy and The Ash-Heap of History

XVI.1 Husserl’s Crisis and Our Crisis

XVI.2 Why Hasn’t Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy Produced Any Important Ideas in the Last Thirty-Five Years?

XVI.3 On Irad Kimhi’s Thinking and Being, Or, It’s The End Of Analytic Philosophy As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

XVI.4 Thinking Inside and Outside the Fly-Bottle: The New Poverty of Philosophy and Its Second Copernican Revolution


But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete book HERE.


V. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 1: The Title, and Propositions 1–2.063

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951)

V.1 A Brief Synopsis of the Tractatus

Its English title (in Latin, obviously) was very cleverly suggested by Moore (a former classicist), and clearly plays a riff on the title of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, therefore strongly suggesting both logico-philosophical iconoclasm, as well as Spinoza’s rational mysticism, according to which personal enlightenment or wisdom is being able to see the world sub specie aeternitatis.

Indeed, Wittgenstein’s “logico-philosophical treatise” (Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung) presents a radically new and revolutionary conception of philosophical analysis, according to which —

(i) not only mathematics but also metaphysics reduces to the propositions of logic (including both the truth-functional tautologies and the logico-philosophical truths of the Tractatus itself) together with factual propositions,

(ii) factual propositions and facts alike reduce to logically-structured complexes of ontologically neutral “objects,” which can variously play the structural roles of both particulars and universals (including both properties and relations),

(iii) factual propositions are nothing but linguistic facts that “picture” other facts according to one-to-one isomorphic correspondence relations,

(iv) all non-factual propositions are

either (iva) “senseless” (sinnlos) truth-functional tautologies expressing nothing but the formal meanings and deductive implications of the logical constants,

or (ivb) the logico-philosophical propositions of the Tractatus itself,

or (ivc) “nonsensical” (unsinnig) pseudo-propositions that violate logico-syntactic rules and logico-semantic categories, especially including all the synthetic a priori claims of traditional metaphysics,

(v) the logical constants do not represent facts or refer to objects of any sort (prop. 4.0312) but instead merely “display” (darstellen) the a priori logical “scaffolding of the world” (prop. 6.124), which is also “the limits of my language” (prop. 5.6), and can only be “shown” or non- propositionally indicated, not “said” or propositionally described,

(vi) the logical form of the world is therefore “transcendental” (prop. 6.13), and finally

(vii) the logical form of the world reduces to the language-using metaphysical subject or ego, who or which is not in any way part of the world but in fact solipsistically identical to the world itself.

Looking at theses (v), (vi), and (vii), we can clearly see that Wittgenstein‘s icon-smashing “transcendental” conception of analysis is radically ontologically ascetic, since everything logically reduces to one simple thing: the language-using metaphysical subject or ego.

Indeed, it’s by means of considering theses (v) and (vi) that we can recognize the surprising and often-overlooked but quite indisputable fact that the Tractatus is every bit as much a neo-Kantian idealistic metaphysical treatise directly inspired by Schopenhauer‘s World as Will and Representation (1819/1844/1859), and thereby mediately inspired by Kant‘s first Critique, as it is a logico-philosophical treatise inspired by Frege‘s Begriffsschrift and Whitehead‘s and Russell’s Principia.

Wittgenstein later told G. H. von Wright that “he had read Schopenhauer‘s Die Welt as Wille und Vorstellung in his youth and that his first philosophy was Schopenhauerian epistemological idealism.”[i]

The Schopenhauerian influence is also fully explicit in Wittgenstein‘s Notebooks 1914–1916.[ii]

Indeed, in 1920 Wittgenstein wrote to Frege about “deep grounds for idealism” (tiefen Gründe des Idealismus).[iii]

And in 1931 Wittgenstein wrote that “Boltzmann, Hertz, Schopenhauer, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler, [and] Sraffa have influenced me.”[iv]

So whereas the Moore-powered Russell abandoned or rejected Kant‘s epistemology and metaphysics, Wittgenstein instead assimilated or sublimated them.

And from this standpoint, we can see that the Tractatus is fundamentally an essay in transcendental logic:

The limit of language is shown by its being impossible to describe the fact which corresponds to (is the translation of) a sentence, without simply repeating the sentence. (This has to do with the Kantian solution of the problem of philosophy.)[v]

The Tractatus ends with the strangely moving proposition, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent/Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss mann schweigen (prop. 7) — a proposition that, not altogether coincidentally, is also the single repeated lyric of a bizarrely beautiful song by the bizarrely brilliant Finnish composer and performer M.A. Numminen.

What on earth does this proposition mean?

One possible interpretation, now known as the resolute reading, is that proposition 7 is saying that the Tractatus itself — except for the Preface and proposition 7, that is — is logically and philosophically worthless nonsense.[vi]

So according to the resolute reading, the Tractatus is the self-conscious reductio of classical metaphysics.

But on the contrary, the resolute reading, in effect, confuses the Tractatus with Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.

Both, to be sure, are wonderful books written by brilliant philosophical logicians — but two radically different kinds of book.

More precisely, for Wittgenstein, to say that a proposition is “nonsense” is only to say that it literally does not picture an atomic fact, and also that the proposition is not a contingent (i.e., non-tautological, non-contradictory) truth-function of propositions that picture atomic facts.

This exhausts the domain of what can be “said” in the strict sense.

According to Wittgenstein, by this criterion many seemingly sensible, supposedly intelligible, putatively important philosophical propositions and their contraries alike (e.g., “God exists,” “God doesn’t exist,” “human freedom exists,” “human freedom doesn’t exist,” “the human soul is immortal,” “the human soul isn’t immortal,” etc.) are all shown to be in fact nonsensical, in roughly Carroll‘s sense of a proposition‘s being logically absurd and worthless, end-of-story, even if charmingly amusing in a children‘s book.

Such strings of words do not, properly speaking, belong to any well-ordered logical or natural language.

Correspondingly, in the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein says that

[w]hen we say “Every word in language signifies something” we have so far said nothing whatever; unless we have explained exactly what distinction we want to make. (It might be, of course, that we wanted to distinguish the words of language … from words “without meaning” (ohne Bedeutung) such as occur in Lewis Carroll‘s poems, or words like ‘Lilliburlero’ in songs.) (PI §13)

But according to Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, it’s also the case that many fully intelligible and deeply logically important propositions — or as Kant would have said, “thinkable” — propositions are classified as nonsense by this criterion, along with some other deeply aesthetically or ethically important propositions that silently show things rather than strictly saying them.

The logical, aesthetic, and ethical relevance and value of these propositions is not affected by their shown to be being non-factual, non-scientific, and thus in one sense “nonsensical” propositions.

On the contrary, their logical, aesthetic, or ethical relevance and value is magnified and preserved precisely because these propositions cannot be reductively analyzed in the manner of scientifically meaningful or factual propositions.

In this special sense, the nonsensicality of a given proposition is equivalent to its logical irreducibility and its axiological integrity.

Thus the resolute reading of the Tractatus neither distinguishes between the various crucially different ways in which propositions can be non-factual, nor takes the fundamental saying vs. showing contrast sufficiently seriously.

The main point of the Tractatus is that there are many crucially different kinds of nonsense.

And certain kinds of nonsense are radically more logically, aesthetically, or ethically important than factual meaning itself.

So to collapse the several kinds of nonsense into a single flattened-out logically absurd and worthless kind, full stop, is just to miss that main point.

In this sense, the resolute reading is resolutely jejune.

But most crucially of all, against an explicitly Kantian and Schopenhauerian backdrop, the resolute reading can be neatly avoided, because proposition 7 is then instead in effect saying

(i) that traditional metaphysics has been destroyed by the philosophical logic of the Tractatus just as Kant‘s first Critique had destroyed traditional metaphysics,

(ii) that the logico-philosophical propositions of the Tractatus itself would have counted as absurdly nonsensical in Lewis Carroll‘s sense because they are neither factual propositions nor truth-functional logical truths, were it not for a much deeper fact, namely,

(iii) that these Tractarian propositions are self-manifesting transcendental truths in the Kantian sense about the nature of logic, and therefore have the basic function of constituting a logical stairway or “ladder” (Leiter) to axiological heaven, aka “God,” aka “the highest good,” between the factual natural sciences and aesthetics or ethics, and finally

(v) that ethics consists in the mystical feeling that the world can be viewed sub specie aeternitatis and in decisive, action-guiding, world-changing noncognitive volitions (props. 6.4- 6.522), not propositional thoughts.

So at the end of the Tractatus Wittgenstein logically transcends scientific knowledge in order to reach the ethical standpoint in a Kantian (and also a Spinozan, Pascalian, Kierkegaardian, and more generally Existentialist[vii]) sense.

And this is precisely why, in 1919 — and shortly after he had studied the Critique of Pure Reason carefully for the first time[viii] — Wittgenstein told the journal editor Ludwig von Ficker that “the [Tractatus]‘s point is an ethical one.”[ix]

Kant makes essentially the same radical move in the B edition Preface to the first Critique: “I had to deny [scientific] knowledge (Wissen) in order to make room for [moral] faith (Glaube)” (CPR Bxxx, boldfacing in the original).

Moral faith in the Kantian/Wittgensteinian sense is when we stop cognitively generating all those scientific words, achieve some degree of purity of heart, and silently perform ethical deeds.

(In this connection, recall Goethe’s famous line from Faust, “In the beginning was the Deed,” itself playing a riff on the Bible’s “In the beginning was the Word.”)


[ii] See also R. Brockhaus, Pulling Up the Ladder: The Metaphysical Roots of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1991).

[iii] R. Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (London: Jonathan Cape, 1990), pp. 190 and 605.

[iv] L. Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, trans. P. Winch (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 19e, underlining added.

[v] Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, p. 10e.

[vi] See, e.g., C. Diamond, The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991).

[vii] See, e.g., S. Crowell (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).

[viii] Wittgenstein read the Critique of Pure Reason in 1919 while interned as a POW at Como in Italy. See Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, p. 158.

[ix] As quoted in Brockhaus, Pulling Up the Ladder: The Metaphysical Roots of Wittgenstein‟s Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus, p. 296.


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