Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Wittengenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Trans. C.K. Ogden. New York, NY:
Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1922.

Wittgenstein structures his text around seven propositions and their corresponding sub-propositions, indicated by a series of increasingly specific decimaled numbers. The main focus of the text is to map out a theory of logic predicated upon mathematics that “claims…to have solved all the problems of philosophy” (ix). But within his study on logic, Wittgenstein also explores the manner in which language operates; specifically, the philosopher believes that man “possesses the capacity of constructing languages,” but does not necessarily have “an idea how and what each word means” (37). To wit, man creates the “logical scaffolding” (43) of language, but meaning, or that “which expresses itself in language…cannot [be] express[ed] by language” (53); in fact, language “disguises…thought” (37). Therefore, when constructing a language system, “we can build symbols according to a system” without recourse to the meaning of “single symbols” (115). While meaning may be elusive, one must pay special attention to the internal relationships between and among symbols. Wittengenstein further complicates his notion of language construction when he states that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (117). In this sense, one’s world, or reality, is determined by one’s language, not the other way around. An important proposition derives from this belief: “The thinking, presenting subject; there is no such thing” (119); the subject is absent because it is “the limit of the world” (119) and only what is inside the world can be expressed. Tractatus closes with the philosopher’s admonition to leave behind his writing, or his world, once one has read it because, like all philosophy, it is senseless; therefore, “when [one] has climbed out through [his propositions], on them, over them…[one] must so to speak throw [them] away” (155). But this proposition, of course, is commiserate with the logic of Wittgenstein, in that one’s world, or one’s language, can only be understood by that individual (119). To speak of another’s world is to speak of what one can never comprehend. Fittingly, the seventh proposition, the only one not further enumerated and expounded upon, is: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (155).

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