Friday, February 17, 2006



In this essay I offer an unorthodox approach to Wittgenstein. The essay consists in four parts: I. The Enigma, II. The Riddle of the Tractatus, III. Russell and Wittgenstein, IV. Concluding Remarks.


Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is the great enigma of twentieth-century philosophy. Not only were his personality and life enigmatic, but his philosophical work is replete with riddles. And he has been misunderstood and continues to be misunderstood for the curious reason that those who pose as his followers and who monopolize the exposition and interpretation of his thought belong to the school of philosophy whose very foundations he demolished. Analytical philosophers have idolized Ludwig Wittgenstein, not realizing that he is the apostate that discovered the banality and bankruptcy of Analytical Philosophy. But they cannot understand him so long as they are in denial and refuse to see that he is not their champion but their most radical opponent.
Does it not or should it not give pause that a logical treatise, believed to be structured in correct logical form, should be open to so many conflicting interpretations by acknowledged experts? To realize that the Tractatus is open to contradictory interpretations we need not go far. Wittgenstein himself said that Russell's reading of the treatise was riddled with misunderstandings. Perhaps Russell read, or wanted to read, an orthodox version of Logical Analysis into the treatise. What are we to make of Wittgenstein's remark in that case? Would it not mean that the orthodox reading misses the author's intention?
Wittgenstein opens the preface to the Tractatus with the words, "Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it." This emboldens me to spell out my claim that the Tractatus has so far remained an unsolved riddle and that I hold the key to the solution. Wittgenstein's words would be very odd were they meant to preface a logical treatise. Therefore, the Tractatus is not primarily a logical treatise and all who have read it and treated it as such have minsunderstood it, beginning with Bertrand Russell.
But the second paragraph of the preface is deceptive and has, I believe, deceived his Logical Analysis friends — not intentionally, but because Wittgenstein failed to resolve the conflict between his allegiance to the Logical Symbolism instilled in him by Frege and Russell and his 'suppressed' mystic and metaphysical yearnings which continued to torment him like an unacknowledged illicit desire, erupting in the obscurities, inconsistencies and contradictions that baffle mainstream interpretations.
All Wittgenstein scholars have spoken of the mystic strain in the Tractatus. In fact, in the last few pages it is so loudly emphasized that no one could miss it. But they have treated it as an embarrassing non-integral and inexplicable adjunct to the logical substance. On the contrary, I see it as the crowning flower of the logical investigation.
The preface ends with a succinct summing up of the ostensible outcome of the Tractatus: it unassailably and definitively solves all the problems of philosophy only to discover that, in so doing, we end up with nothing.
I claim that my special version of Platonism can throw a ray of light that will render the riddle of the Tractatus intelligible. I will therefore preface this study by some remarks preparing the ground for my unorthodox approach to the problem.
I vaunt an odd affinity between Ludwig Wittgenstein and poor me. In all my writings I have been saying what the advocates of Logical Analysis have said — but with a crucial difference. I have maintained that there is no 'truth' in metaphysical statements, that metaphysical statements are 'nonsense' as defined by the Logical Analysts, but whereas they say it is meaningless nonsense I say that it is not only meaningful but is the profoundest of meaningful speech. Metaphysical statements are oracular utterances giving mythical expression to the reality of creative intelligence, which is our proper reality and the only reality we know. The expression is mythical and therefore can always be falsified, but is meaningful as an inherently intelligible representation of our inner reality.
From Plato onwards philosophers have been like little children spinning fables and fairy tales. Their fables and fairy tales created worlds in which they lived and others could live a life more real than any life possible in the world of hard fact and verifiable truth. But like little children they did not realize, or did not always fully realize, that their fables and fairy tales were products of their own creative minds, until Locke and Hume shook their credulity and Kant groped his way back to the truth that Socrates saw so clearly but that even Plato only waveringly held to. This is the position I have been advancing in all my writings, particularly in Let Us Philosophize (1998) and Plato: An Interpretation (2005).
The youthful Wittgenstein, under the tutelage of Frege and Russell, accepted the Analytical project as the climax of philosophical wisdom. (See, for instance, Tractatus 4.003, 4.06 and 4.112.) Yet he did not rest in the inane answer that metaphysical perplexities can be made to vanish into thin air by unravelling linguistic knots. In the deepest recesses of his mind there was a yearning, not for the truth pursued by the Positivists and the Analysts, but for the alêtheia wooed by Plato, that can only be expressed in myth and metaphor. He discovered the bankruptcy of Logical Analysis and, I claim, was moving towards a position similar to that I outlined in the foregoing lines, but he stopped halfway, and thereby brought about all his difficulties.
Just as Hume took the Empiricist assumptions of Locke to their logical conclusion and proved the impossibility of certain (= apodeictic) knowledge, so Wittgenstein took the premises of Logical Analysis to their logical conclusions and ended up by confessing:
"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, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
"He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.
"What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." (Tractatus, 6.54, 7, tr. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, 1961.)
The mysticism which students of Wittgenstein commonly relegate to his later thought was rooted in the Tractatus. He was too intelligent and too profound to find permanent satisfaction in the thin fare afforded by the assumptions of Logical Analysis to whose seduction he had fallen in the innocence of his youthful enthusiasm for the work of Frege and Russell. When in the Tractatus he spoke of throwing away the ladder and when he enjoined: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" ("What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence"), he was already sensing the rumbling of depths that demanded an expression that cannot be spoken.
Perhaps never since Empedocles has a great thinker's personality and thought been so enigmatic as Wittgenstein's. Academic pundits who would unhesitatingly throw away a dissertation that dared to show any deviation from sanctioned norms and hallowed mainstream views, who disdainfully dismiss Nietzsche's aphorisms and poetic flights, stand in awe before Wittgenstein's obscurities and aphoristic riddles. To them he has become a sacrosanct idol. Wittgenstein must have had some magic spell that he cast over those who come his way. The advocate of Common Sense G. E. Moore could say of Wittgenstein, "He has made me think that what is required for the solution of philosophical problems which baffle me, is a method quite different from any which I have ever used — a method which he himself uses quite successfully, but which I have never been able to understand clearly enough to use it myself."
Wittgenstein came to philosophy by a circuitous route. He studied mechanical engineering; this led him to mathematics, which in turn led him to questions about the foundations of mathematics. These questions were regarded by the Analysts and the Logical Positivists as properly philosophical, or possibly as the whole of philosophy. Even though Wittgenstein seems to have felt throughout his life the pressure of moral and religious questionings, yet at first he seems to have accepted this view, common to Frege, Russell, and the Vienna Circle. Wittgenstein was crippled by their notion of metaphysical nonsense. Carnap could live within the confines of his theory. Frege was first and last a mathematician. Moore was content with his intuition. Russell could skip happily between two isolated worlds. Wittgenstein rebelled and sought to break through the confining fetters. He only half-succeeded.
The Tractatus explores the possibilities of purely logical propositions, and concludes that they are all empty. This is explicitly stated in 5.43 where Wittgenstein states that "all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing." This is the conclusion that drove Wittgenstein to despair, but that the giants of Logical Symbolism, too fond of their nice equations and neat formal structures, refused to acknowledge.
Wittgenstein chooses for motto to the Tractatus the following words extracted from Kürnberger: "… and whatever a man knows, whatever is not mere rumbling and roaring that he has heard, can be said in three words." I venture to supply the three words: ich weiss nichts! (I know nothing), which would seem consistent with Wittgenstein's concluding words: "one must be silent". But twenty-four centuries earlier a man with a clear head and clear vision said, "I know nothing", yet instead of following that with the injunction, "Be silent!", enjoined, "Know thyself!", implying, "for in thyself is all that you know and all you need to know."


The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is architectured on a foundation of seven basic propositions. With the exception of the seventh, which consists of one short oracular sentence, each of the basic propositions is developed in multi-tiered subsidiary propositions. But the seeming perfect structuring of the Tractatus is deceptive. It is not possible to find in it a coherent whole, because, I believe, Wittgenstein was working under conflicting and irreconcilable tensions. If there is a unity in the Tractatus, it is not a unity of structure or system; it is a unity of direction. In my comments below on various propositions, I will be tracing Wittgenstein's reluctant progress – like the man in Plato's allegory being dragged from the darkness of the cave to the vision of the sun – from the darkness of Logical Analysis to the luminosity of mystic insight. (All the quotations below are from the 1961 translation by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness. All emphases shown are in the original.)
The first proposition stipulates: "The world is all that is the case." The six short subsidiary propositions already contain much that is open to different interpretations, such as "The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts" (1.11), and "The facts in logical space are the world" (1.13). But apart from the inescapable vagueness in these propositions, if "The world is all that is the case" implies 'and nothing beside all that is the case', then we have here the empiricist reductionist banning of the subjective and the transcendental.
Thus in the very first sentence of the Tractatus Wittgenstein bans metaphysical philosophizing and in so doing creates for himself the dilemma that tore him apart and continued to tear him apart to the end of his life. By defining the world as "all that is the case", he leaves the philosopher without a world. For a philosopher's proper world, a philosopher's universe of discourse, is not objective and not objectifiable. It is not a world of actualities but a world of meaning, the intelligible realm. That is what Socrates saw clearly when he renounced the investigation of things en tois ergois and decided instead to investigate things en tois logois.
So when at 4.25 Wittgenstein says, "If all true elementary propositions are given, the result is a complete description of the world", I would add: only of the world as already defined, as the sum of all that is the case, the natural world, the world of actualities. There can be no description of reality. There can only be an expression, a projection, a representation of reality in myths that reveal reality. (Reality = transcendent reality, opposed to existence. See my "On What Is Real: An Answer to Quine's 'On What There Is'".)
Proposition 2, "What is the case – a fact – is the existence of states of affairs", together with its subsidiary propositions, suggests that Wittgenstein did not intend his book as a purely logical treatise. Throughout the Tractatus he keeps moving from the logical to the physical, from the cosmological to the metaphysical, without ever setting clear boundaries between these spheres.
At 3 Wittgenstein stipulates: "A logical picture of facts is a thought", which he amplifies in 3.001: "'A state of affairs is thinkable': what this means is that we can picture it to ourselves." But when at 3.03 we read: "Thought can never be of anything illogical, since, if it were, we should have to think illogically", I take this as equivalent to the old Homo mensura of Protagoras, "Man is the measure of all things, of those which are, that they are, and of those which are not, that they are not." But don't we then sacrifice the relation of thought to the outside world? Wittgenstein's thinking on this question remains ambivalent throughout the Tractatus.
Proposition 3.141 reads: "A proposition is not a blend of words. — (Just as a theme in music is not a blend of notes.) A proposition is articulate." I take this to mean that what is real in a proposition is the whole that is irreducible to its constituent elements. And I suspect that Wittgenstein half-meant that, and that when he came to acknowledge to himself what he meant he knew that Logical Analysis was not the way for him.
Proposition 3.3 states: "Only propositions have sense; only in the nexus of a proposition does a name have meaning." This (together with 3.141) may or may not mean the same as what I have been saying again and again in my writings: no single word can by itself and in itself have a fixed meaning. With every use of the word, in every new context in which it is placed, it obtains a special, an original, meaning which is a function of the whole apart from which it has only a schematic sense but not a viable meaning. (I use 'function'. 'sense', etc., naively, not in the technical sense of these terms in mathematical logic.) But if this is what Wittgenstein meant, then it runs counter to the very foundations of Logical Analysis and bares the fundamental fictitiousness of Logical Symolism. That this was, if not in the foreground, at any rate in the backgournd of Wittgenstein's thought, is, to my mind, shown by the fact that in the end he draws the conclusion that "all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing" (5.43).
Wittgenstein says, "No proposition can make a statement about itself, because a propositional sign cannot be contained in itself (that is the whole of the 'theory of types')" (3.332). In commenting on the Third Man Argument in the Parmenides of Plato (see my Plato: An Interpretation, p.37f.) I believe I say much the same thing, albeit without technicality, which gives me as much right as Wittgenstein to declare, "That disposes of Russell's paradox" (3.333).
"What can be shown, cannot be said." (4.1212) If we had to show the complete fatuity of the project of Logical Analysis, this simple sentence would be a fit text. A sentence of exemplary simplicity and clarity — seemingly! Does it have a definite, ascertainable meaning? Anyone who knows English (or whatever natural language in which it may be phrased) would unhesitantly assert that the meaning is clear to her/him. But probe deeper and you will find that everyone has infused it with a special meaning derived from the metaphysics that underlie her/his Weltanschauung. The meaning I find, or put, into these words may or may not be far removed from what Wittgenstein had in mind, but I bet Frege, Russell, Carnap, would have found a very different meaning, or possibly no meaning at all, in this deceptively simple sentence.
Under 5 Wittgenstein not only makes all inference tautologous: "If p follows from q, the sense of 'p' is contained in the sense of 'q'" (5.122), but also repeats the Humean negation of the possibility of certainty in natural science: "There is no possible way of making an inference from the existence of one situation to the existence of another, entirely different situation" (5.135), and again more explicitly: "We cannot infer the events of the future from those of the present. Superstition is nothing but belief in the causal nexus." (5.1361)
(At 5.1362– Wittgenstein evades the problem of the freedom of the will by making one enunciation of the problem senseless, but I do not intend to expand on this here.)
"If the truth of a proposition does not follow from the fact that it is self-evident to us, then its self-evidence in no way justifies our belief in its truth" (5.1363): unless this is taken to be a tortuous way of saying simply that self-evidence is all we need, then it, to my mind, creates a paradox more vacuous than Russell's Paradox. What sense is there in separating the truth of a proposition from the self-evidence of a proposition? To require proof of the self-evident is to create the Third Man and Russell's Paradox all over again. Perhaps that is what Wittgenstein wanted to say, but then the proposition would be badly worded.
When we say, "All truth-functions are results of successive applications to elementary propositions of a finite number of truth-operations" (5.32), we are in danger of taking this to mean that understanding (the word 'truth' is a snare I try to be wary of) in philosophical and in practical matters can be attained by reducing problems to, and deriving conclusions from, simple, elementary propositions. This is the Analytic illusion. It blinds us to the fact that logic and analysis can never be a substitute for creative thinking. It is really inconsistent with the holistic insight that finds expression elsewhere in the Tractatus.
No one needs to study logic to think clearly and consistently. Intelligibility is an aesthetic property. Any normal person can immediately appreciate the validity of coherent thinking. That is the whole point of the mathematical experiment with the slave boy in Plato's Meno. When our politicians trade their deceptions and when we all go our several foolish ways, it is not want of logic but the force of unquestioned prejudices and passively received false value judgements that cause us to err. I see 5.4731 as supportive of this view.
I will not comment at length here on 5.5421 where Wittgenstein affirms that "there is no such thing as the soul", and again that "a composite soul would no longer be a soul." I will only say that there is more than one sense in which what Wittgenstein says is acceptable, but this acceptable sense can easily be turned into gross error. This is also the case with 5.631 on "the subject that thinks or entertains ideas."
Wittgenstein says, "Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt" ("The limits of my language mean the limits of my world") (5.6). This is only true if 'meine Welt' is equated with the objective, the given, world solely. But underneath the objective world and beyond the reach of articulate speech there is the ineffable immediacy of my inner reality. Wittgenstein continues, "Die Logik erfüllt die Welt; die Grenzen der Welt sind auch ihre Grenzen" ("Logic pervades the world: the limits of the world are also its limits" (5.61). Again this is true but only qualifiedly; or maybe it's truer than Wittgenstein intended. Logic pervades the existent, the objective world, and the boundaries of that world are indeed the boundaries and confines of logic: the world comprehends logic, but logic does not comprehend Reality.
When Wittgenstein says, "The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world." (5.632), I see him straining to break the fetters of Logical Analysis and reach beyond. He develops this, albeit cryptically, in 5.633. Like Jacob wrestling with God, Wittgenstein is here wrestling with the Reality that logic cannot comprehend. This is what the Logical Analysts forbade him as Jehovah forbade Adam the fruit of Knowledge. But, like the wise serpent and like daring Eve, he demanded the right to taste of the forbidden fruit. This is perhaps more evident in 5.641 where Wittgenstein speaks of the metaphysical subject.
The enigma of Wittgenstein is that he broke down the bars of the cage in which the Logical Analysts incarcerated him, but was too timid to step beyond the ground of the cage. The enclosing bars were gone and the endless horizon captivated his vision, but he remained put.
It is such a pity that Wittgenstein's mentors taught him that all early philosophy is worthless. Had he read Plato he would have found in him the insight he craved and the liberation he yearned for.
When Wittgenstein at 5.122 said, "If p follows from q, the sense of 'p' is contained in the sense of 'q'", this had inevitably to lead to 6.002 and further to 6.1, "The propositions of logic are tautologies", and 6.11, "Therefore the propositions of logic say nothing. (They are the analytic propositions.)" All of this simply amplifies on "all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing" (5.43).
"The concept of number is simply what is common to all numbers, the general form of a number." (6.022) Whatever be the utility of this for mathematical logic, Wittgenstein was later to say that there is nothing common to a multiplicity of instances (Philosophical Investigations, I. 65). This is philosophically more significant. It is what Socrates showed again and again in his dialectic, but which nobody seems to have grasped: that the idea of a common character is a chimera; definition, except as an ad hoc tool for a specific purpose, is a Holy Grail; an idea is not an Aristotelean abstraction, but a creative pattern, a form, conferring intelligibility and meaning on nebulous givennesses. (See my Plato: An Interpretaion, ch.3, "The Socratic Elenchus".)
I would say that Wittgenstein was groping towards the Socratic insight that all understanding is grounded in the self-evidence of inborn ideas. In the end, we know nothing but Socrates' foolish "It is by Beauty tha all things beautiful are beautiful". That is understanding and there is no understanding other than that. All the descriptions, all the factual reports, of natural science, all the equations of mathematics, give us usable information, but not understanding. That is the insight revealed in Socrates' declaration that he does not seek aitiai in nature but in ideas; ideas are for him the only and the sufficient aitiai: not en tois ergois but en tois logois he seeks and finds understanding.
Proposition 6.3 asserts: "The exploration of logic means the exploration of everything that is subject to law. And outside logic everything is accidental." That is the bold assumption that is the foundation of Logical Analysis. It falsely excludes the possibility of metaphysics. Outside logic everything is NOT accidental. Outside logic is the intelligibility, the rational sufficiency, of creative affirmation. That a wholesome soul is the proper excellence of a human being (the one credo Socrates lived by, lived for, and died for) does not follow logically from any premise, but it generates logically all the judgements that give meaning and value to human life.
Proposition 6.371, "The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena", should be taken together with 6.341, 6.342, and 6.372. Here we have a conception of natural science and scientific knowledge that neither scientists nor professional philosophers have yet absorbed, but it would take us beyond our present task to expand on this.
The obscurity of 6.41 requires an articulate metaphysical background to illumine it. "The sense of the world must lie outside the world. … in it no value exists … If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case. …" Here we see Wittgenstein reaching out for the transcendent Reality that Logical Analysts deny.
Yet Wittgenstein is unable to break through his Analytical presuppositions. "So too it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics. Propositions can express nothing that is higher" (6.42). This is the prison in which Carnap and Frege and Russell imprisoned Wittgenstein and which he refused to escape even when he had demolished its walls. Once the postulate "In a proposition a thought finds an expression that can be perceived by the senses" (3.1) is accepted, once it is accepted that propositions relate to nothing but what is the case, then of course "it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics." Ethical statements have no factual content, do not relate to existents; they relate to realities that do not 'exist' but have their being in the intelligible realm that is bred in and by the mind. Had Wittgenstein studied Plato, he would have found the answer to his puzzlement. (See my "The Rationality of Socrates' Moral Philosophy", incorporated in Plato: An Interpretation as chapter 2.)
When I see the perplexity in 6.4312 (on immortality) I cannot help remarking, what a pity it is that Wittgenstein's mentors deprived him of the possibility of treating metaphysical questions metaphysically. The Analysts may applaud this and similar propositions in the Tractatus, thinking these bare the nonsensicality of such questions. They do not see that Wittgenstein here is struggling against the sterility of the meaningless and valueless world of facts to which Logical Analysis restricted him.
"How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world." (6.432) Let me dress this in different garb. The natural world does not disclose ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is a creation of the mind, a fiction if you will, but a fiction that gives our life meaning and value. We created God, but God is not therefore an illusion; God is the reality we live when we live a properly human life on the spiritual plane.
"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." (6.44) Here again I will permit myself to give my own version of this. The ultimate mystery of being is the ultimate irrationality of reality. Pace Parmenides and Hegel, ultimately reality is not rational but beyond reason, as Plato, of all philosophers, clearly saw. (Republic, 508e-509a.) Only the great mystics shared this insight with Plato. That my interpretation does not radically falsify Wittgenstein's position can be seen from 6.45 where he says, "To view the world sub specie aeterni is to view it as a whole — a limited whole. Feeling the world as a limited whole — it is this that is mystical." This is Parmenides and Spinoza in one.
Shocked at his heretical blasphemy against the religion of Logical Analysis, Wittgenstein utters a formal recantation of his heretical mysticism in 6.5 — but it is more of a recantation after the manner of Galileo's "E pur si muove".
In 6.52 and 6.521 Wittgenstein is vainly trying to escape committing himself to mysticism or to metaphysics by resorting to the vanishing trick. What cannot be given a logical answer cannot even be asked logically. Therefore there is no problem. But the problem does not recognize the authority of his logic and obstinately goes on nagging in his mind. But when we read, "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical" (6.522), we realize that Wittgenstein could never shed his mysticism.
The wavering is clearly evident in 6.53. Here Wittgenstein was clearly fooling himself or fooling his mentors. He was repeating by rote what they had taught him. But had he been convinced by this, satisfied with this, he would not have been so much subject to the seduction of the mystic lure. Analytical philosophers see this proposition as the statement of his final position and conveniently brush his mystic fumblings under the carpet.
Proposition 6.54, which has been quoted and commented on by every commentator on Wittgenstein, has not, to my mind, been so much as half understood. The first paragraph of this proposition is the epitome of the whole Tractatus and to comment on it would be to repeat all that I have been saying above. But in the one-sentence second paragraph: "He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright", I detect a cryptic message. While Analytical philosophers might take the words "then he will see the world aright" as meaning: then he will see the world 'scientifically', 'logically', I connect these words with 6.522 "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical", and take them to mean that only in the mystical vision do we "see the world aright". This is the profound meaning that Bertrand Russell in his logical reduction of Wittgenstein's mysticism squanders, and in the wake of Russell all Analytical philosophers.
Wittgenstein concludes with the agonized cry, "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen", ("What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence") (7). The whole of my essay is my comment on this one sentence.


To show how Analytical philosophers have failed to understand Wittgenstein I will concentrate on one thinker — one who was best placed to know Wittgenstein's thought, Bertrand Russell.
Russell's first impression of the young Wittgenstein was summed up in the words: "obstinate and perverse, but I think not stupid". Not much later on he was saying, "Perhaps he will do great things. I love him and feel he will solve the problems I am too old to solve." That was too fond a dream for Russell to give up easily. (In fact Russell survived Wittgenstein by almost two decades.)
Between 1911 and 1913 Wittgenstein engaged in conversations with Russell on the foundations of logic. Between 1914-1916, during the years of WWI, he completed drafting the Tractatus. Then, "very soon after the Armistice, while he was still a prisoner at Monte Cassino", Wittgenstein sent Russell the typescript, as Russell wrote in My Philosophical Development (1959).
By the time he wrote the Tractatus, Wittgenstein had already discovered the vacuity of Analytical philosophy. But Russell was so eager to see in young Ludwig the disciple that would carry on the master's work that he was blinded to the radical discrepancy between his approach and Wittgenstein's. The disciple was already an apostate when Russell was penning the laudatory introduction to the thin volume that was seen as the Gospel of the new philosophy. Nobody seems to have realized that the Gospel was blasphemous. The explosive oppositions between Wittgenstein's preface and Russell's introduction to the Tractatus could only be hidden by a strong mental prejudice. They were not so hidden to Wittgenstein.
In 1959, thirty-seven years after Bertrand Russell had written his introduction to the Tractatus and when Wittgenstein had been eight years dead, Russell included in his My Philosophical Development a chapter entitled "The Impact of Wittgenstein" and also discussed his relations with Wittgenstein elsewhere in the book, particularly in the final chapter, "Some Replies to Criticism".
Russell says, "Wittgenstein's doctrines influenced me profoundly. I have come to think that on many points I went too far in agreeing with him …" (p.83). From first to last Russell saw nothing in the Tractatus and understood nothing of it beyond its contributions to the theory of mathematical logic.
We see this unmistakably when Russell continues, "Wittgenstein's impact upon me came in two waves: the first of these was before the First World War; the second was immediately after the War when he sent me his manuscript of the Tractatus. His later doctrines, as they appear in his Philosophical Investigations, have not influenced me at all" (p.83).
Russell goes on to say, "I do not feel sure that, either then [before WWI] or later, the views which I believed myself to have derived from him were in fact his views. He always vehemently repudiated expositions of his doctrines by others, even when those others were ardent disciples" (pp.83-84). I think this is only understandable if the doctrines concerned related to the extra-logical aspects of Wittgenstein's thought. Part of Wittgenstein's tragedy was that he felt he was misunderstood — he was a voice crying in the wilderness.
Earlier, in the opening sentence of his introduction to the youthful work, Russell had affirmed that the Tractatus "certainly deserves, by its breadth and scope and profundity, to be considered an important event in the philosophical world." This testimony is preceded by the words, "whether or not it prove to give the ultimate truth on the matters with which it deals", which implies that Russell, when he wrote this, believed that 'the ultimate truth' on such matters is within our reach. Thus the first sentence contradicts Wittgenstein's conclusion, that all logic is tautological and outside logic there is nothing we can put in words.
Russell continues, "Starting from the principles of Symbolism and the relations which are necessary between words and things in any language, it applies the result of this inquiry to various departments of traditional philosophy, showing in each case how traditional philosophy and traditional solutions arise out of ignorance of the principles of Symbolism and out of misuse of language." Clearly, Russell chose to read the Tractatus as an initial, excusably faltering exercise by the bright pupil who will carry on the work of the master. He did not see that the Tractatus was the outburst of a deep spiritual crisis, the shriek of a soul that felt suffocated in the vacuum of Logical Symbolism, desperately yearning for a Reality beyond the reach of mathematical logic.
Next Russell writes, "The logical structure of propositions and the nature of logical inference are first dealt with. Thence we pass successively to Theory of Knowledge, Principles of Physics, Ethics, and finally the Mystical (das Mystische)" (pp.ix-x). This is part of the misunderstanding of the purpose of the Tractatus. Wittgenstein brings in Physics, Ethics, and the Mystical, not to deal with their principles but only to say that these fall outside the jurisdiction of logic. One feels that Russell, in surveying the contents of the Tractatus, is setting out problems he is concerned with, not the problems that Wittgenstein is addressing.
Russell then writes, "That which has to be in common between the sentence and the fact cannot, so he contends, be itself in turn said in language. It can, in his phraseology, only be shown, not said, for whatever we may say will still need to have the same structure" (p.x). In saying this, I believe, Russell misses completely the point of Wittgenstein's criticism of Russell's theory of Types. Analytical philosophers have to this day failed to grasp the point of Wittgenstein's criticism. (See Tractatus 3.331, 3.332, 3.333.)
Russell also completely misses the profounder meaning of 6.41. His discussion (or exposition) of Wittgenstein's "limitation of logic to things within the world as opposed to the world as a whole" and of Wittgenstein's "somewhat curious discussion of Solipsism" (pp.xvi-xviii) reduces Wittgenstein's insights to a logical formality. Again, Russell's treatment of Wittgenstein's "attitude towards the mystical" (pp.xx-xxi) clearly shows Russell's congenital incapacity for the metaphysical.
The penultimate paragraph of the introduction (concerning 'the problem of generality') not only shows Russell's failure to understand Wittgenstein's criticism of the theory of Types, but the final sentence of this paragraph reveals a gross error in understanding Wittgenstein's "So one cannot say, for example, 'There are objects, as one might say, 'There are books'", which Russell curiously confounds with the problem of 'totality' (4.1272). The impassable gap between the two approaches comes out clearly in Russell's later discussion of the problem and is congealed in a curious incident which Russell relates in My Philosophical Development, which deserves close attention:
"There is another point of very considerable importance, and that is that Wittgenstein will not permit any statement about all the things in the world. [Russell here explains the Principia Mathematica definition of totality.] Wittgenstein … says that such a proposition as 'there are more than three things in the world' is meaningless. When I was discussing the Tractatus with him at The Hague in 1919, I had before me a sheet of white paper and I made on it three blobs of ink. I besought him to admit that, since there were these three blobs, there must be at least three things in the world; but he refused, resolutely. He would admit that there were three blobs on the page, because that was a finite assertion, but he would not admit that anything at all could be said about the world as a whole. This was connected with his mysticism, but was justified by his refusal to admit identity." (p.86.)
That two of the most brilliant intellects of the twentieth century should fail to come to an understanding on such a point must surely give us pause. It brings into question the whole nature of philosophical thinking and of thinking in general. It also makes it seem arrogant for anyone to try to resolve the dispute. But try we must. I will approach the problem from two different angles.
a) Wittgenstein will readily admit that there are three blobs on the page. This is a statement that relates to particular existents in a particular region of space-time. It relates to the given world. Now, the given, the empirical, is for Russell all that there is and all that we can think of; for Wittgenstein it is all we can speak of. When Russell says, 'there must be at least three things in the world', he is thinking of the sum of actual things in the actual world, whcih is all there is for him, but for Wittgenstein this statement relates to the Whole, not the sum of actual existents but the transcendent One. To borrow theological language, this statement relates to the world as it might be for God.
b) We can speak of three things existing for us. But there is no Three in the world. Three is an idea, a creation of the mind, that gives intelligibility to some part of our experience. Not only we cannot say that Three exists in the world but also it is only for practical purposes that we can speak of numbered things in the world; philosophically, this is not admissible.
The final paragraph of the introduction compounds a new version of the theory of Types, a hierarchy of successive higher languages ad infinitum, with a 'logical' sophism abolishing "the supposed sphere of the mystical". Russell refuses to see that there is no escape "from Mr Wittgenstein's conclusions". In My Philosophical Development (p. 85) he again refers to this 'solution' that he believes "disposes of Wittgenstein's mysticism". Russell errs on two counts. First, his 'solution' simply recreates his famous Paradox and its lame formal solution in the theory of Types. Secondly, his 'solution' obliterates the profound metaphysical insight in Wittgenstein's mysticism, reducing it to a logical technicality. No wonder Wittgenstein was unhappy with Russell's introduction, complaining that it was riddled with misunderstandings.
The concept of logical atomism, crucial for Analytical philosophy, was introducedt by Wittgenstein in his doctrine of atomic facts and was immediately adopted by Russell, but it was already implicit in the Analytical approach and in the doctrines of Frege and of the Principia Mathematica, and in truth goes back to Leibniz' monadism and his dream of a perfect language.
In My Philosophical Development Russell refers to the principle of atomicity, quoting Tractatus 2.0201, then continues:
"This principle may be taken as embodying the belief in analysis. At the time when Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus he believed (what, I understand, he came later to disbelieve) that the world consists of a number of simples with various properties and relations. The simple properties and simple relations of simples are 'atomic facts' and the assertions of them are 'atomic propositions'. The gist of the principle is that, if you knew all atomic facts and also knew that they were all, you would be in a position to infer all other true propositions by logic alone" (p.88).
Russell then branches into discussing "important difficulties that arise in connection with this principle". What concerns me here is that in the lines I have quoted Russell acknowledges that Wittgenstein came to discard the whole rationale of Logical Analysis. I would only add that this rejection was already inherent in the Tractatus. In Russell's own words, "Wittgenstein announces aphorisms and leaves the reader to estimate their profundity as best he may. Some of his aphorisms, taken literally, are scarcely compatible with the existence of symbolic logic" (p.93).
This comes out more clearly in Chapter 14, "Universals and Particulars and Names", where Russell says, "At one time, Wittgenstein agreed with me in thinking that a logical language would be useful in philosophy, and I attributed this view to him in the introduction which I wrote to his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Unfortunately, by this time, he had not only abandoned the view, but had apparently forgotten that he ever held it. What I said about it therefore appeared to him as a misrepresentation" (p.123). Russell here puts his finger on the root of the discord between him and Wittgenstein: two opposed conceptions of philosophy. I think Russell is justified in saying that Wittgenstein at one time had agreed with him, for that was what he had been taught by Frege and Russell himself. But by the time he had completed the Tractatus, Wittgenstein had discovered that a logical language tells us nothing of substance, that "all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing." Wittgenstein was justified in saying that Russell failed to see this and consequently misrepresented his position in the introduction to the Tractatus.
Russell remarks that Wittgenstein made the doctrine of structure "the basis of a curious kind of logical mysticism" (pp.84-85). From the explication he appends, it is clear that Russell saw nothing of Wittgenstein's mysticism beyond the inexpressibility of the logical form. To my mind, for Wittgenstein this logical mystery was an analogy for a profounder metaphysical mystery, the mystery of transcendent reality. I may be mistaken. I may be reading my own metaphysics into Wittgenstein's words, for Wittgenstein's text is obscure. But if Wittgenstein meant no more than Russell saw in his words, then how explain the spiritual agony manifest in Wittgenstein's life?
I will not comment on Russell's quarrel with Wittgenstein over the concept of identity and other points of dispute. To do so would involve discussing the nature of logical theory and of theoretical thinking in general. I may some day take this up in a special paper on Russell.
Russell grew increasingly impatient and embittered towards Wittgenstein. "He, himself, as usual, is oracular and emits his opinion as if it were a Czar's ukase, but humbler folk can hardly content themselves with this procedure" (p.88). This is particularly evident in the prefatory passage to Chapter 18 "Some Replies to Criticism", where he lumps him with two men Russell clearly despises: Pascal who "abandoned mathematics for piety" and Tolstoy who "debased himself before the peasants". (Personally, I share Russell's antipathy to Pascal but not to Tolstoy.)
Wittgenstein minus his mysticism would be worth no more than the summary treatment accorded him in Russell's chapter. It is his dark aphorisms, which "taken literally, are scarcely compatible with the existence of symbolic logic", that open up vistas of metaphysical vision beyond the ken of Logical Analysts.


1. Wittgenstein had discovered the barrenness of Logical Analysis and of the tools of Logical Symbolism. When he turned to the analysis of oridinary language, he was turning away from the paucity of logical and semantical abstractions, away from the false dream of Leibniz nursed by Frege and Russell, to the richness inherent in the inescapable imprecision, vagueness, and ambiguity of the language of life.

2. After a period of complete despair of all philosophizing, he sought to find meaning in life and the language of life. Did he think that in this way he would be solving or resolving metaphysical problems, or was he turning away altogether from metaphysical problems?

3. It may be that Wittgenstein, instead of harking to the inner voice that, like Socrates' dream, bade him 'make music', thought that he could find rest from its nagging by convincing himself that the voice was nothing but the reverberation of clumsily structured linguistic formulations. Take the parts of the formulation apart, 'elucidate' the meaning, and the nagging voice is silenced. Wittgenstein, it seems was too much a child of his age to obey the voice within. But he was deluded. He could not possibly find peace that way and remained divided. His investigations into language were doubtless of great value in many fields, not least in the study of human nature, but they did not offer a way out of metaphysical puzzlement.

4. Even though Wittgenstein ceased to be an Analytical philosopher in the manner of Carnap, Moore, or Russell, yet it seems he was not able to escape finally from the presumption of Analytical Philosophy that it is through the analysis of statements or words that we attain truth.

5. In Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein, it seems, discovered the necessary, essential, and fecund vagueness of language (or, as I prefer to say, the fluidity of language). Language performs its vital function – its life-maintaining, life-supporting, life-advancing function – through its vagueness. When language loses its vagueness (albeit only relatively) as in the language of mathematics or chemical formulae, it is no longer a channel in which, through which, life flows, but is an insubstantial schema into which meaningful content must be infused from outside if it is to relate to life.

6. Anyway it seems that Wittgenstein sought to replace the dearth of the world of Logical Analysis and Logical Symbolism with the ideal world embodied in living language with its blurred boundaries ("mit verschwommenen Rändern"), shadowy nooks, confused overlappings and interminglings in which we live and move and have our being, in which alone we have our properly human life.

7. How could our present-day Sophists, our professional philosophers, understand the real point of Wittgenstein's aporia when they have never been able to understand that of the Socratic elenchus? In the dialogues of Plato, Socrates again and again demonstes the impossibility of definition, and our philosophers continue somnambulantly to rehearse the error initiated by Aristotle affirming that Socrates aimed at reaching definitions. Yet Wittgenstein was not Socrates. Socrates knew what he was doing, he led his interlocutors on the hopeless venture of trying to catch the elusive definition – 'Tis here! 'Tis here! 'Tis gone! – to guide them to the pregnant aporia that makes them look for meaning and reality nowhere but within the mind. Socrates saw this puzzlement and the consequent confession of ignorance as a blessing. Wittgenstein too realized the impossibility of definition, but did so in desperation. He knew that in our desperate quest for definition, instead of arriving at 'das Gemeinsam' (what is common) we only discover 'eine Verwandtschaft' (an affinity); he knew that in language "es fliessen ja alle Farben durcheinander" ("all colours flow through one another"): "Und in dieser Lage befindet sich z.B. der, der in der Aesthetik, oder Ethik nach Definitionen sucht, die unseren Begriffen entsprechen." (One who, in aesthetics or ethics for example, seeks definitions tallying with our concepts, finds oneself in this situation.") But instead of seeing, like Socrates, in this seemingly fruitless quest an affirmation of our inner reality, Wittgenstein merely affirms, "Frage dich in dieser Schwierigkeit immer: Wie haben wir denn die Bedeutung dieses Wortes ("gut" z.B.) gelernt? An was für Beispielen; in welchen Sprachspielen? Du wirst dann leichter sehen, dass das Wort eine Familie von Bedeutungen haben muss." ("In this quandary always ask yourself: How then have we learnt the meaning of this word ('good' for example)? Out of what examples? In what language games? You will then see more easily that the word must have a family of meanings.") (Philosophical Investigations, I. 77.) And the sum of his Herculean labours is encapsulated in the tame declaration: "The meaning is the use."

8. Wittgenstein is reported to have said that the point of the Tractatus was ethical. — What did he mean by this? Did he mean that the importance of the Tractatus lay in showing that philosophy, as conceived by Frege and Russell, has nothing of importance or of relevance for human life? Was the 'ethical' message of the Tractatus that about mathematics, and only about mathematics, may we speak, but about all else we must be silent? If so we may conceive Wittgenstein as straining, throughout many years, under this, to him, necessary but unbearable conclusion, until he thought he found there was a way to speak the unspeakable. — No. Wittgenstein never found Plato's answer to the riddle of speaking the unspeakable. Wittgenstein's turning to the investigation of life and language was not a triumphant flight but a pis aller.

9. If metaphysics and morals are nonsense and mathematics without content, how are we to deal rationally with the problems of life? Wittgenstein struggles with this problem until he finds the answer in the philosophy of language — which, as I say, catches only half of the Socratic solution.

10. A word has a social function and a private function, or a social dimension and a private dimension. If a word did not mean roughly the same thing to all people in a certain community there would be no communication. But a word always has different associations, different nuances, for every person.

11. The title Philosophical Investigations is significant. Wittgenstein after having at one time rashly believed that he had put an end to all philosophizing, later on came to see that there was room for philosophical investigation.

12. Wittgenstein came to a view of philosophy as therapy and his own work in Philosophical Investigations has been described as a kind of philosophical therapy. Socrates practised the same 'therapy' in his dialectical discourse, but Socrates, instead of simply clarifying the use of a term, led his interlocutors to realize (if they were alert enough) that it is only in the self-evidence of ideas in their own minds that they can find the meaning of anything, thus emphasizing that our active intelligence is our sole reality and our whole worth.

13. Having discovered the essential barrenness of Logical Analysis, Wittgenstein realized that to arrive at any meaning, to escape the deadly speechlessness of Logical Analysis and Symbolism, to say anything relating to life and the problems of living, we must have recourse to the shadowy, imprecise, fluid language of life. There, as Socrates knew long ago, we cannot reach 'truth' and cannot obtain knowledge but will find meaningfulness and have understanding. Hence while the Tractatus soon exhausts its message and ends by confessing its own nonsensicality, the Investigations propagate, and will keep propagating, endless fruitful problems and perspectives.

14. Wittgenstein's 'meaning as use' is not a theory but an approach, a programme of investigation. He says that in many, though not in all, cases, where we employ the word 'meaning' we can define it by saying that the meaning of a word is simply its use in the language (I. 43). Having relegated all metaphysical inquiry – all examination of ultimate meaning and ultimate principles – to the realm of the unspeakable – he recommends a behaviouristic approach to the socially vital problem of clarifying linguistic transaction and communication. This is as sensible as it is modest. It is the time-honoured approach of the lexicographer.

15. Consistently with this, Wittgenstein's injunction, "Don't think, but look!", as his guiding principle in the investigation of meaning, can be rendered, "Don't theorize, but observe and note." This echoes "What can be shown, cannot be said" (Tractatus, 4.1212).

16. Wittgenstein concludes that we cannot find what is common to all language games or all language and makes them into language or parts of language (I. 65). This is just what Socrates has shown in his elenctic discourses. In vain do we seek to capture the essence, the common character, of a number of instances, in a fixed formula. All language is language not because languages share a common character but because we have created the notion 'language' to assemble these numerous instances in an intelligible whole. Socrates would have us say: It is by Language that all language is language.

17. A philosopher's function is to create notions that extend our universe of discourse or give us new universes of discourse in which our intelligence may roam and live. Wittgenstein's own notions of 'language game', 'family resemblances', etc., are such creative notions.

18. Wittgenstein notes that in tracking the family resemblances of a word we "see a complicated network of resemblances, overlapping and traversing one another" (I. 66). But it is not the difficulty of finding a common character that rules out a finally valid formal definition. No doubt for practical pruposes we can always find good formal definitions — good for a specific purpose. But a formal definition does not reveal meaning. It is only the foolish Socratic beholding of an idea in the mind that reveals meaning.


Blogger gvilhovsky said...

nice work

12:37 PM  
Blogger olo said...

Very interesting. Your concluding remark #10 resembles Simone Weil views (in Letter to P. Perrin,May 15, 1942)

2:14 PM  
Blogger Egw poios said...

i believe that if you didn't climbed the ladder you wouldn't have posted this excellent essay.So i would like to ask if you did climb it...

5:34 PM  

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