[lit-ideas] PI - text and comments - The Preface II

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 17 May 2012 14:07:16 +0100 (BST)

Previously I posted to explain what might otherwise appear
an extraordinary fact – that W leaves the ‘key tenet’ of PI implicit and not
explicit in the text.
This fact was explained on the (quasi-logical) ground that
leaving it implicit avoids the paradoxical character of making it explicit:- if
made explicit, it might appear that W was saying ‘what cannot be said (but only 
Whereas, if left implicit, it is something that may be shown by what is said 
(though not ‘said’ by what is said), without
its presentation having a paradoxical character. Thus PI adopts a more 
way of showing W’s POV than that adopted in TLP.
In addition, in W’s view this implicit ‘key tenet’ would be
understood by the like-minded to whom the book might be of value, and so need
not be ‘said’ to the only audience likely to understand W’s work (those not of
like mind would not properly understand W’s POV, in W’s estimation, even if the
‘key tenet’ were made explicit: after all, though taking the TLP as a signature
text, the Logical Positivists had not properly understood the TLP – by their 
failing to see that what was not explicitly contained
in TLP was more important than what was explicitly contained in TLP, and by 
failing to see that the ‘key tenet’ is the most fundamental aspect of TLP and
not its positivistic ‘doctrine of sense and nonsense’).
These two points were reinforced by the fact that the same
‘key tenet’ underpins TLP and yet is there left (I suggested) ‘largely 
For if W had no qualms – about appearing to say ‘what cannot be said (but only
shown)’ – W might have been explicit about his aims and methods in PI in a way
that would have settled doubts as to the role of the ‘key tenet’. That W did
not do so in PI is made explicable when we consider that in the TLP this ‘key
tenet’ is also not very explicit – because W had similar qualms even earlier. 
Yet the position is even more striking and extraordinary than
this. For it may be put more strongly than that the ‘key tenet’ is left ‘largely
implicit’ in TLP: it may be argued that the ‘key tenet’ is not explicit in TLP
at all but is left implicit in TLP. Indeed, only in the light of extrinsic
evidence (like W’s letter to Russsell) is it clear that the ‘key tenet’ is
implicit in TLP, for W does not explicitly state the ‘key tenet’ in the text or
Preface. If so, the position is even more striking and extraordinary than
previously suggested and further supports the view that the ‘key tenet’ is
implicit in PI: in truth, the ‘key tenet’ is implicit not explicit in both TLP 
and PI. So we find not only a
continuity of ‘doctrine’ between TLP and PI but also continuity in presentation
of that ‘key tenet’ – by way of leaving it implicit.
So by way of clarification:- what, then, is made explicit (and
what is left implicit) in TLP as regards the “truth” of the ‘key tenet’?
What, in TLP, is not explicitly stated is that ‘every
proposition in TLP says nothing with sense but (nevertheless) shows “the 
truth”’. W does not anywhere
make this as an explicit proposition. Yet this is W’s position. This key
proposition is, in this sense, implicit – it is a proposition that must be
taken as given if we are to properly understand the status (as a matter of
‘philosophical logic’) of each and every single numbered proposition that
constitutes the text of TLP. But this key point is only implicit. It is a key
point that derives from the ‘key tenet’, which is also left implicit.*
Even the striking conclusion of TLP stops short of being
utterly explicit as to W’s POV as regards the ‘key tenet’:-
  “6.54 My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he
who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed
out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the
ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions;
then he sees the world rightly. 7 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be
What is not made explicit here, but is left implicit, is
that these two propositions themselves are “senseless” – as indeed are each and 
every of the numbered propositions of
which the text is constituted: in other words, it is implicit rather than
explicit that “[m]y propositions” denotes
each and every proposition that constitutes the text of TLP (including the
‘proposition’ that asserts TLP’s propositions are senseless”).
Further (and though W does not explicitly say so), the final
proposition seems to breach its own ethic: for it is not silent on a matter
where it proposes we “must be silent”.
Moreover (and though W does not explicitly say so), the whole work – each and
every of its propositions – seems to breach this concluding ethic. 
strikingly, nowhere – not even in the TLP’s conclusion – does W make explicit
that, while the TLP’s propositions are “senseless”,
they nevertheless show what is “the truth”.
Instead of explicitly recognising this in its general application to all his 
“propositions”, W restricts himself to remarks
that illustrate examples where ‘what
is said’ shows “the truth”:
“6.36 If there were a law of causality, it might
run: “There are natural laws”. But that can clearly not be said: it shows
itself.” The closest W comes to an explicit statement that the
propositions of the TLP show “the truth”
to which the Preface refers, is “6.522 There is
indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself;
it is the mystical.” It is here left implicit that W’s own propositions show 
what cannot be expressed or said
[with sense]: and so the ‘key tenet’, according to which the sense of a
proposition can only be shown, is here left implicit.
W was uncomfortable with these kinds of ‘paradox’ is, I suggest, reflected in
his leaving matters as implicit as he could, consistent with nevertheless
making his POV as clear as he could: a tension reflected, for example, between
what is said in the Preface about the value of TLP’s clarity of expression [“If 
this work has a value it consists in two things.
First that in it thoughts are expressed, and this value will be the greater the
better the thoughts are expressed.”] and TLP’s conclusion that W is
expressing thoughts where we “must be silent.” In TLP
we see a constant tension between W’s view that he is writing about matters on
which we “must be silent” [and where “the truth”
may only be shown and left implicit by ‘what is said’] and his view in the
Preface that “the truth of the thoughts communicated here seems to me 
and definitive. I am, therefore, of the opinion that the problems have in
essentials been finally solved.” It is this last estimation –  of the 
importance and definitiveness of “the truth”
that TLP presents – that propels W to ‘express’ thoughts that go beyond what
can be expressed or said with sense – even though this seems both somewhat
paradoxical and to breach its own ethic that we “must
be silent”.
Nevertheless what is made explicit by the numbered
propositions of the TLP falls short of making explicit what most important –
the ‘key tenet’. It falls short not as an oversight but as a deliberate act
consistent with “the truth” of the
‘key tenet’ – the ‘key tenet’ is left implicit, or as shown, by ‘what is said’ 
explicitly: for its truth can only be shown and cannot be said [further: in TLP,
its truth cannot be said with sense].*
The text of TLP is replete with examples where what is
stated explicitly can only be understood in terms of what is left implicit. Here
we might bear in mind W’s remark to his publishers that what TLP did not
contain was more important than what it did contain – which makes sense if we
understand W to be saying that what is implicit/shown in TLP is more important
than what appears explicit/said. Though it might have been tedious to make it
explicit, each and every single numbered proposition can only be understood in
terms of what is left implicit – a ‘left implicit’ that could be made more 
if after each proposition it were added, parenthetically, “(though ‘saying’ this
does not ‘say’ anything with sense but shows what is the truth)”. So that the
first proposition could be amplified to read: “1. The
world is everything that is the case (though ‘saying’ this does not ‘say’
anything with sense but shows what is
the truth)” – and so on.
other propositions also contain ‘content’ that must apply to that proposition
itself – but, crucially, W does not make this explicit but rather leaves this
implicit. Indeed, W leaves implicit how that ‘content’ applies to itself. So, 
for example, it is left implicit that, if
‘6.54’ is “the truth”, then ‘6.54’
must be true of itself, and if it is true of itself then ‘6.54’ must be 
“senseless”.  Or consider “4.022 The proposition shows its sense. The 
proposition shows how things stand, if it is true. And it says that they do so 
stand.” W leaves implicit how this applies
to itself and, if so, what follows from that. Again, when W speaks at ‘6.54’ of
“[m]y propositions” W does not make
explicit – but leaves implicit – that these propositions are not propositions
at all, in the sense in which he analyses what constitutes the sense of a
“proposition” in the text. Rather his “propositions”
are pseudo-propositions: because, while they may look like propositions with
sense, they are not propositions with sense. 
Given that the ‘key tenet’ is left implicit in TLP, and left
implicit for understandable reasons connected with what is a suitable way to
present such a doctrine, then it is only to be expected that the ‘key tenet’
would be left implicit in PI; and, when PI is seen as intended by W against the
“background” of the TLP, the wind is
taken from the sails of any argument that the ‘key tenet’ is not in PI because
it is not made explicit there. 
*This key point partly follows from the ‘key tenet’ that the
sense of ‘what is said’ is never said in ‘what is said’, the sense of
‘what is said’ can only be shown. It also partly follows from the TLP’s 
view that only the propositions of “natural science” have sense. Thus this key
point is a conclusion arising from an amalgam of the ‘key tenet’ and of the
TLP’s positivistic ‘doctrine of sense and nonsense’. By the time of PI, W had
abandoned the TLP’s ‘doctrine of sense and nonsense’ though he retained the
‘key tenet’: and therefore he was not bound to the view that what he shows in 
PI is “senseless”. In the TLP, W was bound to the view that what his
propositions show is “senseless” even
though it is “the truth”: hence ‘6.54’.
Who is indebted to Karl Popper for much of the above, and
would suggest Popper had a much more profound and accurate understanding of
Wittgenstein than many so-called ‘Wittgensteinians’ (for whom W’s work becomes
a kind of Rorschach blot of their own devising).

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