[Wittrs] Re: [C] Does The Tractatus Invalidate Itself?

  • From: kirby urner <kirby.urner@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 16 Jan 2010 14:18:17 -0800

On Sat, Jan 16, 2010 at 9:05 AM, Sean Wilson <whoooo26505@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> Hi Kirby
> Let me address a couple of issues you and others have raised. The first is 
> whether the Tractatus contradicts or invalidates itself. Whether it is a kind 
> of nonsense. I think this point is probably the most misunderstood point 
> about the Tractatus. I see this mistake made over and over again, so I want 
> to be careful to lay it out. We begin, as we always should, with the Word ....

Hi Sean --

It's not entirely clear to me what you mean by "this mistake" that's
made over and over again.

We have two main dichotomies at work:

(a) "sense versus nonsense" and
(b) "true versus false"

with the latter dichotomy (b) constitutive of "sense" in the first
dichotomy (a).


I would not agree that the Tractatus "invalidates itself" as that
would imply flipping from true to false.  A falsehood is a former
truth that falls from grace, gets invalidated.

If it wasn't sense to begin with though...

> 6.53 The right method in philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what 
> can be said, i.e., the propositions of natural science, i.e., something that 
> has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished 
> to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no 
> meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be 
> unsatisfying to the other -- he would not have the feeling that we were 
> teaching him philosophy -- but it would be the only strictly correct method.

This is reminds me of the angel in the Garden of Eden, turning Adam
and Eve away, now that they've fallen into the original sin of
speaking nonsense (philosophy).

I'm also reminded that angels have an historic jealousy of humans,
complained bitterly when God appeared to shift his allegiance from
them to us.

6.53 seems to carve out the sphere of empirically verifiable
utterances from the inside, pressing philosophy to the outside (into
the cold).

But then 6.53, in prescribing this approach, is not in that moment following it.

> 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.
> What this says is that, to understand the Tractatus, one must have "an 
> awakening" -- a moment of clarity. The realm is more similar to prophesy than 
> debating norms. Let me put it to you very clearly: The Tractatus only 
> invalidates itself IF THE MACHINERY IS TRUE. This is the point that is never 
> understood. For the Tractatus to invalid itself, the PERSPECTIVE MUST CHANGE. 
> Imagine a philosopher and a monk. The monk says "only the true of heart can 
> see." He then says, "I am not yet true of heart." And philosopher says, "Then 
> how do you know who can see?" It would seem the philosopher had made a 
> logical point. Yet, there is the problem that if it is true that only the 
> true of heart can see, that, all of a sudden, what the monk says is quite 
> meaningful. He says, in effect, "I am cleaning myself," or, "soon I shall 
> see." If true, this completely rearranges the world and the perspective.

Lets assume the machinery is not true, nor is it false.  It's outside
the realm of natural science and is what we call logic.  Pure logic
defines the limits of sense, is that fence between sense and nonsense
(not between true and false).

What happens in the Tractatus is much as you say:  you need gestalt
shifts to get Wittgenstein's meanings (in the PI just as much).  The
move is from disguised to patent nonsense.

This might seem "self invalidating" from within the sensible sphere.
But in a philosophical sense it's more a move to self-purify, to
become empty in a somewhat Buddhist sense (so I'm agreeing with your
monk analogy).

At first the propositions of the Tractatus appear to be oh so true, as
we climb up the ladder.  The steps feel secure and authoritative.

Then we find out, not that these steps were false (and therefore
self-invalidating) but that we weren't inside the true/false sphere to
begin with.

The vantage point shifts as logic goes over the line to become both
crystal pure and nonsensical at the same time.

We've got something ethical (and beautiful).  We've got a gem, a philosophy.

> It would be like saying, "never say never" -- is that a contradiction? Only 
> to one who deploys a certain modus operandi. Same with a bumpersticker that 
> said "Don't use bumberstickers!"
> So I would say that those who use debater's rules are saying something like 
> this. Arguments are like games. They are like Parliamentary procedure. To 
> score points, you have to assert premises that cannot knock each other down. 
> If you approach the Tractatus (or anything Wittgenstein wrote) with this 
> mindset, you might as well just read Karl Popper. I've said many times: 
> Wittgenstein was far too smart to have offered considerate views that are 
> understood by the reader's using either his own frame of reference or a 
> debate score card. Wittgenstein must be understood. He's a lot like Jesus in 
> this regard.

I see him somewhat as you do I think, as a "liberation philosopher" in
the sense that he's hoping to trigger (spark, catalyze) a kind of
enlightenment in his readers.

He's offering philosophy as a kind of curative experience, in both
versions (TLP = 1.0, PI = 2.0, roughly speaking).

> The central point here is this: the seeing of the Tractatus as a kind of 
> aesthetic (as you put it) requires that you have climbed the mountain 
> (understood) and have thrown away the crutches that kept you from seeing it 
> that way. After you have relegated it to the realm of the aesthetic, you have 
> NO CHOICE but to relegate all else, except the propositions of natural 
> science and analytic props in their service. You can be comforted, however, 
> in knowing, however, that the problems of life and things which transcend 
> this world are only deficient IN THIS WORLD (in this state of life).
> There is no contradiction here; there is only the arrangement of 
> the perspective that is required to see the view.  One wants to say: you need 
> to be a monk of sorts.

I'm not disagreeing if what you're saying is the Tractatus is designed
to induce a variety of religious experience.

> The reason why the Tractatus is an ethical work is because it shows us how to 
> see the world rightly. (Keep in mind I am not a Tractarian; I'm only 
> appreciating it from the standpoint of being a Wittgenstein connoisseur).

Yes, understood.  And then there's this whole other wine bottle, the
later vintage, when you're tired of keeping silent about everything.

Unlike the TLP, which has a "book closing" punch line (we're done now,
philosophers may go home), the PI has a more indefinite "book opening"
kind of flavor (always more to investigate, more deep confusions to


> Regards.
> Dr. Sean Wilson, Esq.
> Assistant Professor
> Wright State University
> Personal Website: http://seanwilson.org
> SSRN papers: http://ssrn.com/author=596860
> Discussion Group: http://seanwilson.org/wittgenstein.discussion.html
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