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

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 02 Mar 2010 11:59:50 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "College Dropout John O'Connor" <wittrsamr@...> 

> Well, I've found the quote.  It is from the selected parts of the Yellow 
> Book, found in Ambrose' Wittgenstein's Lectures 1932-1935.  In part two of 
> the Yellow Book, lectures aside the dictation of the Blue Book, near the end 
> of remark 12 (top of page 64 for me):

> Most of us think there is nonsense which makes sense and nonsense which does 
> not- that it is nonsense in a different way to say "this is green and yellow 
> at the same time" from saying "Ab sur ah".  But these are nonsense in the 
> same sense, the only difference being in the jungle of the words.
> Here we see that the first remark is a contradiction and the latter is... 
> well, I have no idea.  Thus, in the term of 33-34, W was saying nonsense is 
> nonsense is nonsense.  Thus, we are left with either showing or speaking 
> clearly.

Yes, you're right. It seems that was his position if this quote is a fair 
rendering of what he said in that lecture. As he says nonsense is nonsense, at 
least in the case of these two varieties. The question, then, must be, is he 
right in this assessment. As you know, based on what I said earlier, I would 
say no.

I would even go so far as to suggest that he was only referring to one sense of 
"nonsense" in noting that that two instances he gave in the lecture were 
nonsense in the same way, i.e., that of being unintelligible. But as I offered 
before, there are different kinds of intelligibility such that some apparently 
nonsense usages ("'Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the 
wabe" or my "heart was an eagle, soaring skyward") are not without their own 
meaning and, thus, sense.

His example of "this is green and yellow at the same time" (akin to my "Jane is 
a good boy") strikes me as something the later Wittgenstein of the PI would 
have (or should have) acknowledged as also being meaningful under certain 
conditions. Suppose there were an object that looked red when seen from one 
angle and yellow from another and we could choose at any moment to look from 
either angle (so that the time sequence was not fixed). At any instant of time 
the object could be seen to be red OR yellow. wouldn't that make the statement 
which under normal circumstancess looks nonsensical meaningful? And wouldn't 
the later Wittgenstein want to agree based on his own theses concerning how we 
use language?

One could argue that "Ab sur ah", at least in English, lacked this potential 
and in this, perhaps, it is more akin to the example I gave of completely 
jumbled English words: "slimy was the in grove brilliant". And here this word 
jumble becomes not much different than a collection of meaningless sounds which 
have no role in English (which is not to say they might not come to have that).

Are these instances the equivalent of taking a tautologous statement to be 
carrying information about the world? My instinct would be to say no because 
the nonsense accruing to such a statement would depend on how it was being 
used: Is it merely a report of a usage, i.e., a definition, or a stipulation 
("I use it this way") or was it intended to claim some kind of special lock on 

My instinct here is to say that, if the latter, then the kind of nonsense 
invoked is the one where we want to say to the speaker, something like, 
'omigod, man, you don't know what you're talking about' and, in that case this 
is akin to making a claim like 'everybody knows the sun goes round the earth'. 
In both cases the person accused of speaking nonsense is making a knowledge 
claim mistake though in the former the error based on a failure to realize 
that, aside from the definitional aspect, there is no knowledge to be claimed 
while, in the latter, it is to latch onto an obviously wrong belief.

In these latter cases the assertion of "nonsense" has more of a pejorative 
implication to it.

> From my own readings, I think the 'early' and 'latter' Wittgenstein are 
> speaking of different things.  Like, first he writes about calculus and then 
> he writes about the history of mathematics that lead to the calculus.

Yes, I think Wittgenstein changed markedly (though there are certainly common 
themes and concerns throughout his entire work). I also think that the early 
years after his return to Cambridge saw him kind of knocking about 
intellectually, trying to get his footing on the new ideas he had begun to have 
while in self-imposed exile in Austria. As I have often argued here with some, 
we can't take every thought he had (which happened to be recorded by others) 
during what was, in essence, his transitional period, as part of the gospel 
according to Wittgenstein. Until you get to the PI (though arguably the Blue 
and Brown Books may be included to some degree, with allowance for many changes 
or inadequately formulated ideas in those) you really don't have a record of 
what he wanted to say in his maturity as he wanted to say it. The interregnum 
record of lectures and such are quite interesting, especially to those of us 
who admire Wittgenstein in all his phases, but the later work must trump the 
earlier contributions if we're to be true to Wittgenstein himself. (Or else, 
what was the point of his extensive efforts to refine and finish the PI?)

> As for Carroll or Wittgenstein, I have one quote that sums up art quite well:
> "I think that an author who tries to 'explain' is exposing himself to a very 
> great risk- the risk of confessing himself a failure.  For a work of art 
> should speak for itself.  Yet much could be said on the other side; for it is 
> also clear that a work of art is not a logical demonstration carrying its 
> intention on the face of it."
> -Joseph Conrad, 1924.

True, but as philosophers we aren't authors explaining our own work but, 
rather, explaining the workings of the kinds of things artists do. Too bad it's 
Conrad's quote though. I never much liked him. I find him overwritten and 
turgid in most cases.

> But maybe it is quite obvious in regards to Carroll.  It surely is not with 
> the case of Wittgenstein.

A philosopher cum artist or vice versa!

> Wittgenstein did remark that a whole lot of philosophical problems manifested 
> themselves from the belief that everything that is beautiful must have 
> something in common with other things that are
> beautiful.

Yes, as G. E. Moore aimed to find what was common in all the uses of "good" and 
ended up asserting that it was a non-natural intuited property! (I once found 
that idea quite compelling until I realized the futility in such claims, thanks 
to Wittgenstein.)

> We can think of nonsense as similar to beauty and goodness.  Like the word 
> game or the word proposition.  So, degrees Febreze.
> In C&V, in some remarks on the Gospels, W contemplates the difficulty or ease 
> in understanding the Gospels.  He also remarked that what is most difficult 
> of all is recognizing what is always before us.  I think there is a certain 
> analogue to be made in reading the TLP with those cases.
> Always a pleasure,
> College Dropout John O'Connor
> --
> He lived a wonderful life.
> ==========================================

I would say that in many ways Wittgenstein was a unique philosopher in the 
Western philosophical tradition. He was a man who moved beyond the ordinary 
discursive way of thinking that is so deeply ingrained in that tradition. But 
it is for that very reason, I suppose, that many in that tradition simply are 
not at home with him.


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