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

  • From: Sean Wilson <whoooo26505@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 2 Mar 2010 10:51:57 -0800 (PST)


1. Regarding the best way to understand Wittgenstein, I would recommend 
biography. The three books that I think are the most important to understanding 
him would be: Ray Monk's, Duty of Genius; Norman Malcolm's, Ludwig 
Wittgenstein, A Memoir; and Ray Monk's, How To Read Wittgenstein. Actually that 
last one has a lot of Tractarian ideas in it. 

2. I don't see 1 or 2 Wittgenstein's; I see only what happened in history and 
what his views were at given times. Once his life is meticulously understood, 
all the arguments seem to vanish. As I said to you before, the meaning-is-use 
Wittgenstein would not take the position that something must be either said or 
shown (in the senses he meant), because the former idea was what replaced the 
latter. The Ambrose lectures are all about the showing of the new ideas.  

3. I wasn't clear on the passage you cited about nonsense. The point that you 
are having issues with is an extremely sophisticated point. In Tractarian 
Wittgenstein, nonsense is delineated by a formula. One can see two or three 
categorical forms emerge. (J and I had previously discussed this). In Ambrose's 
Wittgenstein, "nonsense" is now an idea that has sense-and-family, and is 
governed by meaning-is-use, rather than something relegated to by the logical 
form of the proposition. What he is saying there (assuming the actual words are 
correct -- big if) is the following:

(a). All the things called "nonsense" are of the same type of thing if one 
takes what we might call a "bird's eye view." One might say, they have family 
resemblance. What is common among them is a language maneuver that excludes 
something from being viable. This is the thing the expression does. It excludes 
from viability. In this sense AND ONLY THIS SENSE, all forms of nonsense are 
the same.

(b) Within the family resemblance, there are different kinds of nonsense 
(different family members). There are those things that become "nonsense" 
because they fall over their own feet, so to speak (violate their own 
conditions of assertability); and there are those that amount to 
gibberish. Skepticism is of the former type (see Tractatus). 

(c) Nonsense is a construction. This is clearly anti-Tractarian. Please read 
this from the same page you cite:

"We exclude such sentences as 'it is both green and yellow' because we do not 
want to use them. Of course we could give these sentences sense. I said earlier 
that what is possible or impossible is an arbitrary matter. We could make it a 
rule, for example, that 'green and yellow can be in the same place at the same 
time' is to make sense." (Ambrose, 64)

Care must be taken not to understand this. All that it says is that the ends of 
language are arbitrary. If people in the language game began speaking of 
something being both green and yellow -- and if this took on a certain kind of 
meaning -- then the expression would have life. Point: meaning is use.

4. Please take care in reading Ambrose. If I recall, she reconstructed the 
content years later. Don't get me wrong: I'm a fan of the work. I love the 
book. But I would just make sure that it is read in light of the other things 
out there. She says in the preface it is only Wittgenstein as she understood it 
(and as she reconstructed it). 

5. Would you care to tell the group why you don't view the Tractatus as 
positivist? I'd like to hear the views. Why not share it with us under a 
separate thread?  (I'm not saying it is, of course. I just think it would be a 
good exercise). 

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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