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

  • From: "College Dropout John O'Connor" <sixminuteabs@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 27 Feb 2010 12:36:57 -0500

[quote title=SWMirsky wrote on Thu, 18 February 2010 14:25

Have you a link or direct quotation for this statement? It seems to me pretty 
obvious that there ARE and must be several kinds of nonsense, if only because 
the term "nonsense", like most of our words, had a range of uses and this is 
very much a part of the later Wittgenstein's thinking.[/quote]

Sadly, No.  I browsed through certain texts last night and could not find what 
I was looking for.  I even ploughed through the yellow books.  As for the first 
lecture on the foundations of mathematics, well, it basically invalidated what 
I claimed.

The point is, there is no way to logically differentiate between different 
kinds of nonsense-- just as there is no sound way in differentiating between 
different kinds of tautologies.  That is, if tautologies have no proof or 
disproof, then there is no means for comparing one against another and 
recognizing a hierarchy.  However, he does say "What can be said at all can be 
said clearly" and it is in this sense that his nonsense [the TLP] is clearly 
stated nonsense (tautologies).

> may say of something I hear, that seems utterly unsupportable to me, that it 
> is nonsense and mean by this that it is just so obviously wrong no one in his 
> or her right mind could be expected to accept it. This pejorative sense of 
> "nonsense" is often confused with, say, a claim that something someone has 
> said is simply unintelligible, i.e., that it may look superficially as though 
> one can make head or tail of it but, really, on closer examination one will 
> see that we cannot. It is simply "non-sense" as in lacking in any genuine 
> meaning.

This sounds like you are either speaking of false truth values or negative 
facts, and using the word non-sense to refer to those concepts.  But surely the 
word non-sense does not refer to concepts.

> And then there is the nonsense of doggerel and the like. Perhaps Lewis 
> Carroll's jabberwocky poem would be an ideal case in point. Think of a line 
> like "T'was brillig in the slithy tove" and so forth. Here there is something 
> else going on, i.e., the use of words or sounds that recall to mind words 
> with real meanings for us in a combination that suggests a picture designed 
> to evoke a particular response in reader or hearer. Here a swampy habitat, 
> vaguely menacing, comes to mind, especially when heard as part of the larger 
> poem which proceeds with such "imagery" to build the ominous picture. 
> Certainly and in a literal sense, such words, too, are nonsense, but they do 
> have some kind of sense attached to them by dint of their evocative effects 
> and they get these because they both sound like real words and play the role 
> those real words, which do have sense, might play. Compare: "T'was brilliant 
> in the slimy grove". Note how "slithy", perhaps replacing "slimy", evokes 
> something!
  menacing as in the slithering of a snake.

One could argue that Carroll was inventing new words.  Sure, no Shakespeare.  
One could more easily say that those were just not sentences than they were 
tautological or contradictory.  And as for nonsense, "red arrived tomorrow" is 
pure nonsense because it lacks a sense.  One could not understand it even if 
one tried.

Maybe this is like Fermat's last theorem?

> Moreover, the words in the Lewis Carroll line have the organization, the 
> seeming grammar, of the real words. A set of words like "brilliant the t'was 
> grove in slimy" would seem to be more nonsensical than "T'was brillig in the 
> slithy tove" because the words in the latter group not only evoke real words 
> with sense in our language but also seem to follow the grammatical form of 
> those words, while the latter even fail to do that.

Consider how Wittgenstein uses the words beautiful and good and how the word 
nonsense is akin to those.  In culture and Value, Wittgenstein remarks"

If someone says, let's suppose, "A's eyes have a more beautiful expression than 
B's", then I should say he is certainly not using the word "beautiful" to mean 
what is common to everything we call beautiful.  On the contrary, he is playing 
a game with the word that has quite narrow bounds...

If I say A has beautiful eyes someone may ask me: what do you find beautiful 
about his eyes, and perhaps I shall reply: the almond shape, long eyelashes, 
delicate eyelids.

It is as if, when asked why it was raining outside, Wittgenstein would say, 
Because it is dark and cloudy.  And this is mathematical argumentation-- not 

> I'm inclined to think there may be other types, too. So I would be surprised 
> if Wittgenstein (in his later phase at least) would have really thought that 
> there are no distinctions to be made with regard to assertions of what counts 
> as "nonsense", i.e., and that all instances of nonsense are just the same. 
> Yes, all may be dismissed in some fashion or other but perhaps not to the 
> same degree. Is even poetry that speaks of things that aren't, say 'the 
> soaring eagle of my heart', be dismissed as merely nonsense because hearts 
> really don't leave our bodies and soar above us in the heavens as eagles do?

Again, everything that can be said can be said clearly.  If we are going to 
speak nonsense, look not past the tautological propositions of the TLP, which 
are clearheaded beyond most things written.  W remarked, see C&V, that a 
philosophical work could be composed entirely of jokes-- ala, contradictions, 
irony, humor.  Everything in the TLP is but the opposite of that- tautological, 
grammatically true, serious.

> Should assertions of what is good or beautiful be similarly dismissed as 
> nonsense, as some logical positivists (active during Wittgenstein's earlier 
> years) wanted to say? And yet the later Wittgenstein was very much concerned, 
> I think, to show us why such logical positivist notions of nonsense could not 
> be simply taken as such, even though the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus made a 
> point of proudly, apparently, calling the work he had done in that book 
> nonsense at the end -- but wasn't it a good "nonsense" (or else why write and 
> publish such a book)? And if there is good nonsense is there not also bad 
> nonsense (that's the point, after all, in calling some things "nonsense") in 
> which case isn't that, in itself an important distinction between types of 
> nonsense?

Why differentiate between good and bad nonsense?  Is the Bible bad nonsense?  
Supposedly God created everything that is the case in 6 days, and supposedly 
His days are not the same as ours, and no man knows how long one of God's days 
are.  Tautological indeed.  Clear?  Well, I guess W has numerous remarks on the 
Gospels in C&V.

As for the positivists-- why mention them?  I think most people know how wrong 
headed their half-reading of the TLP is, especially in light of the New 
Wittgenstein (realist) readings.

> Yes, sometimes a tautology must seem quite pointless and so be nonsense in an 
> important sense. More to the point, if one wants to say that what has sense 
> has it because it carries information about the world, then, on at least one 
> level of consideration, a tautology would not qualify. Yet aren't 
> tautologies, too, information about the world, i.e., how we or the 
> appropriate language users deploy a particular term (X is equivalent to Y)? 
> Sometimes don't we need to know meanings, too? And not just because we may 
> not know quite how to use a word but, perhaps, because we may not see that 
> some uses are pre-ordained by the word itself?

When the theist says, God is, and the atheist says, God isn't; they are both at 
the limits of language-- contradictions and tautologies.  So, yes, tautologies 
are nonsense and also, to some people, quite important.  For they mark off the 
limits of our language.  So too could contradictions.  And, again, any fact 
could be otherwise and everything else remain the same.

> Sean is interested in the idea that a bachelor is an unmarried male (or man) 
> may not be a real tautology and, of course, it is and it isn't. It depends on 
> when and how we are using the term. I disagree with Sean's assertion that 
> Tiger Woods, who is currently married with children, could be called a 
> bachelor though I agree that 1) he might think of himself that way, 2) carry 
> on in that fashion (maintaining a "bachelor pad", picking up women and 
> sleeping with them, etc., and 3) that the term "bachelor" could be stretched 
> to apply to a lifestyle as well as to one's legal status under a certain 
> system of laws and institutional norms.

This gets into mathematical argumentation and that all the propositions of 
mathematics are tautological, as per the TLP.  See the Lecture on Philosophy-- 
mathematical argumentation is my new investigation in Wittgenstein readings.  I 
made other remarks in the last post, but I am unsure whether to place this 
definition as mathematical.  As for now, it lacks a context- namely a question.

> I don't see how you arrive at this. "The world is everything that is the 
> case" has the look of a stipulation, a statement of meaning, not a tautology 
> in the sense I have described it above (the form of a claim). That is, 
> sometimes it's useful to explore a meaning and not a form and, in the above, 
> Wittgenstein chose to commence the Tractatus with a statement which, on 
> examination, could withstand challenge because of its stipulative quality, 
> albeit a stipulation that reflects actual usage (i.e., the language community 
> stipulates it, not Wittgenstein alone, he is merely making explicit what is 
> already found in the use).

The world is a tautology, the statement, The world is everything that is the 
case, is akin to saying, Bachelors are unmarried men.  He has defined the world 
as composed of cases.  This definition is important because it allows for a 
truth table to be possible, not in a book, but in a life.  And if the world is 
all Ts, or everything that is the case, well doubting or having faith in the 
world is quite senseless.  Having the world as all Fs doesn't change anything 
about these being cases.

> But is the result the claim that the world is, therefore, not to be doubted? 
> Whatever is the case will be the case, of course, but what has that to do 
> with the nature of what is the case? One might still decide that the world is 
> illusion (because everything that is the case is illusory) and so no gain is 
> made against a claim of solipsism.

If the theist and atheist coincide, then the meeker solipsists and realist 
coincide just the same.  This would be the end of dualism.  This would be the 
end of philosophical misunderstandings.  It makes no sense to speak of 
knowledge where we could not speak of doubt.  I know not how to doubt or know 
tautologies or contradictions.  Or, at the least, it would be meaningless.  It 
is akin to doubting or knowing 2+2=4.  Or that I am I.

> > 'Whereof one cannot speak, Thereof one must be silent' is again 
> > tautological.
> > 
> Yes and no. I agree it has a tautological aspect but it also has an important 
> prescriptive aspect here, i.e., it is a kind of recommendation. And in that 
> it goes beyond its tautological form. Is it nonsense? Yes in one sense but no 
> in another which takes us back to the question of whether there are types of 
> nonsense and whether Wittgenstein, at least in his later phase, would have 
> agreed that there are.

Well, W does say that every description can be construed as an instruction. And 
since I am failing miserably at stealing a fine quote for you, might you be 
able to show me his remarks on different kinds of nonsense from the latter 

College Dropout John O'Connor
He lived a wonderful life.

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