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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Russell’s Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus

Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1922
Bertrand Russell’s Introduction to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is quite informative. Through his analysis of the Tractatus, Russell creates the impression that Wittgenstein is a skeptic, nominalist, and in some of his contentions he can be seen as a solipsist. But Russell regards such philosophical positions as the great virtues of Wittgenstein. He says that no serious philosopher can afford to neglect the Tractatus.

This excerpt from Russell’s Introduction sheds light on Wittgenstein’s nominalism and skepticism:
Mr. Wittgenstein maintains that everything properly philosophical belongs to what can only be shown, or to what is in common between a fact and its logical picture. It results from this view that nothing correct can be said in philosophy. Every philosophical proposition is bad grammar, and the best that we can hope to achieve by philosophical discussion is to lead people to see that philosophical discussion is a mistake. “Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences. (The word ‘philosophy’ must mean something which stands above or below, but not beside the natural sciences.) The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result of philosophy is not a number of ‘philosophical propositions’, but to make propositions clear. Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts which otherwise are, as it were, opaque and blurred” (4.111 and 4.112). 
Russell points out that Wittgenstein’s theory condemns as meaningless all the things that have to be said to make the reader understand his theory. He also says that Wittgenstein’s fundamental thesis is that it is impossible to say anything about the world as a whole, and that whatever can be said has to be about bounded portions of the world.

On the curious discussion of solipsism in the Tractatus, Russell notes: “Logic, [Wittgenstein] says, fills the world. The boundaries of the world are also its boundaries. In logic, therefore, we cannot say, there is this and this in the world, but not that, for to say so would apparently presuppose that we exclude certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic should go beyond the boundaries of the world as if it could contemplate these boundaries from the other side also. What we cannot think we cannot think, therefore we also cannot say what we cannot think.”

Wittgenstein holds that the intentions behind solipsism are correct, but this cannot be said, it can only be shown. Russell says that, according to Wittgenstein, “That the world is my world appears in the fact that the boundaries of language (the only language I understand) indicate the boundaries of my world. The metaphysical subject does not belong to the world but is a boundary of the world.”

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