Monday, November 24, 2014


One of the most ambitious and influential philosophical works of the 20th century is Ludwig Wittgenstein's monumental (though relatively short) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which set out to do nothing less than "identify the relationship between language and reality" and "define the limits of science". 

One of the things I personally appreciate about this work is its elegant structure. Instead of tangling the reader's brain in syllogistic knots - or confounding it with epic bursts of neo-logorrhea - Wittgenstein chooses to present his seven basic propositions clearly and succinctly, elaborating upon them only sparingly, and only when absolutely necessary. He even presents his famous seventh proposition without any further clarification at all, which, considering what it states, is a perfect choice.

Back in the late 1980's, when I was a philosophy student at Mount Allison University, Professor Gordon Treash once suggested to us that any philosopher who couldn't summarize his work on the back of a napkin was not worth studying. I present to you now a very handy summary of Wittgenstein's Tractatus that was handed down to me some time ago, and it uses a non-standard translation of some of the phrases that I think help give a certain edge to his thought, particularly when perused as comparison to and in contrast with the more popular, standard translations. 

Using a fine felt tipped pen on a fully unfolded napkin, you should just about be able to pull it off.
1 ~ The world is everything that is the case.
2 ~ What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.
3 ~ The logical picture of the facts is the thought.
4 ~ The thought is the significant of the proposition.
5 ~ Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions. (An elementary proposition is a truth-function of itself)
5.6 ~ The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
6 ~ The general form of truth function is: [underp, underE, N(underE)]
This is the general form of proposition.
6.1 ~ The propositions of logic are tautologies.
6.2 ~ Mathematics is a logical method. The propositions of mathematics are equations, and therefore pseudo-propositions.
6.22 ~ The logic of the world which the propositions of logic show are tautologies, mathematics shows in equations.
6.4 ~ All propositions are of equal value.
6.42 ~ Hence also there can be no ethical propositions. Propositions together cannot express anything higher.
6.421 ~ It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed. Ethics are transcendental. (Ethics and aesthetics are one).
6.5 ~ For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.
7 ~ Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.

1 comment:

  1. Order a Sparkling White Smiles Custom Teeth Whitening System online and enjoy BIG SAVINGS!
    * 10 shades whiter in days!
    * Results Are Guaranteed.
    * Better than your dentist.
    * Same as dentists use.