Elucidating the Tractatus: Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy of Logic and Language

Elucidating the Tractatus: Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy of Logic and Language

Elucidating the Tractatus: Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy of Logic and Language

Elucidating the Tractatus: Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy of Logic and Language

Excerpt

The original impulse to write this book had its origins in the renewed interest in the Tractatus that was provoked by the work of Cora Diamond and James Conant. Like many other readers of Wittgenstein's famously obscure early work, I felt that Diamond and Conant gave exceptionally clear and forceful expression to the failings of the sort of metaphysical interpretation of the Tractatus that had come to dominate the interpretative literature. According to the view they criticize, Wittgenstein's early work is committed to a form of realism that attempts to ground the logical structure of our language in the independently constituted structure of reality. The work is held to present an account of the relation between language and the world which entails, not only that the account itself cannot be expressed in propositions, but that the world's structure is something that cannot be represented: shows itself in the logical structure of our language. Occasional attempts to teach a course on the Tractatus had led to a growing dissatisfaction with this style of interpretation, but I had very little sense of a possible alternative to it. The alternative offered by Diamond and Conant is notoriously robust: the work does not contain an account of the relation between language and the world. It is rather an attempt to lead a reader from an impulse to provide such an account to the realization that any such attempt results in sheer nonsense. The valuable lesson of the work, on their interpretation, is the realization that the idea that there is a perspective outside language, from which we can explain its capacity to represent the world, is an illusion. Although I found their work both liberating and inspiring, I was never fully persuaded by the self-denying ordinance that they impose on any successful interpretation of Wittgenstein's work, namely that it avoid finding in it any positive philosophical insights into how language functions. The motivation for writing this book lay in the sense that there must be a third option. On the one hand, there must be no suggestion that Wittgenstein puts forward an account of the relation between language and the world that must, by its own estimation, be conveyed by means of propositions that are strictly nonsensical. On the other hand, there must be some way of showing that the work is intended to achieve genuine philosophical insights into the nature of a proposition . . .

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