Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies

By P. M. S. Hacker | Go to book overview

5 When the Whistling had to Stop

1 The Tractatus Doctrine of Saying and Showing

In a letter to Russell dated 19 August 1919, written shortly after he had finished the Tractatus, Wittgenstein told Russell that the main contention of the book, to which all else, including the account of logic, is subsidiary, 'is the theory of what can be expressed [gesagt] by prop[osition]s—i.e. by language—(and, which comes to the same, what can be thought) and what cannot be expressed by prop[osition]s, but only shown [gezeigt]; which I believe is the cardinal problem of philosophy' (CL 68). This was emphasized in both Preface and conclusion of the book. The Preface observes that the whole sense of the book can be summed up in the following words: 'what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence' (TLP, p. 3). The conclusion of the book (TLP 7) simply repeats this. The preceding three remarks, however, are noteworthy. They make three claims. First, 'There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical' (TLP 6.522). This reiterates the leitmotif of the book namely, that there are things that cannot, by the very nature of representation, be said. But though they cannot be said, they are shown by features of the relevant system of representation. Secondly, the correct method in philosophy would really be to say nothing except what can be said—that is, empirical propositions that have nothing to do with philosophy, and then, when someone wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give meaning to certain signs in his propositions (TLP 6.53). This method, of course, is not the method that has been followed throughout the book, which consists almost exclusively of modal assertions concerning what must, can, or cannot be thus and so in reality, in language and in the relation between language and reality. Hence, thirdly, the propositions of the book clarify in as much as

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