Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Tractatus on Propositions

I had shared this in an email with Adam, and he suggested I share it with everyone such that we could discuss the useful and not so useful aspects of Wittgenstein's Tractatus as it relates to propositions. I sort of made some references to this work in my last post, so it might be more valuable than ever to post the email:

For fun I thought I'd take another stab at what the Tractatus is all about.

1. There are facts.
2. There are fact-stating propositions.
4. If a fact-stating propositions states a fact that obtains, it is true. If it fails to obtain, it is false.
5. If a sentence doesn't express a proposition it is nonsense.
6. If a sentence expresses a proposition then it is one of two kinds.
7. "This is my hand" states that this is my hand. If this is my hand, then the fact states by the proposition obtains and the sentence expressing the proposition is true.
8. A proposition which states a fact that might or might not obtain has sense.
9. A sentence like (7) isn't nonsense, but it doesn't seem to meet the standards of (8), and is thus senseless.
10. So propositions are either senseless or have sense.
11. So meaningful sentences express propositions.
12. That 1 + 1 = 2 or that A or ~A is the case, these are propositions which are senseless.

So sentences either express propositions or do not; if they state propositions the propositions are either senseless and are analytic truths which are transcendental (necessary in all worlds). So senseless propositions show what is the case but say nothing, while propositions with sense say what is the case and show something as well. Thus, "This is my hand" if true shows that this is my hand, and that this is not a tree. But it only says that this is my hand.

I hope that this is roughly clear. There are fact stating sentences. But that sentence that tell us that isn't fact stating in the same manner. So there are two sorts of propositions which meaningful sentences can express.

Wittgenstein thinks that Frege and Russell should have to adopt a sort of solipsism where the propositions which are Given to us are true. The rest don't fact state! Thus, the only propositions with sense are the immediate propositions, and those are the ones an empirical language uses. So facts are only now, so the world is only now. Thus, talking about the past or future is nonsense, we can only hint at things but cannot explicitly say them.

So basically, Wittgenstein thought that there are fuzzy sentences and clear sentences. Empirical science is concerned with clear sentences. So the only things that it makes sense to talk about are the empirical sciences. Philosophy is a clarification of language because we have to demarcate sense from nonsense, from showing and saying. There is nothing wrong with nonsense because it can provide hints. It can show what cannot be said. Because what can be said are only the propositions of empirical sciences.

Maybe this is all fuzzy still, but I hope it can make some sense. (See, this cannot be clearly stated because it is fuzz and nonsense itself!)

So philosophy for the Tractatus is like a stop-smoking program. I write some stuff, like 12 steps, that the smoker finds informative and meaningful. They learn the steps and then live them. Once they live them, they stop smoking. So the program loses all meaning and can be thrown away. Now that I quite, what need have I of quitting?

1 comment:

Wes McPherson said...

What seems immediately clear to me, given a previous question about this, that Wittgenstein had too fine-grained a notion of "picturing" which stuck him to saying that "This here be a bunny rabbit" literally pictures something, that this here be a bunny rabbit, while "1 + 1 = 2" pictures nothing, but shows that 1 + 1 = 2. But, being formal terms, they do not represent on his view, not having Fregean senses.

But I see that one could hold a Tractarean spirit but rephrase "picturing" in terms of "encoding". Then clearly "This here be a bunny rabbit" and "1 + 1 = 2" both can encode 'facts' or 'what is the case' without needing to fine-grain between a mapping to sense-data (since this Wittgenstein was a phenomenalist) on the one hand to be "picturing" and simply "showing" something on the other.

Wittgenstein of course though that both expressions were propositions, but that one proposition had a sense (it said something that obtains and fails to obtain), and one was senseless (it shows something trascendental).