This log was inspired by "How to Read Wittgenstein" and "Ludwig Wittgenstein: the duty of genius" by Ray Monk. It is based on reading Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein translated by D. F. Pears & B. F. McGuinness (Routledge and Kegan Paul:1963)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wittgenstein's Preface

Training in science and mathematics is a prerequisite to understanding the Tractaus; it is not a textbook for liberal arts majors. Its purpose was soon served. Wittgenstein's student, Alan Turing, went on to develop the Universal Turing Machine and thus become a founder of the computer age. It is no surprise that the man who broke the Enigma code would be an understanding reader of the Tractatus.

The Tractatus shows that the problems of nineteenth century philosophy reduced to misunderstanding the logic of natural language. One could phrase the whole point of the book as: There is no enigma. What can be said at all can be said clearly, and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must needs remain silent.

The aim of the Tractatus is to mark the bounds of what can be expressed. But to do that, we have to view the boundary from both inside and outside. This can only be done in thought. Thought itself is unbounded. For, to mark the bounds of thought, we would have to think on both sides of the boundary. We would have to think what cannot be thought. The boundary will therefore be set within language and whatever statement lies beyond will simply not make sense.

Wittgenstein had received an extremely sophisticated education; no expense had been spared. By all accounts, he also combined a brilliant mind with intensity of purpose. No wonder Frege and Russell were impressed. Having read and understood their pioneering efforts, he had all he needed to do original work. It makes no difference to original thinkers whether or not what they think has been thought already.

Expecting a prisoner of war to write a polished monograph on philosophical logic makes so little sense that all commentators stand in awe of his achievement. Who would be so presumptuous and try to meet his high expectation by improving the Tractatus? Who has claimed that transgressing the limits he marked makes sense?

Wittgenstein's thinking has become a part of our culture. That is the value of this work. I consider the Tractatus unassailably definitive. How little of what preceded him is needed to pursue modern thought!

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