Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wittgenstein, the "beery old swine"- 1

A grad student in one of our seminars once gave a droll reason for not wanting to study philosophy: "It's like math with words!"

Greg might agree that a quite a bit of math is math with words. But the description is perfect for most works of logic. Several philosophers have tried to create a logically perfect language using words- several mathematicians have tried to as well. And quite a few logicians were mathematicians. I can't say if anyone has succeeded in creating a language that can speak in unambiguous sentences. It sure isn't English.

Ludwig Wittgenstein's only book-length work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, is an attempt to explain how we could create a logically perfect language. It is rooted in the work of Bertrand Russel, particularly the idea of "logical atomism"- that the world is made up of facts that can't be broken down any further. Wittgenstein stated his goal in the often quoted, "What we can say at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot say must be passed over in silence."

Andrew Sullivan, who has been appropriately silent as of late, had this quote for today: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen." That got me thinking about old Wittgenstein and wanting to pull out this book, which has always bewildered me, one more time.

I am going to try to read this very short book, mostly because it has nothing to do with my dissertation, World Civ, or the shitty weather in this part of the globe. I will chart my progress here. I should note also that the book is very brief and to the point, so I'm probably writing more than Wittgenstein did!

Part 1 seems to have two main points:

"The World is everything that is the case."

So the world is finite- we can find its limits and define them in a logical way. The totality of this is not all of the objects in the world, but all of the "facts", or everything that is the case. Perhaps the easiest way of expressing this is:

The World = everything that is the case.

What is the case = a fact = the existence of states of affairs.

So the world is the totality of facts, or all that is the case.

"A state of affairs is a combination of things."

Again, a fact is the existence of a state of affairs. So, a thought is the logical picture of a fact, which is the existence of a state of affairs, which is a combination of things- of objects in some atomic sense.

I think Wittgenstein is trying to "break it down" here. Unless I am mistaken, a sentence like: "Plato loves Socrates" has two objects in one relationship- it is a single "fact". So, can we say that in our logical language? Stay tuned, Wittgenstein fans!

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