Deus Damnus Tractatus

This is what I had to do rather than write a feature.


Graeme Hefner
Reading Summary #1
Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921)

In his Tractatus, Wittgenstein states that the world is the entirety of things, and the world is a totality of facts, not of things. However, there are some confusing statements to go along with this opening statement of the work, as he goes on to write that a fact is nothing more than a state of affairs, and a state of affairs is a combination of objects, which are things. How is it that the world can be made of facts, and not things, when facts themselves are comprised of things?

Only by reading further into the work can we reveal what this actually means, as Wittgenstein is in actuality attacking the limits of language, and the beginning of the Tractatus, called nonsensical by Wittgenstein himself later in the document, is an elaborate way of proving that we are constrained by the limits of language in how we express things. “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” to quote the author.

If we are forced to explain everything we know and see within the confines of our language, does it not thus limit our world? That seems to be what Wittgenstein is attempting to prove throughout the Tractatus; certainly it seems that many of the passages are deliberately nonsensical. But what other choice do we have? The Tractatus has a lengthy discussion of using pictures as a way of describing the world, for a picture can represent reality. But if it is impossible to tell if a picture is true or false without comparing it to reality, and reality is constrained by the limits of our languages, does that not also mean that pictures are likewise bound? I am not entirely sure what Wittgenstein is attempting to say during his passages on pictures of reality. Clearly, they will show the same face to whoever looks at them, but if pictures are compared to the reality of the person looking at them, and reality is different for every person due to the limits of their personal understanding of language, does that not make a picture no more honest than words? It seems to me to be just as open to interpretation.

If, as Wittgenstein says, the totality of true thoughts is a picture of the world, is that not just another way of saying the world is what it is? Thoughts are true or false based only the reality of the person thinking them, just as in Wittgenstein’s view, it seems as though facts are not what we would normally think of as facts in a scientific sense, but rather what each person can perceive as true, again based on the limits of their understanding.

Another section of note in the Tractatus is that on logic and possibility. To Wittgenstein, what is thinkable is possible. Perhaps I am viewing this statement the wrong way, but I can’t help but feel that this is impossible in a finite universe. Of course, that we can think of an infinite universe, and not prove that it doesn’t exist, perhaps proves Wittgenstein’s point, since if an infinite universe were truly impossible, would we even be able to conceive of such an idea? But, in an infinite universe, we would always exist, and we would always do every possible action in every possible situation, somewhere. This seems to be what Wittgenstein believes, since he also describes eternal life as timelessness, a gift possessed only by those who are currently living. In an infinite universe, no one would ever die, because it is always possible for them to live. Since Wittgenstein himself is now dead, what does that say about his infinite universe? Such a thing is impossible for anyone to ever know for sure.

Following the line of thought that began with possibility, the Tractatus discusses logic. It is impossible for any thought to be illogical, because for that to happen we would have to think illogically. Much like everything else, it seems that logic is different to every person, and what is logical is shaped by their perception of reality. Something is always logical to someone.

Though I believe I have understood all of these points, I can’t help but feel that my personal experience is causing me to question some of the basic foundations for what Wittgenstein believes, because I believe its converse. Wittgenstein is arguing that we are limited in our perceptions of reality, and in our ability to describe it, by our languages. As a writer, I feel that language is an apparently limitless tool for description. My personal experiences lead me to believe that it is language that is limited by how we see reality, and not vice versa. Anything that can be seen or thought can be expressed in language, although not everyone is capable of wielding language to its full extent of usefulness. Certainly, however, Wittgenstein is correct when he says that reality and perception is different for every individual, but there is no construct that can be used to bridge this gap, be it language or pictures or any other medium that has been created, for each is judged against that person’s reality for veracity, and people only believe what they are capable of believing.

(See Also: I FUCKING HATE PHILOSOPHY CLASSES, by G. K. Hefner, 2002)

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