Thursday, January 11, 2007

Wittgenstein on clarity

Since I'm taking a class on the early Wittgenstein, I'll probably have a few posts this semester on issues from the Tractatus. I figure I'd kick things off with a few thoughts on an issue that I didn't think I'd find in the Tractatus. Wittgenstein had some thoughts on clarity. Amazingly, the Routledge edition of the Ogden translation has an index entry for clarity. Proposition 4.1 says "A proposition presents the existence and non-existence of atomic facts." From this, he goes on to comment at 4.112 "The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result of philosophy is not a number of 'philosophical propositions', but to make propositions clear. Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts which otherwise are, as it were, opaque and blurred." This is getting on the train of thought that I'm interested in. It is made explicit in 4.116 "Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly."

The important difference between this Wittgenstein and Rorty probably comes down to what is meant by 'clearly'. When Wittgenstein says anything that can be said or thought can be done so clearly, who does he think can say or think these things clearly? Is it the person who initially says or thinks them? That is somewhat dubious since there are certainly things that one could think without quite getting clear on what exactly they are getting on. But, maybe he means that someone, some sympathetic interpreter, can put the thoughts clearly. To hop between topics somewhat, this seems to be part of the project of Brandom's Making It Explicit, Articulating Reasons, and Tales of the Mighty Dead. It is part of the project that interpreters make explicit collateral beliefs and commitments of whomever is being interpreted so that the trains of inference can be fairly assessed and criticized. The basic premise of 4.116 seems to be in the background of Brandom's approach. Whatever can be thought can be made explicit, and, through the supplementation of collateral commitments made clear. But that is sort of an aside. I find 4.116 fairly plausible, although that belief comes and goes depending on what I've been working on.

The remarks in 4.112 are also kind of appealing. Although I'm not sure whether we should take the elucidations and clarity to be analysis in the sense of conceptual analysis. Now, in what sense does philosophy make other propositions clearer? is the job to make clear the dialectical structure used? This would restrict the application of philosophy to things that have an argumentative structure. Maybe the job is to try to draw out the conceptual relations between ideas that are used in various disciplines or texts. That sounds somewhat like traditional philosophical projects. Wittgenstein seems to want to draw a distinction between elucidations and philosophical propositions, but if the job of philosophy is just to produce elucidations, then it would seem like elucidations are philosophical propositions. It seems reasonable to take him to mean that philosophy does not result in traditional philosophical propositions, rather explanations. This is somewhat attractive, although I think I disagree with it. There seems to be some substantive philosophical propositions out there, e.g. Dummett's anti-realism, which are not merely explanatory, but I imagine that Tractatus Wittgenstein would say those are nonsense.

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