Saturday, February 03, 2007

The world is everything that is the case

The Tractatus opens with the line "The world is everything that is the case." To this, Wittgenstein adds at 1.11, that the world is made of those facts and the fact that those are all the facts. This is a "stop"-clause of sorts. Frank Jackson uses one in his From Metaphysics to Ethics, which one might see as problematic. Barwise and Perry discuss this in Situations and Attitudes and decide to reject a stop clause. They think it is alright to not have an upper limit on what constitutes the world.

Why bring this up? There is an odd part in Russell's intro to the Tractatus. He says "We touch here one instance of Wittgenstein's fundamental thesis, that is, it is impossible to say anything about the world as a whole, and that whatever can be said has to be about bounded portions of the world." (p. 17 of my version) This is odd because Wittgenstein starts off saying something about the world as a whole. Then he says, no really, that is the whole world. Wittgenstein not only says something about the whole world, he adds another proposition saying that's everything. That looks like two violations of the thesis Russell attributes to him.

One might think that there could be a self-reflexive proposition or fact in the world. This is ruled out because of what Wittgenstein sees as the "fundamental truth" of type theory (that's from his Notes on Logic). That "truth" is that a proposition cannot contain itself, which can plausibly be understood by saying that a proposition cannot be impredicatively defined. Since reflexive propositions cannot exist by Wittgenstein's lights, he has to add another proposition to a "complete" specification of the world saying that it is complete. But, it seems like he'd need another proposition saying that those really are all the facts, and so on.

I'm having trouble squaring what Wittgenstein says with Russell's explanation of Wittgenstein. The quote from Russell follows up a discussion of Wittgenstein on the idea of objects in general. Short version: Wittgenstein thinks "object" is a pseudo-concept and that it is legitimate to talk about objects only in connection with another property. Interestingly, this property need not be a sortal, e.g. person, dog, cat, copy of the Moral Problem by Michael Smith. It can be a mass term or adjectival property, e.g. water, blue, red, light. There's more to untangle in the connection between these ideas, and it is possible that Russell got the interpretation wrong, but, it does seem like this is something Wittgenstein was sympathetic to.


N. N. said...

It seems to me that the 'stop'-clause in 1.11 is unnecessary insofar as it is something that cannot be said but must be shown.

Consider the following comment by the Hintikkas': 'Just as we cannot say that a particular object exists or does not exist, so it makes little sense (according to Wittgenstein) to say that it might not exist or could exist even though it does not actually do so. And this Wittgenstein takes to mean that we have to deal with the objects that actually are as if each of them existed necessarily and as if collectively they were exhaustive by necessity' (Investigating Wittgenstein, 48).

Additional facts (i.e., facts other than those mentioned in 1) would have to consist of additional objects. As there cannot be additional objects, there cannot be additional facts.

*This is a hasty comment and may prove to be incorrect, but I'll venture it as a hypothesis for criticism.

Shawn said...

It seems like showing that those are all the facts might be difficult. If you have all the facts, let's say, then to demonstrate that those are all the facts it seems like you'd have to take us up to the limits of the world, so to speak. I'd like to think that this is something that Wittgenstein has a problem with, but I'm not really sure. But, it does seem right that the stop clause is something that cannot be said sensibly.

The object idea is interesting. If we knew that the facts we had ("had"?) exhausted the simple objects, then we could certainly use considerations like the one's given in n.n's comment to show there are no more facts.

Maybe I'll have more substantive ideas when we cover some of this stuff in lecture.

N. N. said...

It seems to me that 'taking us up [down?] to the limits of the world' is also accomplished by our knowledge of objects: 'Empirical reality is limited by the totality of objects' (TLP 5.5561).

I'll be interested to hear the results of your class discussion. By the way, who is teaching the course?

Shawn said...

Hmm... that seems like a reasonable response. I haven't quite progressed to connecting material from the 1's to material from the 5's. I'll have to mull that one over.

The class is being taught by the delightful and knowledgable Tom Ricketts.