Sunday, September 16, 2007

On setting the bar low

I didn't realize how odd the preface of the Tractatus is until last week during the PItt reading group. In particular, the following:
"If this work has a value it consists in two things. First that in it thoughts are expressed, and this value will be the greater the better the thoughts are expressed. … On the other hand the truth of the thoughts communicated here seems to me unassailable and definitive."
I think the latter bit, after the ellipsis, gets the most focus usually. The truth of the thoughts is important. But, what struck me in a way it hadn't before was the first bit. The work has value insofar as it expresses thoughts? That seems to set the bar low as it isn't that hard to express a thought. The interesting thing is combining this with 6.54, which says that anyone who has understood the propositions of the book will recognize them as nonsense. This would make it a little harder to take Wittgenstein as expressing thoughts. In the preface he says that he doubts he has done it well. This might be literary self-deprecation, but that seems a bit unlike Wittgenstein.

We should note that Wittgenstein doesn't say what thoughts are, or are supposed to be, expressed in the book. Just that some thoughts are. The truth of these thoughts he thinks is clear. Michael Kremer says some interesting things about different senses of truth in his paper on solipsism that I suspect are important for understanding Wittgenstein here. In short, he thinks there is a non-propositional sense of truth. This is not the ineffable sort of truths that some realists ascribe to the TLP. It is more like the sense of truth expressed when people say things like "the truth in beauty" or "the truth in solipsism" (to use Kremer's title). Taking the preface to be meaning truth in this sense would go some ways towards making it consistent with the end of the book. The problem would probably come from the expression of thoughts. This would, it seems, have to be thoughts in a sense distinct from the Tractarian view of them, i.e. as significant propositions. Otherwise, taking a non-propositional view of truth would be a non-starter. There isn't a corresponding idea of thought developed in Kremer's paper. He says some possibly relevant things about solipsism among other "ways of thinking" which might be fleshed out appropriately, but it would result in interpreting the preface in such a way that it resembles the body of the book very little. That might not be a bad thing though. I don't have a well-developed idea here, but I think there is some promise to making sense of the preface along these lines.

(Running a quick search on Kremer's article, it seems that he talks about the preface. However, he doesn't talk about the part I am talking about. He concentrates on the early part of the preface which discusses drawing a limit to thought.)

5 comments:

N. N. said...

Shawn,

Hacker, in his contribution to the New Wittgenstein volume ("Was He Trying To Whistle It" ; available on Hacker's webpage), mentions this part of the "frame" as evidence against Diamond's interpretation.

6.54 does not say that anyone who has understood the propositions of the book will recognize them as nonsense, but that anyone who understands me finally recognizes my propositions as senseless. The only reason I bring it up is because Diamond makes a big deal of it.

Shawn said...

Why does Hacker say that? The Pears-McGuinness translation does use "senseless" in 6.54, whereas the Ogden translation uses "nonsense". The German there is "unsinnig" which I believe is fairly uniformly translated as "nonsense".

N. N. said...

Shawn,

Sorry. I didn't mean that Hacker uses 6.54 as evidence against Diamond, but that he uses the part of the frame you mention, viz., that there are thoughts expressed in the Tractatus, as evidence against Diamond. My second point is unrelated.

DPrice218 said...

I love this preface.

If you want to hear a really nice audio rendition of it, search iTunes for "philosophy podcast" and download the Wittgenstein reading.

-David
dprice218@gmail.com
http://dprice218.wordpress.com

DPrice218 said...

I love this preface. If you want to hear a really nice audio rendition of it, search iTunes for "philosophy podcast" and download the Wittgenstein reading.

-David
dprice218@gmail.com