A PRELIMINARY VIEW OF THE TRACTATUSAt one point in his search for a publisher of the Logisch-Philosophische Abhandluhg, Wittgenstein wrote to Ludwig von Ficker, editor of Der Brenner and head of a small publishing firm, who he thought might be willing to undertake its publication. 's In an undated letter to von Ficker (probably September or October, 1919), Wittgenstein wrote as follows:The book's point is an ethical one. I once meant to include in the preface a sentence which is not in fact there now but which I will write out for you here, because it will perhaps beWhen, following Wittgenstein's suggestion to von Ficker, we turn to the Preface and Conclusion, we find the following relevant passages. In the Author's Preface to the Tractatus,
a key to the work for you. What I meant to write, then, was this: My work consists of two parts: the one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part
that is the important one. My book draws limits to the sphere of the ethical from the inside as it were, and I am convinced that this is the ONLY rigorous way of drawing those limits. In
short, I believe that where many others today are just gassing. I have managed in my book to put everything firmly in place by being silent about it. And for that reason, unless I am very
much mistaken, the book will say a great deal that you yourself want to say. Only perhaps you won't see that it is said in the book. For now, I would recommend you to read the preface
and the conclusion, because they contain the most direct expression of the point of the book."
he writes:The book deals with the problems of philosophy, and shows, I believe, that the reason why these problems are posed is that the logic of our language is misunderstood. The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.And toward the very end of the Tractatus passages:
Thus the aim of the book is to set a limit to thought, or rather-not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to set a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought.)
It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be set, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense."
6.52 We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.
6.521 The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem. (Is not this the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?)
6.522 There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. selves manifest. They are what is mystical.
6.54 My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them-as steps-to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.
7 What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."
I have begun our preliminary bird's-eye view of Wittgenstein's early philosophy by quoting the above passages, since it is essential to keep them fully in mind as stating what, according to Wittgenstein himself, is
the purpose of his thought. It is necessary to stress this because if one examines the considerable secondary literature that has grown up around the Tractatus, it is by no means evident that many of those who undertake
to expound or criticize his thought are sufficiently attentive to what Wittgenstein himself urges his readers to take seriously as constituting the mainsprings of his thought. This is especially the case because of the hostility
or indifference to Wittgenstein's version of 'mysticism' and 'the transcendent' that one finds displayed both by Logical Positivists and some other 'analytic' or 'linguistic' philosophers who otherwise find much of value or
interest in his writing. For these interpreters, the primary stress must be placed on Wittgenstein's contribution to logic and the analysis of language. Even if they should come to disagree with Wittgenstein's views in these
areas, they would still agree that it is here, if anywhere, that his historical and philosophical importance lies. As for Wittgenstein's `mysticism'-well, this is a personal, private aberration of his, they would say. Consequently
they tend either to disparage or to ignore it. Yet for Wittgenstein this 'mystical' side of his thought is as important as (probably more important than) what he has to say about
logic and language.
After Russell had met with Wittgenstein in the Hague in 1919, at the end of World War I, he wrote to Lady Ottoline Morel] an account of this meeting, in which he writes:
I have much to tell you that is of interest. 1 leave here today, after a fortnight's stay, during a week of which Wittgenstein was here, and we discussed his book every day. I came to think even better of it than 1 had done; I feel sure it is a really great book, though I do not feel sure it is right. I told him I could not refute it, and that I was sure it was either all right or all wrong, which I considered the mark of a good book; but it would take me years to decide this. This of course didn't satisfy him, but I couldn't say more.
I had felt in his book a flavour of mysticism, but was astonished when 1 found that he has become a complete mystic. He reads people like Kierkegaard and Angelus Silesius, and he seriously contemplates becoming a monk. It all started from William James's Varieties of Religious Experience, and grew (not unnaturally) during the winter he spent alone in Norway before the war, when he was nearly mad. Then during the war a curious thing happened. He went on duty to the town of Tarnov in Galicia, and happened to come upon a bookshop, which, however, seemed to
contain nothing but picture postcards. However, he went inside and found that it contained just one book: Tolstoy on The Gospels. He bought it merely because there was no other. He read it and re-read it, and thenceforth had it always with him, under fire and at all times. But on the whole he likes Tolstoy less than Dostoewski (especially Karamazov). He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn't agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking. 1 don't much think he will really become a monk-it is an idea, not an intention. Ira intention is to be a teacher. He gave all his money to his brothers and sisters. because he found earthly possessions a burden. 1 wish you had seen him."
And so, as we ourselves set out to examine the main lines of Wittgenstein's thought, it is essential that we attempt to give a balanced account. We must not be deflected from this goal either by the brevity of
his remarks about 'the mystical' (and the need to be silent), nor by the relatively small quantity of his remarks on this topic, as compared to the relatively large number of his remarks about 'what can be said' (the world,
logic, language, and the relations among them). If we take Wittgenstein himself as our guide in his explicit declarations of intent, we shall give equal attention to these two sides of his philosophy-both to what can be said and to what must be passed over in silence.
In his memoir of Wittgenstein, Paul Engelmann underscores the point I have just been making; what he has to say is worth quoting.
If we are to understand this author and his book, the following point seems particularly important to me: Wittgenstein was stimulated to write the Tractatus by his study of the works of Frege andWittgenstein places much emphasis on the use of the expression 'limit'. It is used by him in such phrases as "the limit to thought," "the limit to language," "the limit of the world," "the world as a limited whole."
Russell who, together with the physicist Heinrich Hertz, can be regarded as his principal teachers. But Wittgenstein's system of thought, born of deep personal experience and conflicts and setting out by entirely original methods to present a comprehensive philosophical picture of the world, diverges in some points from the logical systems conceived by those teachers, the founders of modern logic. As a result of such divergencies special attention came to be focused on those particular elements in the rational exposition of that complex pattern of mystical experience which were at the same time corrections of errors made by those teachers, whom Wittgenstein held in such high esteem. (Russell, according to his own statements, has accepted these corrections, at least in part.) Yet we do not understand Wittgenstein unless we realize that it was philosophy that mattered to him and not logic, which merely happened to be the only suitable tool for elaborating his world picture . . . .
Bur irrespective of the process of growth of this system of thought, logic and mysticism have here sprung from one and the same root, and it could be said with greater justice that Wittgenstein drew certain logical conclusions from his fundamental mystical attitude to life and the world. That he should have chosen to devote five-sixths of his book to the logical conclusions is due to the fact that about them at least it is possible to speak.
A whole generation of disciples was able to take Wittgenstein for a positivist because he has something of enormous importance in common with the positivists: he draws the line between what we can speak about and what we must be silent about just as they do. The difference is only that they have nothing to be silent about. Positivism holds-and this is its essence-that what we can speak about is all that matters in life. Whereas Wittgenstein passionately believes that all that really matters in human life is precisely what, in his view, we must be silent about. When he nevertheless takes immense pains to delimit the unimportant, it is not the coastline of that island which he is bent on surveying with such meticulous accuracy, but the boundary of the ocean."
However, the term 'limit' as used in these phrases is itself a metaphor, and is therefore subject to possible variations of interpretation. In its original, literal, philological derivation a 'limit' is a spatial or physical boundary
such as a threshold or wall-a physical line of separation of some sort-between two regions, areas, domains-e.g., the fields, houses, or territories belonging to, or under the control of, different 'owners' or rulers. Its complement-'to transcend' a limit-also retains something of this original physical sense; thus to 'transcend' means, literally, to scale or climb over a barrier such as a wall.
When used metaphorically, however, the expressions 'limit' and 'transcend' obviously have their own limitations; they are hedged in by various dangers of misuse. Let us mention some examples of such possible
misuse-at least in the context of Wittgenstein's thought.
It is clear that in interpreting Wittgenstein's use of this terminology (as he himself cautions us) we must avoid thinking of two 'worlds', two 'domains', and so on. The temptations would then be strong to give a description of each, to say what is on both sides of the limit, just as we are readily able to do in the primary case of physical regions separated by a physical boundary. This, according to Wittgenstein, would be a fundamental mistake. There is only one world and one domain of meaningful uses of a logic-governed language. The language we can use to describe this one world must be restricted to this one world. There is no other language because there is no other world. The logic of this language is the logic that sets out the basic thinkable possibilities of this world. The limits of language (and logic) are identical with the limits of the world.
For this reason Wittgenstein insists we can only set out the limits of the world and language from 'this side'-from 'within' the world or 'within' a logically possible use of language. We cannot say anything about this
world from the 'other side', as if we could jump over a fence and look back or describe both the region into which we have landed and the one we had left.
We must also guard ourselves against other dangers in the use of the expression 'limit'. It does not signify some quantitative, 'finite' domain. When Wittgenstein speaks of the world as a 'limited whole', this is not
to be understood, for example, in the same way in which cosmologists might raise the question about whether the physical universe as a whole is finite or infinite in space, in time, or in space-time. Wittgenstein's use of
the term 'world'. is an ontologic one, not a cosmologic one.
Again, in Wittgenstein's use of the term 'limit' in connection with language, logic, and the world, it would make no sense to speak of approaching the limit. The notion of approaching a limit does have a sense in
connection with a physical boundary. It has a sense, too, in mathematics where, for example, given a series of fractions of increasing magnitude lying between two integers-say 1 and 2-one may speak of these fractions
'approaching 2 as the limit'. Neither of these standard meanings, however, or any other involving questions of degree, proximity, approximation, and so on, has relevance to Wittgenstein's use of the concept of limit.
Further, the limit-whether of the world or of language-is not itself part of the world or of language, in the way in which a wall is part of the landscape that separates two regions, or even in the sense in which the
number 2, being a number itself and a part of the domain of numbers, separates the rational numbers smaller than 2 from those larger than 2. The limit of language cannot be formulated within language; it is not a
proposition in language. Nor is the limit of the world, or the world as a limited whole, a fact in the totality of facts that make up the world.
These are some cautionary remarks we must bear in mind as we use the term `limit' in our effort at understanding the main lines of Wittgenstein's philosophy. We must try to do two things at once. We must retain the basic distinction between what can be said, and what (for all its importance) must be passed over in silence. At the same time, in our effort to do this we must not let ourselves be beguiled into saying things about the unsayable, as a result of unconsciously retaining some of the inappropriate literal meanings of the notion of a `limit'.