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Tractatus Logico-philosophicus

Ludwig Wittgenstein



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"All propositions are of equal value" (6.4): everything in the world is accidental (only logic is necessary), and so nothing in the world can have transcendent value. If something has value or meaning, that value or meaning must lie outside the world (6.41). Even if there is value or meaning, we cannot talk about it, because it lies outside the world and hence outside the realm of what can be said.

Ethics and aesthetics (which Wittgenstein takes to be equivalent) cannot be put into words, because they make judgments of value (6.421). Actions are not good or bad because of their consequences, but because of the overall attitude toward life that they embody. While the exercise of the will has no direct effect on the world itself, this exercise of the will defines the kind of world a person inhabits: "The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man" (6.43).

Death is not an event in life, but is the end of life. My death is not a part of my world or my experience. Effectively, the world comes to an end at the time of death. Wittgenstein remarks: "If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits" (6.4311). Being immortal or having a soul that survives death solves nothing (6.4312): it just serves to extend the limits of our life and our world, but it does not help us to transcend them.

Wittgenstein defines "the mystical" as "feeling the world as a limited whole" (6.45). There is not a mystical understanding that connects us with the nature of goodness or the human soul, but simply an awareness that these things lie outside the world and we cannot contemplate them. The awareness of the ineffability of those things that we feel most compelled to understand is what is mystical.

Questions can only be answered when the questions themselves can be framed in words. Thus, we can only ask questions and get answers regarding facts about the world, and not about anything transcendent. "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" (6.52). The essence of the world, if it can so be called, is outside the realm of human discourse and thought.

Wittgenstein concludes that the only correct method in philosophy is to confine oneself to what can be spoken, and, whenever others try to say the unsayable (ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, etc.), to point out to them that they are speaking nonsense (6.53). He then acknowledges that all the propositions of the Tractatus are themselves nonsensical, and that they are to be used, only as steps, "to climb up beyond them." He famously remarks that the reader must "throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it" (6.54).

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