The world of Wittgenstein

Source: Speaking of Science. By Paulo Hernandez (student of Philosophy)


El mundo de Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was a philosopher, and aeronautical engineer. Your thinking directly initiate the birth of the philosophy of language rigid, the philosophy of science, and contributed to the field of logic modern way overwhelming. Some consider him a genius. Without a doubt, had episodes vital extravagant or peculiar that define the perfection of his peculiar personality. Among other things, was a gardener in a convent, nurse, volunteer, teacher of a school lost in the mountains, inhabitant of a cabin in the Norwegian fjords after the death of his father, and gunner in the First World War. In fact, in combat he was captured by Italian troops and in the field of prisoners did not fail to write their thoughts in a few books as he had done throughout the war; approaches that would be later the famous Tractatus logico-philosophicus (published in German in 1921 and in English in 1922).

The Tractatus, more than a mere work of philosophy, is the story of a great ambition. Impact was cataclysmic in the early and mid-TWENTIETH century, that surprised even Bertrand Russell. It was all an earthquake in the world of philosophy, especially in the anglo-saxon. In their brief pages, and Wittgenstein, among other things, offers a reflection on the conditions of representation (that is, which makes it possible for a representation to be such), following an old project of Kant. The structure of the book, which is the only one that was published in life of the philosopher, is curious because it consists of a series of aphorisms. The main ones are seven, from the first, “The world is everything that happens” (Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist) to “what we cannot speak we must remain silent” (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen). These aphorisms leading corresponds to a series of aphorisms derived that seek to clarify and precisarlos or add nuances. One of the remarkable features of the Tractatus is that Wittgenstein speaks on numerous occasions of a multitude of concepts, but just defined with complete clarity. Therefore neither specialists in this work agree on what was meant by the author with some phrases, including the most elementary. Therefore, here the only thing I can do is sketch some general considerations on this book to try to bring it closer to the interest of the general public.

The world for Wittgenstein is the set of all the facts, all of what happens or occurs. A fact is constituted by objects in certain conditions, interacting with each other. An example of a fact could be the proposition (the statement) “the snow falls” but not “snow” or “drops” separately. Also, the facts may be simple or complex. The simple are formed by the combination of objects, and the complex by the combination of simple facts. Remember this in good measure to the empiricism of David Hume and his ideas simple and complex. Wittgenstein tells us that the facts are encadenarían like the links of a chain, that is to say, directly and without any intermediary that establishes the chaining. This avoids that we have to give an account of how it combines the mediation and would not have much sense.

I used to say that in theTractatus there are few definitions clear and distinct, that zanjen any discussion about it by the way of logic. Rather there is a series of interpretations of what Wittgenstein wanted to say, of the most varied and, at times, even exotic and daring. For example, we could interpret the concept of the object in a logical way (and not to think that an object could be a physical entity embodied, for example, an atom or a table): as possibilities of combination with other objects. The key is the word “possibility” . As well, a fact would be a sort of update of one of these possibilities of combination of objects. To put it with a graphic example, we can imagine that the facts are like light bulbs that are switched on and off, thus defining a total picture of the world. That is to say, the object would not be the table concrete, but the possibility that the table is below, above or others about other things.

The most important point of the Tractatus is its theory of representations. Wittgenstein understood that a proposition is a part of the world that represents other parts of the world. To represent something means To have the same form of logic B, and this thinker takes beyond: a proposition about a fact is as an accurate depiction of that fact. The propositions with sense as “the snow falls” have the same form of logic fact that represents. Thus, in theTractatus there is a relationship isomórfica between facts, propositions, and thoughts because they share the same logical structure. The main consequence of this assertion is not trivial and is one of the thesis’s most ambitious book: to know the logical structure of the language is equivalent to knowing the logical structure of the world. It is, so to speak, as the theory of the whole of logic and philosophy.

Another issue unique is the relationship that appears in the Tractatus between the world and the subject. The world of the happy is different from the world of the unhappy, and when a person dies the world (your world) to perish with it. There beats a solipsism, that is to say, the idea that we can not be sure of the existence of other “selves”, but only of our. It would make sense to the existence of a private language, the individual and formal to give account of the world and that he wanted independent of social conventions intersubjetivas, language, natural individuals, and others.

But all this beautifully abstract building concept entails a series of problems. Among them, the loop representation. If we have things that represent other, we have representations R, which represent representations R’ and ad infinitum. But the representation of representation as such can not be represented because it is beyond the framework of what is represented. These metarepresentaciones would be, therefore, out of the world and could make sense of it. Also the own limits of the world would be out of the world and the same Tractatus would not make sense because its propositions and aphorisms does not represent anything. What is, then, the Tractatus? Wittgenstein replies that it is like a ladder toward the top, which once used should be discarded. But for anything in the Tractatus is an adventure in vain. In it appear for the first time the truth tables as we understand them today, and they are used in first-order logic, the meaning of the constants logical, and the idea that connectives logical (such as “if…then”) have no meaning. The Tractatus was a good fertilizer for all logical jobs later, as well as of the philosophical currents more interesting, as logical positivism.

After this work, Wittgenstein remained several years in silence, perhaps making a case to his own aphorism number seven. He took notes in a series of notebooks and embodied reflections that would collapse some of the core of the Tractatus. This would lead to the transition of the first Wittgenstein to the second. The Wittgenstein of the philosophical Researches set aside the formalism and metaphysical Tractatus and focused on the inquiry about language games and meaning as use in the daily life, in the ordinary world of human beings and their societies. We’ll talk about that in another occasion.


Paulo Hernandez

January 6, 2012
Original article at:

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