01 April 2011

Ramsey's Testimony regarding the Tractatus

I find I have spent the past four or five hours reading "Wittgenstein in Cambridge: Letters and Documents 1911-1951". I blame the fact that the letters are almost all very short, so it always feels like I can read just one more. I am stopping after 100 of the 439 in the book.

Anyway, I found these two passages striking. They're from a letter of Ramsey's to his mother, p.139:

[Wittgenstein's] idea of his book is not that anyone by reading it will understand his ideas, but that some day someone will think them out again for himself, and will derive real pleasure from finding in this book their exact expressions.
This probably only looks remarkable if you've been spending the past few weeks grappling with Schopenhauer (which I have); it is puzzling what one is doing in writing an avowedly incomprehensible book. This quote doesn't really tell us anything that wasn't already stated in the preface to the book, but I found it noteworthy that he'd repeat it in conversation.
It’s terrible when he says “Is that clear” and I say “no” and he says “Damn it’s horrid to go through that again”. Sometimes he says, I can’t see that now [—] we must leave it. He often forgot the meaning of what he wrote within 5 minutes, and then remembered it later. Some of his sentences are intentionally ambiguous having an ordinary meaning and a more difficult meaning which he also believes.
I don't know quite what to make of that last bit. I can't tell from the context if Ramsey is talking about sentences of the Tractatus or sentences Wittgenstein was using in their conversations about the book. In any case, it's an interesting thing to see said.