02 June 2011


I am currently in Chicago for this, and I found myself feeling bothered about how the first day's discussions went. So this is a rant post, more or less.

One thing that Conant said at the workshop today was that the Tractatus is "a book at war with experience" (or something close to this), and noted that Wittgenstein doesn't talk about experience or epistemological matters in the book. This is in stark contrast to Russell, who considered certain sorts of acquaintances as foundational for logic: acquaintance with logical constants was what let us use symbols like "and", "not", etc. This is fair enough, so far as it goes. The idea that some sort of experience is (or could be, or would have to be) important for logic is something Wittgenstein is fighting against in the 1914 Notebooks, and it's something that Russell held.

Kimhi raised a question about this in connection with the "Lecture on Ethics". In the Lecture, Wittgenstein talks about a certain sort of experience which he calls "ethical", wondering at the existence of the world. This is clearly not a particular sort of experience in the sense of an experience of a sort of particular, but Kimhi said that it was a sort of experience that Wittgenstein thought you needed to have, or else you'd be deficient somehow, ethically. Conant objected that he didn't think that Wittgenstein would've been willing to say this sort of thing at the time he wrote the Tractatus, and that starting to talk about "experience" is something he does only once he returns to philosophy and starts moving away from the Tractatus. Kimhi said he thought there was the same sort of stuff in the Tractatus, but Conant said there wasn't. Conant then tried to think of what was closest to what Kimhi was saying, and starting talking about the world of the happy man and the unhappy man. Conant said that the world of the happy man and the unhappy man was the same world, and this was objected to: he then clarified that he meant there aren't two worlds. The workshop ended shortly after this, due to time.

I should've brought up 6.45: "The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling."

True, Wittgenstein doesn't talk about experience (Erfahrung, Erlebnis) in this passage. But the word for "contemplation" here is Anschauung. This is the word rendered "intuition" in Kant and Frege, and "perception" in (the Payne translation of) Schopenhauer. These are sorts of experiences, as are feelings. This seems to be precisely what Kimhi had in mind. It's even preceded by 6.44: "Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystical." A dead ringer for the Wittgenstein of "Lecture on Ethics". It looks like even in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein in some sense thinks there is a certain sort of experience (feeling, perception) that is ethically significant. It's not an experience of some particular fact about "how the world is", but it's something. And Kimhi was right to bring it up: it doesn't fit in at all with anything Conant or Kremer says about the ethical importance book. Neither of them has any sort of special experience as part of the story.

One aspect of Conant's reading of the Tractatus is that it draws the reader in by having sentences that the reader recognizes as being sentences she would like to use to express thoughts, but then (through further reading of the book and thinking about it) they fall apart on her: she realizes there was no such thought as she thought she wanted to express, only confusion on her part. Conant mentioned Frege and Russell in particular as people Wittgenstein wanted to have read the book in this way. Russell could see "The world is all that is the case" and think "Ah, yes, this is what I call 'the totality of atomic facts'". But I don't see how this can work with propositions like "As in death, too, the world does not change but ceases." Nor with the other solipsism passages: Frege and Russell are two of the most adamant opponents of idealism you can find. I don't know who Conant thinks these could've been written for, unless Wittgenstein was writing for himself circa the 1916 notebooks. What other sort of reader is supposed to have wanted to say "Of the will as the bearer of the ethical we cannot speak"?

Conant also said some false things about Frege and elucidations, but my notes are too brief for me to be fair to him. The impression I got was that Frege's "Concept and Object" was supposed to be one of the chief things Wittgenstein was reacting to, and that in it Frege had thought he was communicating unsayable insights into the deep ontological structure of reality by saying paradoxical things like "The concept horse is not a concept." But there are three big problems here. One is that Frege doesn't introduce the notions of concept and object by saying paradoxical things; he introduces them in the preface of "Foundations of Arithmetic", in the three rules he says will govern his inquiry. (I don't have my copy on-hand, so I won't quote it, but I'm pretty sure it's the second rule: Don't confuse the subjective with the objective, don't confuse concepts and objects, and don't ask for the meaning of a word outside the context of a sentence, if memory serves me.) "Concept and Object" only gets written because Kerry misunderstood Frege, and Frege wanted to take the opportunity to try to get more people to care about his project. It's not an essential part of Frege's project, and Frege didn't take it as essential to making the object/concept distinction clear. He's already using what he needs from it in Begriffschrift (the book), insofar as he distinguishes between two slots you can quantify into, and it shows up explicitly, with no fanfare, in the preface to "Foundations". Saying "The concept horse is not a concept" and lamenting that your language misses your thought is a later addition Frege makes, not something there at the outset. The second big problem is that a lot of things Frege says are "elucidations" aren't remotely paradoxical. The prose from the opening sections of "Basic Laws of Arithmetic", where Frege is introducing the vocabulary of his Begriffschrift, is characterized as elucidatory remarks. (I don't have this text on me, either, but you can look it up: the opening stuff is straightforward Fregean prose, not paradoxes.) "Elucidation" is Frege's blanket term for any way vocabulary gets introduced when it's not introduced by explicit definitions. (Kremer seemed to get this part straight, but he seemed to agree with Conant about the first thing I objected to.) The third problem is that some of the things that seem like they should count as paradoxical elucidatory remarks can be expressed in a (slightly) expanded version of Begriffschrift: it's easy to express "Everything is an object" in Begriffschrift, for example. The weirdness in Frege doesn't attach to elucidations, but to the specific terms "function" and "concept" (and possibly a few others -- Frege doesn't tell us much about thoughts, for example, and there's no clear way to talk about them in Begriffschrift, but there's also nothing that looks similar to "Kerry's Paradox" there). Conant seemed to just be getting Frege wrong, and I don't see Wittgenstein getting Frege similarly wrong. But, again, my notes are very sketchy and it's possible I just took Conant wrong on some or all of this.

The only time Schopenhauer came up during today's workshop discussion was when Conant was summarizing his essay "What Ethics in the Tractatus is Not": he mocked those who try to say what Wittgenstein thought about ethics in the Tractatus by saying what Kierkegaard or Schopenhauer thought about ethics. But the curious thing is: a lot of people writing on Schopenhauer's ethics quote the Tractatus to explain what Schopenhauer thought about ethics.

I continue to feel strongly that Schopenhauer is somehow really important for the Tractatus in a way I can't nail down, and that this has been largely neglected by commentators on the book.

Aside: I found it incredibly frustrating how little Conant and Kremer had to say about the propositions of the Tractatus which are nominally about ethics. I don't see how it can be reasonable to have a general story about how "the ethical" works in the Tractatus without being able to say anything about "Ethics and aesthetics are one", for example. Hopefully the other presenters look at those parts of the book more!

Appendix on an incredibly minor textual issue:
Here are some things I learned from the article "A Note on the Text of the Tractatus" (C. Lewy, "Mind" 1967): One of the revisions Wittgenstein marks in Ramsey's copy of the Tractatus is to change 6.522 from "There is indeed the unexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical." to "There is indeed the inexpressible. This appears; it is the mystical." Wittgenstein doesn't say to change the German, and the verb used in this proposition is the same one translated as "show" throughtout the rest of the book (Ramsey and Wittgenstein were marking places to change the text for the 1933 reprint of the Ogden-Ramsey edition.). He also changes 6.23 in the same way: Whether it is the case that two expressions can be exchanged for one another "must appear from the expressions themselves". He doesn't mark the other appearances of the same verb, and there are occurences between these two instances, which he doesn't change, such as 6.36, "If there were a law of causality, it might run: There are natural laws. But that clearly cannot be said. It shows itself."

I don't know what to make of this, but these are corrections made in Ramsey's copy of the Tractatus that weren't incorporated into the 1933 revision. The other two such changes as in 3.33 Wittgenstein wrote "the object meant by" above "the meaning of the sign", but without crossing anything out, and in 5.557 he changed "The application of" to "Applied". The first change seems to me reasonable to skip: he didn't mark out the original. The second strikes me as inexplicable: the revised proposition would begin "Applied logic decides what elementary propositions there are." My guess is that Wittgenstein thought this sounded like better English,
which it doesn't, and that this is why it wasn't incorporated.

I can't shake the feeling that the revision to 6.522 is significant. Even though I can't see any significance in changing 6.23 in the same way. And despite the fact that (for whatever reason) it wasn't incorporated into the 1933 revision. I am perhaps overthinking this: Wittgenstein might have just toyed with changing the translation of "zeigen" and only marked the two spots, then changed his mind.


N. N. said...

Concerning the importance of experience for logic, cf. 5.552: "The 'experience' [Erfahrung] which we need to understand logic is not that such and such is the case, but that something is; but that is no experience." Presumably, the something that is is the existent of 2.027, namely, objects. And what is the case is a configuration of objects. 5.552 could be read as saying that logic requires some sort of 'experience' of objects (cf. 2.0123 on 'kennen,' 'acquaintance', but this isn't proper experience because experience is of facts.

By the way, David Stern is really good on sub specie aeterni in his Wittgenstein on Mind and Language (see pp. 9-12).

Thanks for this post. Hopefully, you'll have the time and motivation to blog more on the conference.

Daniel Lindquist said...

Nice catch on 5.552. Serves me right for not doing a word-search before posting.

Does LW actually say that experience is of facts? He doesn't say so in the TLP (and I did do a word-search this time); the few places where Erfahrung comes up seem to me compatible with saying that the only experiences are of objects, not facts. (Or with almost anything else -- there's just not many props you would need to fit an interpretation to.)

I'll have to look at the Stern.

I might blog more about the conference.