You are on page 1of 27


Wittgenstein's Tractatus contains a curious and inaccessible theory
of the will. It is presented in no more than about half a dozen re-
marks scattered through the latter part of the book. (1) At 5.1362 he
writes: "The freedom of the will consists in this, that future actions
cannot yet be known. We could know them only if causality were an
inner necessity, like that of logical inference.-The connection be-
tween knowledge and what is known is that of logical necessity." (2)
Similarly, at 6.373 to 6.375 he writes: "The world is independent of
my will. Even if all that we wish for happened, this would still be
only a favour of fate, so to speak; for there is no logical connection
between will and world, which would guarantee it, and the supposed
physical connection is surely not itself something we could will. Just
as there is only a logical necessity, there is also only a logical impos-
sibility." (3) At 6.423 to 6.43 he writes: "The will as the bearer of
the ethical cannot be spoken of. And the will as phenomenon is of
interest only to psychology. 1 good or bad willing alters the world,
it can alter only the limits of the world, not the facts; not that which
can be expressed through language. Briefly, the world must become
through it an altogether different world. It must, so to speak, wax
and wane as a whole. The world of the happy man is a different one
from the world of the unhappy man." (4) Finally, at 5.631 and 5.632
he writes: "There is no thinking, imaging, subject. If I wrote a book
called "The world as I found it," I should have to include a report
on my body and say which parts were subordinate to my will and
which not, etc.; this is a method of isolating the subject, or rather
of showing that in an important sense there is no subject: for it alone
could not be mentioned in that book.-The subject does not belong
to the world, but is a limit of the world."
This "theory" of the will is puzzling for several reasons. First, there
hardly seems to be enough in these remarks for a complete theory to
be constructed. Nor is the sense of these remarks itself evident; and
there is little else in the Tractatus which could help to make sense
of them. Second, what is said is so extremely reductionist as to be
scarcely credible. It is implausible that there is no connection at all
between willing and what subsequently happens, no possibility of
knowing what is going to happen or be done, no subject at all. Thus
if we take such views seriously, we are almost driven to suppose that
Wittgenstein is talking of something very different from what we
ordinarily call the will. Third, all these remarks appear to fall under
the anathema of 6.54; they all appear to be nonsensical attempts to
say things that can only be shown. But we should like to know why
such propositions of philosophical psychology cannot be significant.
There is one further puzzle. vVittgenstein has related the idea of
the will to the ethical (this I take as inseparable from the religious).
But the nature of this relation is not further explained in the Trac-
tatus. Besides, the ethical views of this book are exceedingly obscure
in themselves. And this casts a corresponding darkness on its theory
of the will.
These defects are to some extent remedied in the Notebooks that
Wittgenstein had previously written. For these contain long sections
dealing with the concepts of the subject, the will, and ethics. Most of
what appears in the Tractatus has been transferred from these sec-
tions. A great deal, however, has been omitted. Thus much of the
writing that gives context and hence, presumably, sense to the re-
marks in the Tractatus has been omitted. vVe must turn to the Note-
books, then, for light upon these dark places.
This is not to claim that everything in the Notebooks was still in
Wittgenstein's mind when he came to compile the Tractatus. Much
conflicts sharply, both in doctrine and in methodology, with the later
work. The Notebooks are, in particular, thoroughly dialectical. So
they must be used with the greatest care. Perhaps their use should
presuppose a general view of the complex relationship between the
two works; this, however, cannot be explained in the present essay. I
shall say a word about this towards its end.
The primary aim of this essay is to bring together remarks from the
Notebooks and the Tractatus in such an order as to establish that
Wittgenstein did indeed hold a powerful and general theory of the
will. It is a theory that is compatible with the logical doctrines of the
Tractatus, although it does not follow from these. It is a theory that,
as many commentators have noticed, closely resembles Schopen-
hauer's theory of the will, not only in details but also in its general
philosophical thrust.
More important, I hope to expose grounds for accepting the es
sential truth of the claim made by Wittgenstein himself, in a recently
published letter to Ficker:
the sense of the book 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 be
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, and all
that I have not written. And just this second part is the impor-
tant one. That is to say, the ethical will be delimited in my book
from the inside, so to speak; and I am convinced that it is,
strictly, ONLY delimited thus.
(See Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein, With a Memoir, by Paul
Engelmann, Basil Blackwell, 1967, p. 143.) Engelmann himself writes
of the Tractatus: "logic and mysticism have here sprung from one
and the same root, and it could be said with greater justice (Sc. con-
trary to a widely accepted view) that Wittgenstein drew certain
logical conclusions from his fundamental mystical attitude to life
and the world" (ibid., p. 97). I return to these points at the end of
my essay.
I have divided my discussion of Wittgenstein's ideas into two parts.
First I treat his ideas about the subject. Here much has to be said
about the idea of the "thinking (or Vorstellende) subject," which
vVittgenstein rejects, and the idea of the "metaphysical subject," to-
gether with \Vittgenstein's attitude towards solipsism. I argue that
Wittgenstein's system does contain a subject: that this subject is
identified with the will, a "willing subject," and that the will which
is identified as the subject is a "transcendental will," in a sense that
clearly recalls Schopenhauer. Second I treat Wittgenstein's ideas
about the relations between the will and the world. Here I argue that
we must distinguish several senses of "will," or kinds of will. These
distinctions will allow us to give sense to his claims that the will is
free and independent of the world. And they enable us to understand
the apparently confused remarks in the Notebooks about the rela-
tions between the will, on the one hand, and the body and bodily
actions, on the other.
I. The Subject and the Will
In the Notebooks entry for 5.8.16, Wittgenstein exclaims, "The I,
the I, is the deeply mysterious thing!" Clearly the "I," the ego, oc-
cupies a special place in relation to the world and the rest of its
contents. But this seems inconsistent with the basic doctrines of the
Tractatus. Wittgenstein was led by these to the a priori conclusion
that psychology was of no particular interest to the philosopher.
"Psychology is no more closely related to philosophy than any other
natural science" (Tractatus, 4.1121). So insofar as discussion of the
"I" is psychological discussion, it is irrelevant to philosophy. Witt-
genstein naturally fails to say much about the subject in the Tracta-
tus. He says rather more in the Notebooks.
Thinking subject and willing subject. Wittgenstein's "subject"
differs from most philosphical ideas of the subject in being prima-
rilya willing, not a thinking;, entity. He refers at 2.8.16 to "the will-
ing subject," and later recurs to this point. "Isn't the thinking (vor-
stellende) subject in the end mere superstition?" (4.8.16). "The
thinking subject is surely mere illusion. But there is a willing sub-
ject" (5.8.16). In the same entry he writes, "If the will did not exist,
neither would there be that centre of the world that we call the ego
(Ich), and which is the bearer of ethics." His earlier reference to the
willing subject was also connected with ethics. Again at 4.11.16 he
claims that "The subject is the willing subject." But here the context
is not directly ethical. He is considering the possibility of the will
being effective within the world.
There is a later entry (19.11.16) in which he expresses doubt about
this whole theory. "What kind of ground is there for the assumption
of a willing subject? Is not my world adequate for individualisa-
tion?" This clearly recalls his attack on the idea that there is a think-
ing subject over against the world.
The heart of Wittgenstein's attack on the "thinking subject" is
contained in his attack on Russell's theory of judgment. This attack
follows from Wittgenstein's general thesis of extensionalism. For if
the "I" in first person psychological propositions be construed as a
kind of name, such propositions can no longer be analyzed as truth-
functions of the propositions they appear to contain. "I think that
p" cannot then, for example, be a truth-function of p. Again, this
kind of analysis would appear to commit us to construing "p" also
as a kind of name. But this, although central in Frege, is contrary to
Wittgenstein's Tractatus views. On Wittgenstein's analysis of such
propositions, they really express the holding of a relation between
two facts. It does not matter, for this major point, whether we con-
strue the "I" as referring to a proposition, or a psychological com-
plex. For Wittgenstein's view is that no complex could possibly be
the subject, in the required philosophical sense. "A composite soul
would no longer be a soul" (Tractatus, 5.5421).
The thesis of extensionalism also, of course, affects psychological
propositions about willing, etc. "I will that P" does not seem to be a
truth-function of p. This is no doubt part of Wittgenstein's reasons
for making the will independent of the world, as I shall describe be-
The subject as limit of the world. This "extensionalist" con-
sideration shows that there can be no thinking subject. To say that
is to say, there can be no thinking subject in the world. Wittgenstein
first advances his well-known claim that the subject (whatever exactly
it is) is not in the world in the Notebooks at 23.5.15. He there re-
marks that the subject would be the one thing that could not come
into the book The world I found. (See Tractatus, 5.631). It could not
be part of my experience. Informally, we might say that the "I" can-
not just occur in this book, since it must essentially come into the
title of the book, where it is used to refer to the book's author. This
consideration is analogous to Ryle's argument in The Concept of
Wittgenstein puts what is essentially the same point in the form of
an epigram at 2.8.16: "The subject is not part of the world, but a
presupposition of its existence." It would be a mistake to think that
he was here arguing from the view that the world is my world to this
doctrine of the subject. Rather, he first reached this doctrine of the
subject, and thence inferred his peculiar solipsism. Now the notion of
"presupposition" must be meant here in a peculiar but strict sense.
For Wittgenstein appears to claim both in the Notebooks (4.8.16)
and in the Tractatus (5.633) that nothing in the world allows us to
infer that the world is experienced by a subject. There is no object
or fact which entails that there is a subject. So "presupposition" can-
not mean any such inferential relation. This does not imply that no
form of inference, is allowed, I believe, but only that, whatever it is,
it cannot obey the canons of ordinary deductive logic. This leaves
open the possibility of a transcendental "deduction" of the subject
from the world.
"The I is not an object" (7.8.16). Wittgenstein adds: "I objectively
confront (stehe .... gegenuber) every object. But not the I" (11.8.16).
What "confrontation" means is unclear. But these words need not be
taken as contradicting the view that there is no thinking subject. For
that view does not make it false to say things like "I saw King's
College Chapel." It merely imposes certain limitations on the philo-
sophical analysis of such propositions. To say that I objectively con-
front every object is merely to say that everything in the world is a
possible object of knowledge or, more generally, experience. And this
reduces to the fundamental Tractatus doctrine that everything in the
world must be constituent of some fact. For the "I" to be another
object would then mean its being the constituent of some fact or
facts. It would be just another possible object of experience. But then
in my experience of it I would be over against it, i.e., over against
I. And this is senseless.
I say "senseless," but many philosophers have seen just here that
peculiar feature which (they believe) distinguishes the subject from
everything else, namely, its, capacity for self-reflection or self-
reference. But this could not be consistent with ':Vittgenstein's sys-
tem. For one thing, it supposes that the subject has a certain essential
complexity, a point already referred to. Worse, however, is a difficulty
connected with the concept of "presupposition." This comes out in
Wittgenstein's analogy between the relation of subject and world, on
the one hand, and eye and visual field, on the other.
The analogy of the eye and its visual field. This analogy appears
both in the Tractatus (5.633 toO 5.634) and in the Notebooks (11.6.16;
12.8.16; and 20.10.16). Wittgenstein began by claiming, "I know that
this world exists. That I am placed in it like my eye in its visual
field" (11.6.16). Soon he abandoned the view that the eye was part of
(in) its visual field. "But you do not actually see the eye" (4.8.16).
Thus: you do not actually experience the subject-your self.
Can we not infer from anything in the visual field that it is seen
by (from) an eye? At 20.10.16 Wittgenstein writes: "The situation is
not simply that I everywhere notice where I see anything, but that
I also always find myself at a particular point of my visual space, so
my visual space has as it were a shape. In spite of this, however, it is
,true that I do not see the subject." We might try out the analogy
here. It is also the situation, we might say, that I always find myself
at a particular place in my world, so that my world has as it were a
shape-a logical structure. So one would be supposing that there are
"laws of logical perspective" obeyed by the contents of the world.
These contents would, then, point in accordance with such laws to
a kind of "logical center of perception," just as the contents of cer-
tain Renaissance paintings "point" towards an imaginary visual
center. Then one could infer, in accordance with these laws, the
existence of a "center of perception" for the world. And this would
be the subject.
There are, however, many difficulties in making this analogy. Even
if the fact that the visual field has a certain "shape" allows us to infer
that it is seen, and where from, still it is true that nothing in the
visual field permits this inference. For that the visual field has a
certain shape, and that such and such is its shape, is not itself in-
part of-the visual field. Similarly, even if the fact that my world is
arranged in a certain way allows me to infer that it is "experienced"
from a particular point of view, so to speak, still it remains true that
there is nothing in my world which allows this inference. Again, the
analogy appears to break down when we consider the alleged "laws
of logical perspective." For laws of perspective determine how things
look from different points of view. But we cannot make sense in the
Tractatus of the idea that things (including facts) might look differ-
ent from different "points of view." Nor, I think, can we readily
make sense of the idea that there could be different "points of view"
on one and the same world.
Wittgenstein connects the eye-subject analogy with his basic doc-
trine that "none of our experience is also a priori. All that we see
could also be otherwise. All that we can describe at all could be other-
wise" (See Notebooks, 12.8.16; and Tractatus, 5.634). If it is quite
contingent how things in the world are, we cannot use a description
of the world as the premises from which to deduce the nature of the
subject. For this would make the nature of the subject too quite
contingent. And it is hard to accept that the nature of the subject is
so wholly dependent on the contingent state of the world. (There is,
however, an important truth in this view, according to Wittgenstein,
and I return to it below.)
Wittgenstein probably considered that the impossibility of any-
thing's being both a priori and part of someone's experience was
connected with the impossibility of the subject's also being part of its
own experience. For he probably thought that, if there were any
propositions about the subject, they could not be other than a priori.
Certainly if the subject is something deduced transcendentally, any
truths about it are highly likely to be a priori.
Whatever exactly transcendental deduction may be, it is fairly
clear in the Kantian tradition that it is always thought of as leading
only to a priori truths, whether these be synthetic or analytic. So, if
the subject's existence can be deduced only transcendentally from
whatever facts about the world are relevant as premises, our conclu-
sions about it must take the form, "So a subject of such and such a
kind must exist." I believe it is partly for this general reason that
Wittgenstein came to believe that the existence of the subject could
not be asserted significantly.
To put Wittgenstein's arguments in this Kantian context is to
presuppose that his philosophy demands a distinction between what
we may call the "phenomenal" subject of experience, and that entity
whose existence is an a priori demand of metaphysical thinking.
Wittgenstein certainly did not deny the occurrence of such psycho-
logical phenomena as thinking, judging, and willing. But as phe-
nomena they could be, for him, of concern only to natural science,
e.g., empirical psychology. And the role played by such phenomena,
and the phenomenal entities we call persons to which such psycho-
logical phenomena are ascribed, must be matters of contingent fact.
But the metaphysical role of the (metaphysical) subject, and its
essential attributes if any, cannot be merely contingent.
Wittgenstein thus expresses his denial that the metaphysical sub-
ject (see Notebooks, 2.9.16; and Tractatus, 5.641) is part of the
world, together with his claim that it is a presupposition of the
world's existence, in his famous remark that it is the "limit of the
world" (Notebooks, 2.8.16 and 2.9.16; Tractatus, 5.632 and 5.641).
This is a doctrine taken directly out of Schopenhauer. Wittgenstein
in fact refers to Schopenhauer in the sentence immediately follow-
ing his first use of this doctrine. It is, however, extremely obscure.
In particular, it is not easy to reconcile with his view that "the self
of solipsism shrinks to an extensionless point" (Tractatus, 5.64). And
it is not clear whether the subject is the only limit of the world, or
one among several limits. FOll "the limits of language" are also, ap-
parently, the limits of the world.
Just as my visual field is limited, so my world is limited (see, for
example, Tractatus, 4.26 and 5.5561). It is limited by there being a
limited totality of objects, and a limited totality of elementary prop-
ositions. The limits of language must be the limits of what can be
said significantly. And this is simply the totality of all elementary
propositions, plus all propositions that can be formed from them
truth-functionally. Now the idea that the visual field is limited seems
to have consequences similar to the idea that it is structured, or has a
"shape." For if the visual field's shape allows us to infer a "visual
subject," so equally does its being limited. The particular way in
which it is limited points just as clearly to the existence of a subject
situated at some particular place. By analogy, then, one might argue
that the fact that the world is limited, and that it has the particular
limits it does have, points to the existence of a "logical subject."
The analogy, however, breaks down because we can conceive of the
visual subject's actually being somewhere else, so that the visual
field would have different limits. It is not that we cannot conceive of
the world having different limits from those it actually has, i.e.,
of the totality of elementary propositions differing in some respects.
(This would, of course, make the world a different world; but, one
might reply, so is a visual field with different limits a different visual
field too.) It is rather that it is from the conception of the world as
having limits that Wittgenstein arrives at his conception of the
metaphysical subject, and thus from the idea that the world might
have different limits that we might arrive at the idea of the meta-
physical subject being differently "located" in logical space, and not
vice versa.
Again, the visual field is limited by things beyond which I cannot
see. But there does not seem to be any possibility analogous to this
for the world as a whole. The world is limited, in the sense that
there is a limit to what can be significantly said, or thought. But, in
the case of the visual field, it is limited by objects which could
themselves be parts of a different visual field. And it is not possible
that nonsignificant "propositions" could be significant, although of
course sentences which contingently express such pseudo propositions
might express genuinely significant propositions under a different
system of rules.
The metaphysical subject. It is natural at this point to complain
that nothing seems to have been said yet which bears especially on
the idea of a subject of exper;ience. This discomfort is increased by
the very reductionist analysis of thought given by Wittgenstein. He
writes: "The thought is the significant sentence" (Tractatus, 4; there
are alternative translations of this important remark). And this
analysis underlies what he says about judgment and perception.
It is not, as I said earlier, that he denies the occurrence of those
psychological phenomena we ordinarily call thinking, judging, and
perceiving. The Tractatus arguably even allows a dualistic interpre-
tation of what he does say (and compare his letter to Russell of
19.8.19, Notebooks, p. 130, paragraph 4). Only the relation between
these psychological phenomena and their objects is analyzed as a
relation between two kinds of fact. This is simply an application of
the picture-theory of significance to psychological events and objects.
And it tells us nothing at all about the peculiar nature (if any) of
psychological objects and facts .. (This would, however, be a question
for empirical psychology.) So the effect of separating off all questions
about the nature of psychological phenomena from the purely logical
questions with which the Tractatus deals is that all questions about
the peculiar nature of experience, and of the experiencing subject,
are also separated off as irrelevant to logic. vVittgenstein implies,
in fact, that all the logician (metaphysician) need know is that there
must exist a subject which is complementary to the world. His
characterization is here absolutely minimal and, pro tanto, unhelp-
ful. (He would have said that the kind of "help" implied in this
remark was an illusion.)
It might be said, all the same, that the Tractatus does not give an
absolutely minimal account of the metaphysical subject. It connects
this idea with three further ideas.
First is the idea of language. This really replaces the standard
Cartesian connection of the subject with thinking. (See the Preface
to the Tractatus, paragraphs 3 and 4.) In the Tractatus at least, the
idea that the world has limits is explained via the concept of lan-
guage. So its concept of the subject is at least the concept of a
subject of language} i.e., a user and understander of language. (En
passant) it is just here that I think the critical philosophies of Kant,
on the one hand, and Frege and Wittgenstein, on the other, diverge.)
Second is the concept of a fact. It was central to the realism of
Moore and Russell that what is the case is logically independent
of any psychological phenomena that happen to be related to what
is the case, e.g., perception. This must follow, too, from Wittgen-
stein's general doctrine of the logical independence of all noncoinci-
dent states of affairs. So it looks as if it might make sense in the
Tractatus framework to suppose that "the world" might exist just
as it actually is, without there actually being any subject. This would
presumably have to be the case if there existed no life upon earth.
But this familiar, and apparently self-evident, view does not seem
to be Wittgenstein's. For he does say explicitly that the subject is
a presupposition of the world, although not in the Tractatus. Even
there he says that the world is my world, and that I am my world,
from which it appears to follow that there could not be a world
without a subject. The subject which is the world's limit must
ipso facto be the limit of the facts, in some sense. Again, although
on a realist view what is the case is logically independent of what
we say about it, this too does not seem to be compatible with the
basic doctrines of the Tractatus. So once more, the concept of a
subject seems to be at least the concept of a language-subject; for it
is the concept of a subject of facts, i.e., a being for whom things can
be the case or not be the case.
Third is the concept of experience. We are told nothing about
this, however. We can only suppose that it embraces all particular
psychological concepts such as perception. But here too Wittgen-
stein's analysis brings us back to facts, and thence to language-use.
We can, moreover, say certain things about the pure concept of a
"subject of language," a language-using and language-understanding
subject. These follow from the Tractatus analysis of language, the
essence of language. For example, the capacity to use language must
involve the capacity to "make pictures of the facts for ourselves"
(see Tractatus, 2.1). It must involve the capacity for "projection"
(see Tractatus, 3.11 to 3.13, and 4.0141). This relates to the capacity
for using signs, e.g., for using signs with assigned senses and refer-
ences. It also relates to the capacity for using signs according to
syntactical rules. Wittgenstein mentions also the "tacit conventions"
of ordinary language, but perhaps these are not necessary features of
any possible language.
However, all the things that we can say a priori about the idea of
a language-using subject are also purely formal. They tell us, after
all, only things about the essence of language. They tell us, in par-
ticular, nothing whatever about those psychological features which
presumably underlie the capacities involved in the use and under-
standing of language. To say this is, perhaps, only to say that no
a priori characterization of a language-user can give us empirical
information about language-users. Thus, in the end, Wittgenstein's
characterization of the metaphysical subject is seen to be absolutely
The metaphysical subject and the subject of experience. How can
the claim that there is a metaphysical subject be reconciled with the
denial that there is a "thinking, imaging, subject"? Surely the subject
that is the world's limit is so partly in the sense that it is the subject
for whom this world exists as it does. And this seems inseparable
from the claim that it is a subject for whom there is experience of
this world. And how could there be a subject for whom there was
experience of this world, unless that subject was essentially capable
of, say, perception?
Wittgenstein never says in the Tractatus that the metaphysical
subject is a subject of experience. He refers several times to "our"
experience (see, e.g., 5.552, 5.634, 6.1222, and 6.363). We must here
remember the distinction between the phenomenal self (subject) and
the metaphysical or transcendental ego. My experiences consist of
my perceptions, etc. But Wittgenstein offers a reductive analysis
of such psychological phenomena. The fact that I perceive things
does not prove that a metaphysical subject perceives things, since
in the former proposition "1" may well, and indeed must, refer to
a phenomenal entity. Experience is in fact a "phenomenal" concept,
and presupposes only a phenomenal subject. Thus Wittgenstein's
denial of a thinking (etc.) subject amounts to the denial of an experi-
encing subject.
So his final account of the relation between the metaphysical sub-
ject and the world draws nothing at all from any remarks he may
make about the relation between the phenomenal self and the world.
And this is surely what he was after. For if psychology, as a natural
science, is of no particular interest to philosophy, then a philosophi-
cal theory, even one about psychological phenomena, should not
involve contingent truths of empirical psychology.
Wittgenstein's ((transcendental solipsism." Near the end of the
Notebooks, at 9.11.16, Wittgenstein seems to clear the way for his
final abstraction of the idea oE the metaphysical subject from the
idea of (empirical) experience. "All experience is world and does
not need the subject" (my italics). Experience is not, so to speak,
something over against the world. Experience too is just a part of the
world, in Wittgenstein's sense of "the world."
This implies a denial of subjectivist idealism. But Wittgenstein
does not stop here. For he adds a peculiar form of transcendental
idealism. It is in this way that his "solipsism" can be interpreted
as a form of realism. (We might remember that Kant too claimed
to be an "empirical realist.") This is what Wittgenstein indicates
when he writes, "the self of solipsism shrinks to an extensionless
point, and there remains the reality coordinated with it" (Notebooks,
2.9.16; and Tractatus, 5.64). An "extensionless" self is a self without
empirical content, thus a self which is not itself found among the
This "solipsism" is expressed in three passages from the Note-
books, each found later in the Tractatus. (1) At Notebooks, 23.5.15
(Tractatus, 5.62), he writes, "The world is my world: this shows
itself in the fact that the limits of language (the language which
alone I understand) signify the limits of my world." (N.B. I agree
with Hintikka's reading of this much disputed passage.) I do not
think we need read this passage as implying the existence of "private
languages" in order to see Wittgenstein's point. For that point,
it makes no difference whether "my" language is private or public.
The only important thing about my language is that it is a language,
and thus that its limits and the limits of my (the) world are cor-
relatives. 'When Wittgenstein says, "The world is my world," he is
temporarily adopting the genuine solipsist's own inaccurate mode
of expression. For the world is certainly not my world, if by "me"
is meant the phenomenal me. And if it means the transcendental
ego, then the world is mine only in the sense that to the world there
must, as we know, correspond a transcendental ego. And it is im-
possible to identify the transcendental subject with that phenome-
non I call "myself."
Wittgenstein expresses his "solipsism" in two other passages of
the Tractatus (5.621 and 5.63). He writes, "The world and life are
one. I am my world. (The microcosm)." (This is nearly a straight
quotation from The World as Will and Idea, Volume 1, Second
Book, Chapter 29, Dover Books Edition, p. 162.) That life is the
world-the world is life-is asserted in the Notebooks (11.6.16 and
24.7.16). In the latter entry, Wittgenstein continues: "Physiological
life is of course not 'life'. And neither is psychological life." (Here is
a passage which seems to anticipate the central views of Wittgen-
stein's later philosophy.) The identification of life with the world
goes with an identification of death with the end of the world (see
Notebooks, 5.7.16 and 8.7.16; Tractatus, 6.431 and 6.4311). Death is
not an event in one's life. It could be called the limit of one's life.
Ordinarily we think of life as having two temporal limits, i.e., birth
and death. But Wittgenstein explicitly says, "Our life is endless in
just the same way as our visual field is boundless" (Tractatus, 6.4311).
We might add: in just the same way as the world can be said to lack
(empirical) limits.
Wittgenstein claims in the Notebooks (1.8.16 and 2.8.16) that I
am conscious of the uniqueness of my life, and that "this conscious-
ness is life itself." It would be interesting, and important, to pursue
his treatment of the idea of life further, but since many of these
remarks occur in passages with an ethical sense, it is perhaps better
to postpone this discussion.
I do not want to imply, in all this, that Wittgenstein's "solipsism"
amounts to no more than what has been described. This is how some
commentators, e.g., Hintikka, appear to construe it. If it were so,
it would be an almost entirely negative doctrine. Now insofar as
Wittgenstein is alluding to the Cartesian idea of the subject, his
doctrine is almost entirely negative. But it has a positive component,
and this is his characteristic conception of the subject as a willing
entity. I mentioned this right at the beginning of this section of my
essay (p. 182 f.). Before discussing it, however, it is essential to say
something about Wittgenstein's view of the relation(s) between
thinking and willing.
The relation between thinking and willing. This problem struck
Wittgenstein while he was compiling the Notebooks. He returns to
it again and again. Can there exist a being with will but without
"thought" (Vorstellung)? Can there exist a being with "thought,"
but without will? Suchlike problems do not occur in the pages of
the Tractatus, and their omission does not make its doctrine of the
subject any easier to understand.
In the Notebooks, at 21.7.16, Wittgenstein introduces the idea
of a person who cannot directly exercise his will, but is still "in the
ethical sense the bearer of a wdl." This is the idea of someone who
cannot act, i.e., perform bodily movements at will, but can think and
want things, and can also communicate his thoughts and desires. (A
figure out of Samuel Beckett, perhaps.) The relation between the
ideas of willing and wanting will be discussed in the next section.
Here there is already a difficulty about the relation between willing
and thinking. Wittgenstein senses this. For he goes on to write "Or
does the mistake lie in this, that already wanting (or thinking) is
an activity of the will?" It looks as if he was prepared to consider
the possibility that thinking falls under the generic concept of will-
ing, so that a thinking being would ipso facto be a willing being.
(There are again antecedents for such a view in Schopenhauer:
Book Four, Chapter 55.)
Later in the same entry Wittgenstein wrote, "But is a being
conceivable which could only have presentations (vorstellen) (see,
for example), but not will at all? In some sense this seems im-
possible." He does not say why it seems so. But his remark supports
my view that he found it natural to subsume thinking under willing.
When he later asks, "Is seeing an activity?" (Notebooks, 29.7.16),
he is probably worrying the same question once more.
N ow if the concept of thinking falls under the generic concept
of willing, it will be impossible-logically impossible-that a being
should be able to think (whatever this comes to) but not to will.
"Not being able to will" may mean one of two things. (1) It may
mean possessing a will but not being able to exercise it. (2) Or it
may mean not possessing a will at all. This distinction shows that it
might be possible that there should exist a being which could think,
but not exercise its will, even if it were impossible that there should
exist a being which could think, but did not possess a will. Wittgen-
stein speaks in the Notebooks of "the life of knowledge" (13.8.16).
He seems to mean a life based on renunciation of the will, or renun-
ciation of one's desires. Now someone who has, in this sense, re-
nounced his will must still be capable of thought and be thinking:
"the life of knowledge." What he renounces, therefore, cannot be all
"will," in the sense in which this general term includes thinking.
He renounces that part of his will which is expressed in his having
desires and trying to satisfy them.
The correlative problem is discussed in the Notebooks entry at
4.11.16. Here Wittgenstein writes: "The will seems always to have
to relate to an idea (Vorstellung). We cannot, e.g., imagine that we
have carried out an act of will without having detected that we have
carried it out. Otherwise there might arise such a question as
whether it had yet been completely carried out." He continues:
"It is, so to speak, clear that we need a foothold for the will in
the world." Further on he considers the possibility that it is through
certain feelings that we detect when an act of will is occurring, i.e.,
that we detect when we are acting. Then there is a curious passage
which reads: "If the will has to have an object in the world, the
object can be the intended action itself. And the will must have an
object. Otherwise we should have no foothold, and could not know
what we willed. And could not will different things."
If the will had no foothold in the world, we could not know that
our willing had been fulfilled, or not. For the will to have its ful-
fillment in the world is simply for it to have its object in the world.
And it must have its fulfillment in the world, if we are to be able to
judge whether it has been fulfilled or not. Otherwise it would not
be a fact that it had been fulfilled or unfulfilled. And Wittgenstein
clearly thinks that it must be a matter of fact whether any par-
ticular act of will is fulfilled or unfulfilled. It will also, of course,
follow that it is a matter of fact whether it has been completely
fulfilled or not; there is no third possibility.
Wittgenstein goes further than this, however. He implies that if
I can will, I must be able to know whether my will is fulfilled or
nor. He also implies that if I can will, I must be able to know
what I will. Now if I know what I will, it follows that I am at least
able to know whether what I have willed has come to pass or not.
The latter view thus entails the former. So if the former were false,
the latter would necessarily also be false. Then, if it were impossible
for me to know whether my will had been fulfilled or not, it would
follow that it was also impossible for me to know what I willed. I
think it is in this way that Wittgenstein argues: if the will had no
foothold in the world, we could not know what we willed.
In all of this, it is clearly implied that, in the ordinary sense, we
normally do know what we will. The supposition that we may not
really know what we will is not taken seriously.
Now I shall argue in the second section of my essay that we have
to distinguish several senses of '''will'' in Wittgenstein's early writings.
The sense of "will" which we have just been discussing is a sense in
which we can say, So-and-so willed that PJ i.e .. , that it should come to
be the case that p. And this is obviously pretty closely related to the
idea of wanting that p. What Wittgenstein will have argued, given
the possibility of a distinction of senses of "will," is merely that
this kind of willing necessarily implies thinking. From this it does
not follow that all kinds of "willing" necessarily imply thinking.
Again, as I argued above, it may still be true that a being could
think but not will in the narrow sense, without its being true that
a being could think but not will in toto. (Willing in the narrow
sense we might call "propositional willing.")
II. The Will and the World
The independence of the world from the will. When we speak of
the possibility of being able to exercise our wills, or to carry out our
acts of will, we seem to imply that in some manner the world can,
so to speak, be bent to conform to our wills. We can make it be
the case that such and such; at any rate, this is always an open
possibility. But Wittgenstein denies this. And his denial is explicit,
and strongly founded in some of his logical doctrines. This denial
dearly raises a problem of possible logical inconsistency. Can we
reconcile the view that the will (in the narrow "propositional" sense)
has a foothold in the world, i.e., can be fulfilled or unfulfilled in the
world, with the doctrine that the world is logically independent of
the will? Perhaps this is unnecessary. For there is nothing apparently
left in the Tractatus or the Notebooks view that the will, in some
sense, has a foothold in the world. Wittgenstein seems to have
simply given up the latter view as incompatible with his chief logical
The idea that the world is independent of the will came to him
quite early (see Notebooks) 5.7.16.). In the previous entry he had
already written: "I cannot bend the happenings of the world to my
will, but am completely powerless" (11.6.16). To have power would
mean that the world was not logically independent of my will,
since it would mean that I could influence what happened. Wittgen-
stein claims, however, that we can have a certain kind of power,
namely "by renouncing any influence on happenings" (11.6.16).
That is, by coming to realize that one in fact has no possible influ-
ence on what happens, coming to assent to this (necessary) state of
affairs, and abandoning the vain attempt to influence the course
of the world. (N otice already hints of a Stoic ethics peeping through
vVittgenstein's words.)
The world is logically independent of the will. "For it is a fact
of logic that wanting stands in no logical connection with its ful-
fillment" (Notebooks) 29.7.16; my italics). (This is not absolutely
conclusive, since it is not absolutely clear that "the will" can be
identified with the psychological phenomenon of wanting.) Although
the sense of "willing that p" presupposes that "P" has sense, still
the truth-value of any proposition of the form "So-and-so wills that
p" is logically independent of the truth-value of "p."
N ow in the world everything is, logically speaking, on a level.
This includes my own body, and in particular those parts of it
which we ordinarily consider as subordinate to my will, e.g., my
limbs. That some parts of the world are "subordinate to my will"
in the ordinary sense is stated even in the Tractatus (5.63); this is
a matter of fact. It is, however, puzzling in the face of the doctrine
that there is nothing whatever that I can influence. For what then
would be the sense of the common-sense idea that we can distinguish
between parts of the world subordinate to my will, e.g., my limbs,
and parts not subordinate? "'That could be the sense of "subordi-
nate"? In the long Notebooks entry for 4.11.16, Wittgenstein writes,
"For it appears through consideration of willing as if one part of the
world were closer to me than another (which would be intolerable)."
If this were the case, the will would clearly no longer stand as the
world's limit, i.e., its correlative.
At 11.6.16 vVittgenstein says, "my will penetrates [durchdringt-
perhaps "permeates" is better] the world." He adds, "The world is
given to me, i.e. my will enters into the world completely from out-
side as into something that is already there" (7.7.16). Notice the re-
emphasis of the idea that the will is, so to speak, completely beyond
this world of facts-its limit. Second, notice the implicit emphasis
on the prior givenness of this world. The world is not something that
we can bring into being in any way. Given these familiar claims,
what can we make of the idea that the will in some way "penetrates"
or "permeates" the world? For if it does this, is this not to say that
in some way the will gets into the world? And how could the will
be in the world without being operative in the world? These puzzles
lead directly to vVittgenstein's discussions of the relation of the will
to the body, and to bodily action.
The will and the body. The concepts of the will and the body
are related to each other in the concept of action. vVittgenstein's
difficulties about this relation reflect a difficulty in his idea of action.
vVhen he says that it looks as if part of the world, i.e., my body or
parts of it, were closer to my will than the rest of the world, he
immediately adds, "But of course it is undeniable that in a popular
sense I do certain things and do not do others" (Notebooks, 4.11.16).
I shall say more specifically about action below.
There are two important passages in the Notebooks in which the
ideas of will, body, and action are related to each other. At 20.10.16
vVittgenstein writes, "At any rate I can imagine carrying out the
act of will for raising my arm, but that my arm does not move ....
Let us go further and suppose that even the sinew did not move, and
so on. We should then arrive at the position that the act of will does
not relate to a body at all, and so that in the ordinary sense of the
word there is no such thing as the act of will" (my italics). Presum-
ably it is part of the "ordinary sense" of "act of will" that per-
formance of an act of will necessarily involves something happening
in the world, e.g., in my body. Wittgenstein is then supposing that
we might come to conceive of a kind of "act of will" taking place
although nothing happened in the world. Indeed, his argument
seems to be that this possibility is, contrary to first sight, already
implicit in the ordinary use of the phrase "act of will."
At 21.7.16 he writes, "Let us imagine a man who could use none
of his limbs and hence could, in the ordinary sense, not exercise
his will." He then supposes that this man could, as it were, exercise
his will indirectly, by communicating it to someone else. It is clear
that he thinks all of this is a possibility. Let us distinguish the kind
of "willing," here imagined as the ethical will, from its ordinary
sense as the body-moving will. Wittgenstein's considerations will,
then, have shown that a man may possess the ethical will without
possessing the body-moving will. "Ethical willing" does not neces-
sarily involve the capacity for bodily action.
The concept of a body-moving will, as introduced here, is the
concept of a will which is essentially embodied in some action.
Now Wittgenstein seems to distinguish between action and speech
in the second passage quoted above. It is not clear why, and it makes
his argument unnecessarily weak. Even speech involves bodily move-
ments, and thus the distinction between ethical willing and body-
moving willing is not yet clear. Of course the ethical will, unlike the
body-moving will, is not immediately embodied in that action at
which it aims: it is embodied only indirectly, via its being com-
municated to someone else who is presumably to carry it out. Still
it shares with the body-moving will, according to Wittgenstein's
own description, the important feature of being effective-possibly
effective-in the world. And Wittgenstein could, I think, have
strengthened his position if he had postulated a completely ineffec-
tive will. This is not inconceivable. We have only to extend his own
example by imagining someone who has lost all power of movement
including the power of speech, so that it is quite impossible for him
to communicate his will to anyone else by any means whatever. We
can still perfectly well credit such a person with desires and an ethical
attitude, in the ordinary sense.
In fact this extremely inefft'Ctive will seems to be a demand of
Wittgenstein's own theory that the world and the will are logically
independent. For a body-moving will must be connected essentially
with some (human) body. This would not be possible if the general
theory were true. Indeed it seems to follow from the general theory
that there can be no such thing as an "act of will" in the ordinary
sense. To say this is to say that there can be no actions, in the
ordinary sense of the word. ,\Ve can of course identify among the
world's happenings a class of events involving movements of (human)
bodies. But this does not identify a class of events differing in
category from events not involving movements of human bodies.
Psychophysical parallelism. In the long Notebooks entry at 15.
10.16, Wittgenstein considers yet another way in which the concepts
of will and body might be related. This passage seems to introduce
a concept of will which is distinct from, and wider than, either
concept so far discussed. For ,\Vittgenstein here appears to identify
will with Geist, i.e., spirit, or character. "As I can infer my spirit
(character, will) from my physiognomy, so I can infer the spirit
(will) of each thing from its physiognomy." (N.B. He is going to re-
ject the inference-view contained in this conception.)
This passage is difficult to interpret, since Wittgenstein does not
come down quite decisively on either side. He does reject the idea
that "spirit" and body are related merely empirically, i.e., causally,
for there is no causal nexus, as he repeated later in the Tractatus
in a quite general context. (See 5.136.) A natural philosopher's
alternative is the view that the relation is in some sense internal.
So an angry face would, on this view, be angry in itself, as he says,
and not just through its empirical connection with feelings of anger.
If the relation were internal, we could of course then genuinely
infer the nature of the "spirit" from the nature of the body, i.e.,
its physiognomy. (See Tractatus, 5.131 to 5.133 for the general
underpinnings of this claim.) When Wittgenstein speaks, in this
passage, of "the psychophysical conception," he appears to mean
something like this aprioristic theory.
In his considerations he now proceeds to broaden the parallelism
he has introduced. He writes, "Now is it true (following the psycho-
physical conception) that my character is expressed only in the build
of my body or brain and not equally in the build of the whole of the
rest of the world? This contains a salient point. This parallelism,
then, really exists between my spirit, i.e. spirit, and the world." This
conclusion is probably behind his identification of "the world"
and "life."
Interestingly, it is in the context of this argument about psycho-
physical parallelism that Wittgenstein first writes down the thought
that turns up in the Tractatus (5.64) as the claim that solipsism,
strictly thought through, coincides with realism. In the Notebooks
his expression is somewhat different. "This is the way that I have
travelled: Idealism divides men from the world as unique, solipsism
divides me out as solitary, and at last I see that I too belong with
the rest of the world, and so on the one side nothing is left over,
and on the other as unique the world. So idealism strictly thought
through leads to realism."
The argument that led Wittgenstein to "solipsism" appears to be
as follows. If we raise the question of ascribing a spirit (character,
will) to beings other than ourselves, a familiar answer is that we
are justified in doing this in virtue of a certain analogy. "If I were
to look like the snake and to do what it does then I should be such-
and-such" (Notebooks, 15.10.16). Wittgenstein seems to construe
this argument as part of the general theory of psychophysical paral-
lelism. But he now raises an objection. "But the question arises
whether even here my body is not on the same level with that of the
wasp and of the snake (and surely it is so), so that I have neither
inferred from that of the wasp to mine nor from mine to that of the
wasp" (my italics).
So, if inference comes in here at all, it is no more inference from
the relation between my body and my spirit to the relation between
your body and your spirit than it is the other way round. So at
least Wittgenstein rejects the familiar form of solipsism that is
presupposed by an attempt to use the argument from analogy. He
was, like the genuine solipsist, still inclined to say that there could
be only one spirit. Only it will now have to be "a will that is com-
mon to the whole world" (Notebooks) 17.10.16). We can still in a
sense identify this will with my will: but the sense of this identifica-
tion is obviously quite different from ordinary solipsism. "As my
idea is the world, in the same way my will is the world-will" (ibid.).
Some at least of this doctrine is still implicitly present in the
Tractatus. For in that work we still find that my will is the world's
limit; that is to say, that it is the world's will, as we might call it.
Wittgenstein does not make it clear how this third concept of
will is distinguished from, or related to, the two other concepts of
will-the concepts of the body-moving will (the will embodied in
action) and the ethical will (ineffective and world-independent wish-
ing). I am inclined to think it relates more closely to the latter.
For if we take it that when Wittgenstein speaks of the world of the
happy man as being a happy world he is tacitly doing ethics, it
follows that we shall be doing something very close to ethics if we
paraphrase that remark by saying that the character of the happy
man is mirrored in his world, his life.
Action and the will. I want here to return to the difficult topic
of action. It is here that vVittgenstein seems to have experienced
some of his greatest difficulties. Let us begin, once again, from the
idea that the will has to have some "foothold" in the world. In
the Notebooks) at 4.11.16, vVittgenstein writes, "If the will has to
have an object in the world, the object can be the intended action
itself. And the will does have to have an object." For I cannot will
without willing that p) i.e., that something determinate should
come to be the case.
The claim that the will has to have an object in the world is
ambiguous. It might be understood as the claim that the will must
have some potential object in the world, as, say, fear and hope must
have potential objects. It might also be understood as the claim that
the will must have an actual object in the world. There are, perhaps,
some grounds for this strong interpretation for vVittgenstein. For
several times he makes it plain that he does not consider the "act
of will" as something independent of and prior to the willed action.
"This is clear: it is impossible to will without already performing
the act of the will. The act of the will is not the cause of the action
but the action itself. One cannot will without acting" (Notebooks)
4.11.16). He adds later, "Wishing is not acting. But willing is
acting .... The fact that I will an action consists in my performing
the action, not in my doing something else which causes the action."
He adds, "The wish precedes the event, the will accompanies it."
Wittgenstein thus seems to identify the "act of will" with the
willed action. This partly explains his view that the act of will
is "compelled" to accompany the willed action. The relation be-
tween the act of will and the willed action is some kind of internal
If the act of will is identified with the willed action, then it comes
to appear as if it were identical with what is its own object. This
is peculiar, since it implies that in this case we cannot make the
usual distinction between "mental act" and "object" that we can,
for example, in respect of fear or hope, or wishing.
In the Notebooks at 8.7.16, Wittgenstein wrote, "What my will
is, I do not yet know." It is fairly natural to begin by trying to
identify the will with wanting or wishing. It seems to have been the
absence of an internal connection between wanting and its fulfill-
ment that first led Wittgenstein to claim that the world and the will
must be independent. At 21.7.l6 he appears to identify the concept
I have called the "ethical will" with wanting; at any rate, wanting
is an essential constituent of such a will. At 29.7.16, too, he seems
to move from the question whether it is possible not to will at
all directly to the concept of not wanting anything.
Even if something like that identification were accepted, it would
not follow that we must abandon the identification of the act of
will with the willed action. For it is possible to claim that wanting
is one of the activities of the will. Wittgenstein does make just this
suggestion at one point (Notebooks) 21.7.16). This move would,
however, force a dissociation of the concepts of action and bodily
movement. For clearly wanting is not itself an activity in the sense
of itself involving bodily movements.
On the other hand, Wittgenstein has two ways of contrasting the
will and wanting. At 4.11.16 he writes, "The wish precedes the
event, the will accompanies it." This does not perhaps imply that
wishing cannot ever accompany the event, only that willing can
never precede the willed action. Again, that the act of will ac-
companies the willed action is not a merely contingent matter of
fact. On the other hand, even if a desired action be accompanied by
the corresponding wish, this can never be more than a contingent
matter of fact.
One possible conclusion may be as follows. If wanting is to be
identified with a kind of willing, it must be identified with the
"ethical" will, rather than the body-moving will. For wanting can
obviously be quite ineffective. Again, it is obviously possible that
there are conceptual relations between wanting and that broader
idea of the will which Wittgenstein identifies with character, spirit.
This is surely, however, one of those points at which Wittgenstein
got out of his Notebooks difficulties by simply abandoning a certain
part of their views. Nothing is heard in the Tractatus of the dialec-
tics of the Notebooks, with a few faint exceptions. I shall suggest
below, moreover, a radical interpretation of Wittgenstein's views
on the will which will allow us to make sense of nearly everything
that appears even in the Notebooks, and that fits the Tractatus too.
At this point we need note only the apparently insoluble confusions
generated by the supposition that Wittgenstein has a unitary concept
of the will.
The freedom of the will. It is natural to follow a discussion of
action by a discussion of the classical idea of the will as free.
Wittgenstein, however, says very little about this. "The freedom
of the will consists in this, that: future actions cannot be known yet.
We could know them only if causality were an inner necessity, like
that of logical inference." (See Tractatus, 5.1362, and Notebooks,
27.4.15.) This is a minimal characterization of the freedom of the
will. For the impossibility of knowing what actions are going to be
performed is just part of the general impossibility of knowing what
events are going to occur. It is clearly claimed in the Tractatus
(6.3631 to 6.36311) that we have "no grounds for believing that the
simplest eventuality will in fact be realized." We do not know
that the sun will rise tomorrow. This claim is founded, first, on
Wittgenstein's total rejection of the idea of induction as a kind
of logical inference. Induction occurs, but does not involve employ-
ment of a special class of laws of logic; it can thus be justified only
in a psychological sense. This attack goes with his attack on the
Leibnizian notion of causality (see Tractatus, 6.36 to 6.361, 6.32 to.
6.34, and 5.136). He seems to have thought this notion animistic,
since he remarks that belief in a causal nexus is superstition. The
Humean claim is founded, second, on Wittgenstein's general doc-
trine of the logical independence of any two distinct events (Trac-
tatus, 5.135).
These grounds for Wittgenstein's view that the will is "free"
make it clear that this is a minimal view. For the will is not given
any kind of distinctive characterization.
To say that freedom of the will amounts to the unpredictability
(i.e., logical unpredictability) of future actions is to say, conversely,
that (logical) predictability of future actions would amount to the
will's being "unfree." Such arguments have been found in the his-
tory of philosophy. However the idea of future actions as logically
predictable can be given no sense whatever in the Tractatus system:
it is the denial of a proposition that is itself a necessary truth and
thus a tautology. So the "un freedom" of the will, in this system, is
something inconceivable, self-contradictory. That the will is free is
now seen to be, in the Tractatus
a tautology. Hence it gives us no
information about the nature of the will.
Similarly, the idea of freedom does not seem to be given any
content. If the impossibility of predicting future actions is just part
of the impossibility of predicting the future, we have not yet been
given any particular role for the idea of action (see above).
The absence of any distinctive characterization of the will, and its
freedom, is a partial consequence of the view that the world is
logically independent of the will. It is a partial consequence of the
Tractatus claim that the will is quite ineffective in the world. Indeed,
it looks as if claiming total ineffectiveness for the will amounts to
claiming freedom of the will. For to claim that the will had a certain
effectiveness in the world would be to claim that the future could
in certain respects be predicted. And this would be claiming that
the will is not wholly free.
In ordinary thought, perhaps, we connect those ideas that Wittgen-
stein disconnects and contra poses, i.e., the ideas that the will is free
and that it is partially effective. We ordinarily think that the will's
freedom is shown in the predictability of future actions. These
common sense views do, as I showed, crop up in the Notebooks in
the discussions of action and the will. Thus the Tractatus doctrine
of the freedom of the will involves a wholesale rejection of every-
thing in the Notebooks whose gist is that the will is in any way
effective within the world. This must include the idea of the body-
moving will, the idea of the will as embodied in action. The Trac-
tatus does, however, seem to allow room still for those other notions
of the will I introduced earlier, i.e., the notions of the purely
ethical will and of the will a ~ character or Geist.
The transcendence of the will. The radical view of Wittgenstein
1 wish to propose is that in the Tractatus we must distinguish be-
tween a phenomenal will and a transcendental will. This distinction
is in fact made in 6.423, w h e ~ r e Wittgenstein says, "It is impossible
to speak about the will insofar as it is the subject of ethical attributes.
And the will as phenomenon interests only psychology" (my italics).
About ethics 1 shall not speak, although I believe it can be shown
that Wittgenstein's doctrine of the will is intimately bound up with
his ethical theories.
By "the will as phenomenon," i.e" the phenomenal will, Wittgen-
stein can mean only those phenomena, facts, which we are ordinarily
referring to in speaking of "the will" or willing. This will, then,
stands for the empirical facts of wanting, wishing, and hoping, of
voluntary and deliberate action, and of happiness and unhappiness,
and so forth. (For the latter, see Notebooks, 30.7.16: happiness too
can be regarded as noumenon, for the "objective mark"of the happy
life can be only a "metaphyical, a transcendental" mark.) These
phenomena are the subject-matter of empirical psychology, not of
philosophy or logic. On the other hand, if we try to identify what
the correlative "will as noumenon" (noumenal will) might be, in
terms of the set of definitions discussed above, both (i) will as Geist
and (ii) the idea of the ineffective will, i.e., the ethical will, seem to
fit Wittgenstein's requirements.
The noumenal, transcendental, will is Wittgenstein's "subject"-
the willing subject.
This transcendental will will not, like the phenomenal will, be
part of the world. It will not be in the world, an object or fact. (I
speak loosely here.) It will in fact be the world's limit.
The sense in which the transcendental willing subject is "free" and
"independent" of the world is explained by the arguments already
given. Now it was seen there that these arguments end by giving only
a minimal, and hence unsatisfactory, account of the will. But we
can now see that this dissatisfaction was misplaced. For of the
phenomenal subject, and will, there is no doubt much to say. The
psychological characterization of the phenomena of willing is proba-
bly extensive. But all of this is a matter of concern only to empirical
psychology. But of the transcendental will, of course, nothing can
be said; and even those few things that apparently can be said, e.g.,
that such a will exists, that it complements the world, etc., are not
in the end really significant. So the very demand for any nonminimal
description of the transcendental will is a mistake, resting on failure
to see that Wittgenstein distinguishes the noumenal from the phe-
nomenal. (It is, in the end, a mistake even to desire and attempt
reference to the transcendental will, as it is a mistake to attempt
reference to the transcendental subject.)
Although the argument of this essay is self-contained, it fails to say
everything that is to be said concerning Wittgenstein's early theories
of the will. For I have not discussed his ideas about the relation
between the concepts of the will and the ethical, the latter under-
stood as including the ideas of the meaning of life, happiness, value,
duty, and God. It is obvious, however, that such a discussion would
have to be at least as complicated and lengthy as the analysis con-
tained in my essay up to this point. For a further justification of
this omission, I point with some hesitancy towards a distinction of
methods or subjects. Let me say that what I have been doing in this
essay is sketching the epistemological aspects of Wittgenstein's early
thinking about the will. That his thinking has other aspects, includ-
ing the ethical (in a very broad sense), is not denied. But I have
limited myself to a study of the former. I have tried, partly by
argument and partly by plausible interpretation, to show that we
can make philosophical sense out of the puzzling remarks on the will
in Wittgenstein's early writings. I have argued that we may ascribe
to him a "powerful and general theory of the will." And I have
tried to show that this theory is one of the family of theories we
may call neo-Kantian.
McGill University