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Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one shall be silent.

in relation to Wittgensteins conception of metaphysics
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one shall be silent is a proposition
taken from Ludwig Wittgensteins Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a book
written by Wittgenstein with the intention of exploring the relationship
between our language and reality. The main area of philosophy which
Wittgenstein is associated with is metaphysics, as the majority of his work
concerns our existence and nature of being. One of Ludwigs most
prominent subjects of focus was linguistic meaning and what it is that
makes a statement meaningful or meaningless. This area of Wittgensteins
work is important in understanding the title statement as language plays a
significant role in the way in which we perceive our world and also
contributes greatly to our understanding of reality.
Wittgenstein was a key figure in the analytical philosophy movement; both
his earlier and later works are essential throughout this area of philosophy
and are still explored by many philosophers today. Analytical philosophy is
thought to originate from the early 1900s, and is said to be antiphilosophy, as it is usually studied by those who are unsure as to whether
philosophy is a significant form of human activity. The work of
Wittgenstein is often divided into the early years and later years, in order
to discuss Wittgensteins views and ideas on linguistic philosophy further,
these periods will be studied in this order.
The main focuses of the early years of Wittgensteins career are centered
on what makes language meaningful and how this affects philosophy as a
whole. Wittgensteins first work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was
written in the trenches of the first world war, in the introduction of TPL
(Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus), he states; Its [the books] whole
meaning could be summed up somewhat as follows: what can be said at
all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be
silent [WITTGESTEIN, L. 2009. p27.] This illustrates the in depth study into
the importance of language which Ludwig has carried out through his
career. It is said that Ludwig had the view that philosophy can appear
pointless at times as the majority of philosophical questions are presented
using meaningless and sloppy language. Wittgensteins critique on
philosophy is stated in TPL as follows; When an answer cannot be put into
words, neither can the question be put into words. The riddle does not
exist. If a question can be framed at all, its also possible to answer it
[WITTGENSTEIN, L. 2009. p28.]

Ludwig feels that through using conceptual clarification, philosophical

questions can be demystified or even solved. If the terms used in the
question being posed dont make complete sense or are nonsensical then
the question itself becomes worthless, or meaningless, as it is only
questions with meaning that can be answered. In other words, if a
question is not presented in a clear and concise manner it becomes
difficult to answer in a comprehendible way, therefore should be
discarded. As a result Wittgenstein holds the vision that What we cannot
speak about we must pass over in silence [WITTGENSTEIN, L. 2009. p28.].

Wittgenstein theorises that the world entirely consists of facts as opposed

to objects. He feels that it is only meaningful language which can be used
to express facts effectively therefore it is these meaningful sentences
which picture reality. Similarly to Wittgensteins views on philosophy, he
also feels that religion is an issue which is comprised of misused language
and meaningless sentences which suggests that if something can not be
expressed or explained using comprehendible language then it can not be
proved to exist.

The later period of Wittgensteins career was focused around

ordinary language philosophy and the importance of social context
in understanding linguistic meaning. A quote from Wittgenstein that
sums up his theory on the relationship between our society and
language is; The limits of my language mean the limits of my world
[WITTGENSTEIN, L. 2009. p88.] Although this statement is from TLP, it
suitably illustrates the connection from his earlier to later works and
his thought process when studying philosophy. The dominant body
of work in Wittgensteins late career was Philosophical
Investigations which was first published in 1953, and is largely
based upon linguistic meaning. When looking at linguistic meaning,
Wittgenstein supposed that it is impossible to have a private or
personal language, as all language is communal. One can not
understand the inner thoughts of another without social context, in
the book Ludwig goes on to say; An inner process stands in need
of outward criteria. [WITTGENSTEIN, L. 2001. p129], this highlights the
idea that without a public and shared understanding of language it
would be impossible to know what these thoughts were as we learn
language based on social context and how other people have used
the same words. Through time we have come to understand
different words for certain emotions, such as love or pain. We would
not know what these emotions are and how to address them, had
people around us not shown similar feelings and given them a
name. When a child is born and for some reason they feel anger,
without putting this feeling into a social context, the child is not
aware that it is anger or why we feel it. It is only when the shared
meaning that has been applied to it through expressing the feeling
to others, can we understand the emotion fully, we only know what
it is due to the social context we see it in through communication. A
word in the book which Wittgenstein has grammatically investigated
to illustrate this point is the word understanding. What we look for
when reading into whether someone understands something is not
based on their inner process, but instead we are judging their
outward behaviour. There has been public meaning added to the
word, which explains how someone appears when they are
understanding something however there is no way of knowing if
another person truly understands the idea themselves as it is a
private inner process. In the book, Origins of Analytical Philosophy
the following is suggested; The philosophical act of uttering a sentence

is accompanied by an interior act of attaching a meaning to it [DUMMETT,

M. 1996. p44.] this supports Wittgensteins statement in Philosophical
Investigations which follows; When I think in language, there arent
meanings going through my mind in addition to the linguistic expression;
but the language itself is the vehicle of the thinking [WITTGENSTEIN, L.
2001. p90.].

When relating Wittgensteins work back to the title quote, it seems

he feels that without the use of languages, any form of
communication would be impossible as the words we choose to
speak and the assumed social context that they have been put into
are crucial in how humans communicate from day to day. In
Ludwigs TLP he claims there are no limits on our inner thoughts,
however it is language that creates this boundary. He comes to this
conclusion by expressing the idea that there is no such thing as the
unthinkable as once we acknowledge the unthinkable, its object is
defeated and thus it becomes the thinkable. It is possible however
to have inner thoughts which one can not express through language
which leads us to believe therefore, something is not unthinkable
but instead unable to be expressed in our language. This is summed
up in TLP as such; The limit can, therefore, only be drawn in
language and what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply
nonsense. [WITTGENSTEIN, L. 2009. p27.]. Wittgenstein considers human
beings as creatures of language and as a result can only make
sense of the world and communicate effectively through this
medium. This view is shown in the title quote as if one is unable to
talk they have no way of expressing their true emotions or inner
thoughts, as language is crucial in doing so. Even if a person is able
to hear, they can grasp meanings of words and draw from the
language used by others, yet without the ability to talk themselves,
personal thoughts and views will remain unheard. There are
arguments against this point as there are numerous books and
internet websites focused on body language and claiming it is
possible to master the art of reading body language in order to
communicate with different people, however Wittgenstein would
disagree with this notion as he feels that expressions and body
language are open to interpretation and would differ from person to
person as there are no specific movements which are as universally
known to mean a specific word or emotion, they way a body might
try and portray these words or feelings would alter from day to day
and person to person. However this isnt to say that language is as
clear cut as it appears, as in language a certain word can have
multiple meanings however the particular way in which a word is
meant when spoken is determined based on the sentence it is a part
of and the social context at the time it is spoken, so words still
remain objective as opposed to subjective body language and
gestures. A statement which highlights the importance of context in
language, appears in Philosophical Investigations; you cannot
detach meaning from speech; they come as one, Thinking is not an
incorporeal process which lends life and sense to speaking, and

which it would be possible to detach from speaking [ WITTGENSTEIN, L.

2001. p92]. This suggests that it is the context of the word in the
sentence that triggers the particular meaning of the word at that
After examining the different aspects to Wittgensteins metaphysic
philosophies, it is obvious that he felt there is a strong connection
between the language and how it affects different aspects of our
lives, such as our society, our communication and the world we live
in. In Wittgensteins TLP, he states that; The limits of my language
mean the limits of my world [WITTGENSTEIN, L. 2009. p88.] which
appropriately sums up the level of importance language holds in his
theories. Wittgenstein believes language to be objective and only
appears to alter depending on the context of a word in a particular
sentence. Should someone lack the ability to speak, he feels that
they therefore remain silent in our world as there is no means of
communication which is meaningful in comparison to the spoken
word. Facial expressions and body language could be argued to be
subjective, which could result in difference of opinions when it
comes to interpreting what the person or animal is trying to express.
Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is
to be found in the grammar of the language. [WITTGENSTEIN, L. 2001].

Wittgenstein, L (2009). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. New York: Cosimo Inc.
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Wittgenstein, L (2001). Philosophical Investigations. 3rd ed. Oxford: Blackwell

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Wittgenstein, L (2001). Philosophical Investigations. 3rd ed. Oxford: Blackwell
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