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B. A. W O R T H I N G T O N
Ethics and the Limits of Language in
THIS ARTICLE IS A STUDY of the "mystical" passages at the end of Wittgenstein's Tractatus and will put forward an interpretation of Wittgenstein's doctrines of the inexpressibility of ethics and metaphysics.' My first principal claim is that the rejection of metaphysics is based on a belief, evident in the mystical passages, that metaphysical reflection is inseparable from metaphysical anxiety and is therefore to be avoided. Wittgenstein's ethic of "life in the present" is put forward as a means by which freedom from metaphysical concerns may be achieved. Since "life in the present" is presented in the Notebooks as a means of overcoming "the misery of the world," I suggest that this part o f Wittgenstein's system is based upon his acceptance of Schopenhauer's doctrine that "the misery and suffering of life" is the source of man's metaphysical impulse, and, moreover, that "life in the present" is itself a derivative of Schopenhauer's prescription of "the denial of the will" and "the liberation of knowledge from the will." Since indifference to the facts will be incompatible with evaluation of the facts, I argue that the prescription of "life in the present" entails and explains the doctrine of the inexpressibility of ethics. My second principal claim is that the association of metaphysical reflection and metaphysical anxiety is an indispensable support of the central semantic doctrine of the Tractatua: that language cannot be used to describe its own semantic structure. If this second claim is correct, it means that technical semantic considerations f o u n d e d on the problems of propositional My very real gratitude is due to Professor J. A. Faris and to Ms. A. C. Stubbs. My thanks are also due to Mr. J. C. B. Glover for his kindness and encouragement during the early stages of the work on this article. [4 81 ]
HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY
self-reference are integrated into a single system with quasi-existentialist doctrines c o n c e r n i n g self-consciousness. It is this aspect o f the Tractatus which I believe holds the greatest promise o f f u t u r e development. 1. THE INEXPRESSIBILITY OF ETHICS IN TIlE "TRACTATUS" C o m m e n t a t o r s have o f f e r e d little explanation o f Wittgenstein's arguments for t h e inexpressibility o f ethics. Most commentators mention 6.4n, which asserts that value c a n n o t lie in the world on the g r o u n d s that "all that h a p p e n s a n d is the case is accidental." Little attempt, however, has been m a d e to explicate the a r g u m e n t ; and P. M. S. Hacker, no d o u b t as a result o f this failure, has felt able to write: " T h e a r g u m e n t for the ineffability o f ethics is t e n u o u s to say the least, it hangs on nothing m o r e than the non-contingency o f the ethical, a point asserted rather than argued."" Against H a c k e r I will a r g u e that both the exclusion o f value from a c o n t i n g e n t world and the c o n s e q u e n t inexpressibility o f ethics are doctrines with a clear and c o h e r e n t base which is f o u n d in the text o f the Tractatus. I will a r g u e that both derive f r o m Wittgenstein's prescription o f asceticism. This itself, which is a p p a r e n t l y derived from S c h o p e n h a u e r , receives lengthy s u p p o r t i n g a r g u m e n t s in the Notebooks and appears again, with laconic but clear s u p p o r t , in the Tractatus. I will first t u r n to 6. 41: 6.41 The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen: in it no value exists--and if it did, it would have no value. If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case. For all that happens and is the case is accidental. What makes it non-accidental cannot lie within the world, since if it did it would itself be accidental. It must lie outside the world:
T h e most i m p o r t a n t word h e r e is "accidental," and the most important assertion is evidently that value "must lie outside the whole s p h e r e o f what h a p p e n s and is the case." T h e word "accidental" must be used in the sense o f "not logically necessary." It is used in this sense at 2 . o t 2 - - " l n logic nothing is a c c i d e n t a l " - - a n d at 6 . 3 - - " O u t s i d e logic everything is accidental." T h e only o t h e r way the word is used in the Tractatus is to describe the surface features o f propositions, which play n o ' p a r t in conveying the meaning o f the proposition. This sense o f the word obviously has no relevance to 6. 41. T o u n d e r 9 Insight and Illusion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, L972), p. 83. s Tractatus Log~o-Philosophicus, trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness (London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, n960.
stand the possible significance o f this word it is necessary to turn to the 6.3s, w h e r e Wittgenstein discusses the contingency and independenCe o f elementary propositions. H e r e it is stated: 6. 3 The exploration of logic means the exploration of everything that is subject to /aw. And outside logic everything is accidental.
For present purposes the most i m p o r t a n t developments o f this t h e m e are: 6.37 There is no compulsion making one thing happen because another has happened. The only necessity that exists is logical necessity. 6.373 The world is independent of my will. 6.374 Even if all that we wish for were to happen, still this would only be a favour granted by fate, so to speak: for there is no logical connexion between the will and the world, which would guarantee it, and the supposed physical connexion itself is surely not something that we could will. An almost identical f o r m o f the last two remarks appears in the Notebooks at 5.7.16. A likely explanation of their m e a n i n g is to be f o u n d in the immediately p r e c e d i n g r e m a r k (which are part o f the previous entry, m a d e nearly a m o n t h earlier): I cannot bend the happenings of the world to my will: I am completely powerless. I can only make myself independent of the world, and so in a certain sense master it, by renouncing any influence on happenings. [l 1.6. a6]4 In these remarks Wittgenstein is apparently stressing o u r inability to determine the course o f events and consequently r e c o m m e n d i n g acceptance o f the world as it is. T h e doctrine o f the i n d e p e n d e n c e o f world and will t h e r e f o r e also appears to be an assertion o f our inability to control events. T h e t h e m e o f " r e n o u n c i n g influence on happenings" rapidly becomes the d o m i n a n t t h e m e o f the Notebooks. As it develops it assumes the f o r m o f a familiar e n o u g h a r g u m e n t , which proposes acceptance o f the world as the only way o f c o m i n g to terms with suffering that we are otherwise powerless to escape. H e speaks o f being " h a p p y in spite of the misery of the world" ( t 3 . 8 . t 6 ) 5 and o f "life in the present" (8.7.x6): It is easy to see the connection between this last idea and " r e n o u n c i n g influence on happenings." At 14. 7.16 we read, "whoever lives in the present lives without fear and hope. ''7 T h o s e who accept the world as it is will neither fear nor hope for ar~y change in the world; they will t h e r e f o r e be living without r e g a r d to the f u t u r e and in this sense will be living in the present.
4 Notebooks z9t4-z6 , ed. G. H, von Wright and G. E. M. Anscombe, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1961). Notebooks, p. 8 l. 6 Notebooks, p. 757 Notebooks, p. 76.
HISTORY o r P H I L O S O P H Y
It is possible that Wittgenstein's doctrine "the world is i n d e p e n d e n t of my will" derives originally f r o m Schopenhauer, since the latter uses an almost identical phrase a n d uses it, moreover, to express the underlying truth of Stoicism: If in the wridngs of the Stoics which are left to us, all of which are unsystematically composed, we look for the ground of that unshakeable equanimity which is constantly expected of us, we find none other than the knowledge that the course of the world is entirely independent of our will and consequently that the evil that befalls us is inevitable,a F u r t h e r m o r e , the b u r d e n of Schopenhauer's system lies in his twin prescriptions o f "the liberation o f knowledge from the will" and o f "the denial of the will." These arise f r o m his extended discussion of "the suffering and misery of life" and consist in abstention from the exercise of the will. It seems likely, especially in view o f o t h e r correspondences I will show between Schopenh a u e r a n d Wittgenstein, that these prescriptions are a source of Wittgenstein's "life in the present," to which they bear an obvious resemblance. With this excursion complete we can now return to 6.41. I have argued that the word "accidental," which last appeared in 6. 3 , alludes to the discussion in the 6.3s o f the contingency and independence o f elementary propositions; a n d I have f u r t h e r argued that what is "accidental" cannot be of value because it will be " i n d e p e n d e n t of my will" (6.373). T h e context in which the equivalents o f 6.373 a n d 6.374 appear in the Notebooks shows that this phrase means "beyond m y control." T h e assertion that value "must lie outside the whole sphere o f what happens and is the case" because "all that happens and is the case is accidental" now has the effect that no value can lie in what happens and is the case because all that happens and is the case is beyond my control. Proposition 6.41 can therefore be seen as a reiteration of the prescription o f " r e n o u n c i n g influence on happenings" in the Notebooks. T h a t value cannot lie in the world simply means that we are not to attach value to the facts of the world. It remains to consider Wittgenstein's immediately subsequent statement that "what makes it non-accidental" must lie outside the world. T h e sentences "In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen: in it no value exists" and " I f there is any value that does have value,. it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case" are a p p a r e n d y i n t e n d e d to support the assertion immediately preceding them: " T h e sense o f the world must lie outside the world." If one does not assume this, t h e n the last sentence appears u n s u p p o r t e d and awkwardly detached ~: 156-57 (my italics).
s The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F.J. Payne, 2 vols. (New York: Dover, 1966),
f r o m the rest. T h e phrase "what makes it non-accidental" must be in apposition to "value." T h i s is quite certain. W h e n this phrase occurs we have already been told that value c a n n o t lie within the world, because the accidental n a t u r e o f everything in the world precludes value f r o m being in the world. T h e sentence "What makes it non-accidental cannot lie within the world, since if it did it would itself be accidental" is obviously intended to explain this, but it can have no relevance as an explanation unless we pres u m e an i n t e n d e d apposition between "value" and "what makes it non-accidental." T h e word "it" must r e f e r to "all that happens and is the case" since in the G e r m a n text there is no o t h e r word or phrase in the whole o f 6. 41 which agrees with it in g e n d e r . "All that happens and is the case" is, o f course, the world, since "the world is all that is the case" (though in the G e r m a n text there is no parallel to the dual o c c u r r e n c e of "is the case"). This account o f the word "it" appears to be accepted by Anscombe, who asks, "Why then, having said that whatever happens and is the case is accidental, does Wittgenstein speak o f 'what makes it non-accidental'? ''9 T h e identification o f "value" with "what makes it non-accidental" enables us to answer her question. Value, a "value that does have value," is presumably to be found in "life in the present." Since life in the present will make us indifferent to "how things are in the world" (6.44), it will make us i m m u n e to the i n d e p e n d e n t o r "accidental" n a t u r e o f the world. T h e world is "accidental" in the sense that it is " i n d e p e n d e n t o f my will," but life in the present will make it "non-accidental" in the sense that its accidental nature will no longer affect us. I f this i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f 6. 41 is correct, then 6.4--"All propositions are o f equal value"--is likely to m e a n "there is no m o r e value in one proposition's being true t h a n in another's being true." Propositions 6. 4 and 6141, with which we have so far been concerned, are not themselves explicitly c o n c e r n e d with the inexpressibility o f ethics. This doctrine is asserted at 6.42 as a consequence o f 6.4: 6.4 2 So too it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics. Propositions can express nothing of what is higher.
T h e phrase "so too," which appears in the m o r e recent editions o f the Pears and McGuinness translation, replacing the earlier "and so," does not clearly suggest that this doctrine is a consequence o f the earlier remarks. T h e r e can, however, be no d o u b t that we are i n t e n d e d to take it this way, for in the G e r m a n text 6.4~ begins with the word Datum, a word normally translated as " t h e r e f o r e " ( O g d e n has "hence also").
9 G. E. M. Anscombe, An Introduction to Wittgenstein's "'Tractatus" (London: Hutchinson, 1959), pp- 17o-71.
HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY
It is not difficult to see why Wittgenstein should deduce the inexpressibility o f ethics f r o m 6. 4 a n d 6.41. Language is concerned with stating facts. F r o m this it follows that if no value can lie in the facts, no value can lie in a n y t h i n g that language can describe. Any statement of the form "It is good that X" (or "It is not good that X" or "It is good that not X") involves us in attaching value to the facts of the world. Since no value can lie in the facts, such a statement is necessarily false and thus meaningless. Propositions of ethics are t h e r e f o r e impossible. 2. THE SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM OF LIFE This section is c o n c e r n e d with the positive side o f Wittgenstein's remarks on ethics. In particular it will attempt to provide an account of "the solution of the problem of life" (6.52 ta). T h e r e is a repeated suggestion in both the T r a c t a t ~ and the Notebooks that compliance with Wittgenstein's ethical prescriptions will conduce to the discovery o f "the sense o f the world" and of "the solution o f the problem of life." For example, in the Notebooks we read: The solution of the problem of life is to be seen in the disappearance of this problem. But is it possible for one so to live that life stops being problematic? That one is //v/rig in eternity and not in time?" [6.7.16] ~0 This aspect o f the Notebooks may be connected with Wittgenstein's stress on happiness and with his doctrine that a person who follows the ethic o f "life in the present" will be "happy." This doctrine is stated in "Only a man who lives not in time but in the present is happy" (8.7.i6) '~ and is suggested by " T h e good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis" (7.1o. 16)?' T h e connection between life in the present, or acceptance of the world, and happi9hess can easily be seen, since the former is proposed precisely as a means of being " h a p p y in spite o f the misery of the world." T h e likely connection between happiness and "the solution of the problem of life" is that once happiness is u n d e r s t o o d as absence of desire it suggests a tranquillity that would exclude metaphysical perplexity. T h a t some such reasoning influenced Wittgenstein is suggested by remarks on 6. 7.16. On the day following a series o f remarks which reappear in the Tractatus a m o n g the 6.43s Wittgenstein continues: And in this sense Dostoievsky is right when he says that the man who is happy is fulfilling the purpose of existence. " Ibid.
'~ Notebooks, p. 74.
'" Notebooks, p. 83.
Or again we could say that the man is fulfilling the purpose of existence who no longer needs to have any purpose except to live. That is to say, who is content. [6. 7.16] ~s T h e connection between "life in the present" and "the solution of the problem of life" appears again in the Tractatus at 6.4312. Here we are told that "temporal immortality" would not solve the "riddle of life." In the previous r e m a r k "temporal immortality" is sharply contrasted with "timelessness," which suggests that the purpose of the latter state is to produce such a solution. We are, moreover, assured that this state will be possible for those who adopt Wittgenstein's ethic of "life in the present," since "if we take eternity to m e a n not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present" (6.431 l). T h e same connection is f o u n d in 6.41, where the assertion that value must lie outside the world is evidently used to support the assertion that the sense o f the world must lie outside the world. As I argued in the previous section, this is the only natural way of reading the remark. It follows that the discovery of "the sense of the world" must be d e p e n d e n t on the discovery of a "value that does have value." T h e remarks on the mystical also contain this association. After the remark at 6.52 that there are no questions except "scientific questions" and that realizing this will provide the solution to "the problems of life," and after the remark at 6.521(a) that "the solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing o f the problem," Wittgenstein continues: 6.5~ There are, inded, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.
T h e r e is an obvious implication here that "what is mystical" will be, or will provide, the "solution of the problem of life." At 6.45 we are told: 6.45 To view the world sub specie aeterni is to view it as a whole--a limited whole. Feeling the world as a limited whole--it is this that is mystical.
From this it seems that viewing the world sub specie aeterni is "mystical" and therefore provides the solution to the problem of life. I presume that viewing the world sub specie aeterni will be the attitude of those who "live in the present." Lastly, it should be noticed that the dependence of "/he sense of the world" on good conduct is explicitly asserted in the Notebooks version of 6.43 (which appears at 5.7.16). H e r e the assertion that "good or bad willing" will '~ Notebooks,p. 73-
cause the world to "wax o r wane as a whole" is followed by the p h r a s e "as if by accession o r loss o f m e a n i n g . " It has generally escaped attention that the w o r d Sinn that A n s c o m b e h e r e translates as " m e a n i n g " is the same word that in 6. 41 Pears a n d M c G u i n n e s s translate as "sense." T h e effect o f g o o d or b a d willing, then, will be the accession o r loss o f "the sense o f the world" m e n t i o n e d in 6 . 4 t . O f course, since the p h r a s e "as if by accession or loss o f m e a n i n g " d o e s n o t a p p e a r in the Tractatus it m u s t have failed to "hit the nail o n the h e a d . T M It nevertheless gives us a good idea o f what nail Wittgenstein was trying to hit. A possible historical e x p l a n a t i o n o f this position begins to e m e r g e w h e n it is noticed that S c h o p e n h a u e r r e g a r d s the misery a n d insecurity o f the world as the sole s o u r c e o f the " u r g e to metaphysics." This claim is m a d e repeatedly t h r o u g h o u t his c h a p t e r " O n Man's N e e d for Metaphysics" in The World as Will and Representation. For e x a m p l e : "But u n d o u b t e d l y it is the knowledge o f d e a t h , a n d t h e r e w i t h the consideration o f the s u f f e r i n g a n d misery o f life, that give the s t r o n g e s t impulse to philosophical reflection a n d metaphysical e x p l a n a t i o n s o f the world. '''s T h e r e is, t h e r e f o r e , reason to think that Wittgenstein accepted this view o f S c h o p e n h a u e r a n d r e g a r d e d "life in the present" as a solution to metaphysical p r o b l e m s on the g r o u n d s that by enabling us to be " h a p p y in spite o f the misery o f the world," "life in the present" will cut o f f o u r metaphysical u r g e at the source. F u r t h e r s u p p o r t for my suggestion is that, for Schopenh a u e r , consciousness o f this misery is closely b o u n d u p with consciousness o f past a n d f u t u r e . '6 A first step t o w a r d establishing such an explanation can be f o u n d if we t u r n to 6.5~ a n d 6.52 ~ in the Tractatus. 6.52 We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer. The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem. (Is not this the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?)
,4 "If this work has any value, it consists in two things: the first is that thoughts are expressed in it, and on this score the better the thoughts are expressed--the more the nail has been hit on the head--the greater will be its value. Here I am conscious of having fallen a long way short of what is possible" (Tractatv.r, author's preface, p. 3). ,s For example, human consciousness is in this respect contrasted with that of animals, which is described as "'mere consciousness of the present without that of the past and future; consequently without that of death" (World as Will and Representation, 2:571 ).
~5 2 : 1 6 1 .
Since Wittgenstein speaks of those to whom the sense of life has become clear, he cannot merely be dismissing "the solution of the problem of life" as simply a notion void of content. On the other hand, it appears that the solution to these problems consists in the realization that there are no questions except "scientific questions." " T h e solution of the problem of life," then, consists simply in our ceasing to look for a solution. T h e reason why questions about "the solution of the problem of life" (unlike scientific questions) are not real questions is presumably found in 6. 5, on which 6.52 is a gloss: " I f a question can be framed at all, it is also possible to answer it." It will be impossible to answer such questions for reasons that are now familiar: any attempted answer will p u r p o r t to attach greater significance to one fact than to another. Life in the present, however, which consists in attributing no greater significance to one fact than to another, will make it impossible to raise such questions and will itself therefore bring about the solution of the problem of life. Initially, I set out to show that Wittgenstein holds a position according to which metaphysical anxiety is the inevitable concomitant of metaphysical reflection, which is therefore to be avoided. So far as "the problems of life" are concerned, this claim has been substantiated, l have shown that no p u r p o r t e d answer to questions expressing the problems of life can be a satisfactory answer. Any answer can only state a fact, and no fact can provide "the solution o f the problem of life." So long as we raise these questions we must remain at a loss for an answer. T h e only solution is to stop asking such questions, a n d this will be possible if we "live in the present." Nothing, however, has so far been done to extend this interpretation to other areas o f metaphysics. It remains to show that the association between metaphysical reflection and metaphysical anxiety not only explains the nonsensicality of propositions expressing the meaning of life but has also been an important factor in the rejection of all metaphysics as nonsensical. This task will be the concern of the next section. B" THE GENERAL NONSENSICALITY OF METAPHYSICS One would certainly expect there to be some such influence. It would be surprising if Wittgenstein had declared different areas of metaphysics to be inexpressible on quite unrelated grounds. Some similarity in Wittgenstein's treatment of different areas of metaphysics is easily found. For example, his treatment of solipsism runs parallel to his treatment of "the problem of life." At 6. 51 Wittgenstein tells us that skepticism is "not irrefutable, but obviously nonsensical" and at 5.6~ that "what the solipsist means" cannot be said. Nevertheless, expressions of solipsism are not mere verbal effusion, since we also read that "what the solipsist means is quite correct," and that, although
OF P H I L O S O P H Y
the underlying truth of solipsism cannot be said, it "makes itself manifest". Finally, when philosophical clarification has been achieved the problem of the solipsist, like the problems of life, will simply vanish: "solipsism, when its implications are followed out strictly, coincides with pure realism" (5.64). The problem o f the solipsist, then, resembles the problems of life in that the solution of the problem is seen in the vanishing of the problem. If, moreover, we suppose that Wittgenstein's rejection of metaphysics was influenced by the association of metaphysical reflection with metaphysical anxiety, then this will enable us to explain an oddity in the text. The impossibility of expressing "the solution of the problem of life" is the concern of the 6.4s. After this, we have: 6. 5 When the answer cannot be put into words, neither can the question be put into words. The r/dd/e does not exist. If a question can be framed at all, it is also possible to answer it.
In the remarks numbered as comments on 6. 5 Wittgenstein asserts the nonsensicality of "skepticism" (6.51), of verbal expression of the mystical (6.522), of the solution of the problem of life (6.52), of metaphysics (6.53), and of the Tractatus (6.54). It is surely significant that Wittgenstein presents each of these doctrines as a gloss on the nonsensicality of "the question" and of"the riddle." The interesting cases are 6.53 and 6.54, which deal, respectively, with the nonsensicality of metaphysics in general and with the nonsensicality of the Tractatus. Why should the nonsensicality of the Tractatus, which asks no questions, be presented as a comment on the nonsensicality o f " t h e question"? This oddity can be explained if we suppose that in each case the recognition of the nonsensicality of metaphysics will not merely eliminate nonsensical assertions but will provide relief from perplexing questions. What is more, the 6.5s follow the discussion of ethics in the 6.4s and immediately follow the description of the mystical attitude of "feeling the world as a limited whole," which, as the 6.52s suggest, provides or at least accompanies "the solution of the problem of life." At 6.52 Wittgenstein discusses the nonsensicality of questions expressing the problems of life. He does not suggest that the ground of their nonsensicality is to be distinguished from that of the nonsensicality of the other metaphysical questions. There is therefore some reason to think that the rejection of metaphysics generally is connected with the solution of the problem of life. I will argue that this is indeed so and that the attitude of mind involved in metaphysical reflection is incompatible with that of "feeling the world as a limited whole" and so with the solution of the problem of life. First, it will be necessary to discuss the mystical attitude in greater detail.
T h e word "mystical" appears in three remarks: 6.44, 6.45 and 6.522. T h e second and third o f thes~ are q u o t e d above; the first runs: 6.44 It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.
It is not a t e r m for which Wittgenstein specifies any precise meaning, but two things a b o u t it are clear. First, the mystical is inexpressible. This is evident f r o m 6.522: " T h e r e are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. T h e y make themselves manifest. T h e y are what is mystical." Secondly, what is mystical in some way conduces to "the solution o f the problem o f life." This is indicated by the a p p e a r a n c e o f 6.52', as a c o m m e n t on: 6.5~ We feel that even when all possible scientific question have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.
It is also indicated by the Notebooks version o f 6.52: The urge towards the mystical comes of the non-satisfaction of our wishes by science. We feel that even if all possible scientific questions are answered our problem is still not touched at all. Of course in that case there are no questions anymore; and that is the answer. [25.5-15]'7 It is clear f r o m 6.44 and 6.45 that the mystical experience involves some special awareness o f the existence o f the world as a whole described in 6.45 as "feeling the world as a limited whole." (The word "limited," when applied to the world, at once recalls 5.6: "The limits of my language m e a n the limits o f my world." T h e limits o f language are the limits o f what can be said, the totality o f e l e m e n t a r y propositions. It is likely, then, that "the world as a limited whole" means the whole o f logical space, the totality o f facts and possible facts.) In 6.45 Wittgenstein identifies this awareness with the attitude o f viewing the world sub specie aeterni, and one may surmise f r o m this that it will be a natural consequence o f "life in the present." Living in the present means, first and foremost, attaching no m o r e i m p o r t a n c e to one possible fact than to another, that is, attaching i m p o r t a n c e and directing o u r attention to all possible states o f affairs equally. It is easy to see how a sense o f "the world as a whole" could arise f r o m this attitude. H e r e , again, Wittgenstein's doctrines correspond to those o f Schopenhauer. T h e phrase sub specie aeterni might suggest the p r e d o m i n a n c e o f a Spinozistic r a t h e r than S c h o p e n h a u e r i a n influence, but it should be noticed that an almost identical phrase f r o m Spinoza CMens aeterna est quatenus ,7 Notebooks, p. 51 .
H I S T O R Y OF P H I L O S O P H Y
res sub aeternitatis specie concipit") is quoted by Schopenhauer in his description of the liberation of knowledge from the will. '8 Since it has already been established that the solution of the problem of life consists simply in "the vanishing of the problem," we can assume that these experiences merely accompany "the solution." There is certainly no doubt either that Wittgenstein does regard this experience as unspoken or, more importantly, that he does not regard it as consisting in the acquisition of knowledge. For example, awareness of the existence of the world is also mentioned at 5.552 , which begins: "The 'experience' that we need in order to understand logic is not that something or other is the state of things, but that something /s: that, however, is n o t an experience." By saying that this "experience" is " n o t an experience" Wittgenstein apparently means that it does not consist in the acquisition of knowledge. This point can also be seen in his assertion that the experience in question is not an experience "that something or other is the state of things". "Feeling the world as a limited whole," I conclude, involves an awareness o f the world itself (the world as a complete whole, one might say), not an awareness of something outside the world and distinct from the world. Similarly, when Wittgenstein says, in 6. 4 l, that the sense of the world and "what makes it non-accidental" must lie outside the world, or in 6.4312 that "the solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time," this is likely to be an allusion to the mystical awareness of the world as a whole mentioned in 6.44 and 6.45. T h e nature of this mystical experience may explain why the metaphysical attitude should be incompatible with "the solution of the problem of life." If we describe the world as a limited whole in language, then we are treating the existence of the world as itself a factual matter. But it is of the essence of the mystical attitude of "feeling the world as a limited whole" that is should be an awareness of the totality of possibilities, not of one supposed preeminent fact. Metaphysics, therefore, since it attempts to describe the world as a whole in language, will be incompatible with "feeling the world as a limited whole" and so with "the solution of the problem of life." Its mistake is precisely that of trying to place "the sense of the world" among the "sphere of what happens and is the case." These ideas have affinities in Schopenhauer. I suggested in the first section that the mystical attitude of "feeling the world as a limited whole" is derived from Schopenhauer's notion of knowledge liberated from the will and of the denial of the will. For Schopenhauer the liberation of knowledge from the will leads to "knowledge of the Ideas." This knowledge is con,s World as Will and Representation,
trasted with "science," and the Ideas are contrasted with "the concept, the object of rational t h o u g h t and of science. '''9 A f u r t h e r a r g u m e n t that the rejection of metaphysics is a consequence of its incompatibility with "the solution of the problem of life" is that in no other way does it seem possible to make sense of the vexed problem of the nonsensicality of the Tractatus. It is not difficult to see why the Tractatus has often been t h o u g h t self-defeating. At 6.54 Wittgenstein writes: "My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical . . . . He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it." Wittgenstein can hardly mean that the Tractatus fails to convey ideas, because obviously it succeeds. Every c o m m e n t a t o r since Russell has agreed with his observation: "After all, Mr Wittgenstein manages to say a good deal about what cannot be said.' .... (Indeed, Wittgenstein himself says that his remarks "elucidate" (erliiutern). Since, however, the Tractatus does succed in conveying ideas, it seems wrong to describe it as nonsensical. Why throw away a perfectly good ladder? In one respect this is easily understood. T h e Tractatus proposes a model of language to which it does not itself conform. According to the Tractatus a proposition acquires m e a n i n g by mirroring a possible fact. T h e transcendental matters discussed in the Tractatus are not, however, one set of possibiliies a m o n g others; they are the necessary preconditions of all possibilities. T h e Tractatus is, therefore, by its own standards, nonsensical. On the other hand, since the Tractatus does succeed in the significant discussion of these matters, it might seem better to abandon the theory of language the Tractatus proposes. It is true that Wittgenstein distinguishes between propositions (or pseudopropositons) that are sinnlos (without sense) and those that are unsinnig (nonsensical). T h e first term is applied to, for exmple, tautologies and contradictions. T h e distinction appears to be that the propositions (or pseudopropositions) described as sinnlos are without sense only in the technical sense that they do not mirror facts and that they need not therefore be dismissed as (utterly) "nonsensical." This distinction, however, does nothing to ease the problem of the nonsensicality of the Tractatus, for the term which Wittgenstein applies at 6.54 to "my propositions" is not sinnlos, but unsinnig (the same term which at 6. 51 is applied to skepticism). T h e means of solving this difficulty is hinted at in a sentence of Pears: " T h e object of philosophical enquiry, is also the object of religious feelings? '
,9 World as Will and Representation, 1:233. 9 Tractatus, introduction, p.xxi. o "' D. F. Pears, Wittgenstein (London: Collins, 1971), p. 89.
The Tractatus is concerned with setting out the relation between any possible proposition and any possible fact, but what is true of any possible fact is true of all possible facts, that is, of the world as a whole. At the same time, the mystical attitude of "feeling the world as a limited whole" is what will enable us to discover "the sense of the world" and "the solution of the problem of life." We have already seen that it is important for Wittgenstein that this should be an unspoken attitude. Any attempt to speak about the world as a limited whole in language will involve treating the existence of the world as a contingent fact. This in turn will make the mystical attitude of "feeling the world as a limited whole" impossible, since it is an attitude not toward any single fact but toward the totality of possible facts. Since the Tractatus describes the world as a whole in language, the attitude of mind involved in reading the Tractatus is incompatible with that of "feeling the world as a limited whole." This, then, does seem to be a sufficient explanation of Wittgenstein's willingness to accept the nonsensicality of the Tractatus. The ladder is to be thrown away not because of any preposterous notion that it fails to convey ideas, but because throwing it away is a prerequisite of "the solution o f the problem of life." Finally, I will come to the question of how its incompatibility with "the solution of the problem of life" can justify condemning metaphysics specifically as "nonsensical." It might seem that this description could only be hyperbole, but it is in fact justified because precisely the same considerations which make metaphysics incompatible with "the solution of the problem of life" also make it nonsensical in a technical semantic sense. To treat the noncontingent as a matter of contingent fact is not only inimical to the mystical "feeling the world as a limited whole" but also systematically misleading and inherently paradoxical. The word "nonsensical" is therefore quite appropriate. In this way it may be that the technical nonsensicality of metaphysics and its unacceptable role as a source of anxiety may not be sharply distinguishable. It will be seen that this interpretation of the word "nonsensical" has the effect of bringing the Tractatua closer to the later work where conceptual confusion is conceived as akin to a neurotic disorder. The image of the fly in the fly-bottle is no less apposite to the Tractatus than to the Investigations.
4- SELF-REFERENCE AND SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS
The semantic doctrines of the Tractatus and its doctrines concerning "the solution of the problem of life" reveal an important underlying resemblance: both concern reflexivity or self-consciousness. By drawing out this resemblance I hope to identify an unusual and ingenious thread in Wittgenstein's argument, one which, I suggest, holds important promise of further development,
First I will deal with the wider questions of metaphysics, questions concerning "the solution of the problem of life," "the sense of the world," the nature of a "value that does have value." All of these question the general principles or assumptions underlying specific aims or actions. They do not add to the myriad of problems comprising ordinary life, but they raise questions involving all possible problems of ordinary life. They are not problems about the world, but about the assumptions, values, and purposes which underlie one's whole approach to the world. In this sense they are questions about oneself or instances of self consciousness. Similarly, the semantic doctrines of the T r a c t a t u s are concerned with selfreference. The central idea of these is that language cannot be used to describe its own semantic structure. This idea is expressed by Russell in the formula "Everything, therefore, which is involved in the very idea of the expressiveness of language must remain incapable of being expressed in language. '''' Anything "involved in the very idea of the expressiveness of language" will be a feature of all possible propositions and all possible facts, that is, of the world as a whole. Conversely, since the function of language is to mirror facts "in" the world, the existence of the world is itself "involved in the very idea o f the expressiveness of language." It follows, therefore, that the formula last quoted is equivalent to another, which Russell describes as "Wittgenstein's fundamental thesis"; namely, that "it is impossible to say anything about the world as a whole, and that whatever can be said has to be about bounded portions of the world. '''3 The doctrine expressed by these formulae is not explicitly summarized in the T r a c t a t u s , but instances of it occur constantly. It is to be found, for example, in the assertion that "propositions cannot represent logical form: it is mirrored in them. What finds its reflection in language, language cannot represent" (4.x21). It is also to be found in Wittgenstein's assurance at 5.552 that the experience that we need in order to understand logic, namely, "that something /s," is itself " n o t an experience"; it reappears in the statement at 6.13 that logic is "not a body of doctrine, but a mirror-image of the world" and is "transcendental." It seems natural to suppose that this doctrine derives from Russell's caveat against the self-referential proposition. Whether or not this account of the origin of the doctrine is correct, it is quite clear that a proposition which purports to express transcendental matters will be at least indirectly self-referential since it will purport to state matters presupposed by its own significance. It now appears that the T r a c t a t u s recommends a nonreftective language
"" Tractatus, 93 Tractatus,
introduction, p. xxi. introduction, p. xvii.
as one which will permit the solution of the problem of life by making possible the elimination of metaphysical reflection and of self-consciousness. Thus, it becomes true to say that the central semantic doctrine of the Tractatus, that language cannot be used to describe its own semantic structure, is the outcome o f quasi-existentialist considerations concerning self consciousness. It is perhaps this aspect of the Tractatus which holds the greatest promise for future development. By excluding metaphysical reflection Wittgenstein limits philosophy to the two fields of conceptual clarification (the "application o f logic" [5.557]) and of showing the metaphysician that he has failed to give a sense to certain signs in his propositions (6.53). These doctrines concerning "the right way of doing philosophy" have probably been the most influential part of the Tractatus. Their influence can be seen most clearly in writers such as Ryle and Austin and the school of "ordinary-language philosophy." The latter was of course only one of the two main schools of philosophy in the immediate post-war period, the other being existentialism. Both schools have been the objects of attacks which are as much concerned with style and technique as with specific doctrines. Ordinary-language philosophy has been accused of narrow concern with linquistic minutiae, existentialist philosophy of empty bombast. My claim is that the doctrines that Wittgenstein put forward concerning the limits of language and that gave rise to ordinary language philosophy were themselves an attempted solution to the problems of self-consciousness that occupied existentialist philosophers. While the tradition which follows Wittgenstein has largely avoided any further discussion of these problems, much attention has nevertheless been paid, for example, by Tarski and Prior, 24 to the problems of self reference and of how language can be used to describe its own semantic structure. If we abandon Wittgenstein's proposed solution to "the problem of life" but retain his association of self-consciousness with the problem of how language can contain its own semantics, then it is possible--it is not certain, but it is possible--that this association may enable philosophers to discuss the existential problems of self-consciousness with the rigor and precision of analytic philosophy.
University of Genoa
9 A. Tarski, "The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of" Semantics," 4 Philosophy and PhenomenologicalResearch 4 0944):341-76; A. Prior, Objectsof Thought, ed. P. T. C,each and A.J. Kenny (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), chap. 6.
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