Wittgenblogging: The Fifth Proposition

Ludwig Wittgenstein 2
Image by Christiaan Tonnis via Flickr

Way back in my post on the second proposition (which, wow, was over a month ago — I didn’t realize Peter and I had been Wittgenblogging for that long), I asked whether or not Wittgenstein believed that a priori reasoning was possible. In the proposition 5.133, we finally get an answer: “All deductions are made a priori.”

But that’s hardly Wittgenstein’s most interesting assertion as we near the end of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Now that he’s thoroughly laid the groundwork for his conception of logic, he’s starting to go further out on a limb regarding its implications. For example, I don’t really know what to make of this section:

5.541 At first sight it looks as if it were also possible for one proposition to occur in another in a different way. Particularly with certain forms of proposition in psychology, such as ‘A believes that p is the case’ and ‘A has the thought p’, etc. For if these are considered superficially, it looks as if the proposition p stood in some kind of relation to an object A. (And in modern theory of knowledge (Russell, Moore, etc.) these propositions have actually be construed in this way.)

5.542 It is clear, however, that ‘A believes that p’, ‘A has the thought p’, and ‘A says p’ are of the form ‘“p” says p’: and this does not involve a correlation of a fact with an object, but rather the correlation of facts by means of the correlation of their objects.

5.5421 This shows too that there is no such thing as the soul — the subject, etc. — as it is conceived in the superficial psychology of the present day. Indeed a composite soul would no longer be a soul.

I’ve puzzled over this as much as anything else in the Tractatus, and I still can’t quite figure it out. I think he’s arguing that the subject I is the sum of my beliefs and thoughts, and not a different entity that produces and possesses those thoughts. Since the soul is supposed to be one unified entity, distinguishable and discrete from those beliefs and thoughts, it’s a linguistically incoherent concept. This reading is born out in 5.631, in which Wittgenstein says: “There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas.”

So what is the self? Wittgenstein calls it “the limit of the world.” It is the one thing that we cannot speak of, and since “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” that means it is not a part of that world. Wittgenstein again: “You will say that this is exactly like the case of the eye and the visual field. But really you do not see the eye. And nothing in the visual field allows you to infer that it is seen by an eye.” Similarly, nothing in our thoughts allow us to infer that they are being thought by a self.

Unless I’m grievously misreading here, Wittgenstein’s interpretation of the mind-body problem actually lends some credence to Sartre’s conception of a division between being-for-itself and being-in-itself (which I’ve previously argued for as the criteria by which to separate persons from non-persons). I think Sartre sees this as actual metaphysical categories, which is a bridge too far for me, but I think Wittgenstein might join me in comfortably describing the difference between -for-itself and -in-itself as a meaningful phenomenological distinction.

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