Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann (1889–1951)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD072-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2024, from

7. Saying and showing

Wittgenstein thought that by reading the Tractatus one might come to grasp certain things about the nature of meaning, reality and value, among them the kinds of things outlined above. But he also held that these things could not be said but only shown, and the attempt to say them ends up producing nonsense. Most of the Tractatus itself is thus nonsense. This claim is highly paradoxical and may seem to be unnecessary and grandiose mysticism, especially when viewed as part of the same package as the difficult remarks about the will and solipsism. But this is unfair. In many of its applications, the claim is well motivated, given the picture theory of meaning.

Most of the linguistic manoeuvres which Wittgenstein condemns as nonsensical are attempts to say things which are both necessary but also substantive – that is, not mere tautologies. Thus they include moves to assign elements of reality or language to their logical types (‘Socrates is a particular’), related attempts to describe the logical forms of sentences or facts and also efforts to list the simples. (Claims about what is valuable could also have this status of seeming to be both substantial and necessary.) But if the picture theory of meaning holds in complete generality there cannot be such statable necessary truths. To say, for example, that object b is F we require that there be a linguistic representative of b (‘b’) and one of F-ness (the property of having ‘F’ to the right) which can be combined or not, just as b and F-ness can be combined or not. There must be complexity and there must therefore be the possibility of dissociation as well as association. But if b and F-ness necessarily go together (for example, Socrates must be a particular) then b cannot be dissociated from F-ness and it is a confusion to imagine that its being F is a fact with a composite structure. Hence it is also a confusion to imagine that it is something of the kind which can be said, on the account of saying which is offered by the picture theory.

Citing this article:
Heal, Jane. Saying and showing. Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann (1889–1951), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD072-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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