Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann (1889–1951)

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

8. Transition

In the Tractatus Wittgenstein took a lofty tone about simple objects; he had proved that they existed and it was of no importance that we cannot say what they are. But in the first years of his return to philosophy in 1927–31 one thing which occupied his attention was the detailed workings of various parts of our language, notably those involved in talking of shape, length and colour and other observable properties of items around us. His aim in considering them was to fill in that earlier gap by giving an account of the fundamental features of both language and the world.

He soon became convinced that the idea of independent elementary propositions was indefensible. For example, the incompatibility of ‘a is red’ and ‘a is green’ cannot be explained (contrary to what he had urged in the Tractatus) by analysing the two propositions and showing that one contains some elementary proposition which contradicts an elementary proposition in the analysis of the other. Rather the whole collection of colour judgments come as one set, as the marks along the edge of a ruler come as a set. To measure an object we hold a ruler with its marks against the object, that is, in effect we hold up a whole set of possible judgments of length, and we read off which is correct; to see that one judgment is correct is to see at the same time that all the others are incorrect. Something similar holds for colour and for many other concepts, except that in these cases the ‘ruler’ is not physically present. The differences between concepts have to do with the logical shapes of their ‘rulers’ and with the different methods by which they are compared to reality.

Other topics which occupied Wittgenstein at this time were those of psychological phenomena and the use of the word ‘I’. And he also worked extensively on the nature of mathematics. Ideas in common with those of the logical positivists are apparent in some of the writings of this time. Indeed the slogan known as the verification principle – ‘the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification’ – may have originated with Wittgenstein. But he found it impossible to accept this as a clear statement which could provide one of the starting points for elaborating a philosophical system. He was aware of further puzzles and was temperamentally incapable of putting them on one side for the purpose of building an intellectual construct which might be based on misapprehension and which failed to address questions which still perplexed him (see Logical positivism §§3–4; Vienna Circle §2).

Citing this article:
Heal, Jane. Transition. 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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