Thursday, March 11, 2010

Perhaps because Wittgenstein himself in various places renounced the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, his interpreters seem to feel a need to locate the proof which could definitively dissuade a Tractarian believer. I am suspicious of all such proofs by whomever they may be proffered. Anscombe, for instance, claims that the Tractarian claim that the truths of logic are tautological falls to Church's proof "that multiple quantification theory has no decision procedure; that is, that there cannot be a method by which one could settle, concerning any well-formed formula of that theory, whether it was a theorem or not." But a proof could easily be given in turn that the propositions of the Tractatus itself have no "decision procedure," since they all present themselves under the force of the final retraction which denies them the status of propositions. In order for a proof to demonstrate the falsehood of any claim in the Tractatus, it would first have to regard the claim as something which might be either true or false, and in this way it would fail to receive their meaning and wind up having no relevance to the Tractatus whatsoever.

Here is a typical statement (from Culture and Value) of Wittgenstein renouncing the Tractatus:
I might say: if the place I want to get to could only be reached by way of a ladder, I would give up trying to get there. For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now.
Anything that I might reach by climbing a ladder does not interest me.

What Wittgenstein renounces in the Tractatus is its own manner of renunciation--it "throws away the ladder" only after having used it to get somewhere. "It is a great temptation," says another remark in Culture and Value, "to try to make the spirit explicit." If the temptation tries to mitigate itself by intending subsequently to put this explicitation under erasure, that only makes the temptation all the more insidious, because it betrays the spirit while pretending to piety. It is Wittgenstein's succumbing to this temptation in the Tractatus which calls for its renunciation.