Thursday, April 15, 2010

How to not say what cannot be said or not said.

It's common to divide Wittgenstein's philosophy into two phases: there is the Wittgenstein of the TLP and then there is the late Wittgenstein (and maybe also a middle one). There is some obvious justification for this division. When he published the TLP, Wittgenstein claimed to have dissolved all the problems of philosophy -- so that the very fact that he later returned to philosophy indicates that at least this assessment of his early career came under revision. Furthermore, it is a fact that Wittgenstein explicitly criticized aspects of the Tractatus. Besides, the reader of the Philosophical Investigations can hardly fail to gather that something radically different from the TLP is going on in this text.

Yet, it is not possible to account for the difference between the early and late Wittgenstein by saying that what earlier he maintained he later denied. Conversely, the important continuity will not be indicated by saying that he continued to assert certain propositions, e.g. that "The world is all that is the case." Part of the problem, I have been trying to say, is that it is not clear in what way Wittgenstein asserted anything at all even in the TLP, since the propositions therein are famously denied the status of propositions, and therefore the possibility of being asserted. But there is more than one way of not asserting non-propositions. The shift or shifts in Wittgenstein's thinking have most fundamentally to do not with what philosophy should say or not say, but how it should go about its task of keeping silence.