Wittgenstein's Tractatus, part 1

While I'm translating various things in German, I thought I'd turn my attention to Wittgenstein. How better to grasp what he's saying? And, of course, where better to start than the Tractatus? (Seriously, it's crisp, lucid, definitional German. How can you go wrong?)

Frankly, I remember this being more obtuse than it has been so far. Not that I agree with him all the way across, of course, but I do admire it as a cogent and lucid discourse on saying what can be said, well. Which is, of course, the point for which the famous dictum, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent," is the declaration of last resort. In the introduction to this work, this is also the second half of a couplet that, in the German, goes like this: "Was sich überhaupt sagen lässt, lässt sich klar sagen; und wovon man nicht reden kann, darüber muss man schweigen." And in English, albeit my own: "Let what can be said at all, be said clearly; we must [only] be silent on points about which nothing can be said."

Now, when the man says "about which nothing can be said," he means, "about which only nonsense can be uttered." Discovering this point in reality is always a matter of practicing transgression. If we establish a boundary, and what is on the other side can still be expressed sensibly, the boundary belongs somewhere else. If, on the other hand, we find ourselves in a realm where only nonsense can be said, blue banana solar underpants. (It is for this reason that, as a theologian, I accept no premature limitations on theological topics. I will accept that one should "maintain a reverent silence," within the discipline, only in places where the alternative is pure nonsense. Up to that point, it is better by far to strive for understanding, and then for clarity of expression!)

So: onward to the text!

For the sake of the non-initiate, I've padded out brother Ludwig's numbering scheme with decimal points in order to make it more obviously hierarchical. If you want canonical references, just take out all but the first. Here we go with part 1:
Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.
The world is everything that is the case.

Die Welt ist die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen, nicht der Dinge.
The world is the totality of what is actual, rather than the totality of things.

Die Welt ist durch die Tatsachen bestimmt und dadurch, dass es alle Tatsachen sind.
The world is determined by what is actual, and therefore by the existence of every actual thing.

Denn, die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen bestimmt, was der Fall ist und auch, was alles nicht der Fall ist.
Therefore the totality of what is actual determines both what is the case, and everything that is not the case.

Die Tatsachen im logischen Raum sind die Welt.
The logical scope of what is actual, is the world.

Die Welt zerfällt in Tatsachen.
The world breaks down into actualities.

Eines kann der Fall sein oder nicht der Fall sein und alles übrige gleich bleiben.
Something can either be the case, or not be the case, and yet all the rest remain the same.
Now, I've attempted to lean toward modal logic here, at least thematically, because it seems to me that talking about "facts" for Tatsachen is less philosophically clear. When we get to Möglichkeiten, it will be important to have this differentiation between what is actual and what is possible. Of course, there's also the connection to Aristotle's ἐνέργεια, which at least in the Metaphysics receives the same translation, as "actuality." And it is a good translation for both, in that the connection to both Tat and ἔργον as words for action is clear in all three.

So, what do we have in part 1? We are constituting a definition for the world. And we've got several pieces given:
  • what is the case,
  • the collection of all actualities, and
  • the logical scope (or possibility space) of what is actual.
Now, the problem is that it isn't enough to say that what is actual, is the case—or even that the collection of all actualities is the case. The collection of all actualities is not the totality of what we mean by "world." The world is the logical scope of all of these actualities. This gesture points in the direction of the possibilities of combination, which will come later.

Now, it's possible to say from this that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but I'm not sure Wittgenstein is about to say this. And the reason for that will be made clear in the following section, but it's hinted at already, in that he can simply say that the world is composed of actualities, without referring to their possibilities separately. It is better to say that the part is in fact greater than it is otherwise understood to be.

Further, and another hint at what's coming, these actualities are atomistic—or more appropriately monadic in the Leibnizian sense, which will keep popping up, except that Leibniz goes deeply fractal in ways that Wittgenstein does not. Each actuality is grounded in itself, and not in any other actuality. There is no necessary dependency between the actualities of which the world is composed. Changing one actual thing does not therefore necessarily entail the change of any other actual thing.

And that's about that, so we move onward to combinations next.


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