Oct 20, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 004

The Wittgenstein family

The Wittgenstein family, circa Summer 1917, Vienna, Ludwig at far right

Auf Deutsch:
2.0201 Jede Aussage über Komplexe lässt sich in eine Aussage über deren Bestandteile und in diejenigen Sätze zerlegen, welche die Komplexe vollständig beschreiben.
2.021 Die Gegenstände bilden in Substanz der Welt. Darum können sie nicht zusammengesetzt sein.
2.022 Es ist offenbar, dass auch eine von der wirklichen noch so verschieden gedachte Welt Etwas -- eine Form -- mit der wirklichen gemein haben muss.
2.023 Diese feste Form besteht eben aus den Gegenständen.
2.024 Die Substanz ist das, was unabhängig von dem, was der Fall ist, besteht.
2.025 Sie ist Form und Inhalt.
2.0251 Raum, Zeit und Farbe (Färbigkeit) sind Formen der Gegenstände.

2.0201 Every statement about complexes allows itself in a statement about the constituent parts and in those atomized phrases, the complexes are completely described.
2.021 The objects constitute the substance of the world. This is why they can not be composite.
2.022 It is obvious that however different from the actual a fictitious world is, it must have something -- the shape -- in common with the actual world.
2.o23 This fixed shape exists just in the object.
2.024 The substance is that which, independent of what is the case, exists.
2.025 They are the shape and content.
2.0251 Space, time and color (chromaticity) are shapes of objects.


  • zerlegen -- Here we actually do get to a word that has something to do with "atomic."
  • Sätze -- This is the plural of "Satz," which is normally either translated as "sentence" or "phrase." I went with "phrase," since it doesn't imply the certain grammatical rules that "sentence" does and I don't want to tie Wittgenstein's "statement about constituent parts" down to the rules of the sentence, but maybe that would be right, maybe that would get at how language and world are all wrapped up in each other even in early Wittgenstein.
  • wirklichen -- I originally translated this as "real," as in "the real world." I didn't like the way that gave it ontological overtones, though, so I went with actual. That's not perfect either, but this is just tricky ground full of philosophical gopher holes.
  • feste -- This is one of those words that goes a million different ways. "Solid" seems to be common, though I'm not entirely happen with the phrase that leaves me, "this solid shape." There's something off about that. It does seem to collocate, though, in a way that has another sense, as in "feste Regel" (hard rule), "fest Kosten" (fixed cost), and "feste Aches" (fixed axle). This idea -- unmoving -- seems to work better with the theory here.
  • besteht -- This translates just as "exist," but I always think of it more as "persists" or "remains." "Exist" is such an abstract, ontological word, and maybe "bestehen" is like that too, but I hear it, almost as a false friend, as "be staying," which I think is better than "exists."
  • Färbigkeit -- Not the kind of word you learn in an introductory German class -- or even an advanced one, LEO.org translates this as "chromaticity." A more standard philosophical word would probably be "coloredness," but I like the more technical, less philosophical word here.

I think the first time I actually heard about philosophy was from my uncle, my mother's brother. We hadn't seen him in 9 or 10 years when he came up to the mountains where we were living for one Thanksgiving. He made a rue with butter and flour, that weekend, and he taught us how to pan for gold, which was what he was doing for a living in Jamestown, California, up until he died.

The job was mostly working as a guide, as he explained it, part teacher, part performer, and also he was always doing researching and gold searching on his own. There hasn't been serious gold in California for a long time, but he said there was still enough if you got lucky it could be worth your time.

He's also been taking some classes, then, at the community college. One of them was introduction to philosophy. It was one of the nights that weekend after Thanksgiving we stayed up late talking, he and my mom talked about being kids and about what had happened since and what they were doing now, that he told us about the class he was taking. I remember being confused as to what "philosophy" was, and he explained it, and he was excited about the solution he'd come up with to the old, old question of the one and the many. I didn't understand the problem of the one and the many at the time and don't remember how it was he'd come to the ingenious conclusion he'd come to, but I remember the conclusion like a punch line to a forgotten joke:

"There is the one, and there is the many, and there's the difference."

Wittgenstein, here, is trying to deal with that same question, the one and the many and the difference. It's one of the oldest philosophical questions. It got a number of philosophers into trouble over the years, including Zeno, who tried to come up with his paradox to prove that "all is one," and motion is impossible, and John Scotus Eriugena, who tried to use Catholic Neoplatonism to show how the one are the many and the many are the one, and ended up, accidentally, saying some very strange things about God and having Pope's condemn his work with an ugly metaphor (?) about worms.

Wittgenstein's answer to the problem seems to be using this idea of reciprocity in 2.0201. The idea is that the part is always a part of the whole, and the whole always exists in the part, but is also independent of the part.

I maybe be reading later Wittgenstein onto earlier Wittgenstein, here, but I think the analogy of a game is the best basic way to understand this: in a game where all the pieces move in different ways, e.g. chess, but also, maybe more loosely, a game like basketball, any statement about the whole game is also contained in a statement about a particular piece, and any description of or statement about a piece is also going to involve a statement about the whole game. If you say, for example, what the bishop (Auf deutsch: die Läufer) does in a game of chess, you say, in saying that, the whole game. And also the other way around: "Every statement about complexes allows itself in a statement about the constituent parts and in those atomized phrases, the complexes are completely described."

I'm not sure, but I think there might be a twist here, in that we're not supposed to think of the whole, though, as simply the sum of the parts. He does this move in 1.21, and I think it's valid here too. The whole is the parts, but in such a way that without any one part, the whole would still be the whole. I think. Like maybe chess, without the bishop, or without the queen, which historically is true in that the queen wasn't always the queen we have today, would still be chess. But maybe not, because it seems like there would be a hole in the whole -- I don't know. What if a rose had no name?

I don't know, also, honestly, 100 percent how Wittgenstein's answer works. Or if Wittgenstein's answer works. His solution to this in the Tractatus, how he works it out, is basically as cryptic to me as my uncle's statement was back before I had a degree in philosophy, back before I read all that I've read.

It's times like this when I wish Wittgenstein would do more work as a guide. There's power in what he says, and poetry, but I don't always know how to dig it out myself, following what he says, and I feel he just wants me to take it and accept it as right. I want Wittgenstein to be a guide here -- to teach, in part, and preform, in part -- but that's something he refuses to do. Wittgenstein, at this stage, only looks for gold on his own. Here he holds up the nuggets he has and says: look. But that is all.