Nov 17, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 008

Wittgenstein's corrected text

The normal way of reading the Tractatus should be turned on its head. It should be read, I think, upside down. That is: inverted.

The sentences are, of course, numbered, with seven "top level" sentences, and then, below that, sub sentences, sub-sub sentences, sub-sub-sub sentences and so on, all of them decimalized and ranked. The normal way of reading this -- the natural way -- is to give the highest priority to those first level sentences, paying less attention to the ones buried deep down in the text.

Those sub-sub sentences, though, should be taken as the most important ones.

It's there where Wittgenstein actually works out the parts of his claims that seem to him to have to be worked out, there where he does the work of the Tractatus. Down deep in the guts of the thing is where, if these claims are going to function, all the wires have to be correctly connected, everything has to be in working order. This means, for example, that the deeper the decimaled sentences go, the more careful Wittgenstein thinks he needs to be, the more crucial he considers the point, and the more important the sentences are.

These are the sentences that need to be read very carefully. We have to invert our reading, so that, mutatis mutandis, as Slovoj Zizek likes to say, changes having been changed, we read it right. We have put the emphasis where it actually should be, instead of where it naturally, normally would be.

Inversion is, actually, one of the great tools of philosophy*. Assumptions, mistaken connections and confused causal realations are all upset by inverstion. Thinking about things as they are -- accepting the natural order and the normal way -- leads us to accept wrong and confused conclusions. True thinking is thinking upside down.

A great example of this is the logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, after this therfore because of this. It's an error wherein we take the sequence of events as important, when really it's not. It's confusing chronology with causation. Inversion shows us how events aren't actually connected, or are connected in a more complicated way than we might have supposed.

An example of this in practice is Ludwig Feuerbach, who inverted the classic Christian dogma "God created man in his own image," so that "man created God in his own image." Whether one accepts that or not, thinking through the (anthropological atheism) inversion is a powerful, powerful way of thinking through the relation between the divine and human, and what God is and is not, and what we want to talk about when we talk about God. In a very real sense it's actually impossible to have thoroughly thought about God without having thought through this inversion ... having thought through God and man upside down.

Inversion is, admittedly, perversion. It's thinking perverted against the dogma of common sense, of the normal ways of thinking about things. This is one of the reasons philosophy has to seem stupid. It has to seem, in a way, obviously wrong.

Of course, it still might be wrong, but if it seems right -- if it fits easily and comfortably with what we've always thought, what we would think, if it's really describably with those rhetorical ploy adverbs, "clearly," and "obviously," -- then it is accepting those assumptions and existent ideologies and established orders of thought, and isn't thinking.

This is exactly what's happening here, in the lower reaches of the sub-sub sentences below sentence 2 in the Tractatus. It's an inversion, and there's something about it that's slightly perverse.

Wittgenstein is taking the normal way of thinking about thinking and flipping it on its head. Wheras the standard idea is that we have pictures of reality (and then have to worry, are those pictures right), he says the picture should be given priority. The picture is necessarily true; what is pictured is contingent.

Remember that the picture is a picture of reality, and reality is the entierty of states of affairs. States of affairs are structures of objects, linked together, and they can link together because they have shape. The object's shape, though, is necessary, while the object itself is not: I can think of a space with no object, but not of an object with no space, Wittgenstein says**. Likewise, a state of affairs can be the linking together of non-existent objects, can be a non-existent state of affairs, and that too is pictured reality. I can think of the state of affairs without the objects, but not the reverse, and can think of the picture without the state of affairs, but not the other way around.

This is more than a little perverse. He's running the correspondance theory in reverse.

The picture, in being a picture, he says, is necessarily true. It proves itself, and doesn't depend on it's correspondence to the world. Where normally it is said "Statement A is true if and only if A," Wittgenstein here reverses that: Statement A has to be true, while A is only possible if allowed the space of the statement. The picture makes the fact possible, and even the fact of the picture, and the fact of the coorelation of the picture, which is that which makes the picture a picture, that is, the reality of the picture, in an act of Luhmannian autopoiesis, is made possible by the picture.

You see, he says, it's upside down.

Auf Deutsch:
2.1511 Das Bild ist so mit der Wirklichkeit verknüpft; es reicht bis zu ihr.
2.1512 Es ist wie ein Maßstab an die Wirklichkeit angelegt.
2.15121 Nur die äußersten Punkte der teilstriche berühren den zu messenden Gegenstand.
2.1513 Nach dieser Auffassung gehört also zum Bilde auch noch die abbildende Beziehung, die es zum Bild macht.
2.1514 Die abbildende Beziehung besteht aus den Zuordnung der Elemente des Bildes und der Sachen.
2.1515 Diese Zuordnungen sind gleichsam die Fühler der Bildelemente, mit das Bild die Wirklichkeit berührt.
2.16 Die Tatsache muß, um Bild zu sein, etwas mit dem Abgebildeten gemeinsam haben.
2.161 In Bild und Abgebildetem muß etwas indentisch sein, damit das eine überhaupt ein Bild des anderen sein kann.

2.1511 The picture is thus knotted with reality; it reaches up to it.
2.1512 It is how a measure is applied to reality.
2.15121 Only the outermost points of the division marks touch the objects to be measured.
2.1513 According to this conception, the picturing relationship that makes it a picture also belongs to the picture.
2.1514 The picturing relationship exists from the coorelation of the elements of the picture and the things.
2.1515 These coorelations are similar to the sensing device of the picture elements, with which the picture touches reality.
2.16 The fact must, in order to be a picture, have something in common with the pictured.
2.161 The picture and the pictured must be indentical, so that one can actually be a picture of the other.

  • verknüpft -- I've spent part of this week just practicing saying this word.
  • Maßstab -- Also "scale," "gague," "yardstick," "ruler" and "rule." Considering how much of Wittgenstein's later work will be dedicated to rules and rule-following, it will be interesting to see if this word is used there. There's a temptation to translate it that way here, but I would be reading backwards into the Tractatus, and the context, here, by itself, doesn't seem to justify that. The idea supported by the text is just "measure."
  • angelegt -- A technical word. Can also mean "invested."
  • abbildende -- In normal use, as a normal verb, "abbilden" means something like, "to show." Philosophically, it gets translated as "to represent." I wanted to show, though, the connection between "Bild" and "abbilden," and so have made it, here, the gerund form of the verb "to picture."
  • Zuordnung -- I really don't like "correlation," but struggled to make anything else work, here, without an implication that an agent of some sort (God or philosopher) was active in making the connection. It seems to me it has to exist, for Wittgenstein, passively, and can't be something that's created. I don't like it, though, because I think it is easily mistaken for a totally different idea of the relationship between words and things. Maybe that's my own bias, though. Other possible translations of "Zuordnung" that I couldn't make work include "assignment" and "mapping."
  • Fühler -- Apparently a very technical word.
*Not that philosophy was the first to use it. As a tool, Buddhists' paradoxes predate the first Greek philosophers, though the ways in which their use of paradoxes, the point of them, are interestingly different. As something more than a tool, I would also argue that "inversion" sits at the center of Christianity, which is a hope in great inversions: that God became a helpless victim, that the first will be last and the last first, that the meek will inheirit the earth, and that failure becomes victory, death becomes life.
**There's a connection here to the ontological argument that I haven't fully considered. In the ontological argument, as run by Descartes or Anslem, the truth of God is necessecitated by the thought of God. With this move Wittgenstein is making, that I can or can't conceive of something is connected with it's logical possibility. The connections and ramifications here deserve further consideration.