Essay about Tractarian Dualism

Essay about Tractarian Dualism

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While Wittgenstein’s Tractatus keeps issues of metaphysics and ontology at arm’s length, the world it presents seems altogether monistic in character. In Wittgenstein’s account, it is a world of objects and facts, a world which lacks selves, values, cognitive relations (such as belief), and God. I argue that the Tractarian world is nevertheless dualistic. I defend the view that the Tractatus points away from monism towards dualism and that Wittgenstein’s concepts of thought, sense, and understanding are an essential part of its structure. The language Wittgenstein uses was necessitated by his project of giving a sharp account of the nature of description. It is thus ironic that Wittgenstein defends dualism in the Tractatus and does so in the only form in which he thought it could be defended. Along the way, I try to show that his treatment of thought, sense, and understanding is both a continuation and correction of treatments which Frege and Russell had previously given to these concepts.

The world Wittgenstein describes in the Tractatus(1) excludes any traditional form of dualism, even to the extent of not differentiating types of objects. Neither does it allow for radically different kinds of external properties or "relations proper" [4.122] belonging to Tractarian objects, beyond the observable ones he mentions like space, color, degree of pitch, etc. Properties such as these can be specified. Declaring (without qualification) that "the totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science" [4.11], the Tractatus seems to align itself with if not to defend some form of monism, perhaps with the tradition of atomistic materialism which stretches back to Democritus. Since philosophy is not "a body of doctrine but an act...

... middle of paper ...

... essential intuition that the world does not live by objects and facts alone.


(1) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963). (Quotations from the Tractatus throughout this paper are from this translation.)

(2) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, tr. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963), I, §36.

(3) These various distinctions are made successively in the first half of Frege's famous essay, "On Sense and Reference". Frege's philosophical outlook is very evident in his 1918 essay, "The Thought", which aroused Wittgenstein's displeasure.

(4) Cf. 4.122. Wittgenstein speaks of internal properties as well as relations. The topic is rich, complicated and obscure. I have space in this paper only to glance off the surface of this topic.

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