The Good Sense of Nonsense: a reading of Wittgenstein's Tractatus as nonself-repudiating

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Abstract

This paper aims to return Wittgenstein's Tractatus to its original stature by showing that it is not the self-repudiating work commentators take it to be, but the consistent masterpiece its author believed it was at the time he wrote it. The Tractatus has been considered self-repudiating for two reasons: it refers to its own propositions as ‘nonsensical’, and it makes what Peter Hacker calls ‘paradoxical ineffability claims’ – that is, its remarks are themselves instances of what it says cannot be said. I address the first problem by showing that, on Wittgenstein's view, nonsense is primarily a technically descriptive, not a defamatory, qualification, and is not indicative of Wittgenstein rejecting or disavowing his own Tractarian ‘propositions’. I then dissolve the paradoxical ineffability claim by making a technical distinction, based on Wittgenstein's own theory and practice, between saying and speaking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-177
JournalPhilosophy
Volume82
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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