Tag Archives: wittgenstein

The world is the totality of facts, not of things?

1 The world is everything that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.
1.12 For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case.
1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.
1.2 The world divides into facts.
1.21 Any one can either be the case or not be the case, and everything else remain the same.

2 What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.
2.01 An atomic fact is a combination of objects (entities, things).

(Wittgenstein, 1921)

The are the first nine propositions of Wittgenstein’s monumental work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The first seven propositions deal with the stance, namely that of idealism. “The world is the totality of facts, not of things,” states Wittgenstein. Following Berkeley things only exist insofar as they are perceived. Minimally, things are secondary to the mind.

Suppose there are two facts about one thing. Then, there must be more facts than things. Suppose now another person held those two facts as well but held a third fact about the thing. Exactly where do the number of facts end?

To me, Wittgenstein got it wrong from the very beginning of his first attempt at the philosophical enterprise. He knew this too and changed tact with his second attempt found in Philosophical Investigations, a work which, in my opinion, was more successful and more correct.

The problem, to me, is with language, or rather with the relationship of language with concepts and things.

 

Philosophy from looking at a piece of paper

The Zen buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh once spoke of the impossibility of looking at a piece of paper seeing its front face and not presume that it has no back face. Most people will not argue that. Intuitively we will presume this, if we are of sound (without mental disabilities) and mature (old enough to have enough experience) mind.

Maurice Denis began a revolution in Western art with this insightful statement,

« Se rappeler qu’un tableau, avant d’être un cheval de bataille, une femme nue ou une quelconque anecdote, est essentiellement une surface plane recouverte de couleurs en un certain ordre assemblées. »

“Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.”

which led to (or summed up) pretty much all modern art. The Cubist paintings of Picasso are an expression of this idea. And Cezanne tried the same in his still-life works before Picasso.

In literature, Eliot, Woolf and Joyce are good examples of this approach and understanding. In linguistics, Saussure said as much about meaning in language. And in philosophy, Wittgenstein, after Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and Derrida had pursued an understanding to the same end.

In Zen, all things are linked, and all things are empty. The back of the piece of paper can be safely presumed to be there even if we do not directly see it by virtue of the existence of the front of it. The back relies of the front for its meaning and existence, as does all language relies on all words for each other’s definitions. Nothingness only means what it does because of somethingness. The reverse is true as well.