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The Conflicts of Modernity in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s «Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus»


Marek Dobrzeniecki

The author offers a new look at one of the most influential books in the history of philosophy: Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He presents the Tractatus as expressing the intellectual anxieties of its modernist epoch. The most intriguing but usually unanswered question concerning the Tractatus is why Wittgenstein had to think that only propositions of natural science have meaning. The author reviews the most popular interpretations of the Tractatus and comes to the conclusion that the early Wittgenstein was an ethical subjectivist. With this insight, he solves the tension between Tractarian theses that influenced neopositivism and its mystical part.
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One of the main questions in the following dissertation reads as follows: What reasons did Wittgenstein have to think that only propositions of natural science have meaning?

The totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science (or the whole corpus of the natural sciences) (TLP 4.11)1.

One could expect such a statement from an admirer of natural science (of its progress, results, clarity or influence on everyday life). One could also expect this statement to be the beginning of some philosophical programme in which the progress of all other branches of culture hinges on a scientific conception of the world. Yet the Tractatus has nothing to do with these kinds of views. In a letter to his publisher, Ludwig von Ficker, Wittgenstein informed him that his work consisted of two parts: the written part – the text that the reader has before his or her eyes, and the unwritten part – topics about which Wittgenstein was intentionally silent2. To Bertrand Russell, who believed that one should implement scientific methods into the practice of philosophy3, he wrote: “How different our ideas are, for example, of the value of a scientific work”4. He was explaining to the first English translator of the Tractatus, Charles Kay Ogden, with respect to thesis TLP 6.5 (“The riddle does not exist”), which could be interpreted straightforwardly as proof of Tractarian positivism, that he did not wish “anything ridiculous or profane or frivolous in the word when used in...

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