The Argument of the Tractatus

Its Relevance to Contemporary Theories of Logic, Language, Mind, and Philosophical Truth

By Richard McDonough

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Logic and Language
Paperback : 9780887061530, 311 pages, June 1986
Hardcover : 9780887061523, 311 pages, June 1986

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Table of contents


Introduction: The Program

Tautologies and the Logical Structure of Language and the World
A Sketch of Wittgenstein's Strategy
The Historical Objections to Wittgenstein's Program
A Conceptual Objection to Wittgenstein's Program
The Scope of the Present Interpretation
The Status of the Present Interpretation

Part I. Negation, Negative Facts and Wittgenstein’s ‘Fundamental Idea’
1. Russell's Distinction between Negative and Molecular Propositions

2. An Account of the Notion of a Negative Fact

3. Wittgenstein and the Dualism of Positive and Negative Facts

4. Negative Facts and the Tractatus

5. Wittgenstein’s ‘Fundamental Idea’

Part II. The Logical Propositions
1. The Unique Status of the Propositions of Logic

2. Russell's Account of the Logical Propositions

3. What Tautologies Express

4. How Tautologies Express

5. Sign and Symbol

6. The Autonomy of Logic

7. A Comparison of Wittgenstein and Russell

Part III. The Sole Logical Constant or General Propositional Form
1. Wittgenstein's 'Fundamental Principle'

2. The Sole Logical Constant

3. The Contingency of Genuine Propositions

4. The Structure of the Genuine Propositional Symbol

5. Tautology and Contradiction as Cases of the Disintegration" of the Combination of Signs

6. The Application of the Tautologies in Inference

Part IV. Logical Form and the Form of Reality

1. The Subject Matter of Propositions

2. The Proxy

3. Pictorial Form

4. The Propositional Bond

5. Substance

6. The Symbolic Representation of the Substantiality of the World

7. Interim Review

Part V. The Perceptible Propositional Signs and Sign-Systems

1. The Surface and the Underlying Structure of Language
a. Logic and the Underlying Structure of Language
b. Wittgenstein's Alternative Account of Vagueness

2. The Propositional Sign of Everyday Language

3. The Ideal Propositional Sign and Sign-System

4. The Perceptible "Image of the Truth"

Part VI. The Imperceptible Part of the Propositional Symbol: The Thought
1. Russell's 1919 Account of the Proposition
a. Russell's 'Mental' Propositions and Brentano's Notion of the Mental
b. Russell's Account of the Mental Dimension of the Meaning Locus

2. The Notion of the Meaning Locus and the Tractatus
a. The Notion of the Meaning Locus and the Text of the Tractatus
b. The Notion of the Meaning Locus and the Argument of the Tractatus
c. The Concept of the Meaning Locus and the Awareness of Meanings
d. Recognition of the Significance of these Notions in Contemporary Philosophy
e. The Logical Status of the Notion of the Mental
f. Summary

3. Contemporary Psycholinguistic Versions of the View that the Propositional Symbol Involves a Meaning Locus and Interpretation Terminus

4. The State of the Contemporary Theory of Meaning

Part VII. The Nature of a Philosophical System and Philosophical Propositions

1. The Self-Contained Philosophical System

2. The Presuppositionless Starting Point for Philosophy
a. The Sense in which Wittgenstein's Philosophical System Does Not Have a Presuppositionless Foundation
b. The Sense in which Wittgenstein's Philosophical System Does have a Presuppositionless Foundation
c. The System of Philosophical Knowledge and the System of Philosophical Truth

3. The Systematic Nature of Philosophical Truth: The Truth Locus for Philosophical Truth

4. The Holistic Nature of Wittgenstein's Philosophical System

5. A Comparison of the Notion of a Philosophical System in the Tractatus and in German Idealism

6. The "Transcendental" Nature of Logic

7. Throwing Away the Ladder

Part VIII. The Theory of Communication: The Sayable and the Unsayable

1. The Theory of Communication for Genuine Propositions
a. Expressing a Thought in Words
b. An Account of Communication within the Limits of Natural Science

2. The Significance of Philosophical Propositions

3. Wittgenstein's Doctrine of Silence

Summary of the Central Views of the Tractatus
Concluding Remarks


The Argument of the "Tractatus" presents a single unified interpretation of the Tractatus based on Wittgenstein's own view that the philosophy of logic is the real foundation of his philosophical system. It demonstrates that on this interpretation Wittgenstein's views are far more visionary and relevant to contemporary discussions than has been suspected. A case in point is a new interpretation of Wittgenstein's theory of meaning that is shown to illuminate the views of a series of philosophers, including Brentano, the early Russell, Chomsky, Fodor, Katz, Kripke, Malcolm, and Dummett. McDonough's interpretation sheds new light on the connection between Wittgenstein's work and the nineteenth- and twentieth-century German philosophical tradition, and it facilitates a clear resolution of the controversy over the relation between Wittgenstein's own early and later philosophies.

The Argument of the "Tractatus" is an excellent introduction to the field of twentieth-century analytical philosophy. It treats a wide range of authors and topics, including the foundations of logic, the theory of meaning, the disputes concerning atomistic versus holistic conceptions of language, the nature of the mental, the foundations of psycho-linguistics, the theory of communication, and the nature of philosophical systems.

"This is a remarkable study of the Tractatus. It provides a completely new insight into the structure of that baffling work." — Norman Malcolm


"This is a remarkable study of the Tractatus. It provides a completely new insight into the structure of that baffling work." — Norman Malcolm