There are, at present, two dominant ways to read Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (TLP). One is called the irresolute reading, the other the resolute reading.

  • The irresolute reading takes what is called an inaustere view of nonsense: it takes Wittgenstein's propositions in the TLP to be nonsensical in that they are trying to express what, according to Wittgenstein, can only be shown, e.g. propositions about the logical form of propositions.

    • We could take the paradigmatically extreme irresolute reader to be Russell who, in his introduction, thought that sense of TLP could potentially be made in a meta-language.
  • The resolute reading on the other hand takes what is called an austere view of nonsense: this takes the propositions in the TLP to be actual, irredeemable nonsense, they are no better than "squabble-squibble-squabble" or "Jabberwocky".

    • In this sense the whole of TLP becomes a quasi-ironic argument against transcendental idealism.
    • The locus classicus of this reading is Cora Diamond's The Realistic Spirit and much of the literature that has engaged with her work has served to clarify and sharpen the resolute reading.

As a result, several distinctions can be made between the two readings. For example, if we are irresolute then we take Wittgenstein to be a realist, whereas if we are resolute the question of realism/anti-realism does not arise.

Those two methods for interpreting aside, my question is whether there are other readings of the TLP that are not necessarily counterpoised around what view we take of nonsense. Are there ways to read the TLP that do not engage with the resolute/irresolute spectrum? Has any research been done in that direction?

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    Excellent question. (Can you tag it with the domain of philosophy that you believe it covers) Jun 8, 2011 at 8:43
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    @Brian Not sure that it covers any areas as it is mostly an interpretative question. Added meaning and also hyphenated readings into readings-scholarly. I guess this site will need a 'Reading' tag if people are asking for specific interpretations. Any suggestions?
    – Chuck
    Jun 8, 2011 at 8:48
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    SEP says: "it evolved as a continuation of and reaction to Russell and Frege's conceptions of logic and language" So, philosophy-of-logic. Of course, it then says: "Clearly, the book addresses the central problems of philosophy which deal with the world, thought and language, and presents a "solution" (as Wittgenstein terms it) of these problems which is grounded in logic and in the nature of representation." So... it could be philosophy-of-language, but that feels wrong. Short form: no, I don't have a good suggestion :) Jun 8, 2011 at 8:51

3 Answers 3


Based on your summary, it appears both methods of reading interpret the writings of the Tractatus as senseless (irresolute) or nonsense (resolute). In other words, both readings, if applied to the whole of the text, would classify it as belonging to something beyond the limits of "world, thought and language".

It seems safe to assume that Wittgenstein's purpose in writing the Tractatus was not to expound a litany of senseless or nonsensical propositions supported solely on the basis of a private language. Interpretation based on (in)austere readings of sense may be convenient; however, any interpretation should follow intent lest it be some prattling on about how a square peg doesn't fit into a circlular hole.

An alternate interpretation (to apply to the possibility of meaning or sensibility of the propositions) is how they are meaningful/less, their correspondence to states of affairs (SOA). In this strictest sense, logic and (particularly) the methods of logic written about in the Tractatus are senseless. This was by virtue of Wittgenstein's differentiation of the operation of the rules of logic and their lack of correspondence with any possible SOA.

What remains of the Tractatus after the statements of logic are stripped away? Ignoring the side debate of whether a claim instantiated by nonsense or senseless proposition is thereby corrupted, it is wholly possible to read through the Tractatus as a work of the unsayable. Further, in Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein it is expressed that he intended the work to be read with an eye to the ethical (think more Vienna Circle, less Analytics). Here is a summation of what this can mean (TLP citations):

...as everything that is possible can in-principle be put into words, it follows that if there are 'things' which cannot be put into words then such 'things' cannot exist within logical space. This reinforces the claim that some nonsense might have an important use, namely, to try and illuminate those 'truths' which cannot be said. By attempting to say what cannot be said, by speaking nonsense (but not meaningless gibberish), one can try to make the things which cannot be put into words mystically «manifest» themselves through words (6.522). While we will inevitably pass over such things in silence, this does not necessarily imply that we should be silent as we can try to manifest them in order to help others «see the world aright» (6.54). Indeed, this is what I take Wittgenstein to be trying to do throughout the Tractatus. For Wittgenstein there are ethical `truths' that cannot, strictly speaking, be said at all, but can only be 'manifested' through illuminating nonsense... [This] is the ethical 'sense' of the Tractatus.


Although I don't have a specific answer to your question, I suggest you take a look at Biletzki's (Over)Interpreting Wittgenstein.


I can't say that I have read the book in its entirety (which I certainly intend on doing in the near future), but it makes for a great reference when trying to navigate through the various interpretations of Wittgenstein. Furthermore, it often shows how a certain interpretation may converge or diverge from another.


In order to be true, I wanted express the facts/experiences. While reading Tractatus Logico Philosophicus I had felt an extreme pain of inability in sharing the knowledge one has a fortune to behold. The atomic understanding of the intent, as I see it was, came to me after I started reading the Russian translation next to English one which I started with at first. I believe that Wittgenstein had found the truth and specifically in paradigm of syllogism. It was like an instant understanding fell upon me as I saw the missing "U" categorical proposition that completes "A,E,I,O" (Aristotle had sought it but didn't link it to the other four, I think). U- half a is b. It explains the intent, a perfect state of relationship or the simplest quantum state of an object. I am sorry if you may take this comment as gibberish. All I wanted to do is to add another perspective on Wittgenstein's work/s as being a tool for changing mindset rather than a mindset to be analysed. L.Wittgenstein was a practitioner, therefore, his work should be purposeful in a sense. Egyptian wisdom keepers, who were the teachers of greatly celebrated Greek philosophers had dual ways in expressing themselves. As we know that their language was comprised of pictures and characters, I believe, for the purpose of better information transfer(understanding) and that is how I explain the phenomena of me getting the Wittgenstein's message. I also believe that there is more to it for other readers to reflect.

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