If Wittgenstein's Tractatus is right that:

He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly. (TLP 6.54).


Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. (TLP 7).

is phenomenology, characterised as the attempt to ground the sciences (I think this is the claim at the beginning of the Cartesian Meditations anyway) senseless and a vain attempt?

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    – virmaior
    Aug 4, 2015 at 2:23

3 Answers 3


I think there is an equally strong thread in the Tractatus that supports phenomenology. There is a theme that some valuable insights cannot be said, but can only be shown. This is a move back away from abstract logical constructions toward and the whole apparatus of perception.

His 'shown', 'pictured', etc. should not be taken too literally, it would include hearing, etc., as well as the real experience of being in various mental conditions and of going through various mental 'motions'. Climbing up the ladder and feeling the need to toss it aside is one.

These are the elements of phenomenology. And he is suggesting that logic be grounded in them, since it cannot stand on its own.

His later notions about language-games are deeply embedded in real experience as an escape from the cage of grammar and the delusions implicit in questions that disrespect the boundaries between different realms of experience.

So I think Wittgenstein is accepting of phenomenological positions, and could even be classified as in this tradition, just not as fundamentalist about it as someone like Husserl.


Kant had forever hidden the ding-an-sich (things in themselves) behind the phenomenal veil; that Wittgenstein was obviously familiar with Kants philosophy is suggested by TLP 2.0251

Space, time and colour are the forms of objects

which appears to allude to, whilst overturning, Kants notion how space and time are the forms by which objects can be experienced; he is affirming - instead, via Spinoza, that objects themselves have 'extension' in time and in space; and that objects have 'colour'.

Husserls phenomenological project was to overcome the Kantian distinction as explained by his famous quote

to go back to the things themselves

This recalls TLP 2.1511

thus the picture is linked with reality; it reaches out to it.

It's by reaching out to reality that Wittgenstein establishes the truth and falsity of propositions; recall analytic propositions are true by virtue of their form; and then note TLP 2.224 which has

It cannot be discovered from the picture alone whether it is true or false

He also summarily dismisses a priori truths in the following proposition:

There is no picture that is a priori true

Thus Wittgenstein grounds truth in correspondance, in relations between the picture I have of the worlds and it's states of affairs, and the world itself, as he affirms in TLP2.233

In order to discover whether the picture is true or false we must compare it to reality

and this can only be established by going right up to the world and establishing just what the states of affairs actually are.


I'm most interested in your choice of the word "senseless". In Wittgensteinian philosophy, phenomenology being "senseless" means that it cannot be pictured (like tautologies and contradictions). Instead, the word you're probably looking for is "useless".

Either way, a train of thought regarding the Tractatus is "to make his readers see that philosophy is not a legitimate pursuit: the problems are fictitious, the questions are meaningless, and engaging in the enterprise can produce nothing but nonsense." Agreeing with that notion, then, would make phenomenology, and all philosophical disciplines done in vain.

  • hello. does the Tractatus assume the sciences are grounded, and if so does that change your answer ?
    – user6917
    Aug 3, 2015 at 18:16
  • 1
    Many ways of reading younger Wittgenstein do not paint him as a nihilist.
    – user9166
    Aug 3, 2015 at 18:52

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