Tractatus 3.3421 runs: "A particular method of symbolizing may be unimportant, but it is always important that this is a possible method of symbolizing. And this happens as a rule in philosophy: The single thing proves over and over again to be unimportant, but the possibility of every single thing reveals something about the nature of the world."

Regarding the second sentence, can anyone think of a good example of this in philosophy? I myself am struggling.

  • I think that this "little" passage (hardly commented into usual commentaries : Morris or Nordmann) must be related to logical form and objects (see 2.01 and 2.18) and the conclusion of 4.121 : "That which expresses itself in language, we cannot express by language. The propositions show the logical form of reality. They exhibit it." 1/2 Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 10:51
  • Propositions must be analyzed into elementary propositions consisting only of names; the form is not "representable" (W denies that e.g. propositional connectives: not, and denote). It is only the possibility of a particular symbolism that reveals something about the world: the logical form of reality. Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


From Max Black's Companion, Wittgenstein provides an example a couple sections later (boldface my own):

3.344 What signifies in a symbol is what is common to all the symbols that the rules of logical syntax allow us to substitute for it.

3.3441 For instance, we can express what is common to all notations for truth-functions in the following way: they have in common that, for example, the notation that uses 'Pp' ('not p') and 'p C g' ('p or g') can be substituted for any of them. (This serves to characterize the way in which something general can be disclosed by the possibility of a specific notation.)

3.3442 Nor does analysis resolve the sign for a complex in an arbitrary way, so that it would have a different resolution every time that it was incorporated in a different proposition.

3.4 A proposition determines a place in logical space. The existence of this logical place is guaranteed by the mere existence of the constituents—by the existence of the proposition with a sense.

3.41 The propositional sign with logical coordinates—that is the logical place.

3.411 In geometry and logic alike a place is a possibility: something can exist in it.

Consider as well the following passages:

2.033 Form is the possibility of structure.

5.4711 To give the essence of a proposition means to give the essence of all description, and thus the essence of the world.

  • The OP can clearly read and has done so with Wittgenstein, perhaps you could provide some interpretation that might actually answer the question - an example of the possibility of a thing revealing something about the nature of the world, rather than just quote the very same philosopher the OP has already indicated failed to convince them of that argument.
    – user22791
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 8:57
  • 1
    @Isaacson you have mis-read the question. Clearly, the author has accepted this answer because it addresses their question by demonstrating an example in regards to the second sentence of 3.3421.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 16:28
  • Answers on this site are supposed to be for more than just the OP, and for anyone struggling to understand Wittgenstein or unconvinced by his arguments in this area, simply referring them back to the text presuming no further interpretation or critique is required in order to gain a fuller understanding is to misunderstand the process of philosophy entirely. Anyone (in future reading this) would benefit from at least a few words about why you find these examples compelling, not simply a statement that they exist, a word search on any electronic form of the Tractatus could have done that.
    – user22791
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 8:10
  • @Isaacson you may have noticed the reference to Max Black's companion book. If there is something you still have a question about, feel free to post a question. If you think this answer inadequate, feel free to provide one, otherwise comments are not for discussion.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 22:53

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