Wittgenstein once said [and may have later recanted] that the world is everything that is the case, the totality of facts not of things, and that that world is determined by those facts, and they're being all the facts, since the totality of facts determines what is and what is not the case.

In conversation, we often use the phrases, "this/that is the fact of the matter," and "this or that is, or is not, the case."

In light of Wittgenstein's observations, (or rejecting them), is there such a thing as the fact of the matter, or a case [of the matter]? That is,what is the fact of the matter regarding the "fact of the matter" usage? If there is [a fact of the matter re this ussage], can it be described?

5 Answers 5


Your formulation "this is the fact of the matter" is similar to Wittgenstein's formulation in the Tractatus of the most general form of a proposition: "This is how things stand" (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 4.5) - However, your formulation seems to include a statement of the appended proposition's truth, and this is the way we often speak, in propositions and yet also referring to our certainty about those propositions. I think perhaps this is why Wittgenstein may have needed to reconsider how extensive his application of the ideas in the Tractatus could be to the practice of philosophy in general - though his ideas may have been plainly well thought-out, the right application of those ideas may not be universal, and in order to make sense of ordinary language usage, in particular, we may need to provide for a network of usages of language more complex than propositions, by themselves. For example, what your question raises, for me, is the idea that we do not always simply speak in terms of propositions in Wittgenstein's general form of "this is the way things stand"; we also give assertions of our relative certainty or lack of confidence in those propositions. "This is the fact of the matter" seems to me to imply certainty built into the general form of a proposition, "this is the way things stand" (in Wittgenstein's formulation)


Hmm. You seem to be asking whether there is any fact of the matter as to whether there is any fact of the matter.

In the comments 'I ruth' makes a good point. Your question is subtle though, for although there must be 'facts of the matter' it wouldn't follow that we can describe them. If you read the wisdom literature you'll see that that although there are facts of the matter it is a devilish job to describe them, and at the limit it is said to be impossible. Lao Tsu says 'true words seem paradoxical' and this would be of direct relevance to your question.

The problem is Russell's observation that our words almost always have metaphysical implications. So 'The cat sat on the mat' implies 'There exists a cat and a mat such that...'. It is the implied existential claim that causes the problem, since we cannot thoughtlessly reify the cat and the mat. For Kant they would be reducible phenomena, and we'd have to say 'It appears to me that the cat is on the mat'. Heraclitus would have said 'The cat is and is-not on the mat', and this would be the fact of the matter.


According to Wittgenstein, well a formed sentence expresses a proposition. A proposition is an abstract construction in logical space and shares what he calls a 'form' with sets of entities. A state of affairs is an arrangement of entities in space, time, etc. The form of a set of entities is all of the arrangements, i.e., states of affairs that set can occupy. If two sets of entities share a form (can be arranged in all of the same ways) one set can be used to express the possible arrangements of the other set. All sets share the logical form. Words operate in logical space and can hence be arranged to express all possible states of affairs. A state of affairs that exists is a fact. If the proposition expressed by a statement is isomorphic with the state of affairs of the fact it indicates, then we call it true. Therefore the world can be described as the set of all true statements.

Edit: To answer your actual question, the world is the set of facts and not things because, a mere description of the entities that exist would not describe the world. You need to know what states of affairs exist to know what relations those entities stand in respect to one another.

Edit 2: Or is your question whether Use theory excludes the possibility of early Wittgensteinian "Fact of the matter" claims? In other words, does use theory not so much do away with the tractatus as extend it (such as additionally describing actitudinal statments such as "I do." when getting married, etc.). Pretty sure J L Austin makes a pretty good argument that there exist locutionary acts that behave in Wittgensteinian ways, I'd have to revisit it.

  • My question is is there a fact of the matter, or alternatively, something that is “the case”, all of which boils down to whether there is such a thing as “getting it [reality/the world] right,” (whether realism is right) and you tell me that “the world is the set of facts [state of affairs that exist] and not things because, a mere description of the entities that exist would not describe the world. You need to know what states of affairs (arrangements of entities in space, time, etc) exist to know what relations those entities stand in respect to one another. Cont...
    – gonzo
    Aug 29, 2017 at 20:06
  • Which is a fine circular description not of realism, but of holism, reducing to you need to know what exists in order to know what exists. It seems to me that you need to have presuppositions, make assumptions (to say that something exists is to make ontological commitments, Quine liked to say), to ever get off the ground. Which is essentially the nub of my question. Nevertheless, this is a fine answer.
    – gonzo
    Aug 29, 2017 at 20:12
  • I think that WIttgenstein is assuming that objects exist. Given this assumption, there is a difference between listing which entities exist, and listing what states of affairs are the case. If the question is whether realism or idealism is correct, I think that question is upstream of the goals of the Tractatus. Honesly, you could even do a thing where for every reference to real existing 'objects' in the Tractatus you could replace it with 'apparent object' and it would probably play out the same.
    – Allen More
    Aug 29, 2017 at 21:20

To me, this is one of those places where early postmodernism is so materialist that it becomes a form of idealism.

There is a fact of the matter, but it is a complex linguistic structure contained in the whole collection of interacting beings involved in 'the matter'. It is not a configuration of the things in the universe, or a collection of logical statements that are true by some discernible standard.

It consists in all the moves related to the matter a player in a language game would consider valid as their next choice, the continuum of all the things that anyone might think or do next about the domain at hand that would be useful to the system of beings concerned with it in any way.

  • Another fine answer, @jobermark: There is a fact of the matter for purposes of one or another "context", for lack of a more precise term (maybe "focused intention?"). A kind of "internal" realism, as Putnum liked to say in the 1980s. Also, intriguing is your "early postmodernism is so materialist that it becomes a form of idealism." Please do eludicate by distinguishing "early" form contemporary postmodernism, and elaborating as " to how early PM "is so materialist that it becomes a form of idealism." At your leisure, of course.
    – gonzo
    Aug 30, 2017 at 0:15
  • By calling the later Wittgenstein, Quine and the end of the Logical Positivist arc, who first proposed a major departure 'early postmodernists', I mean that current postmodernists attribute their basic ideas to them, but they didn't have the label, and they hadn't seen how all of them would fit together.
    – user9166
    Aug 30, 2017 at 0:57
  • I think the whole answer is about the phrase you ask me to elaborate on, so I am confused. W. was so focused on the dualism of meaning and use, in the name of being reductive and functionalist that he proposed 'language games' which turn the whole world into just thoughts -- in the form of intended 'moves'. And that is not very reductive or functional...
    – user9166
    Aug 30, 2017 at 0:59

The posted answers will work, and are appreciated (and given my vote), but, I'll go with Hillary Putnam, who long ago said (somewhat in the context of the other answers here), "There is no fact of the matter as to what any of our terms refer to." (Words and Life, 1994, p. 279). Alternatively, one might trivially say, with William James, that our words, if "true", "agree with" (leaving the term "agree" undefined) reality/the world, or, with Richard Rorty, that confronted with specific aspects of the world we [our brains] are causally disposed to use certain words in certain ways in order to "cope" with those aspects of reality/the world. After thousands of years, little more can be said. (But cf my recent Rorty concedes to Ramberg question.)

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