When I first read Wittgenstein I laughed when he said

And if I am not mistaken in this, then the value of this work secondly consists in the fact that it shows how little has been done when these problems have been solved. (Tractatus, preface)

Is he mocking someone? Considering our inability to resolve the really important questions: how do we even have language and where/when did that ability develop, what is consciousness, the mind/body/soul problem, and most of all, what happens after death, or is there an 'after'? Is he mocking those who have offered answers to these questions, past, present and future? Is he mocking those who regard themselves and others highly for their ability at logical thinking/argument? Is he not mocking anyone? Maybe himself?

It sure sounds like he's mocking someone, "...and to whom it afforded pleasure." Is this right?

  • Reference? Where in Wittgenstein are you reading?
    – virmaior
    Oct 25, 2018 at 4:43
  • T L-P Preface...last paragraph Oct 25, 2018 at 5:01
  • See similar post. Oct 25, 2018 at 9:43
  • 1
    He cannot be mocking himself as he did not solve any problems. Thus his work does not show 'how little has been done' when they are solved. To show this he'd have to solve some. But I don't know of anyone except himself who thinks he solved any problems. His remark seems to imply that there is no value in his work so I find it difficult to guess what he really meant.
    – user20253
    Oct 25, 2018 at 11:29

3 Answers 3


In a certain sense, W is mocking himself ...

See the penultimate and last sections of Tractatus :

6.54. My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

7. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

And see the Preface :

The book deals with the problems of philosophy, and shows, I believe, that the reason why these problems are posed is that the logic of our language is misunderstood. The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.

Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather—not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought). [...]

On the other hand the truth of the thoughts that are here communicated seems to me unassailable and definitive. I therefore believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems. And if I am not mistaken in this belief, then the second thing in which the value of this work consists is that it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved.

There is a paradoxical aspect in W's book, a sort of self-defeating conclusion.

The purported Tractarian "final solution" is :

4.0031. All philosophy is a ‘critique of language’. [...]

4.112. Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. Philosophy does not result in ‘philosophical propositions’, but rather in the clarification of propositions.

This solution is not what "traditional" philosophy aimed at : ultimate answer to basic problems.


He cannot be mocking himself as he did not solve any problems. Thus his work does not show 'how little has been done' when they are solved. To show this he'd have to solve some. I don't know of anyone except himself who thinks he solved any problems.

His remark seems to imply that there is no value in his work so I find it difficult to guess what he really meant. Perhaps he thought he solved a problem yet the later 'Investigations' make it clear he did not.


The sentences appear as ‘Mocking” at the contemporary philosophers, but essentially he is curious and puzzled at the traditional philosophical discourse.

In his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein discusses a type of puzzlement, describing philosophy as "a battle against the bewitchment of intelligence by means of language"( CEl #109).

In fact, Wittgenstein spends a large part of the Investigations attempting to show how philosophy must deal with the problems inherent in our use of language.

Furthermore, says Wittgenstein, when we are in the clutches of philosophical puzzlement we cannot look to any new facts for help.

Unlike the empirical investigations of science, philosophy does not attempt to introduce new information - for there is no need to do so.

Rather, philosophers must concentrate on finding a new understanding of the propositions, construing them in such a way that they are no longer seen as contradictory.

Our pursuit is, therefore, best seen as interpretive: we shed light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away - "misunderstandings concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language" (£! #90).

Philosophy must provide clarification by unraveling the confusion, not by formulating a new theory.

This view, which emerges in the Investigations, is a departure from his earlier position in the Tractatus:

He is playing more or less the same game as Alice in Wonderland... The later Wittgenstein does not give answers or formulate ideas on the same level ... Were the later Wittgenstein to read a contemporary work of philosophy, he would not get down on all fours with it and dispute it.

He would rather stand back, and seek to find the source of the author's ideas. which source would be held to be disguised nonsense. The aim of philosophy, says the later Wittgenstein, is to "show the fly the way out of the tiny-bottle." ceI, #309)

Throughout the Alice tales, Carroll draws on the nonsense inherent in language, purposefully construing common statements in such a way as to cause bewilderment.

For instance, at the mad tea-party: Alice sighed wearily. "I think you might do something better with time," she said, "than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."

"If you knew Time as well as I do," said the Hatter, "you wouldn't talk about wasting it. It's him."

"I don't know what you mean," said Alice. CAW, 63)

Alice's confusion at the Hatter's description of "time" exemplifies what Wittgenstein means by philosophical puzzlement.

The reference to "time" as something that can be known as a person can be known indicates a common, deeper problem of our language: we tend to be held captive by a picture of time, space, etc., that causes perplexity; "this kind of mistake recurs again and again in philosophy, e.g., when we are puzzled about the nature of time, when time seems to us a Queer thing." (BB, 6)

Thus, Wittgenstein wants us to see the puzzle, and it is in this sense that sharp parallels can be drawn between his endeavor and the works of Carroll. Carroll is a master of presenting the puzzle, and surely no one comes away from a reading of the Alice books without a sense that something strange is going on with language; even a child gains an increased comprehension of the importance of words.

Furthermore, Wittgenstein is known to have read the works of Carroll; along with the two specific references to Carroll in the Investigations, this suggests it may not be a coincidence that some of Wittgenstein 's examples of sources of philosophical confusion overlap with the puzzles in the Alice books.


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