I read the following in G. E. M. Anscombe's description of the consequences of Wittgenstein's picture theory of language: (page 82)

Carnap strongly objected to Wittgenstein's doctrine with its corollary of the 'unsayables' that are 'shewn', which seemed to lead on to the 'mysticism' of the Tractatus.

There is a footnote to this passage, but it doesn't cite where Carnap expressed these views:

I once had occasion to remark to Wittgenstein that he was supposed to have a mystical streak. 'Like a yellow streak.' he replied; and that is pretty well how the Vienna Circle felt about certain things in the Tractatus.

I wasn't aware that the Vienna Circle, or Carnap in particular, opposed the Tractatus. Hence my question: Where did Carnap express his disagreement with Wittgenstein's Tractatus?

I would like to read Carnap's own presentation of his views.

Anscombe, G. E. M. An introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus. 1971. St Augustine's Press.

2 Answers 2


The second OP quote (footnote about the mystical streak) refers to a meeting with Wittgenstein by Anscombe herself. For an account of Wittgenstein's relation to the Vienna circle philosophy see Stern's Wittgenstein versus Carnap on physicalism.

As for Carnap, Anscombe most likely refers to his self-account of meetings with Wittgenstein in the Autobiography, see extended excerpt on Waggish. However, Carnap's remarks seem to be based more on observations about Wittgenstein's personal style than analysis of the Tractatus:

"His point of view and his attitude toward people and problems, even theoretical problems, were much more similar to those of a creative artist than to a scientist; one might almost say, similar to those of a religious prophet or seer. When he started to formulate his view on some specific problem, we often felt the internal struggle that occurred in him at that very moment, a struggle by which he tried to penetrate from darkness to light under an intensive and painful strain, which was even visible on his most expressive face. When finally, sometimes after a prolonged arduous effort, his answer came forth, his statement stood before us like a newly created piece of art or a divine revelation... For us the discussion of doubts and objections of others seemed the best way of testing a new idea in the field of philosophy just as much as in the fields of science; Wittgenstein, on the other hand, tolerated no critical examination by others, once the insight had been gained by an act of inspiration...

Earlier when we were reading Wittgenstein’s book in the Circle, I had erroneously believed that his attitude toward metaphysics was similar to ours. I had not paid sufficient attention to the statements in his book about the mystical, because his feelings and thoughts in this area were too divergent from mine..."

Carnap's interpretation of "shown, not said" and "what can not be said must be passed over in silence" is, perhaps, natural in the light of his personal observations, but it is controversial, and many modern scholars find the "mystical interpretation" to be dubious. Rather than talking about "ineffable truths" that can not be expressed, he is more naturally interpreted as talking about linguistic confusion that Tractatus is meant to dispel (the so-called "resolute interpretation", see What did Wittgenstein (mean to) achieve in the Tractatus?). The "ineffable" is trying to express that which is simply not there, falling into a trap of empty language, Tractatus is a way "to show the fly a way out of the bottle", "showing" is doing in practice, instead of talking. In any case, this is the direction Wittgenstein's thought took in later years. So Wittgenstein might have been closer to Carnap on substance than the latter thought, see Nonsense and Clarification in the Tractatus by Kuusela:

"First, instead of providing us with a paradoxically nonsensical doctrine the Tractatus aims at demonstrating that the clarification of philosophical problems requires a particular approach to philosophy, which differs importantly from how philosophy has been traditionally conceived. More specifically, according to Wittgenstein, philosophers have made a mistake in treating statements concerning the essential, i.e. necessary features of things as if they were simply another type of statements of fact..."


This is just a small supplement to Conifold’s answer, which I find excellent.

Near the end of §81 (on the admissibility of of the material mode of speech) in Logical Syntax of Language, Carnap lists examples of «dangerous» (likely to be confused) expressions under the headings of «the mythology of the inexpressible» and «the mythology of higher things». It is quite clear that he has taken some of these from Wittgenstein, and he might take more of them to fit his (mis)understanding of the Tractatus. The problem with these expressions seems to be that Carnap cannot see how to translate them into the formal mode of speaking without rendering them contradictory.

So, even though he doesn’t mention Wittgenstein here, he does seem to state his criticism of his view.

Logical Syntax of Language (pp. 313–315)

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    Correct. @Frank Hubeny - in a nutshell, Carnap disagreement with the Tractarian philosophy is about W's dictum that "syntax cannot be siad" (see 3.334). All Carnap's first masterpiece is about the Logical Syntax of Language. See also O.Kuusela, Carnap and the Tractatus' Philosophy of Logic (2012). May 26, 2019 at 11:50

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