According to the early Wittgenstein of the Tractatus, the solipsist is one and one and the same with the world. He then makes the claim that solipsism coincides with realism.

5.64, Wittgenstein asserts that “Here it can be seen that solipsism, when its implications are followed out strictly, coincides with pure realism. The self of solipsism shrinks to a point without extension, and there remains the reality co-ordinated with it.”

P.M.S Hacker provides the following:

What the solipsist means, and is correct in thinking, is that the world and life are one, that man is the microcosm, that I am my world. These equations... express a doctrine which I shall call Transcendental Solipsism. They involve a belief in the transcendental ideality of time. ... Wittgenstein thought that his transcendental idealist doctrines, though profoundly important, are literally inexpressible.

— Hacker, Insight and Illusion, op cit., n. 3, pp. 99-100.

Can anyone help me better understand this notion of solipsism that Wittgenstein professes in the Tractatus?

According to an answer I found on Reddit, here is a pseudo-proof of the notion of maintaining the consistency of solipsism with pure realism.

(1) Realism maintains that reality exists independently of the mind.

(2) His solipsism removes the mind from reality.

(3) For a solipsist without skeptical concerns (Wittgenstein), the world still exists independently of the mind.

(4) Therefore, his solipsism affirms philosophical realism.

Wittgenstein’s solipsism removes the subject from the world. In so doing, he shows that the world still exists without the subject being in the world. Therefore, his solipsism is consistent with philosophical realism.

Does this make sense? There's seemingly a joint discontinuity here between the world of the solipsist and the world at large.

  • 1
    5.64 is just commonly misinterpreted, see Hintikka:"Having identified the metaphysical subject with the totality of one's language and the limits of language with the limits of the world, he could say that the limits of the (metaphysical) subject are the limits of the world. "I am my world"... the motives of this version of solipsism have little to do with what is ordinarily called 'solipsism'. For instance, it has nothing to do with the classification of elementary propositions into 'mine' and yours '... the distinction is irrelevant". – Conifold Jul 9 '19 at 1:23
  • 1
    @Conifold I agree that Wittgenstein introduces a stipulation of the term that is 'solipsism', but, I find it intriguing and insightful one. – Wallows Jul 9 '19 at 2:42
  • If you want to delve into it, look at Wittgenstein's main argument against the coherence of solipsism in PI, the private language argument, see IEP. Basically, he argues that genesis of intelligible language rules out solipsism (in the ordinary sense), as it requires public checks on its use. However, Azzouni shows in a recent book that Wittgenstein's argument does not rule out all varieties of private language. It might be enough to rule out solipsism, as some checks are needed. – Conifold Jul 9 '19 at 3:32
  • @Conifold, thanks. There is a lot to cover. – Wallows Jul 9 '19 at 4:37

I don't know whether a short answer will suffice, but you may be interested in JJ Valberg's book Dream, Death, and the Self, in which he develops his concept of the personal horizon. He writes (page 17):

Wittgenstein--that is, Wittgenstein of the Tractatus--is the last philosopher we shall mention in this regard. Wittgenstein's conception of the "metaphysical subject," the subject that is not part of the world but its "limit," is, I believe, the conception of the personal horizon, the subject matter with which we shall be occupied in this book. [...] In the Tractatus, the deepest truths, like the "truth" in solipsism, are truths that have reference to the personal horizon, to the "limit" of the world (the metaphysical subject).

There are many other passages about Wittgenstein in the book, but they may not make much sense without the context of the rest of the book. (Still, as a teaser, you might get a basic idea by going to Google Books and searching for "Wittgenstein" in the book.)

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Thanks a million thanks. I have been formulating these very concepts independently and am somewhat relieved to see that I may have a credible source to the paper on this topic, which I plan on writing. – Wallows Jul 9 '19 at 14:16
  • Glad that this was helpful! You might also look into some of Caspar Hare's work on egocentric presentism and perspectival realism. – present Jul 9 '19 at 18:50

In exploring the theme of Wittgenstein's view of solipsism, G. E. M. Anscombe describes his contrast between what can be expressed (or thought) through language and what can only be shown but not expressed. Language is a mirror of reality: (page 164)

All the logical devices - the detailed twiddles and manipulations of our language - combine, Wittgenstein tells us at 5.511, into an infinitely fine network, forming 'the great mirror' - that is to say, the mirror of language, whose logical character makes it reflect the world and makes its individual sentences say that such-and-such is the case.

This mirroring suggests realism. Something is being mirrored. However, the mirroring not only expresses statements about reality but also shows what cannot be expressed: (page 166)

Thus when the Tractatus tells us that 'Logic is transcendental', it does not mean that the propositions of logic state transcendental truths; it means that they, like all other propositions, shew something that pervades everything sayable and is itself unsayable.

What is unsayable is in the "limits" of logic which are the world's "limits" (5.61) and the world is "my world" (5.62 and 5.63). This is where solipsism comes in: (page 166)

So, it comes out that it is illegitimate to speak of 'an I'. 'From inside' means only 'as I know things'; I describe those things - something, however, I cannot communicate or express: I try to, by saying I speak 'from an inside point of view'. But there is no other point of view. Suppose others too speak of the 'inside point of view'? That is my experience of my supposition of spoken words.

This leads to Wittgenstein's paradoxical view of solipsism expressed in 5.64:

Here we see that solipsism strictly carried out coincides with realism. The I in solipsism shrinks to an extensionless point and there remains the reality coordinated with it.

This can be seen as coming from Wittgenstein's view of language as saying what can be said about my world and showing what cannot be said about my world.

Anscombe, G. E. M. An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus. 1971.

Wittgenstein, L. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Translator C. K. Ogden. Retrieved on July 9, 2019, from Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/WittgensteinLudwig.TractatusLogicoPhilosophicus19222019/page/n98

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Yes, the all important principle of bipolarity doesn't seem to apply to a Wittgensteinian solipsist, rendering it a transcendental truth that cannot be analyzed. One of those moments where the ladder has to be preserved to get the whole point of what one is trying to purvey. – Wallows Jul 9 '19 at 14:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.