Does anyone discuss 'limit' in Wittgenstein? The word "limit" keeps appearing in the Tractatus: of thinking; of language; of the world; of the natural sciences; of my visual field. It's used even more liberally in commentaries. I was surprised that nothing immediately came up on google. I just wanted to clarify that term.


3 Answers 3


I would add to Frank Hubeny's answers above that, Wittgenstein's principal interest in the concept "limit(s)," in the Tractatus, is whether the "limit(s)," of thought are determined by the "limit(s)," of language (i.e. of linguistic understanding). This I was taught by Professor Paul Edwards, former Editor, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and personal biographer of Bertrand Russell.

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G. E. M. Anscombe discusses the concept of limits of my world in the last chapter of her introduction to the Tractatus. Her entire book leads to this chapter which also covers mysticism, transcendentals and solipsism. Together these concepts clarify each other.

The world as a limited whole pervades the Tractatus: (page 169)

The idea of the world as having limits which philosophy displays to us appears over and over again in the Tractatus. It is perhaps best known in the dictum of 6.45: 'The view of the world sub specie aeterni is the view of it as a - limited - whole. The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling.' The world 'as a limited whole is not suddenly introduced here as a new topic. We encounter the world conceived as a whole - as all that is the case - and as limited - namely by being all that is the case - at the very outset of the book; the feeling of the world as a whole appears in the remark at 1.2: 'The world splits up into facts', for it is only of a whole that we can say it splits up.

From the perspective of logic that permits one to speak about these facts Wittgenstein considers ethics and aesthetics. This part Anscombe feels is "most obviously wrong": (page 171)

Wittgenstein insists that 'the world is independent of my will; there is no logical connection between will and world' - no logical connection between my will and what actually happens at all. In so far as an event in the world can be described as voluntary, and volition be studied, the will, and therefore action, is 'a phenomenon, of interest only to psychology'. Therefore 'action', in the ethical sense, is something independent of what happens; and this is the bearer of good and evil. Thus the 'will that is the bearer of the ethical' (6.423) belongs among the transcendentals of the Tractatus, along with the mystical and the meaning of life. The connection of will with the world is that 'the facts' belong to the task one is set. If one has reached a solution, this is made to be a solution, not by any alteration of the facts that may have taken place - any such alteration, even if one intended it, is accidental and merely a 'grace of fate' - but by an alteration 'in the limits of the world' (6.43).

She describes logic, ethics and aethetics as the "object of contemplation of the whole": (page 172-3)

The world thought of, not as how things are, but as however they are - seen as a whole - is the matter of logic; thought of as my life, it is the matter of ethics; thought of as an object of contemplation, the matter of aesthetics; all these, then, are 'transcendental'.

The following description from Wikipedia suggests why it might be worthwhile paying attention to what Anscombe had to say about Wittgenstein:

Anscombe was a student of Ludwig Wittgenstein and became an authority on his work and edited and translated many books drawn from his writings, above all his Philosophical Investigations.

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

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, September 23). G. E. M. Anscombe. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:25, October 5, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=G._E._M._Anscombe&oldid=917467509


This is surely an incomplete answer, 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.)

(adapted from an answer that I earlier gave to this question: Wittgenstein's solipsist, from Tractatus?)

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