I think that I quite understand the relation between ontology and "logical syntax" of language as it is presented by Wittgenstein in Tractatus. He states that there are atomic entities, which are mysterious (Wittgenstein does not give any examples whatsoever), simple and unaltered objects. Their existence is some sort of theoretical postulate (thesis 2.0211). In what follows I will denote the class of Wittgenstein's objects as W-objects. On the level of language W-objects correspond to names and only to names (thesis 3.221), but it seems that they also have certain logical type assigned to them (thesis 2.0123). There are also states of affairs, which are configurations of W-objects. On the level of language they correspond to elementary propositions, which are configurations of names (thesis 3.21). Finally there are propositions which are truth functions (in the sense of classical propositional calculus) of elementary propositions. Here we have it - the pictorial theory of language.

There are of course various subtleties involved in the tractarian view on logical form of language and its relation to ontology, which are very interesting in their own sake (especially for someone trained in mathematical logic and formal onotlogies), but here I am curious about (as most of readers) mystical part of Tractatus.

To motivate my question note that Wittgenstein was influenced by Schopenhauer. It was Schopenhauer's idea (he was philosophical descendant of Kant), that one's will is a thing in itself in the sense of Kant. I think echo of Schopenhauer's influence is reflected in solipsistic theses of Tractatus (5.62 to 5.6331) and also in thesis 6.43.

Does Kantian notion of a thing in itself is an analogue of W-object?

Does Wittgenstein consider self or one's will as an example of W-object?

If not, then can answer be somehow deduced or just explained in terms of the ontological/logical part of Tractatus?

Secondly, Wittgenstein was also influenced by G.E. Moore and this philosopher argues in his famous Principia Ethica that the good is a simple, unaltered entity. On the other hand I think that the good was not considered as a W-object in Tractatus according to thesis 6.4, I found this thesis unexplained - just stated.

Does it follow somehow from the ontological/logical part presented in Tractatus that the good cannot be an example of W-object?


By "A is an example of a W-object" I mean approximately that "there exists a propositional function f(x) with one free variable, that belongs to the perfect language Wittgenstein describes in Tractatus such that A can be substituted for x in f(x) (f(A) is a valid sentence)" or "expression A is a part of some sentence S of perfect language that Tractatus postulates and A occurs as a name in S".

Further edit - in response to Conifold's interesting remarks on relation between logical positivism and Tractatus

In twentieth century philosophy there was an extensive discussion between proponents of metaphysical and positivist interpretation of Tractatus with all its subtleties. There are serious arguments supporting either position. But regardless of the possible outcome of this discussion I am interested in the following question.

Let us get rid of all theses of Tractatus after thesis 6. The result of this operation I denote by T-restricted. The question: Is thesis 6.4 logically independent from T-restricted or there is some explanation or at least indication that someone accepting T-restricted should seriously consider accepting thesis 6.4?

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    See 6.42 "So too it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics." and 6.421 "It is clear that ethics cannot be put into words. Ethics is transcendental." This means that "the good" (the central topic of ethics) is not an object of the world that the Tractarian "perfect language" can speak of. Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 14:53
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    Maybe useful ; K.Cahill, Ethics and the Tractatus as well as Benjamin De Mesel & Oskari Kuusela (editors), Ethics in the Wake of Wittgenstein (2019) Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:17
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    A w-object is not an object in any traditional sense. He says, "The possibility of its occurrence in atomic facts is the form of the object" (2.0141). Objects have no characteristic functions; they are the (possible) arguments of characteristic functions. Hence, my take is that none of the questions you ask are really valid in the framework. Notice the thesis "The good is a W-object" is not well-formed on Wittgenstein's framework. Another way to say it is that, 'w-object' is not a predicate that accepts arguments. These would be precisely nonsense in his framework. Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 20:54
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    I think you are estimating the degree of Schopenhauer's (and Kant's) influence. He said that Schopenhauer ends where depth begins, for example, and "mystical" and "solipsistic" messages of the Tractatus are mostly read into it by taking literally the words Wittgenstein expressly redefines. See e.g. threads on Tractatus's "ineffability" and "solipsism". Tractatus says nothing substantive about its objects.
    – Conifold
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 0:37
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA yes I completely agree. I am asking if the good is not an W-object can be deduced from the ontological/logical part of Tractatus? Or is it just isolated, independent statement of Wittgenstein's "theory"?
    – Slup
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 5:43

1 Answer 1


The OP mentions the influence of Schopenhauer and of Moore on Wittgenstein. Yet another influence on Wittgenstein, which is even more relevant to the aspects of the Tractatus asked about, is David Hume. Semantic atomism, the non-existence of the self, the is-ought gap, the lack of objective necessity, the problem of induction, all take part in the Tractatus.

The Tractatus states that there are no meaningful propositions on matters of ethics (and a fortiori there are none on "the good"):

6.42 So too it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics. Propositions can express nothing that is higher.

Same as to the will, in a metaphysical / ethical sense.

6.423 It is impossible to speak about the will in so far as it is the subject of ethical attributes. And the will as a phenomenon is of interest only to psychology.

Also as to the Cartesian self (a thinking being):

5.631 There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas
5.632 The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world
5.641 Thus there really is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in a non-psychological way. What brings the self into philosophy is the fact that ‘the world is my world’. The philosophical self is not the human being, not the human body, or the human soul, with which psychology deals, but rather the metaphysical subject, the limit of the world—not a part of it.

Now as to the related question

Can these answers be somehow deduced or just explained in terms of the ontological/logical part of Tractatus?

'Deduced' might be too strong. After all, we are told that

4.1212 What can be shown, cannot be said


6.54 My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless

The basis is not just what has been said, but also what has been shown. And what is it that has supposedly been shown, in the Tractatus? A picture of language, as such, as fulfilling just one function: aiming to correspond to the facts. To reflect, to mirror, to picture the facts.

4.01 A proposition is a picture of reality. A proposition is a model of reality as we imagine it.

And as this picture of correspondence, of picturing the facts, is "shown" to us, unrolled before our mental eyes, we just don't "see" in it any place remaining for propositions about value, duty, the good, the right, etc. It seems to be just the same gap between "is" and "ought" that David Hume famously expressed. And so Hume’s words may nicely cap this answer.

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.
( A Treatise of Human Nature )

  • Thanks +1. I understand Hume's and Wittgenstein's intuition and find it valuable. But it is a mere intuition and a reader of Tractatus is persuaded to accept them by means of some beautiful poetic passages. Why there can be no facts concerning the good? Why the good cannot be a simple, unaltered object, which as a name (constant) can enter some elementary proposition? Tractatus states that it is impossible, but do not give any strong reason for it whatsoever, beyond those passages.
    – Slup
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 9:24
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    @Slup Actually no, this is not what the Tractatus says. Think about it. We can just arbitrarily name any w-object "the good". And consequently "the good" will be a w-object. But, it is really of little consequence what we take to be the w-objects, in this sense: No choice of objects (such as "the good") will make the w-language related to ethics. Because no choice of objects will add to the w-language something like "ought". The.w-language contains only "is", not "ought". This, and not the list of objects, is the crucial point. Hume said it clearly, and.W said the same in a mysterious tone. Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 11:53
  • Suppose that we allow "the good" in the Moore's sense to be a w-object. Instead of introducing "ought to" to our language we may define "ought to" as "is good". "You ought to X" can be then translated to "X is good", where X is an action. So I don't see at this stage why no choice of w-objects will add "ought" to the language. Can you please respond?
    – Slup
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 12:21
  • @Slup Think of it in terms of consequences. In ordinary language, when we call something "morally good" it has practical consequences. But in the w-language, if we call something "morally good" (or anything else) it has no practical consequences. It cannot have practical consequences. The nature of the w-language guarantees that. Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 12:57

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