In the introduction to the Tractatus, Russell writes:
In order to understand Mr Wittgenstein’s book, it is necessary to realize what is the problem with which he is concerned. In the part of his theory which deals with Symbolism he is concerned with the conditions which would have to be fulfilled by a logically perfect language. There are various problems as regards language.
First, there is the problem what actually occurs in our minds when we use language with the intention of meaning something by it; this problem belongs to psychology.
Secondly, there is the problem as to what is the relation subsisting between thoughts, words, or sentences, and that which they refer to or mean; this problem belongs to epistemology.
Thirdly, there is the problem of using sentences so as to convey truth rather than falsehood; this belongs to the special sciences dealing with the subject-matter of the sentences in question.
Fourthly, there is the question: what relation must one fact (such as a sentence) have to another in order to be capable of being a symbol for that other?
This last is a logical question, and is the one with which Mr Wittgenstein is concerned. He is concerned with the conditions for accurate Symbolism, i.e. for Symbolism in which a sentence “means” something quite definite. In practice, language is always more or less vague, so that what we assert is never quite precise.
What interests me is this last sentence of Russell - 'language is always more or less vague'; intuitively it seems true because of the four terms together present this truth. That is a logically perfect language cannot be psychologically true, and is essentially a fragment of language and not its ideal.
Take this lyric fragment from the Beatles:
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
This is definitely language. But within Wittgensteins theory of language we are immediately helpless. We have epistemic information: tangerine and tree refer to definite objects in the world. But the phrase 'tangerine trees' has no referent. Yet it has meaning in the lyric.
But Russell goes on to say:
Mr Wittgenstein is concerned with the conditions for a logically perfect language—not that any language is logically perfect, or that we believe ourselves capable, here and now, of constructing a logically perfect language, but that the whole function of language is to have meaning, and it only fulfils this function in proportion as it approaches to the ideal language which we postulate.
This seems to me an impossible task from the outset, and misguided in its intent. One might say that language is ambiguous, because the world is ambiguous; and I mean this as a 'fact', and not as a turn of phrase. One might note that Wittgensteins cannot conceive that one can view the world from the ouside; a corollary of thi view must be the inherent ambiguity of the world for us, in all its proper sense.
One might say that language is like a blank canvas, only by marking is something definite and precise uttered; or like a palimsest on which several pictures are overlaid, and the meaning lying not in each picture, but between the pictures and within all the pictures, and the possibilities of new pictures, or the the possibility of erasure.
Given, that I consider why the project contained in the Tractatus is impossible, why should I read it? What is its current status in Analytic Philosophy? Should one consider it as a founding stone for Analytic Philosophy - in the way Newtons Principia is a foundational stone for Physics, even though it is properly speaking wrong; but by not appreciating it one cannot make begin to understand the concerns, the language & directions that modern Physics moving in?
Did it have any influence in Continental Philosophy?
Wittgenstein himself writes in the preface:
On the other hand the truth of the thoughts communicated here seems to me unassailable and definitive. I am, therefore, of the opinion that the problems have in essentials been finally solved. 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.