Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On Prefacing One's Work, à la Wittgenstein

In his preface to Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein assures his reader that "the truth of the thoughts that are here communicated seems to me unassailable and definite. I therefore believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems." It sure is nice to know from the outset that a book contains the truth and solves all problems it addresses.

Of course, I have violently ripped the quote out of context and attributed gross intellectual hubris to Wittgenstein. In reality, he was at worst only a bit overconfident and goes on in the next sentence to make an important point about human thought:
If I am not mistaken in this belief [see previous quotation], then the second thing in which the value of this work consists is that it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved.

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