More Musings on Wittgenstein and and the Nature and Limits of Language and Logic

‘What cannot be shown cannot be said.’

‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’

– L. Wittgenstein

What is logic?

This was the central question that plagued Bertrand Russell. He had a very tough time pinning down logic – why? Why is it so hard to really nail down something that appears to be inextricably linked to reality?

For Wittgenstein, there was a rather simple answer, illustrated by the above quotes: Bertrand Russell was trying to put into words something that couldn’t be put into words, because he had misunderstood the limits of language. This leads to an interesting thought – perhaps language is a sort of ‘boundary’ for the world or for what is intelligible. Perhaps logic is the limit of what can be meaningful – to go past the limit of logic wold be to enter into a world of non-sense in the most literal way, to go past what can be put into language in a meaningful way.

But boundaries have an interesting quality: one has to be on both side, or at least have been, on both sides of the boundary for it to have any real meaning – but this seems somewhat paradoxical, given that to cross the boundary is to enter into non-sense. Is the limit of the world itself meaningless, or nonsensical? Is what shows us the limit of what can be meaningful meaningless in itself?

I don’t think Wittgenstein would go in for that – it is a pretty flighty idea. But nonetheless, without lapsing in a kind of mysticism, Wittgenstein does firmly believe that language does have it’s limits – its limit is that it cannot put into language it’s own logical structure.

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