Denis McManus from the University of Southampton Philosophy Department visits the Wittgenstein Archives in the period 8-16 April, 2005. In this context, two guest lectures are organized:
Readers of Wittgenstein's Tractatus face the question of what it is to understand a book whose contents are supposedly nonsensical. Critics of 'resolute' approaches to the book ask how propositions which supposedly 'really and truly [have] no articulable content' (Diamond) can make up rungs of a ladder that, by climbing it, might get us somewhere. To take one aspect of that question, how can such 'propositions' - such strings of pure nonsense - make up a chain of reasoning, as the propositions of the Tractatus appear to? In this paper, I argue that the debate in question has been conspicuously short of examples and offer a series, drawn from Lewis Carroll, which demonstrate that there are varieties of nonsense which that debate has failed to recognize: such items of nonsense can, in recognizable ways, be understood and form steps in arguments that are, in recognizable ways, valid. I go on to indicate how, by analogy, these examples might help us understand what it is to understand the Tractatus.
This paper identifies common themes that run through the Tractatus' remarks on ethics and the main body of the book; it develops an analogy between the need for what (following Kant) one could call 'judgment' if we are to master a first language and the need for conscience if we are to act morally: underpinning any impact that ethical principles might have on our lives is conscience, the willingness to apply those principles with 'good will', in the right 'spirit'. If, as the biographical information we have about Wittgenstein suggests he did, one takes the question of whether one possesses this basic decency to be central to that of whether one is living the good life, then ethics can indeed be seen as fundamentally 'inexpressible' and 'unteachable'. A sense in which this conclusion too might yet need to be 'climbed up and thrown away' will also be discussed.