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Material Points and Formal Concepts in the Early Wittgenstein

  • Andreas Blank (a1)


In an influential article, Gerd Grasshoff has argued for the identification of the objects in Wittgenstein's Tractatus with the ultimate constituents of reality in Heinrich Hertz's Principles of Mechanics. Grasshoff's interpretation is based on two interrelated claims: (1) The specific determination of the objects in the world and the relation among them is the primary theme in Wittgenstein's early philosophy, because it is the primary theme for Hertz. (2) Wittgenstein did not assume the existence of simple objects on purely logical grounds without having specific examples of simple objects in mind, because Hertz did not do this.



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1 Abbreviations: Wittgenstein, Ludwig Notebooks 1914-16, 2nd ed. Wright, G.H. von and Anscombe, G.E.M. eds., Anscombe, G.E.M. trans. (Oxford: Blackwell 1979) [= NB]; Prototractatus: An Early Version of Tractatus Logico-Phüosophicus, McGuinness, B.F. Nyberg, T. G.H. von, Wright eds., Pears, D.F. and McGuinness, B.F. trans. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1971) [= PT]; Wittgenstein, Ludwig Tractatus Logico-Phüosophicus, Pears, D.F. and McGuinness, B.F. trans. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1971) [= TLP]; Wittgenstein, Ludwig Culture and Value, Wright, G.H. von ed., Winch, P. trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1980) [= CV]; Hertz, Heinrich The Principles of Mechanics, Jones, D.M. and Wiley, J.T. trans. (Boston: Dover 1956) [= PM].

2 Grasshoff, GerdHertzian Objects in Wittgenstein's Tractatus,’ British Journal for the History of Philosophy 5 (1997), 95102. A similar Interpretation has been suggested by Griffin, James Wittgenstein's Logical Atomism (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1965), 45; 49-50. For a critical overview of interpretations inspired by Grasshoff's article, see Nordmann, AlfredAnother New Wittgenstein: The Scientific and Engineering Background of the Tractatus,’ Perspectives on Science 10 (2002) 356-84. Grasshoff has pointed out several terminological problems in the English translation of the Principles of Mechanics as well as in the McGuinness-Pears translation of the Tractatus. Throughout the presentpaper, Grasshoff's suggestions concerning terminology have been adopted.

3 Grasshoff, ‘Hertzian Objects in Wittgenstein's Tractatus,’ 102-12.

4 Ibid., 88.

5 C.K. Ogden's translation; see Wittgenstein, Ludwig Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London, 1922). The emphases in this and all other citations are Wittgenstein's.

6 Keyt, DavidA New Interpretation of the Tractatus Examined,’ Philosophical Review 74 (1965) 229–39.

7 Contrary, e.g., to the view of Carruthers, Peter. Cf. his The Metaphysics of the Tractatus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1990), ch 3.

8 Barker, PeterHertz and Wittgenstein’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 11 (1980) 246–9; Wilson, Andrew D.Hertz, Boltzmann and Wittgenstein Reconsidered’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 20 (1989) 258–62; Harre, Rom 'Wittgenstein: Science and Religion’, Philosophy 76 (2001) 214–17, Hyder, David The Mechanics of Meaning: Propositional Content and the Logical Space of Wittgenstein's Tractatus (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter 2002), ch. 6.

9 See Barker, ‘Hertz and Wittgenstein’, 250-6; Janik, AllanHow did Hertz Influence Wittgenstein's Philosophical Development?Grazer Philosophische Studien 49 (1994/95), 21–3.

10 Cf. the original edition: Hertz, Heinrich Die Prinzipien der Mechanik: In neuem Zusammenhange dargestellt, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 3, Lenard, Philip ed. (Leipzig, 1894).

11 Janik, How Did Hertz Influence Wittgenstein's Philosophical Development?27

12 See Heidelberger, MichaelFrom Helmholtz's Philosophy of Science to Hertz's Picture-Theory’, in Heinrich Hertz: Classical Physicist, Modern Philosopher, Baird, D. Hughes, R.I.G. and Nordmann, A. eds. (Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer 1998), 21–3.

13 On Wittgenstein's view of variables as propositional variables, see Kibed, Matthias Varga vonVariablen im Tractatus’, Erkenntnis 39 (1993) 79100.

14 Anscombe, G.E.M. An Introduction to Wittgenstein''s Tractatus, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper 1965), 82, 99,123.

15 Ishiguro, HideCan the World Impose Logical Structure on Language?’ in Wittgenstein — Eine Neubewertung. Akten des 14. Internationalen Wittgenstein-Symposiums, Haller, R. and Brandl, J. eds. (Vienna: Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky 1890), 25-6.

16 McGuinness, BrianThe So-Called Realism of the Tractatus’, in Perspectives on the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, Block, I. ed. (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press 1981), 65–6.

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Material Points and Formal Concepts in the Early Wittgenstein

  • Andreas Blank (a1)


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