ABSTRACT, Ph. D. dissertation,
Bruce Howes,
The Clear Terminus:  A Kierkegaardian reading of Wittgenstein's TRACTATUS,
submitted to the University of Ottawa, 2001

In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Ludwig Wittgenstein is making the case that thought must extend
beyond the limits of language. His view of this is a direct result of his early reading of Kierkegaard's


In FRAGMENTS Kierkegaard (as Climacus) says the following:  "The paradoxical passion of the understanding is, then, continually colliding with this unknown, which certainly does exist but is also unknown and to that extent does not exist" (FRAGMENTS, p. 44).  The 'collision' bespeaks of 'Something' with which the understanding collides.  And yet, with the application of reason, it is clear that this Something is really a mere nothing.  For this Something is outside the purview of reason and, according to that reason, is thus a chimera.

This same dilemma is the key to the metaphysics of Wittgenstein's TRACTATUS.  The particular historical connection between Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein can be seen in a reference made by Wittgenstein in conversation with members of the Vienna Circle:  "... we do run up against the limits of language.  Kierkegaard too saw that there is this running up
against something and he referred to it in a fairly similar way (as running up against paradox)" (WITTGENSTEIN AND THE VIENNA CIRCLE, p. 68). We can obviously think that Something against which we run.  However, that Something cannot participate in a thought in the sense of a mental equivalent to a proposition and so cannot be considered anything at all. This latter represents how language is limited in the TRACTATUS, whereas the former depicts the requirement that thinking reach beyond the limit of language.

Friedrich Waismann carefully wrote down what Wittgenstein said in these talks because he planned to write, with Wittgenstein's blessing, an expository book on the Tractatus (Monk THE DUTY OF GENIUS, p. 283).  We can thus infer that this proposed project was acting as a guide to Wittgenstein's remarks at the time of the above statement.  As such Wittgenstein is here making a clear reference to Kierkegaard's influence on the Tractatus.

May 5, 2001

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