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2014-12-16
Interpreting Wittgenstein's 'nonsense' in the Tractatus
I am currently writing a paper on Wittgenstein's notion of 'nonsense' in the Tractatus. I'm situating my analysis in terms of how to characterise nonsense, what informs this characterisation, and in what sense Tractarian propositions can be understood as nonsense, or having sense. 
I'm situating myself slightly outside of the typical metaphysical/ resolute debate. Insofar as if my claim has any merit, we might be able to side-step the problems faced between proponents of both sides, qua: metaphysical readers ignoring W's determination of nonsense, or otherwise supporting an 'ineffable' expression of truth; resolute readers offering an implausible reading given contextual considerations of the work (both external, in terms of W's preface and later treatment of the work, and internal with regards to his situation certain propositions in terms of an intellectual context). 

I understand W's nonsense in a generally Fregean capacity. (actually, I agree with Diamond's characterisations- just not the implications drawn from this understanding of nonsense). This is basically a 'meaning in use' understanding of nonsense, vs the more mainstream 'category distinction' notion of nonsense qua logical valences. 

If my claim has any novelty/ worth/ insight, it is this: 

    A propositions concern (or context) frames the  'state-of-affairs' against which we evaluate it as having     sense or nonsense. 

    Hence aRb says that a and b in relation R necessarily means that we exclude in our     evaluation the relation a&b to x. So an aspect which informs our evaluation of a proposition     is the possible scope of the propositions concern. Take Green is green: this is an     ambiguous statement. However, if we are in the context of a paint party, and your friend     Green has been covered in green paint; you're relaying the situation to a friend on the     phone and you say 'Green is green!' Given some contextual awareness, the concern of     the     proposition frames whether I might deem this as having sense or being nonsense. Evaluated     by the context of the utterance.

Regarding why I claim this is a a factor of the propositions concern, not the context:one might imagine the case above and my friend is merely stating a tautology on the phone. I don't intend that to be an entirely moot point. Context informs a propositions concern, how we might understand and evaluate it, but the two are distinct- such that my concern can be disconnected to its relevant context and still have sense. So the context of the situation can't determine sense alone. 

I then use this as a lens to analyse W's 'nonsense'. Or, more specifically, prop 6.54.

So I have a couple questions:
(1) does this strike anyone as similar to previous work?
(2) does any reason strike you why this is an implausible account? (that I am missing).

Perhaps a more general discussion point:

Are contextual considerations, (i) necessary in determining a propositions sense, and can they (i) serve to frame and thus inform the analysis of a propositions sense? 

I'm happy to go into my position in more detail on request (I'm not sure what level of detail is helpful to start a discussion). I'm a prospective grad-student, considering the paper as a writing sample, so any warning signs- that I'm barking up the wrong tree- would be appreciated. Wittgenstein scholars are especially welcome! 


2014-12-22
Interpreting Wittgenstein's 'nonsense' in the Tractatus
Reply to Sean Spain
You should explain how you understand "proposition"--as I understand that word, "Green is green." expresses can express different propositions, as is actually made clear by your story.  Thus, it wouldn't really be the case that "the proposition" is clarified by its context.  I take it that you understand "proposition" differently, but I think you need to explain this.

As for the general idea, I'm not an expert on Witt Lit, but my own bias is that any interpretation should be able to retain his (kind of mystical) said/shown distinction.  If you end up saying that exposition of the context allows everything to be "said"--then I think it misses something important.  (Just as I think the later Witt lost something.)  But again, that's more of a bias than an informed criticism.

Good luck with grad schools!

WH