Throwing away the ladder

This is from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, of course (6.54). It’s a way of getting out of the notorious problem of how to apply criteria of meaningfulness, truth, assertability and similar ones to the philosophical doctrines that introduce them. These doctrines are the ladder. The question remains, how seriously we are to take this idea. For Wittgenstein’s own Tractatus it seems to mean that we are to understand his propositions as senseless. But is that a legitimate move, or is it still self-refuting?

The propositions have to be surmounted (or overcome) to see the world in the right way. That philosophical views need to be overcome is of course a popular idea in the 20ies. Notice that Wittgenstein makes quite clear that we not only need to overcome metaphysical doctrines of old. We even need to overcome our own philosophical propositions. In the end, it seems that Wittgenstein even here strongly suggests that we need to overcome philosophy to see the world in the right way.

Also note how Wittgenstein’s metaphor embraces some key modernist ideas: you move upward (the ladder is to be climbed!) and getting there is what matters. There is a certain carelessness, which is really quite remarkable.


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