A Significant ‘False Perception’ of Wittgenstein’s Draft on Mind’s Eye


If we read the Tractatus logico-philosophicus according to the decimal numbering of its propositions, we may understand, finally, the section about the self and the limits of language and world. Proposition 5.64 follows 5.63 (not 5.634); 5.634 follows 5.633 (not 5.6331); and so on. Thus, it becomes clear that the picture of the visual field (TLP 5.6331) cannot be what scholars have always quoted and discussed, i.e. a draft of an eye inside its field of sight. Actually, Wittgenstein’s original drafts depict (to criticise it) the ordinary way of representing the visual field. Following him, the field of vision is ‘without limits’; it does not have a form that implies the existence of an eye, as far as the phenomenological experience does not have a form that implies the existence of an ‘I’. As a result, the current reproductions of the 5.6331 image must be rectified, and all references to this similitude should be radically amended.

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  1. 1.

    ‘The declarations in the book are the rungs of a philosophical ladder’ (Lurie 2006: 95). See Bazzocchi 2010b. As is well known, the propositions of the Tractatus are usually printed following the numerical order of their decimal codes, but the only note Wittgenstein added to his typescript explains that ‘propositions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 are the cardinal propositions, the propositions n.1, n.2, n.3, etc., are comments on the proposition N° n; the propositions n.m1, n.m2, etc., are comments on the proposition N° n.m; and so on’. Then, we have to read them following Wittgenstein’s proposal.

  2. 2.

    See Bazzocchi 2010c. The circles signify that every series of commentaries on a certain proposition must be read as a linear, coherent and complete exposition.

  3. 3.

    See also Bazzocchi 2008.

  4. 4.

    See Bazzocchi 2010a and Part II of Bazzocchi 2010c. Another significant facet is discussed in Bazzocchi 2011.

  5. 5.

    ‘The decimal numbers of my remarks absolutely must be printed alongside them, because they alone make the book perspicuous and clear: without the numbering it would be an incomprehensible mess’. Letter to von Ficker, 5.12.1919 (Wittgenstein 1969: 39).

  6. 6.

    Stenius 1960: 222. Indeed, that is a very bad way of quoting: in this manner, one can make anybody say anything. Besides, it’s very questionable that a (supposed) transcendental ego could ‘imply’ the coincidence of solipsism and realism or suggest the idea of an I that ‘shrinks to an extensionless point’.

  7. 7.

    Following Williams (2006: 277), Wittgenstein would simply signify the truism that a fact cannot be empiric and a priori contemporarily. That anodyne reading is encouraged by Pears-McGuinness’ translation, which forces the first ‘also’ [auch] of 5.634 (gratuitously translated: ‘at the same time’) and eliminates the two ‘also’s that follow. Note that originally (Notebooks, 11.8.16) there were only the two last ‘also’s, while the first one did not exist and was added – I think – only in assonance with the other two. I adopt Ogden’s 1922 translation, accurately revised by Wittgenstein himself.

  8. 8.

    The clear and consequential frame warp and weft of the decimal tree of the Tractatus, where all connections are plainly expounded, appears to the sequential reader in a totally different light. Pears (1987: 182) is dismayed: ‘Here Wittgenstein is more than usually inexplicit. He does not explain the connection with what has gone before and even the reference of the word ‘this’ is not obvious. It would be normal for it to refer to the immediately preceding remark 5.6331’. But what is ‘normal’ for the sequential reader is just what misleads him. Pears continues: ‘Perhaps the best way to identify the argument in 5.634 is to ask what theory about the subject would attribute an a priori status to something that is really experiential. Evidently, this is what is done by any theory that puts an a priori link between a subject and his experience. Etc., etc.’. That is, instead of reading Wittgenstein to understand what he thinks, Pears tries to understand what Wittgenstein thinks to know how to read him. Thus, he employs a striking strategy and more than two pages to establish something that the tree shows at first glance, i.e. that the incipit of 5.634 (‘This is connected with the fact that…’) is not connected directly to 5.6331.

  9. 9.

    Obviously, that cannot have anything to do yet with the negation of the a priori. An eye inside its visual sight – whatever the hell that might mean – wouldn’t be a clue of any a priori; quite the contrary. The efforts to sustain such an untenable thesis are really bizarre: ‘If the eye were a part of the visual field, this would provide an a priori order to our visual experience, privileging one part of that experience over others. […] If the self were a part of the world, then facts about that self would have the status of a priori truth’ (Kremer 2004: 71).

  10. 10.

    Wittgenstein’s rhetorical policy, in all his writings, was always that of taking a common bias and showing its senselessness. I wonder how can scholars imagine that here, in one of the only two pictures of his book, he could do just the opposite: taking something that every child considers senseless… to confirm that it is senseless.

  11. 11.

    Note the terminological link: nothing in the field of sight / for the field of sight has not… One can add that ‘in the field of sight’ [am Gesichtsfeld] doesn’t mean ‘inside’, but something like ‘by the field of sight’. On the contrary, his complicated tactic leads Pears (and all scholars with him) to look at the previous point: ‘TLP 5.6331 is an expansion of the first of the points that [Wittgenstein] made against his interlocutor in 5.633’ (1987: 181). Thus, critics prefer to quote proposition 5.633 without its true hinge, i.e. its last statement: see James Guetti in Gibson and Huemer 2004: 264.

  12. 12.

    Note the wording: nothing in the field of sight / no part of our experience. If we read following the decimal tree, it becomes evident that propositions 5.633 and 5.634 sound against any a priori form or any a priori order in the Kantian sense: ‘5.633 […] And from nothing in the field of sight can it be concluded that it is seen from an eye. 5.634 This is connected with the fact that no part of our experience is also a priori. […] There is no order of things a priori’.

  13. 13.

    The sole exception I know is Bertrand Russell in his Introduction to the Tractatus.

  14. 14.

    Pears 1987: 181. Thus, Pears discusses in a very exhausting manner the negation of being the eye inside its visual field.

  15. 15.

    Morris 2008: 305. McGinn as well says that the picture ‘is mistaken on two counts’ (2006: 265).

  16. 16.

    At any rate, if he had in mind what scholars think, he would have no reason to complicate the matter by negating a wrong picture: it would be enough to draw, in positive, the ordinary representation of an eye and its visual field. Here, Wittgenstein is forced to use a negative strategy because, of course, it is impossible to picture, in positive, his effective idea: an infinite and endless field of vision, where the eye ‘shrinks to an extensionless point and there remains the reality co-ordinated with it’.

  17. 17.

    The pictures are extracted from Wittgenstein 2000 (electronic facsimile section).

  18. 18.

    In fact, I believe, the negation of the a priori in 5.634 runs against every a priori form of any transcendental self à la Kant-Schopenhauer, but I don’t intend to debate this here.

  19. 19.

    This should be not a great loss. These complicated and improbable explanations of a simple proposition and of its elementary image have always seemed too far from Wittgenstein’s habitual forthrightness.

  20. 20.

    In a recent e-mail, McGuinness writes: ‘I agree with you that Wittgenstein, however, has always represented the eye outside the visual field – he just did not correct Kegan’s proofs’. But McGuinness doesn’t consider the question very relevant: ‘I would say that, since the diagram is mistaken anyway as representation, it is not particularly important whether the eye is inside the “visual field” or not’ [my translation from the Italian]. On the contrary, the detail seems to me essential, because the negation of a picture with a plurality of ‘errors’ becomes completely pointless. Above all, most critics claim that the point is crucial; Milkov (1992: 114) gets to say that ‘in Tractatus 5.6331 […] all the logical and ethical comprehension of the book is summarized’. And they are all discussing of an eye inside its visual field.

  21. 21.

    Quoting proposition 5.6331, Levin (1997: 298) claims: ‘I take it that Wittgenstein is not concerned with the shape of the visual field. What makes the picture wrong is that “the eye” is within the visual field’.

  22. 22.

    Black (1964: 62): ‘Wittgenstein uses the word “form” in a strikingly wide variety of distinct, though related senses. These uses include the following: (a) As a synonym for “shape” […]. (b) As a synonym for “kind” or “sort” […]. (c) As a synonym for “constitution” or “make-up” (cf. 5.6331 on the form of the visual field)’.

  23. 23.

    See the already quoted letter to Ogden, written in English.

  24. 24.

    See Bazzocchi 2008, 2010a, c

  25. 25.

    About 5.6331 picture of the visual field, see the incongruous remarks made, amongst others, by J.V. Abad, J. Atkinson, M. Bastianelli, J. Bouveresse, R.R. Brockhaus, S. Champeau, W. Child, J.W. Cook, G.E. Davie, N. Eilan, R. Fischer, R.A. Gilmore, S. Gozzano, J. Granger, F. Grigenti, J. Guetti, G. Güzeldere, O. Hanfling, A. Harrison, J. Heil, M.P. Hogdes, I. Horgby, A. Johnston, T.W. Klein, N. Last, M. Laube, S. Laugier, Puqun Li, B. Magee, J. Margolis, D. McManus, L.F.O’Brien, R.C. Pradhan, W. Rasch, T. Raworth, E.M. Reiber, J. Ryerson, M.G.B Stokhof, A. Soulez, B. Taylor, J.J. Valberg, D. Vernant, P. Winch and A. Zhock.


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Correspondence to Luciano Bazzocchi.

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Bazzocchi, L. A Significant ‘False Perception’ of Wittgenstein’s Draft on Mind’s Eye. Acta Anal 29, 255–266 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12136-013-0197-1

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  • Tractatus logico-philosophicus
  • Tree-like structure
  • Solipsism
  • Form of the visual field
  • TLP 5.6331
  • Self problem