Wittgenstein on Self, Meaning and World

  • Ramesh Chandra Pradhan


In this chapter I will discuss Wittgenstein’s views on self, meaning and world in an attempt to bring out the connections between self, language and the world within a transcendental framework. Wittgenstein has opted for a transcendental way of bringing out the connections between language and logic on the one hand and the world on the other. From his early philosophy in the Tractatus (Wittgenstein 1961a) and to his later philosophy in the Investigations (Wittgenstein 1953, 2009), he has pursued a method of understanding language and the world which can be called transcendental (Shwayder 1969: 66–70; Stenius 1960; Pradhan 2008). Though he calls his early philosophy transcendental, he calls his later philosophy grammatical (Wittgenstein 1953, 2009) in nature. However, we can consider Wittgenstein as a transcendental philosopher in general as he has given up the empiricist and the naturalist way of interpreting language and the world.

1.1 Introduction

In this chapter I will discuss Wittgenstein’s views on self, meaning and world in an attempt to bring out the connections between self, language and the world within a transcendental framework. Wittgenstein has opted for a transcendental way of bringing out the connections between language and logic on the one hand and the world on the other. From his early philosophy in the Tractatus (Wittgenstein 1961a) and to his later philosophy in the Investigations (Wittgenstein 1953), he has pursued a method of understanding language and the world which can be called transcendental (Shwayder 1969: 66–70; Stenius 1960; Pradhan 2008). Though he calls his early philosophy transcendental, he calls his later philosophy grammatical (Wittgenstein 1953) in nature. However, we can consider Wittgenstein as a transcendental philosopher in general as he has given up the empiricist and the naturalist way of interpreting language and the world.

Wittgenstein’s project of a transcendental philosophy of language and meaning hinges on his notion of self that influences his notions of language and meaning. The concept of self is central to the project of mapping the meanings of language and world within a non-naturalistic framework. This is evident in the way language and meaning are protected by Wittgenstein from the naturalist onslaught in the hands of the empiricists and the positivists. The latter have always made attempt to reduce meaning to sense experience and thus have subjected language and meaning to naturalist analysis (Quine 1960) . Wittgenstein has resisted this naturalist move throughout his philosophy.

My aim here is to articulate the fine nuances of the transcendental methodology in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language and world. Besides, I will bring out his concept of self so as to integrate the concepts of self, world and language within the transcendental framework. My main argument is that the transcendental concept of self is central to Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language and meaning.

1.2 Philosophy, Logic and the Transcendental Method

Wittgenstein’s philosophy in general and his early philosophy in particular can be said to belong to the broad category of transcendental philosophy because of its adherence to the tenets of philosophizing within the broad framework of bringing out the logical structure of language and the world. That language and world have a logical structure or logical form is the basic assumption of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language. Wittgenstein writes:

My work has extended from the foundations of logic to the nature of the world. (Wittgenstein 1961b: 79e)

This statement reflects Wittgenstein’s philosophical method of exploring the foundations of logic and language and the logical structure of the world. The foundations of logic could not be explored unless logic is treated transcendentally. This is what Wittgenstein realizes when he treats logic as transcendental. He writes:
  • Logic is not a body of doctrines, but a mirror-image of the world.

  • Logic is transcendental. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.13)

This statement makes it clear that logic can be taken as a transcendental discipline which consists of the logically necessary propositions. By the transcendental discipline, Wittgenstein means a discipline that deals with the a priori and necessary logical truths which show the logical structure of language and the world. In this sense, logic reveals the logical form of language and the world. He writes:

The propositions of logic describe the scaffolding of the world, or rather they represent it. They have no ‘subject-matter’. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.124)

Wittgenstein suggests that logic has a no “subject matter” in the sense the sciences have, but it treats the world only from a formal point of view by presenting what logical possibilities the world must have. This is expressed in the following way:

The exploration of logic means the exploration of everything that is subject to law. And outside logic everything is accidental. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.3)

That is, the realm of logic is the realm of necessary laws such that they hold irrespective of what the world actually is, but not what the world must be. The world in fact is subject to the logical laws because “logic pervades the world” (Wittgenstein 1961a, b: 5.61) and that “logic is prior to every experience—that something is so. It is prior to the question ‘How?’, not prior to the question ‘What?’” (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.552).
Wittgenstein’s transcendental logic is not a domain of substantive truths, but of logical possibilities which account for its relation with the world. Logic is the realm of all logical possibilities with regard to the world. That is why he says:

The fact that the propositions of logic are tautologies shows the formal –logical—properties of language and the world. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.12)

These formal properties are the logical possibilities of the world which logic lays down by making language the logical picture of the world. It is language which makes the logical possibilities of the world explicit. This is the hallmark of the transcendental nature of logic.

Philosophy takes transcendental logic as its method of portraying the logical form of language and the world. Because of the a priori nature of logic, philosophy can never be an empirical discipline. It studies language and the world only from the non-empirical, i.e. transcendental, point of view.

1.3 Logic and Language: The Picture Theory

Now we can raise the question as to whether the picture theory of language can be considered a transcendental theory of language and the world. The picture theory was designed to capture the logical form of language and the world. As such the picture theory is a transcendental account of language and the world because it is meant to unfold the logical grounds on which language pictures the world. The following remarks on the logic of picturing itself explain the transcendental character of the picture theory:
  • There must be something identical in a picture and what it depicts, to enable the one to be a picture of the other at all. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 2.161)

  • What a picture must have in common with reality, in order to able to depict it—correctly or incorrectly—in the way it does, is its pictorial form. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 2.17)

  • What any picture, of whatever form, must have in common with reality, in order to be able to depict it –correctly or incorrectly—in any way at all, is logical form, i. e. the form of reality. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 2.18)

The unfolding of the pictorial form which is also the logical form of language and reality is what may be called the unfoldment of the logical conditions of a picture. The latter are the transcendental conditions of their being logical pictures of reality.
The main task of the picture theory in the Tractatus is to make language available as a logical picture of reality. This is done within the logical framework which is supposed to be the “mirror-image of the world” (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.13). With logic being transcendental, as claimed in Wittgenstein (1961a, b: 6.13), it follows that the picture theory which follows from logic must be transcendental. The following consequences follow from the transcendental interpretation of the picture theory:
  1. 1.

    The picture theory is under no conditions an empirical theory catering to the empiricist demands for a naturalist interpretation of language.

  2. 2.

    The picture theory is imposed by logic on language and the world.

  3. 3.

    The picture theory is meant to explain how any language and any world must stand in a logico-semantic relationship.

  4. 4.

    The logical conditions of the possibility of language and world are independent of any actual language and actual world.


Wittgenstein’s attempt at unearthing the logical foundations of language is inspired by Frege who laid the foundation of logic and language on the basis of his Platonist insights (Frege 1952). Frege wanted to lay down the foundations of mathematics on the basis of a priori and necessary principles of logic. Therefore, for him, logic gave new direction as to how language has to be founded on principle of logic (Frege 1979) .

Wittgenstein makes it his aim to make philosophy of language a branch of his logic in his overall search for the Fregean roots for the logical form of language and the world. Frege had already laid down the foundations of logic on which Wittgenstein built up his philosophical inquiry which extended from the foundations of logic to the structure of the world (Wittgenstein 1961a, b: 79e). This shows his deep involvement in the Fregean project of bringing out the foundations of logic that throws light on the nature of the world. In fact, Wittgenstein made a transcendental use of the Fregean logic to map the structure of the world. As it comes out in the ultimate analysis, Wittgenstein extended the Fregean project in a metaphysical direction to give a far more comprehensive transcendental framework to map the logical structures of language and the world (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.13).

To be more specific, Wittgenstein took over the Fregean logic as a method of laying down the limits of language and the world. This is reflected in his Preface to the Tractatus which runs as follows:
  • The aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather—not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought).

  • It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 3)

This is the most explicit statement of Wittgenstein’s methodological strategy to draw the limits of language and thought, for in order to draw the limits of thought, one has to draw the limits of the expressions of the thoughts in language. It is because language alone can display what can be thought and what cannot be thought. Wittgenstein thus arrives at a strategic point in his philosophical inquiry where he is confronted with the task of drawing the limits of thought and language in order not only to “set limits to the much disputed sphere of natural science” (Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.113) but also to draw the limits of what can be thought and what cannot be thought. By implication it also amounts to drawing the limits of what can be said and what cannot be said. As Wittgenstein remarks:
  • It must set limits to what can be thought; and in doing so, to what cannot be thought.

  • It must set limits to what cannot be thought by working outwards through what can be thought. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.114)

  • It will signify what cannot be said, by presenting what can be said. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.115)

This complex strategy laid down here makes a strong plea for a distinction between what can be thought and said, on the one hand, and what cannot be thought and said (Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.114–115), on the other, implying thereby that philosophy has to explore the logical structure of language and thought with one fell swoop. This all-comprehensive transcendental strategy marks the beginning of Wittgenstein’s journey into the intricacies of the picture of the world.
Wittgenstein is seized with the problem of the world because it is language which pushes itself into the logical portrayal or the picture of the world. Logic, language and world now have come to stay together for any philosophical understanding of the limits of language and thought. The limits of language and thought also logically imply the limits of the world because language and the world share the same logical form. Wittgenstein remarks:
  • The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.6)

  • Logic pervades the world: the limits of the world are also its limits. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.61)

Thus we are led to believe that the logical investigation into the foundations of logic and language cannot but be an investigation into the nature of the world. The transcendental strategy Wittgenstein adopts here has far-reaching consequence for a theory of meaning and also for a theory of the world and of the self. It is because meaning, self and world are integrated into the transcendental framework laid down by him.

1.4 Sense, Logical Form and the World

The picture theory of language has opened up the possibility of sense or meaning which has made itself evident in the logical conditions of language and its relation with the world. The most important question is: How is sense related to the logical form of language and the world? Sense defines the relation between language and the world because sense alone makes language and the world intelligible. Wittgenstein writes:
  • We use the perceptible sign of a proposition (spoken or written, etc.) as a projection of a possible situation.

  • The method of projection is to think of the sense of the projection. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 3.11)

Thus sense is the way a possible situation is projected in the proposition. Sense is the other name of the projective relation with the world on the part of the proposition. Wittgenstein further elaborates:
  • A proposition includes all that the projection includes, but not what is projected.

  • Therefore, though what is projected is not itself included, its possibility is.

  • A proposition, therefore, does not actually contain its sense, but does contain the possibility of expressing it.

  • (‘The content of a proposition’ means the content of a proposition that has sense.)

  • A proposition contains the form, not the content, of its sense. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 3.13)

This is a clear exposition of what sense is and how it is expressed in a proposition. It also clarifies Wittgenstein’s transcendental concern for the form of the possibility of sense and not what actually emerges as sense in a particular actual proposition in relation to the world. The logic of sense is far more important than the actual sense. Sense, however, is not the actual situation which is projected in the proposition but the possible situation which is pictorially represented (Pitcher 1972).
Wittgenstein’s transcendental theory of sense goes hand in hand with his theory of logical form which articulates the way the proposition stands in pictorial relation with the world. Sense takes its root in the logical form of language and the world. It is because logical form binds both language and the world in such a way that by inspecting language and its logical form, we can decipher its sense. As Wittgenstein writes:
  • A proposition shows its sense.

  • A proposition shows how things stand if it is true. And it says that they do so stand. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.022)

This is to say that the proposition itself shows what its sense is and thereby makes the logical form of the world transparent. The propositions are articulate about their sense as much as they show their logical form. In this connection, Wittgenstein writes:
  • In order to recognize a symbol by its sign we must observe how it is used with sense. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 3.326)

  • A sign does not determine a logical from unless it is taken together with its logico-syntactical employment. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 3.327)

  • In logical syntax the meaning of a sign should never play a role. It must be possible to establish logical syntax without mentioning the meaning of a sign: only the description of expressions must be presupposed. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 3.33)

Thus it is to be noted that the logical syntax alone shows what the meanings of the signs are and thus sense as the semantic content of the propositions is made explicit in the very logical syntax.

Wittgenstein’s theory of sense settles the bounds or limits of sense (Strawson 1966; Schwayzer 1986: 150–162) by suggesting that the logical form alone suffices to constitute sense. This is the transcendental condition of sense because it is so logically articulated that the world itself is logically connected with sense. The world is not the condition of sense but the other way round because without there being sense, we cannot understand what the world is. The bounds of sense are the bounds of the logical form of language and also of the world.

Wittgenstein’s fascination for logic and logical form in mapping the dimensions of language and sense or meaning has been the constant theme of his philosophy. Language and logical form are posited together because of their inherent relationship. The following remark from the Tractatus is worth noting:
  • Everyday language is a part of the human organism and is no less complicated than it.

  • It is not humanly possible to gather immediately from it what the logic of language is (Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.002).

This shows that Wittgenstein is interested in the everyday language but his interest is in understanding the “logic of language”. He is committed to the availability of the logical form of language in the light of what logic has already discovered regarding the logical form of propositions. This discovery of the logical form is the greatest discovery of logic (Morris 2008), and Wittgenstein makes a transcendental use of it to bring out the logical overview of the syntactic and semantic structures of language.
Now the question is: What is logical form and how can it be located in language? This is the most fundamental question for Wittgenstein because in it he finds the clue not only to the nature of language but also of the world. By logical form he means the form that can be deciphered by logic and be shown in language but cannot be said because in that case one has to be outside logic and language. Wittgenstein elaborates thus:
  • Propositions can represent the whole of reality, but they cannot represent what they must have in common with reality in order to represent it—logical form.

  • In order to represent logical form, we should have to be able to station ourselves with propositions somewhere outside logic. That is say outside the world. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.12)

  • Propositions cannot represent logical form: it is mirrored in them.

  • What finds its reflection in language, language cannot represent.

  • What expresses itself in language, we cannot express by means of language.

  • Propositions show the logical form of reality.

  • They display it. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.121)

Wittgenstein here explains his transcendental strategy which introduces the distinction between saying and showing which pervades his entire philosophical discourse. The strategy is such that it keeps the logical form outside the purview of representational capacity of language and makes the logical form show itself in language. Thus language turns into a mirror so far as logical form is concerned. The logical form is common to both language and reality, and thus language acts as the great mirror as so far as the logical form of language and reality is concerned. Wittgenstein writes:
  • How can logic—all-embracing logic, which mirrors the world—use such peculiar crotches and contrivances? Only because they are connected with one another in an infinitely fine network, the great mirror. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.511)

This shows how logic and language constitute the great mirror of the world such that we can by a logical survey find out the logical from of language and the world. Logic is concerned with reality, and therefore language acts as the logical picture of reality. Wittgenstein says:

Logic is interested only in reality. And thus in sentences ONLY in so far as they are pictures of reality. (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 9e)

This makes it clear that language and logic are so structured that they speak of the world in so far as the sentences constituting the domain of logic and language are world-directed as the logical pictures of the latter. This is the genesis of Wittgenstein’s picture theory of language and his semantics of linguistic representations.

Wittgenstein’s semantics of linguistic representations takes an ontological turn because the world is very much a partner in the very logical structures of the linguistic representations, the latter being logically the pictures of the world. From this Wittgenstein derives a theory of meaning or sense that adequately takes care of the internal relations between the sentences and their objective counterparts in the world, i.e. the facts. The world is the “totality of facts” (Wittgenstein 1961a: 1.1) as this is how the world could be logically mapped. There is no empirical way of mapping the world because the world is already logically articulated in the medium of language. Wittgenstein takes to the logical route for the mapping of the world, and therefore there is a logical way of telling us what the world is. This is what can be characterized as Wittgenstein’s transcendental strategy of making the world representable in language (Morris 2008).

Meaning or sense which is the central core of language is very much the underlying content of the linguistic representations of the world. Meaning as the content of the sentences as pictures of the world is an extension of the Fregean notion of sense (Pradhan 2003) which is a priori nested in the very semantic structure of language. If the Fregean sense is the logical thought or the judgment-content of the propositions in language, it gets transformed completely into the semantic content in Wittgenstein’s theory of meaning such that it is no more detached from the referential connections to the world because the Wittgensteinian sense is logically glued to the world carrying the referential burden with it (Pradhan 2003). Wittgenstein’s transcendental logical semantics does not make a necessary distinction between sense and reference because it proposes a holistic structure in which sense and reference are part of the same semantic structure. This is one of the reasons why Wittgenstein does not make a distinction between syntax and semantics as for him the syntax carries its own semantics. Logic takes care of both syntax and semantics in a holistic framework because in the very structure of language, there is already a mirror image of the world. Wittgenstein writes:

Logic must take care of itself (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 2e; 1961a: 5.473)

That is, logic does not provide exclusively either syntax or semantics in its theory of propositions but makes available a picture of the world or the mirror image of the world in its network of syntactic and semantic relations.

1.5 Logic, Language-Games and the World Order

In view of Wittgenstein’s changed strategy in the Investigations, there is a demand to locate his transcendentalism in the changed context of his new grammatical strategy. One disturbing question is: Did the later Wittgenstein retain his transcendentalism (Lear 1986: 267–296) at all? There is no simple answer to this question because Wittgenstein speaks of logic and language in a more plain and humble way. He writes:

We are under the illusion that what is peculiar, profound and essential to us in our investigation resides in trying to grasp the incomparable essence of language. That is, the order existing between the concepts of proposition, word, inference, truth, experience and so forth. The order is super-order between –so to speak—super-concepts. Whereas, in fact, if the words “language”, “experience”, “world” have a use, it must be as humble as one as that of the words “table”, “lamp”. “door”, etc. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 97)

This is how Wittgenstein ceases to make the Tractarian demands on logic and language in which case logic becomes absolutely pure and sublime and language becomes an ideal structure. Wittgenstein now makes it clear that those demands were unwarranted and hence must be given up. He writes:

But what becomes of logic now? Its rigour seems to be giving way here.—But in that case doesn’t logic altogether disappear? For how can logic lose its rigour? Of course not by our bargaining any of its rigour out of it.—The preconception of crystalline purity can only be removed by turning our whole inquiry around. (One might say: the inquiry must be turned around, but on the pivot of our need. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 108)

This is a clear indication that the Tractarian transcendentalism is on the way out because of its excessive demands for logical rigour and purity.
However, one can argue that Wittgenstein is still concerned with the question of grammar and rules of language because it is these which matter in our understanding of language. They are the questions of how language is used and how meaning is possible as part of our philosophical investigation. Wittgenstein says:

Our inquiry is therefore a grammatical one. And this inquiry sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstanding away. Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, brought about, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of our language. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 90)

It is ultimately by turning to the language-games that we can clear the misunderstandings and clarify the meanings of the expressions. The language-games (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 23) make language use and meaning of the expressions clear. In this connection, Wittgenstein makes the plea that philosophy must play its role in making the grammar of language transparent. He writes:

A main source of our failure to understand is that we don’t have an overview of the use of words.—Our grammar is deficient in surveyability. A surveyable representation produces precisely that kind of understanding which consists in ‘seeing connections’. Hence the importance of finding and inventing intermediate links. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 122)

This representation of grammar is a conceptual exercise which is meant to bring out the rule-structure of language and so can claim to be a transcendental (Lear 1986) exercise. Its aim is the same as inquiring into the logical conditions of language and meaning.
The overriding concern of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language and grammar has been the necessary structures of language and their internal relationships to the world. While the Tractatus made it clear that logic alone decides what the structure of the world is in terms of the pictorial structures of the propositions, the Investigations followed in its footsteps to chalk out the nature of the world by means of the grammatical necessities demonstrated in the language-games. But it is grammar nonetheless which has the upper hand in making the nature of the world explicit. Wittgenstein makes it clear in the following remarks:
  • Essence is expressed by grammar. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 371)

  • Grammar tells what kind of object anything is. (Theology as grammar) (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 373)

These remarks hint at Wittgenstein’s emphasis on grammar as the way of understanding the world because it is only in grammar that we are led to the identification of the object or objects in the world. Though there is no necessity of a pictorial relation between language and reality, the reality is still around the corner within the framework of the grammar of the language-games. Grammar is the sum total of the necessary structures within which the linguistic representations are articulated. The structures of the world are implicated in the linguistic representations which are part of the language-games. Thus grammar is the key to the unfolding of the contours of the world.
Wittgenstein is concerned with the problem as to how language and thought are related to the world in both his early and later philosophy. The Tractatus has a pictorial solution to the problem, but this is reinvented in a different way in the Investigations by suggesting that language reaches reality in a more direct way because of the internal relation between language and reality. Wittgenstein writes:

When we say, and mean, that such-and-such is the case, we –and our meaning—do not stop anywhere short of the fact; but we mean: such-and- such-is-thus –and-so. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 95)

What comes out of this remark is that there is no ontological gap between language and thought on the one hand and reality on the other because such a gap is a matter of grammatical illusion (McDowell 1994 ). This gap was also dissolved in the Tractatus, but the appearance of a gap still persisted because of the idea of the picture. The Investigations solution is very straightforward:
  • How was it possible for thought to deal with the very object itself? We feel as if by means of it we had caught reality in our net. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 428). (italics added)

  • The agreement, the harmony, of thought and reality consists in this: that if I say falsely that something is red, then, for all the same, it is red that it isn’t. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect, 429)

The so-called gap between thought and reality is dissolved in the language itself because ultimately it is language which bears the marks of reality within its conceptual-grammatical net.

Wittgenstein makes grammar the witness of reality because in grammar alone, all the internal networks of the linguistic moves take place. These moves on the analogy of the moves on the chessboard take shape according to rules (Wittgenstein 1953). Therefore Wittgenstein’s effort is to bring out the necessity of the rule-structure in grammar to make it clear that nothing happens in language except under some rules or other. That the rules are the a priori necessities deposited in language is emphasized by grammar because grammar shows the way how we make our language-games operative in the world (Wittgenstein 1956). Without going into exegetical details, we can suggest that Wittgenstein’s philosophy of grammar marks the stamp of a transcendental method of making the world intelligible to us in the very domain of language which is taken as an autonomous domain of linguistic activities.

1.6 Self, Language and World

Now we must turn to the nature of the self that has a pivotal role to play in Wittgenstein’s transcendental philosophy of language and grammar. Self is brought into philosophy by virtue of the fact that we cannot understand language and world without making the self a presupposition of the latter. For Wittgenstein, self is the transcendental ground of language and the world. He is not concerned with self in a psychological sense (Wittgenstein 1961a; Hacker 1972; Hintikka 1966: 157–161).

Wittgenstein makes a decisive move to bring in the self as a transcendental category because it alone can serve the purpose of making the world intelligible to us through language apart from the fact that it is the self alone that can account for the meaning or sense of the world. The self, of course, is not the personal or individual self but the transcendental self that remains outside the world while accounting for the meaning of the world. Wittgenstein writes:
  • Thus there is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in a non-psychological way.

  • What brings the self into philosophy is the fact that ‘the world is my world’. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5. 641)

This is to suggest that the philosophical reflections on language and the world make the self disclosed because in the very process of making sense of what language and world are, we are bound to encounter the self because language is “my language” and the world is “my world”. That is, language and the world are the language and the world that belong to the self.
The idea of self that Wittgenstein is interested in is the transcendental self or the philosophical self that is not the empirical self that is easily present in our experience, but the self that transcends all the empirical details of the world such as the human body and mind. It is the metaphysical self that is the presupposition of the world and not a part of the world. Wittgenstein writes:

The philosophical self is not the human being, not the human body, or the human soul, with which psychology deals, but rather the metaphysical subject , the limit of the world—not a part of it. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.641) (italics added)

In a major transcendental move, Wittgenstein here introduces the concept of self that goes beyond the empirical notion of self and brings out the metaphysical significance of the concept by making it the non-worldly limit self. Such a self goes beyond our ordinary psychological imagination and makes it the fulcrum of his metaphysics of the world. He even goes beyond the Cartesian self (Hacker 1972) in his search for the metaphysical self.
Now the question is: How does the metaphysical or transcendental self fare vis-à-vis language and the world? It goes without saying that language and world belong to the metaphysical self, that is, with reference to the self alone can we understand language and the world. But that may appear to be a truism because the metaphysical subject is after all a presupposition of language and the world. But it is philosophically significant to note that the limits of language and the world are the same, as it has been declared by Wittgenstein in Tractatus 5.6 which says “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. Thereby Wittgenstein has already opened the way for the self to be self-evidently present in the very existence of language and the world. It is a metaphysical fact that language is the medium of thought about the world of which the metaphysical self is the anchor. Besides, the world is the world of the self that can claim that the world is “my world”. Wittgenstein explains:

The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of the language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5. 62)

The above statement is self-evident because there is no way our language can be understood unless it is the language of ours and that, similarly, the world is our world for all philosophical purposes. Of course, as Wittgenstein claims, it is a transcendental fact about language and the world but not an empirical fact which can be expressed in language. The metaphysical self is not the thinking self but the willing self which is outside the world. Wittgenstein writes:
  • The thinking subject is surely mere illusion. But the willing subject exists.

  • If the will did not exist, neither would there be that centre of the world, which we call the I, and which is the bearer of ethics. (Wittgenstein 1961b: p.80e)

That the I or the willing subject is the centre of the world is metaphysically significant because without this centre we cannot make any sense of the world.
So far as the position of the self vis-à-vis language and the world is concerned, it is again metaphysically necessary that the self remains outside language and the world. It is because the self cannot be part of the empirical world and therefore it cannot be represented in language. The self being transcendental refuses to be drawn into the vortex of language, since no sense can be ascribed to such statements as “I am an object in the world” or “I am a body-mind complex”. The I or the self does not refer to anything in the world. It is a self-referring expression that defies the ordinary grammar. It is in this connection that Wittgenstein remarks:
  • There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas.

  • If I were to write a book called The World as I found it , I should have to include a report on my body, and should have to say which parts are subordinate to my will, and which were not, etc. this being a method of isolating the subject, or rather of showing that in an important sense there is no subject; for it alone could not be mentioned in that book. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.631) (Italics added)

Wittgenstein’s effort here is to isolate the subject in such a way that it is no more a part of the world because we cannot mention it in the so-called book about the world. The book about the world is an autobiographical description of the person concerned which is myself. But this self of mine cannot be in the world by virtue of the fact that there is no way it can be represented by language. This is one of the most revealing passages in the Tractatus that resonates in Wittgenstein’s Investigations where Wittgenstein faces the problem of the self more or less in a transcendental way. He writes:

Think of a picture of the landscape, an imaginary landscape with a house in it.—Someone asks “Whose house is that?”—The answer by the way might be “It belongs to the farmer who is sitting on the bench in front of it”. But then he cannot for example enter his house. (Wittgenstein 1953: sect. 298)

Here one possible interpretation could be that the farmer owns the house in the landscape but he cannot enter the house. This could be analogous to the transcendental self to which the world belongs, but cannot be part of it for the reason that the self is not an object in the world. Of course, there could be another interpretation which denies that there is any analogy to the self because the house is not like the world of which self is the owner. The idea of the ownership of the world does not arise (Sluga 1996). But the fact of the matter is that the self is not an object in the world and that the “I” does not refer to any person or human being. It is a self-referring expression (Suresh Chandra 2002). Under the circumstances, it is worthwhile to mention that self is transcendental and has no place in the world. It vindicates Wittgenstein’s Tractarian position where he writes:
  • The subject does not belong to the world: rather it is a limit of the world. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.632)

  • Where in the world is a metaphysical subject to be found?

  • You will say that this is exactly like the case of the eye and the visual field. But really you do not see the eye.

  • And nothing in the visual field allows you to infer that it is seen by the eye. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5. 633)

Thus just as the eye is not a part of the visual field, so is the self which is not a part of the world. Like the eye, the self remains outside the world (Hacker 1972).

1.7 The Willing Subject, Ethics and the Sense of the World

According to Wittgenstein , the world becomes meaningful because of the fact that it is centred in the self which is the willing self and the bearer of ethics. The willing self brings into the world ethical values which give meaning to life and the world. Wittgenstein discusses the meaning or sense of the world keeping in view the idea that ethics provides the moral fabric to the world. He writes:

Ethics does not treat of the world. Ethics must be a condition of the world, like logic. (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 77e)

This is a clear indication of the fact that though ethics is not concerning how the world is, but it must provide a condition of the world so that the world can have meaning, that is, it must define what a morally possible world must be. It is in this sense that ethics is a must for there to be a meaningful world at all. However, the meaning of the world cannot be part of the world because in that case, it will be a fact in the world having no value of its own. Wittgenstein writes:
  • The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen: in it no value exists—and if it did exist, it would have no value.

  • If there is value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case. For all that happens and is the case is accidental. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.41)

The split between value and fact is clear in the view of the fact that value belongs to a higher realm above that of the facts. That is the reason why value cannot belong to the world the way the fact does. This brings to the fore the point that the sense or meaning or value of the world must be outside the world. This is a significant point in Wittgenstein’s metaphysics of the world.
Wittgenstein is interested in the cosmic meaning of the world for reasons that are too evident to be explained in the sense that the world cries for meaning in being morally valuable. The world order is the way the world organizes itself within the ambience of the value-fabric that issues from the transcendental self and the will. It is through the transcendental will that ethics enters the world because this will is the bearer of ethics. As Wittgenstein suggests:
  • What is good or evil is essentially the I, not the world.

  • The I, the I is what is deeply mysterious. (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 80e)

There is enough emphasis on the willing subject to suggest that the will in its moral aspects makes inroads into the world and makes the world morally valuable. The world thus receives its moral value from the I or the willing subject (Zemach 1966: 359–375) which is the source of the moral value. The moral subject brings into the world the morally good or evil because the world is morally centred in the world (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 80e). Wittgenstein writes:
  • The good or bad exercise of the will does alter the world, it can alter only the limits of the world, not the facts—not what can be expressed by means of language.

  • In short the effect must be that it becomes an altogether a different world. It must, so to speak, wax and wane as a whole.

  • The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.43)

In this passage Wittgenstein has given a road map for the relation of the willing subject with the world in terms of meaning and value. The world is re-enchanted for being responsive to the moral demands of the self because the world is no more a mere material world as the natural sciences suggest, but the world of meanings and values as philosophy and ethics reveal. This is a great transformation of the world from a mere world of facts to a world of meanings and norms. Wittgenstein has rediscovered the world in terms of meaning and values which had shrunk into a material world under the pressure of the natural sciences (McDowell 1994) .

Wittgenstein’s transcendentalism is most evident in his deliberations on ethics and the value theory where he is interested in projecting the value-world unto the material world from the transcendental standpoint of the self and will. He is of the firm opinion that nothing could account for the value or the sense of the world if the values are sought to be derived from the world of facts. Therefore for him values and meanings have a transcendental origin and must be kept outside the world. As he famously says, “the sense of the world must lie outside the world” (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.41). This makes it evident why values and meanings cannot have their origin in the world where everything is factual and contingent . Values and meanings have a higher place outside the world. That is, the values and meanings have a transcendental location in the moral will of the self.

1.8 God, World and the Meaning of Life

Let us now turn to some of the deeply metaphysical concerns embedded in Wittgenstein’s writings regarding life, world and God . Wittgenstein was deeply involved in the questions of self, meaning and the world in the Notebooks 1914–1916 so much that he equated God with the meaning of life and the world. The following remarks bring out the metaphysics of the meaning of life and the world:
  • What do I know about God and the purpose of life?

  • I know that this world exists.

  • That I am placed in it like my eye in the visual field.

  • That something about it is problematic, which we call its meaning.

  • That this meaning does not lie in it but outside it.

  • That life is the world.

  • That my will penetrates the world.

  • That my will is good or evil.

  • Therefore that the good and evil are somehow connected with the meaning of the world.

  • The meaning of life , i.e., the meaning of the world, we can call God.

  • …..

  • To pray is to think about the meaning of life. (Wittgenstein 1961b: pp. 72–73e)

In the long passage above, Wittgenstein has articulated his philosophy of life, God and world in the sense that he has put all the three on the same level as being transcendental objects worthy of serious consideration. For him, God is the meaning of life and the world in the sense that the totality of the meanings ascribed to life and the world mean what we can call God as the transcendent reality.

Not only the meaning of the life and world but also God are transcendental objects because we cannot find a place for them in the world. The world is the totality of facts, and so value or meaning of life must be outside the world because the world cannot contain its own meaning just as life cannot contain its own meaning. Both life and the world must be viewed from a transcendental viewpoint to locate meaning. Therefore meaning of life and world must remain outside the world. So also God remains outside the world. The following remarks tell us eloquently about the relationship between meaning and the concept of God:
  • To believe in God means to understand the question about the meaning of life.

  • To believe in God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.

  • To believe in God means to see that life has meaning. (Wittgenstein 1961b, p. 74e)

The way God is invoked here by Wittgenstein suggests that he has a transcendental concept of God who is the same as the meaning of life and world. By invoking God, he invokes the meaning of life and the world. The only way we can make sense of this is to accept that God is no creator of the world, nor is He the moral architect of the world. To think of God or to believe in God is to transcend life and world and thereby to see the latter as having meaning. Meaning of the world in this context ceases to be confined to the facts in the world. Meaning of the world takes us beyond the world and makes us see the world from outside the world (Zemach 1966).
Wittgenstein has no reason to believe in a personal God because for him God cannot be part of the world in any sense. God remains outside the world as the transcendental presupposition of the world rather than as one who intervenes in the world affairs. Here is how he talks about God in the Tractatus:

How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifferent for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world (Wittgenstein 1961a: 6.432).

Here God is the same as “the higher” because world and God cannot be on the same plane. If the meaning of the world is God himself, he cannot be the world as such as the totality of facts. God in that sense must remain outside the world and must not reveal himself in the world. This is how Wittgenstein keeps God away from the world for the reason that God will cease to be God, i.e. the meaning of the world if he is in the world.

1.9 The Two Godheads: The World and the I

Wittgenstein’s enigmatic conception of two Godheads makes the relationship between the world and the independent I deeply mysterious for the reason that one does not know how the I or the self can be situated vis-à-vis the world. That the self is independent of the world since it has to be outside the world has already been spelt out. So the self as the transcendental willing subject is already independent of the world. Wittgenstein makes this clear in the following passage, where he brings into notice the willing subject before he introduces the concept of the two “Godheads”. He writes:
  • The world is given me, i.e., my will enters the world completely from outside as into something that is already there.

  • (As for what my will is, I don’t know yet.).

  • That is why we have the feeling of being dependent on an alien will.

  • However this may be, at any rate we are in a sense dependent, and what we are dependent on we can call God.

  • In this sense God would simply be fate, or what is the same thing: The world – which is independent of my will.

  • I can make myself independent of fate

  • There are two godheads: the world and my independent I. (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 74e)

Here Wittgenstein is struggling to understand the self in relation to the world and also in relation to God and fate. God is identified with the fate and the world when we treat them as independent of the self. Thus we as the willing subjects are independent of both the fate and the world, i.e. God, because we can never cease to assert our existence independent of God (Zemach 1966). But even then Wittgenstein concedes that we feel as if we are dependent on an alien will. The alien will is God’s will. This sense of dependence is outweighed by our independence because the two Godheads, namely, the world and the I, do stand apart ontologically. The sense of dependence is religious and moral, but the sense of independence is ontological. Wittgenstein writes:
  • In order to live happily I must be in agreement with the world. And that is what “being happy” means.

  • I am then, so to speak, in agreement with that alien will on which I paper dependent.. That is to say, “I am doing the will of God”. (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 75e)

Here my agreement with the world is some sort of dependence on the alien will which is the source of my being happy. In that sense, I am doing the will of God. But this does not do away with the fact that I stand apart from the world, God and fate. I am a Godhead as the world itself is. Both fate and God stand as the world taken in the Spinozistic sense (Spinoza 1955). Here Wittgenstein is in deep metaphysical struggle to see how God is related to the world and the self even if God is outside the world and independent of the self.

1.10 “I Am My World”

Wittgenstein’s transcendental framework brings about the metaphysical harmony between self and world. This is the gist of his transcendental philosophy. His philosophy in general does not pose a divide between life and world because they are considered the same. He writes:
  • The World and Life are one.

  • Physiological is of course not “Life”. And neither is psychological life. Life is the world. (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 77e)

This is reiterated in the Tractatus:

The world and life are one. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.621)

This is how Wittgenstein clearly states that the metaphysical life and world are the same. However, he denies that the psychological or the physiological life can be identical with the world. His intention is to suggest that if we view life and the world as a totality, there will be nothing to distinguish them from each other. Life and the world have the same limits from a transcendental point of view (Hacker 1972). This is corroborated by the following passage in the Tractatus:

The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.62)

Here the limits of my language have been taken as the same as the limits of my world because that is how my world and my language are considered to have the same limits, i.e. the same boundaries. That is why “the world is my world” as there is no other world than this world. Had the world been other than the world projected within my language, then there could be a difference between the world as such and the world given within my language. This is what Wittgenstein calls solipsism which is true but cannot be said. He writes:
  • This remark provides the key to the problem, how much truth there is in solipsism.

  • For what the solipsists means is quite correct; only it cannot be said, but makes itself manifest. (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.62)

Wittgenstein accepts that solipsism in this transcendental sense (Hacker 1972; Hintikka 1966) is correct but it cannot be expressed in language; it makes itself manifest.
From transcendental solipsism Wittgenstein takes a further step towards identifying the self and the world, when he writes:
  • It is true: Man is the microcosm.

  • I am my world. (Wittgenstein 1961b: p. 84e)


I am my world (The microcosm). (Wittgenstein 1961a: 5.63)

The identification of the “I” and “my world” amounts to the identification of the self and world in the sense that the self and the world stand for the same reality in the metaphysical sense as the world is ultimately “my world”, i.e. the world owned up by me. This is a deeply meaningful sentence in view of the fact that the independence of the world and self maintained earlier has been compromised. Now the world is not only dependent on me but also is identical with me, the transcendental I. This is a move away from solipsism to idealism (Schopenhauer 1958) considering the fact that Wittgenstein goes along with Schopenhauer in identifying the self or the will with the world-will (Hintikka 1966; Williams 1974: 76–95).

1.11 Conclusion

Wittgenstein’s transcendental philosophy of language, world and meaning has wider ramifications with regard to the metaphysical and moral fabric of the world. We have been trying so far to trace out the metaphysical and moral framework of the world though the analysis of language and logic in Wittgenstein’s transcendental philosophy.

Wittgenstein begins his philosophical journey from logic and language and ends in ethics and metaphysics. This journey has seen ups and downs in the philosophy of logic and language, but the ultimate aim has been steadily kept in view: to provide a vision of life and the world. Wittgenstein is a visionary philosopher (Suresh Chandra 2002). There is no reason, therefore, to believe that he was only a philosopher of logic and language as he has gone beyond logic and language towards a metaphysical and moral vision of man and the universe. That is why he acknowledged the presence of the mystical (Zemach 1966) when he was forced to express his metaphysical and moral vision, but could not express it in the language of the natural sciences.

Metaphysics and morals demand a higher place beyond language, and therefore Wittgenstein concludes his Tractatus with the statement: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence” (Wittgenstein 1961a, b: 7). However, Wittgenstein’s position might have been mellowed down later to accommodate the modest way of expressing the so-called unspeakable truths within a framework of language use and forms of life (Pitcher 1972). But Wittgenstein kept intact his metaphysical and moral vision of the life and the universe till the end.

In short, Wittgenstein restores meaning and value to man and the world by his transcendental method of organizing the world around the self and the meanings which the self imposes on the world. The world is re-enchanted (McDowell 1994) by virtue of the meanings that are imposed by the self. This makes the world ethically more meaningful than it could be without a transcendental self.

This chapter has taken into account the nature of self and world primarily because for Wittgenstein, the relation between the two is crucial for understanding the possibility of moral and spiritual life of man. Since he is interested in the moral and the spiritual destiny of man, it is all the more necessary that the metaphysical relation between the self and the world must be unravelled. Wittgenstein argues for the transcendental self because this self alone can allow for the possibility of a moral and spiritual life.

The possibility of moral life is also associated with the sense of the world which is itself outside the world for the reason that the world is to be normatively structured through the intervention of the transcendental self. The world does not stand for the facts alone but also for the normative structure of the values which penetrate the world. The world cannot be let free of the values which are imposed on it by the transcendental self from outside the world. This makes the way clear for a normatively structured world within the broad spectrum of the self, will and reason which together effect the most decisive influence on the world.

Thus the present chapter paves the way for a more thorough investigation into the nature of the world from a transcendental point of view.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ramesh Chandra Pradhan
    • 1
  1. 1.Indian Institute of Advanced StudyShimlaIndia

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