In the sentence 5.6 of the logico-positivist “Holly Writing”, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico – Philosophicus, we can find the following statement: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”1F. (In German original: Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.2F) This short essay is an attempt to develop some consequences implied by this famous Wittgenstein’s dictum, which sometimes go far beyond the limits imposed by the severe architectonics of his Tractatus.
One of the most stimulating points, which stem from this idea, is focusing the attention onto the transcendental dimension of language. The locus classics regarding the definition of the concept of the transcendental, as well as its introduction into the substantial body of subsequent philosophical theories, is found in Kanto’s Critique of Pure Reason (Introduction, VII): “I apply the term transcendental to all knowledge which is not so much occupied with objects as with the mode of our cognition of these objects, so far as this mode of cognition is possible a priori.”3F Besides the a priori character – its independence from the concrete empirical objects of knowledge – transcendental forms posses another very important capacity: they make possible the totality of human experience, by systematic linking and organizing the empirical material into an ordered, meaningful cognitive whole, called “world”. Kant’s analysis is centered on the space and time as pure forms of sensibility (intuition), and the categories (of quantity, quality, relation and modality) as forms (“pure conceptions”) of understanding. According to Kant, “all sensuous intuitions are subject to categories, as conditions under which alone the manifold content of them can be united in one consciousness”4F. He also pays special attention to the judgment, whose logical function is precisely “to bring manifold content of given representations under one apperception”5F.
But as soon as we shift the original epistemological context of Kant’s formulation of the problem of the transcendental, and extrapolate it to the level of language as complete symbolic system, the intellectual potential of his ideas starts to unfold itself in an unexpected way. In fact, the terms “categories”, as well as “judgments” (“statements”, “propositions”) have already been elaborated as key elements of the fundamental logico-linguistic conceptual inventory, from the very beginnings of its development, initiated in Aristotle’s logical works 6F. Without any intention to enter into the controversy about the ultimate nature of the categories – whether it is mental, or purely linguistic, or both, we can, however, stress the fact that just on the basis of their linguistic formulation the complicated structural net of the language is constituted and made able to fulfill its multiple functions. One of those functions is inseparably linked to the exercise of our power of knowledge. From that point of view, it seems that anything that can, at all, enter in the horizon of human experience, is already linguistically mediated, diffracted through the living crystal of language, determined by its power to identify, isolate and name certain phenomena, giving them the privileged status of “existent things”. In his brilliant essay “Kant’s analysis of the transcendental as an anticipation of the linguistic interpretation of the world”, prof. Ferid Muhić unveils the subtle, unexplored path which leads, almost inevitably, from Kant’s transcendental philosophy to the linguistically inspired interpretations of fundamental philosophical concerns. “There is no need to explore the world, because it is already mediated by the forms of our sensibility. It is enough to explore those pure forms, or, if we want a complete knowledge, we must explore the concepts, because they are the substratum of the manifested power of knowledge. And concepts are already shaping of the words, their rising, and even the words themselves. So, discoveries about the world become very closely related to the discoveries about language, or which is the same thing, about concepts… Because the world of concepts doesn’t refer any more to some objective, independent world, but to our “version” of that world, the structure of the language can be completely subsumed under the structure of the world; the opposite holds, too.”7F Although, according to prof. Muhić, this variant of the idea does not follow directly from Kant’s theses, it is based on the acceptation of his fundamental results.
The “thesis of the structural kinship of the fundamental elements of the world and the key elements of the language”8F, as prof. Muhić points out, is incorporated in the textual kernel of Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus” in a remarkable way. In that way, despite Wittgenstein’s indifference “whether his thoughts have been thought before him by another”9F, there is a strong support for the thesis that he is, indeed, deeply indebted to Kant, at least for Kant’s opening of the wide transcendental perspective. But under the seductive surface of those analogies, very significant differences can remain undiscovered.
In the first place, Wittgenstein’s explicit use of the terms “transcendental”, “a priori”, as well as that of expressions “impossible of contradicting”, “precedes every experience”, etc., is related, almost exclusively, to his conception of logic. For example, “Logic is transcendental” (6.13)10F; “All propositions, such as the law of causation, the law of continuity in nature, etc, etc, all these are a priori intuitions of possible forms of the propositions of science” (6.34)11F; “That logic is a priori consists in the fact that we cannot think illogically” (5.4731)12F; “Logic precedes every experience – that something is so” (5.552)13F. Wittgenstein is trying to demonstrate the impossibility of contradicting logic by pointing out to the impossibility of saying of an “illogical” world how it would look, and thus referring to the close relationship between logic and language. “To present in language anything which “contradicts logic” is as impossible as in geometry to present by its co-ordinates a figure which contradicts the laws of space”(3.032)14F. Having in mind all these remarks, it seems reasonable to expect that the transcendental feature of language, as a system governed by a priori logical rules which determine the texture of the network drawn (or thrown) upon “reality”, will be clearly recognized and exposed. This expectation, in ultima linea, is reinforced by Wittgenstein’s own formulation of the coincidence between the limits of language and limits of world.
1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958, p.149.
2. ibid., p.148.
3. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, transl. By J.M.D. Meiklejohn, Londob, G.Bell and sons, 1924, p.16.
4. ibid., p. 88.
5. ibid., p. 88.
6. At this point, see the footnote on p. 65 of Meiklejohn’s translation, (in fact, a quotation from Hamilton’s Essays and Discussions) that treatises of the difference between Aristotle’s and Kant’s conception of the categories.
7. Ferid Muhić, Kantove analize transcendentalnog kao anticipacija lingvističkog tumačenja sveta, Beograd, Filozofsko društvo Srbije, s.a, p.226.
8. ibid., p.226.
9. Wittgenstein, op.cit., p.27.
10. ibid., p.169.
11. ibid, p.173.
12. ibid, p.129.
13. ibid, p.145.
14. ibid., p.43.