by Vered Arnon
In sections 5.6 of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein argues that the philosophical “I” is not a psychological subject contained within the world, but a limit of the world.
His argument is thus:
1. The limits of logic are the limits of the world.
2. The limits of the world are defined by the limits of one’s language.
3. One’s own world, the microcosm, is one’s self.
4. One’s self (I) is not contained in the world.
5. One’s self (I) is a limit of the world, not an object located within the world.
Premise 1: Wittgenstein explains that logic fills the world and is limited by the world’s limits. Using logic, we can only talk about things that are within the world. Logic cannot transcend its own limits in order to say what is not included within it.
Premise 2: The limits of one’s language determine the limits of one’s world, because these limits determine what one is able to say. What one is able to say is determined by logic. This follows from the first premise.
Premise 3: In sections 5.621 and 5.63, Wittgenstein writes, “The world and life are one. I am my world. (The microcosm.)” Here he establishes that one’s self does indeed have something to do with the world. One’s self shapes and defines one’s world.
Premise 4: Yet, one’s self is not contained in the world. This follows from the previous premises. Logic is within the world, it cannot transcend the world. The self is something that we cannot find within the world. Thus, logically it cannot be referred to as an object. It forms a limit of the world instead. Wittgenstein gives an example to illustrate this:
This diagram shows an incorrect representation of the field of sight, and is taken from section 5.6331 of the Tractatus. The eye can be compared to the “I” which Wittgenstein is discussing in his argument. When we perceive things in our field of sight, we cannot actually see our own eye. All we are aware of is what we ourselves can see, this is true, but this does not give us any indication that the eye itself exists. The “I”, like the eye, is a limit of our world, but is not an object contained within it.
From this, follows the conclusion: one’s self, the philosophical “I”, is a limit of the world, rather than an object located within it. None of the premises depend on the conclusion, instead they logically lead towards it, making it obvious. What has often been the subject of much debate, can be summed up very simply.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Routledge, New York, NY, 1999.