Two Quick Bits of ‘Wittgensteinian’ Theology

1. 3.03 says “We cannot think anything unlogical, for otherwise we would have to think unlogically.” This is commentary/exposition on 3, “The logical picture of the facts is the thought.”

Should 3 have been put differently? As I read W there aren’t actually any ‘logical pictures’ of anything in the pure sense – ‘logical picture’ in the Tractatus is another formal concept. Why wouldn’t he write, ‘the picture of the facts is the thought’? When I think ‘Winnie is on the Tunisian rug,” surely my thought includes the spatial picture, not to mention the canine one, as well as an understanding of how to apply that picture, which latter understanding makes it also a logical picture (cf. 2.182), which applies or does not apply, is true or false.

I don’t suppose this is so important, if every picture is also a logical picture.

The broader point is this. In the Tractatus we have no proposition, no thought, no picture of the facts unless we know how to apply it to reality. Arguendo, we don’t know how to apply “Scott kept a runcible at Abbotsford” to reality. So this sentence isn’t a proposition, doesn’t express a thought, isn’t a picture of the facts. Thus it is also not a logical picture of the facts. But it is not in any sense a limitation on our thought that we can’t say or think that Scott kept a runcible at Abbotsford, since there’s nothing there to be said or thought in the first place.

Having a picture is having a logical picture and if you don’t have a logical picture you don’t have a thought. So you can’t think something unlogical because thinking just is having a logical picture, whatever else it is in addition.

Now 3.031: “It used to be said that God could create everything, except what was contrary to the laws of logic. The truth is, we could not say of an ‘unlogical’ world how it would look.”

This is a problem of theology – how God can be all-powerful if he is limited by the laws of logic? Wittgenstein’s answer in the Tractatus: the laws of logic are not a limit in this sense. What is thinkable is what is sayable is what is possible; we can give no content to the phrase “contrary to the laws of logic” or “unlogical thought.” Again with the application to reality: if you can think something it means that what you think is a picture which is applicable to the world, and the world can either be that way or not be that way. An all-powerful God conceived in the theological way would determine which, and there would be nothing beyond that to determine. It’s not a limitation that you can’t make a bit of nonsense so, because there is nothing to make so expressed by a bit of nonsense.

Although Wittgenstein does not mention it again, material later in the Tractatus is also relevant to this problem in a slightly different way. Why can’t God make it the case that p and the case that ~p? If you think of the law of noncontradiction as something apart from the facts, of the logical constants as representing (4.0312), then this seems like a limitation. But that would be the wrong picture. God would instead create all the facts, and in having done so he would also have made all the propositions true or false. God can make it the case that p and in so doing makes it not the case that ~p – they are one and the same choice, as it were.

The logical constants “supervene” on the facts in the Tractatus. Is that word too philosophically loaded? If I have ten one-dollar bills in my pocket, I also have $10, but the $10 isn’t an additional thing I have over and above the ten one-dollar bills – that’s all I mean by supervention here. Similarly with every truth-function of the elementary propositions – having specified the elementary propositions I have specified all of their truth-functional combinations s well. And all logical constants (not, and, or, the Sheffer stroke, etc.) do is specify particular truth-functions of interest, which were in effect already there in the elementary propositions themselves – logic is just the combinatorics of truth-functionality, as it were.

So you can’t do and not do something – having done it you haven’t not done it – etc. Not different facts but the same facts presented differently.

2. From the Lecture on Ethics: “I can describe my feeling by the metaphor, that, if a man could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world”

John 21:25: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”

Who is Jesus Christ, for John? The Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. But the Word is also the Bible, whose central character is God, and Jesus Christ is God made flesh as well – fully divine and fully human.  

So the Word, that is, the Bible, is made flesh in Christ, and the doings of that Word are so great, that even the entire world can not contain enough books to express them.

Nonetheless here, says the Christian, is a book that does.


3 comments on “Two Quick Bits of ‘Wittgensteinian’ Theology

  1. Justin Martyr says:

    ‘Laws of logic’ expresses something we recognize in our natural domain as principles or unavoidable canons of rationality. To assert that God is limited by laws of logic and is thereby questionably omnipotent is to presuppose God has univocal ontology with our natural domain. That metaphysic needs support, which seems to beg the question at every point. If, on the other hand, one assumes God is distinct and different from the natural domain the objects referenced by ‘laws of logic’ are not binding upon him as they are on us. The question is not whether laws of logic limit God as they do us; the question is whether it is a proper use of the laws of logic to impose our experience of the laws of logic onto God’s state of being, which is ineffable. If God is God at all he is ultimately orderly, so we needn’t worry about God doing ‘unlogical’ acts. If God is limited by anything it is by his own nature and not by anything external to him, which as Wittgenstein might say, is not a limit at all.

  2. seancstidd says:

    I would accept this argument more or less if you substituted “physics” for “logic”, but I’m not sure the scope argument really works out here (at least in a way which satisfies me). Good seeing you here – we should chat about this in person.

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