Language and Logic in Wittgenstein's Tractatus


  • Daniele Mezzadri United Arab Emirates University


20th century philosophy, Wittgenstein Ludwig, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, language, logic, elementary proposition, molecular proposition, operation


This paper investigates Wittgenstein’s account of the relation between elementary and molecular propositions (and thus, also, the propositions of logic) in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I start by sketching a natural reading of that relation – which I call the ‘bipartite reading’ – holding that the Tractatus gives an account of elementary propositions, based on the so-called picture theory, and a different account of molecular ones, based on the principle of truth-functionality. I then show that such a reading cannot be attributed to Wittgenstein, because he holds the view that an explanation of logical complexity is already given by a correct account of the (pictorial) nature of elementary propositions; this is implied in his claim that ‘an elementary proposition contains all logical constants/operations in itself’. After clarifying Wittgenstein’s notion of an operation from the Notes on Logic to the Tractatus, I finally explain why Wittgenstein claims that an elementary proposition contains all logical operations in itself, and hence why he can be said to provide a unified (and thus not bipartite) account of language and logic.

Author Biography

Daniele Mezzadri, United Arab Emirates University

Department of Philosophy, Assistant Professor


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