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Philosophical Investigations 29:1 January 2006

ISSN 0190-0536

The Unity of Language and Logic in


Wittgensteins Tractatus
Leo K. C. Cheung, Hong Kong Baptist University

1. Introduction
Wittgenstein holds in the Tractatus that the general propositional
form is the sole logical constant (or the one and only general primitive sign in logic):
It is clear that whatever we can say in advance about the form of
all propositions, we must be able to say all at once.
An elementary proposition really contains all logical operations
in itself. For fa says the same thing as

( x).fx.x = a.
Wherever there is compositeness, argument and function are
present, and where these are present, we already have all the logical
constants.
One could say that the sole logical constant was what all propositions, by their very nature, had in common with one another.
But that is the general propositional form . . .
The description of the most general propositional form is the
description of the one and only general primitive sign in logic.
(TLP 5.475.472)

By the thesis, as I shall explain, he means that the general form of


proposition is the general form of logical operation. The importance
of the thesis consists in, first, that it brings out the unity of language
and logic and, second, its crucial role in his attempt to achieve the
proclaimed aim of the Tractatus (TLP, p.3) to draw a limit to
thought by drawing one to language. The purpose of this paper,
besides explaining these two points, is to explain how the Tractatus
employs the picture theory and the Grundgedanke in TLP 4.0312
to argue for the thesis.
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It is indeed not easy to see how the Tractatus can hold and prove
the thesis that the general propositional form is the sole logical constant. For the thesis demands not only non-elementary propositions
but also elementary propositions that they must satisfy the general
form of logical operation. How can an elementary proposition,
which is supposed to be an immediate, and thus non-truth-functional, combination of names (TLP 4.224.221), satisfy the general
form of logical operation? How can an elementary proposition
involve all logical constants in an intrinsic manner (TLP 5.47) if it
is supposed to belong to the end products of logical analysis of
propositions (TLP 4.221)? How can the application of logic be
involved in an elementary propositions saying anything about reality?
My explanation of how Wittgenstein in the Tractatus proves the thesis
would also make it clear how he answers these questions. It is,
however, worthy of pointing out here that while many commentators of the Tractatus are ignorant of, or have chosen to ignore, these
questions,1 several prominent commentators have attempted to tackle
them or to criticize the Tractatus on that. It is illuminating to see
some of the latters views.
For example, Brian McGuinness writes in his essay Pictures and
Form,
. . . in the first part of the Tractatus, notably in the 3s and early
4s, we seem to be told that the essence of a proposition is to be
a picture, while in the later parts we are told that its essence is to
be a truth-function, that is to say a result of applying the operation of simultaneous negation to elementary propositions. The
picture theory requires further elaboration, and the truth-function account of what it is to be a proposition seems to involve
circularity by presupposing a prior understanding of what it is to
be an elementary proposition. But a more serious difficulty is that
the two accounts seem to be quite separate things, and, if this is
1. For example, Max Black, Robert Fogelin and James Griffin are amongst those
commentators. In his A Companion to Wittgensteins Tractatus, Black (1964: 2368,
2701) discusses the general propositional form but does not explain the thesis that
the general propositional form is the sole logical constant. In fact, he does not seem
to have noticed the thesis, nor the fact that the Tractatus holds and attempts to argue
for the unity of language and logic. Fogelin has devoted a section in his Wittgenstein,
2nd edition, (1987: 4750) to discuss the notion of the general propositional form.
But, surprisingly, he mentions neither the thesis that the general propositional form
is the sole logical constant, nor the Tractatus proof of the unity of language and logic.
In Griffins (1964) Wittgensteins Logical Atomism, the thesis and the issue of the unity
of language and logic are not addressed at all.
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so, cannot both be adequate accounts of what it is to be a
proposition.2

Here, McGuinness is criticizing the Tractatus on that the picture


theory fails to explain how an elementary proposition can be a truthfunction, while the truth-function account presupposes a prior
understanding of the essence of an elementary proposition.
Peter Winch, in the introduction to his edited work Studies in
the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, points out that, with respect to the Tractatus, it is vital to our understanding of Wittgenstein to see that the
nature of logic is already being inquired into in Wittgensteins treatment of the puzzle about the relation between propositions and
facts.3 The application of logic in language to reality requires the
structure of an elementary proposition to be logical, which in the
case of the Tractatus means truth-functional.4 But it is hard to see
how the structure of an elementary proposition could be truth-functional, and Winch thinks the Tractatus does not provide any account
of that.5 This is a serious difficulty and one of the main factors in
inducing Wittgenstein to move away from the Tractatus notion of elementary propositions.6
Rush Rhees view is rather different from McGuinness and
Winchs. He thinks that, in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein has attempted
to bring out the fundamental role logic plays in a propositions saying
something about, or picturing, reality. He writes in various places
2. McGuinness (2002: 656). Also, McGuinness (2002: 66) mentions in a footnote
that [t]he existence and importance of this problem were first, to my knowledge,
pointed out and many directions for its solution (on which I have drawn freely)
given by Miss G. E. M. Anscombe in lectures at Oxford (later published . . .). But
it is not clear which passages McGuinness would be referring to in Anscombe (1971).
3. Winch (1969: 3). Winch continues to write (1969:34), [t]his point can perhaps
be expressed in the form of another problem: What is the relation between a propositions ability to state a fact and its ability to stand in logical relations to other propositions? He also thinks, for the Tractatus, . . . unless propositions had logical relations
with each other that they would not state fact (i.e. would not be propositions) and
unless they stated facts, they would not have logical relations with other propositions (1969: 4).
4. Cf. Winch (1969: 2).
5. Winch (1969: 6) also says, . . . an elementary proposition is also said to have a
structure; and it is hard to see how this could be a truth-functional structure . . .
[TLP 5] provides us with no account of what we are to understand by logic the
expression, the logical structure of elementary proposition . . . Although Winch is
referring to TLP 5 here, it is clear from his introduction that he thinks the Tractatus does not provide any such account.
6. Winch (1969: 6).
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that the point of the picture theory is to bring out the way that
logic is fundamental in connection with empirical propositions or
with picturing,7 and thus shows that logic must take care of itself or
its own application8 and that understanding a proposition is not anything arbitrary.9 He emphasizes in this connection the importance
of a general rule the law of projection in TLP 4.0141 in the
distinction between sense and nonsense and in showing that logic
must take care of itself,10 as well as the thesis that the general form
of logical operation is the general form of proposition11 and the fact
that sense, as a configuration of objects, must have the complexity
which we express with the logical constants.12 But Rhees does not
explain in detail how the Tractatus employs the picture theory to
achieve these, and, in particular, how logic is fundamental in connection with picturing or with the construction of propositions.
I think Rhees is on the right track already but, unfortunately, he
does not explain in detail how the picture theory can account for
such intrinsic relation between logic and language.13 In the case of
McGuinness and Winch, I will make it clear in this paper that, contrary to what they have thought, the Tractatus does attempt to employ
the picture theory, together with the Grundgedanke, to account for
the fact that logical constants, or, rather, logical operations that they
7. Rhees mentions this point in his essay Miss Anscombe on the Tractatus (1996b:
115) and in Rhees (1998: 5760). For example, he writes in Rhees (1998: 4) and
(1998: 9), respectively, that [w]hen Wittgenstein says that propositions are pictures of
reality, one thing he wants to bring out is the way in which logic is fundamental in
connexion with them and that [w]e recognize the relation of logic to empirical
propositions when we see these propositions as picturing.
8. Rhees (1998: 57): The aim of the picture theory is to show that logic must
take care of itself; that logic must look after its own application.
9. Rhees writes in Miss Anscombe on the Tractatus (1996b: 8), . . . to say that
understanding a proposition might be something arbitrary in that way, would be selfcontradictory. He also writes in the essay Object and Identity in the Tractatus
(1996c: 27), [i]n Tractatus 5: A proposition is a truth function of elementary propositions. So the combination of signs in a proposition is not arbitrary.
10. See Rhees (1998: 8): . . . a picturing of reality is possible because there is a
general rule a rule by which we distinguish between sense and nonsense. There
cannot be anything arbitrary in logic, because anything arbitrary would have to be
said: and logic (the general rule) is what makes this possible . . . part of the point
here is that there must be logic if there are empirical propositions propositions
which we can understand without knowing whether they are true or false.
11. See Rhees (1998: 23).
12. See Rhees (1998: 13).
13. I would like to say that I was first inspired by Rhees views and subsequently
set myself to tackle the issue.
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symbolize, are involved in an elementary propositions saying something about reality. Also, the attempt is not something which is
plainly incoherent or trivially wrong. It is ingenious. In fact,
McGuinness and Winch seem to have misconceived the issue in a
similar, if not the same, way. What is crucial here is not, as they have
thought, how the combination of names in an elementary proposition could be truth-functional. The Tractatus does not hold any such
thing.What the Tractatus does hold, I shall argue, is that logical operations are applied in an elementary propositions picturing reality via
naming. According to the picture theory, the operation NN (where
N is the sole fundamental operation in the Tractarian system), or the
existential quantifier, is present in every elementary proposition in
an intrinsic manner such that it does not bind propositions together
but belongs to the signifying relation between names and objects.
This is the key to the Tractatus proof of the thesis that the general
propositional form is the sole logical constant and hence the unity
of language and logic.

2. Drawing a Limit to Language


The thesis that the general propositional form is the sole logical constant is crucial to the Tractatus aim (TLP, p.3) to draw a limit to
thought by drawing one to the expression of thought, that is, language. Language is the totality of propositions (TLP 4.001). The
limits of propositions, which constitute the limit of language,14
however, do not belong to language (TLP 6.43)15 but are fixed by
the totality of propositions (TLP 4.51). The constructions out of all
elementary propositions via logical (truth-functional) operations give
rise to propositions (TLP 5), tautologies and contradictions (TLP
4.454.46) and, what is more, this fixes the limits of all propositions
(TLP 4.51). Since the limit of language does not belong to language,
it can only be constituted by tautologies, which by TLP 6.1 (or what
14. The Tractatus sometimes refers to drawing a limit to language, for example, in
TLP, p.3, and sometimes to setting limits, for example, in TLP 4.1134.116. I take
the former as referring to the limits of language collectively.
15. TLP 6.43 says that [i]f 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. This implies that the limits of language do not belong to
language.
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may be called the truth-functionality of logical propositions) are all


logical propositions, and contradictions. In fact, the Tractatus sees tautologies and contradictions not as propositions (and thus not belonging to language) but as the limiting cases, or, simply, the limits, of
propositions (TLP 4.466 and 5.143). Those lie within the limit of
language are propositions, those lie on it tautologies and contradictions, and those lie outside it nonsense.16 Tautologies and contradictions constitute the limit of language and yet are fixed by the totality
of propositions.
It might appear that one way to draw a limit to language is to
give the totality of propositions (and thus fix their limits). But the
Tractatus does not, and cannot, give such totality because not even
the totality of elementary propositions can be given (TLP
5.555.551). What it does is to give a description of the general
propositional form (TLP 4.5), which is the equivalent of the general
rule referred to in TLP 4.041. The general rule does not give but
determines the propositions and also their limits. It is the same
general rule which generates propositions, as well as tautologies and
contradictions. The latter are the limiting cases of the application of
the general rule. Propositions, tautologies and contradictions all
satisfy the general propositional form, in a way which will be
explained later. Language and logic are unified via the general rule
they are of the same nature. To draw a limit to language is to give
prominence to the general rule by establishing the logical syntax of
a particular language. (The fact that the Tractatus understands logical
syntax in this way can be seen from TLP 3.344 and 6.124.TLP 6.124
says that [i]f we know the logical syntax of any sign-language, then
we have already been given all the propositions of logic. Logical
syntax gives prominence to the general rule governing the formation of logical propositions. TLP 3.344 says that [w]hat signifies in
a symbol is what is common to all symbols that the rules of logical
syntax allow us to substitute for it. Then logical syntax also gives
prominence to the general rule of language which governs the formation of symbols capable of signifying. One may say, for the Trac-

16. Tautologies and contradictions are unsubstantial point in the centre and outer
limit, respectively (TLP 5.143; also see TLP 4.466). Elementary propositions are
propositions and thus cannot constitute the limits of language. Pears taking elementary propositions as the inner limits of language in his book Wittgenstein (1997:
678) is incorrect.
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tatus, language and logic are unified via logical syntax.) A limit can
be drawn to language because grasping the general rule fixes not
only the totality of propositions but also their limits logical propositions (tautologies) and contradictions. Drawing a limit to language
is logical, and its possibility demands the unity of language and logic.
It is the crucial point of the Tractarian idea of drawing a limit to
language that the general rule, or the general propositional form,
cannot just determine propositions but also tautologies (logical
propositions) and contradictions. Given the truth-functionality of
tautologies and contradictions, such unity of language and logic can
be expressed as that the general form of proposition is the general
form of the combinations (applications) of logical operations, and
vice versa. This is the thesis that the general propositional form is
the sole logical constant. It amounts to saying that language and logic
are unified via the general propositional form or the general form of logical
operation. This is the unity of language and logic. (This also explains
why the thesis does not only demand that a non-elementary proposition must satisfy the general form of logical operation but also that
an elementary proposition must satisfy it as well. For if the general
form of elementary propositions is different from the general form
of logical operation, then there would be two different general rules
such that one governs the formation of elementary propositions,
while another the applications of logical operations. In that case, language and logic could not be unified.) Wittgenstein is true to his
proclaimed aim of the Tractatus and so does attempt to argue for the
thesis and hence the unity of language and logic.The Grundgedanke
in TLP 4.0312 and the picture theory are crucial to his argument.
The picture theory, as I shall explain, does not only account for the
nature of propositions but also the unity of language and logic. An
important task of the Tractatus is then the difficult one of explaining how an elementary proposition, which is an immediate combination of names, can satisfy the general form of logical operation.
With this remark, I shall now explain the basic structure of the argument for the thesis in the Tractatus.

3. The Grundgedanke and the Picture Theory


The thesis that the general propositional form is the sole logical constant actually consists of two parts: that there is the general propo 2006 The Author

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sitional form and that the general propositional form is the sole
logical constant. The Tractatus argument for the thesis employs the
picture theory17 in TLP 2.12.225 and 4.0114.016, the Grundgedanke
(or the thesis in TLP 4.0312 that logical constants are not representatives or do not denote), the existence of the sole fundamental operation
N introduced in TLP 5.5, which implies the unity of logical operation, and the analyticity thesis in TLP 5 (A proposition is a truthfunction of elementary propositions). Amongst those theses, what
play the crucial roles in the proof are the picture theory and the
Grundgedanke. The Grundgedanke and the unity of logical operation, in a way to be explained later, imply the existence of the
general propositional form. The key of the Tractatus proof of the
major claim that the general propositional form is the sole logical
constant is already contained in TLP 4.0213:
The possibility of propositions is based on the principle that
objects have signs as their representatives.
My fundamental idea [Grundgedanke] is that the logical constants are not representatives; that there can be no representatives
of the logic of facts.

Besides the Grundgedanke, the picture theory is also referred to in


TLP 4.0213 indirectly because what accounts for the dependence of
the possibility of a proposition on the principle of naming is exactly
the picture theory. To see that TLP 4.0213 is the key, note that the
Grundgedanke implies that a logical operation is independent of
the semantic content of any symbol, and this suggests that an operation is intrinsic to every elementary proposition. TLP 4.0312 also
says that the possibility of a proposition is based on the possibility
of naming. This further suggests that an operation is intrinsic to
naming. In fact, as one will see later, the Tractatus holds that an operation is intrinsic to naming in such a manner that the general rule
of logical operation is also the general rule of (the formation of )
propositions, that is, the general rule of language. The sole logical
constant, or the general form of logical operation, is then the general
propositional form. Of course, many details still need to be worked
17. The picture theory, as I see it, consists of an account of the notion of a picture
and how a picture depicts reality, mainly in TLP 2.12.225 and 4.0114.016, the
thesis in TLP 4.01 that a proposition is a picture of reality and the proof of the thesis
in TLP 4.024.021. In this paper, only those in TLP 2.12.225 and 4.0114.016 will
be considered, and they are taken as what constitute the picture theory.
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out, and I shall explain how the Tractatus works them out later. The
Tractatus employs the picture theory, the Grundgedanke, the existence
of N and the analyticity thesis to prove the thesis that the general
propositional form is the sole logical constant which, together with
the truth-functionality of logical necessity, implies the unity of language and logic. I already explained how the Tractatus proves the
Grundgedanke, the existence of N, the analyticity thesis and the
truth-functionality of logical necessity elsewhere.18 With the exception of the issue of the existence of N, I shall not repeat my explanation of the proofs here, nor shall I comment on them. One may
simply regard these four theses as what are presupposed in this paper.
The picture theory, however, will be explained in detail. In what
follows, I shall explain the Tractatus proof of the thesis that the
general propositional form is the sole logical constant. I shall begin
with the clarification of the notions of the sole logical constant and
the general propositional form in the next two sections.

4. N and the Unity of Logical Operation


What is the sole logical constant? The Tractarian system of logic, as
it is well known, has N as its sole fundamental operation. N is introduced in TLP 5.5 as (-----T)(, . . .), where what is inside the righthand pair of brackets represents an unordered collection of
propositions, and the row in the left-hand pair of brackets indicates
that in the last column of the truth-table expression all but the last
one are F (TLP 4.442 and 5.5). It is also written as N( ), where
is a variable whose values are terms of the bracketed expression
and the bar over the variable indicates that it is the representative of
all its values in the brackets (TLP 5.501).19 The sole logical constant, however, does not symbolize N. In TLP 5.472, the sole logical
constant is also called the one and only general primitive sign in
logic. It is then advisable to see what a general primitive logical sign
18. In Cheung (1999), I explain and comment on the two proofs of the
Grundgedanke in the Tractatus. I also explain in Cheung (2000) how N functions
as the sole fundamental operation in the Tractarian system, and in Cheung (2004)
how the Tractatus derives the analyticity thesis and the truth-functionality of logical
necessity from the thesis that a proposition shows its sense.
19. I have dealt with the issue of the expressive capability of N elsewhere. For details,
see Cheung (2000).
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is in the first place. The Tractatus holds that the real general primitive signs are not p q, ( x).fx, etc. but the most general form
of their combinations (TLP 5.46). A general primitive sign is then
the most general form of the combinations of a logical sign. If a
system has a single fundamental operation, then all operations are
unified via the general form of the combinations of the sole fundamental operation the general form of logical operation, as
described in TLP 6.01, or what is in common to all operations. In
that case, there is the one and only one general primitive logical sign
the sole logical constant. The sole logical constant is not really a
logical constant but what symbolizes the most general form of logical
operation.Thus, with respect to the Tractarian system, instead of symbolizing the sole fundamental operation N, the sole logical constant
symbolizes the general form of the combinations of N. The sole logical
constant, or the general form of logical operation, is given by
the general term of a formal series20 [ , , N( )], as in TLP 6.01.
([ , , N( )] symbolizes the form of the result of a certain number
of successive applications of N to a subset ( ) of the base ( ).) The
thesis that the general propositional form is the sole logical constant
can then be formulated as follows: The general propositional form is
[ , , N( )].
The above also shows that the Tractatus upholds the unity of
logical operation. To see this, note that, according to the analyticity
thesis, a proposition can be analyzed into a truth-function of elementary propositions. An elementary proposition is an immediate
combination of names, and names are referential primitive symbols
(TLP 3.23.203 and 3.206). An immediate combination of the
meanings of names, or objects, is called a state of affairs (TLP 2.01
and 2.03). The determinate way that objects are connected to one
another in a state of affairs is the structure, whose possibility is the
form, of the state of affairs (TLP 2.0322.033). In general, the Tractatus seems to call a determinate way of combination a structure,
and a possibility of structure, or a combinatorial possibility, a form.
For instance, an object has a form which is the possibility of its
occurring in states of affairs (TLP 2.0141). A possible state of affairs
also has a form and, if exists, has a structure. A fact is the existence

20. For a discussion of the Tractarian notion of formal series, see Cheung (2000:
2514).
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of states of affairs (TLP 2) and thus has a form and a structure. A


propositional sign is a fact, and its form is the possibility of its constituent signs standing in the determinate relation to one another
(TLP 3.14). A name also has a form which is its possibility of occurring in elementary propositions. The description [ , , N( )] then
gives prominence to a form or a combinatorial possibility. Moreover,
a form, as a combinatorial possibility, determines a rule. Thus, the sole
logical constant does not only symbolize the general form of logical
operation but also a rule which may be called the general rule of
logical operation. This explains why, in TLP 5.4s which, amongst
other things, aim to symbolize the sole logical constant,Wittgenstein
writes that . . . it is not a question of a number of primitive ideas
that have to be signified, but rather of the expression of a rule (TLP
5.476). The sole logical constant symbolizes both the general form
of logical operation and the general rule of an operation. Hence, the
Tractatus upholds and argues for the unity of logical operation. The existence of the sole fundamental operation N enables the unification
of logical operations via the general form of the combinations of N,
that is, via the sole logical constant.

5. The General Propositional Form


Let me now turn to the notion of the general propositional form.
Amongst various passages in the Tractatus,TLP 4.5 tells us most about
the general propositional form:
It now seems possible to give the most general propositional form:
that is, to give a description of the propositions of any signlanguage whatsoever in such a way that every possible sense can be
expressed by a symbol satisfying the description, and every symbol
satisfying the description can express a sense, provided that the
meanings of the names are suitably chosen.
It is clear that only what is essential to the most general propositional form may be included in its description for otherwise
it would not be the most general form.
The existence of a general propositional form is proved by the
fact that there cannot be a proposition whose form could not have
been foreseen (i.e. constructed). The general propositional form of
a proposition is: This is how things are [Es verhlt sich so und so].

At least four important points can be gathered from this passage.The


first point is that there is a proof of the existence of the general
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propositional form in the Tractatus. I shall explain the proof in the


next section.The second point is that the general propositional form
governs the formation of symbols capable of expressing sense. The
general propositional form then completely determines the general
rule which produces propositions, that is, the general rule of language. Since a form, as a combinatorial possibility, determines a rule,
this is not a surprising claim. If there is the general propositional
form, that is, if all propositional forms share a common general form,
then there is also the general rule of language. In other words, the
general propositional form characterizes the general rule of language
completely. The general rule of language is the general rule mentioned in TLP 4.0144.0141 and is, as already pointed out before,
also presented by logical syntax. The third point is that the general
propositional form, and thus logical syntax, is independent of the
specific content of the meanings correlated with names (TLP 3.33).
The fourth point, which is of immediate relevance here, is that,
besides being what is shared by all propositional forms, the general
propositional form can be given by a description. In the Tractatus,
descriptions can be many things. A description of a complex can be
right or wrong (TLP 3.24) and thus is a proposition. However, TLP
5.501 mentions three different kinds of descriptions of the terms of
the bracketed expression in N( ), none of which is a proposition. I
suggest taking the pragmatic move in regarding a description as an
expression employed to give prominence to what it is a description of. Now
one can gather at least four descriptions of the general propositional
form from the Tractatus.
(1) The general propositional form is: Es verhlt sich so und so (TLP
4.5).
(2) The general propositional form is a variable (TLP 4.53).
(3) The general propositional form is [ p, , N( )] (TLP 6).
(4) The general propositional form is given by the expression
[ , , N( )] or, simply, is [ , , N( )] (TLP 5.475.472
and 66.01).
I shall explain what (1) and (2) mean and how the Tractatus proves
them later. (3) follows from the analyticity thesis directly. The
focus here is, of course, on (4) because it is another formulation
of the thesis that the general propositional form is the sole logical
constant. Note that [ p, , N( )] in (3) does not bring out the
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(formal) content of the general propositional form completely


because p does not characterize the general form of elementary
proposition. It is not a desirable description, especially when the
concern here is the relation between language and logic, or between
an elementary proposition and logical operations, that it surely
cannot bring forth. However, if there is a complete description of
the general form of elementary proposition, then the replacement of
p in [ p, , N( )] by such a description would give rise to a complete description of the general propositional form. (The latter, as
one will see, is actually [ , , N( )].) This suggests that the first
step towards explaining how the Tractatus proves the thesis that the
general propositional form is the sole logical constant, or (4), is to
find out from the Tractatus a complete description of the general
form of elementary proposition.
6. The Grundgedanke, Logical Operation and the General
Propositional Form
The Tractatus attempts to prove that there is the general propositional
form in TLP 4.5:
. . . The existence of a general propositional form is proved by the
fact that there cannot be a proposition whose form could not have
been foreseen (i.e. constructed).

Presumably, the argument here is that if every proposition can be


constructed according to a unified plan, then there is a general rule
producing propositions and hence there is the general propositional
form. Is there such a unified plan? Because of the analyticity thesis,
the case of non-elementary propositions would be straightforward,
once it is proven that there is a unified plan for the construction of
elementary propositions. The problem is then to prove that there is
such a unified plan for elementary propositions, or that there is the
general form of elementary proposition. The Tractatus does not state
the proof explicitly. However, as I shall explain now, in fact, the
Grundgedanke and the unity of logical operation via the sole fundamental operation N entail that there is the general form of elementary proposition.
The Grundgedanke implies that a logical operation, or what a
logical constant symbolizes, is independent of the semantic content
of any symbol. This, in turn, implies that:
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(5) An operation is completely determined by what is common to


all its possible bases the general form of its possible bases
and the specific difference between the form of its result and the
form of its base.
The Tractatus does not state (5). But one can see from the list of
characteristics of an operation gathered from the text that Wittgenstein does hold it. Here is the list: [i] Propositions and only propositions can be the base of an operation (TLP 5.24 and 5.515). [ii]
The result of an operation must share the constituent forms of its
base (TLP 5.24). [iii] An operation cannot characterize any propositional form. It can only characterize a specific difference between
propositional forms, that is, between the form of its result and the
constituent forms of its base (TLP 5.245.241 and 5.254).21 [iv]
Propositions can only occur in other propositions (in a nontrivial
manner) as the constituents of the bases of operations (TLP 5.54).
Note that [i][iv] imply that:
(6) A proposition can be expressed as the result of an application of
an operation to a finite set of other propositions if and only if,
first, it shares the forms of the other propositions, and, second,
there is a specific difference between its form and the forms of
the other propositions.
This amounts to saying that an operation is completely determined
by the general form of all its possible bases and the specific difference between the form of its result and the form of its base, that is,
(5). It is then reasonable to think that the Tractatus holds (5). It should
be noted that (5) does not assert that there is something common
to all the possible bases of an operation. What it does assert is that,
first, if there is nothing common to all the possible bases of an operation, then the operation is completely determined by the specific
formal difference between its result and its base. Second, if there is
no specific formal difference between the result and the base of an
operation, then the operation is completely determined by what is
21. Pears and McGuinness translate Die Operation kennzeichnet keine Form . . .
(TLP 5.241) as An operation is not a mark of a form . . ., while Ogden as The
operation does not characterize a form. I follow Ogden here in rendering kennzeichnen as characterize.
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common to all its possible bases. In that case, the existence of such
an operation implies the existence of the general form of all its possible bases.
Now the unity of logical operation via the sole fundamental
operation N, together with (5), implies this:
(7) Every operation is completely determined by what is common
to all the possible bases of N and the specific formal difference
between its result and its bases.
For the Tractatus, N can only have elementary propositions and their
truth-functions to be the constituents of its possible bases. It follows
that:
(8) Every operation is completely determined by what is common
to all elementary propositions, that is, the general form of elementary proposition, and the specific formal difference between
its result and its base.
Similar to the case of (5), (8) does not assert the existence of the
general form of elementary proposition.What it does assert, amongst
other things, is that if there is no specific formal difference between the
result and the base of an operation, then there is the general form of elementary proposition and the operation is completely determined by the general
form of elementary proposition. It is not difficult to see that NN is such
an operation. To see this, note that:
(9) For any , N[NN( )] = N( ).
The proof of (9) is very simple. Since N( ) contains no free variables, N[NN( )] = NN[N( )] = N( ). Hence, N[NN( )] = N( ).
It follows from (9) that
(10) From the point of view of being the base of an operation,
NN( ) can be seen as being equivalent to ( ).
This means that there is no specific formal difference between the
result and the base of NN. Two important conclusions can be drawn
here. The first one is that, by (8), there is the general form of elementary proposition. Of course, there is NN because there is N. So
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the existence of the sole fundamental operation N guarantees the


existence of the general form of elementary proposition. Because
there is the general form of elementary proposition, given the analyticity thesis, there must be the general propositional form. So the
existence of N, or, rather, that of NN, provides a unified plan according to which a proposition can be constructed and thus there cannot
be a proposition whose form could not have been foreseen or constructed. With this, I have explained how a proof of the existence of
a general propositional form can be constructed from the
Grundgedanke and the unity of logical operation via N.
The second conclusion is that, since there is no specific formal
difference between the result and the base of NN, by (8), NN is
completely determined by the general form of elementary proposition. This means that the operation NN is intrinsic to every elementary
proposition. This is an important step towards the proof of the claim
that the general propositional form is the sole logical constant. The
key is to explain the intrinsic relation between the application of an
operation and an elementary propositions saying something about
reality. The Tractatus, as I shall explain later, employs the picture
theory to completely characterize the nature of an elementary
proposition (and thus the nature of the general propositional form)
in terms of NN, and then to explain why the general propositional
form is [ , , N( )], or (4). The crucial idea of the picture theory
is also that NN is intrinsic to every elementary proposition and, in
fact, to naming.

7. The Picture Theory: A Proposition is a Picture of Reality


Having explained why Wittgenstein thinks there is the general
propositional form, let me now turn to the issue of a complete characterization of the general propositional form. I shall begin with the
special case of elementary propositions. Given the analyticity thesis,
a proposition can be analyzed into a truth-function of elementary
propositions. An elementary proposition, as already mentioned, is an
immediate combination of names. Names are referential primitive
symbols, whose meanings (Bedeutungen) are objects. An immediate
combination of objects (meanings of names) is a state of affairs. It is
the major claim of the picture theory that [a] proposition is a picture
of reality (TLP 4.01). A picture depicts reality by representing a
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possibility of existence and non-existence of a state of affairs (TLP


2.201). In particular, an elementary proposition depicts reality, or presents the existence of a state of affairs, by representing the possibility of the state of affairs (TLP 4.211). But how does the picture
theory account for an elementary propositions depicting reality? TLP
4.0312 states that the possibility of propositions is based on the principle of naming, and this indicates where the essentials of the account
are to be found. In fact, as I am going to explain, the picture theory
accounts for a pictures depicting reality via the element-objectcorrelation or, in the special case of an elementary proposition, via
naming. (This of course should not be taken to be implying that
naming is independent of picturing because Wittgenstein also
emphasizes the dependence of naming on the relevant propositional
context in TLP 3.3. What is at stake here is not whether naming is
independent of picturing, which is not, but how picturing is constituted by naming.)
A picture, according to the Tractatus, is a fact (TLP 2.141), and
thus has a form and a structure. Indeed, the forms of its elements
constitute its form. A fact is made into a picture when its form
becomes a pictorial form:
The fact that the elements of a picture are related to one another
in a determinate way represent that things are related to one
another in the same way.
Let me call this connexion of its elements the structure of the
picture, and let us call the possibility of this structure the pictorial form of the picture. (TLP 2.15)

In a picture, the fact that its elements are related to one another presents that objects22 are related to one another in the same determinate way. That is, the form of a fact becomes a pictorial form when
the fact presents the existence of a state of affairs sharing the same
form. How is this possible? By correlating objects with the constituent elements, that is, by establishing a pictorial relationship, in a
certain manner:
That is how a picture is attached to reality; it reaches right out to
it.
It is laid against reality like a measure.

22. It is clear from the content of TLP 2.1512.1515 that things here can be taken
as objects.
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Only the end-points of the graduating lines actually touch the


object that is to be measured.
So a picture, conceived in this way, also includes the pictorial
relationship, which makes it into a picture.
The pictorial relationship consists of the correlations of the
pictures elements with things.
These correlations are, as it were, the feelers of the pictures
elements, with which the picture touches reality. (TLP
2.15112.1515)

Here, a picture is seen as a measure laid against reality in such a


manner that [o]nly the end-points of the graduating lines actually
touch the object that is to be measured. The talk of measure and
the graduating lines here is to emphasize the fact that the form of
a picture, as a measure, presents this constraint:
[*] Only objects having the same form as that of a constituent
element of a picture can be correlated with the element.
The constraint [*] is set up by the forms of the elements of a picture.
It ensures that the objects correlated to be able to produce a state
of affairs of the same form as the picture. In other words, it guarantees the possibility of a pictures representing a state of affairs sharing its
form. One may also say, the form of a picture, which is constituted
by the forms of its elements, acts as a constraint ensuring that only
a state of affairs of the same form can be represented.
The constraint [*] is actually the only constraint that the correlation of objects with elements, or the establishment of a pictorial
relationship, must be subject to. The fact that the Tractatus does hold
this is supported by TLP 3.315:
If we turn a constituent of a proposition into a variable, there is
a class of propositions all of which are values of the resulting variable proposition. In general, this class too will be dependent on
the meaning that our arbitrary conventions have given to parts of
the original proposition. But if all the signs in it that have arbitrarily determined meanings are turned into variables, we shall still
get a class of this kind. This one, however, is not dependent on
any convention, but solely on the nature of the proposition. It corresponds to a logical form a logical prototype.

The main point here is clearly applicable to the case of a picture,


although it refers to the particular case of a proposition. Note that
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ables, the meanings of signs are said to be arbitrarily determined.


The point is, of course, not that an element of a picture can correlate with any object without being subject to any constraint, as the
form of the picture is also emphasized here. Rather, the point is that,
given the constraint [*] that only objects having the same form as
the form of an element can be correlated with the element, an
element can correlate with any object. One may say, the form of an
element, or the constraint [*], sorts out objects sharing its form as
the candidates, and the object-element-correlation is simply arbitrarily correlating with the element an object from the candidates.
Therefore, the establishment of a pictorial relationship consists in
picking out objects from those sorted out by the forms of the elements of the relevant picture such that the form of the picture is
instantiated. Depicting is the instantiation of the form of a picture, and the
instantiation consists in arbitrarily correlating with the elements of the picture
objects from the candidates determined by the constraint [*] set up by the
forms of the constituent elements.

8. The Picture Theory: Naming and the Existential Quantifier


Naming is conferring semantic content to a name.This, as conceived
by the Tractatus, consists in correlating an object with a name as its
meaning in the nexus of an elementary proposition (TLP 3.3) or, in
general, in the context of depicting. Depicting is the presentation of
the existence of a state of affairs by means of the instantiation of the
form of a picture, and the instantiation consists in arbitrarily correlating with the constituent elements objects from those sorted out
by the form of the picture. Thus, naming is the instantiation of the form
of a name, and the instantiation consists in arbitrarily picking out an object
as the meaning of the name from those objects sorted out by the form of the
name. It follows as a corollary that naming involves the application of the
existential quantifier or NN! More precisely, naming involves the application of the existential quantifier or NN to pick out an unspecified object, as the meaning of the relevant name, from those sorted
out by the form of the name. Another formulation of the corollary
is that the existential quantifier is intrinsic to naming. Since a propositional variable shows a form and its values signify those objects
sorted out by the form (TLP 4.127), the corollary can also be put
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tential quantifier to a propositional variable such that objects are


arbitrarily correlated with names as their meanings from those
objects signified by the values of the propositional variable. In fact,
naming involves both the application of the existential quantifier and
the stipulation of a constant as the name of the object picked out
by the existential quantifier. In naming, while an unspecified object
is arbitrarily picked out by the existential quantifier from those
objects sorted out by the relevant propositional variable, a constant
is at the same time given to the object as its name.The latter is symbolized by putting the identity sign between a name and a variable
name, where the latter symbolizes the pseudo-concept object (TLP
4.1272).
Let me explain the above by an example. Consider, without loss
of generality, the elementary proposition fa, where f and a are
names. fa, as a picture, asserts the existence of a state of affairs via
the instantiation of its form by arbitrarily correlating with f and a
objects from those sorted out by the form of the picture. Employing the propositional variable x obtained by turning the names f
and a in fa into variables, the naming of f and a in fa can be
seen as the application of the existential quantifier or NN to x such that
objects are arbitrarily correlated with f and a as their meanings
from those signified by the values of x, respectively. (Note that a
value of x, say, fa signifies the objects f and a.) The essentials
involved here can be given prominence by (, x).x. = f.x = a,
which is an equivalent formulation of fa. The presence of the existential quantifier and the identity sign symbolize the arbitrary
picking of the unspecified objects f and a by means of the form
symbolized by x and the stipulation of constants (names), that is,
f and a to the objects f and a, respectively. This explains why fa
is equivalent to (, x).x. = f.x = a. Of course, if only the naming
of a in fa is focused on, the nature of naming by a in fa can be
given prominence in the formulation (x).fx.x = a, just as the Tractatus does in TLP 5.47:
. . . An elementary proposition really contains all logical operations
in itself. For fa says the same thing as

( x).fx.x = a.
Wherever there is compositeness, argument and function are
present, and where these are present, we already have all the logical
constants . . .
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Another piece of textual evidence is TLP 5.441, according to which


the vanishing of apparent logical constants in propositions also occurs
in the case of ( x).fx.x = a, which says the same as fa. This, of
course, does not imply that fa does not involve the logical operations symbolized by those logical constants. But, just as TLP 5.47
attempts to say, although the existential quantifier, as the sign of an
operation, in (x).fx.x = a is dispensable (as the proposition can be
formulated as fa), the existential quantifier, as an operation, is still
contained in fa. How can this be the case? I think the best explanation is that the application of the existential quantifier, as an operation, belongs to the naming of a in fa in the way described above.
It is in this manner that the existential quantifier is intrinsic to fa.
The existential quantifier in an elementary proposition does not bind propositions together but belongs to the signifying relation between names and
objects. With this, I have explained how the picture theory accounts
for the insight in TLP 4.0312 that the possibility of propositions is
based on the principle of naming, and how the existential quantifier is intrinsic to naming and thus to every elementary proposition.

9. The General Form of Elementary Proposition is NN( )


I am now going to argue that, and explain how, the picture theory
demonstrates that the general form of elementary proposition is
given by the expression NN( ), or that the general rule of elementary proposition is NN. The point of departure of a complete
characterization of the general form of elementary proposition is, for
the Tractatus, the form of reality. The Tractatus talks about the form
of reality in TLP 2.18.
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.

Since an elementary proposition asserts the existence of a state of


affairs (TLP 4.21), elementary propositions are what establish picturing relation with reality directly. The form of reality is what is
common to, shared by and intrinsic to all elementary propositions
and reality. But this by itself does not imply that there is the form
of reality. The Tractatus, as already explained, argues for the existence
of the general propositional form and, in particular, the general form
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of elementary proposition. For the Tractatus, the existence of the


general form of elementary proposition proves that there is the form
of reality, but not vice versa.The form of reality, however, is the point
of departure of a complete characterization of the general form of
elementary proposition. For the form of reality is what is the most
general concerning reality.
Consider, without loss of generality, fa, or its equivalent
(, x).x. = f.x = a, again. The proposition (, x).x, or
NN( x), is in fact a description of the general form of a value of
x, that is, a description of what is common to all values of x. This
can be seen in two ways. Recall that an important point has been
gathered from TLP 4.5 according to which the general propositional
form is taken as something independent of the specific content of
meanings correlated with names. The first way is then to ignore the
specific names, or, so to speak, the particularity of the naming relations, symbolized by = f and x = a in (, x).x. = f.x = a.
In other words, what = f and x = a in (, x).x. = f.x = a
symbolize are irrelevant to the general form of a value of the propositional variable x, of which fa is one of the values. The second
way is by seeing that any value of x entails (, x).x. That is, if
fa, gb, . . . etc., are values of x, then fa (, x).x, gb (,
x).x, . . . etc. In either way, the proposition (, x).x is a description of the general form of a value of x. Since NN( x) is equivalent to (, x).x, NN( x) is a description of a value of x.
Moreover, as explained in detail in TLP 3.3143.315, especially in
TLP 3.315 which was quoted in Section 7, a propositional variable
like x is a variable giving prominence to a combinatorial possibility, that is, to a specific logical form. Recall that, according to the
Tractatus, there is the form of reality common to all specific logical
forms, and that the form of reality is what is the most general concerning reality.To symbolize the general form of reality, a single variable, say, , alone is enough. Hence, the proposition NN( ) is a
complete description of the general form of elementary proposition.
One may say, the general form of elementary proposition is NN( ).
NN is then the general rule of (the formation of) an elementary
proposition.
I have explained in Section 6 how the thesis that NN is intrinsic to every elementary proposition follows from the Grundgedanke
as a corollary. The inference from the Grundgedanke, however, does
not provide an account of how NN is intrinsic to every elementary
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proposition. This is probably one of the reasons why the Tractatus


does not seem to take the latter as a corollary to the Grundgedanke,
but, rather, as a corollary to the picture theory. In fact, as it is now
proven, the Tractatus holds the following stronger thesis:
(11) The operation NN is intrinsic to naming (against the background of picturing) and thus to every elementary proposition.
Unlike the Grundgedanke, the picture theory also accounts for the
essential role that NN plays in naming and thus in an elementary
propositions depicting reality. The general form of elementary
proposition is NN( ). NN, or the existential quantifier, is intrinsic
to naming, that is, (11), and thus to every elementary proposition.
The, so to speak, containing of NN in an elementary proposition
is internal, as the way that internal is used in TLP 4.123, or as what
I mean by intrinsic, or as that without which the elementary proposition could not have been an elementary proposition in the first
place. This explains how, and in what way, NN is intrinsic to every
elementary proposition.
10. [ , , N( )], Es Verhlt Sich So und So and the General
Propositional Form
It is now easy to see how the Tractatus proves (1), (2) and (4), or that
the general propositional form is: Es verhlt sich so und so, that the
general propositional form is a variable, and that the general propositional form is [ , , N( )] a formulation of the thesis that the
general propositional form is the sole logical constant, respectively.
Let me begin with (1), the key is the picture theory or what is exemplified in the case of the equivalents fa and (,x).x. = f.x = a.
(, x).x, or NN( x), as already explained, is the general form
of a value of x. To say what the Tractatus would consider ineffable,
(, x).x describes how one thing is connected (verhlten) to
another thing in a determinate way whose possibility is shown in
x. Another way of giving prominence to what NN( x) does is
then Es verhlt sich so und so als x, which is another description
of the general form of a value of x. Moreover, NN( ), as already
explained, is a description of the general form of elementary propo 2006 The Author

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sition. Similarly, another formulation of NN( ) is Es verhlt sich so


und so als , which is a complete description of the general form
of elementary proposition. Note that the analyticity thesis entails that
a proposition directs how reality is to be depicted by means of its
constituent elementary propositions and the relevant logical operations. In the case of a non-elementary proposition, what directs its
depiction of reality consists in two things, namely, the general form
of elementary proposition and the general form of logical operation.
The variable in Es verhlt sich so und so als cannot be left out
when the general form of elementary proposition is what is to be
described. No variable other than so und so is needed, however, if
the general propositional form, or the general form of all propositions, is to be described. For what is at stake here is the most general
logical form and not just the logico-propositional form of an elementary proposition, nor just the logical form of reality. As a result,
this explains why the Tractatus takes Es verhlt sich so und so as a
description of the general propositional form.
To understand the thesis that the general propositional form is a
variable, that is, (2), the notions of constant and variable need to be
considered first. For the Tractatus, an expression is . . . presented by
means of the general form of the propositions that it characterizes.
In fact, in this form the expression will be constant and everything
else variable. Thus an expression is presented by means of a variable
whose values are the propositions that contain the expression (TLP
3.3123.313). For example, the expression (name) a can be presented by the propositional form a whose values are propositions
in which a occurs. Here, is a variable and a a constant. The
general propositional form characterizes all propositions. Hence, a
complete expression of the general propositional form contains no
constant, as it is an expression of what is the most general. For
instance, the expressions of the general proposition form in the
descriptions Es verhlt sich so und so and [ , , N( )] contain no
constant. In the case of the description [ , , N( )], N is not a
constant because, according to the Grundgedanke, N does not
denote. In fact, the sign N is dispensable.23 An expression of the
general propositional form is, one may say, a limiting case of expressions. It contains no constant and thus can be identified with a vari23. See Cheung (1999: 4027).

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able. This explains why the Tractatus says that the general propositional form is a variable.
It is now not difficult to understand (4), or the thesis that the
general propositional form is [ , , N( )], and why the Tractatus
holds (4). Recall that, as pointed out in Section 5, [ p, , N( )] in
(3) is an incomplete description of the general propositional form
because the general form of elementary proposition has not been
fully characterized. It has now been proven that NN( ) is a complete description of the general form of elementary proposition. And
one should not overlook the fact that NN( ) is a special case of
[ , , N( )]. Hence, the general form of proposition elementary
or non-elementary is given by the description [ , , N( )]. As a
result,the general propositional form is [ , , N( )], which is also
the general form of logical operation. The general rule of logical
operation, symbolized by [ , , N( )] or [ , N( )] (TLP 6.01), is
actually the general rule of language, and vice versa. This explains
how the Tractatus understands [ , , N( )] as a complete description
of the general propositional form, as well as what the Tractatus holds
by claiming that the general propositional form is the sole logical
constant.
11. Language and Logic
I have now explained how, according to the Tractatus, an elementary
proposition satisfies the general propositional form [ , , N( )],
which is also the general form of logical operation. This, together
with the analyticity thesis, also explains how a proposition satisfies
the general propositional form. It remains to explain how the propositions of logic (and contradictions) satisfy the general propositional
form. The Tractatus denies that logical propositions are propositions.
Then what needs to be answered is really this: How can logical
propositions satisfy the general propositional form and yet they do
not belong to language (propositions)? Or, how can logical propositions be products of applying the general rule of language, which
is also the general rule of logical operation, and yet fail to express
sense?
Let me begin by explaining how the Tractatus excludes logical
propositions or tautologies from propositions or pictures of reality.
Consider TLP 4.462:
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Tautologies and contradictions are not pictures of reality. They do


not represent any possible situations. For the former admit all possible situations, and latter none.
In a tautology the conditions of agreement with the world
the representational relations cancel one another, so that it does
not stand in any representational relation to reality.

The crucial point here is that because a tautology admits all possible situations, the representational relations cancel one another. This
means that no meaning can be suitably chosen for its constituent
signs or, so to speak, names, even though before the relevant propositions are combined to yield the tautology the constituent names of
the propositions have been given meanings in other propositional
contexts.Therefore, a tautology cannot express a sense, that is, cannot
picture any state of affair, and thus is not a proposition.24,25
Logical propositions still satisfy the general propositional form. (It
is because, first, tautologies are products of applying logical operations to elementary propositions, second, elementary propositions
satisfy the general proposition form and, third, the general form of
logical operation is the general propositional form.) But how can
tautologies satisfy the general propositional form and yet they are
not propositions? It is a misunderstanding to think the Tractatus holds
that whatever satisfies the general propositional form must be a
proposition. Consider once again the characterization of the general
propositional form in TLP 4.5:
24. I would like to thank Laurence Goldstein for keeping on reminding me that,
for the Tractatus, tautologies and contradictions are not propositions. For his view and
argument, see, for example, Goldstein (1999: 14855).
25. If tautologies are not propositions, why does Wittgenstein talk about the truth
of tautologies in entries like TLP 4.461 (unconditionally true) and TLP 4.464 ([its]
truth is certain)? The answer is that the Tractatus also employs what I would call a
schematic way of talking about tautologies (and contradictions). In TLP 4.4s, he
refers to Ln different groups of truth-conditions (TLP 4.45) and talks about Ln ways
in which a proposition can agree and disagree with their truth-possibilities schematically, and then dismisses two of the Ln ways from propositions on the ground that
one is true and one false, respectively, for all the truth possibilities of the relevant
elementary propositions, and thus do not represent any possible situation at all (TLP
4.464.463). In the schematic context of truth-functional logic, tautologies can be
seen as groups of truth-conditions and can be said to be true for all the truth possibilities of the relevant elementary propositions. By this, he does not mean that a
tautology is true in the same way that a proposition is true, where the latter is defined
via the agreement with reality and in virtue of being a picture (TLP 2.21 and 4.06).
It is merely a schematic manner of speaking that a tautology is said to be true,
unconditionally true (TLP 4.461) and that its truth is said to be certain (TLP 4.464).
This does not contradict the claim that tautologies are not propositions.
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. . . to give the most general propositional form [is] . . . to give a
description of the propositions of any sign-language whatsoever in
such a way that every possible sense can be expressed by a symbol
satisfying the description, and every symbol satisfying the description can express a sense, provided that the meanings of the names
are suitably chosen.

The last clause is important. A symbol satisfying the general propositional form can express a sense, and thus is a proposition, provided that
meanings can be suitably chosen for its constituent names.Tautologies (and
contradictions) are exactly those symbols such that meanings cannot
be chosen for their constituent signs. But they still fit the characterization of the general propositional form in TLP 4.5. So, they satisfy
the general propositional form, even though they are not propositions. They are still products of the application of the general rule of
language.This explains why they are senseless (Sinnlos) but not nonsensical (Unsinnig) (TLP 4.461).Whatever satisfies the general propositional form, that is, all that is well-formed, cannot be nonsensical. A
tautology is part of the symbolism much is 0 is part of the symbolism of arithmetic (TLP 4.4611). One may say, a tautology has no
content just as 0 has no integral content, as shown by cases like p v
tautology p and a + 0 = a. A tautology still serves certain function
in the symbolism just like 0 in arithmetic.
In a way, however, the function is residual. Since a tautology fails
to represent reality, its function confines to what its structure shows.
Its form, that is, the possibility of its structure (TLP 2.033), cannot
be any specific form but the general propositional form. For, otherwise, it would not be admitting all possible situations.Thus, its structure is exactly the actualization of the general propositional form.
Hence, what its structure shows is already shown by any proposition
which, like tautologies, satisfies the general propositional form. This
explains why Wittgenstein says that [t]he fact that a tautology is
yielded by this particular way of connecting its constituents characterizes the logic of its constituents (TLP 6.2), and that we can actually do without logical propositions; for in a suitable notation we
can in fact recognize the formal properties of propositions by mere
inspection of the propositions themselves (TLP 6.122). Tautologies
are dispensable. Nevertheless, even though they are residual, tautologies are generated by the general rule of language. They do not say
but, like any other propositions, they are products of the general rule
of language.
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Leo K. C. Cheung

49

Both logical propositions and propositions are results of applying


the general rule of language or the general rule of logical operation.
For the Tractatus, saying, or picturing, is applying logical operations,
though applying logical operations need not be picturing. The
exceptional cases are logical propositions (and contradictions).
Logical propositions are products of the general rule of language and
yet they do not say anything about the world because of their having
the most general form of propositions. It is in this way that one
should see them as the limiting cases (TLP 4.466) or belonging to
the limits of language. Products of the general rule of language either
lie within or on the limits of language.Whatever lie within the limits
are propositions, while whatever on the limits logical propositions
(tautologies) and contradictions. They all satisfy the general propositional form.Whatever does not satisfy the general propositional form
is nonsensical. The Tractatus would not, and could not, say what the
nonsensical signs are. It is enough to know what lie within and what
lie on the limits of language. In fact, just knowing what lie within
the limits of language is enough. For the limits of language are determined from within by the totality of propositions.
The possibility of drawing limits to language depends on the unity
of language and logic, which in turn is guaranteed by the general
propositional forms being the sole logical constant. In this paper, I
have explained how, based on the Grundgedanke and the picture
theory, the Tractatus comes to the conclusion that the general propositional form, which is satisfied by elementary and non-elementary
propositions, is the sole logical constant.26

References
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26. This paper was completed while I was taking a half-year sabbatical leave from
Hong Kong Baptist University and visiting both Clare Hall and the Faculty of Philosophy of Cambridge University as visiting fellow and visiting scholar, respectively,
between January and July 2003. I am very grateful to their support. I would also
like to thank Laurence Goldstein and Peter Hacker for their suggestions and comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
2006 The Author

50

Philosophical Investigations

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Department of Religion and Philosophy
Hong Kong Baptist University
Kowloon Tong
Hong Kong
kccheung@hkbu.edu.hk

2006 The Author