Kenny describes the Tractatus: In the summer of '73, he was 42. We refer to Anthony Kenny, who wrote an "overall study" of Wittgenstein in that long-ago, distant year.
Kenny is a substantial figure; you can read a profile here. His book "will be of value not only to students of philosophy, but also to general readers." So said the dust jacket which was prepared by the Harvard University Press.
Early on, Kenny presented a first capsule account of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the book which defined, and still defines, the work of "the early Wittgenstein." The gentleman started in a way we'd describe as slightly odd:
KENNY (1973): The Tractatus was finished in August 1918...It was published in German in 1921, and shortly afterwards in German and English with an introduction by [Bertrand] Russell.Those were Kenny's first remarks about the early Wittgenstein's seminal book. Other than that, how did you like the Tractatus, Mrs. Lincoln?
The twenty thousand words of the Tractatus can be read in an afternoon, but few would claim to understand them thoroughly even after years of study. The book is not divided into chapters in the normal way, but consists of a series of numbered paragraphs, often containing no more than a single sentence. The two most famous are the first ('The world is all that is the case') and the last ('Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent'). Some of them have proved easier to set to music, or to illustrate in sculpture, than to paraphrase. The style of the paragraphs is concise and economical, devoid of decoration, sparing in examples. By comparing the text with the Notebooks and the Prototractatus we can see how Wittgenstein refined and refined his thought to the essential elements. The result is austerely beautiful, but uncommonly difficult to comprehend.
The greater part of the book is concerned with the nature of language and its relation to the world, Wittgenstein's major philosophical concern throughout his life. The central doctrine it conveys is the famous picture theory of meaning...
Admit it—these first remarks were slightly odd, and perhaps a tiny bit funny. According to Kenny, the following points were true about the early Wittgenstein's seminal work:
The book had been in print for fifty-four years, "but few would claim to understand [it] thoroughly."
Some of its numbered paragraphs were "easier to set to music...than to paraphrase." (For the record, that's probably true of every paragraph ever written, numbered or otherwise.)
On the brighter side, the book was said to be uncommonly beautiful. On the down side, it was "uncommonly difficult to comprehend." So said the major figure who was about to explain the book, even to general readers.
According to Kenny, the Tractatus conveyed a central doctrine, namely "the famous picture theory of meaning." In all honesty, this doctrine was and is famous is much the same way that the sun goes around the earth.
As of 1973, this is the way the upper-end philosophy world was discussing an early seminal work by an allegedly towering figure. We think an anthropology lesson may perhaps be lurking here. Nothing that we will show you tomorrow is going to make us think different.
Tomorrow: "Pictures in a literal sense"