Pictures and Nonsense

Mark Jago looks at Wittgenstein’s first theory of language, in the Tractatus. One of the conclusions of this theory is that the theory in the Tractatus is nonsense…

In this article I am going to describe Wittgenstein’s famous picture theory of language. The aim of this theory is to set out an account of what sentences mean and just as importantly, to give us a way of distinguishing sense from nonsense. The theory is found in Wittgenstein’s first book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which ranks as one of the hardest-to-read of all the great works of philosophy. It is an unusual book, written whilst Wittgenstein was serving in the Austrian army during the First World War and finished whilst he was a prisoner of war in Italy. It is remarkably short for a great work of philosophy; this is in part due to Wittgenstein's condensed writing style, which has put off many readers and confused a good number of philosophers.

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