Who Was Wittgenstein and Why Cross Him?
A German philosopher and logician, Ludwig Wittgenstein published a masterpiece in 1921 called Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. This monumental work strove to axiomatize logical understanding -- that is, to articulate in a hierarchical series of rules and principles the major ways in which humans understand their world.
An example of an axiom of his is "5.152 Propositions which have no truth-arguments in common with one another we call independent." The number refers to his system of listing postulates in hierarchical sequence. They begin with a primal set of seven major principles, each with sub-principles to varying levels of specificity. The major principle overriding postulate 5.152 is "5 Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions."
His work is as immense in its scope, as it is opaque in its verbiage. Yet the system espoused in the Tractatus is utterly self-consistent.
In his rather mathematical and quite formal tome, Wittgenstein laid the foundation of what would follow as the School of Logical Positivism -- a cadre of logicians and philosophers who would tout that human understanding in toto can be rendered in postulates and proof-statements. And herein lies one foundation for modern scientific thinking -- that we can enumerate, and thereby understand, the world.
In my early 20's I became aware that such an approach was simply inadequate to understanding the world. By "understanding" I admitted many forms of enlightenment -- scientific, yes, but also empathic, poetic, spiritual, Daoist, and esthetic. Each provides insight and knowledge of complementary sorts.
And here is where Wittgenstein and I parted company.
What This New Philosophy Will Do For Science and Understanding
In my 20's I embraced a holism of epistemology -- that the many forms of enlightenment can peaceably coexist with the scientific. Scientific understanding is immensely powerful in its ability to impart technology that works -- but it is not the only such approach.
By definition, nonscientific modes of knowing must break the foundations of science. They must admit to relations among seemingly unrelated events and circumstances, and to ways of understanding that cannot be rendered in quantitative form of strict logic and mathematical formulation.
Oh, but this does not say that anything goes. Far from it, I sought a rigor equal to that of the traditional Aristotelian, Cartesian science. None was to be found.
So I wrote one.
I began by postulating the nature of a philosophy and world view of relativism. Maybe I need to explain this first. Relativism is not a basis for making capricious and arbitrary statements. Rather, it is a strict basis for explaining how events and entities can commingle, interact at a distance, and mutually affect one another. Far from the unidirectional Cartesian axes of scientific analysis, relativism permits the observer (me) and the observed (you) to be mutually conditioning -- to mutually affect and be affected by our environment. In one sense, this is a wholly ecological approach, and indeed in a further exposition I extended this relativistic philosophy to a new science of ecology. But more on that for another time.
So I essentially rewrote Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Here, for the first time, is the full text of this new philosophy of relativism. For those familiar with, or who have access to, Wittgenstein's Tractatus, it should be useful to know that the major two levels of my hierarchies of postulates correspond in theme to his. So with the Tractatus in one hand, and this new treatise in the other, I leave it to you to decide which route you shall now follow.
Here We Go
I suggest that the following pieces be taken in sequence.
First, let's explore an introduction to the setting and philosophy and implications of Wittgenstein's Tractatus.
Then, compare the principal seven axioms of Wittgenstein's Tractatus with those of my New Relativism.
Next, you can read all the lower-level axioms of the New Relativism. (If you want to go right to the explanations and descriptions, skip this one and move on.)
And finally, read the annotations for all the axioms of the New Relativism.
And where to from here? As I mentioned, I have developed a form of this New Relativism for conducting my own professional inquiry of ecological science. But the use of this philosophy is as far-reaching as one cares to apply it.
And that is why, after all these years, I am passing this work on to the Web, the world, to you.
- b g marcot
9 June 1998
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