For my MA course on Wittgenstein earlier this year, students had to write a short essay, blog post-style, on the Tractatus. One of them, Joseph Wilcox, took up the challenge of asking what exactly it means to say that Wittgenstein's project in the Tractatus is essentially a Kantian project -- something I kept hammering on them relentlessly. (To me at least this seems like the best and perhaps the only way I can make sense of the Tractatus!) The result is the insightful post below. (Proud teacher here!)
By Joseph Wilcox
Wittgenstein [in the Tractatus] is a Kantian philosopher. Or so I'm told.
What exactly does it mean to say that someone is a Kantian philosopher? I always find it hard to grasp what is meant by such comparisons. Is it some fundamental belief that they share? Is it a field of thought that they both enter into? Is it a common goal that guides their thinking?
As often seems to be the case when it comes to philosophy, I am inclined to say that all the options must have some truth to them. In the case of Wittgenstein, however, I've been led to believe that it is the goal he sets out to achieve that forms the main connection between him and the lifework of his Prussian predecessor. What is it then, that both of these thinkers desire above everything else? The answer is to limit. To designate a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass. To place a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible. On first looking, this doesn't seem like a very encouraging, confident or even useful objective. Why in the world would we bother to spend our precious time thinking about that which we can't reach? Isn't it far more interesting to seek to pass over such borders? Isn't it more inspiring to think that the impossible can serve as a beacon to aspire to? Isn't the thought of placing limits a token of the kind of pessimism that might cause one to give up hope?