Modern, Postmodern, World

  • Michael Lang
Part of the Palgrave Advances book series (PAD)


In 1918, a decorated Austrian artillery officer called Ludwig Wittgenstein was taken prisoner by the Italian army. During his internment he completed one of the great philosophical works of the twentieth century, his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The slender volume ranged over a broad array of topics, but great attention was placed on the philosophy of language. In this early piece, Wittgenstein explored the difference between saying and showing. Like his logician colleagues, he believed that only the logical propositions of science could make clear sense, but unlike them, Wittgenstein argued that what cannot be said may nonetheless be shown. Linguistic propositions, for example, can represent reality, yet they cannot represent the operation of representation itself. That operation can never be described, though it is often referenced. Wittgenstein illuminated the limits of language and indicated an unspeakable realm beyond it. Offering a glimpse of the otherwise nonsensical, he concluded this work of numerically sequenced steps by proposing that the reader ‘must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it’.2 Wittgenstein later rejected much of what he had written under Italian guard, but his distinction between saying and showing endured. Yet for the academic work that premises itself on the logical ordering of statements, patterns and habits remain well grooved. The past weighs heavily on the present.


World History Historical Scholarship World Exhibition Historical Language Universal History 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Lang

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