Tractatus Translations

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 1/23/2014

The German expression ‘Tatsachen’ is rendered in both translations as ‘facts’, but the German expression ‘Sachverhaltes’ is translated in Ogden as ‘atomic facts’ and in the Pears and McGinnis as ‘states of affairs’. The philosophical cash value of the different treatments of ‘Sachverhaltes’ is that since atomic facts seem to be a subclass of facts, and since facts (whatever is the case) are of the actual world, Sachverhaltes are also of the actual world. This suggests that Wittgenstein’s ontology encompasses only what is actual and does not include merely possible facts. By rendering ‘Sachverhaltes’ as ‘states of affairs’, the Pears and McGinnis translation accommodates an understanding of Tractarian metaphysics according to which there are merely possible worlds, i.e. worlds composed of states of affairs, which are merely possible facts.

One complication is that Wittgenstein frequently talks of the existence and nonexistence (Bestehen and Nichtbestehen) of Sachverhalten. For example, 2.06 Das Bestehen und Nichtbestehen von Sachverhalten ist die Wirklichkeit. (Das Bestehen von Sachverhalten nennen wir also eine positive, das Nichtbestehen eine negative Tatsache) We may follow Black (1964, p. 39) and render Bestehen and Nichtbestehen in this context as the holding and non-holding states of affairs. Against the Ogden translation, it is natural to regard a “fact that doesn’t exist or doesn’t hold” as no fact at all.

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