I was thinking about the Tractatus recently and came up with a question about it that I was unsure about the answer to. (This is not that hard to do really.) The question is whether Wittgenstein thinks that it is a logical impossibility that there could be no objects.

Why would one think that this is not an option that there could be no objects? In the 2’s, Wittgenstein talks about how there must be a substance to the world, and this substance is comprised of Tractarian objects. This makes it seem like it is not a logical possibility for there to be no objects. Granted, this would only be a logical possibility if the world were connected tightly to language or logic or if objects were similarly tightly connected to language. I’m not terribly comfortable with the 2’s, either alone or together with what comes later. Luckily, I don’t think that we need to appeal to them specifically in order to come up with an answer, which point I’ll get to below.

Why would one think that it is an option? In 5.453 Wittgenstein says: “All numbers in logic must be capable of justification. Or rather, it must become plain that there are no numbers in logic. There are no pre-eminent numbers.”
If it is a matter of logic that it is impossible for there to be no objects, this would seem to make zero a distinguished or pre-eminent number, which seems to be ruled out by the above. It might look like I’m running together objects and names, and all that logic will deal with is the names. In the Tractatus, however, every name designates an object.

Alternatively, one might ask why there must be at least one thing. Is this asking for logic to give a justification? Thinking about the way that the TLP is set up, it seems not. Rather, this issue is left implicit in the propositions. Propositions consist of concatenations of names. Names designate Tractarian objects. Thus, for there to be Tractarian propositions at all, there must be names and so objects. In order to be talking about logic at all, we must presuppose that there are at least some objects. It looks like the question of why there is something rather than nothing is barred from the outset, which is probably something that Wittgenstein would’ve approved of.

I do want to note that things are complicated with Tractarian claims about possibility. In TLP, the objects are the same in all possible worlds. Indeed, the possible worlds, if we want to use that language, are constituted by those things in various arrangements of facts. It seems like claims such as “there could have been more or fewer things than there are,” if formulable in a Tractarian proposition, must come out false. The possibilities are completely determined by the Tractarian objects that there actually are. Of course, the way that the above claim is formulated, in terms of generic things, is probably the source of this seeming weirdness. “Thing” and “object” are formal concepts in the TLP. A claim like “there could have been more espresso cups than there actually are” needn’t turn out necessarily false because “espresso cup” is a proper concept, which can be expressed with a propositional function.

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