Bipolarity and Sense in the Tractatus


  • Peter Hanks



Although the terms ‘poles’, ‘bipolar’, and ‘bipolarity’ do not appear in the Tractatus, it is widely held that Wittgenstein maintained his commitment to bipolarity in the Tractatus. As it is usually understood, the principle of bipolarity is that every proposition must be capable of being true and capable of being false, which rules out propositions that are necessarily true or necessarily false. Here I argue that Wittgenstein was committed to bipolarity in the Tractatus, but getting a clear view of this commitment requires a different understanding of bipolarity. Properly understood, bipolarity is the view that every proposition represents two possible states of affairs, one positive and the other negative. Of course, in the case of elementary propositions, the sense of a proposition is only the positive state of affairs. There is thus an asymmetry between what a proposition represents, its true-false poles, and what it says, its sense. In this paper I show how Wittgenstein accounted for this asymmetry in Notes on Logic and I consider two ways he might have accounted for it in the Tractatus.


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