This brings to mind the Lecture on Ethics, which distinguishes between the relative/trivial/scientific/intelligible and the ethical/religious/absolute/nonsensical, and the Tractatus, which says:Why now am I so anxious to keep these kinds of uses of 'Assertions' separate from one another? Is it necessary? Did people before really not correctly understand what they wanted to do with a sentence
? Is it pedantry?—It is merely an attempt to do justice to each kind of use. That is to say a reaction against the overvaluation of science. Using the word ' science' for 'everything that can be said that is not nonsense' already expresses this overestimation. Because in reality this means dividing assertions into two classes: good and bad; and therein already lies the danger. It would be similar to if one were to divide all animals, plants, and rocks into useful and harmful. But of course the words 'to do justice to them' and 'overvaluation' express my position.
6.53 The right method for philosophy would properly be this: To say nothing other than what can be said, thus propositions of natural science – thus something that has nothing to do with philosophy –, and then always, if another wanted to say something metaphysical, to point out to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying for the other person – he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy – but it would be the only strictly correct one.So there we have what can be said/natural science versus nonsense/metaphysics. Now what's wrong with this? One obvious complaint, perhaps the obvious one, is to say that it is grossly unfair to at least some of what is categorized as nonsensical. But that isn't what Wittgenstein says. He says that it is unjust because it overvalues at least some of what is categorized as meaningful. What would be wrong with dividing animals into the useful and the harmful is not that we would inevitably make mistakes, labeling useful animals harmful, for instance, but that it is overly simple. The danger lies already in the division into two. We need a higher number (if we are going to divide at all).
Or is it the division into good and bad specifically that is dangerous? Useful animals might be only somewhat useful, after all. Horses can be very useful, but baby pandas are almost completely useless. They might make it onto the 'useful' list (they are valuable for zoo-owners, for instance), but you wouldn't want to confuse their utility with that of horses. Perhaps some harmful animals have their uses: sharks are fun to look at and think about, their fins make allegedly tasty soup, but you don't want them in your swimming pool. If you had to classify them as either useful or harmful, I think it's clear they belong in the 'harmful' category. If they don't then almost nothing does. What seems to concern Wittgenstein most is not this kind of problem, though, but the opposite one: some 'useful' animals or sentences might not be all that great after all.
Surely he doesn't want to reject the meaning/nonsense distinction altogether. It's the equation of the former with science that he objects to. Not all useful assertions are good. And not all scientific assertions are useful.
One last thought: Kevin also quotes the part of the foreword that says, "the truth of the thoughts communicated here seems to me unassailable and definitive" and 6.54, which says:
My propositions elucidate by whoever understands me perceiving them in the end as nonsensical, when through them – upon them – over them, he has climbed out. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed out upon it.)
It's been a while since I read much work on the Tractatus, but I have the feeling that people tend to think either that it consists entirely of purportedly true thoughts or else entirely of purportedly elucidatory propositions. Can't it contain both? Can't "My propositions elucidate.." refer only to those propositions that do elucidate, i.e. to the nonsensical sentences, and "the thoughts communicated here" refer only to the thoughts that are communicated, i.e. to the meaningful sentences? Unfortunately he connects these true thoughts with the solving of the problems with which the book deals, which suggests that most of the book consists of such thoughts. What, then, would be the propositions that we are to overcome? On the other hand, he doesn't actually claim that he communicates any thoughts at all, does he? And if he doesn't then that might explain his confidence in the unassailability of their truth: their truth can't be assailed because they don't exist.He must overcome these propositions, then he sees the world rightly.