Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 26, 2017

Tractatus Logico-Ductus: a Logical Leadership Treatise

Dear Mr. President,

It’s always struck me how demanding it must be to read all the hundreds of pages of material that stream across your desk every day: the briefings, legislation being considered by Congress (which you must absorb, then sign or veto), reports from multiple federal agencies, more reports from the White House staff … it’s an immense job in itself, aside from all your other responsibilities.

I can only imagine that you and your predecessors have found the time to read for pleasure or personal fulfillment dwindling to almost nothing. I picture the books on your bedside table or in some quiet portion of the White House sitting unopened: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (I know how you like the Russians), not to mention more contemporary titans like O’Reilly and Hefner.

I also suspect you’ve also had little opportunity lately to crack open your copy of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

It’s obvious that you care deeply about facts and the truth. The subject figures largely in nearly every public address you make, not to mention all those tweets on the topic of eschewing inaccurate information. You’re all about facts!

However busy you are, Herr Wittgenstein might be a resource when more volatile people around you resort to terms like “fake news” or “alternative facts” when confronted with demonstrable truth. Having on your side one of the 20th Century’s preeminent philosophers and his methodology for determining the scope (and limits) of the relationship between language and reality is a powerful tool to employ in stemming any drift away from FACTS in your leadership of the nation.

I thought of you immediately as I was rereading the Tractatus recently.  It occurs to me that you might find Wittgenstein’s continuation of the tradition of Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant and Russell useful in combating the less disciplined speakers on your staff who sometimes appear before the cameras making rather wayward comments that reflect careless attitudes toward the relationship of language and reality.

Just review with me, if you will, Wittgenstein’s Proposition 1, in which he begins his elucidation of what we can know about the world and (important for you) what we can say about it:

1 The world is all that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.
1.12 For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case.
1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.
1.2 The world divides into facts.

Reassuring, isn’t it? To propose the existence of something called an “alternative fact” would necessitate there being an “alternative world” comprised of such. I’m sure, like me, you find it difficult to imagine an epistemological method for determining truth that would allow a leader could govern in an alternative world.

Wittgenstein bolsters us with the certainty that the FACTS remain all that the case is, and therefore the world. Perhaps you’ll remind your staff that although, as Kant said, the mind is “a unity which unifies,” it can only do so when premises and conclusions are based on facts.

The final proposition of the Tractatus is also worth bearing in mind:

7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Viewed this way, Wittgenstein was, in a sense, writing not only a seminal work on the metaphysics of language and knowledge, but a guide for leaders in an era when so many demonstrable facts are called into question, despite their clear representation of “all that is the case.” His work is, we might say, a “Logical Leadership Treatise,” (Tractatus Logico-Ductus) as well as one about logical philosophy and epistemology.

(By the way, Wittgenstein was a huge fan of both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky!)

The world is determined by the facts, indeed. I find that a comforting thought, and trust you do, as well. I fully understand how difficult it must be for you — or any world leader — to find those precious minutes away from the crush of work facing you. I hope this note has been of some value. Happy reading.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1921. English translation © Dover Books, Frank Ramsey and Charles Kay Ogden, reprint 1999.

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Responses

  1. Good thoughts, but wishful thinking I’m afraid. Our President does not read, except perhaps for his own signature on executive orders he parades before the media at photo ops. He gets his news “from the shows.”

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    • One can only set an example.

      Like

      • I guess. But he consults only himself. Remember that he has said ‘I had a conversation with myself.’ Good luck with that, World.

        Like


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