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‘We Can't Whistle It Either’: Legend and Reality



Abstract: There is a famous quip of F.P. Ramsey's, which is my second epigraph. According to a widespread legend, the quip is a criticism of Wittgenstein's treatment in the Tractatus of what cannot be said. The remark is indeed Ramsey's, but he didn't mean what he is taken to mean in the legend. His quip, looked at in context, means something quite different. The legend is sometimes taken to provide support for a reading of the Tractatus according to which the nonsensical propositions of the book were intended to convey what cannot be said. But, since the legend has no basis in reality, it provides no evidence in favor of any such reading of the Tractatus. The quip has great interest if it is read in the context of Ramsey's discussion of generality; it is closely related to issues of importance in the development of Wittgenstein's thought.

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