Most scholars understand para. 608 of Wittgenstein’s Zettel (Z608) to suggest that language and thought might arise from chaos at the neural centre. Various commentators have suggested that Z608 holds that linguistic meaning may arise from connectionist chaos at the neural centre, causal indeterminacy at the neural centre, some generalized physical chaos at the neural centre, or even a pile of sawdust at the neural centre. However, such views contradict Wittgenstein’s signature view in his later period that the philosopher “must not advance any kind of theory” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 109). Since Wittgenstein believed that music is not just for enjoyment but can “instruct” humanity, and since he repeatedly compared language to music, this paper proposes a music model of Z608. This music-model builds upon the alternative “Religious-Cosmological” interpretation of Z608 by virtue of the traditional connection, tracing to Pythagoras, between tonal music and cosmology, specifically, the view that musical harmonies (as it were, “musical meaning”) arises from a chaos of sounds by virtue of (musical) movement towards the stabilizing tonal centre. After first discussing this connection between music and cosmology in general terms the paper discusses the role of this religious-cosmological imagery in two of Wittgenstein’s most revered composers, Haydn and Beethoven. Finally, the paper shows how this music-model illuminates not just Z608 but Wittgenstein’s later philosophy of language in general. The conclusion is that producing a language is less like pasting labels on things and more like composing traditional tonal music. Since Haydn’s and Beethoven’s music reflects the aesthetic and ethical structure of the classical cosmos, the image in Z608 is, in effect, the image of the emergence of the cosmic symphony from chaos by virtue of (musical) movement towards the true centre, with all of the aesthetic and ethical dimensions this involves, that pervades Western religion, cosmology, literature, music, and art. On this music-model the resolution of philosophical problem is not like the resolution of scientific or engineering problems but is more like the resolution of Haydn’s or Beethoven’s problems. Thus, the music-model of Z608 illustrates the meaning in Wittgenstein’s 1936 remark (reproduced in Culture and Value) that there is a “queer resemblance” between philosophical (conceptual) and aesthetic investigations.

The author, Richard McDonough, has a B.A. in philosophy, with minors in mathematics and chemistry, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Cornell University. He has published a book on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, a book on Martin Heidegger, and about 92 articles and 11 book reviews in philosophy, psychology, and linguistics. He has taught at Bates College, the National University of Singapore, the University of Tulsa, the University of Maryland, James Cook University, and the Arium School of Arts and Sciences in Singapore. He has taught philosophy, psychology, physics and writing courses. He specializes in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, the history of philosophy (especially ancient Greek philosophy and 19th and 20th century German philosophy). He is currently writing a book on Plato and a book on the transition from Wittgenstein’s early philosophy to his later philosophy.

Read Richard McDonough’s paper here.