From Pictures to Employments: Later Wittgenstein on 'the Infinite'

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

With respect to the metaphysics of infinity, the tendency of standard debates is to either endorse or to deny the reality of ‘the infinite’. But how should we understand the notion of ‘reality’ employed in stating these options? Wittgenstein’s critical strategy shows that the notion is grounded in a confusion: talk of infinity naturally takes hold of one’s imagination due to the sway of verbal pictures and analogies suggested by our words. This is the source of various philosophical pictures that in turn give rise to the standard metaphysical debates: that the mathematics of infinity corresponds to a special realm of infinite objects, that the infinite is profoundly huge or vast, or that the ability to think about infinity reveals mysterious powers in human beings. First, I explain Wittgenstein’s general strategy for undermining philosophical pictures of ‘the infinite’ – as he describes it in Zettel; and then show how that critical strategy is applied to Cantor’s diagonalization proof in Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics II.

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Philip Bold
University of Minnesota

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