Advanced Search

Wittgenstein once said that the world is the totality of facts. It seems to me

Wittgenstein once said that the world is the totality of facts. It seems to me that at least in the case of color this theory doesn't apply. What facts can be said about the "redness" of a red object. Perhaps no facts can be said about "redness" precisely because what is being experienced in an encounter with red isn't a "fact". Do we apprehend that redness through a fact or through an experience of consciousness? It seems to me that the fact that red exists and the actuality of red are two different things since saying "red exists" doesn't say anything about what red is when it is experienced. So maybe Wittgenstein is wrong?

Why should the redness of a red object not be a fact? We say of this tomato here, "Look, it's red." We know this proposition is true because we can see that the tomato is red, just as we know that the tomato is heavy - heavy for a tomato, anyway - because we can weigh it in our hand. The same thing applies to shape, supposing that we come to know the shape of something by visual inspection rather than by measurement. Now if our red object is viewed in green light, it turns black, because the light with colours at the middle of the spectrum, the green light, is complementary to the red light that the tomato "reflects", if we can say this. (In what way is a tomato not like a mirror?) The red tomato "absorbs" the green light.

I think that your question goes deeper, however. This redness of the tomato might be thought not to be a physical fact, if you believe those philosophers who are impressed by the existence of an "explanatory gap", as it has come to be called, between physical and phenomenal phenomena, or by Frank Jackson's thought-experiment about Mary, the brilliant colour scientist who knows absolutely everything physical about colour that there is to know, but is confined to a grey-scale environment, and who, on her release from that environment, learns what the colours are like, or what they look like, if you like. But it seems open to argument whether the fact that the redness of the tomato is not a physical fact means that it is not a fact of any kind. You contrast a "fact" with "an experience of consciousness", but I wonder whether the "experience of consciousness" does not itself count as a fact. I think that philosophical analysis would have something to say here.

Furthermore, there are facts about colour, phenomenological ones, which came to interest Wittgenstein after he gave up the logical atomism of the Tractatus in which the world is the totality of facts, not things. (It's important to note the point of the contrast here - it is facts, rather than things, of which the world is said to be a totality.) So the later Wittgenstein thought that the earlier Wittgenstein was wrong about something, even though in the end even the later Wittgenstein rejected the idea that the phenomenological facts are facts in the same way as regular facts, such as the existence of an ugly heavy desk in front of me. An example of a phenomenological "fact": though some blues are lighter than some yellows, yellow is lighter than blue. There is no pure brown, and there could not be a brown traffic light. White is the lightest colour. Red cannot be greenish. All of these propositions feel as though they express facts, and Wittgenstein really has to struggle to make the fascinating claim stick that "there is no such thing as phenomenology, but there are indeed phenomenological problems" (_Remarks on Colour_, I-53). There are problems expressed by claims such as "Green can be transparent, but white cannot" (although Wittgenstein also observes that the opacity of white is no more a property of white than the transparency of green glass is a property of the colour green), but are there no facts to resolve these problems, even if not phenomenological ones?

On the whole, I do believe that the easy distinction you make between facts on the one hand, probably physical facts, and ineffable experiences on the other, with no factual aspect to them, does not quite square with the facts!

You are right that, in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein claims that the world is the totality of facts. And it is also plausable to think that the experience of red (seeing red) may be difficult to express informatively in words, especially if you were to try to convey what it is like to see red to someone who is color blind or completely blind from birth. But I don't think Wittgenstein needs to deny this. I believe that, for Wittgenstein, the term 'fact' means something like 'state of affairs' and so one may speak similarly of the fact of you seeing red now and the state of affairs of you seeing red now, without this implying any difference between what you refer to as the fact that red exists and the actuality of red.