Wittgenstein's ladder

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A Wittgenstein's ladder is a simplified explanation of a technical or complex subject that is used as a teaching tool, despite being technically wrong.

The term stems from proposition number 6.54 in Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's 1921 philosophical work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in which he states that although his propositions are at some level incorrect, they can be used like steps on a ladder to help one reach an understanding of higher level concepts.[1]


   My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
   He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.


Other philosophers before Wittgenstein including Schopenhauer and Fritz Mauthner had used a similar metaphor before him.[3] In 1930, Wittgenstein rejected his own "ladder" idea, stating:[3]

Anything that can be reached with a ladder does not interest me.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Side-by-Side-by-Side Edition". People.umass.edu. Retrieved 2014-03-07.
  2. ^ Original in German:


       Meine Sätze erläutern dadurch, dass sie der, welcher mich versteht, am Ende als unsinnig erkennt, wenn er durch sie—auf ihnen—über sie hinausgestiegen ist. (Er muss sozusagen die Leiter wegwerfen, nachdem er auf ihr hinaufgestiegen ist.)
       Er muss diese Sätze überwinden, dann sieht er die Welt richtig.

  3. ^ a b Gakis, Dimitris (2010). "Throwing Away the Ladder Before Climbing it". Papers of the 33rd IWS (eds. E. Nemeth, R. Heinrich, W. Pichler). Retrieved April 9, 2016.