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Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the only book-length work published by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his lifetime. Originally published in German in 1921 as Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, when its author was just 32, it is now widely considered one of the most important philosophical works of the twentieth century.

The slim volume (less than eighty pages) sets forth a complete philosophical system that may be construed as the completion of Bertrand Russell's early philosophy of "logical atomism." The book comprises a system of short, vadic utterances, numbered to demonstrate their nested interrelations, as:


There are seven main propositions, from "1. The world is everything that is the case" to "7. What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence" (the last line in the book; 7 has no supplemantary propositions). In between are: "2. What is the case (a fact) is the existence of atomic states of affairs"; "3. A logical picture of facts is a thought"; "4. A thought is a proposition with sense"; "5. A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions"; and "6. The general form of a proposition is the general form of a truth function, which is (notation for a propositional logic using just conjoined denial (Scheffer connectives)).

(Here should follow a more detailed account of the book)

Reception and Influence of the Work

Wittgenstein himself concluded that with the Tractatus he had resolved all philosophical problems; he upon its publication he retired to become a schoolteacher in Austria.

Meanwhile the book was translated into English by C. K. Ogden with help from the Cambridge mathematician and philosopher Frank Ramsey, then still in his teens. Ramsey later visited Wittgenstein in Austria. The Tractatus also caught the attention of the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, especially Rudolf Carnap and Moritz Schlick. The group spent many months working through the text out loud, line-by line. Schlick eventually convinced Wittgenstein to meet with members of the circle to discuss the Tractatus when he returned to Vienna (he was then working as an architect).

Wittgenstein would not meet the circle proper, but only a few of its members, including Schlick, Carnap, and Waissman. Often, though, he refused to discuss philosophy, and would insist on giving the meetings over to reciting poetry with his chair turned to the wall. He largely broke off formal relations even with these members of the circle after coming to believe Carnap had used some of his ideas without permission.

Nonetheless, it was conversations with Schlick during this period that were largely responsible for drawing Wittgenstein back to philosophy. He began to doubt both the ideas and methods of the Tractatus, and in 1929 returned to Cambridge. He worked extensively but published nothing for the next twenty years. Shortly after his death in 1951 his second magnum opus, Philosophical Investigations was edited and published by his executors. Much it is given over to critiquing the ideas of the Tractatus.

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