Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Ludwig Wittgenstein is widely regarded as the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, and the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the only book-length work of philosophy he published in his lifetime. Together, these two facts convey some idea of the power this work has exerted over the minds of other philosophers and over the discipline itself. In this book, Wittgenstein claims no less than to have solved all the problems of philosophy, and for a work with such a small page count, it is astonishing in ...
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Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

Ludwig Wittgenstein is widely regarded as the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, and the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the only book-length work of philosophy he published in his lifetime. Together, these two facts convey some idea of the power this work has exerted over the minds of other philosophers and over the discipline itself. In this book, Wittgenstein claims no less than to have solved all the problems of philosophy, and for a work with such a small page count, it is astonishing in its ambition. It manages to offer a radical new theory of logic, along the way addressing such problems as the foundations of mathematics, solipsism, the nature of ethics and art, and even free will.<%END%>

About the Author:
Ludwig Wittgenstein's life was marked by the same pervasive sense of conflict that characterizes his work. He was born in 1889 into the family of a wealthy Viennese industrialist but gave the bulk of his inheritance away. Although he had studied at Cambridge with Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein enlisted as an Austrian patriot on the opposite side of the war from England; it is both incredible and appropriate that he was able to complete the Tractatus, his theory of logic, during active combat duty.<%END%>

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Introduction

Ludwig Wittgenstein is widely regarded as the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, and the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the only book-length work of philosophy he published in his lifetime. Together, these two facts convey some idea of the power this work has exerted over the minds of other philosophers and over the discipline itself. In the book, Wittgenstein claims no less than to have solved all the problems of philosophy, and for a work with such a short page count, it is astonishing in its ambition. It manages to offer a radical new theory of logic, along the way addressing such problems as the foundations of mathematics, solipsism, the nature of ethics and art, and even free will. All these topics are confronted in an intricately structured series of numbered statements that are notoriously accompanied by little argument, but that are nevertheless commanding in their declamatory tone and even beautiful in their gnomic brilliance. By the end of this treatise on logic, the book takes a striking turn toward the mystical, and this shift indicates the somewhat conflicted attitude toward philosophy that lies at its core.

Ludwig Wittgenstein's life was marked by the same pervasive sense of conflict that characterizes his work. He was born in 1889 into the family of a wealthy Viennese industrialist, but he rejected his inheritance completely in 1919. He was both Jewish and homosexual in a time and place that accepted neither. The youngest of eight gifted children who grew up in an exceptionally cultured household, Wittgenstein at first seemed to lack the talents of his older siblings, particularly in music. He was sent to study engineering, and eventually went to Manchester, England, to study aeronautics. During this time he became interested in the theory of mathematics and began reading the works of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell, who had independently been trying to prove that mathematics is a branch of logic. He decided to share his own ideas on the subject with Frege, who suggested that he go to Cambridge to study with Russell. At Cambridge, Russell quickly became convinced of Wittgenstein's genius and encouraged him to develop his own theory of logic, which Wittgenstein began to do in Norway until World War I broke out. An Austrian patriot, Wittgenstein enlisted on the opposite side of the war from Russell's England, and it is both incredible and appropriate that he was able to complete the Tractatus , his theory of logic, during active combat duty. It was published in 1921. After a brief stint as a rural schoolteacher, Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge and eventually received an appointment as professor. He became legendary for his eccentric behavior and lectures, but in these lectures Wittgenstein developed an entirely new approach to philosophy that departed sharply from his work in the Tractatus . This approach culminated in the posthumous publication of his Philosophical Investigations (1953), the other major work on which his reputation now rests. But he found academic life to be incompatible with his work, and he resigned from Cambridge in 1947, only eight years after he was appointed to G.E. Moore's chair. He died of prostate cancer in 1951.

The Tractatus was written in three distinct stages, each of which produced one of the book's major contributions to philosophy. In 1913-14, Wittgenstein worked in a remote village in Norway to develop his theory of logic. This theory is formulated explicitly in response to Russell's "Theory of Types," arguing that a properly conceived symbolism makes the latter superfluous. During the first months of the war, in which Wittgenstein saw no combat, he developed his Picture Theory of Propositions, which held that propositions represent states of affairs in the world because their parts mirror objects and relations in the world itself. On this theory, it is a common form or structure that propositions share with the facts they represent, and it is this form or structure that logic captures. After 1916, when Wittgenstein began to experience combat first-hand, he became suicidal, as he frequently did throughout his life, and he turned to religion for consolation. This conversion is largely responsible for the mysticism that fills the final pages of the Tractatus , which holds that science and language must remain silent on the ultimate truths about the world, including those of metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics.

It is remarkable that these apparently distinct ideas are blended into a seamless whole in the Tractatus , and what unites them is Wittgenstein's central distinction between saying and showing. According to Wittgenstein, language can only describe facts about the world, not the logical structure that it shares with those facts. For to describe the latter would be to describe the very limits of the world, and that can only be done from an unattainable position outside the world. The logical structure that undergirds our language-and thus, for Wittgenstein, that defines our world-cannot be described at all; rather, it can only be "shown," and it is shown everywhere in language that is used properly. Mysticism, which Wittgenstein defines as "feeling the world as a limited whole," is a kind of knowing beyond prepositional knowledge, a sense that even though the limits of the world cannot be said or thought, those limits nonetheless exist. But this leaves philosophy, whose goal is precisely to describe those limits, in a peculiar position. Wittgenstein considers all the problems of philosophy to stem from an attempt to say what can only be shown. All positions in metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics, as statements about the limits of possibility in the world, are fundamentally in error. Once this becomes apparent, Wittgenstein thinks, all the problems of philosophy are solved in the sense that they are all dissolved. Yet the Tractatus is concerned to preserve some sort of role for philosophy to play. Most often, philosophy is said to clarify or elucidate ordinary language. On the other hand, Wittgenstein famously concludes by admitting that his own "elucidations" are "nonsensical," forming a ladder to be abandoned as soon as one has climbed up it. Here, the proper philosophical perspective appears to be identified with the mystical itself. This ambiguity captures what has struck so many readers as the curiously divided nature of the Tractatus , its beginnings in the precision of mathematical logic and its conclusion in the vagueness of the mystical. It suggests that Wittgenstein himself had a divided attitude toward philosophy.

In a historical sense, the most important contribution of the Tractatus was to ensure the dominance of the analytic tradition in the discipline of philosophy in the English-speaking world. At the end of the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant had established philosophy as a separate discipline by giving it a distinct cultural role. While other disciplines gathered knowledge about particular phenomena in the world, Kant thought that only philosophers gathered knowledge about the conditions for the possibility of knowledge itself. But around the turn of the century, Frege and Russell began to focus on narrower problems of meaning and logic. In the Tractatus Wittgenstein elevates the latter problems to the status of Kant's conditions of possibility of knowledge, holding that even more fundamental than Kant's epistemological questions about how the mind connects with the world are questions about meaning, about how language connects with the world. After the publication of the Tractatus and before his return to Cambridge, Wittgenstein was invited to join the discussions of a group of philosophers that included Moritz Schlick and Rudolf Carnap. This group later became known as the "Vienna Circle," and their ideas, heavily influenced by the Tractatus , became known as logical positivism. Wittgenstein's book was the link between this group and the earlier efforts of Frege and Russell, and particularly after Carnap and other expatriates arrived to teach in the United States, this school of philosophy came to dominate the profession on both sides of the Atlantic. This shift has come to be known as the "linguistic turn" in philosophy. To this day, the "analysis of meaning," and not Kantian epistemology, continues to be the prevalent mode of professional philosophy in the English-speaking world.

Few philosophers embraced the Tractatus with unqualified enthusiasm, however. Although he wrote a glowing introduction that helped get the book published, Bertrand Russell found the book's mysticism distasteful and always considered it an unnecessary appendage to Wittgenstein's philosophy of logic. Other philosophers, including members of the Vienna Circle, voiced similar concerns with the book's mystical turn. But the most penetrating and severe criticisms of the book were Wittgenstein's own. When his Philosophical Investigations were published after his death, the preface he had written eight years earlier made it clear that he had come to regard his earlier work as largely mistaken. The book begins, in fact, with a powerful critique of the Picture Theory of Meaning. Quoting a much earlier version of the theory in Augustine's Confessions , Wittgenstein shows that this theory can at best account for a small subset of meaning in language, and certainly cannot be called the essence of language. From this idea, he derives the view that language consists of multiple "language-games," of which there is no essential type. This view also becomes a critique of the "logical atomism" of the Tractatus , implying that the meanings of words and sentences, given by their uses in language-games or "forms of life," depend on their relations to other language-games rather than on one-to-one correspondence with the world. This critique moved Wittgenstein from the atomism of the Tractatus in the direction of the holism about meaning espoused by Willard Van Orman Quine and later Donald Davidson.

But in spite of the fact that philosophers often make sharp distinctions between an "earlier" and a "later" Wittgenstein, some of his concerns remain constant. In particular, Wittgenstein's metaphilosophical views embody the continuities, as well as the divergences between his earlier and later work. Both the Tractatus and the Investigations can be read as starting from the same problem: the way ordinary life and experience constantly thwart our efforts to comprehend them systematically in philosophy. Both works are designed to put philosophy in its place, in the Tractatus so that language can be left on its own to "show" the logical structure it shares with the world, and in the Investigations so that language can simply get on with its ordinary business. The main difference between the somber mysticism of the former and the more playful irony of the latter may be this view, which appears in section 5.4541 of the Tractatus : "Men have always had a presentiment that there must be a realm in which the answers to questions are symmetrically combined-a priori-to form a self-contained system." Despite his reservations about the power of philosophy, in the Tractatus Wittgenstein seems anxious to preserve this intuition, while in the Investigations he appears content to abandon it. In other words, at the heart of Wittgenstein's thought, early and late, is a deep dissatisfaction with philosophy in general. This made Wittgenstein a permanent revolutionary in his discipline throughout his career, and it explains much about his life and work, especially his abandonment of philosophy after finishing the Tractatus , his subsequent return, and his resignation when he was seemingly at the height of his career. This love-hate relationship with his discipline and his calling is entirely in keeping with a personality as fraught with conflict and self-doubt as Wittgenstein's was. It is precisely this element of his thought that has been hardest for professional philosophers to come to terms with, but it is also probably this element that has given his work cultural significance beyond the discipline in which it was created. Wittgenstein's life and work has been the subject of novels, plays, and television dramas, and his work has had substantial influence in disciplines outside philosophy like literary studies. Much of this is because of his praise for the resources of ordinary language at the expense of the pretensions of philosophy, an idea that was born in the Tractatus but remained intact in later works like the Investigations . The Tractatus , as its appropriately imposing title suggests, is a work of technical philosophy, and it can only be fully understood in the context of the very technical problems that obsessed Frege and Russell. But, particularly in its astonishing final sections, it is also that rare work that transcends its disciplinary boundaries to speak to a wider audience of non-specialists, and this is undoubtedly because Wittgenstein, an outsider in so many areas of his life, adopted an outsider's stance toward philosophy as well. Upon first encountering him at meetings of the Vienna Circle, Rudolf Carnap remarked that Wittgenstein approached philosophical problems as an artist, rather than as a scientist like the other members of the circle. Even as many of the ideas in the Tractatus have been eclipsed in Wittgenstein's own thought and within his discipline, its power as a work of art endures.

Bryan Vescio teaches in the Department of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
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  • Posted January 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Might be brilliant, but...

    This book is in two languages, printed side-by-side. A clever idea in print. Completely broken in the ebook format.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2004

    Amazing Book!

    Wittgenstein's lucid presentation of his concepts is inspiring. The reader will find a new and helpful view of logic and language through this master work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2011

    Not for the serious reader

    This is a terrible translation. Wittgenstien is difficult enough without trying to sift through a botched up translation that isn't even gramatically correct much of the time.

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