Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

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The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Latin for "Logical-Philosophical Treatise") is the only book-length philosophical work published by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his lifetime. It was an ambitious project, to identify the relationship between language and reality and to define the limits of science.[1] It is recognized as one of the most important philosophical works of the twentieth century. G. E. Moore originally suggested the work's Latin title as homage to Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by Baruch Spinoza.[2]

Wittgenstein wrote Tractatus while he was a soldier and prisoner of war during World War I. It was first published in German in 1921 as Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung. Tractatus was influential chiefly amongst the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle, such as Rudolf Carnap and Friedrich Waismann. Bertrand Russell's article "The Philosophy of Logical Atomism" is presented as a working out of ideas that he had learnt from Wittgenstein.[3]

Tractatus employs a notoriously austere and succinct literary style. The work contains almost no arguments as such, but rather declarative statements which are meant to be self-evident. The statements are hierarchically numbered, with seven basic propositions at the primary level (numbered 1–7), with each sub-level being a comment on or elaboration of the statement at the next higher level (e.g., 1, 1.1, 1.11, 1.12).

Wittgenstein's later works, notably the posthumously published Philosophical Investigations, retracted many of the ideas in Tractatus.


Main theses

There are seven main propositions in the text. These are:

Propositions 1.*-3.*

The central thesis of 1., 2., 3. and their subsidiary propositions is Wittgenstein’s picture theory of language. This can be summed up as follows:

  • The world consists of a totality of interconnected atomic facts, and propositions make "pictures" of the world.
  • In order for a picture to represent a certain fact it must in some way possess the same logical structure as the fact. The picture is a standard of reality. In this way, linguistic expression can be seen as a form of geometric projection, where language is the changing form of projection but the logical structure of the expression is the unchanging geometric relationships.
  • We cannot say with language what is common in the structures, rather it must be shown, because any language we use will also rely on this relationship, and so we cannot step out of our language with language.

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