Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus
March 24, 2006 2:11 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a clear understandable introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. Is there any particular book or website you can recommend to someone who is not schooled in philosophy?
posted by davar to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
H.O. Mounce's "Wittgenstein's Tractatus: An Introduction" is pretty good and very, very clear
posted by matteo at 2:35 PM on March 24, 2006

(University Of Chicago Press)
posted by matteo at 2:36 PM on March 24, 2006

And if you want more context (accesible to the the lay person), Ray Monk's biography Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius is really good.
posted by AwkwardPause at 2:38 PM on March 24, 2006

Slightly off topic: This isn't super scholarly, but it's on my link bar and has a section-by-section annotation for Philosophical Investigations.
posted by kensanway at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2006

My very first thought is this book: P.M.S. Hacker's (a noted Wittgenstein scholar) Wittgenstein's Place in 20th Century Analytic Philosophy. But I think there are some additional things relevant to your question.

This is a very tough question to answer, as I think the Tractatus would mean very little to someone not schooled in philosophy. The particular definitions of words like "facts", "things", and "propositions" that Wittgenstein uses and defines are fairly far from their ordinary definitions. Wittgenstein is espousing a particular philosophy in the book called "Logical Atomism". If you want to know about Logical Atomism, I'd recommend reading what's below. The best way to get at it is almost certainly not the Tractatus. If you're just fascinated by the Tractatus and want to know more about it, you may want to try Ray Monk's biography of Wittgenstein. (Or, on preview, Matteo's book which I haven't heard of.)

The other philosopher who is discussed a lot with this view is Bertrand Russell. Russell's book, Problems of Philosophy is thus a pretty good place to start. It's written so that anyone can understand it and it is good preparation for reading the Tractatus. Russell is also a much better writer. (Russell's Philosophy of Logical Atomism is also a good thing to know going into a particular study of the Tractatus. It actually begins with "The following [is the text] of a course of eight lectures delivered in [Gordon Square] London, in the first months of 1918, [which] are very largely concerned with explaining certain ideas which I learnt from my friend and former pupil Ludwig Wittgenstein.")
posted by ontic at 2:59 PM on March 24, 2006

I don't have first hand knowledge of these, but just found them on Amazon. I would bet the first is considerably more accessible than the second:

How to Read Wittgenstein by Ray Monk, who can write both philosophy and prose.

Wittgenstein's Tractatus: An Introduction by G.E.M. Anscombe, who was one of Wittgenstein's students. I think Anscombe is much better at writing philosophy than accessible prose, but I haven't actually read this book.
posted by ontic at 3:07 PM on March 24, 2006

The particular definitions of words like "facts", "things"

this room is empty.

posted by matteo at 3:07 PM on March 24, 2006

Nice one, matteo. I've just started reading Monk's biography to re-acquaint myself with LW. I read philosophy at university 20 years ago and he was the only 'great philosopher' I encountered who to me had anything useful to say, although I must admit the Tractatus whilst a thing of beauty was not as engaging as the Investigations and Zettel notebooks.
posted by amestoy at 3:24 PM on March 24, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses, they are much appreciated, I'll investigate the books.

kensanway: did you mean to post a link?

ontic: This is a very tough question to answer, as I think the Tractatus would mean very little to someone not schooled in philosophy.
I once did an introductory philosophy course at the university and the lecture on the Tractatus stuck with me. I recently tried to read it again, and found that I did not grasp it at all. You may be right that I am actually interested in Logical Atomism.
posted by davar at 4:27 PM on March 24, 2006

this may be way off topic, but it's possible that what you remember is the (wider) idea of logical positivism (that only questions that can can be proved true or false "make sense"). in which case you're probably better off with the classic/popular language truth and logic by a j ayer.

logical atomism is a rather detailed argument about how language works - it's not the kind of thing i'd remember years after a course; logical positivism is.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:29 PM on March 24, 2006

For a Wittgenstein overview, I found Kenny's Wittgenstein rather good. It covers both the earlier and later periods, and draws out the similarities between the two, helping to view the ideas as a progression.
posted by handee at 6:14 AM on March 25, 2006

I'm an undergrad at a philosophy college with a fairly sizeable number of people both learning about and researching Wittgenstein. Here are the books from our library:

The Anagogic Theory Of Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus' / by Roy Emanuel Lemoine (1975)

The Correspondence Theory Of Truth : An Essay On The Metaphysics Of Predication / Andrew Newman (2002)

Essays On Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus' / edited By Irving M.Copi And Robert W. Beard (1966)

An Interpretation And Critique Of Wittgenstein's Tractatus / by David Favrholdt (1964)

An Introduction To Wittgenstein's Tractatus / G.E.M. Anscombe (1959, 1967, 1996)

The Metaphysics Of The Tractatus / Peter Carruthers (1990)

The Metaphysics Of Wittgenstein's Tractatus / by Leonard Goddard And Brenda Judge (1982)

Pulling Up The Ladder : The Metaphysical Roots Of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus / Richard R. Brockhaus (1991)

Signs Of Sense : Reading Wittgenstein's Tractatus / Eli Friedlander (2001)

Tractarian Semantics : Finding Sense In Wittgenstein's Tractatus / Peter Carruthers (1989)

Wittgenstein's Logical Atomism / by James Griffin (1964)

Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus' : A Critical Exposition Of The Main Lines Of Thought / Erik Stenius (1996)

Wittgenstein's Tractatus : A Dialectical Interpretation / Matthew B. Ostrow (2002)

Wittgenstein's Tractatus : An Introduction / H.O. Mounce (1981)

A companion to Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus' / by Max Black (1964)

I don't do Wittgenstein, but you might want to start with this list, Google them up and cross off anything that's not exactly what you want.
posted by tommorris at 8:00 AM on March 25, 2006

The Teaching Company has a lecture or two on Wittgenstein, see if you can get those from a public library. They are always accessible.

I can't vouch for the other books (although I've heard that Mounce's is good), but the Anscombe book will certainly be out of the range of the lay reader.

I only understand Wittgenstein as an answer to the hurdles that philosopy had imposed on itself in its evolution to that point in its history. So you have to look at the questions and logical paradoxes that Russell and others were facing. Wittgenstein took those questions to the limit, and then tore them down to start again.
posted by stratastar at 2:43 PM on March 25, 2006

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