Tractatus logico-philosophicus

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The first two levels of the Tractatus according to Wittgenstein's numbering

The Tractatus logico-philosophicus or Tractatus for short (original German title: Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung ) is the first major work of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951).

The work was written during the First World War and completed in 1918 . With the support of Bertrand Russell, it first appeared in Wilhelm Ostwald's Annalen der Naturphilosophie in 1921 . This version, which Wittgenstein had not checked, contained gross errors. A corrected, bilingual edition (German / English) was published in 1922 by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. in London in the International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method series and is considered the official version. The English translation was by C. K. Ogden and Frank Ramsey . A second bilingual edition was published in 1933. 1929 Wittgenstein put the Tractatus (the Latin, to Spinoza's Tractatus theologico-politicus reminiscent title goes to G. E. Moore back) as a doctoral thesis at the Trinity College of Cambridge University before.

As indicated in the title of the book, it contains, on the one hand, a logical theory, and, on the other hand, Wittgenstein presents a philosophical method in it. “So the book wants to draw a line on thinking, or rather - not thinking, but rather the expression of thoughts: Because in order to draw a line to thinking, we should be able to think both sides of this line. ”(Preface). Wittgenstein's main concern is to clear philosophy of nonsense and confusion, because “[t] he most sentences and questions that have been written about philosophical things are not wrong, but nonsensical. We can therefore not answer questions of this kind at all, we can only determine their absurdity. Most of the questions and sentences of the philosophers are based on the fact that we do not understand our linguistic logic. "(4.003)

“In particular,” Wittgenstein “does not claim to be new at all; and that's why I don't give any sources, because I don't care whether what I thought was thought by someone else before me. "(Preface)

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein follows the modus mathematicus , which at that time seemed particularly appropriate to the analytical philosophers ( Frege , Russell , Whitehead , Schlick, and others). Concise, precise definitions of terms and logical consequences, but also the introduction of formal notations from mathematical logic, give the text the appearance of the greatest possible generality and finality. According to Wittgenstein, the striking numbering system of the individual sentences and paragraphs should indicate the logical weight of the sentences. This very numbering system, which goes back to Wittgenstein, has received great approval and dissemination in the academic world. Wittgenstein precisely defines common colloquial terms such as sentence , fact , state of affairs or the world in the Tractatus and uses them to develop a theory of meaning and language .


Sections 1-3

World and reality

When describing the world and reality , Wittgenstein uses the following terms: fact , state of affairs , object , form , logical space . The following sentences are used to explain these terms:

  • "The world is the totality of facts, not of things." (1.1)
  • "What is the case, the fact, is the existence of facts." (2)
  • “The state of affairs is a combination of objects. (Things, things.) "(2.01)
  • "The existence and non-existence of facts is reality." (2.06)
  • "The way in which the objects are related in the state of affairs is the structure of the state of affairs." (2.032)
  • "The form is the possibility of the structure." (2.033)

According to Wittgenstein, the world is not a list of things or objects that make it up, but appears in their connection (arrangement): The same things can be connected in the most varied of ways and thus form different facts. For example, a necklace can lie in the shop window, adorn a woman's neck or be the object of an auction. In each of the three example cases, the necklace is connected in a different way to the things around it and is therefore part of a different set of facts. Not all of these facts can exist at the same time, but always only one at the expense of the other, and this is precisely the reality: the one actually existing and the therefore non- existent facts. But all possible states of affairs into which a thing or object can enter are its form (2.0141).

The necklace is an illustrative picture, because what Wittgenstein's “things” (or “objects”) actually are is not precisely specified in the Tractatus . Wittgenstein only makes the requirement that they must be “simple” and atomic (that is, “not composed” themselves, no facts) (cf. 2.02, 2.021). All existing and non-existing facts taken together form reality. “The whole of reality is the world” (2.063).

Image, thought, sentence, elementary sentence

After such an introductory ontology , Wittgenstein comes to the topic that interests him primarily: language and its meaning. He advocates a realistic theory of meaning , i.e. H. Sentences (Wittgenstein restricts himself to descriptive sentences; questions, sentences, etc. are not dealt with) become true through something that corresponds to them as a world.

When we think, we imagine (according to 2.1) facts in “pictures” in which “thoughts” constellate (3). What Wittgenstein means here by “picture” becomes clearer if one imagines it as a picture or a mosaic, as something composed. The linguistic “sentence” makes this combination “sensually perceptible” (3.1). For Wittgenstein, the relation to reality lies in the same composition or structure of fact-picture-thought-sentence.

Facts break down into facts (2), facts into objects (2.01) - in the language "names" (3.22) stand for the objects, the facts correspond to "elementary sentences" (4.21 & 4.0311), the facts correspond to "sentences", which consequently are composed of elementary sentences (5).

Actual “phonetic signs” (words) form - in the understanding of the thought presented by them - “possible situations” (3.11) in the thinker's imagination (2.221). Since “fact” always means “existing connection”, your imagining or thinking as well as its expression in the linguistic sentence must be put together (can be broken down). Just as the state of affairs consists of simple objects or “things”, the elementary proposition expressing it is composed of (thing) “names” (3.202); their "configuration" but "in the punctuation mark correspond to the configurations of the objects in [...] situation (s)." (3.21; "Punctuation marks" is not meant here in the sense of punctuation, but rather: "The symbol through which we express the thought , I call the punctuation mark. ")

The “name means the object. The object is its meaning ”(3.203). Every object has its name, which - like its object in the state of affairs - only makes sense with others in the elementary proposition. Names, to enter thoughts, have to configure elementary sentences. Their name “mosaic” always corresponds to that of a state of affairs (the objects they represent); if this exists , its elementary proposition becomes true (2.222). Truth thus arises from the equality of two patterns: of fact (existing state of affairs) and sentence.


The world disintegrates into facts (1.2), the facts in turn disintegrate into existing states of affairs (2), states of affairs, both existing and non-existent, disintegrate into things or objects (2.01). Objects are defined twice: on the one hand as the meaning of the original signs or “names” from which language is composed (3.203), on the other hand as the “substance of the world” (2.021). Being is determined in a similarly ambiguous manner: on the one hand as "reality", on the other hand as "world". "Reality" and "world" are used by Wittgenstein in a special way that is almost contrary to her intuitive understanding. “Reality” is defined as the “existence” (of the one) “and” (thereby) “non-existence of” (other) “facts” (2.06); “World”, on the other hand, is the totality (only) of the existing facts (2.04). “Reality” is thus updated from what is always possible, while “world” is (only) there in the process of being realized, namely the “totality of existing facts” (2.04) or facts (1.1). 2.063 then unexpectedly levels the difference: "The whole of reality is the world". The contradiction in this is nowhere eliminated.

Section 4

Saying and showing, the limits of language

In Theorem 4.0312 Wittgenstein formulates his central thesis : “My basic idea is that the 'logical constants' are not represented. That the logic of facts cannot be represented. ”Strings like“ and ”,“ or ”,“ not ”,“ if ... then ”are, in other words, not names in the sense of the Tractatus : They do not stand for things“ represented ” nothing, at most enable representation. According to Wittgenstein, one can only think about what is configured, but not “configuration” per se, regardless of what is configured or logically formed: “The sentence cannot represent the logical form, it is reflected in it. What is reflected in the language, it cannot represent. What is expressed in language, we can not express through it. The sentence shows the logical form of reality. He shows them. ”(4.121) Here Wittgenstein is in explicit contrast to Bertrand Russell . The fact that logical constants such as “and”, “or”, “if ... then” do not stand for something can also be seen from the fact that they can be easily converted into one another, and ultimately all can be represented by the Sheffer line (cf. 3.3441). In addition, Wittgenstein's ontology gets caught: If the complex state of affairs, which is expressed by (the elementary sentences) 'a' and 'b', exists, the elementary sentences are therefore true, then because a and b exist. It is not necessary, as Russell assumed, to have to establish a relationship between the facts "and" (and "acquaintance" with them).

Logic, i.e. the structure of a fact, its form, is what Wittgenstein calls the “limit” of the world (cf. 5.61), thus also the limit of what can be described. In terms of logic, nothing verifiable can be represented: For example, don't say 'There are objects' like one says, 'There are books'. And neither: 'There are 100 objects' or 'There are objects'. […] Wherever the word 'object' […] is used correctly, it is expressed in the conceptual writing by the variable name. [...] Wherever it is used differently, i.e. as an actual term, nonsensical pseudo-sentences arise. "

The sentence "shows" its meaning (cf. 4.022) in the connection of its elementary sentences, is their "truth function" (cf. 5). Therefore there can be no meaningful sentences about what constitutes sentences: connections; for every such sentence, in order to have meaning, would have to be justified by what it actually first wanted to establish: the logic of something to which it, as a meaningful sentence, must belong from the start. "We cannot think anything illogical, because otherwise we would have to think illogically." (3.03)

Meaningful and meaningless sentences

Wittgenstein distinguishes three types of sentences: meaningful , meaningless and nonsensical . A meaningful sentence is a sentence that represents a state of affairs or a fact; its meaning consists in the presented relationships: “One can actually say: instead of, this sentence has this and this meaning; this sentence represents this and this state of affairs. ”(cf. 4.031) A meaningless sentence is either tautological (for example:“ It is raining or it is not raining. ”) or - vice versa - adversarial (“ Olaf is a married bachelor ”or“ You draws a five-sided square ”); it is not a picture of a fact, so it has no meaning, “tautology leaves the whole - infinite - logical space to reality ; the contradiction fills the whole logical space and leaves no point to reality. ”(4.463)

Sections 5-6

Nonsensical sentences

As absurd designating Tractatus all sentences that are neither meaningful nor meaningless. As a result, a sentence such as “What I am writing is wrong”, which relates only to itself and nothing in the world outside of him (an allusion to the Epimenides paradox ), never has any meaning. A proposition becomes nonsense if one of its components, names or elementary proposition, no meaning , no factual thing differentiated from it, which it (for its part only) depicts, is confronted (5.4733): “The name means the object. The object is its meaning ”(3.203). So z. For example, “love your nearest and dearest like yourself” is “nonsense”, since this sentence is about something that does not depend on reality. “It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed.” (6.421) Ethical propositions are prescriptions; Being like that can hurt them (disagree with them) without losing their content. According to the Tractatus, sentences whose validity is not influenced by reality are “nonsense”. This applies not only to ethical, but also to philosophical propositions, ultimately the Tractatus itself: "My propositions are explained by the fact that those who understand me ultimately recognize them as nonsensical ..." (6.54). In other words, philosophical propositions do not represent anything here; for “everything that happens and being is accidental.” The philosophical version of what “makes it non-accidental” describes something that “cannot lie in the world”; “Because otherwise it would be coincidental again. It must be outside the world ”(6.41). However, according to the use made by the Tractatus of this word, only facts or facts in the world can result from them .

The general sentence form

In principle, the Tractatus presents two basic conceptions of what a proposition is: On the one hand, it is a picture of a state of affairs, on the other hand, it is “a truth function of elementary propositions” (5); Elementary sentences are linked with one another by operations (these correspond to the joiners of logic). According to Wittgenstein, all sentences can be generated with the help of elementary sentences and their connection through operations. Therefore Wittgenstein gives the general sentence form in sentence 6, i.e. the general form of the truth function:

represents a sentence variable in which elementary sentences are linked. So z. B. for (P, Q, R) (cf. 5.501). represents exactly the connection of elementary sentences by a juncture, which is itself functionally complete , such junctions are called Sheffer operators . Wittgenstein refers to the Peirce operator or NOR . Wittgenstein dispenses with quantifiers when specifying the general truth function ; instead, universality (and thus also existence) can be represented by a (possibly infinite) connection of all elementary propositions or all relevant objects of the individual realm, which allness is supposed to include.

Wittgenstein's notation of a truth function is, for example, the following for a truth function on two elementary sentences p and q (cf. 5.101): or

This is to be understood in such a way that the characters in the first bracket represent the last column of a truth table . F or stands for false, W for true. The order of the assignments must of course be determined. So the full truth table would be:

p q (WFWW) (p, q)
W. W. W.
W. F. F.
F. W. W.
F. F. W.

Thus just corresponds to the logical implication , so .

The general truth function is thus to be understood as follows: The sentence p is obtained by successively linking the elementary sentences specified by with the logical NOR.


Concerning the contents of human consciousness, 5.542 states: “But it is clear that 'A believes that p', 'A thinks that p', 'A says that p' of the form '“ p ”says p 'are: And here it is not a question of an assignment of a fact and an object, but of the assignment of facts through the assignment of their objects. ”- Psychological terms such as“ believing ”,“ thinking ”,“ imagining ”,“ dreaming ” In other words, “who and being of opinion” etc. does not identify anything from a “fact” (meaning here: the soul as that which “believes”, “dreams” or “thinks”) and an object assigned to it (meaning : the content of faith, imagination or dream "p") compound, but relate solely to objective, d. H. "Inner images" (facts or circumstances composed of objects) that can be transferred into sentences. They cannot have anything that goes beyond that which is psychic, which surpasses the imagined (essentially different from it), as their object. Because if the soul were a fact like its content, it would also have to be representable, thus composed of objects or facts. “A composite soul”, however, “would […] no longer be a soul” (5.5421), because in this case, like everything composite, it could be dismantled or destroyed; but the soul (according to Plato ) is simple, therefore not composed, and therefore immortal. From which it follows for Wittgenstein: “The thinking, representing subject does not exist” (5.631) - in the same sense, for example, in which ethics or aesthetics do not “exist” like (space-occupying, compound and countable) trees or houses. Our mind, in that it actually represents one or the other, is not conditioned by it, nor can it be determined from it. For Wittgenstein, a boundary does not run between the inner world and the outer world, both of which are on the same level in terms of their linguistic constitution, but between sense and nonsense: that which can be imagined and that which distinguishes a non-representation from an idea.

Ethics and mysticism

Wittgenstein wrote to Ludwig von Ficker in October 1919 that the meaning of the Tractatus was ethical and that it was to be viewed as a two-part work, the ethical part of which was not written because it would only be nonsense. On ethics he writes in the Tractatus : “That is why there can be no propositions of ethics. Sentences cannot express anything higher. ”(6.42) A sentence cannot formulate what carries it and therefore always only represent the“ world ”, but cannot accuse or accuse. Wittgenstein also talks about God, solipsism and mysticism, he writes: "The mystical is not what the world is like, but that it is." (6.44) This mystery cannot be explained with sentences at all (cf. 6.522) , because they only introduce what is possible, not why it is possible.

The ladder analogy

Towards the end of the book, Wittgenstein borrows an analogy from Arthur Schopenhauer : He compares the Tractatus with a ladder which has to be “thrown away” after one has “climbed” on it. If philosophy consists in grasping the presupposition of true and false, it cannot invoke either one or the other; it is, so to speak, “out of this world”. "My sentences explain by the fact that those who understand me will recognize them as nonsensical in the end, if through them - on them - he has risen above them." (6.54)

Section 7

The last section of the Tractatus consists only of a concise and much-quoted sentence: “What one cannot talk about, one must be silent about it.” By this it is not meant that certain truths are better left unmentioned, but that what makes speaking or thinking possible is not whose object can be - whereby philosophical speech is absolutely in question.

Interpretation and Effects of the Tractatus

Wittgenstein himself believed that he had solved all philosophical problems with the Tractatus and consequently withdrew from philosophy, at least for a few years.

Meanwhile the work v. a. the interest of the Vienna Circle , including Rudolf Carnaps and Moritz Schlicks . The group spent several months working through the work, sentence by sentence, and finally Schlick persuaded Wittgenstein to discuss the work with the circle. While Carnap praised the fact that the work provided important insights, he criticized the last movements of the Tractatus . Wittgenstein then told Schlick that he could not imagine that Carnap had so misunderstood the intention and meaning of the Tractatus .

Newer interpretations connect the Tractatus with Søren Kierkegaard , whom Wittgenstein greatly admired. Kierkegaard was convinced that certain things could not be expressed in everyday language and that they had to be manifested indirectly. As representatives of the more recent interpretations of the Tractatus , for example, Cora Diamond and the American philosopher James F. Conant (* 1958) argue that Wittgenstein's sentences should actually be taken as nonsensical, and that the basic intention of the Tractatus was actually to show that the attempt was made To draw a line between sense and nonsense ends up in nonsense again. A German-language book in which this interpretation of the Tractatus is presented is Wittgenstein's director of Logi Gunnarsson .

In addition to the considerable influence that the Tractatus had on the (especially analytical) philosophy of the 20th century, influences on non-philosophical literature and art can also be demonstrated. In the novel Nervous fish from Heinrich Steinfest example is Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus it were the Bible of the main character, the chief inspector Lukastik. Umberto Eco quotes sentence 6.54 in his novel Der Name der Rose in a Middle High German translation: “He must throw off the ladder, so he can step up”. The Finnish jazz composer and writer Mauri Antero Numminen and the Austrian composer Balduin Sulzer even tried to set the Tractatus to music: one parodistically and only quoting the main clauses, the other much more serious and referring to the - also appreciated by Wittgenstein - " Viennese School ".


Wittgenstein's diaries from the period 1914 to 1916 can be very illuminating, in which many formulations from the Tractatus are less briefly anticipated. In order to be able to read the Tractatus profitably , it also makes sense to familiarize yourself with the basics of logic before reading it.

Introductory Works

  • GEM Anscombe : An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus , Hutchinson, London, 1959. Other revised editions.
  • Max Black : A Companion to Wittgenstein's Tractatus , Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1964.
  • Ernst Michael Lange: Ludwig Wittgenstein: 'Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung' , UTB-Schöning, Paderborn, 1996. Online (LPAEINLonline-1.pdf)
  • Christian Mann: What one must be silent about: Wittgenstein on the basics of logic and mathematics . Turia & Kant, Vienna 1994. ISBN 3-85132-073-5 ( PDF )
  • Howard O. Mounce Wittgenstein's Tractatus. An Introduction . Blackwell, Oxford 1990, ISBN 0-631-12556-6 (Introduction to College Students)
  • Claus-Artur Scheier: Wittgenstein's crystal. A sentence commentary on the 'Logisch-philosophischen Abhandlung', Alber, Freiburg / Munich 1991. ISBN 3-495-47678-4
  • Erik Stenius: Wittgenstein's Tractatus; An Exposition of Its Main Lines of Thought. Basil Blackwell & Cornell University Press, Oxford & Ithaca, New York 1960. ISBN 0-631-06070-7 (German: Wittgenstein's Tractatus. A critical exposition of his main ideas. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1969.)
  • Holm Tetens: Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus'. A commentary, Reclam, Stuttgart, 2009. ISBN 978-3-15-018624-4

Web links

Individual evidence