Perhaps the most important work of philosophy written in the twentieth century, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was the only philosophical work that Ludwig Wittgenstein published during his lifetime. Written in short, carefully numbered paragraphs of extreme brilliance, it captured the imagination of a generation of philosophers. For Wittgenstein, logic was something we use to conquer a reality which is in itself both elusive and unobtainable. He famously summarized the book in the following words: 'What can be said at all can be said clearly; and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.' David Pears and Brian McGuinness received the highest praise for their meticulous translation. The work is prefaced by Bertrand Russell's original introduction to the first English edition.
The Tractatus is at least as much a poem as it is philosophy, although Wittgenstein clearly would have denied any hard-and-fast distinction between the two types of writing. Wittgenstein moves from theories of language in the first few sections of the book into examinations of mysticism and religion, leading the reader to the understanding that everything Wittgenstein has said or could say about metaphysics must be nonsense, but at the same to a type of spiritual enlightenment, even if the subsequent understanding of the relationship between humans, God, language, and the world cannot be put into words.
A dream come true for any budding acolyte.
This is one of the hardest books I have read, and I think I will need to read it again to better understand it, though I doubt it is all completely understandable. It doesn't start
While this is a very difficult book, it is a rewarding one to finish, and one that provokes thought. Nietzsche pronounces against the worth of philosophy and ethics and values with an emotive and impassioned style, but Wittgenstein does so coldly and without working himself up, which makes it far more convincing. There is another difference between the two, that Wittgenstein does not deny the existence of answers to questions of values etcetera, only that they lie outside of language and the world, that they cannot be expressed, that they are transcendental. There are some points in which he even comes across as pro-science, with a pragmatic attitude “ The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to one of his propositions.”. I think this is a common opinion of scientists, that metaphysics and philosophy ask questions for which there are no answers, and that we should stick to asking scientific questions for which there are answers. I do not agree with this though, as logic describes the necessarry truth, and as Wittgenstein says “ Logic is transcendental”, meaning that it too is surely as metaphysical as the rest of philosophy. Perhaps this is why he says that we should "thow away the ladder" (meaning the propositions of the book), after we have climbed them. If I have understood it aright, then throwing the ladder away is not necessary, it vanishes beneath us as soon as our foot has stepped off the final rung. Or it appears to do, if we take Wittgenstein at his word.
I will have to read his Philosophical Investigations to tell if his thought ever became consistent. Most of the Tractatus did seem to me to be consistent, but whether this is because I have understood it, or misunderstood it, it is difficult to tell. Caveat lector - this is strong stuff.
Nevertheless, recommended for