The Tractatus

Wittgenstein,Tolstoy and the Folly of Logical Positivism

Stuart Greenstreet explains how analytical philosophy got into a mess.

This year’s centenary of the First World War coincides with Ludwig Wittgenstein beginning writing his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Latin for ‘Logical-Philosophical Treatise’), the only book the Austrian philosopher published in his lifetime. Not the least astonishing fact about it is that, as we shall see, most of it was written between 1914 and 1918 by a brave young soldier fighting at the front line.

In July 1914, when the whole of Europe suddenly found itself at war, Ludwig Wittgenstein, a son of one of the richest men in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was twenty-five years old. He had spent the previous two years (1911-13) at the University of Cambridge, studying philosophy with Bertrand Russell, who was a lecturer there. But he happened to be at home in Vienna on 28th July 1914, when his country declared war on Serbia.

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