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About this Site
Jonathan Laventhol

What is it?

This site is about the influential book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, published in 1922 by the Anglo-Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). The book is written in 526 numbered paragraphs which are structured as notes about notes on wide-ranging topics; much of it is about formal logic and its limits. These web pages present the entire standard English translation by C.K. Ogden next to the original German, in a form which encourages understanding the text's structure. The pages are complete with the formulas, diagrams, and tables of the original, along with the introduction by Bertrand Russell.

Who made it and why?

The site was made by myself as an private study aid while revisiting the Tractatus after many years. You will have to make up your own mind about whether such a tool helps or hinders your appreciation of the book.

The curious who wish to dip into Wittgenstein will like the web pages; anyone actually wanting to read the whole book is is recommended to read the paper copy in a silent room with pencil and paper handy.

Although the site is intended as an English site about a text in German, it would be interesting to hear from anyone with good translations in other languages.

The Ogden Translation

The intention was to remain as faithful as possible to the Ogden translation, published by RKP. As the translator says in his Note, some of the translation is rather literal; some of the syntax not English is.

Spellings are those in the book: usual for its time and place. Those searching the text electronically might be warned that these that these include ``to-morrow'', ``connexion'', ``an hypothesis'', as well as ``colour''; mostly ``-ize'' is preferred over ``-ise''.

Omitted are: Max Black's index, and German text for three-digit propositions (except under 1 and 2, which are complete). The German text is to be considered experimental: it wasn't typed or read by a German speaker.

The Source

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

by Ludwig Wittgenstein
German text with an English translation en regard by C.K. Ogden; with an introduction by Bertrand Russell.
Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1922

ISBN 0 7100 3004 5
ISBN 0 7100 0962 3 (paperback)

Too much logic for you?

Those interested in Wittgenstein's early thought but who aren't interested in logic might care to look at these parts:

about the nature of science, philosophy
about the limits of language; solipsism
about causality, science as description; what ``natural laws'' are
about ethics, death, mysticism
about scepticism; limits of philosophy
about when to stop speaking

What the Tractatus says about the World Wide Web

It might be noted that 6.54 can be read as if it is about this web site. And perhaps 6.341 is about digital images.

Symbolic Notation

The symbolic notation is Peano-Russell, as Wittgenstein used. It would perhaps have been tempting to add ``translations'' in a more modern notation, but as the book is so concerned with subtleties of notation, that is a path I feared to tread. (See, for example, 5.461.) If you're interested in the sections about logic, you've probably met this notation before: if not, be warned that as well as indicating conjunction, `.' is also used to disambiguate expressions like ``p . s .v: q . s .v. r . s'' which might otherwise be written ``(p . s) v [(q . s) v (r . s)]''; universal and existential quantification are written ``(x)'' and `` EXISTS x''. You may find the table at 5.101 useful for the boolean operations. As well as the notes within the book, Russell's introduction is well worth reading and covers some of Wittgenstein's particular notation. The typographical discrepancy was removed, and ``Mr Wittgenstein's symbol'' is reproduced as [ p-bar ,  xi-bar , N( xi-bar )], the same way it is given in the text (at 6).

What order to read the propositions?

The footnote explaining the numbering * says:

The decimal figures as numbers of the separate propositions indicate the logical importance of the propositions, the emphasis laid upon them in my exposition. The propositions n.1, n.2, n.3, etc., are comments on proposition No. n; the propositions n.m1, n.m2, etc., are comments on the proposition No. n.m; and so on.

One the many questions which the Tractatus raises is this: is really written to be read linearly? Does it make -- possibly more -- sense to read it in the other order? One of the unusual features of the book is that it has an obvious other way to read it, ignoring browsing: read all the one-digit sections, then the two-digit sections, and so on.

The printed order we could call ``depth-first'', and the other order ``breadth-first'' -- following the conventional computing terms -- and can be shown like this:

depth-first diagram breadth-first diagram

The experiment is to read the text in breadth-first order, which is impractical with the printed book: too much page-turning. You'll quickly find that breadth-first reading puts enormous strains on your memory and renders the book unintelligible.

Instead, if we take Wittgenstein's other meaning of the numbering: he places more emphasis on the shorter numbers. This suggests another reading: depth-first, but limit yourself to, for example, two digits unless you're especially interested.

Lastly, browsing. Many people like to browse the Tractatus and pick parts out at random. You will find the map handy for this.

The Phantom Propositions

Although Wittgenstein says that ``the propositions n.m1, n.m2, etc., are comments on the proposition No. n.m'' this isn't strictly true. For example, Proposition 2 is followed by 2.01, not 2.0 -- giving rise to an opportunity for ``angel/pinhead'' disputation.

We will try to stay with the angels: a pragmatic decision was made to add ``phantom'' propositions, whose numbers end with ``0'', as this makes the pages shorter.

Experimentation showed that the best structure for the web site was for each proposition to have its own page, with showing the proposition and annotations to it. In general, interactive text web sites appear to work best when they are ``short and bushy'' (short pages, many links) rather ``tall and sparse'' (long pages, few links).

To do this, fifteen phantoms were added -- you can read the notes under them yourself and perhaps find some significance in their absence from the original: 2.0, 2.020, 2.20, 3.00, 3.0, 3.20, 4.00, 4.0, 5.0, 5.10, 5.50, 5.530, 6.00, 6.0, 6.120.

Technical Information

The pages were made by a computer program which makes the individual pages with the appropriate propositions and links. It also makes the maps and helps with the formatting of of the formulas. The program is written in C and runs on a small Unix computer.

The structure of the site is as simple as possible so that the pages work as local files as well as on a web server.

The pages were designed to be able to be read with almost any browser, including text-only. The formulas are constructed with small images to give as faithful a representation as possible of the original: most are done with images of individual characters (e.g. 6) and two with blocks (4.27, 4.42). There are four pages with diagrams (5.5423, 5.6331, 6.1203, 6.36111) and three with tables (4.31 4.442 5.101). Your browser must show ISO-8859-1 (Latin 1) characters to get Greek mu (µ), multiplication sign (×) and the most common: a non-break space: (x x different to xx). Occasional accents are used: rôle and æsthetics.


Jonathan Laventhol jonathan@pavilion.co.uk

Correspondence about this site is welcomed.

Brighton, 3 October 1996