G.E.M. Anscombe’s Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

Highly recommended secondary source for understanding Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. Elizabeth Anscombe was Wittgenstein’s favourite student and has translated a great deal of his works from German into English (although Wittgenstein lectured at Cambridge in English, his writings were all in German, his mother-tongue). Anscombe is also a brilliant philosopher in her own right.

Wittgenstein found it impossible to lecture to the large crowd of students his lectures initially attracted, so he would handpick a small number (five or so, I believe) of students who would sit in his office, listen to him lecture off the top of his head, and handwrite notes. The notebooks containing the lectures would then be distributed to the other students, and since the notebooks were blue and brown in colour, they have been published under the title “the blue and brown books.” Anscombe was one of these students handpicked by Wittgenstein for him to lecture to.

Her commentary addresses common misconceptions about the Tractatus stemming from the work’s close association with the Vienna Circle of logical positivists. One of my current philosophical interest is working out the epistemological problem associated with Wittgenstein’s theory of objects in the Tractatus, and Anscombe’s Introduction is proving to be a valuable resource for studying this problem.

I think the Tractatus is too often dismissed as an “early” work of positivism. The work, in fact, contains beautiful insights into logic, metaphysics, mysticism, and even thoughts that border on phenomenology.

I personally think that the divide between the “early” and “later” Wittgenstein is overemphasized and that there is more coherency between the PI and Tractatus than is typically taught.

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