24 December 2007

Ludwig Wittgenstein. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.1922

“Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train”. John Maynard Keynes on Wittgenstein's return to Cambridge in 1929.

Ludwig Wittgenstein. TRACTATUS LOGICO - PHILOSOPHICUS. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner. London, 1922.

Current Selling Prices
$1250-$2800 /£650-£1400

A regular looking OUP 1920s book of 189 pages published in navy blue cloth lettered gilt. Not impossible to find - I have had 3 copies since the Falklands war. I was reminded of the book recently when Lord Paddy Ashdown quoted Wittgenstein when being hounded by the press over his refusal of a job with Gordon Brown. In a typically British way he prefaced the quote with '...I think it was Wittgenstein who said' and then trotted out the final sentence of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus word perfect:
'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.' ("Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.")
The BBC said that he quoted an obscure Austrian philosopher, which can't be right... Wittgenstein has been mentioned on Monty Python ('Wittgenstein was a beery swine / Who was just as sloshed as Schlegel') and is one of the greatest philosophers since the European Enlightment of the 18th century. My congratulations to Paddy--normally the British are so afraid of being thought pretentious they would not dare quote a philosopher to a pack of rabid hacks.

Wittgenstein is of course a bloody difficult read - the Tractatus is written in an aphoristic style and is best swallowed in small chunks. LW's story is well known -- Jewish descent, went to the same school as Hitler, fabulously wealthy parents, studied Maths, had mystical experience as a soldier on the Eastern Front after reading Tolstoy, met Russell, outshone him, open necked shirts, gave away all his money, gay, recited Tagore facing a wall, furnished his room at Cambridge with deck chairs - the stuff of legends. The book starts off stating a metaphysic where the world consists entirely of simple or elementary facts none of which is dependent on one another; the job of language is the stating of facts, which it does by picturing the facts...after this it gets difficult and Finnegans Wake is probably an easier read; however aphorisms such as this are perfectly palatable- 'the limits of my mind mean the limits of my world' (also translated as 'the limits of my language mean the limits of my world') and his later gnomic pronouncement- 'If God looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of'.

The book is in German and English and the English was translated by the remarkable C.K. Ogden. It is preceded by the 1921 German edition. There is a point of sorts on the book--in the ads at the rear other, later titles in the series the 'International Library of Psychology, Philosophy, and Scientific Method' edited by C.K. Ogden can be present in true first editions up to the mid 1920s and there are ads dated as late as 1931. The price is not radically affected by this.

VALUE? The U.S. edition from Harcourt (also 1922) can be had in nice condition for $1000 or less--it follows the U.K. ed and was printed with the original British sheets. The UK edition can top £1000 or $2000 if it is a decent copy which it rarely is. A 'a very good firm copy' sits right now in London with a carriage trade dealer at a remarkable £2500. Several association copies have turned up, in 2002 we had philosopher J.N. Findlay's copy -not bad because he wrote a book on LW. More spectacular was F. P. Ramsey's copy, with Wittgenstein's autograph notes which made £4200 in 1981. Ramsey while still in his teens had assisted the polymath Ogden in his translation and later visited Wittgenstein in Austria. It is hard to imagine a better association copy. Of the German edition I can find no prices and assume it is 1000 euros or more but as to it's true value at present, this is a matter that 'we must pass over in silence.'

TRIVIA. A book, not thin, came out a few years ago trying to show that Wittgenstein knew Hitler at school and Hitler had become anti-semitic as a result. The book was Kimberley Cornish's' The Jew of Linz' and it's thesis has been fairly roundly rejected- illustration left. However the teacher whom Hitler commends in Mein Kampf for teaching him German history and making him into a fanatical German nationalist, one Dr Leopold Poetsch, also took Wittgenstein's class on overnight excursions - tenuous, but conspiracy theories have been built on less. Further Trivia-- one of the drop-in attendees at Wittgenstein's Cambridge classes in the 1940s was a black USAF sergeant fom a nearby American base (Lakenheath?) possessed, it is said, of a cheerful face and disposition. Ludwig was apparently inconsolable when, due to pressures of war and work, he no longer came by. Who was that man? There's a book right there.


Tom Graham said...


I believe I have a true first edition of the tractatus in fair condition (ex libris; has some markings at the front and binding tape between a couple of pages). How much should I put it onto abebooks for? Please reply to: tom.oliver.graham@gmail.com. Thanks for your time.

Best wishes,
Tom Graham

Slaughterteddy said...

They are now creeping up to £2,500 - worth asking for.

I have first editions of both the
Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations (where he effectively repudiates much of the Tractatus), neither of which I will ever sell (especially the Tractatus: the one I have is annotated by Marcus Dick, founding professor of philosophy at the University of East Anglia - two philosophers in one!).

BTW, an easier way to read the Tractatus is follow the numbering: read paragraphs 1, 2 3... 7, and you have a complete overview. Then go 1, 1.1, 1.2 ... 2, 2.1, 2.2 etc. It's layered, like an onion (and still bloody hard work)!

I've always regarded him almost as an antiphilosopher: he loathed the idea of "doing philosophy"; as I understand him he believed you had to live it. And he did: abandoning professorships to become a school teacher, working as a hospital porter at Guy's in the second world war, and always did what he thought was right.

He also had the intellectual bravery to say that his seminal book, the Tractatus, whilst it had much of value was also full of bo**ocks.

And, of course, he outshone Bertie, for which he was never forgiven.