What does logical atomism say about language?

Summary of Tractatus logico-philosophicus

The analytical philosophy

In the second half of the 19th century, analytic philosophy emerged as a countermovement to idealism, especially to Hegel's metaphysics. She tried how Thank God Frege it put it "to break the rule of the word over the human mind" by exposing deceptions that inevitably arise through the use of language. The representatives of analytical philosophy countered the speculative theories and unprovable statements of the idealists with logical language criticism and conceptual analysis. Two different currents emerged: During Frege and Bertrand Russell Constructed a formal ideal language for analytical purposes, turned the Cambridge philosopher George Edward Moore colloquial language too. What united these philosophers in spite of all their differences was a deep skepticism towards metaphysics and towards statements that could not be verified by empirical means.

A very influential direction within analytical philosophy at the beginning of the 20th century was logical atomism. According to Russell, all objects, mental as well as material, are composed of the smallest building blocks, the so-called logical (not physical) atoms. The world can be analytically broken down into its individual atomic parts and described using a logically constructed ideal language. The sensory data on the color, shape and degree of hardness of the objects form the indubitable basis of all knowledge and all knowledge.


After a few semesters of mechanical engineering in Berlin and Manchester, Ludwig Wittgenstein moved to Cambridge University in 1911 at the suggestion of Gottlob Frege to study logic and philosophy with the famous Bertrand Russell. A warm friendship soon developed between the two of them, although for Russell it was sometimes torturous. The young student visited his professor every day to discuss logical problems with him for hours. On a trip to Norway with his friend and lover David Pinsent Wittgenstein decided to continue his logical studies in silence and seclusion. Far away from the University of Cambridge, he worked in a Norwegian hut on his notes, which later became the basis of the Tractatus should form.

Impact history

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Wittgenstein immediately volunteered. Despite his service at the front, where he was honored several times for his bravery and made it to lieutenante, he managed to finish the book in 1918. In the same year David Pinsent died in an airplane accident; Wittgenstein dedicated this to the brilliant mathematician Tractatus. After being released from Italian captivity for several months, he returned to Vienna in 1919, where he gave away almost all of his possessions and began training as a primary school teacher. With the Tractatus he believed that he had finally solved all philosophical problems - and still found no publisher. In 1921, through Russell's efforts, the manuscript was published under the title Logical-philosophical treatise in the Annals of natural philosophy and a year later for the first time as a book. // // The reactions to the Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Wittgenstein's only work published during his lifetime, ranged from sheer incomprehension to boundless enthusiasm. Even an accomplished logician like Frege admitted in a letter to Russell that he hadn't understood a word of the whole book. For Russell himself, as for many others, the short text exerted an enormous fascination and soon after its publication earned its author the reputation of a philosophical genius. That had a great influence Tractatus, which was also referred to as the "Bible of logical positivism", to the Vienna Circle founded in the 1920s Moritz Schlick and Rudolf Carnap. Despite its importance for logical positivism, Wittgenstein was never a follower of this school and from the beginning of the 1930s even increasingly turned from his im Tractatus expressed thoughts. Instead of analyzing an ideal artificial language, he now turned his attention to the spoken everyday language.

With the Tractatus Wittgenstein heralds the so-called "linguistic turn" in philosophy, that is, the in-depth study of language. His philosophy, which hardly refers to other thought traditions, represented something completely new. Despite Wittgenstein's own objections, that remained Tractatus one of the most influential works of the 20th century, especially in the Anglo-Saxon region. This is the language philosophy of John Langshaw Austin and Gilbert Ryle clearly in the tradition of Wittgenstein.