Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus and Teaching

BackgroundThe Early YearsCambridgeNorwayFirst World WarTractatus and TeachingArchitectReturn to CambridgeIn Russia and Norway etc.Professor of PhilosophyFinal Years


In January he was transferred to a POW camp at Cassino. On the way there he made friends with the sculptor Michael Drobil and the teachers Hermann Hänsel and Franz Parak. With the completion of the Abhandlung (the German Manuscript, published in English as Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus), Wittgenstein experienced for himself what it meant to lose one’s career, since he believed that he had now exhausted the possibilities for his working in Philosophy. He therefore decided, no doubt influenced by his new friends, to become a teacher when he was released from captivity.

In June, with the help of the Red Cross, he sent Russell and Frege each a copy of his manuscript, of which he had two in his rucksack when taken prisoner. Relations with his English friends were burdened by the war. Whitehead, who had lost a son on active service, did not want to hear Wittgenstein’s name mentioned; the militant pacifism that put Russell in prison contrasted strikingly with Wittgenstein’s voluntary war service, although their mutual affection and regard had not been impaired by this.

In August Wittgenstein was released from captivity and returned to his family in Vienna. The first thing he did was to dispose of the whole of his inherited fortune, which he shared out amongst his brother and sisters. He then began on 16 September his training as a primary school teacher in the Kundmanngasse Teacher Training Institute in Vienna’s 3rd district. He believed that the Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung marked the definitive ending of his work in Philosophy. In the 1918 preface to the Abhandlung he wrote, I therefore believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems. And several years later he added in a conversation with Frank Ramsey that no one could work on philosophy for more than five or ten years, and that his book had taken seven.

He again tried to get the Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung published, first by Braumüller in Vienna, whose insistence that the author share the printing costs he rejected as immoral, and then, with Frege’s help, in the journal Beiträge zur Geschichte des deutschen Idealismus, whose publisher demanded changes in the manuscript as a precondition of publication. These Wittgenstein refused. Ludwig von Ficker regarded the financial risk as too great for publication in Der Brenner. Instead, he tried unsuccessfully, with Rainer Maria Rilke’s assistance, to arrange for publication by Insel Verlag in Leipzig, and later on by Otto Reichel, Eduard von Keyserling’s publisher in Darmstadt.

In the period from 13 to 20 December Wittgenstein met Russell in The Hague to explain his book to him. To cover his travelling costs, he asked Russell in a letter from 1 November 1919, to sell the effects, furniture, books, etc which he had stored in Cambridge and to destroy the manuscripts to be found there: “Among my things are a load of diaries and manuscripts. These are all to be burned!!!" (Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore, Oxford, 1974)

Ludwig Wittgenstein. Portrait on receipt of his teaching qualification


Russell had offered to write an introduction to the book to improve the chances of publication by Reclam-Verlag. At the beginning of April Wittgenstein received the records of Russell’s introduction, although, as he wrote to Russell on 9 April, he disagreed with some of it, both where you criticise me and where you simply try to explain my views. After Wittgenstein read the German translation, he decided, at the beginning of May, against publication: The finer points of your English style were - it is obvious - lost in the translation, and what remained was superficiality and misunderstanding. (Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore)

In July Wittgenstein ended his teacher training. The last attempt to publish his book failed because he rejected Russell’s introduction, which, he wrote to Russell, should merely have served to help orient the publisher. Six weeks after the refusal from Reclam, on 7 July, Wittgenstein wrote to Russell: Reclam has of course not accepted my book, and for the moment I shall take no further steps to have it published, so it is completely at your disposal and you can do with it whatever you want. (Only when you change something in the text, indicate that the alteration is yours.) (Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore). In August Wittgenstein worked as under-gardener in the monastery of Klosterneuburg near Vienna. In September he took up his first position as primary school teacher in Trattenbach, a small village on the Semmering in Lower Austria.

Russell left in the autumn for a year in China as visiting professor at the University of Peking. He commissioned a former student, the mathematician Dorothy Wrinch, to see to publication of Wittgenstein’s work.


On 14 January the syndicate of the Cambridge University Press (a committee of University academics which determined the publishing programme) rejected publication of the book because Wittgenstein’s manuscript was offered without Russell’s introduction. In February, Wilhelm Ostwald took on publication, although only with Russell’s introduction. The Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung first appeared in 1921 as the last number of Ostwald’s Annalen der Naturphilosophie. Wittgenstein was not involved in the editing.

Wittgenstein spent his summer holidays in Norway with Arvid Sjögren, a family friend, later to become the husband of his niece Clara. For the first time he lived in the cabin which he built for himself in Skjolden in 1914.

After fruitless attempts to find a publisher in Germany for Wittgenstein’s Abhandlung, and after the refusal by the Cambridge University Press, Dorothy Wrinch turned to a friend, C. K. Ogden, the editor of a scholarly series, The International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method, published by Kegan Paul. Ogden showed more understanding for the signficance of Wittgensntein’s work than the publishers and editors previously approached. He proposed to Russell to publish the work in the series of which he was the general editor.


In March Wittgenstein received from Ogden the manuscript of the English translation of his book, and soon afterwards a reprint of the Annalen with the first publication of his Abhandlung. He was enraged at the slovenly edition and described it as a pirate printing (Raubdruck). In a detailed correspondence with Ogden he revised the English translation, and on 22 June in a letter to the publishers Kegan Paul in London, transferred to them all the rights of publication. In August Wittgenstein met Russell for once more in connection with the book, on this occasion in Innsbruck.

In September he changed schools and was briefly a teacher in a secondary modern school in Hassbach, near Neunkirchen in Lower Austria. He disliked his new environment, and especially the fact that he took his class for one year only, and not, as was usual in smaller schools, right through their whole time in school. At his own request, he was transferred, once more as a primary teacher, to the small community of Puchberg on the Schneeberg.

Wittgenstein with his pupils in Puchberg am Schneeberg

In November Wittgenstein received the first author’s copies of the German-English edition of the Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung with the title of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus proposed by Moore for the English translation.


Wittgenstein learned from Ogden that Frank Ramsey, who contributed substantially to the translation of the Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung, and who was still a student at Trinity College, wanted to visit him in Austria. Ramsey did come to Puchberg for two weeks in September and Wittgenstein read the Abhandlung with him for several hours a day and explained his ideas. In the course of these conversations he made a series of amendments and corrections to the English translation in Ramsey’s copy and some annotations and changes to the German text. Many of these alterations were heeded in the second edition in 1933.

Ramsey published the first review of the Tractatus in the philosophical journal Mind in October. On 22 July 1924, he wrote to his mother in Cambridge: We really live in a great time for thinking, with Einstein, Freud and Wittgenstein all alive, and all in Germany or Austria, those foes of civilisation!

Wittgenstein asked Ramsey to enquire about the possibility of formally completing his studies. Because of changes in the regulations, it was not possible for Wittgenstein to obtain the degree of B.A for which he had been working. Instead, Keynes and Ramsey proposed that he work on a Ph.D. Keynes provided &163;50 for Wittgenstein’s travel costs.


Ramsey became a Fellow of King’s College. He spent the months before taking up his fellowship travelling on the Continent, staying in Vienna from March until October for psychoanalysis with Theodor Reik. He visited Wittgenstein regularly in Puchberg, where the two worked together: I too could hardly speak for several days because I had to talk all day long in the last few days. In the mornings at school and in the afternoons with Ramsey from Cambridge, who stayed nearly 14 days. It was a pleasure for me too, even if it was also a great effort. (Wittgenstein in a letter to his sister Hermine).

Wittgenstein spent his summer holidays again in Vienna and at the Hochreith, postponing the planned visit to England until the following year. In autumn he changed schools again, and was transferred to Otterthal, a village near Trattenbach.

On 25 December Schlick wrote to Wittgenstein for the first time, asking if he might visit him in Puchberg with a select group of pupils and colleagues. Since the appearance of the Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung in Ostwald’s Annalen der Naturphilosophie in 1921 Wittgenstein’s ideas were being discussed with great interest in Vienna, especially since the time in 1922 when the German mathematician Reidemeister, who had just been made professor in Vienna, gave a seminar paper on Wittgenstein’s book in the seminar class of the mathematician Professor Hans Hahn. The loose discussion group around Moritz Schlick, later to develop into the Vienna Circle (Wiener Kreis) was convinced of the importance and validity of Wittgenstein’s basic ideas. This group was concerned to spread Wittgenstein’s views.


On 22 April Wittgenstein wrote a preface (Geleitwort) to the Wörterbuch für Volksschulen which he had been working on with his pupils since starting teaching, and which was intended to contribute to the improvement of spelling while giving special regard to the local dialect. This second of Wittgenstein’s books was published, minus the introduction, by Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky in Vienna in 1926.

Wordlist of his pupil Leopoldine Eichberge

In the summer, Wittgenstein undertook the promised trip to England, visiting Keynes at his house in Sussex, seeing friends in Cambridge and meeting Eccles, a friend from his time in the Engineering Lab in Manchester.

On 26 July Frege died. Wittgenstein’s letters to Frege were lost in the Second World War, and there remained preserved only a list of Wittgenstein’s letters which Frege had kept, with a brief indication of their content. Frege’s letters to Wittgenstein, along with about 400 other letters to Wittgenstein, came to light again through a happy circumstance in Vienna in 1988. They are at present to be found in the Brenner-Archiv of the University of Innsbruck.

Frank Plumpton Ramsey