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Wittgenstein Manuscripts

Wittgenstein’s Manuscripts

Although in his lifetime Wittgenstein published only one book on philosophy - the Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung (the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) - dissemination of his ideas by his students, and many publications after his death based on his manuscripts, have made many of his ideas widely known. More than 20,000 books and articles have been published on his work. However, about three quarters of the approximately 30,000 manuscript pages of his literary legacy - the Nachlaß - have yet to be edited.

Today Wittgenstein’s influence is felt primarily in philosophy, in particular the philosophy of language and psychology. He also exercises a considerable influence on the arts, both literary and visual. But his own interest was mainly in the foundations of mathematics and science, and in music as related to language. This important part of his work is still largely unknown and therefore not yet studied to the degree that it deserves. Our task is to publish his work in a form which makes it as accessible as possible while preserving the unique characteristics of the manuscripts he left behind, which are not merely drafts but finished texts.

In particular, the published manuscripts must and do reflect his way of writing philosophy in the form of ‘remarks’, separated by blank lines but ‘proceeding from one subject to another in a natural order and without breaks’. The key to the understanding of his writings is the study of the connections between the remarks, and their repetition within the changing context of the manuscripts. In a lecture in 1933 Wittgenstein gave his students the following picture of his work and of his philosophical method:

There is a truth in Schopenhauer’s view that philosophy is an organism, and that a book on philosophy, with a beginning and end, is a sort of contradiction. ... In philosophy matters are not simple enough for us to say ‘Let’s get a rough idea’, for we do not know the country except by knowing the connections between the roads. So I suggest repetition as a means of surveying the connections.

Individual manuscripts of Wittgenstein’s work can therefore only be understood within a complete edition in which the whole of this complex network becomes apparent. The demands and structures of the manuscripts require new editiorial concepts, techniques and tools, as well as typographical solutions, to present his ideas in printed form, supplemented by a computer-based apparatus for studying the multitude of connections within his philosophy.

Vienna Edition

The Vienna Edition

To meet these requirements the Wittgenstein Archive, under the direction of Michael Nedo, has for over twenty years been dedicated to producing the Vienna Edition of Wittgenstein’s manuscripts, an undertaking described by the late Sir Karl Popper as ‘the most important editorial project of our time’.

Initial work was undertaken at the University of Tübingen, funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. The project then moved to Trinity College, which generously provided support, and is now independently housed, close to the University and city centre of Cambridge. The editorial research-work is at present funded mainly by the Austrian National Research Foundation (FWF) and the Austrian Ministry for Education, Research and Culture (BM:bwk).

The Vienna Edition is published by the international science publisher Springer of Vienna and New York. So far 11 volumes together with a fully integrated student edition of 6 volumes have appeared to widespread critical acclaim. Further support is needed for the work to continue.