Book Tip: Wittgenstein's Tractatus: An Introduction

By Alfred Nordmann

In these past two weeks, readers of the journal may have discovered that I have a certain "soft spot" for the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, even if it is a flawed masterpiece. I enjoy the fact that Wittgenstein seeks to explore how spoken and written language can express anything at all. There is a certain compelling fascination or amazement in the ability of language to convey observations and thoughts.

As far as introductions go, there are quite a number of books on the Tractatus, and I cannot claim to have scoured through the catalogue of available options. I have read a few, though. I do enjoy Alfred Nordmann's introduction. I find his introduction thorough and illuminating. I find that his introduction of Wittgenstein's aims in the Tractatus are quite clear and detailed for the uninitiated reader. In particular, his explanation of sensical and nonsensical propositions provide examples which will permit readers to understand how the nonsensical can be quite meaningful (e.g. the statement "God is great" does not readily present a picture, but it can serve a very meaningful purpose in someone's life). I also enjoyed Nordmann's account of the ambiguous tone of the Tractatus. Should its axioms be read as firm facts? Or should they be read as quizzical experimentation? Is Wittgenstein dictating observations or is he trying things on for size? Nordmann's problematising of the tone of the Tractatus makes for compelling reading, and may prompt seasoned Wittgensteinians to have a second look at the book.

Overall, I found Alfred Nordmann's introduction a great read for either the newcomer or the old hand. It does more than merely summarise old territory, though Nordmann does not lose his reader as he attempts to explore novel interpretations.