skip to primary navigationskip to content

Wittgenstein's Notes on Logic

Oxford University Press, 2009NOL image

Hardback £35.00 ISBN 978-0-19-921583-6

Paperback £18.99 ISBN 978-0-19-959635-5

Online edition

Wittgenstein's philosophical career began in 1911 when he went to Cambridge to work with Russell. He compiled the Notes on Logic two years later as a kind of summary of the work he had done so far. Russell thought that they were 'as good as anything that has ever been done in logic', but he had Wittgenstein himself to explain them to him. Without the benefit of Wittgenstein's explanations, most later scholars have preferred to treat the Notes solely as an interpretative aid in understanding the Tractatus (which draws on them for material), rather than as a philosophical work in their own right.

Michael Potter unequivocally demonstrates the philosophical and historical importance of the Notes for the first time. By teasing out the meaning of key passages, he shows how many of the most important insights in the Tractatus they contain. He discusses in detail how Wittgenstein arrived at these insights by thinking through ideas he obtained from Russell and Frege. And he uses a challenging blend of biography and philosophy to illuminate the methods Wittgenstein used in his work.

The book features the complete text of the Notes in a critical edition, with a detailed discussion of the circumstances in which they were compiled, leading to a new understanding of how they should be read.


  • Introduction
    • The methodological approach which this book takes is outlined.

      Keywords: methodology.

  • 1. Finding a Problem
    • What led Wittgenstein to study philosophy with Russell in Cambridge? The narrative of Wittgenstein's life before 1911 is well summarized in the available biographies, so this chapter is limited to picking out a few points that deserve emphasis in the current context.

      Keywords: The Principles of Mathematics.

  • 2. First Steps
    • This chapter focuses on Russell's account of the philosophy of mathematics as it was when Wittgenstein arrived at Cambridge.

      Keywords: On denoting; Principia Mathematica.

  • 3. Matter
    • When Wittgenstein arrived in Cambridge, Russell was embarking on a new project, that of deriving the matter of which physicists speak from the sense data which he believed are the only parts of the physical world with which we are in a direct relation of acquaintance. Russell hesitated over whether this project was even possible. Only once Wittgenstein had left for Norway was he able to bring it to fruition in his paper `On the relation of sense data to physics'.

      Keywords: sense data; sensibilia; physics; Whitehead; Dawes Hicks; matter.

  • 4. Analysis
    • Keywords: analysis.

  • 5. The Fundamental Thought
    • Keywords: Grundgedanke; fundamental thought.

  • 6. The Symbolic Turn
    • Keywords: symbolic turn; linguistic turn.

  • 7. Simplicity
    • Keywords: simplicity.

  • 8. Unity
    • Keywords: unity.

  • 9. Fregean Propositions
    • This chapter explains why Wittgenstein rejected Frege's conception of propositions as names of truth values.

      Keywords: Frege.

  • 10. Assertion
    • Keywords: assertion.
  • 11. Complex and Fact
    • Wittgenstein's distinction between complex and fact is explained.

      Keywords: complex; fact.

  • 12. Forms
    • Keywords: form.

  • 13. Russell's Theory of Judgment
    • In June 1913 Wittgenstein's criticisms persuaded Russell to abandon the multiple relation theory of judgment that he had held (with variations) for several years. What Wittgenstein objected to was not that it was a multiple relation theory, but that in it the verb of the proposition judged cannot occur as a verb, since if it did, it would have to have a different multiplicity in the judgment from the multiplicity it has when it occurs in the proposition.

      Keywords: multiple relation theory of judgment.

  • 14. Meaning
    • Russell had held that what makes a true proposition true is a complex of things, but had struggled to say what makes a false proposition false. Wittgenstein disagreed with Russell in two ways: first, by holding that what makes a proposition true is a complex, not a fact; second, by holding that what makes a false proposition false is just what makes the negation of that proposition true.

      Keywords: meaning; complex; fact; truthmaker.

  • 15. Metaphysics
    • Keywords: metaphysics.

  • 16. Sense
    • Keywords: sense.

  • 17. Truth-Functions
    • Keywords: truth-function.

  • 18. Truth-Operations
    • Keywords: truth-operation.

  • 19. Molecular Propositions
    • Keywords: molecular propositions.

  • 20. Generality
    • Keywords: generality.

  • 21. Resolving the Paradoxes
    • Keywords: Russell's paradox.

  • 22. Typical Ambiguity
    • Keywords: typical ambiguity.

  • 23. Identity
    • Keywords: identity.


  • 24. Sign and Symbol
    • Keywords: sign; symbol.

  • 25. Wittgenstein's Theory of Judgment
    • Keywords: theory of judgment.

  • 26. The Picture Theory
    • Keywords: picture theory.

  • 27. Tractarian Objects
    • Keywords: objects.

  • 28. Philosophy
    • This chapter discusses Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy at the time he wrote the Notes.

      Keywords: philosophy.

  • 29. Themes
    • Keywords: themes.


  • A. History of the text
    • The story of how the Notes came to be compiled is described. It is argued that they fall into two parts. One part (consisting of MSS 1, 3 and 4) was dictated by Wittgenstein to a shorthand typist in German: most likely Wittgenstein was simply reading out to the stenographer entries from his working notebooks. The other part (MS2 and the Summary) was written or dictated by Wittgenstein in English in Russell's rooms at Trinity College: some of the formulations are Wittgenstein's translations of sentences from his notebooks, but others are ex temporeexplanations in response to Russell's questions.

      Keywords: Birmingham Notes; Cambridge Notes.

  • B. The Notes on Logic
    • This appendix contains a reprint of Wittgenstein's Notes on Logic together with a list of the alterations which Wittgenstein made to the surviving typescript of the Summary, and the various changes Russell made in the course of editing them. There is also an analysis of the Costello version of the Notesto show how they are derived from the one reprinted here.

      Keywords: Costello; Notes on Logic; MS1; MS2; MS3; MS4; Summary.

Corrections to hardback edition

p. 12 line 3 up: for "Bradley had held" read "Moore (mistakenly) took Bradley to have held"

p.12 line 2 up: for "had" read "to have"


p. 110 line 14 up: for "(∃x,R,y).xRy" read "(∃x,y).xRy.

p. 110 n. 5: for "23" read "21"

p. 139 line after table: for "(x.fx" read "(x).fx"

p. 146 par. 4 line 2: for "positive and negative fact" read "positive and negative facts"

p. 159 second truth table, last column: for "TTTF" read "FFFT"

p. 239 line 4: For "Neckar" read "Necker"

p. 243 line 11 up: Ditto

p. 259 par 2 line 4: insert space before "By"

p. 276 line 17 up: for "(∃x,R,y).xRy" read "(∃x,y).xRy.

The list of textual notes on pages 290-2 contains a number of errors and is not the version I had intended to appear. The errors are all trivial and of no philosophical consequence whatever. (E.g. words that Russell wrote above deletions are described as being after the deletions.) Nonetheless, I regret not noticing the mistake at the proof stage. As far as I can ascertain, it was caused by an error in syncing my work between two computers: the final corrected version was at some point overwritten with an earlier draft which I had saved on another computer. I shall post the correct version here shortly, so that those few readers who care about this somewhat arcane matter may download it and insert it into their copies.

p. 301: in entry for "Long, P." delete "100"

Thanks to Stewart Candlish and Calvin Blick for pointing out some of these corrections to me.