How to Read the Tractatus Sequentially


  • Tim Kraft Universität Regensburg


Wittgenstein Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, numbering system, tree reading, sequential reading, chain reading, eye analogy, resolute reading,


One of the unconventional features of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is its use of an elaborated and detailed numbering system. Recently, Bazzocchi, Hacker und Kuusela have argued that the numbering system means that the Tractatus must be read and interpreted not as a sequentially ordered book, but as a text with a two-dimensional, tree-like structure. Apart from being able to explain how the Tractatus was composed, the tree reading allegedly solves exegetical issues both on the local (e. g. how 4.02 fits into the series of remarks surrounding it) and the global level (e. g. relation between ontology and picture theory, solipsism and the eye analogy, resolute and irresolute readings). This paper defends the sequential reading against the tree reading. After presenting the challenges generated by the numbering system and the two accounts as attempts to solve them, it is argued that Wittgenstein’s own explanation of the numbering system, anaphoric references within the Tractatus and the exegetical issues mentioned above do not favour the tree reading, but a version of the sequential reading. This reading maintains that the remarks of the Tractatus form a sequential chain: The role of the numbers is to indicate how remarks on different levels are interconnected to form a concise, surveyable and unified whole.

Author Biography

Tim Kraft, Universität Regensburg

Tim Kraft studied philosophy, mathematics and economics at Göttingen and St Andrews. After completing his PhD with a thesis defending semantic normativity (Göttingen 2011), he moved to Regensburg as a “Wissenschaftlicher Assistant” (i.e. non-tenure-track assistant professor). His research interests include philosophy of language (rule-following, semantic normativity), epistemology (doxastic attitudes, epistemic normativity, scepticism and agnosticism, disjunctivism, epistemic closure) and the history of analytic philosophy (Frege, early and late Wittgenstein).


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