Tree-structured readings of the Tractatus

Prepublication for Open Review until 22.03.2023


  • David G Stern University of Iowa



Tractatus, Prototractatus, tree-structure, numbering system


I argue that the numbering system of the Tractatus lets us see how it was constructed, in two closely related senses of that term. First, it tells us a great deal about the genesis of the book, for the numbering system was used to assemble and rearrange a series of drafts, as recorded in MS 104. Second, it helps us understand the structure of the published book, as cryptically summarized in the opening footnote. I also discuss an unpublished letter from Anscombe to von Wright from 1948 which contains the very first sketch of a tree-structured reading, and what I believe is Stenius’s response to Anscombe’s proposal. The paper critically evaluates previous work on tree-structured readings and contends that we need to read the Tractatus in both the number order used in the published book and the tree order that Wittgenstein used to draft it. It also considers some of the main ways of turning this complex branching structure into a linear, printed text, and so serves as an introduction to the three tree-structured editions of the Tractatus that accompany this paper (the German text, and the translations by Ogden/Ramsey and Pears & McGuinness).

Author Biography

David G Stern, University of Iowa

David Stern is a Professor of Philosophy and a Collegiate Fellow in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa. With Joachim Schulte and Katia Saporiti he is working on the first complete translation of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and its German manuscript sources.  He is the leader of a group working on an innovative online presentation of the structure of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and its sources, the Iowa Tractatus Map: He is the author of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: An Introduction (Cambridge UP, 2004) and Wittgenstein on mind and language (Oxford UP, 1995), and the editor of several books on related topics. The most recent are Wittgenstein in the 1930s: Between the Tractatus and the Investigations (Cambridge UP, 2018) and The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein (Cambridge UP, 2018; second edition, extensively revised.)  He also edits the Cambridge Elements in the Philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein book series.


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Wittgenstein, Ludwig 2023. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: three parallel tree structured editions. (1) Tree structured arrangement of the German text, edited by David G. Stern, Joachim Schulte and Katia Saporiti. (2) Tree structured arrangement of the English translation by Ogden and Ramsey, edited by David G. Stern. (3) Tree structured arrangement of the English translation by Pears and McGuinness, edited by David G. Stern. Nordic Wittgenstein Review, Vol. 11