Logic and Knowledge

By Bertrand Russell; Robert Charles Marsh | Go to book overview

1918
THE PHILOSOPHY OF LOGICAL
ATOMISM

The Philosophy of Logical Atomism

Ludwig Wittgenstein came to England (from the Technische Hochschule, Berlin) at the age of nineteen and began studies in aeronautics as a research student in the Engineering Laboratory of the University of Manchester. While there he read THE PRINCIPLES OF MATHEMATICS, and in January of 1912 he went to Cambridge as an 'Advanced Student', presumably a candidate for the B.A. 'for research' since Cambridge did not offer the Ph.D. until 1920. He stayed five terms, working for the most part with Russell, who was in contact with him during the fourteen months between his departure from Cambridge in the summer of 1913 and the outbreak of war the following year. Very little remains to tell us what occupied their conversations. In the preface to his Harvard lectures of 1914 Russell speaks of the 'vitally important discoveries, not yet published' of 'my friend, Mr. Ludwig Wittgenstein [p. 9], a phrase that suggests a quite different relationship than that one would expect between a student of twenty-four and his distinguished supervisor of forty-one (but not at all surprising in the light of Russell's character).*

Russell's lectures on logical atomism of 1918 are probably the best record of his development of the ideas which he had discussed with Wittgenstein in the period 1912–14. It is not to be inferred that Wittgenstein would have approved of the manner in which Russell treated this material; indeed, Wittgenstein is known to have taken exception to Russell's introduction to the English edition of the TRACTATUS. It is a common failing of great philosophers that they think their own thoughts well and do not fully appreciate the thought of others (second-rate minds, with few ideas of their own, can often do

*Russell was chiefly responsible for the publication (in 1922) of
Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. When Wittgenstein re-
turned to Cambridge in 1929 he was still a degreeless 'student' and only
after he had kept two further terms was he able to proceed (at the age of
forty) to the Ph.D., submitting the Tractatus as a thesis and undergoing
examination at the hands of Russell and Moore. Russell was also instru-
mental in Wittgenstein's appointment to a research fellowship at Trinity
College; but apart from these things, there was no resumption of their
previous relationship, as Russell was then removed from the precincts of
Cambridge and involved in other philosophical problems than those of
his earlier period.

-175-

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