The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Ludwig Wittgenstein is without doubt one of the seminal philosophical works of this century. He first read a philosophy book while was studying for a doctorate in Aeronautics in ~1910. Within a few short years, he went from reading Frege and Russell's books on Logic and Mathematics to meeting them, befriending them (somewhat begrudgingly on their part) and then finally to writing and publishing the Tractatus, a commentary and extension of their ideas.

The Tractatus is an ambitious project, aiming to define the relationships between Philosophy, Language and the World. In doing this, Wittgenstein hoped to demonstrate (rather than simply define) the limits and the nature of language, and to clarify the role of phiosophy.

It is our belief that Wittgenstein would have used Hypertext to publish the Tractatus if he lived today. The text uses a technique called 'ZettelSchrift', in which the passages are arranged by relative importance in a tree-like structure. Consequently, the Tractatus has been a frequent candidate for adaptation to Hypertext.

Writing 'ZettelSchrift' was also like writing hypertext. Whenever he had ideas, Wittgenstein would write short paragraphs in his notebooks. To write the book, he essentially lifted passages from his notebooks, reordered them by importance, and inserted them into the text (with some editing).

To learn more about 'Zettelschrift' and the Tractatus, we spent a Saturday experimenting with innovative designs for the Tractatus. Over the next few weeks we will add screenshots and commentary on the outcome.

David Williams & J. Nathan Matias

6 Sept 2010

Current digital editions of the Tractatus
As part of our design exercise, we collected as many of the online editions of the Tractatus which we could find. Here is a review.
The Oblique Tractatus
As a design exercise, we decided to imagine the Anti-Design of a computer version of a Tractatus. This, we decided, should have no continuity at all.
Stretchtext Tractatus
We built a really stretchy stretchtext version of the tractatus, like Mr. Fantastic - but a philosophy book. Check it out - it's stretchy!
Treemap Visualization
Creating our own digital edition of the Tractatus involved fixing errors in online versions. We used a treemap to show our editorial interventions.