Current digital editions of the Tractatus
9 Sep 2010 19:25
by J. Nathan Matias

Since Wittgenstein's Tractatus is written in a numerical hierarchy, it has often been the subject of simple hypertext projects like our own. We were surprised that our design values differed significantly from these projects. We were equally delighted to see how other designers approached those goals.

David and I decided to focus our design on comparison and flow, to match Wittgenstein's stated intentions. In a footnote, he explains that the hierarchy is intended to emphasize relative importance and sequence. Furthermore, the text's didactic style needs explicit structure if it is to be anything greater than a collection of aphorisms. An interface which permits comparison and flow provides that structure.

In our early design experiments, we used color to denote relative importance. In another, we used a treemap to display the entire structure (and some of the text) at once.

More information about our designs will be available in the next few weeks on The Hacktatus main page.

Our focus on comparison and flow seemed the opposite of other designers, who tend to hide context and break up the text.

When compared to print editions (which simply present the Tractatus in order), current online designs focus radically on the individual sections of the Tractatus. In addition, most the online editions permit users to

  • Click to see the immediate child
  • Click to see the immediate parent
  • Read some next/previous statements of a similar importance

Few of the following designs permit the tracing of a term or concept through the text. They use Wittgenstein's numbers to donote the current location. And short of opening up two web browser windows, none of them the permit comparison of sections.

(We only realized much later that the design features of these digital editions closely resembled the objectives of our anti-design exercise: The Oblique Tractatus.)

Nonetheless, all of these designs work well on a large variety of web browsers. Laventhol's design has survived on the web for nearly 15 years.

Here is the list of hypertext editions of the Tractatus which we reviewed. (one is missing- help, Dave?):

There are also several phantom editions at the time of writing ( 9 Sept 2010).

  • The Chicago Philosophy Project list refers to an edition which resided on the University of Oxford web servers at one time (

Additional notes: