How Original a Work is the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus?
is widely regarded as a masterpiece, a brilliant, if flawed attempt to achieve an ‘unassailable and definitive … final solution’ to a wide range of philosophical problems. Yet, in a 1931 notebook, Wittgenstein confesses: ‘I think there is some truth in my idea that I am really only reproductive in my thinking. I think I have never invented
a line of thinking but that it was always provided for me by someone else’. This disarming self-assessment is, I believe accurate. The Tractatus, despite making significant advances on the logical doctrines of Frege and Russell, is essentially a derivative work—Wittgenstein, as he elsewhere acknowledges, provided a fertile soil in which the original seeds of other peoples' thought grew in a unique way. In a play of mine, published in Philosophy
(1999), Wittgenstein fails a tough viva on the Tractatus
because he fails to properly support some of the weak arguments in the work and because of his inadequate acknowledgment of sources. The present paper further explores some of the antecedents of Wittgenstein's early views and answers some criticisms of the play.