“A closed regular structure” – On Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Tolstoy’s Kurze Darlegung des Evangelium

Ever since its publication, the form and numbering system of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) has been the subject of comment, reflection and speculation. What many of these commentaries have in common is that, in hinting at a presumed point of connection between the Tractatus’ form and numbering system, they allude to A.N. Whitehead and Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica (1910). This essay points at another connection, namely Wittgenstein’s reading of L. Tolstoy’s Kurze Darlegung des Evangelium (1892). It is well known that Tolstoy’s “magnificent work” features prominently both in Wittgenstein’s efforts to come to terms with himself and in his work on the (Proto) Tractatus. In his preface to Kurze Darlegung des Evangelium Tolstoy describes the theme of the book and explains its composition, progression and inherent structure. It is these “structural” considerations that this essay proposes as a key to understanding the Tractatus’s form and numbering system. Here the overall working hypothesis is (in a rigorous formulation): the composition of the Tractatus, its form and numbering system, constitute a modified version (a more formalized implementation) of Tolstoy’s compositional strategy in Kurze Darlegung des Evangelium.