Wittgenstein, according to Elizabeth Anscombe (one of his students), was impressed by Schopenhauer as a young man; given Schopenhauer is known for asserting

The world is my idea:”—this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and knows, though man alone can bring it into reflective and abstract consciousness

how does this square with the proposition 6.53 of the Tractatus which asserts:

The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other -- he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy -- but it would be the only strictly correct method.

Had Wittgenstein moved away from his earlier fascination with Schopenhauer when he came to write the Tractatus; or was it the process of thinking through the Tractatus that moved him away - if indeed he had?

  • "Had Wittgenstein moved away from his earlier fascination with Schopenhauer when he came to write the Tractatus ?" It seems that the T has a deeper "kantian flavour"; see Hanne Appelqvist, Why does Wittgenstein say that ethics and aesthetics are one and the same?, in: Peter Sullivan & Michael Potter (eds), Wittgenstein’s Tractatus : History and Interpretation, Oxford University Press (2013), page 40-on. Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:19
  • @allegranza: Schopenhauer was influenced by Kant so its not surprising. Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 13:10

2 Answers 2


Note that the first qoute from Schopenhauer:

"The world is my idea”—this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and knows, though man alone can bring it into reflective and abstract consciousness.

does rather square nicely with a few Tractarian propositions:

5.62 This remark provides the key to the problem, how much truth there is in solipsism. For what the solipsist means is quite correct; only it cannot be said , but makes itself manifest. The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world.

5.621 The world and life are one.

5.63 I am my world. (The microcosm.)

So it could seem that Wittgenstein was still attracted to a kind of idealism (indeed, to a kind of Schopenhauerian solipsism) at the time when he wrote the Tractatus. This version of solipsism is, naturally, not identical with Schopenhauer's own. Then again, Wittgenstein's mystical, silent solipsism is reminiscent of the strong hindu influences on Schopenhauer's thinking.

Russell, in his introduction to the Tractatus, quotes Wittgenstein more or less verbatim on the subject of solipsism. He adds no observations of his own, except:

These considerations lead [Wittgenstein] to a somewhat curious discussion of Solipsism.

So that Russell saw Wittgenstein's inclusion of remarks about solipsism in the Tractatus curious. This could suggest that these remarks were indeed rooted, at least in part, in some residual fascination of Wittgenstein's with Schopenhauer.

  • 1
    Great, Anscombe did say that there were traces of Schopenhauer in the Tractatus; I didn't expect to see his first self-dramatising sentence there though! Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 17:35
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    @MoziburUllah Thanks for another great question ;) Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 21:19
  • Here is Hintikka on Wittgenstein's (mistranslated) "solipsism" jstor.org/stable/2251341?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents I don't really see affinity to Schopenhauer. The "ineffability" interpretation of the Tractatus is also textually challenged philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/files/conant/…
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 2:44
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    @Conifold Hintikka's claim is that Wittgenstein used the word "solipsism" in a very unusual way. Even if Hintikka is correct, it still leaves unanswered the question, why would Wittgenstein choose to use words which appear so inappropriate? Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 20:07
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    @Conifold The "ladder" proceeds with philosophically familiar terms like: fact, thought, picturing. I don't see in the ladder idea anything that justifies using a term not merely unconventionally, but in a strictly misleading way. Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 10:04

In his youth Wittgenstein was interested in Schopenhauer's epistemology (largely inherited from Berkeley and Kant), but after his interests shifted to logic and mathematics he found it wanting under the influence of Frege's conceptual realism and critique of "psychologism". For a while he became the star pupil of Russell's and shared his logical atomism about reality and logicism. The Tractatus largely reflects these positions, although in a highly original way. In particular, Wittgenstein's logicism is quite different from Frege's and Russell's, see e.g. Is "propositions of logic are tautologies" (Wittgenstein) literal or mystical? and Was Wittgenstein anticipating Gödel? for their disagreements. The spirit of the Tractatus which the quote expresses later became an inspiration for Carnap's "elimination of metaphysics through logical syntax".

As for Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein did more than move away from him. According to Vandenabeele's Companion to Schopenhauer looking back in 1939 Wittgenstein wrote:

"One could call Schopenhauer an altogether crude mind. I.e. he does have refinement, but at a certain level this suddenly comes to an end and he is as crude as the crudest. One might say of Schopenhauer: he never takes stock of himself".

There is more of an affinity of Schopenhauer's view that understanding language is not translating words into mental images with the late Wittgenstein than with the author of the Tractatus and its picture theory. But in 1948 Wittgenstein expressly rejected a friend's suggestion that his "fundamental ideas" might have been inspired by Schopenhauer, adding that he quickly exhausted him:

"No; I think I see quite clearly what Schopenhauer got out of his philosophy -- but when I read Schopenhauer I seem to see to the bottom very easily. He is not deep in the sense that Kant and Berkeley are deep".

See also the discussion at Why does Wittgenstein say Schopenhauer has a crude mind?

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