I have just started reading Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and at the start I already don't understand his claim. He said that the world is the totality of facts and not of things.

I am totally clueless what he means by that and it would be nice if someone explained it to me.

Are these and other concepts in his work precisely defined or are they just intuitions about the world?

If the former is true then I don't understand why he started using a concept without defining it.

If the latter is true then shouldn't we take his work's relevance only as historical which makes reading it merely getting a lecture in the history of philosophy?

Or are these concepts so complex that trying to define them would be counter-productive from the viewpoint of the work? Or is the whole text about getting an intuition about these concepts?

So basically my question is what are the differences between facts and things either in terms of definition or intuition?

  • Of all philosophers, I would say it is most essential to read a good commentary on Wittgenstein, and especially the Tractatus. A lot of the moves he is making are deceptively sophisticated, and need the background of analytic thought at the time - and which has become a lot less current because of Wittgenstein's explorations of it's implications. Even professional philosophers get Wittgenstein wrong, so get a sense of the diversity of views from a good commentary, don't just take your own reading and run with it.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


Facts include the existence of all things, but also all provable properties and behaviors of all things.

Imagine a universe made up of only a teacup and a hammer.


  • Teacup
  • Hammer
  • Universe

Facts: The existence of things are facts. At this point the two views are identical.

  • There is a teacup.
  • There is a hammer.
  • There is a universe.

But then we have facts ABOUT things.

  • The teacup is near the hammer.
  • The teacup and hammer are moving toward each other.
  • The teacup and hammer will continue to move toward each other.

And facts about facts!

  • Anything that is moving will continue moving unless something stops it.

At this point, we're transcending things entirely and starting to talk about general facts. If we only cared about the objects in the universe, this would not be 'part of the universe'.

Wittgenstein also is talking a lot about hypothetical facts.

  • The teacup could have been larger than the hammer.
  • There could have been two teacups.
  • There could have been a bowl of petunias.

etc. etc.

  • Thank you! It is much clearer now. It comes to my mind whether there is a fact that is not a thing but this is another topic. In that interpretation facts seem like the union of abstact and concrete entities. Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 15:05

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