From the Tractatus:

  1. The world is everything that is the case.

I understand “the case” to merely be an informal way of saying “that which is true”.

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

I am curious if Wittgenstein is refuting a previous paradigm or school of thought in philosophy, especially a specific philosopher. Is it fair to say that prior to Wittgenstein (and perhaps his predecessors such as Frege and Russell), most metaphysics, or attempts at describing the totality of reality, did in fact model it in physical terms, including space, time and matter?

But is it also then fair to say that Wittgenstein wants to create a system of analysis which reflects reality as a collection of facts, but is not necessarily claiming that “facts” have the most ultimate and primary degree of existence, whereby physical objects are just an outgrowth of some purely logical world comprised merely of propositions, in a Platonic way?

1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.

Is Wittgenstein just emphasizing that the set of facts describing the world has to be complete?

Sort of like a minor comment in a court of law that you will tell the truth and the whole truth?

1.12 For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case.

1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.

It sounds like Wittgenstein really believes in this Platonic realm of pure facts existing in a more real way than the physical world that is apparently a mere reflection or consequence of it. But then, how can he explain or justify how this “world of facts” exists?

What framework permits a realm of facts to exist abstractly, in and of themselves?

1.2 The world divides into facts.

Why is this statement significant enough to warrant a new decimal point number? It sounds like an altered phrasing of the previous notion, rather than introducing significant new propositional content.

Is the concept of “dividing” important in any way?

1.21 Any one can either be the case or not be the case, and everything else remain the same.

Someone told me that Wittgenstein doesn’t explain that he doesn’t mean any imaginable proposition exists independently of all others, but that in this section he’s only referring to “atomic facts” in some way.

How is it possible that a fact could exist independently of any other fact - like that it is raining, and the sky is wet?

What kinds of facts is Wittgenstein thinking of here? And why doesn’t he explain that?

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    Maybe useful B.Russell, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918), 1. FACTS AND PROPOSITIONS, page 7: "I want you to realize that when I speak of a fact I do not mean a particular existing thing, such as Socrates or the rain or the sun. Socrates himself does not render any statement true or false.[...] “Socrates is dead” and “Socrates is alive” are both of them statements about Socrates. One is true and the other false. What I call a fact is the sort of thing that is expressed by a whole sentence, not by a single name like “Socrates”." Mar 3, 2022 at 12:33
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    And see Russell’s Logical Atomism as well as Wittgenstein’s Logical Atomism. Mar 3, 2022 at 12:34
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    The point of view is metaphysical (and not that of physical science): "Socrates is dead" is a statement of a fact and it says that the predicate/property "to be dead" is predicated of "thing" Socrates. There are things in the world, but the "logical space [of] the world [1.13]", i.e. what we have to "manage" in order to understand it are facts. Mar 3, 2022 at 13:11
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    Not particularly a whole answer, but my understanding is that it helps to read TLP as Wittgenstein's discussion of the question "How does the world need to be in order for Logic to have traction?" The Picture theory of propositions says "There is an isomorphism between logical structure and reality", and the rest of the book is an outworking of what this practically means given the logic at his disposal.
    – Paul Ross
    Apr 2, 2022 at 17:43
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    @MauroALLEGRANZA - And my understanding is that both Russell and Wittgenstein were largely influenced by Frege in their emphasis on objective truth as propositions stated in a logical syntax, the article here talks about Russell building on Frege's thought, and there's also a little about Wittgenstein. This interview with philosopher Robert Pippin also talks about Frege's importance to analytic philosophy: "Frege revolutionized our understanding of logic,
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 2, 2022 at 19:05

1 Answer 1


1.1. The world is a totality of things. But this is not the world that we can speak of, what we speak of are propositions about this world, the true propositions here are the facts. Wittgenstein's 'world' is this world of facts, aka true propositions about this world of things.

He is not refuting anything but defining his terms.

1.11 A set is 'determined' by all the elements in it. Likewise the world of facts is determined by all the facts in it and that these are all the facts. Also he is implying that knowing all the true facts of the world of things means that this picks out this world of things from any other world of things. This leads onto:

1.13 He is suggesting that if you know all the facts of the world of things, then you know that world. He is not being a platonist. See preceding. His 'logical space' is another name for his 'world of facts'.

1.2 In the same way the physical world divides into physical atoms, he is going to look for atomic facts, those facts that cannot be broken into smaller facts. He also determines such a fact to be characterised as independent of all the other facts. We can call this logical atomism. But to find atomic facts, you need to be able to divide atomic facts, hence this statement. And this leads to:

1.21 Facts exist in the sense that they tell us something true about the world. They aten't independent of the world but it is easy to miss that because Wittgenstein doesn't emphasise this at all.

Wittgenstein's style is telegraphic which leads to lots of misunderstandings. Much of what he's doing here is defining his terms and outlining a programme of how to think about the world of facts - i.e. as atomic facts.

  • Thank you. So Wittgenstein does believe there is some set of facts describing the world but isn’t making the sort of metaphysical assertions I was suggesting. He believes there are certain fundamental or atomic facts. What is an example of such a fact? And by telegraphic, you mean dense, terse, brief? Thank you Mar 4, 2022 at 9:17
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    @PeterElbert: Yes, by telegraphic I mean dense, terse and brief. An atomic fact is like a 'bit', it's truth or falsity doesn't affect the other 'bits'. I'm using the term bit from computer programming, if you haven't come across it. I don't have an example of an atomic fact, and nor does Wittgenstein offer one. He merely characterises what he meams by one. Mar 4, 2022 at 16:20

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