Wittgenstein’s 1913 “On Logic, and How Not to Do It”

Because I wanted nicer electronic versions of Wittgenstein’s not-exactly-nice book review, I have digitized it (https://landondcelkind.com/on-logic-and-how-not-to-do-it/). Also, the text is now publicly available in PDF and Markdown formats on the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/wittgenstein-1913-review-coffey) and in MP3 format on LibriVox (https://librivox.org/short-nonfiction-collection-vol-080-by-various/). It is also reproduced below for good measure. Feel free to share, and enjoy!


“On Logic, and How Not to Do It”

Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • Review: The Science of Logic: an inquiry into the principles of thought and scientific method. By Peter Coffey, Ph.D. (Louvain), Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Maynooth College. Longsman, Green, & Co 1912. (link to Coffey)

In no branch of learning can an author disregard the results of honest research with so much impunity as he can in Philosophy and Logic. To this circumstance we owe the publication of such a book as Mr Coffey’s Science of Logic: and only as a typical example of the work of many logicians of to-day does this book deserve consideration. The author’s Logic is that of the scholastic philosophers, and he makes all their mistakes—of course with the usual references to Aristotle. (Aristotle, whose name is taken so much in vain by our logicians, would turn in his grave if he knew that so many Logicians know no more about Logic to-day than he did 2,000 years ago). The author has not taken the slightest notice of the great work of the modern mathematical logicians—work which has brought about an advance in Logic comparable only to that which made Astronomy out of Astrology, and Chemistry out of Alchemy.

Mr Coffey, like many logicians, draws great advantage from an unclear way of expressing himself; for if you cannot tell whether he means to say “Yes” or “No,” it is difficult to argue against him. However, even through his foggy expression, many grave mistakes can be recognised clearly enough; and I propose to give a list of some of the most striking ones, and would advise the student of Logic to trace these mistakes and their consequences in other books on Logic also. (The numbers in brackets indicate the pages of Mr Coffey’s book—volume I.—where a mistake occurs for the first time; the illustrative examples are my own).

  1. [36] The author believes that all propositions are of the subject-predicate form.
  2. [31] He believes that reality is changed by becoming an object of our thoughts.
  3. [6] He confounds the copula “is” with the word “is” expressing identity. (The word “is” has obviously different meanings in the propositions—“Twice two is four”and “Socrates is mortal.”)
  4. [46] He confounds things with the classes to which they belong. (A man is obviously something quite different from mankind.)
  5. [48] He confounds classes and complexes. (Mankind is a class whose elements are men; but a library is not a class whose elements are books, because books become parts of a library only by standing in certain spatial relations to one another—while classes are independent of the relations between their members.)
  6. [47] He confounds complexes and sums. (Two plus two is four, but four is not a complex of two and itself.)

This list of mistakes could be extended a good deal.

The worst of such books is that they prejudice sensible people against the study of Logic.

March 6th, 1913


originally published in The Cambridge Review 34 (1912–13), p. 351; reprinted in:

  1. 1 January 1970, E. Homberger, William Janeway, and Simon Schama, The Cambridge Mind, London: Jonathan Cape: pp. 127-129
  2. 1 January 1988, Brian McGuinness, Wittgenstein: A Life, Young Ludwig: 1889-1921, Berkeley & Los Angeles, University of California Press: pp. 169-170
  3. 1 June 1993, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company: pp. 1-3

No, Wittgenstein did not invent the emoji

I recently read this fun article on Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language: https://qz.com/1261293/ludwig-wittgenstein-was-the-great-philosopher-of-the-20th-century-he-also-invented-the-emoji/. It suggests that Wittgenstein invented the emoji and, using that claim as a kind of foil, explores his philosophy of language.

I wanted to focus on the narrow question of whether Wittgenstein invented the emoji. To me the answer seems to be an emphatic no. Wittgenstein did use sequences of characters to depict facial expressions. Here is the textual evidence from The Brown Book: IMG_20180506_0850038.jpg

Now this form of depiction—using a few marks to depict a face—was no doubt used by Wittgenstein. And the insight that this can be done likely has interesting consequences in linguistics and related studies. Indeed, we heard a terrific keynote talk on this point from Dr. Louise McNally at the 2017 Society for Exact Philosophy meeting!

On the other hand, what is an emoji? If we are talking about merely depicting faces with a few characters, this sort of depiction was not invented by Wittgenstein and indeed first occurs in the historical record long before Wittgenstein. Such depiction is at least as old as medieval manuscripts.

But if we are really talking about inventing emojis—small depictions made using a few characters that convey a wealth of meanings given their context and such as are suitable for digital communication—then invention of the emoji in the usual sense belongs to the Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita. The text of The Brown Book does not show that Wittgenstein invented the emoji because, at minimum, the text does not show that Wittgenstein had conceived of such modern digital communication—and the notion of such modern digital communication is required to have invented the emoji in this sense.

The TL;DR version is this: Wittgenstein didn’t invent the emoji, even if his ideas about language have an interesting connection to emojis. For more about emojis and their history, see this piece.

Also, it is not lost on me that this article claims creation of the emoji is due to a dead white European, when in fact creation is due to a living Japanese artist. Could we please stop doing that? A good rule might be to avoid claiming dead person X invented Y when the notion of Y has changed dramatically over the course of time. The emoji is a case in point: it only took on its modern meaning with the explosion of digital communication.