“What has history to do with me? Mine is the first and only world,” Wittgenstein wrote defiantly on September 2, 1916 in his wartime notebook (NB, p. 82). How paradoxical for him to think so in the middle of a world-historical conflict – but also how understandable since he never expected to emerge from this conflict alive. His sentiment reflected, at the same time, a European reality. Modern Europe was, in effect, saying farewell in this war to the history of its last four hundred years and entering a new, unforeseen, and uncertain world.
Wittgenstein's anti-historical sentiment retains philosophical interest because it so deeply infused his Tractatus and through it seeped into much subsequent philosophizing. It is striking that his book is almost completely silent about history, has little to say about time, and depicts, instead, for the most part a world of determinate, static facts and timeless logical relations. There is minimal talk in it of events, processes, happenings, action, and life and no talk at all of transformations, transitions, developments, revolutions, conflicts, battles, and warfare. The origin and emergence of the world of facts is not an issue for it. Organic life and its evolution are of no concern to it. Insisting on the conceptual purity of philosophy, Wittgenstein writes: “The Darwinian theory has no more to do with philosophy than has any other hypothesis of natural science” (TLP, 4.1122). History and human culture are entirely bypassed. The terms do not even make an appearance in his book. A few actual, historical figures are mentioned in passing (Frege, Russell, etc.) but only in relation to the logical conception of the world of the Tractatus. Just one historical fact is singled out and that concerns – what else? – “the natural laws.” We read: “Modern people consider the natural laws ‘unassailable’ in contrast to the ancients who took God and fate to be so. But the ancients were clearer, in so far as they recognized one clear terminus, whereas the modern system makes it appear as though everything were explained” (TLP, 6.371–372). The point of this being only that the natural laws are descriptions of regular patterns, not explanatory principles.