WAB: "Fragments" | The following contribution is an excerpt from Anthony Kenny: "A brief history of Wittgenstein editing", in: Alois Pichler and Simo Säätelä (eds.): Wittgenstein: The philosopher and his works, Working Papers from the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen no. 17, Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (WAB) 2005, pp. 341-355. Publication on WAB's website with kind permission from the author and the editors (2005.3.9).

Anthony Kenny: A brief history of Wittgenstein editing

Wittgenstein’s will

In his will, of 29 January 1951, Wittgenstein bequeathed to Rush Rhees, Elizabeth Anscombe and Georg Henrik von Wright “all the copyright in all my unpublished writings; and also the manuscripts and typescripts thereof to dispose of as they think best.” These heirs were to publish “as many of my unpublished writings as they think fit” and were to share the royalties and other profits equally between themselves.

During the decade following Wittgenstein’s death the heirs, who acted as literary executors, did valuable service in publishing promptly serviceable editions and translations of the Philosophical Investigations and selections from other writings. Recent critical work has shown that the edition of what appears as Philosophical Investigations, Part I, was substantially sound. More controversial, however, was the decision to include, as Part II, MS 144, without any written warrant from Wittgenstein. The editors no doubt felt that it would be misleading, in the first publication of the philosopher’s post-Tractatus thoughts, to conceal that after the completion of the Investigations (Part I) his thoughts on some crucial issues were taking a different turn before he died.

The Untersuchungen appeared with an en face translation by Elizabeth Anscombe. This has recently been subject to some criticism, but I must record my opinion that it was a very remarkable achievement. In substance it is extremely faithful to Wittgenstein’s German: when a new en face edition was in preparation by Blackwell (3rd edition, 2001) I was invited to propose emendations, and could produce less than a score. It is true that it is not consistent in its translation of semi-technical terms, such as Erklärung and Bezeichnung, and it is also true that it often differs from the translations suggested by Wittgenstein himself in his notes on an earlier translation by Rush Rhees. But there are often good reasons for the inconsistencies, and Wittgenstein’s own English suggestions are not those of a native speaker of the language. The Anscombe translation is fluent and readable and has been universally accepted as if it contained the ipsissima verba of Wittgenstein: I can think of no other English translation of a philosopher – not Jowett’s Plato, nor Kemp Smith’s Kant – that has achieved such canonical status in the philosophical world. The vivid lucidity of the translation is the more remarkable given that Anscombe’s style, when she was writing in her own name, was often crabbed and opaque.

Von Wright was prevented by illness from taking part in the editing of the Investigations, and had no part in the controversial decision to include a second part. He was involved, however, in the subsequent publication of the Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics; something which, by 1969, appears to have slightly embarrassed him. Since this book consists of selections from Wittgenstein’s writings, it occupies, he then wrote “a unique and perhaps not altogether happy, position” among the other publications from the Nachlass. These appeared at intervals during the fifties and sixties: The Blue and Brown Books (1958), Notebooks 1914–16 (1961), Philosophische Bemerkungen (TS 209) (1965), and Zettel (1967).

In summer 1967 that part of the Nachlass which was known to exist in England was temporarily collected at Oxford and microfilmed for Cornell University, under the supervision of von Wright and Norman Malcolm. Later in the same year copies of papers in the Austrian part of the Nachlass were filmed at Cornell, in Ithaca New York. It then became possible to purchase copies of these microfilms and many universities throughout the world acquired them. However, the standard of photography was poor, the collection was incomplete, and parts of the manuscripts were omitted, in particular the coded passages of Wittgenstein’s diaries.

After the Cornell microfilming, Wittgenstein’s heirs gave all their originals of the Wittgenstein papers to Trinity College, Cambridge, to be kept in the Wren Library. By a deed of Trust of 5 May 1969 while the papers themselves were given to Trinity, the copyright in the papers was given to a new set of trustees. These trustees were to consist, initially of the original heirs, henceforth to be called “the beneficiaries”. New trustees could be appointed by the beneficiaries, and the trustees were to hold the copyrights and royalties on trust for the beneficiaries while they survived, and after the death of the last of them on trust for Trinity College.

In a supplement to The Philosophical Review in 1969 (Vol. 78: pp. 483–503) von Wright provided the first full description and catalogue of the Nachlass: henceforth the manuscripts and typescripts have been known by the numbers given them in that article. He announced the forthcoming publication of the Big Typescript (TS 213) and of On Certainty. “With the publication of these posthumous works”, he felt able to say, “the full body of Wittgenstein’s philosophy has been made accessible to the public.” (p. 503)