[lit-ideas] The origins of the Blue Book

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 07 Jul 2012 19:31:04 -0700


WHEN I first began thinking about writing this paper on The
Blue Book, I thought it might be helpful and interesting to
find out something about the history of this book. Accordingly I
wrote to Miss Alice Ambrose* with whose generous permission I am
including the following note from her letter in response.

This is the note: "The history of The Blue Book is as follows:
Wittgenstein was listed in the Cambridge Reporter as giving two
courses of lectures in 1933-34, one being called 'Philosophy for
Mathematicians.' To this, as I remember, 30 or 40 people turned
up, which distressed him. After three or four weeks of lecturing
he turned up at lecture and told the class he couldn't continue
to lecture. I remember the occasion and remember how amazed
I was that an announced course of lectures could be abandoned
in this way. Of the people in that class he chose five of the rest
of us to dictate The Blue Book to: H. M. S. Coxeter and R. L.
Goodstein, mathematicians, also Francis Skinner (who might have
been on a Trinity Grant to do math. though he actually left off
doing math. in order to devote himself to Wittgenstein's work),
Margaret Masterman Braithwaite and myself. About a month
later, I see by a reference to my diary that the five of us had in-
creased to seven, and I know one of them was Mrs. Helen Knight
but for the life of me I can 't remember the other one. Wittgen-
stein quarreled with Coxeter because Coxeter quite innocently ran
off on a mimeograph the material of the first term's dictation and
discussion. So Coxeter didn 't continue in the second term. Mrs.
Braithwaite also dropped out during the year in the third term.
I've forgotten what the unpleasantness was in her case. She and
I took down discussion that he wasn't including in The Blue Book
and we called this The Yellow Book. He once flew at her for doing
so, but as he was also distressed when something he thought good
was not taken down because he wasn 't dictating-and she pointed
this out to him at the time-this practice on our part was allowed
to continue. I believe I continued with it after she left. The
Blue Book dictation and discussion went on during all three terms
along with the other set of lectures-which were evidently attended
by quite a large group since I refer to them in my diary as 'big'
(12 members I see from one entry). The small group met for
The Blue Book each week as regularly as for a class. I can't
remember whether this was the year Moore attended his lectures,
but I suspect it was. Can't remember how many terms he at-
tended. I have notes from these lectures. But The Blue Book
was dictated. I believe I typed some of the dictated material and
later on Wittgenstein had it mimeographed-but not a few pages
at a time. When he had the material compiled into The Blue
Book I don't remember but I suppose after the year was over.
Yes, there was discussion during the dictation but what he did
at each meeting was not greatly determined by our comments, as
I remember it. I believe that what he talked about in the lectures
and what he gave us for The Blue Book was pretty different.

"The Brown Book, like The Blue Book, was dictated throughout
the three terms along with his regular lecture course. For that
Skinner and I were the only ones and we met him 2-4 hours per
day, 4 days a week. That was in 1934-35. We sometimes went
on beyond term for a few days of the vacation."
In a later note she wrote: "As for your question about how
The Blue Book was dictated, as far as I remember he never had
even notes with him. I think I remember but once, and I think
this was a lecture when he seemed to have a card with him to which
he referred once or twice at the beginning of the lecture. It was
in general unlike him to write out things ahead. His custom was
to dictate, stop for discussion, and continue dictation."

--O. K. Bouswsma 'The Blue Book,' Mind, March 16, 1961


* Who would then have been at Smith College.

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