Student Journal

To Tell a Riddle: Metaphysics, Aesthetics and Ethics in the Philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein

At this point we must take a leap into the metaphysics of art by reiterating our earlier contention that this world can be justified only as an esthetic phenomenon.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music

I think I summed up my attitude to philosophy when I said: philosophy ought really to be written only as apoetic composition.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value

         There are probably few philosophers who were more endowed with such a keen aesthetic sense of the poeticpossibility of philosophical language as Wittgenstein was.  Perhaps only Nietzsche exceeds him in this respect.  Regardless of whether such an assertion can be substantiated or not, I should very much like to take seriously the claim that we cannot entirely understand the better part of what Wittgenstein has to say unless we read him as approaching the philosophical discourse first and foremost as a form of poetic composition.[1]  Some of Wittgenstein’s commentators, unfortunately, have regarded this suggestion as more-or-less superfluous.  One such author is Peter Carruthers.  Anyone can see, he notes, that the Tractatus:

is a work of extraordinary beauty; yet what makes it attractive is partially responsible for its obscurity. Firstly, because it is written in the style of pithy aphorism, without properly developed explanations of its own doctrines.  And secondly, because it is mostly presented in the form of oracular statements, without supporting arguments.  . . . Such a mode of writing serves no one well.  In attempting to ride two horses at once (truth and beauty), it risks falling between them.  In philosophy it is clarity and explicitness that matter above all.  For only what is plainly stated can be reliably assessed for truth.[2]

This assessment of the Tractatus is unfortunately all too common of overly analytic interpretations, all of which, by and large, fail to grasp the essential importance that aesthetics plays in the communication of ideas.  Carruthers, in an apparent dismissal of the ‘obscurity’ of the Tractatus, attempts to do what Wittgenstein was perhaps incapable of doing.  “In my own writing,” Carruthers says, “I will try to be as open and straightforward as possible.”[3]  Such a stylistic methodology might indeed be well suited to the general scope and purpose of exegetical writing, but this cannot be used as a justification for dismissing the importance of aesthetics in Wittgenstein’s work.  This includes not only his genuine stylistic concerns about writing—which he repeatedly expressed in his notebooks—but also the conceptual apparatus of aesthetic explanation. “Writing in the right style is setting the carriage straight on the rails,”[4]Wittgenstein remarks, and sometimes the right style is more pertinent to the presentation of an idea than any other means of communication.  One such example for Wittgenstein is that of Biblical Scripture, which is, in a certain sense, very unclear and full of historical inaccuracies.  This, however, is completely beside the point for Wittgenstein.  “Isn’t it possible,” he asks, “that it was essential in this case to ‘tell a riddle’?”[5]  What is important about Scripture for Wittgenstein is not the historical narrative which it tells.  In fact, the narrative need “not be more than quite averagely historically plausible just so that this should not be taken as the essential, decisive thing. . . . What you are supposed to see cannot be communicated even by the best and most accurate historian; and therefore a mediocre account suffices, is even to be preferred.”[6]

         A case could be made that something similar is applicable to Wittgenstein’s philosophical prose.  Not only is his style distinctive, it is also unusually hard to pin down.  This is in part due to the sort of philosophical inquiry that he is attempting to conduct.  “I find it important in philosophizing to keep changing my posture, not to stand for too long on one leg, so as not to get stiff.”[7]  It is no wonder than that Wittgenstein would favor an aphoristic style of writing which, more often than not, forgoes explanation or demonstration, because they tend to make one philosophically stiff and ‘systematic.’  This statement is reminiscent of Nietzsche, who claimed to “mistrust all systematizes and avoid them.  The will to a system is a lack of integrity.”[8]  Similarly, Wittgenstein’s aphoristic style is as much a way to avoid the stagnation of a systematicdoctrine as it is a necessary means of expressing thoughts that could not be given voice by any other means.  This was also, so it would seem, simply the only way in which Wittgenstein could structure his thoughts without artificiality.  “If I am thinking about a topic just for myself and not with a view to writing a book, I jump about all around it; that is the only way of thinking that comes naturally to me. . . . I squander an unspeakable amount of effort making an arrangement of my thoughts which may have no value at all.”[9]

         With the above considerations in mind, there is still at least one undeniable difficulty when taking up an examination of Wittgenstein’s aesthetics: he published nothing on the subject during his lifetime aside from two somewhat cryptic remarks in the Tractatus.  One of these appears in 4.003:

Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical. Consequently we cannot give any answer to questions of this kind, but can only point out that they are nonsensical.  Most of the propositions of philosophers arise from our failure to understand the logic of our language.  (They belong to the same class as the question whether the good is more or less identical than the beautiful.)  And it is not surprising that deepest problems are in fact not problems at all.[10]

And though it should come as no surprise that Wittgenstein thinks that statements like ‘the Good is more or less identical with the Beautiful’ are nonsense, what is odd is that he will later assert in 6.421 that “Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same,”[11]which, by the light of his own philosophy, would seem to be a statement without sense.  But, this is the paradoxical nature of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, and is not only indicative of his attitude towards metaphysics, but aesthetics as well.  He searched for a language devoid of metaphysical utterances, but in so doing, could not refrain from speaking metaphysically.  He wants to say that it is senseless to ask whether the Good is more or less identical to the Beautiful, but cannot stop himself from asserting that indeed they are.  So, is the realm of the aesthetic for Wittgenstein limited only to senseless statements such as 6.421?  Is the point to ‘tell a riddle?’  Or, are we more successful in reaching the unsayable, and thereby the aesthetic and the ethical, when we abstain from speaking about them altogether?

         These questions would be more problematic if this were all that Wittgenstein ever gave us on the topics of aesthetics an ethics.  However, remarks on the good, beauty, art, music, poetry, literature, etc., are scattered throughout his Nachlass. Many, which do not clearly belong to any sustained work, are collected in English under the title of Culture and Value. These comments give us further insight into Wittgenstein’s thoughts on aesthetics.  By themselves they lack a cohesiveness that a more prolonged treatment would produce.  We therefore must read these aggregated comments in light of his more robust philosophical works.  In so doing, one begins to see the importance of the aesthetic and ethics in all aspects of Wittgenstein’s work.  The Tractatus, which on a cursory reading may seem to be solely on the subject matter of logic, takes on a completely different air.  His later work also takes on an added dimension when seen as a book that is, at least in part, about the ethical and the aesthetic.

         In his pre-Tractatus notebooks, Wittgenstein makes several entries of interest concerning art and aesthetics.  In the vein of the mystical, he writes, “Aesthetically, the miracle is that the world exists.  That there is what there is.”[12]  And here it would be misguided to see this statement as merely an avowal of aesthetic pleasure alone.  The wonderment atexistence, so indicative of the Tractatus, is for Wittgenstein the only possible metaphysical explanation for existence—and aesthetic experience is indicative of this.  In the next entry, Wittgenstein goes on to ask, “Is it the essence of the artistic way of looking at things, that it looks at the world with a happy eye?”[13]  In the Tractatus he remarks, “The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man.”[14]  And again in the Notebooks he says, “For there is certainly something in the conception that the end of art is the beautiful.  And the beautiful is what makes happy.”[15] How one looks at the world, whether it is with a happy or unhappy eye, does not “alter the world, it can alter only the limits of the world, not the facts—not what can be expressed by means of language.  In short, the effect must be that it becomes an altogether different world.  It must, so to speak, wax and wane as a whole.”[16]  Thus, if such ways of looking change the limits of the world, then they change it metaphysically.

         It is without a doubt that aesthetic contemplation for Wittgenstein is typified by viewing the world in a particular way. In a clarification of what he means by ‘ethics and aesthetics are one,’ he writes,

The work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis; and the good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis.  This is the connexion between art and ethics.  The usual way of looking at things sees objects as it were from the midst of them, the view sub specie aeternitatis from outside.  In such a way that they have the world as background. . . . The thing seen sub specie aeternitatis is the thing seen together with the whole logical space.[17]


To see an object aesthetically, one must see it in the entirety of its context—that is, the entirety of its metaphysical context. “Good art is,” Wittgenstein says, “a complete expression.”[18]   Which is exactly the reason why the propositions of aesthetics cannot properly be expressed in language.  The logic of our language is incapable of a higher order, it cannot explain why it is, but only that it is—it cannot give a complete metaphysical picture of an object (and hence an aesthetic one), for it would have to be capable of showing itself as though it were from the outside, which is exactly what Wittgenstein thinks language is incapable of doing.  His aim, as he explains in the preface of the Tractatus,

Is to draw a limit to thought, or rather—not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought).  It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense.[19]

Though we may not be able to ‘think the other side’ of a limit, the fact that we can draw a limit at all to language would also denote—by way of a negative definition—what may not be spoken of in language.  This of course does not mean that aesthetics becomes any less nonsensical as a result.  It only means that we are capable of telling the difference between what can be said from what cannot.  And even though a judgment of value will not find adequate expression in language, nevertheless, its sense will show itself in the fact that its sense may not be expressed in language.

         For Wittgenstein, it is our subjective vantage point within the world that renders us incapable of thinking the other side of a limit.  For a subjective viewer immersed in the world, it will appear as if there are no limits to the world just as “our visual field has no limits.”[20]  To see the limit would require that we see the other side of the limit.  But language does not allow us do this, which is why “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”[21]  And again, as with his attitude towards metaphysics, Wittgenstein’s reasoning becomes paradoxical with regards to aesthetics.  For he not only states that in order to think a limit, we would have to think the unthinkable, but also that “to view the world sub specie aeterni is to view it as a whole—a limited whole.”[22]  But what is this sort of contemplation if it is not thinking the other side of a limit, or at least thinking from the other side?  And if the work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis, how is it that we can contemplate it at all if by so doing we should have to think what cannot be thought?

         Part of the answer is, no doubt, that aesthetic experience for Wittgenstein is also typified by its mystical quality.  A good work of art is also a ‘complete’ work of art.  And thus when we view any given object as a work of art we are doing so as if it were from an eternal vantage point outside of the limits of the world.  This is despite the fact that such a vantage is, strictly speaking, not one which we may occupy.  “Feeling the world as a limited whole—it is this that is mystical.”[23]  In this sense then aesthetics and the mystical are related ways of viewing the world.  This much may also be said of ethics for Wittgenstein.  A great deal has been made of his assertion that ‘ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.’  Kathrin Stengel has noted that this dictum “has often been misunderstood as stating the ontological identity of ethics and aesthetics.  To be blunt: this reading is simply wrong, both logically and grammatically.”[24]  Part of her reasoning centers on the translation that Pears and McGuinness make of Wittgenstein’s original German phrase ‘Ethik und Aesthetik sind Eins.’  A more literal rendition of this final parenthetical statement of 6.421 is rendered by C. K. Ogden as “Ethics and æsthetics are one.”[25] Stengel, in conjunction with Ogden’s translation, suggests that the relationship between ethics and aesthetics for Wittgenstein is “rather one of interdependence than of identity.”[26]  There is, according to Stengel, an ethical component to the aesthetic point of view in Wittgenstein’s work, and vice versa.  They are not ‘one and the same’ ontologically, logically or grammatically speaking, but the one does presuppose the other.  “The interdependence of ethics and aesthetics,” she says, “is rooted in the fact that the ethical, as a way of understanding life in its absolute value, expresses itself in aesthetic form, while aesthetic form (i.e., style) expresses the ethical as an individual, yet universal, aspect of the artistic act.”[27]

         Michael Hodges has said that what Wittgenstein meant by ‘ethics and aesthetics are one’ is that “the good life—the happy life—consists of an aesthetic apprehension and appreciation of the world in which will and idea are an essential unity.  The metaphysical subject and the willing ethical subject are one and the same”[28]  There seems to be credibility to this interpretation, despite the fact that Hodges waffles between implying that ethics and aesthetics are separate but unified, and that they are also ontologically indistinguishable.  A strong case could be made that the ‘good life’ for Wittgenstein is also the ‘happy life.’  “The happy life is good,” he says, “The unhappy bad.”[29]  When we see the world with a ‘happy eye’ we also see it beautifully.  Therefore, a happy life is also both good and beautiful, and an unhappy life is neither.  The difficulty that we encounter here is not so much that such maxims as these are unclear, but that they do not really say anything at all.  What does it mean to be happy, and why is a happy life an ethical and aesthetic life?  Wittgenstein himself has no definitive answer to offer us.  When he asks himself “why should I live happily,” his only response is that it “seems to me to be a tautological question; the happy life seems to be justified, of itself, it seems that it is the only right life.”[30] And thus there is really only one sort of ethical maxim that Wittgenstein can offer us.  “It seems one can’t say anything more than: Live happily!”[31]  But what this happy life consists in is “in some sense deeply mysterious!”[32]  For if we attempt to answer the question: “What is the objective mark of the happy, harmonious life?” the only answer we might give is “that there cannot be any such mark, that can be described.  This mark cannot be a physical one but only a metaphysical one, a transcendental one.”[33]

         This final remark is an important one.  The correct life, which is the good and the happy life, is not one which can be described in propositional language.  It is therefore ‘transcendental’ according to Wittgenstein’s use.  This means, as he states in the Notebooks, that “ethics does not treat of the world.  Ethics must be a condition of the world, like logic.”[34]  It is important to take note of Schopenhauer’s influence on Wittgenstein here, because ethics, like logic or aesthetics, “can only enter through the subject.”[35]  It is this ‘willing subject,’ which Wittgenstein sometimes refers to as the ‘metaphysical subject,’ that is the basis not only for the happy or unhappy world, but the world in general.  “As the subject is not a part of the world but a presupposition of its existence, so good and evil are predicates of the subject, not properties in the world.”[36]  Logic, ethics and aesthetics then, all collapse into the metaphysical subject.  Not only does this seem to suggest that there could be no such thing as a world without a subject which is not ‘a part’ of it, but it also suggests that the world must also necessarily be an ethical and aesthetic concern for the metaphysical subject.  “Can there be a world that is neither happy nor unhappy?”[37]Wittgenstein asks himself, albeit rhetorically.  For as far as Wittgenstein is concerned, the existence of the world (everything that is the case) is based on the existence of a metaphysical subject which transcends the world.  This subject is also the ‘willing subject’ in Schopenhauer’s sense and it is this willing that makes the world either ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy.’  There can ultimately be no such thing as a subject that stands in a value neutral relationship to the world for there would then be nothing ‘transcendent’ about the metaphysical subject.  A subject that stood in a value neutral relationship to the rest of the world would cease to be a subject altogether, in which case it would become completely objective.  In other words, what differentiates the subject from the object is that the latter can be described via propositional language, the former cannot.  The metaphysical subject resists this sort of description precisely because it stands in an ethical and aesthetic relationship with the world.  If we subtract this from the subject than there is nothing left to distinguish it from any other object.  As metaphysical subjects, we must suppose that the world is either happy or unhappy, good or bad, beautiful or ugly.  If we do not, then there can be no such thing as ‘a world’ at all.

         There is much here in Wittgenstein’s portrayal of aesthetic and ethical contemplation that owes much to Kant, even if Wittgenstein arrived at his position by a somewhat different route.  The transcendent nature of ethics and aesthetics for Wittgenstein was as a result of the intertwined relationship of logic, thought and metaphysics.  What is not logical cannot exist.  Nor can we think, or speak, meaningfully about what is not logical.  From this metaphysical position we are lead to the inevitable conclusion that all ethical or aesthetic propositions—or any propositions that attempt to expresses any kind of value, for that matter—are senseless.  Wittgenstein’s point in all of this is not to deride such value propositions however; far from it.  For Wittgenstein they were of the upmost importance and there can be no denying that we are quite capable of the sort of contemplation that can and does assign value to a world that is utterly devoid of it.  A value proposition, strictly speaking, refers to nothing, insofar as there is nothing in the world which it might share the logical structure of representation with.  Therefore, if there is to be such a thing as the ‘contemplation of values’ it must be a mystical sort of experience that transcends the world of non-values.  This sort of contemplation, then, is possible only because we are capable of viewing the world as if from the auspices of eternity.

         The fact that we might not actually do so when we contemplate the meaning or value of life and existence is completely beside the point.  What matters is that we are capable of imagining what it would be like to occupy a universal vantage—what Thomas Nagel has characterized as ‘the view from nowhere,’ or at least nowhere in particular.  “While transcendence of one’s own point of view in action,” he says, “is the most important creative force in ethics . . . its results cannot completely subordinate the personal standpoint and its prereflective motives.  The good, like the true, includes irreducibly subjective elements.”[38]  The problem of how to combine a subjective viewpoint with that of an objective one, without giving priority to one over the other, is one that Nagel ascribes a key importance to.  This problem, as it relates to ethics, has an analogous problem in metaphysics.  The difficulty there lies in “combining into some conception of a single world those features of reality that are revealed to different perspectives at different levels of subjectivity or objectivity.”[39]  The gist of Nagel’s point is that although the subjective and objective can sometimes conflict, we need not adopt one to the exclusion of the other.  Nor are the terms of one necessarily reducible to terms of the other.  It is something of a metaphysical prejudice that the subjective is considered antithetical to the objective and vice versa.   Varying modes of inquiry might require varying degrees of each, and there is no reason why we cannot assume that the subjective and objective can coexist.

         These difficulties perhaps find no better expression than in the work of Kant.  For him, the beautiful was that “which pleases universally without a concept.”[40]  And though in practice we might disagree quite strongly about what we deem to be beautiful, when we do make this judgment we do so as if it were universally valid for everyone.  Indeed, when one is truly convinced that something is beautiful, one is usually quite incapable of understanding how anyone could disagree. Kant suggests something similar when he states that when someone “pronounces that something is beautiful, then he expects the very same satisfaction of others.”[41]  The validity of a universal judgment is thus characterized by a certain kind of ‘ought.’  It has the form ‘everyone ought to find this beautiful’ and not ‘everyone does find this beautiful.’  And so any particular disagreement that we might have concerning what we deem to be beautiful is quite beside the point.  The only qualification that a disinterested judgment of taste requires is that it be made as if it were universally the case.  There is, Kant says, “A claim to validity for everyone without the universality that pertains to objects, i.e., it must be combined with a claim to subjective universality.”[42]  Unlike an objective universal judgment—which is universal logically speaking—a subjective universal judgment “does not rest on any concept.”[43]  There can therefore be no “inference at all to logical universal validity.”[44]  This is because aesthetic universal validity “does not pertain to the object at all . . . in its entire logical sphere, and yet it extends it over the whole sphere of those who judge.”[45]  Thus, categorically speaking, there can be no such thing as an objectively universal aesthetic judgment.  “If one judges objects merely in accordance with concepts, then all representation of beauty is lost.  Thus there can also be no rule in accordance with which someone could be compelled to acknowledge something as beautiful.”[46]  This subjective universality which pertains to determinations of beauty is not one which can be governed by rules simply because it would, by definition, no longer be concerned with beauty.

         There are many similarities between Kant’s stance on aesthetics and that of Wittgenstein’s— and a few dissimilarities as well.  The most prominent of the similarities is perhaps the insistence of each that aesthetic contemplation is transcendent.  For Kant a judgment of taste was universal and as such transcended all empirical experience.  It is also in this sense both pure and a priori.  In other words, transcendence in Kant’s sense lays the ground for the possibility of all judgments of taste in general.  Wittgenstein’s sense of transcendence is related, but slightly different.  In the first place, Wittgenstein does not seem to hold the position that an aesthetic judgment is universal in the sense that ‘everyone ought to find this beautiful.’  However, it is universal in the sense that the beautiful is what is seen from the view point of eternity. Kant’s transcendental philosophy on the other hand sought to demonstrate that all of our knowledge was already predicated on our a priori faculties.  In this sense they ‘transcend’ everything else because they are prior to everything else. Wittgenstein too ascribed logic this kind of metaphysical place in his early philosophical system (see 6.13 of the Tractatus). The propositions of logic for Wittgenstein were not transcendental, but the fact that they were capable of mirroring the world was.  This is to say that no proposition of logic is capable of representing how it is capable of representing anything in the first place.  Logic in this sense is transcendental because it is prior to the possibility of their being a world at all and also because it is incapable of expressing its priority.  And thus for Wittgenstein, there can be no ‘objective’ conception of beauty in the sense that logic is utterly incapable of expressing any proposition of value.  There is, in other words, no ‘hierarchy’ of logic.  This is, in some respects, remarkably similar to Kant, inasmuch as the universal validity of a judgment of taste is not at all dependent on the logical sphere of an object.  If it was it would cease to be subjectively universal and would become objectively so.  A judgment of taste therefore cannot be logical for Kant either.

         The similarities between Kant and Wittgenstein have been noted by other scholars as well.  Newton Garver hassuggested that “there are striking differences between Kant and Wittgenstein in terminology, but when these are discounted it is difficult to discern any differences of doctrine.”[47]  In particular Garver regards both Kant and Wittgenstein as critical philosophers, both of whom “disparage speculative philosophy”[48]and therefore employ various metaphysical constraints to what philosophy can meaningfully accomplish.  This is no doubt true broadly speaking; and though Garver details the various epistemological ‘schemata’ and ‘criteria’ that Kant and Wittgenstein employ respectively, the critical methodologies of each have important implications for their ethical doctrines as well.  Kant famously stated in the preface of the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason that he must “abolish knowledge, to make room for belief.”[49]  We might similarly say that Wittgenstein had to limit logic in order to make room for value.  And although Wittgenstein held no maxim directly comparable to that of the categorical imperative, if he were to give us one it might be something along the lines of ‘act according to a universal good will,’ which is of course not very far removed from the categorical imperative.  After all, one of the primary aims of Kantian philosophy is to show that the categorical imperative is predicated on the a priori concept of an autonomous will.  In the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Kant suggests “that a good will seems to constitute the indispensable condition even of worthiness to be happy.”[50]

         Wittgenstein, it will be recalled, saw a fundamental connection between what was good and what was happy.  This is also, in a certain sense, the connection between the ethical and the aesthetic.  This should come as no surprise, insofar as Kant’s conception of the categorical imperative and disinterested judgments of taste are both predicated on a universal ought.  In a similar way, the ethical and the aesthetic for Wittgenstein are predicated on a universal vantage.  Life, as seen from the eternal, is good, and the existence of the world—from the same point of view—is also beautiful.  And just as Kant thought that “a good will is not good because of what it effects . . . it is good in itself”[51]the argument could be made that Wittgenstein considered the good and happy life to be the only justifiable one to live and that such a life was possible only through the good will of the metaphysical subject.  There is also no reason why one ought to choose the good and beautiful life over one that it is not.  It can only be metaphysically justified by the imperative ‘one ought to choose it.’  Wittgenstein’s sense of ethical obligation is thus, like Kant’s, undeniably deontological.  “Everything seems to turn, so to speak, on howone wants.”[52]  Accordingly the will must be “first and foremost the bearer of good and evil.”[53]  And thus it is through the will that both the ethical and the aesthetic come into a world that is otherwise devoid of value.  If we were incapable of willing, we would also be incapable of seeing the world as either good or bad, beautiful or ugly, happy or unhappy.  To illustrate the point Wittgenstein asks, “Can we conceive a being that isn’t capable of Will at all, but only of Idea (of seeing, for example)?  In some sense this seems impossible.  But if it were possible then there could also be a world without ethics.”[54]

         Wittgenstein’s views on ethics are further explicated in a popular lecture he gave on the topic on November 17, 1929 to the Heretics Society in Cambridge.  The various contentions that he makes as regards the subject has much in common with those to be found in the Notebooks and the Tractatus.  A few statements, however, bear a mark more indicative of theInvestigations.  This is not at all surprising given the fact that this was something of a transitional period for Wittgenstein. The Blue and Brown Books,[55]which were produced from lectures Wittgenstein gave between 1933 and 1935, already contain many of the central tenants of the Investigations.  There are also a few instances in this lecture where Wittgenstein’s view of ethics seems to further overlap with that of Kant’s.

         Wittgenstein begins the lecture by adopting the definition of ethics that Moore used in Principia Ethica: ethics is “the general enquiry into what is good.”[56]  And there is more than just this superficial similarity between Wittgenstein’s “Lecture on Ethics” and Moore’s Principia.  This is despite the fact that Wittgenstein did not seem to think very highly ofPrincipia, as he expressed to Russell in a letter from 1912.

I have just been reading a part of Moore’s Principia Ethica: . . . I do not like it at all.  (Mind you, quite apartfrom disagreeing with most of it.) . . . Moore repeats himself dozens of times, what he says in 3 pages could – I believe – easily be expressed in half a page.  Unclear statements don’t get a bit clearer by being repeated!![57]

This in some sense is no doubt true, though as is the case with On Certainty, Moore seems to have acted as something of a catalyst for Wittgenstein’s thought.  This assessment, by and large, would appear to be in tune with how Wittgenstein himself viewed his own ability to develop ideas.  “I believe that my originality (if that is the right w ord) is an originality belonging to the soil rather than to the seed.  (Perhaps I have no seed of my own.)  Sow a seed in my soil and it will grow differently than it would in any other soil.”[58]

         Despite his dislike for Principia, in the main much of what Wittgenstein says about the senselessness of ethics is reminiscent of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ which Moore took so much care to detail in Principia.  Moore’s contention in that book is that the term ‘good’ is a simple one, meaning that it cannot be defined.  This is unlike a term such as ‘horse,’ which is comprised of a great many simple qualities which when taken together constitute its definition. The naturalistic fallacy occurs when we mistakenly confuse a simple term with a complex one.  In the case of the good, the fallacy occurs when we assign it all sorts of various qualities, such as John Stuart Mill does when he says “that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends.”[59]  Moore contends that Mill falls into the naturalistic fallacy by “using the words . . . ‘desirable as an end’ as absolutely and precisely equivalent to the words ‘good as an end.’”[60]  And according to Mill, the only thing desirable as an end is pleasure.  Therefore, the only thing good for Mill is pleasure and pleasure alone.  There is no doubt that Moore agrees that pleasure is good, but he categorically rejects the possibility that we can specifically define what good is.

         This, it would seem, is something that Wittgenstein agrees with.  Just as logic will not allow us to define what a ‘simple’ is, it will not allow us to define what good is either.  Like logic, the good (in the ethical sense) is transcendent and beyond explication in significant language.  This, however, is significantly different from ‘good’ in what Wittgenstein calls the ‘trivial’ or ‘relative’ sense.  A trivial judgment of this sort is one that uses the term ‘good’ in relation to a specific end. In other words, “The word good in the relative sense simply means coming up to a certain predetermined standard.”[61]  Astatement such as this might be something like: “This is the right way you have to go if you want to get to Granchester in the shortest time.”[62]  Thus, if one’s goal is to get to Granchester as quickly as possible, the shortest route will also be the one that is ‘good’ and the longest will be the one that is ‘bad.’  When the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are used thusly, they are not in any conceivable sense ‘ethical.’  They only make an assertion about the way things are.  And thus Wittgenstein asserts,

Every judgment of relative value is a mere statement of facts and can therefore be put in such a form that it loses all the appearance of a judgment of value. . . . Although all judgments of relative value can be shown to be mere statements of facts, no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgment of absolute value.[63]

Like Kant, there is nothing about the mere logic of any given state of affairs that has the compelling force of an absolute judgment.  “The absolute good, if it is a describable state of affairs, would be one which everybody, independent of his tastes and inclinations, would necessarily bring about or feel guilty for not bringing about.”[64]  But, Wittgenstein hastens to add, there is not, nor could there be, such a state of affairs that has “the coercive power of an absolute judge,”[65]as he calls it.  No such state of affairs has the characteristic ‘ought’ that is necessary of such an absolute judgment of value or a categorical imperative.

         This is not to say, however, that we cannot have experiences of the absolute.  Wittgenstein in fact gives us two examples.  The first of these is the wonderment at existence.  When we have an experience of this sort, we are “inclined to use such phrases as ‘how extraordinary that anything should exist’ or ‘how extraordinary that the world should exist.’”[66] The second of these experiences is what Wittgenstein calls “the experience of feeling absolutely safe.  I mean the state of mind in which one is inclined to say ‘I am safe, nothing can injure me whatever happens.’”[67]  One of the first things that one notices in the examples that Wittgenstein produces is a methodological procedure indicative of the Investigations in which various uses of a phrase, or phrases, are compared in order to draw out the family resemblances.  When applied to an experience of the absolute, it becomes readily apparent “that the verbal expression which we give to these experiences is nonsense!”[68]  Taking the example of ‘wondering at existence’ again, Wittgenstein suggests that it only makes sense to wonder at something when it is possible that one could imagine it otherwise.  But this does not apply to the wonderment at existence because we have no idea what it would ‘look like’ for there to be nothing instead of something.  And so we are left to wonder over what essentially amounts to a tautology—even though it is “just nonsense to say that one is wondering at a tautology.”[69]  And thus Wittgenstein is lead inevitably to the conclusion that these verbal expressions, which “seem, prima facie, to be just similes,”[70]are all related to one another by way of a shared nonsensicalness.  “I see now,”Wittgenstein says, “That these nonsensical expressions were not nonsensical because I had not yet found the correct expressions, but that that their nonsensicality was their very essence.”[71]

         This gives us further insight into what Wittgenstein might have possibly meant by ‘ethics and aesthetics are one.’ What is common to both the aesthetic and the ethical is their nonsensicality.  This of course does not reduce the two to ontological equivalency, it only suggests that they share a similar characteristic.  This could just as easily be said about logic, which Wittgenstein also considered to be transcendental.  But from this fact it does not follow that logic is ontologically indistinguishable from ethics or aesthetics either.  It would seem, however, that Wittgenstein did consider ethics and aesthetics to be tautological.  There is no reason to compel someone to act well.  One simply ought to do it and that is all there is to the matter.  Likewise, it makes no sense to marvel at the beauty of existence in that one cannot imagine it otherwise.  But nevertheless, one should still look at the world with a ‘happy eye.’  Both the ethical and the aesthetic are thus joined by the same sort ‘ought’ in Wittgenstein’s thought.  There is, as B. R. Tilgham has noted, “an absolute and logically necessary character”[72]to Wittgenstein’s sense of ethical and aesthetic judgments.    Good is good, beauty is beauty and the world is whatever it is.  Similar sentiments were also expressed by Roland Barthes in S/Z.  “Beauty (unlike ugliness) cannot really be explained. . . . Like a god (and as empty), it can only say: I am what I am.”[73]  But this of course tells us nothing of what beauty is.  It is, as Barthes says, simply empty, and that it is all we can say about it.  “Every direct predicates is denied it;” he goes on.  “The only feasible predicates are either tautology . . . or simile.”[74] Wittgenstein too likened statements of value to similes, but the problem with a simile is that it either leads us into an infinite regress of meaning, or it brings us back to a tautology.  “Thus, beauty is referred to an infinity of codes: lovely as Venus? But Venus lovely as what?  As herself?”[75]  And this, it would seem, is the only way to halt the series of similes: “hide it, return it to silence, to the ineffable, to aphasia.”[76]  In other words, similes must come to an end somewhere, and when they do they must end in tautological silence.

         Although Wittgenstein wrote relatively little on the topics of ethics and aesthetics, he did, nevertheless, manage to arrive at a fairly cohesive theory of how ethical and aesthetic judgments are possible given the constraints that his logic demands.  But when he altered his views about language in his later work, his views on aesthetics seem to also have changed accordingly; although the remarks about ethics and aesthetics are just as sparse in the Investigations as they are in theTractatus (perhaps even sparser).  Thankfully, Wittgenstein gave a series of lectures on aesthetics at Cambridge during the summer of 1938 which are characterized by a methodology much more akin to the Investigations than the Tractatus.

         Wittgenstein begins these lectures by claiming “the subject (Aesthetics) is very big and entirely misunderstood as far as I can see.”[77]  Part of Wittgenstein’s reasoning behind this assertion is that “‘beautiful’ . . . is an adjective, so you are inclined to say: ‘This has a certain quality, that of being beautiful’.”[78]  This is as a result of the grammatical function of adjectives in general which can give us the erroneous impression that a particular quality is ‘possessed’ by a particular thing.   But this assumption does not necessarily conform with how a word like beautiful is used in practice.  It is therefore helpful when considering words like ‘beautiful’ “to ask how we were taught it. . . . If you ask yourself how a child learns ‘beautiful’, ‘fine’, etc., you find it learns them roughly as interjections.”[79]  Words like beautiful often play a fairly minimal role in aesthetic appreciation for Wittgenstein.  We are lured into the concept of subject and predicate when thinking about expressions such as ‘this is beautiful’ when in reality they occur in an “enormously complex situation . . . in which the expression itself has almost a negligible place.”[80]  We are thus accustomed to thinking about aesthetic expressions in terms of a primitive language-game instead of a complex one.  Furthermore, interjections of approval, according to Wittgenstein, are of very little concern where aesthetic appreciation is concerned.  “When aesthetic judgments are made, aesthetic adjectives such as ‘beautiful’ ‘fine’, etc., play hardly any role at all.”[81]  Take for example the critique of music.  When discussing a musical piece, we might be inclined to say “‘Look at this transition’, or . . . ‘The passage here is incoherent’. . . . The words you use are more akin to ‘right and ‘correct’ . . . than to ‘beautiful’ and ‘lovely’.”[82]  This is not to say that interjections do not enter into aesthetic appreciation at all.  One can certainly be awe struck by the beauty of something, but very often this expression by itself is not enough to distinguish between someone who is in a position to make an aesthetic judgment from someone who cannot.  “When we make an aesthetic judgment about a thing, we do not just gape at it and say ‘Oh!  How marvelous!’  We distinguish between a person who knows what he is talking about and a person who doesn’t.”[83]

         There are many ways in which we make this distinction, but the use of aesthetic interjections alone is not one of them. If one were to listen to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, one might certainly take note of their beauty.  One might even be struck dumb with wonder upon hearing them.  But, if the only thing one was able to say about them was ‘how wonderful,’ then we would not consider the person who said such a thing to have ‘taste’ or to be in a position to make an aesthetic judgment.  If, however, one were to mention their historical prominence in the repertoire of Baroque music, for example, or to point out the degree of technical virtuosity involved in their performance, then we would certainly be more inclined to treat such a person as someone who was in a position to make aesthetic judgments.

It is interesting to note that Wittgenstein’s conception of aesthetic appreciation is strangely akin to his epistemological doctrine.  Just as one must be in a position to demonstrate that one has a good basis for saying ‘I know such and such’ one must also be in a similar position to demonstrate the ability to make an aesthetic judgment.  In the former case, simply saying ‘I know’ does not suffice for showing that it is true, just as in the latter case the statement ‘that is beautiful’ is not a sufficient demonstration that one has the kind of ‘authority’ required to make an aesthetic judgment. Aesthetic appreciation is, in other words, part of a way of life and only has meaning within that context.  It is therefore “not only difficult to describe what appreciation consists in, but impossible.  To describe what it consists in we would have to describe the whole environment.”[84]  The idea of giving such an all-encompassing description is something that Wittgenstein continually rejected throughout his work.  One can never depict the whole environment because the depiction—which is, in a certain sense, as much a part of the environment as that which it depicts—can nevertheless not depict itself.

         The inability to precisely state what it is aesthetic appreciation consists in is one of the main themes of Wittgenstein’s lectures on aesthetics.  A second, but equally important, theme that Wittgenstein addresses is what he refers to as a ‘science of aesthetics.’  The use of the term ‘science’ in this phrase, it should be stressed, does not appear to coincide in any sense with the German word Wissenschaft, which of course translates into English as ‘science.’  The German word has a much broader sense than its English equivalent often connotes.  In German, the term Wissenschaft can refer to a systematic study of any topic, whereas in English the word ‘science’ has come to be almost inseparable from its association with the natural sciences—which is the epitome of the ‘scientific methodology’ in the majority of the English speaking world.  It is this conception of science that Wittgenstein seems to have in mind when he refers to a ‘science of aesthetics,’ especially as this notion is related to psychology.  But this idea is one that Wittgenstein flat out rejects.  “People often say that aesthetics is a branch of psychology.  The idea is that once we are more advanced, everything—all the mysteries of Art—will be understood by psychological experiments.  Exceedingly stupid as the idea is, that is roughly it.”[85]  Wittgenstein’s hostility to this notion is essentially bound up with what he sees as a confusion between the problems of science as compared to those of aesthetics.  “Aesthetic questions have nothing to do with psychological experiments, but are answered in an entirely different way.”[86]

         The issue that is at the heart of this confusion is the belief that a causal explanation suffices as an answer to an aesthetic puzzle.  We might suppose, for instance, that given enough time, neuropsychology might be able to identify the particular parts of the brain that are involved when making aesthetic judgments of certain kinds.  An explanation of this sort might hold that the feeling of puzzlement we sometimes have when considering a work of art is something which is caused by certain chains of neurons firing, such that when they are strung along in the correct sequence, the experience of ‘aesthetic puzzlement’ is produced in our minds.  It would of course be naïve to suggest that there is not something like the above described process going on in our minds, but it would be equally naïve to suggest that a causal explanation of this sort is going to be of any use to us whatsoever when we are discussing the problems of aesthetics.  The causal explanation that this interpretation offers us is simply not very well suited to this sort of application.  And of course, because it is a causal explanation, we might even

dream of predicting the reactions of human beings, say to works of art.  If we imagine the dream realized, we’d not thereby have solved what we feel to be aesthetic puzzlements, although we may be able to predict that a certain line of poetry will, on a certain person, act in such and such a way.  What we really want, to solve aesthetic puzzlements, is certain comparisons—grouping together of certain cases.[87]

         David Novitz, in an article appearing in the collection of essays, Wittgenstein, Aesthetics, and Philosophy, has taken note of the apparent tensions that exist in Wittgenstein’s lectures on aesthetics.  “One the one hand,” Novitz says of Wittgenstein,

He emphasizes the role played by rules in our aesthetic response to a work of art; on the other, he contests the view that our aesthetic impressions and judgments can be explained in a law-like way. . . . And yet, if rules do figure prominently in our aesthetic responses, it is difficult to see why there should not be law-like, perhaps scientific, explanations of aesthetic judgment.[88]

Part of the difficulty that arises from this apparent conflict is bound up with what Wittgenstein means by ‘aesthetic appreciation,’ which is impossible to describe without also describing the culture within which an aesthetic judgment takes place.  “The words we call expressions of aesthetic judgment play a very complicated rôle, but a very definite rôle, in what we call a culture of a period.  To describe their use or to describe what you mean by a cultured taste, you have to describe a culture.”[89]  This implies that if aesthetic appreciation is bound up with a culture, then what it means to appreciate may have more or less circumscribed boundaries, depending on how it was used during a given period.  One culture may have a more exacting use of appreciation, another, a more nebulous one.  In some sense then, a culture determines the rules by which aesthetic judgments are made.  There is certainly no clear boundary between breaking the rule and following it, but in describing a culture we are also in some sense describing a form of life, part of which is composed by the game of aesthetic appreciation.  Thus, “What we now call a cultured taste perhaps didn’t exist in the Middle Ages.  An entirely different game is played in different ages.”[90]  This of course does not mean that it is impossible to transgress the boundaries of a particular cultural epoch, for if it did the rules would never change and there would be no such thing as development in the arts.  But as Wittgenstein points out, for example, “You can say that every composer changed the rules, but the variation was very slight; not all the rules were changed.  The music was still good by a great many of the old rules.”[91]

         Novitz question thus deserves some attention.  If aesthetic appreciation is in some sense governed by rules, and, if there can be such a thing as following or not following the rules, then why does scientific explanation—which is an explanatory system as much predicated on rules as is the taste of a particular culture—give us an unsatisfactory account of aesthetic appreciation?  In general, Novitz identifies aesthetic appreciation as in part, a function of what people want a work of art to consist in.

The rules that reflect what people want have a certain social significance, and it is our grasp of this significance that gives us a socially informed understanding of the ways in which rules can be tweaked or transformed to good or bad aesthetic effect.  It is this knowledge, this ‘feeling for the rules’, that informs aesthetic judgment.  It is something that is learned by becoming acquainted with tradition and conventions that inform the culture of a period; not something that is natural to us.[92]

Novitz seems to be suggesting this: just because both aesthetic appreciation and scientific explanation are in some sense rule governed does not mean that the latter can supplant the former.  Each is, so to speak, a kind of language-game, and each has its own standards that may or may not be applicable in other contexts.  We do not, nor should we, expect that the rules of one game be of any use in another.  If we use the rules of chess to play the game of checkers we would no longer be playing checkers.  A similar analogy may be made about psychology’s relationship to aesthetics.  If we apply the rules of psychological inquiry to aesthetic questions, we are not thereby doing aesthetics.  It should thus come as no surprise that the questions of aesthetics remain unanswered by causal explanations.  Psychology cannot solve the problems of aesthetics any more than aesthetics can do likewise for psychology.  A problem has its home in a particular game and if we try to transplant it into a different one it becomes an entirely different problem.

         The above example brings up an important point.  It is no doubt obvious that language-games of varying sorts often come into conflict with one another.  Part of the objection to a psychological explanation of aesthetics is that the former seeks to circumvent the latter thus making the language-game of aesthetics superfluous.  There is thus an essential disagreement involved in the question as to what sort of explanation suffices where an aesthetic puzzle is concerned.  How then to resolve these conflicts?  A possible answer to this question is suggested by Lyotard.  “Philosophical discourse,” he says, “Has as its rule to discover its rule: its a priori is what is at stake.”[93]  This is the issue that is very much at play in Wittgenstein’s dismissal of psychological explanation in aesthetics.  The object of philosophical discourse is to discover its rule—the metaphysical construct in which the discourse itself is made intelligible.  When an aesthetic question is considered against the metaphysical backdrop of psychology, the question ceases to make sense all together.  And this of course is part of the rhetoric involved in the rejection of one explanation and the adoption of another.  When we say that an aesthetic question feels out of place when considered in the context of psychology, we are in part suggesting that the question itself no longer has an aesthetic charm.  It loses its luster, so to speak.  The very thing that made the question interesting was the context in which it was posed to begin with.  Thus, settling a dispute of this kind is about placing things in the correct context thereby making them seem at home.  This feeling of correctness associated with these sorts of disputes is primarily one that is aesthetic in nature.  To say ‘it feels right’ is to say ‘it feels beautiful.’

         There are no doubt instances where metaphysical disputes are simply irreconcilable.  This is a point that Wittgenstein made in On Certainty.  “Where two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and heretic.”[94]  And this seems to be the only possible outcome that a dispute over fundamental principles can come to.  If one refuses to see the world in a particular way than no amount of ‘evidence’ will prevail in convincing one to a contrary point of view.  Indeed, where metaphysics is concerned, there is no such thing as being ‘convinced by the evidence.’  To see an axiom of metaphysics as correct is simply to see it as aesthetically preferable as compared to other contradictory axioms.  “There are as many universes as there are phases.  And as many situations of instance as there are universes,”[95]Lyotard tells us.  And of course these phrases can come into conflict with one another, and when they do they result in what Lyotard refers to as the différend, which is “a case of conflict, between (at least) two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both arguments.”[96]  A différend is distinguished from what Lyotard refers to as ‘litigation,’ which is a conflict which may be settled via recourse to a commonly accepted rule.  Where a différend is concerned on the other hand, it is important to note that “one side’s legitimacy does not imply the other’s lack of legitimacy.  However, applying a single rule of judgment to both in order to settle their differend as though it were merely litigation would wrong (at least) one of them (and both of them if neither side admits this rule).”[97]

         There is thus a definite ethical dilemma involved in a dispute amongst phrases, one that is not easily solved without doing harm to one party or another.  Each party may hold to any given number of irreconcilable phrases with no clear way of bridging the gap between them.  Part of Lyotard’s suggestion has to do primarily with how these phrases get their meaning in the first place.  A ‘phrase’ for Lyotard is something akin to a basic ‘unit’ of language, but unlike the notion of Wittgenstein’s ‘simples’ in the Tractatus, which has an ‘absolute’ value in itself, Lyotard’s phrases have more in common with Wittgenstein’s later conception of meaning.  A phrase, according to Lyotard, “Is constituted according to a set of rules (its regimen),”[98]and it is this regimen—which is similar in its scope to Wittgenstein’s concept of the language-game—that gives a phrase its meaning.  There is also no such thing as one single phrase regimen.  Regimens can take on any number of given characteristics and can be governed by any number of different rules.  Thus there can be a regimen of “reasoning, knowing, describing, recounting, questioning, showing, ordering, etc.,”[99]each of which may not necessarily be “translated from one into the other.”[100]  They can, however, be “linked one onto another in accordance with an end fixed by a genre of discourse.”[101]

         This linking of regimens, without the subjectification involved in translating one regimen into another is at the heart of Lyotards philosophical method.  It thus “denies itself the possibility of settling, on the basis of its own rules, the differends it examines.”[102]  And in so doing, Lyotard can no doubt be read as offering us a very poignant defense of our right to disagree, very much as William James did for belief.  In a certain sense, the two are intimately related.   The concept of thedifférend is inseparable with what James described as our “right to believe at our own risk any hypothesis that is live enough to tempt our will.”[103]  If it were not for this assumed right—that various parties can hold irreconcilable beliefs—then there really could be no such thing as the différend at all.  But likewise, implicit within the sense of James’ ‘right to believe’—which in a manner of speaking is the aesthetic capacity to ‘accept’ without ‘proof’—there is also an ethical imperative that accompanies this right which demands that we afford the same right to others.  And this is exactly the imperative the différend places on us.  It denies the assumption that disputes must necessarily be settled, which is itself a way of settling disputes.

         There is also a definite metaphysical implication within Lyotard’s différend; for although he allows the possibility of irreconcilable difference between phrases, he does not allow for the possibility of there being no phrase at all.  “What escapes doubt,” he says, “is that there is at least one phase, no matter what it is.  This cannot be denied without verifying itideo facto.  There is no phrase is a phrase. . . . The phrase currently phrased as a phrase does not exist is a phrase.”[104] This assertion could equally well be extended to metaphysics as well.  To deny metaphysics is to do metaphysics and as a result the denial ends up contradicting itself.  This is a point that Lyotard also acknowledges, but his solution to the difficulty is to suggest that “the phrase considered as occurrence escapes the logical paradoxes that self-referential propositions give rise to.”[105]  A phrase is not subject to self-reference because it is not a proposition within a regimen. A phrase simply is; it is not subject to a truth calculus like a proposition is.  Rather, propositions are, according to Lyotard, “phrases under the logical regimen and the cognitive regimen.”[106]  It is these regimens that set the condition by which a proposition might either be true or false.

Phrases cannot be either true or false apart from a given regimen, but the regimen itself is predicated on any number of given phrases which themselves can never be subject to the rules of the regimen.  A phrase must stand outside the regimen which means that it cannot be subject to the regimen.  A phrase, therefore, “cannot be its own argument,”[107]for this would be to apply the propositional function outside of the context of the logical and cognitive regimens in which it has any sense.  This is not to suggest, however, that a phrase only has meaning in relation to these regimens.

Phrases can obey regimens other than the logical and the cognitive.  They can have stakes other than the true. What prohibits a phrase from being a proposition does not prohibit it from being a phrase.  That there are propositions presupposes that there are phrases.  When we are surprised that there is something rather than nothing, we are surprised that there is a phrase or that there are phrases rather than no phrases.[108]

This latter statement of Lyotard’s is a reiteration of Wittgenstein’s own mysticism.  But being surprised that there is something instead of nothing is also an aesthetic phenomenon.  The wonderment at existence that is typified by this aesthetic-mystical tendency is first and foremost the expression of a metaphysical principle.  This principle is the same that Nietzsche often expressed in his own philosophical work.  “As an aesthetic phenomenon existence is still bearable to us,”[109]he wrote in the Gay Science.  But not only is existence bearable as an aesthetic phenomenon, it is also justifiable only as an aesthetic phenomenon.  The question ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ can be answered only because we can give it an aesthetic basis.  Furthermore, the basis on which existence is predicated depends on this aesthetic phenomenon for its constitution.  Whatever existence is, it is inseparable from our description of it and how we choose to describe it will be contingent on our ‘metaphysics of art.’  We can give no reason why we ought to choose one mode of description as opposed to another.  All that we can say is that we choose one and not another.  An aesthetic justification of existence resides only in how we choose to describe.

         Wittgenstein wrote in 1936 that there is a “queer resemblance between a philosophical investigation (perhaps especially in mathematics) and an aesthetic one.” [110]   This resemblance was something that he remarked on more than once.  A related comment appears in Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. “A mathematician is always inventing new forms of description.  Some, stimulated by practical needs, others, from aesthetic needs,—and yet others in a variety of ways. . . . The mathematician is an inventor, not a discoverer.”[111]  The forms of description that a mathematician chooses are very much predicated on the needs that they fulfill.  One of these, no doubt, is an aesthetic one, and mathematicians can be as much lured by the beauty of a proof as any other factor.  But this of course does not imply that the axioms around which a proof is constructed are themselves self-evidently true.  They are only true insofar as they serve to accomplish some other end.  Wittgenstein would also come to criticize the belief that arithmetic could be reduced to logic—which was a central tenant of Russell’s philosophical work—on similar grounds.  “But who says that arithmetic is logic, or what has to be done with logic to make it in some sense into a substructure for arithmetic?  If we had e.g. been led to attempt this by aesthetic considerations, who says it can succeed?”[112]  There is of course no guarantee that our aesthetic considerations will lead us to success, but then again what counts as ‘success’ depends partly on how we differentiate between that and failure.  In other words, the rule for determining this difference will depend inevitably on an aesthetic consideration, because what counts as a ‘success’ and a ‘failure’ will be predicated on the criterions which we are willing to accept and abide by.  And thus, “‘Anything – and nothing – is right.’ – And this is the position in which, for example, someone finds himself in ethics or aesthetics when he looks for definitions that correspond to our concepts.”[113]  Not only is this the position that one finds oneself in ethics or aesthetics, but also in mathematics and metaphysics.  We are always in search of definitions that correspond to our concepts and the endeavor itself is one that is primarily aesthetic in nature.



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[1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 24.

[2] Peter Carruthers, The Metaphysics of the Tractatus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), xiii.

[3] Ibid., xiii–xiv.

[4] Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 39.

[5] Ibid., 31.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 27.

[8] Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols; and, The Anti-Christ (London: Penguin, 1990), 35.

[9] Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 28.

[10] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness (London: Routledge, 2001), 22–23.

[11] Ibid., 86.

[12] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Notebooks 1914-1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 86.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 87.

[15] Wittgenstein, Notebooks, 86.

[16] Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 87.

[17] Wittgenstein, Notebooks, 83.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 3–4.

[20] Ibid., 87.

[21] Ibid., 68.

[22] Ibid., 88.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Kathrin Stengel, “Ethics as Style: Wittgenstein’s Aesthetic Ethics and Ethical Aesthetics,” Poetics Today 25, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 611.

[25] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. C. K. Ogden (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004), 149.

[26] Stengel, “Ethics as Style,” 612.

[27] Ibid., 617.

[28] Michael Hodges, Transcendence and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 149.

[29] Wittgenstein, Notebooks, 78.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 77.

[35] Ibid., 79.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., 78.

[38] Thomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 8.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 104.

[41] Ibid., 98.

[42] Ibid., 97.

[43] Ibid., 100.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid., 101.

[47] Newton Garver, This Complicated Form of Life: Essays on Wittgenstein (Chicago: Open Court, 1994), 57.

[48] Ibid., 51.

[49] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1855), xxxv.

[50] Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 7.

[51] Ibid., 8.

[52] Wittgenstein, Notebooks, 78.

[53] Ibid., 76.

[54] Ibid., 77.

[55] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Preliminary Studies for the “Philosophical Investigations”: Generally Known As the Blue and Brown Books (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960).

[56] G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Mineola NY: Dover Publications, 2004), 2.

[57] Brian McGuinness and Georg Henrik von Wright, eds., Ludwig Wittgenstein, Cambridge Letters: Correspondence with Russell, Keynes, Moore, Ramsey, and Sraffa (Wiley-Blackwell, 1997), 13.

[58] Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 36.

[59] John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (London: Parker, Son and Bourn, 1863), 10.

[60] Moore, Principia Ethica, 65.

[61] Ludwig Wittgenstein, “A Lecture on Ethics,” The Philosophical Review 74, no. 1 (January 1965): 5.

[62] Ibid., 6.

[63] Ibid., 5–6.

[64] Ibid., 7.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid., 8.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid., 9.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid., 11.

[72] Benjamin Tilghman, Wittgenstein, Ethics, and Aesthetics: The View from Eternity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 55.

[73] Roland Barthes, S/Z (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), 33.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid., 34.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 1.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid., 1–2.

[80] Ibid., 2.

[81] Ibid., 3.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid., 6.

[84] Ibid., 7.

[85] Ibid., 17.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Ibid., 29.

[88] David Novitz, “Rules, Creativity and Pictures: Wittgenstein’s Lectures on Aesthetics,” in Wittgenstein, Aesthetics, and Philosophy, ed. Peter Lewis (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), 55.

[89] Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief, 8.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Ibid., 6.

[92] Novitz, “Rules, Creativity and Pictures: Wittgenstein’s Lectures on Aesthetics,” 69.

[93] Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 60.

[94] Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (Oxford: Blackwell, 1977), 81.

[95] Lyotard, The Differend, 76.

[96] Ibid., xi.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Ibid., xii.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Ibid., xiv.

[103] William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (Longmans, Green, and co., 1896), 29.

[104] Lyotard, The Differend, 65.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Ibid.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, ed. Bernard Williams, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 104.

[110] Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 25.

[111] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, ed. G. H. von Wright, R. Rhees, and G. E. M. Anscombe (The MIT Press, 1983), 99.

[112] Ibid., 217–218.

[113] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 4th ed. (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 40.