Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wittgensteinian Ethics

Maurice Drury tells a story about an interaction he had with Wittgenstein where Drury said something about monastic kinds of life being a waste of time. Wittgenstein responded "how can you know what their problems were in those days and what they had to do about them?"

To Freidrich Waismann Wittgenstein said "At the end of my lecture on ethics, I spoke in the first person. I believe that is quite essential. Here nothing more can be established, I can only appear as a person speaking for myself."

It can easily be seen throughout Wittgenstein's comments and actions regarding his life and philosophy that his philosophical work was bound up in his life.

I would like to suggest that Wittgenstein's ethic was a kind of existential ethic. Ethical problems are seen as problems which need solved in life--by a form of life--and one cannot solve an ethical problem without encountering it in a life. We speak from where we are in matters of ethics. My answers to ethical questions are only valid insofar as they are livable, and so the best test for an answer to a problem of ethics, of life, is to live it out. The question is whether the solution can fit into a way of life.

Why are we incapable of speaking about what is ethical? This is an attack on the open question argument, or a kind of agreement with its force. The point, that is, is that we cannot capture the normative power of what is to be done, or what is good, in language. Normativity exceeds what can be expressed. What we should do is what would solve the lived problems of our lives. Why? And the answer is not given in words, so much as by our inability to truly ask the question if we have heard the answer rightly. We must see what is normative, we cannot merely speak it.

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