P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 131
14th November 2007
I. 'Jesus as a Jewish Philosopher' by Matthew del Nevo
II. 'Nietzsche and The Birth of Tragedy' by Martin Jenkins
III. 'Wittgenstein on Ethics' by V. Prabhu
We are presented in this issue with three of the most iconoclastic thinkers of
all time, who sought to change the rules for thinking about ultimate questions.
Matthew del Nevo's Jesus is a Rabbi steeped in the tradition of the Jewish
Talmud. Calling upon Kierkegaard and Franz Rosenzweig, del Nevo argues that the
philosophy of Jesus is strikingly at odds with the Greek philosophical tradition
which came to mould official Christian doctrine, in being centred on questions
rather than dogmatic answers.
Martin Jenkins looks at the early work of Nietzsche, still under the influence
of Schopenhauer, where he formulated the distinction between the Apollonian and
Dionysian, proposing the problem of values and the meaning of life as
fundamentally an aesthetic problem whose solution lies in the creation of great
works of tragic art.
V. Prabhu explores the ethical underpinnings of the philosophy of Wittgenstein
showing that by stark contrast with the Logical Positivists who claimed
Wittgenstein as their inspiration, Wittgenstein believed that what is most
important is not 'what can be said' but rather the ethical, which cannot be put
into words; any attempt to do so is destructive of the very notion of value.
I. 'JESUS AS A JEWISH PHILOSOPHER' BY MATTHEW DEL NEVO
An appraisal of Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Jesus (St. Augustine's
This is a popularly written book about the philosophy of Jesus rather than the
Jesus of philosophy -- at least that is the intention. The book scopes the
philosophy of Jesus in terms of the primary questions of ontology,
epistemology, anthropology and ethics, respectively: What is being? What can I
know? Who is man? What ought I to do? The style is very direct, and what is
lost in subtlety is gained in clarity. The book gets off to a good start but
increasingly confuses the philosophy of Jesus with the theology of the Catholic
Church as represented by recent official documentation. The book is divided into
four sections aligned with the four prime questions. There is a subject index
and a scriptural index.
So what does Kreeft make of Jesus' philosophy?
First of all Kreeft makes it clear that he does not occupy that ostensibly
neutral or supposedly objective position struck up by many in philosophy of
religions discourse. Kreeft's presumption in writing about Jesus' philosophy
from a Christian point of view is not apologetic or polemical, rather he
understands, rightly in this reader's view, that Jesus' teaching and person
(like Socrates') present matters of intellectual substance that have to be
engaged philosophically if they are to be engaged properly. He believes that
Jesus' philosophy is not only of historical philosophical importance in the
history of ideas, but still has a critical relevancy today. As a Christian he
is in a good position to expound this, just as someone who knows the Greek is
in a better position to expound Plato.
On Jesus' metaphysics or ontology in Chapter 1 Kreeft rightly accentuates its
Jewishness and in this regard the uniqueness of the Jewish take on reality in
which God, world and humankind are seen as ontologically other and not merged,
submerged or seen as intrinsic to one another. It is a philosophy of otherness
and difference. Kreeft could have been more definite about this point. The
threefold difference of God, world and humankind demarcates Jewish reality from
pagan reality which does not mark the ontological otherness of these three so
absolutely, if at all. The Jewish take on reality is different from that of
other religions and non-religions (pantheism, panentheism, henotheism,
ontologism, atheism, prophetism etc.), and Kreeft touches on this.
Kreeft tends to describe Jesus' metaphysics theologically rather than out of
the Jewish world of Jesus. Kreeft speaks of a metaphysics of love, but this
does not capture the links back, in rabbinic thought, between God, world and
humankind which can be encapsulated by naming Creation, Revelation and
Redemption, as Rosenzweig has famously put it: Jesus has both a teaching on
these links back and a personal stance that is re-creative, redemptive and
revelatory. It is in this kind of metaphysical context that Jesus speaks of
love. Kreeft argues his case for Jesus' metaphysics of love from the Name of
God, but he is incorrect in saying that Jesus calling God 'abba' (father, papa)
was revolutionary. It is not in the Hebrew Scriptures as such, although the
Fatherhood of God is, but speaking to God familiarly as abba was common in
rabbinic tradition. What is revolutionary about Jesus' philosophy is that he
said you did not have to be Jewish to speak to God like this, or even religious!
Kreeft rightly asserts that everything else follows from Jesus' metaphysics. In
epistemology, what we must know is ourselves, the world and God. There are
degrees of knowledge and the key is wisdom. Again Jesus not only taught in the
Jewish wisdom tradition but personified it. As Kierkegaard wrote in Practice
in Christianity, 'the only explanation of truth is to be it.' Jesus'
philosophy is in that sense 'existential'. Our knowledge will increase with our
sanctification of the Name of God, and of the world and of ourselves. Kreeft
rightly refers to prayer as an important key to knowledge, allowing us to draw
close and relate to that which we need to know, rather than just to 'know
Jesus' anthropology revolves around the imago Dei, the instruction that
we are made in the image and likeness of God. Each person is infinitely other
than God, but bears God's image and likeness in one major respect: each human
person is absolutely one and only. Upon this is founded human dignity. Jesus'
anthropology is one which seeks to serve human dignity and increase it upon the
face of the earth, for God's glory.
Jesus' ethics revolves around the imitatio Dei, the imitation of God,
which in Christianity becomes the imitation of Christ. Kreeft argues that we
have to be 'little Christs', which I take it has to do with becoming all that
God has called us to be, individually and as a people of God. The idea is that
we each need to be personally responsible for our share in collective destiny,
which is with God, to 'mend the world' (tikkun olam). Jesus' own
philosophy was to do the Father's will, which he did, and which he enjoined us
to do, and in which prayer and personal wholeness is the key to knowledge and
In the second half of the book, in these chapters on anthropology and ethics,
Kreeft's tendency to move from the philosophy of Jesus to the theology of the
Church, becomes more pronounced. This shift will lose many readers not
predisposed in like manner to Kreeft. The problem goes back to Chapter 1 on
metaphysics which gets a little lost in a Thomistic interpretation of the
Creed, which is an anachronistic discussion. But this kind of anachronism is
stepped up in Chapter 3 on Jesus' anthropology. This chapter starts with the
idea of Jesus as perfect Man and perfect God, which is Greek philosophy, not
Jesus' philosophy. Kreeft then takes up the anthropological question in terms
of the Socratic dictum, 'know thyself'. This chapter shifts into apologetics
with a justification of Mary as the Mother of God, Catholic dogma rather than
Jesus' philosophy. Chapter 4 on Jesus' ethics also shifts over into apologetics
with an argument that ends with the assertion that, 'we are to worship the
Eucharist'; again, Catholic dogma, rather than Jesus' philosophy.
Traditionally Catholic Christians have taught that philosophy is a 'handmaid'
to philosophy. This is preferable to the Protestant response which was to try
and expunge philosophy from theology, which gave them ideology. My view, the
view of most philosophers, would be that any theology is no better than its
philosophy. Traditionally Christian thought, that is, Christian interpretation,
has depended on Greek philosophy, more precisely on combinations of Platonic and
Aristotelian philosophy. Jesus' philosophy -- whatever it was -- was Jewish,
rabbinic, in the sense we read about in the Talmud, which reflects the oral
tradition of Jesus' Jewish world. Jesus' philosophy was not Platonic or
The problem for Kreeft, which his book bears out, is that philosophy for him is
by definition non-Jewish. There is a long quotation from C. S. Lewis in the
Preface to show that Jesus' style followed broadly along Aristotelian lines as
found in the Poetics and the Analytics. But Jesus' style was
halakhic and aggadic. Kreeft asserts in the Preface that it is
not the style but the substance of Jesus' philosophy that interests him, his
answers. Jewish religious philosophy has always revolved around the
question, though, not the answer; on answers it is pluralistic.
Catholicism by contrast is about answers and is autocratically assertive about
its own answers, both to its own global constituency and with regard to other
denominational points of view. Kreeft needs to cross over from a culture of
answers in which he is steeped to a culture of the question, in which Jesus was
steeped. Moreover, in achieving the relevancy of Jesus' philosophy another
bridge has to be crossed from an autocratic 'one answer fits all' culture to a
plural culture. For we live in an age of philosophies, a pluralist age in which
by definition there cannot be one overarching theological metaphysic because
that would mean one underlying dominant philosophy, which is simply not the
case in our time. Therefore we need to situate Jesus' philosophy in terms of an
age of interpretation if we are going as Kreeft intends, to gauge its enormous
Ultimately the lack of distinction between the philosophy of Jesus and Catholic
dogma lets the book down. Kreeft has taken the ecclesiastical future of Jesus as
the cue, rather than the Jewish background, Jesus' own world and the greatness
of rabbinic thinking in particular.
In an age of interpretation when a lot of metaphysical theology is suspect,
archaic and unengaging, the project of re-discovering Jesus' philosophy is
important as a basis for Christian self-understanding, and then for
pre-understanding in philosophical argument. Jesus' philosophy was certainly
questioning and critically formulated in a rabbinic manner and it aimed to be
foundational for the philosophical task of bringing heaven down to earth, a
prophetic task in which humanity becomes all that God meant it to be.
(c) Matthew Del Nevo 2007
Dr Matthew Del Nevo
Senior Lecturer in Theology and Christian Spirituality
Broken Bay Institute
New South Wales
II. 'NIETZSCHE AND THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY' BY MARTIN JENKINS
As an escape from the everyday world with its mundanity, trials and
tribulations, many people find a sanctuary in music. The surrounding world of
things, people and events melts away as the powerful ecstasy of music
intoxicates. Friedrich Nietzsche [1844-1900] identified the importance of music
and its relation to everyday life in his first published book The Birth of
Schopenhauer and Der Wille
The young Nietzsche read The World As Will and Representation by the
philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and it had a profound effect upon him.
Schopenhauer maintained that the world we perceive around us (i.e. the
Phenomenal) is the mere appearance, the representation of an underlying nature
of reality. The underlying reality (i.e. the Noumenal) is the Will [Der
Wille] and the representations we perceive are its appearances
[Vorstellung]. The appearances are facilitated by the principle of
sufficient reason by which individual objects [principium
individuationis] are made possible. However, the underlying Will is
insatiable, restless and boundless. It appears in nature as the struggle for
existence, red in tooth and claw. It appears in human beings as the desire for
something which because unsatisfied makes unhappy and, unhappiness when the
desire has been achieved. Sometimes called the philosopher of pessimism,
Schopenhauer did not believe the world could really be changed for the better
as the nature of the Will would always obtain; far better to be resigned to its
nature and seek temporary escape by losing oneself in the contemplation of art.
Trained and precociously excelling as a philologist, Nietzsche synthesised
Schopenhauer's philosophy with his philological insights of ancient Greece and
the music of the composer Richard Wagner. The result was his The Birth
of Tragedy in 1872.
Apollo and Dionysius
In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche argued that the Ancient Greeks
identified two forces in nature -- the Apollonian and the Dionysiac -- deified
respectively in the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Like representation in
Schopenhauer, Apollo symbolises artistic form and order in all its
manifestations. The Dionysiac is the underlying dynamic force of being rather
like The Will as identified by Schopenhauer.
Manifesting itself in the plastic arts of Epic Poetry, Painting and Sculpture,
the Apollonian is the representation of images. It facilitates determinate form
from out of the Dionysiac. Nietzsche quotes a graphic scene from Schopenhauer:
Just as the boatman sits in his little boat, trusting his
fragile craft in a stormy sea which, boundless in every
direction, rises and falls in howling mountainous waves, so
in the midst of a world full of suffering, the individual
man calmly sits, supported by and trusting in the
By means of the principium individuationis [principle of individuation]
the Apollonian creates individual form, shape -- creates the images we take to
be the world of others, objects and ourselves -- whilst underneath the
Appearing in religious, festive force and the exuberance of the worshipers the
Dionysiac can be reached through intoxication inducing ecstasy. Captured by the
German word Rausch which can be translated as 'Rush' as in the 'rush' or
the 'buzz' one experiences from a peak or extreme experience -- especially with
music; Simon Critchley writes:
Music for Nietzsche... is not a copy of the Will but an
articulation of what he calls the Dionysian, the primal
life of desire, the deathly, dangerous and discordant core
of consciousness that he identifies with the experience of
Rausch -- intoxication, ecstasy or literally Rush. Music
gives us an experience of rush.
With the Dionysian Rush, the principium individuationis is dissolved and
all returns to a primal oneness.
The Wisdom of Silenus
Understanding the nature of the Dionysiac Will and its relation to the
Apollonian appearances of the world around us reveals the reason why life can
be absurd, painful and capricious. When asked by King Midas what was the best
and most admirable thing for all humanity; Silenus replied that the best thing
is not to have been born and the second best is to die soon.
Such a gloomy prescription follows from the fleeting nature of the Apollonian
world of appearance; all that comes into existence will pass out of existence.
No thing is forever -- parents, lovers, friends, places -- with which we invest
our love, faith and familiarity are all transient subject to change and demise.
For beneath the transient surface nature of the world around us is,
the Dionysiac oceanic current. Rising, raging, insatiable;
it invariably overwhelms the little boatman of individuated
form. This creates suffering: that nothing lasts forever,
that success rarely stays, that happiness is ephemeral.
Whilst the individual comes into existence in the Apollonian and disappears,
life as a whole in the Dionysiac Will continues. As Arthur Lee wrote 'For every
happy hello there must be goodbye': individual lives come and go but life as a
The centre of Greek Tragedy is the Chorus representing the whole unity of life.
Individuals in the chorus are individuated forms of life in the process of
birth, life, death, creation and destruction. This terrible transience is
symbolised in the tragic hero.
Unlike Apollonian Art which is constituted by the representations of the
illusory phenomenal world we perceive around us; Music is the replica of the
Dionysian Will itself. Before the frenzied dithyrambic chorus of Satyrs
Dionysus appears as the first individual; the Tragic hero. The Will [variously
interchangeable with Being or Nature] manifests itself to itself in the guise
of the hero god Dionysus as individuated through Apollo and, in the frenzied
dithyrambs of the satyr's. A 'dialectic' of evanescent moments is enacted
between the two. In Tragedy, the hero invariably suffers unfairly and
encounters death. As John Duncan writes:
There is a sense that the suffering was apportioned
For the spectators, the unforgiving tragedy of pain and death symbolised in the
interaction between the Apollonian [masks, dances, symbols] and the Dionysiac
[Music, singing, dithyrambs] highlights the transience of individuated life and
its dissolution in the larger Dionysiac whole. The frantic dithyrambs imbue the
Rausch mentioned above so that just as the individuated hero dies and
returns to the unified Dionysiac Will so; the individual spectator him/ herself
evanescently dissolves into the greater whole of the Will. As Nietzsche
Now the slave is a free man, now all the rigid and hostile
boundaries that distress, despotism or 'impudent fashion'
have erected between man and man break down. With the
gospel of world harmony, each man feels himself not only
united, reconciled and at one with his neighbour, but one
with him, as if the veil of Maya had been rent and now hung
in rags before the mysterious, primal oneness.
Individuated life is tragic but it is part of a bigger whole that continues
despite the suffering and destruction of the individual and Tragedy highlights
this by the tribulations, suffering and death of the hero. Tribulations in the
Apollonian phenomenal world are manifestations of the turbulent Dionysiac Will.
Only in the single instances of such destruction can we
clearly see the eternal phenomenon of Dionysiac art, which
expresses the Will in its omnipotence, behind the
principium individuationis, the eternal life that lies
beyond the phenomenal world regardless of all destruction.
Metaphysical delight in the Tragic is a translation of the
image: the hero, the supreme manifestation of the will, is
negated to our gratification, because he is only a
phenomenon and the eternal life of the will is left
untouched by his destruction.
Contrary to Aristotle who argued that Tragedy encouraged a catharsis -- a
purging from the psyche of negative emotions -- for Nietzsche, Tragedy is
positive as it affirms life. Submergence in the Dionysiac Will removes the
illusory representations of individuation, time and space. The ecstasis of this
experience rekindles a lust for life because of and despite the prospect of
annihilation. The Dionysiac Will for Apollonian individuated life fuels the
lust for life even though the Dionysian Will is that which extinguishes
individuated life. Yes life is awful but lets go for it while we're here!
Wagner and Germany
For Nietzsche German Philosophy had paved the way for the return of Tragedy. He
maintained that German Philosophers such as Schopenhauer had demonstrated the
limitation of scientific knowing to within the phenomenal world. This knowing
can only give us knowledge determined by time, space and causality. Beyond
this, is the Noumenal realm evoked Dionysiac Music which is manifested in
Tragedy, giving us the realm of feeling [pathei mathos]. Science in
Physiology and Medicine might tell us why we become ill or die but it cannot
tell us about the feelings and the meanings surrounding illness and death.
Nietzsche hoped his insights into Greek Tragedy could be combined with the
musical works of Wagner to renew the spirit of Germany. Along with others,
Nietzsche felt society lacked coherence, meaningfulness and a sense of
belonging that previous societies -- especially the Ancient Greeks -- did
not. Nietzsche's solution at the time of writing The Birth of
Tragedy was that archaic Greek society was the ideal to be followed. It was
a society based on Art contrary to our modern cognitivist and rationalist
approach and reliance on science.
To attend an event of Attic Tragedy was to be a citizen of Athens. To
participate in the Tragedy, to dissolve in the Dionysiac, was to enjoy a
collective experience which temporarily dissolved social rank to unite all.
Nietzsche hoped the music and festivals of Wagner could do the same for Germany.
The issues raised by Nietzsche are germane. Contemporary society appears
fractured to some commentators, where individuals are lacking a sense of
community and common identity with a greater whole. Also, the possibility of
achieving existential satisfaction by material acquisition alone is also
disputed. Requiring more than the quantitative within time, space and
individuation, to achieve a meaningful life relationships, moods, a sense of
purpose, of belonging and meaning -- what the early Nietzsche would have termed
the metaphysical -- is also important. Finally, despite all the advances in
Medicine and Science, the finitude of human life and its relation to death
continues to exist as the ultimate event on the horizon before all thinking and
1. Friedrich Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy. Penguin. 1993.
2. Arthur Schopenhauer. The World As Will and Representation. Dover
3. #1. The Birth of Tragedy. Op cit.
4. Simon Critchley. Rausch. The Philosopher's Magazine Essay. The
Philosopher's Magazine. #28.
Think also here of the Islamic Dervishers who induce religious exaltation with
their dances. Think also of dance festivals, [Outdoor 'Raves'] Concerts,
Political Rallies, German Oktober beer festivals and the like.
5. #3. The Birth of Tragedy. Op cit.
6. The poem Mutability by Percy Bysshe Shelley for me, captures the
tragic transience of life. I cite the first verse:
The Flower that smiles today,
All that we wish to stay,
Tempts us and then flies.
What is this worlds delight?
It is like lightning that mocks the night,
As brief as it is bright.
The Major Works
Oxford University Press. 2003.
7. Again, the lyrics of Arthur Lee from the band Love in the song You Set
the Scene capture the tragedy and profundity of transient life.
This is the only thing I'm sure of,
And that all that lives is gonna die.
And there'll always be some people here to wonder why,
And for every happy hello there will be goodbye.
There'll be time to put yourself on.
You Set the Scene by Arthur Lee.
Love. Forever Changes. 1967.
8. P. 64. John Duncan. Culture, Tragedy and Pessimism in Nietzsche's Birth
PhaenEx 1. No 2. Winter 2006. Journal of Existential and Phenomenological
Theory and Culture
9. After E.R. Dodds' Bacchae highlighting the significance of the oxyrhs
fragments -- long after Nietzsche composed The Birth of Tragedy --
modern interpretations show that the Bacchic possession is external and
10. #1. The Birth of Tragedy. Op cit.
11. #16. The Birth of Tragedy. Op cit.
12. For more on this see the Introduction by Raymond Guess to Friedrich
Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Cambridge University
13. Different solutions arising from the same concerns were formulated by
Friedrich Von Schiller, Friedrich Holderlin, G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx.
E.R. Dodds. Bacchae. Cambridge University Press. 1960.
John Duncan. Culture, Tragedy and Pessimism in Nietzsche's Birth of
Tragedy. PhaenEx.1. No 2. Winter 2006. Journal of Existentialist and
Phenomenological Theory and Culture.
Friedrich Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy. Penguin. 1993.
Friedrich Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Cambridge
University Press. 1999.
Arthur Schopenhauer. The World as Will and Representation. Dover
Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Major Works. Oxford University Press. 2003.
Walter Sokal. On the Dionysian in Nietzsche. Monism and its Consequences.
Nietzsche Circle. 2006. http://www.nietzschecircle.com
Many thanks to Brian Lewis and Anthony Dybacz of Chester Philosophy Forum
for their knowledgeable guidance and suggestions in relation to the Ancient
Greek world and its culture.
(c) Martin Jenkins 2007
Martin Jenkins is a Mentor on the Pathways to Philosophy distance learning
III. 'WITTGENSTEIN ON ETHICS' BY V. PRABHU 
A struggle towards perfection
This paper attempts to position Wittgenstein's views on ethical values as a
struggle towards perfection between his existential predicament and
philosophical commitment. Wittgenstein's position regarding the nature of
values is singular; where one can see the constant turmoil exhibited between
his philosophical (rational) thought process, and his existential struggle. The
struggle he had was with finding the meaning of life, of his existential
situation but he was unable to rationally explain the universal human
predicament. Unlike other philosophers, who view that values do not have
universality, Wittgenstein strongly believed that they have such a status. But
at the same time, his technique of language and philosophical justification did
not give him scope to universalize it. Thus, this paper aims to show how his
views on values are a constant attempt to bridge the gap between the two.
There are two stages in Wittgenstein's thoughts -- earlier and later -- with
respect to language. In his earlier approach to language, he had clearly laid
down the criteria for a sentence to be of sense. In the Tractatus (his
earlier work) the essence of language is assumed to reside in its fact-stating
function. Those sentences that cannot fulfill these criteria are termed as
nonsensical, under which religious, cultural, ethical and all other value based
and metaphysical sentences fall. He relegated them to the realm of 'mystical',
that which cannot be brought under the purview of language, i.e., communication.
Wittgenstein at the end of the Tractatus made a number of gnomic remarks
about values. In Tractatus, Wittgenstein held that there are no values in
the world, for there are no propositions to mirror the values of the world. All
values, the meaning of the world and of life, are in some sense stand outside
the reality (world). It follows that values cannot be expressed in
propositions, for there are no ethical propositions. To quote Wittgenstein:
If there is any value that does have value, it must be
outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case.
For all that happens and is the case is accidental.
According to his Tractatus conception of language, no value exists in
the world. If anything exists in the world, it has no value. In that context,
he says that ethics cannot be put into words, because ethical attributes cannot
alter facts. They can only alter one's own world, but not the world shared by
all of us. Therefore, they are ineffable. They belong to the realm of mystical.
A statement is nonsensical when it cannot be verified empirically or when it is
not analytic (tautology). Those statements that cannot fulfill either of the two
criteria are termed as nonsensical. As a matter of fact, in his preface to
Tractatus, Wittgenstein mentions that anything that lies beyond
the limits of language will simply be treated as nonsense. However, we cannot
simply draw a conclusion that Wittgenstein did not show any interest in these
subjects. The statements concerning these subjects may be treated nonsensical,
because any attempt to explain them in terms of truth-functional language
results in a miserable failure. This is clear from the following statement of
How things are in the world is a matter of complete
indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal
himself in the world.
Whether Wittgenstein was concerned about that which he described as nonsense
was a contentious issue for some period of time but it is almost for certain
now that he was very deeply bothered about it. Many thinkers believe that
Tractatus is basically a metaphysical work. Suresh Chandra opines thus:
Tractatus is primarily an essay in Metaphysics, and only
secondarily that it is concerned with language, i.e. the
meanings of the words and sentences. He is primarily
concerned with reality, and only secondarily concerned with
language. He is first a metaphysician then a philosopher of
language. And his metaphysics has influenced his views on
language. Therefore any understanding of Wittgenstein's
philosophy of language by delinking it with his
transcendentalism will be an utter failure. His
transcendentalism is a necessary presupposition of his
philosophy of language.
Wittgenstein himself was of the view that his work has to be understood from a
transcendental viewpoint. In one of his letters to Ludwig Ficker, he claimed
his work Tractatus to be an ethical one. To understand Wittgenstein's
contention regarding the ethical, thereby transcendental nature of
Tractatus, we have to look into some other source of information that
includes his life and thought. Wittgenstein's enigmatic life style and his
constant botheration about leading an ethical life gives the impression that he
was more concerned with what he termed as 'mystical' rather than what is not
mystical in his Tractatus.
To substantiate this view we can quote Wittgenstein's remark in his letter to
Ludwig von Ficker:
My work consists of two parts; of the one which is here,
and of everything which I have not written. And precisely
this second part is the important one.'
It is clear that Wittgenstein in Tractatus maintained a distinction
between what can be said and what cannot be said. Such a distinction is
logically necessary, as,
It must set limits to what can be thought; and, in doing
so, to what cannot be thought... It will signify what
cannot be said, by presenting clearly what can be said.
But contrary to logical positivist's claim, Wittgenstein was concerned with
that which cannot be said. Interpreters of Wittgenstein's philosophy such as
Tilghman held the view that Wittgenstein's 'purpose in making these
distinctions was to emphasize the importance of that area he called the
mystical and to preserve it from the tyranny of the sciences, not to dismiss
it.' One can make a distinction between the attitude of Logical Positivists
and that of Wittgenstein towards life. To the former, what matters in life is
anything that can be spoken about significantly; but to the latter what is
significant in life is that which cannot be spoken about.
However, the tacit dimension of the work certainly reveals the emotional side
of his life. Of course, no one would openly claim that his work is a treatise
on ethics. But his inner urge is to look for those transcendental aspects of
life that exist outside the purview of this world of facts. It was his wish to
make Tractatus a treatise on ethics. This is revealed from his personal
letter written to Ludwig von Ficker in 1919 incidentally after the publication
of Tractatus. Wittgenstein writes in his letter:
The point of the book is ethical. I once wanted to give a
few words in the foreword which now actually are not in it,
which, however, I'll write to you now because they might be
a key for you.
Perhaps this was his intention. Now it poses a problem to the reader. How can
one defend Tractatus as a treatise on ethics? If we concede the point of
Wittgenstein, we must ask ourselves in what sense it is ethical. As an answer to
our query, Wittgenstein remarks:
The ethical is delimited from within, as it were, by my
book; and I'm convinced that strictly speaking it can only
be delimited in this way. In brief, I think: All of that
which many are babbling today, I have defined in my book by
remaining silent about it.
One who is familiar with Wittgenstein's writings on these topics can come
across a number of expressions such as goodness, value, life, God's will, and
so on. As a matter of fact, he was very critical of those who tried to find
meanings of these expressions in this world of facts. Obviously, Wittgenstein
did not want to equate values with facts. His argument is that if the values
can exist in this world of facts, then they are no more values. In other words,
the world of facts being logical in its structure, cannot accommodate anything
that goes beyond the laws of logic. Hence, according to Tractatus, there
is no value in the world since all facts and all propositions representing the
facts are all on the same level. All value, the meaning of the world and of
life, in some sense stands outside the world. It follows from that values
cannot be expressed in propositions. Consequently, there are no propositions of
The mystical nature suggests that they are not easily comprehensible.
What is eternal and important is often hidden from man by
an impenetrable veil. He knows: there is something under
there but he cannot see it. The veil reflects the
To know the importance of these values is, for Wittgenstein, not a matter of
'understanding' in terms of science, but it is a matter of seeing beneath the
veil. They need a different sort of perception and treatment. The values
therefore, for Wittgenstein, need a transcendental treatment. He opined that:
The problems of life are insoluble on the surface and can
only be solved in depth. They are insoluble on the surface
Wittgenstein, the earlier and later, strongly held that neither the science nor
even philosophy was able to grasp these essential concerns. According to
Both the preface to the Tractatus and the Philosophical
Investigations... suggest that Wittgenstein's mind was
occupied by the thought that modern technical progress,
whether in science or philosophy, has not come to grips
with our moral concerns.
This shows that he is bothered more about his existential concerns, than about
his scientific knowledge. For him, to solve the problems of life and to 'see'
the 'thing' under the veil is important in his life.
According to him, values are something absolute. Therefore, they cannot be
reduced to facts. Consequently, they cannot be expressed in terms of
propositions. At the same time, Wittgenstein was much concerned about this
issue. His very attempt to deliver a lecture on the nature of ethical values
itself is an indication that Wittgenstein was serious about moral issues. His
lecture on ethics also reveals why he distrusted systematic treatment of
ethics. In this lecture, he did not talk of ethics in the normal sense by
giving a code of conduct or having a discussion on the code of conduct. But, he
speaks in a broader sense in which he includes issues like 'what is valuable',
'what makes life worth living', 'the most essential part of what is generally
called aesthetics' and like. He held that ethics as an absolute value
manifests itself in certain ways in one's own experience. But it is the
proclivity of the human mind to express this experience through linguistic
expression that results in miserable failure. The reason is that such
experiences cannot be overtly exhibited. Philip Shields says:
Absolute values are incompatible with language because they
presume to transcend the arbitrarily predetermined
conditions that make language possible. The only
expressions of value, which make sense, are relative
expressions of value, and they are not really about value
because they can be reformulated as expressions of mere
They are purely the internal matters of the individual. Therefore, any attempt
to make one's internal experiences public through the medium of language bound
to be nonsensical. Wittgenstein gives an example in his 'Lecture on Ethics'
about an event of lying, he says: 'I know I behave badly, but then I don't want
to behave any better.' As a reaction against this, we would say something like,
'Well, you ought to want to behave better.' Wittgenstein calls this 'an
absolute judgement of value.' But he knows very well that they cannot be
reduced to statement of facts. Hence, they are nonsense, though Wittgenstein is
very sympathetic towards such a value statement. Therefore, Wittgenstein writes:
My whole tendency and I believe the tendency of all men who
ever tried to write or talk on Ethics or Religion was to run
against the boundaries of language. This running against the
walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless. Ethics
so far as it springs from the desire to say something about
the meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute
valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to
our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of a
tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help
respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it.
From the above passage of Wittgenstein, it is clear that ethics cannot be
treated as a science. Hence, it does not yield any knowledge. Consequently, we
do not make any claims to knowledge in the field of ethics. Since all our
claims to knowledge are expressed through propositions, there are no ethical
propositions. Although his contemporaries held that ethics is a moral science,
Wittgenstein was critical of such an attitude. Though Wittgenstein regarded
ethics as a realm in which nothing can be said, there is no let up in his deep
concern for moral problems. In his personal life Wittgenstein always struggled
in overcoming the temptations presented by his pride and vanity.
Here we can see the struggle experienced by Wittgenstein. On one side, he
cannot propose any moral theories or value hierarchies as it is beyond the
scope of philosophy. On the other side, he always believed that there is
universality in values. These values do not just belong to the realm of human
beings and he strongly held that man could not be the measure of values. This
struggle is exhibited in his writings. Hence, Wittgenstein throughout in his
writings concentrated on the 'transcendental' nature of values and on the
impossibility of holding on to a theory of values or finding the essence of any
value. According to Philip Shields:
There is something about the notion of 'the will of God'
which he thinks is crucial and sadly lacking in our modern
view of life. By evoking 'the will of God' Wittgenstein is
suggesting that in an important sense man is not the
measure of all things, the world and our forms of life are
not of our own making, and there are standards thrust upon
us which are not of our own choosing.
On the one hand, just as a judgement of relative value is
not really about value, an anthropocentric ethics would not
really be about Ethics, because it could always be reduced
to a description of the human activities that fulfill the
conditions set by a particular preexisting form of life.
Thus, for Wittgenstein, Ethics must still reflect absolute
judgements of value, or in other words, it must reflect
something like 'the will of God.'
In 1930, Wittgenstein said: 'What is good is also divine. Queer as it sounds,
that sums up my ethics. Only something supernatural can express the
Supernatural.' This view is further substantiated from the following
statement of Wittgenstein: 'You cannot lead people to what is good; you can
only lead them to some place or other. The good is outside the space of
Thus, Wittgenstein maintained that any value, for that matter, could only be
articulated within a form of life. And it means to obey the rule and for him it
is obeying blindly. And if one does not partake in such a form of life, there is
no way one can explain the significance of the value, be it ethics or aesthetics
or any other value. That is, universal account of values is not possible. But
Wittgenstein personally lived with such a conviction that values exist in a
different realm altogether, independent of subjective attitudes, resulting in a
constant struggle in his life, particularly when it comes to the question of
ethical values and moral perfection. In a sense, maybe he wanted to show the
importance of values in the human life by the way he led, than by proposing
1. Senior Lecturer, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian
Institute of Technology Guwahati
2. Wittgenstein, Ludwig., Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, (TLP) trans.
C. K. Ogden. London: Routledge, 1922, sections.6.42&6.421
3. TLP, section.6.432
4. Suresh Chandra, Wittgenstein: New Perspectives, (New Delhi: 2002),
5. C.G.Luckhardt (Ed.), Wittgenstein Sources and Perspectives,
(Sussex: 1979), p.94.
7. TLP, sections. 4.114 & 4.115.
8. B.R. Tilghman, Wittgenstein, Ethics and Aesthetics, (London: 1991),
9. C.G.Luckhardt op.cit., p.94.
10. Wittgenstein Ludwig, Philosophical Remarks, eds. G. H. von Wright
and G. E. M. Anscombe, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, (Oxford:1953), p.7.
11. Wittgenstein, Ludwig , Culture and Value, ed. G. H. von Wright,
trans. P. Winch, Oxford: Blackwell, 1980, p.80
12. Ibid., p.74.
13. B.R. Tilghman, op.cit., p.19.
14. Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'Lecture on Ethics' in The Philosophical
Review, Vol. LXXIV, 1965, pp.4-5; hereafter cited as LE.
15. Philip R. Shields, Logic and Sin in the writings of Ludwig
Wittgenstein, (Chicago:1993), p.42.
16. LE, p.5.
17. Ibid., p.4.
18. Philip R. Shields, op.cit., p.36.
19. Philip R. Shields, op.cit., p.43.
20. CV, p.3.
(c) V. Prabhu 2007
E-mail: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to email@example.com
The views expressed in this journal do not necessarily
reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
comments should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org