Monday, February 19, 2024

Wittgenstein and Ethics

For the next ten days or so this new book by Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen is available to download for free. It's highly recommended, as is looking out for other books in this series. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Rachel Fraser on Sophie Grace Chappell’s Epiphanies

Although I have yet to read the book under review, I have some thoughts about Rachel Fraser's criticism of Sophie Grace Chappell's new book EpiphaniesAll quotes from this in the Boston Review. Bits that seem extra important to me are in bold.

Chappell’s proposal for managing disagreement is what she calls “a republic of conversation.” We should explore together our various epiphanies. Only extremists—those whose epiphanies preclude such conversation—will be excluded. This, of course, is textbook political liberalism. As such, it inherits much of the dreamy unreality characteristic of liberal visions of collective life. There are particular agents with their private projects. Sometimes those agents come together. When they do, their conduct is governed only by the thinnest of requirements: be tolerant, be respectful.

This seems unfair. Chappell is not responsible for the alleged faults of other members of the same tradition or family of views. And Chappell offers, apparently, a proposal (concerning what we should do), while Fraser criticizes a “fantasy” of how our collective lives are lived.

This is a fantasy. Our collective lives are always governed by a thicket of normatively structured institutions—institutions that orient us to a particular conception of the good. [...] Arguably, it is just these thickets which enable conversation. Meaningful discourse requires an interpersonal infrastructure, which cannot be laid in a normative vacuum; it needs some lifeworld to bed into. But it seems to be within just such a vacuum—all moral content thicker than civility pumped out—that Chappell proposes we converse.

Evidence that Chappell proposes conversation in a moral vacuum? None that I can see. But, of course, I haven't read the book.

Once we start thinking of ethics as a social technology, systematicity and argument take on a different hue. It’s hard to be all that piecemeal or poetic when thinking about how to organize social institutions. We may live by our visions, but they can’t write our social policy. And some of us are doomed to live within a moral order that we disavow. This, I am inclined to think, is an unavoidable feature of human life: there could not be a form of life both neutral and meaningfully collective.

Once we do what?! Can this be a good idea? I would think that piecemeal is the only way to think about social institutions. Pretty much for reasons that Fraser gives. We are borin into a world of such institutions and they shape the way we think. We can destroy everything but only literally, only physically. We cannot imaginatively or intellectually wipe the slate clean and then think afresh from there. Wiping the slate clean removes the tools we need to think with. We are stuck with something like reflective equilibrium as the best or only option for social evaluation.

Moving on... So, to converse (meaningfully and collectively) we need a lifeworld. This will not be neutral. And so neither can we ever be. OK.

But if we can’t be neutral, we should at least be articulate. In other words, you owe me an argument. The vision of the good life that our social institutions encode should be explicit and contestable. And to be explicit and contestable—well, that sounds a lot like the law, and less like art criticism (at least as Chappell conceives it). Arguments can be challenged, rather than merely traded, in a way that visions cannot. 

Couldn’t one equally say, “But if we can’t be neutral, we should at least be civil, tolerant, and respectful”? And surely articulating a vision of the good life need not, and usually will not, take the form of putting forward an argument. And how contestable will a vision be that is encoded into the social institutions that enable the very conversation in which alone it can be contested? Somewhat, no doubt, but imperfectly or awkwardly, I would think, at best.

This seems like the key to the mystery here. There's an ideal (that seems visible in Fraser's thinking) of stepping back to get as clear a view as possible of social norms so that they can be critiqued and changed as desired. But there is also a recognition that we cannot do this except from within a lifeworld that is not completely separable from those norms and institutions. Which makes Chappell's view seem more correct than Fraser's. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Wittgenstein's Philosophy in 1929


Edited By 

Florian Franken Figueiredo

The book explores the impact of manuscript remarks during the year 1929 on the development of Wittgenstein’s thought. Although its intention is to put the focus specifically on the manuscripts, the book is not purely exegetical. The contributors generate important new insights for understanding Wittgenstein’s philosophy and his place in the history of analytic philosophy.

Wittgenstein’s writings from the years 1929-1930 are valuable, not simply because they marked Wittgenstein’s return to academic philosophy after a seven-year absence, but because these works indicate several changes in his philosophical thinking. The chapters in this volume clarify the significance of Wittgenstein’s return to philosophy in 1929. In Part 1, the contributors address different issues in the philosophy of mathematics, e.g. Wittgenstein's understanding of certain aspects of intuitionism and his commitment to verificationism, as well as his idea of "a new system". Part 2 examines Wittgenstein's philosophical development and his understanding of philosophical method. Here the contributors examine particular problems Wittgenstein dealt with in 1929, e.g. the colour-exclusion problem, and the use of thought experiments as well as his relationship to Frank Ramsey and philosophical pragmatism. Part 3 features essays on phenomenological language. These chapters address the role of spatial analogies and the structure of visual space. Finally, Part 4 includes one chapter on Wittgenstein’s few manuscript remarks about ethics and religion and relates it to his Lecture on Ethics.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Wittgenstein in 1929 Andrew Lugg

Part 1: Mathematics and Thinking the New

1. Wittgenstein’s Struggle with Intuitionism Mathieu Marion and Mitsuhiro Okada

2. The Origins of Wittgenstein’s Verificationism Severin Schroeder

3. Searching in Space vs. Groping in the Dark: Wittgenstein on Novelty and Imagination in 1929-30 Pascal Zambito

Part 2: Method and Development

4. The Color-Exclusion Problem and the Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Logic Oskari Kuusela

5. What Would It Look Like? Wittgenstein’s Radical Thought Experiments Mauro Luiz Engelmann

6. Phenomenological Language: "not possible" or "not necessary"? Florian Franken Figueiredo

7. Hypotheses as Expectations: Ramsey and Wittgenstein 1929 Cheryl Misak

Part 3: Phenomenology and Visual Space

8. Simplicity in Wittgenstein’s 1929 Manuscripts Michael Hymers

9. Temptations of Purity: Phenomenological Language and Immediate Experience Mihai Ometiță

10. Speaking of the Given: The Structure of Visual Space and the Limits of Language Jasmin Trächtler

Part 4: Ethics

11. The Good, the Divine, and the Supernatural Duncan Richter

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Creation of Wittgenstein


Table of Contents

1. Introduction, Thomas Wallgren (University of Helsinki, Finland)

Part I: Portraits of Wittgenstein's Literary Heirs
2. Rush Rhees: “Discussion is my Only Medicine” , Lars Hertzberg (Åbo Academy University, Finland)
3. A Portrait of Elizabeth Anscombe, Duncan Richter (Virginia Military Institute, USA)
4. Georg Henrik von Wright – A Biographical Sketch, Bernt Österman (University of Helsinki, Finland)

Part II: Understanding the Editors' Contributions to the Wittgenstein Scholars Have Known and the Philosophical Implications of their Achievement
5. The Letters which Rush Rhees, Elizabeth Anscombe, and Georg Henrik von Wright Sent to
Each Other, Christian Erbacher (University of Siegen, Germany)
6. The Revision of Wittgenstein's Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, Kim Solin (University of Helsinki, Finland)
7. Naked, Please! Elizabeth Anscombe as Translator and Editor of Wittgenstein, Joel Backström (University of Helsinki, Finland)
8. From A Collection of Aphorisms to the Setting of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy: G.H. Von Wright's Work on Wittgenstein's General Remarks, Bernt Österman (University of Helsinki, Finland)
9. “… Finding and Inventing Intermediate Links”: On Rhees and the Preparation and Publication of Bemerkungen Über Frazers “The Golden Bough”, Peter K. Westergaard (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
10. Editorial Approaches to Wittgenstein's “Last Writings” (1949–51): Elizabeth Anscombe, G.H. von Wright and Rush Rhees in Dialogue, Lassi Jakola (University of Helsinki, Finland)
11. Art's Part in Wittgenstein's Philosophy, Hanne Appelqvist (Helsinki Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland)
12. Unearthing the Socratic Wittgenstein, Thomas Wallgren (University of Helsinki, Finland)

Wittgenstein's Will. Facsimilie of G.H. von Wright's exemplar, kept at WWA.
Table of Writings Published Postuhumously with Ludwig Wittgenstein Named as Author and at Least One of the Following As Editor: Rush Rhees. G.E.M. Anscombe, G.H. Von Wright. Created By Rickard Nylund In Cooperation With Thomas Wallgren.
- Compiled by Patrik Forss in cooperation with Thomas Wallgren.
- Compiled by Anna Lindelöf in cooperation with Bernt Österman and Thomas Wallgren.

Available for pre-order here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Oxford Handbook of Elizabeth Anscombe


Introduction, Roger Teichmann
Part I: Intention
1. 'On Anscombe on Practical Knowledge and Practical Truth,' Lucy Campbell
2. 'Intention with Which,' Charles F. Capps
3. 'Intention, Knowledge and responsibility,' Rémi Clot-Goudard
4. '"Practical knowledge" and testimony, Johannes Roessler

Part II: Ethical Theory
5. 'Anscombe's Three Theses After Sixty Years: modern moral philosophy, polemic, and "Modern Moral Philosophy,"' Sophie Grace Chappell
6. 'Practical Truth, Ethical Naturalism, and the Constitution of Agency in Anscombe's Ethics,' John Hacker-Wright
7. 'Criterialism and Contextualism,' Gavin Lawrence
8. 'Anscombe on Double Effect and Intended Consequences,' Cyrille Michon
9. 'Anscombe on Ought,Anselm Mueller

Part III: Human Life
10.'Justice and Murder: The Backstory to Anscombe's "Modern Moral Philosophy,"' John Berkman
11. 'Anscombe on euthanasia as murder,' David A. Jones
12. 'The Knowledge of Human Dignity,' Micah Lott
13. 'Life and Other Basic Rights in Anscombe,' Katharina Nieswandt
14. 'Anscombe: Sexual Ethics,' Duncan Richter
15. 'Linguistic idealism and human essence,' Rachael Wiseman

Part IV: The First Person
16. 'The first person, self-consciousness and action,' Valerie Aucouturier
17. 'Anscombe and Self-consciousness,' Adrian Haddock
18. 'The first person and "The First person,"' Harold Noonan

Part V: Anscombe on/and Other Philosophers
19. 'Anscombe's Wittgenstein,' Joel Backström
20. 'Anscombe and Aquinas,' John Haldane
21. 'Ethics and Action Theory: An Unhappy Divorce,' Constantine Sandis
22. 'Anscombe and Wittgenstein on Knowledge "without Observation,"' Harold Teichman

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Schopenhauer on relative and absolute good

The following are selections from §65 of Volume I of The World as Will and Representation.

First, however, I wish to trace back to their real meaning those conceptions of good and bad which have been treated by the philosophical writers of the day, very extraordinarily, as simple conceptions, and thus incapable of analysis; so that the reader may not remain involved in the senseless delusion that they contain more than is actually the case, and express in and for themselves all that is here necessary. I am in a position to do this because in ethics I am no more disposed to take refuge behind the word good than formerly behind the words beautiful and true, in order that by the adding a “ness,” which at the present day is supposed to have a special [solemnity], and therefore to be of assistance in various cases, and by assuming an air of solemnity, I might induce the belief that by uttering three such words I had done more than denote three very wide and abstract, and consequently empty conceptions, of very different origin and significance. Who is there, indeed, who has made himself acquainted with the books of our own day to whom these three words, admirable as are the things to which they originally refer, have not become an aversion after he has seen for the thousandth time how those who are least capable of thinking believe that they have only to utter these three words with open mouth and the air of an intelligent sheep, in order to have spoken the greatest wisdom?

The above sounds like the kind of thing the later Wittgenstein, at least, might have agreed with. 

We now wish to discover the significance of the concept good, which can be done with very little trouble. This concept is essentially relative, and signifies the conformity of an object to any definite effort of the will. Accordingly everything that corresponds to the will in any of its expressions and fulfils its end is thought through the concept good, however different such things may be in other respects. Thus we speak of good eating, good roads, good weather, good weapons, good omens, and so on; in short, we call everything good that is just as we wish it to be; and therefore that may be good in the eyes of one man which is just the reverse in those of another. The conception of the good divides itself into two sub-species—that of the direct and present satisfaction of any volition, and that of its indirect satisfaction which has reference to the future, i.e., the agreeable and the useful.

Compare Hume: "personal merit consists altogether in the possession of mental qualities useful or agreeable to the person himself or to others" An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 9.1

This idea of good seems very much like Wittgenstein's idea of relative goodness or goodness in the relative sense.

It follows from what has been said above, that the good is, according to its concept, ["something belonging to the relative"]; thus every good is essentially relative, for its being consists in its relation to a desiring will. Absolute good is, therefore, a contradiction in terms; highest good, summum bonum, really signifies the same thing—a final satisfaction of the will, after which no new desire could arise,—a last motive, the attainment of which would afford enduring satisfaction of the will. But, according to the investigations which have already been conducted in this Fourth Book, such a consummation is not even thinkable.

Wittgenstein might sort of agree with this, seeing as he thinks talk of anything absolutely good or good in an absolute sense is nonsense. But he does not say that goodness is essentially relative, nor that absolute good is a contradiction in terms. He focuses, rather, on what people who use such words are trying to say.

If, however, we wish to give an honorary position, as it were emeritus, to an old expression, which from custom we do not like to discard altogether, we may, metaphorically and figuratively, call the complete selfeffacement and denial of the will, the true absence of will, which alone for ever stills and silences its struggle, alone gives that contentment which can never again be disturbed, alone redeems the world, and which we shall now soon consider at the close of our whole investigation—the absolute good, the summum bonum—and regard it as the only radical cure of the disease of which all other means are only palliations or anodynes. 

Here Schopenhauer too adopts the words "absolute good" for a kind of metaphorical use. That much is a bit like Wittgenstein in the Lecture on Ethics. But Schopenhauer relates the absolute good to the denial of the will, which Wittgenstein doesn't talk about.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics, part two

My subject, as you know, is Ethics and I will adopt the explanation of that term which Professor Moore has given in his book Principia Ethica. 

[He doesn't really do this though, as we will see. Or he adopts it in the sense of taking it up, but he doesn't simply accept Moore's definition/explanation/account of what ethics is. Moore was associated with the Heretics and the Bloomsbury Group.]

He says: "Ethics is the general enquiry into what is good." 

[In section 2 of the first chapter of Principia Ethica Moore writes:

many ethical philosophers are disposed to accept as an adequate definition of ‘Ethics’ the statement that it deals with the question what is good or bad in human conduct. They hold that its enquiries are properly confined to ‘conduct’ or to ‘practice’; they hold that the name ‘practical philosophy’ covers all the matter with which it has to do. Now, without discussing the proper meaning of the word (for verbal questions are properly left to the writers of dictionaries and other persons interested in literature; philosophy, as we shall see, has no concern with them), I may say that I intend to use ‘Ethics’ to cover more than this—a usage, for which there is, I think, quite sufficient authority. I am using it to cover an enquiry for which, at all events, there is no other word: the general enquiry into what is good.

So Moore sees himself as taking on a broader enquiry or subject than most moral philosophers.]

Now I am going to use the term Ethics in a slightly wider sense, in a sense in fact which includes what I believe to be the most essential part of what is generally called Aesthetics. 

[But Wittgenstein goes broader still.]

And to make you see as clearly as possible what I take to be the subject matter of Ethics I will put before you a number of more or less synonymous expressions each of which could be substituted for the above definition, and by enumerating them I want to produce the same sort of effect which Galton produced when he took a number of photos of different faces on the same photographic plate in order to get the picture of the typical features they all had in common. 

[There's quite a bit going on here. Maximum clarity is aimed at by multiplying examples, not by focusing in on one thing. And there is an interesting I-you distinction: Wittgenstein seems to know what he means but he will have to work to get his audience to see what this is. This despite the fact that he began by telling them that he was using Moore's explanation, which sounds easy to understand.]

And as by showing to you such a collective photo I could make you see what is the typical—say—Chinese face; so if you look through the row of synonyms which I will put before you, you will, I hope, be able to see the characteristic features they all have in common and these are the characteristic features of Ethics. 

[It would be very hard to say in a precise way what the typical features of a Chinese face are, especially if we want to distinguish Chinese faces from, say, Korean or Japanese faces. Indeed, there is something inherently blurry about a composite portrait, created by adding multiple pictures on top of one another. And we are looking, Wittgenstein says, not for a single essential feature but for characteristic features of multiple expressions. Presumably what they have in common cannot be put in a single sentence, at least not by Wittgenstein. And he is the only one so far in a position to know what he has in mind.]

Now instead of saying "Ethics is the enquiry into what is good" I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into what is valuable, or, into what is really important, or I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into the meaning of life, or into what makes life worth living, or into the right way of living. 

[Why could he have said any of these things? Because they mean roughly the same to him? Or because they mean roughly the same to us? It seems like it's the latter. In which case, why does this need to be explained?]

I believe if you look at all these phrases you will get a rough idea as to what it is that Ethics is concerned with. 

[But didn't the audience already have a rough idea what ethics is? I suppose they now know more about what Wittgenstein means by it, how he is taking the word 'ethics' in this talk.]

Now the first thing that strikes one about all these expressions is that each of them is actually used in two very different senses. 

[It might not matter, but it's not obvious that this would strike everyone very quickly. It is helpful that Wittgenstein points it out.]

I will call them the trivial or relative sense on the one hand and the ethical or absolute sense on the other. 

[The non-ethical sense, then, can be thought of as trivial, even though it covers all facts, including facts about wars, famines, etc. Of course, 'trivial' is a technical term here, but it is not a word chosen at random. There is a fact/value distinction here that we might question.]

If for instance I say that this is a good chair this means that the chair serves a certain predetermined purpose and the word ‘good’ here has only meaning so far as this purpose has been previously fixed upon. 

[Here 'good' is used in a factual way, which is not ethical in Wittgenstin's sense and which depends on a convention or abritrary definition.]

In fact the word ‘good’ in the relative sense simply means coming up to a certain predetermined standard. 

[I.e., this kind of use of the word 'good' is really factual, although it is still evaluative in a simple sense. That is, a very familar kind of evaluation involves seeing whether something meets a certain standard. But, Wittgenstein implies, what he means by 'ethics' is not about this.]

Thus when we say that this man is a good pianist we mean that he can play pieces of a certain degree of difficulty with a certain degree of dexterity. 

[There might be some subjectivity in judgments of this kind, like the subjectivity involved in sporting and artistic competitions in which judges give marks out of ten. Wittgenstein still counts these as matters of fact.]

And similarly if I say that it is important for me not to catch cold I mean that catching a cold produces certain describable disturbances in my life and if I say that this is the right road I mean that it is the right road relative to a certain goal. 

[So what has been said about 'good' also goes for 'important' and 'right'.]

Used in this way these expressions do not present any difficult or deep problems. 

[Even when judgments involve some subjectivity, they are not therefore hopelessly subjective or impossible to make or purely arbitrary, as some people sometimes seem to think.]

But this is not how ethics uses them. 

[Wittgenstein's idea of ethics is not factual or naturalistic in this kind of way.]

Supposing that I could play tennis and one of you saw me playing and said ‘Well you play pretty badly’ and suppose I answered ‘I know, I am playing badly but I do not want to play any better’, all the other man could say would be ‘Ah then that is all right’. 

[It's a little hard to imagine this as a real conversation, but never mind. Certainly someone might say that they knew they played badly but that they didn't care, and someone else might reasonably accept this as fine. Wittgenstein played tennis badly with David Pinsent, before giving it up. See Ray Monk's biography, pp. 76-77.]

But suppose I had told one of you a preposterous lie and he came up to me and said ‘You are behaving like a beast’ and then I were to say ‘I know I behave badly, but then I do not want to behave any better’.

[Something a little like this happened with Wittgenstein. F. R. Leavis describes the first time he met Wittgenstein as follows. (See pp. 65-66 of “Memories of Wittgenstein” in Rush Rhees (ed.) Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections Rowman and Littlefield, 1981). A young man who had been asked to sing something by Schubert nervously suggested that Wittgenstein might correct his German. Wittgenstein said that he could not do so, and left the room as soon as the young man had finished singing. On the face of it this does not sound particularly bad, but Leavis saw it as “cold brutality” (p. 65). He tells us that Wittgenstein’s declining to correct the man’s German (the way he did it, that is, more than the fact that he refused, but unfortunately Leavis reports that he cannot describe Wittgenstein’s manner) “was essentially meant to be a routing” (p. 66) and that Leavis thought that Wittgenstein left the room “triumphantly” (p. 66). Leavis caught up with Wittgenstein and told him that he had behaved disgracefully. Wittgenstein, surprised, replied that he had thought the man foolish. Leavis responded: “You may have done, you may have done, but you had no right to treat him like that. You’ve no right to treat anyone like that.” (p. 66) It was at this point that Wittgenstein said they needed to get to know each other, and they parted, Wittgenstein heading to Cambridge and Leavis going towards Grantchester. This was sometime in 1929, probably before the lecture, which was given in mid-November that year.

Wittgenstein was very much in favor of humanity, generosity, and kindness, but sometimes needed to be reminded to act accordingly. Another example from Leavis ilustrates this. On one occasion Leavis and Wittgenstein rented a canoe on a summer evening in Cambridge. Having got out and started walking, Wittgenstein wanted to go farther but Leavis pointed out that it was already about eleven o’clock, and they had still to get back to the canoe and then return it. They finally returned it “towards midnight” (p. 71). Wittgenstein paid but gave the man who had waited for them no tip. Wittgenstein was displeased when Leavis then tipped him for having waited two hours for them. Wittgenstein’s explanation was simply that he “always associate[d] the man with the boathouse.” (p. 71) He had, as it were, forgotten that, as Leavis put it to him, the man “is separable and has a life apart from it” (p. 71).

Contrast Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen “The Institutional Framework of Professional Virtue” in David Carr (ed.) Cultivating Moral Character and Virtue in Professional Practice, Routledge, 2018, pp. 124-134. Deliberative excellence (euboulia in Aristotle’s Greek) “often involves the use of imagination, to explore the variety of ways in which one’s decisions and actions might affect all concerned and to predict the reactions and feelings that these might give rise to.” (p. 128) Wittgenstein seems to have lacked this imaginative capacity, or else simply not to have cared about certain other people’s reactions and feelings, perhaps especially, or even only, when he was in someone else’s company. He seems, for instance, to have been having a good time with Leavis, which might have distracted him from proper concern for the boatman.] 

Would he then say ‘Ah, then that is all right’? 

[We might (try to) imagine soemthing like this happening in the cases Leavis describes. Wittgenstein explains his rude or thoughtless behavior by saying that the young man was foolish or that he associates the boatman with the boathouse. Might Leavis then have said "Ah, then that is all right"? Might Wittgenstein have said this to someone else in similar circumstances?]

Certainly not; he would say ‘Well, you ought to want to behave better’. 

[I think we have our answer here, although, of course, people do say all kinds of things. Decency is not inevitable.]

Here you have an absolute judgement of value, whereas the first instance was one of a relative judgement. 

[The relative judgment, I take it, was that a player who does, or fails to do, certain things counts as a bad tennis player. And whether one is good or bad at tennis doesn't really matter. It depends on what you want. The absolute judgment, in contrast, does not depend on what you want. It tells you what you ought to want. And it is not a factual or objective or scientific matter what this is.]

The essence of this difference seems to be obviously this: every judgement 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 judgement of value: instead of saying ‘This is the right way to Granchester’ I could equally well have said ‘This is the way you have to go if you want to get to Granchester in the shortest time’; ‘This man is a good runner’ simply means that he runs a certain number of miles in a certain number of minutes, and so forth.

[So we have a fact/value distinction. Stephen Mulhall points out that the name of the village is actually Grantchester (Wittgenstein has ommitted the silent 't'). Judging by the pictures on Wikipedia you would certainly be murdered if you went to Grantchester, or find yourself reliving the movie Men in some way. Perhaps appropriately, it's the setting for a popular TV detective series. Mulhall has thoughts on the significance of Wittgenstein's choice of Grantchester in the example. I have some of my own here.]

Now what I wish to contend is, that although all judgements of relative value can be shown to be mere statements of facts, no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgement of absolute value.

[No 'ought' from an 'is', although Wittgenstein said he had never read Hume. That wouldn't, of course, stop him from coming up with simlar ideas on his own, or picking them up from other people. And I wonder how literally we should take his claim in the first place. It was made in response to a comment about Hume's being clever rather than really philosophical. Perhaps Wittgenstein simply didn't feel that he knew Hume's work well enough to comment on that. On p. 50 of Monk's biography, David Pinsent is quoted writing that Wittgenstein "has only just started systematic reading" in philosophy. I would think that likely candidates for what he would have read include the suggested readings that Russell gives in The Problems of Philosophy. These include Hume's Enquiry. Pinsent also remarks that Wittgenstein is disgusted by the mistakes made by the great philosophers he is reading, which perhaps explains why he didn't end up reading more of the classics of the field.]

Let me explain this: suppose one of you were an omniscient person and therefore knew all the movements of all the bodies in the world dead or alive and that he also knew all the states of mind of all human beings that ever lived. 

[This sounds a bit Cartesian, but it's only part of a thought experiment or metaphor.]

And suppose this man wrote all he knew in a big book. 

[All that there is to know here seems to be treated as a matter of bodily movements (perhaps including motionlessness and location?) plus human mental states. And it can all be written down. There is nothing ineffable.]

Then this book would contain the whole description of the world; and what I want to say is, that this book would contain nothing that we would call an ethical judgement or anything that would logically imply such a judgement. 

[If you've read the work of Elizabeth Anscombe or Philippa Foot then you might want to ask about whether the book would record debts, acts of rudeness, or judgements such as "One ought to pay one's debts" or "Rudeness is bad". Does "One ought to pay one's debts" count as an ethical judgement? Perhaps it does in one sense and not in others. If it only means that you can get in trouble if you don't pay them then it is a relative judgement. It it means you really ought to pay them regardless of any possible trouble, then it might be an ethical judgement.]

It would of course contain all relative judgements of value and all true scientific propositions and in fact all true propositions that can be made. 

[Does this include 2 + 2 = 4? Possibly not.]

But all the facts described would, as it were, stand on the same level and in the same way all propositions stand on the same level. 

[Nothing would matter unless, and only insofar as, someone cared about it. And it would be arbitrary what people care about. There would be no right ot wrong caring. This is pretty much Hume's view, at least when he says that it is no more contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the world to the scratching of one's finger. We value what we value, and all that can be said in defence of a claim that something ought to be valued is that it is valued (cf. Mill).]

There are no propositions which, in any absolute sense, are sublime, important, or trivial. 

[Earlier Wittgenstein distinguished the absolute/ethical sense of certain expressions from the relative/trivial sense, which is the factual one. Since propositions state facts, he seems to be assuming, they never express absolute judgements of value. In this sense they are all trivial. But this just means that they are propositions. They are not trivial in any other sense.

Except that they are, or could be. If we are using expressions in an absolute or ethical way, then "He committed murder" is very important, while "He usually drank coffee with his breakfast" is (usually) trivial. But this depends on how we (choose to) use words. And if we use words in the ethical sense, Wittgenstein is saying, then we are not speaking in propositions. Propositions express facts (or falsehoods) and facts just are not judgements of absolute importance or trivilaity.]

Now perhaps some of you will agree to that and be reminded of Hamlet’s words: ‘Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so!’ 

[Hamlet's words are ambiguous. In the language of facts what he says is quite true. If I think I ought to play tennis better then it is bad that I don't. If I think how I play is good enough, then that's all right. But this is to say nothing at all about good and bad in the absolute/ethical sense. In that sense, the absolute or ethical sense, things are good or bad regardless of what anyone thinks.]

But this again could lead to a misunderstanding. 

[As I hope I just explained.]

What Hamlet says seems to imply that good and bad, though not qualities of the world outside us, are attributes of our states of mind. 

[But a state of mind is exactly one of the things that would go in the big book, so it is a fact, not a judgement of ethical value in Wittgenstein's sense.]

But what I mean is that a state of mind, so far as we mean by that a fact which we can describe, is in no ethical sense good or bad. 

[Quite so.]

If for instance in our world-book we read the description of a murder with all its details physical and psychological the mere description of these facts will contain nothing which we could call an ethical proposition. 

[Cf. Hume:

Take any action allowed to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object (A Treatise of Human Nature, 3.1.i).]

The murder will be on exactly the same level as any other event, for instance the falling of a stone.

[As Hume implies, we don't find any vice or moral badness here (in Wittgenstein's sense) so long as we keep to objective cataloguing of facts.]

Certainly the reading of this description might cause us pain or rage or any other emotion, or we might read about the pain or rage caused by this murder in other people when they heard of it, but there will simply be facts, facts, and facts but no ethics.

[The book of facts might record that the vicar was struck with a candlestick in the conservatory and everyone was sad about it, but it will not provide any sort of meta judgement along the lines of "And that was bad". It will, by definition of the kind of thing it is, just say what happened.]

– And now I must say that if I contemplate what ethics really would have to be if there were such a science, this result seems to me quite obvious. 

[Note how often Wittgenstein starts a sentence with "Now" or, as here, "And now." This might be just a sort of verbal tic, but it can feel as if he is always starting, or always interrupting his own attempts to move forwards.

Note also that here he switches from telling us what ethics is, or what he means by 'ethics' in this talk, to what ethics would have to be if there were to be a science of ethics. Moore was Lecturer in Moral Science at Cambridge, and he refers to ethics as a science multiple times in Principia Ethica. Wittgenstein's audience, the Heretics, are generally pro-science and not very pro-religion. But, presumably, they thought of themselves as being ethical].

It seems to me obvious that nothing we could ever think or say should be the thing. 

[And here Wittgenstein denies that there can be any such thing as a science of ethics.]

That we cannot write a scientific book, the subject matter of which could be intrinsically sublime, and above all other subject matters. 

[Could there be such a book at all, just not a scientific one? Could there be a book whose subject matter was sublime, only not intrinsically so?]

I can only describe my feeling by the metaphor, that, if a man could write a book on ethics which really was a book on ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world.

[Words cannot express how words cannot express ethical value. Or they can only do so by way of a metaphor. The metaphor suggests the utter incompatibility of statements of fact with judgements of ethical value.]

– Our words, used, as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of containing and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense.

[They can express facts, in other words, but not what Wittgenstein means by 'ethics'. Which also means, of course, that no one can give a talk on ethics either. They cannot, that is, give a talk, the subject matter of which would be intrinsically sublime. Perhaps they could give talk about why it is impossible to do this though.]

Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural and our words will only express facts; as a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water and if I were to pour out a gallon over it. 

['Supernatural' here seems to mean somthing like ineffable or absolute in the sense he has been explaining. This might be irrelevant, but a teacup is a very bourgeois thing and a teacup full of water sounds completely dull and unappealing.]

– I said that so far as facts and propositions are concerned there is only relative value and relative good, right etc. 

[This clarifies, I think, what "ethics is supernatural" means.]

And let me, before I go on, illustrate this by a rather obvious example. 

[Another metaphor and another indication ("before I go on") that we are in some sense not getting anywhere.]

The right road is the road which leads to an arbitrarily predetermined end and it is quite clear to us all that there is no sense in talking about the right road apart from such a predetermined goal. 

[This sounds straightforward and true. But is it really? It's not hard to imagine a book or talk called "The Right Road" about either religion or self-help. This is roughly what "the Dao" means. One might reject such talk as nonsense, but it isn't (in many contexts) obviously nonsense. And, indeed, having just said that "it is quite clear to us all that there is no sense in talking about the right road apart from" an arbitrarily predetermined goal, Wittgenstein immediately raises the question of what such talk could mean.]

Now let us see what we could possibly mean by the expression ‘The, absolutely, right road’. 

[Why are we considering this expression, which sounds odd and hasn't been mentioned so far? It suddenly sounds ethical or religious. It might also be worth remembering that at the beginning of his talk, Wittgenstein said that a problem he faced was that the audience was likely to see either where he is going but not how he is going to get there, or how he is proceeding but not where he is going to. So he is concerned both with "The (Right) Way" and with the right way to talk about it.]

I think it would be the road which everybody on seeing it would, with logical necessity, have to go, or be ashamed for not going. 

[It's hard to make sense of this idea. How could logical necessity come into such a state of affairs? It's hard enough to imagine some kind of psychological necessity. That is, I can imagine a world in which all human beings felt bad if they ever committed, say, murder. So we would all have to avoid committing murder or else feel bad. But it seems likely that there would be exceptions, people whose brains worked differently. And if there were a real necessity here, it would not be logical. And perhaps the bad feeling would not even count as shame. If the people had no language, for instance, could they feel shame?]

And similarly 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. 

[This too is hard to imagine. That is, what would an absolutely good state of affairs be? Not to mention problems such as what if bringing about such a state of affairs required doing something evil?]

And I want to say that such a state of affairs is a chimera. 

[This seems true. But there are multiple issues or questions we might ask here. Wittgenstein seems to be focusing on the inconceivability or impossibility of an either/or: either everybody brings about the absolute good or they feel guilty for not doing so. But I can imagine neither what the absolute good might be (could it be everyone's being at one with God?--but that is an obscure idea to begin with, and if it is to be a completely describable state of affairs we would have to specify the number of people, as well as the nature of God) nor what (logically?) necessary guilt for not bringing it about would be. Does Wittgenstein see it this way too? And does this mean that the idea of the best of all possible worlds is also in trouble? Or the greatest good for the greatest number? He doesn't say.]

No state of affairs has in itself, what I would like to call, the coercive power of an absolute judge.

[So either we give up the idea of such power or we give up the idea of thinking about ethics in terms of bringing about certain states of affairs?]

– Then what have all of us who, like myself, are still tempted to use such expressions as ‘absolute good’, ‘absolute value’ etc., what have we in mind and what do we try to express? 

[Instead of talking about how we should act or how to think about ethics, Wittgenstein asks about what people like him mean when they use certain expressions. He is seeking to understand people, including himself, not recommend any change in language use or behavior.]

Now whenever I try to make this clear to myself it is natural that I should recall cases in which I would certainly use these expressions and I am then in the situation and which you would be if, for instance, I were to give you a lecture on the psychology of pleasure. 

[The point here, I take it, is not so much to identify what the expressions in question refer to but to get clear about the contexts in which they are used.]

What you would do then would be to try and recall some typical situation in which you always felt pleasure. 

[To think about pleasure, he suggests, we would (not should) think not about an inner feeling but about real life situations of a certain kind.]

For, bearing this situation in mind, all I should say to you would become concrete and, as it were, controllable. 

[I take 'controllable' here to mean tractable. We can get a grip or handle on what we are talking about if we use an example, preferably a familiar one involving publicly accessible, concrete objects.]

One man would perhaps choose as his stock example the sensation when taking a walk on a fine summer day. 

[Walking to Grantchester, perhaps.]

Now in this situation I am if I want to fix my mind on what I mean by absolute or ethical value. 

[Wittgenstein's English slips a bit here. Presumably the situation he is in is that of wanting a good example to help him think, not that of experiensing the pleasure of taking a walk on a fine summer day. But the two might be related.]

And there, in my case, it always happens that the idea of one particular experience presents itself to me which therefore is, in a sense, my experience par excellence and this is the reason why, in talking to you now, I will use this experience as my first and foremost example. 

[His example will be of his experience. We are trying to understand what he means, after all. This is all quite personal, although he thinks there are others like him who use similar expressions, presumably in a similar way.]

(As I have said before, this is an entirely personal matter and others would find other examples more striking) 

[Other examples would, presumably, make the same point, despite their being different and given by different people. So the matter is not entirely personal or idiosyncraic.]

I will describe this experience in order, if possible, to make you recall the same or similar experiences, so that we may have a common ground for our investigation. 

[This again sounds a bit Cartesian or Lockean (if I am remembering my early modern philosophy correctly). It's as if ideas/memories/experiences are objects floating above the stage of an internal theatre and that, while one person cannot share their ideas with others, they can talk about the shared physical world in such a way that others call up similar ideas in their own mental theatres. But Wittgenstein isn't really getting metaphysical here. It's just an apparently harmless way of talking.]

I believe the best way of describing it is to say that when I have it I wonder at the existence of the world. 

[This seems like the kind of experience one might have on a nice walk, although instead of referring to concrete things such as country paths or sunshine he mentions only a certain psychological (spiritual?) reaction. That is, instead of saying something on the model of 'Pleasure is what I feel when I take a walk on a sunny day' he says 'The experience I am talking about is one that makes me wonder at the existence of the world.' The experience, if we take him literally, is not the wonder or wondering itself.

It is perhaps worth pausing to note how far this is from ordinary moral philosophy. One might wonder at nature and think that it is necessary that we should do much more to protect the environment, or wonder at the nature of human beings (as Hamlet and Pico della Mirandola have, for instance) and conclude that murder is a terrible evil. But this is not what Wittgenstein is doing or talking about here. It is not how the world is that is mystical but that it is. What is great, to put it crudely, is not how the world is but simply that it exists at all, in any form. Nothing follows from this about how one ought, or ought not, to behave. If I am marveling at the infinite faculties of human beings then it makes sense to think that I will not or ought not to reduce those faculties in any particular human being. But if I marvel simply at the being of whatever there happens to be, then, since nothing I do can reduce or increase the being of what there happens to be, then nothing follows about what I am likely to do or what I ought to do.

I'll try to say a bit more about this, but I'm not sure it's necessary, and I am sure it will be at least a bit crude. Consider these three kinds of necessity: logical, causal, and aesthetic. What I mean by logical necessity includes both truths like "If A then B, A, therefore B" (which has a kind of abstract purity) and truths like "If the ball crosses the line it's a goal, the ball crossed the line, therefore it's a goal" (which might involve various ceteris paribus conditions). What I mean by causal necessity includes cases that are close to the logical kind, such as "Cutting a cake causes the cake to be cut" (the act of cutting does indeed affect the cake, but without the effect the cause doesn't really count as having occurred), as well as cases that don't seem a priori or analytic in this way at all, such as "Adding chemical A to chemical B leads to a loud explosion soon afterwards." And then by aesthetic necessity I mean cases such as "This piece really needs to be played more slowly" or "What this song needs is more cowbell." 

A person who is moved by the almost godlike nature of human beings is not really illogical if they then murder someone, nor does being so moved cause one not to commit murder (necessarily), but there does seem to be some kind of contradiction between the kind of artistic sensitivity required to appreciate Hamlet's words and the kind of insensitivity (seemingly) involved in murder or any other kind of cruelty or inhumanity. Perhaps such sensitivity can be turned on and off, or operates in some areas but not all. Still, there is something shocking, wrong, about destroying, or just harming, a being that one is capable of wondering at.

If what one wonders at is existence itself then what seems wrong, or perhaps should seem wrong, is not so much particular kinds of behavior but simply unethical behavior itself. If I wonder at the universe then in some sense, it seems, I should obey the universe and its demands. And I might regard the voice of conscience as the voice of the universe, feeling that I must (as a matter of what I am calling aesthetic necessity) do whatever it demands of me. I don't mean: 

1. I must do what is aesthetically necessary

2. Obeying my conscience is aesthetically necessary

3. Therefore I must obey my conscience

Rather, I mean that one might obey one's conscience in the way (roughly) that a tailor might say, "This sleeve needs to be cut here. Therefore [snip]". This is a case of thinking in terms of aesthetic necessity, but reference to aesthetic necessity is no part of the thinking itself. If one wanted to justify such aesthetic thinking, though, then one might refer to the wonders of well made or well designed clothing. And if one wanted to justify obeying one's conscience (understood as the voice of the universe when it has a demand to make) then one might refer to the wonder that there should be a universe at all.  

Wittgenstein seems to have thought and lived in something like this way (he wrote in his wartime Notebooks that "Conscience is the voice of God"), and something along these lines seems to me to be advocated by the Bhagavad Gita (very roughly: don't think too much about what is right and wrong--you are a warrior, so fight!). It is quite different from a view such as Anscombe's, for instance, which tries to be more rational. Anscombe rejects the idea of doing whatever one's conscience dictates because one might have an evil conscience. Instead, if she wants to think about, say, sexual ethics, she is likely to start from the purpose or good of sex (as she understands it) and reason from there about what kinds of sexual activity are good and what bad. But, at least for now, we should probably return to what Wittgenstein says.]     

And I am then inclined to use such phrases as ‘How extraordinary that anything should exist’ or ‘How extraordinary that the world should exist’. 

[The concrete, tractable associate of the experience is not objects such as sunshine or trees but certain sentences.]

I will mention another experience straightaway which I also know and which others of you might be acquainted with: it is, what one might call, the experience of feeling absolutely safe. 

[Why introduce another example so quickly? Perhaps to increase the chances of people in the audience relating to what he is saying.]

I mean the state of mind in which one is inclined to say ‘I am safe, nothing can injure me whatever happens’. 

[It's hard to say exactly what this state of mind is. One might think of Socrates' claim thta a good person cannot be harmed, which would suggest ethical self-confidence or a clear consience. Or one might think of the Capital Cities song "Safe and Sound", which suggests being happily in love. What we know for certain is that the state of mind in question inclines one to use words like these (i.e., "I am safe," etc.).]

Now let me consider these experiences, for, I believe, they exhibit the very characteristics we try to get clear about. 

[We are to consider experiences but can only do so by way of the linguistic expressions they give rise to, and which define them.]

And there the first thing I have to say is, that the verbal expression which we give to these experiences is nonsense! 

[But these expressions don't make sense!]

If I say ‘I wonder at the existence of the world’ I am misusing language. 

[This is debatable, but let's see where Wittgenstein goes with it.]

Let me explain this: it has a perfectly good and clear sense to say that I wonder at something being the case, we all understand what it means to say that I wonder at the size of a dog which is bigger than anyone I have ever seen before, or at anything which, in the common sense of the word, is extraordinary. 

[People would be more likely to say "Look at the size of that dog!" or (in response to "What are you looking at?") "I'm just amazed how big that dog is!" than to say "I wonder at the size of that dog". But I don't think this affects the point.]

In every such case I wonder at something being the case which I could conceive not to be the case. 

[We are amazed, that is, by things being this way rather than that. That is, there is a 'that' that we can easily imagine or describe.]

I wonder at the size of this dog because I could conceive of a dog of another, namely the ordinary, size, at which I should not wonder. 

[We don't, of course, only wonder at the size of the dog because we can conceive of a dog of a different size. My dog is medium sized, and I don't wonder at her size just because I can imagine a small or large sized dog. But I would not wonder at the size of even the largest (or smallest) dog unless I was aware of some contrast between its size and the kind of size I would have expected it to be.]

To say ‘I wonder at such and such being the case’ has only sense if I can imagine it not to be the case.

[This is a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for intelligible surprise or wonder.]

In this sense one can wonder at the existence of, say, a house when one sees it and has not visited it for a long time and has imagined that it had been pulled down in the meantime. 

[Now we are considering amazement at something's existence, not its size.]

But it is nonsense to say that I wonder at the existence of the world, because I cannot imagine it not existing. 

[Can we imagine the world's not existing? Presumably this is not a question that invites us to try to imagine something and find out that way whether it is possible or not. Even a void would count as a world, in the sense Wittgensetin apparently means here. So the world's non-existence is simply inconceivable or, we might say, logically impossible. Whatever there is, including nothing at all (?), counts as the world. The world = all that is the case, whatever this is.]

I could, of course, wonder at the world around me being as it is. 

[Because it could have been different, in the sense that we can imagine its being different.]

If for instance I had this experience while looking into the blue sky, I could wonder at the sky being blue as opposed to the case when it is clouded. 

[It is certainly possible to wonder at the weather being so nice, but I think it is also possible to wonder at the sky's being blue rather than, say, pink or green. Those seem to be conceivable possibilities, even though wonder at the sky's being blue as opposed to purple seems very different from wonder at its being blue rather than cloudy.]

But that is not what I mean. 

[So never mind all that.]

I am wondering at the sky being, whatever it is. 

[The comma suggests that we are talking about wonder at the very existence of the sky, rather than the sky's happening to be this way or that.]

One might be tempted to say that what I am wondering at is a tautology, namely at the sky being blue or not blue. 

["I am wondering [or amazed] at the sky's very being, whether it is cloudy or blue" seems to mean something like "I am wondering at the sky's being blue or not blue," which sounds like wondering at a tautology.]

But then it is just nonsense to say that one is wondering at a tautology. 

[Because the necessary condition just described is not met? Or just because of course this makes no sense? I think it's more the latter, although if someone somehow didn't see this then we might use the necessary condition to help explain it. That is, I don't think what is or isn't nonsense is supposed to require anything technical, such as the identification and application of necessary or sufficient conditions (or rules of some kind). We all know nonsense when we see/hear it, with few exceptions.] 

Now the same applies to the other experience which I have mentioned, the experience of absolute safety.

[That is, I take it, talk of absolute safety is nonsense. It isn't tautological at all. It's just that there is no such thing, and perhaps we can't even imagine such a thing. Although we do seem to be able to imagine an Achilles or Superman with invulnerability. As long as the gods don't turn against them.]

We all know what it means in ordinary life to be safe. 

[True, although again this is one of those examples (like Augustine on time) where we feel that we know, but if we stop and think we might feel less sure.]

I am safe in my room, when I cannot be run over by an omnibus.

[Wittgenstein gives examples rather than an account or definition of what safety is. And this example, at least, seems both obvious and questionable. What if the omnibus were going very fast and your room were on the ground floor?]

I am safe if I have had whooping cough and cannot therefore get it again. 

[This is another example of an ordinary (although perhaps slightly odd) use of the word 'safe'. That is, I think people might be more likely to say 'all right' or 'not worried' than 'safe', but still, if someone says "Don't go in there, you might catch whooping cough," an intelligible reply would be "It's all right, I've had it before so I'm safe."]

‘To be safe’ essentially means that it is physically impossible that certain things should happen to me, and therefore it is nonsense to say that I am safe whatever happens. 

[Being pedantic, I think 'highly unlikely' might be more accurate here than 'impossible', and we might ask whether it is nonsense to say that I am immune from all physical dangers no matter what happens. Is it not, perhaps, simply false? We might also ask whether 'to be safe' has an essential meaning. I might prefer to say that 'to be safe' has an ordinary meaning (or family of meanings/uses) and that talk of 'absolute safety' or 'safety whatever happens' is extraordinary or very odd. But an ordiunary way of making this point might be to say that such talk is nonsense.]

Again this is a misuse of the word ‘safe’ as the other example was a misuse of the word ‘existence’ or ‘wondering’. 

[Says who? Well, it is an unusual or non-standard use, I think we could agree.]

Now I want to impress on you that a certain characteristic misuse of our language runs through all ethical and religious expressions. 

[Wittgenstein basically asserts this out of the blue. He has given just a few, debatable examples, and now makes a universal claim about both ethical and religious expressions. Perhaps his audience would have sympathized with the idea that religious expressions are nonsensical misuses of language. The group was called Heretics for a reason. Would they have said the same about ethical uses of language? Some might. They might have already been mentally prepared to agree with A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic, for instance, when it came out (in 1936, years after Wittgenstein's lecture). But perhaps some of them would have been shocked at the suggestion that ethics and religion are in the same boat.]

All these expressions seem, prima facie, to be just similes. 

[They don't really. Similes are typically thought of as using words such as 'like' or 'as', whereas these words are absent from the sentences "I wonder at the existence of the world" and "I am absolutely safe." But if we attempted to explain these sentences, or others like them, we would be likely to say that the meaning of 'wonder at' and 'safe' is similar to the meaning of these words in more normal sentences. And the feelings referred to are like the feelings one has when one wonders at the size of a very big dog or feels safe from traffic when indoors.]  

Thus it seems that when we are using the word ‘right’ in an ethical sense, although, what we mean, is not ‘right’ in its trivial sense, it is something similar, and when we say ‘This is a good fellow’, although the word ‘good’ here does not mean what it means in the sentence ‘This is a good football player’ there seems to be some similarity. 

[Wittgenstein seems to confirm my point above that the 'nonsensical' use of words such as 'right' and 'good' involves similes, or seems to do so, at least, in the sense that we think the meaning in these cases is similar, albeit not identical, to the meaning of these words in ordinary, non-ethical cases.]

And when we say ‘This man’s life was valuable’ we do not mean it in the same sense in which we would speak of some valuable jewellery but there seems to be some sort of analogy. 

[The same point again, by the looks of it. We might hear echoes of Aristotle and Kant in this part of the lecture. Aristotle seems to think that, as there can be a good eye or a good heart (in the sense of one that pumps blood well), so there can be a good human being, one who performs well the function or functions of a human being. Wittgenstein is suggesting, as if it is simply common sense or obvious, that this is at most only like the truth in some way. Likewise, Kant talks about a good will shining like a jewel but, unlike jewelry, having a value that is absolute and priceless.] 

Now all religious terms seem in this sense to be used as similes, or allegorically. 

[Is this the start of a defense of religion to a skeptical audience? If so, it will be an odd kind of defense, since the use of certain key words in ethical expressions has been said to seem to involve "some sort of analogy," of a kind that has yet to be explored or explained. So if religion is like ethics in this regard then it is still a mysterious thing.]

For when we speak of God and that he sees everything and when we kneel and pray to him all our terms and actions seem to be parts of a great and elaborate allegory which represents him as a human being of great power whose grace we try to win etc. etc. 

[There are both believers and non-believers who talk as if God is just this kind of super-being. Non-believers tend to reject the idea as absurd and lacking in the slightest evidence, while believers sometimes mention fear of what such a being might do to us if we don't obey as a reason to "believe". The idea of trying to win God's grace is theologically debatable, and perhaps Wittgenstein chooses his words here with a skeptical audience in mind. Presumably Wittgenstein was aware, though, that not all believers think of God in this kind of way except, perhaps, metaphorically or allegorically. Indeed, that is just the view he presents here, even if it is possible to imagine atheists thinking he is presenting something like their view.] 

But this allegory also describes the experiences which I have just referred to. 

[So if (as perhaps some members of the audience might have thought) Wittgenstein is attacking religion, he is equally attacking ethics. And we are about to get Wittgenstein's view of what monotheistic religion is, at least in key parts, about.]

For, the first of them is, I believe, exactly what people were referring to when they said that God had created the world; and the experience of absolute safety has been described by saying that we feel safe in the hands of God. 

[Wittgenstein offers no evidence for these claims, but then they are only claims about what he believes. He is providing an interpretation of what religious believers might be talking about, which we (and they) might find more or less plausible.] 

A third experience of the same kind is that of feeling guilty and again this was described by the phrase that God disapproves of our conduct. 

[People often take Wittgenstein to be talking about a feeling of absolute guilt here, but he doesn't say that he means anything other than ordinary feelings of guilt. Presumably, though, he does not mean the feeling (if there is such a thing) that one gets upon being found guilty in a court of law. So there is an element of simile here after all. But I think he means feelings of what we might call moral guilt.]

Thus in ethical and religious language we seem constantly to be using similes. 

[Note the word 'seems', but what Wittgenstein appears to think seems to be the case is not that we use similes in a straightforward way. That is, we don't say "I feel as if I have broken a law" or "God is like our father." Rather, we might say "I have broken the moral law" (or violated a moral right) or "God is our father." The simile comes in, and so is used, in accounts of the meaning of such expressions. The moral law is understood to be like the criminal law, the meaning of 'father' in "God is our father" is like the meaning of 'father' in "I am a father of two children." We might never give such explanations, but we might seem to rely on their availability for much ethical and religious language to be intelligible.]

But a simile must be the simile for something. 

[To say what something is we must be able to say more than just that it is a bit like something else. We ought, it seems, to be able to say in what ways it is like that thing and in what ways it is different. Perhaps we ought to be able to say what it is, not merely what it is like.]  

And if I can describe a fact by means of a simile I must also be able to drop the simile and to describe the facts without it. 

[We might wonder where this 'must' comes from. Is it Wittgestein's demand? Common sense's? The important question, perhaps, is whether we accept it or find that we can do without it. (And whether any claim not to need it is, or can be, justified.] 

Now in our case as soon as we try to drop the simile and simply to state the facts which stand behind it, we find that there are no such facts.

[This is quick. Has he tried to identify relevant facts? Presumably, but he doesn't discuss candidates here. And are there really no such facts, or simply not enough? If I say that I feel safe in God's hands, for instance, couldn't this mean that I go into battle without a look of fear on my face, say? Or that I am less concerned about death than others, or than I usually am? I imagine that Wittgenstein thinks this kind of fact, although real in some cases, does not capture the whole meaning of expressions such as "I feel absolutely safe."]

And so, what at first appeared to be a simile, now seems to be mere nonsense.

[I don't think we are meant to understand Wittgenstein as operating with a particular theory of nonsense here. He is, after all, not delivering a technical talk. And if everything is nonsense unless one can say what it means in other words then we might seem to be stuck endlessly explaining each explanation of meaning. Either that or we could get away with nonsense by offering a supposed equivalent sentence that might also make no sense in fact. So I think that what Wittgenstein means here is something like: we thought we could say what we meant by expressions such as "absolutely the right thing to do" or "morally wrong" or "wondering at the existence of the world" but in fact it turns out we do not know what we mean by these words.]

– Now the three experiences which I have mentioned to you (and I could have added others) seem to those who have experienced them, for instance to me, to have in some sense an intrinsic, absolute, value. 

['Value' here means something like importance. A feeling of wonder at the existence of the world is doubtless very pleasant, but feeling guilty isn't. Both seem to have a special kind of value, though, and (because?) both are connected with the sense that life has meaning. These are not just curiosities to be noted in one's diary or fun experiences or hang-ups to be got over.]

But when I say they are experiences, surely, they are facts; they have taken place then and there, lasted a certain definite time and consequently are describable. 

[Two things to think about here. First, are they experiences? In the Tractatus Wittgenstein talks about an experience that is no experience. (For more on this see Michael Kremer.) That seems to be the kind of thing he has in mind here. Secondly, it seems as though it is not so much the experiences themselves that are important but rather their meaning. This is not confined to a limited place and time but, rather, runs through one's whole life, or at least can do so. And yet, in response to this suggestion, one might want to say No, it is not that these experiences are important because they make such a difference in some people's lives. To those who have and care about the experiences in question it is the other way around. They are given a huge role in one's life because of the intrinsic meaning or importance that they have. But, Wittgenstein seems to be asking, how can this be?]  

And so from what I have said some minutes ago I must admit it is nonsense to say that they have absolute value. 

[The answer to that question ("How can this be?") is that it cannot. The idea does not make sense. Although Wittgenstein does not simply assert that it is nonsense. He says that if we accept what he said some minutes ago then we have to accept that it is nonsense. Perhaps--he hasn't yet ruled this out--if we went back we could change something and not be committed to counting this as nonsense.]

And here I have arrived at the main point of this paper: it is the paradox that an experience, a fact should seem to have absolute value. 

[If Wittgenstein has a thesis, perhaps this is it. Although he implied at the beginning that the lecture might be helpful even to people who disagree with him. So making this point might not be his primary goal. Or, at least, getting others to accept the point might not be his primary goal. But what is the point? Note that he says not that it is a paradox that a fact should seem to have absolute value: it is the paradox. So there is something especially important, or especially paradoxical, about this paradox, it would seem. And yet it barely seems to be a paradox at all. Why shouldn't a fact seem to have absolute value even if it doesn't, or can't, have such value? I would think that it is because what we are talking about both seems to be an experience, an event in the world, and seems to be something otherworldly, of a different order of significance.] 

And I will make my point still more acute by saying ‘it is the paradox that an experience, a fact, should seem to have supernatural value’. 

[Why does Wittgenstein want to make the point more acute? Presumably he thinks there really is something odd here and he wants to make sure we see it. To help with this he switches from talking about absolute value to talking about supernatural value. This sounds much more metaphysical or philosophically (ontologically) dubious than talk about absolute value. Perhaps especially to the particular people he was addressing in this talk.]

Now there is a way in which I would be tempted to meet this paradox: let me first consider again our first experience of wondering at the existence of the world and let me describe it in a slightly different way: we all know, what in ordinary life would be called a miracle. 

[Wittgenstein himself, apparently, is not a happy mystic. He is inclined to try to dispel the paradox. In order to do so, if he were to act on this inclination, he would dig a little deeper, perhaps in an attempt to undermine it. But in doing so he starts talking about miracles, which might not sound promising to religious skeptics. Unless he is going to say something like what Hume says.]

It obviously is simply an event the like of which we have never yet seen. 

[This is neither Hume's definition nor anything remotely technical. It is a plain account (although still debatable) of the ordinary meaning of the word.]

Now suppose such an event happened. 

[OK, we might think, but where is this going?]

Take the case that one of you suddenly grew a lion head and began to roar. 

[This example fits the description of "an event the like of which we have never yet seen." It's tempting to speculate about the particular choice of example. Is there any connection with Wittgenstein's late remark that if a lion could speak we would not be able to understand it? Is the reference to roaring anything to do with the motto of the Tractatus? I think for now it is better not to be side-tracked by such questions.] 

Certainly that would be as extraordinary a thing as I can imagine. 

[We might imagine more complicated or surreal things, but I think this claim is true.]

Now whenever we should have recovered from our surprise, what I would suggest would be to fetch a doctor and have the case scientifically investigated and if it were not for hurting him I would have him vivisected. 

[This sounds about right, although it also sounds a little shocking. I think this is because when simply hearing the case described we remain in the not-yet-recovered-from-our-surprise stage while the cold, scientific approach is being described. It's easy enough to imagine a scientist being brought to the scene and saying that, ideally, the patient would be surgically investigated but that, of course, that's out of the question because it would not only hurt but seriously, perhaps fatally, injure him.]

And where would the miracle have got to? 

[This is surprising too. Isn't something either a miracle or not a miracle? How could the response of human beings make a difference to that?]

For it is clear that when we look at it in this way everything miraculous has disappeared; unless what we mean by this term is merely that a fact has not yet been explained by science, which again means that we have hitherto failed to group this fact with others in a scientific system. 

[Once again Wittgenstein offers no argument beyond an appeal to what is (allegedly) clear. But I think he is right. The case no longer feels like a miracle when it is being investigated scientifically. Indeed, perhaps it can be said that it no longer feels like a miracle once we have recovered from our surprise. Because our surprise involved, or perhaps simply was, a sense of wonder or amazement. The scientific outlook, the naturalistic, factual view or conception of things is simply not the wondering or amazed view of things. Which is not to say that scientists are never amazed. But scientific amazement (Wittgenstein seems to think) is different from religious or ethical amazement. An important idea here might be that of piety. A pious person (and I think multiple attitudes or forms of behavior might reasonably be called pious, so this is just one example) might wonder at human life in such a way that contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment all seem unthinkable. An impious person might find human life fascinating and beautiful, and in this sense experience wonder, but see nothing wrong at all with any such things so long as, for example, utility is maximized. (And, to repeat or clarify, I think someone might have no objection to contraception, and might favor legal abortion and euthanasia, while still having a sense of (what I am calling) piety that makes them oppose the death penalty and perhaps some acts (depending on the exact circumstances) of abortion and euthanasia.) The difference I am trying to get at between pious wonder and impious wonder is, roughly, that the former connects with a sense that there are some things we must not (or perhaps must) do, while the latter does not. An ‘impious’ scientist might marvel at the frog he is cutting up or at the atoms he intends to split. A scientist might also cut up frogs or split atoms but there will be some things that she won’t do, and her sense that these things are not to be done will connect, or be part of, her sense that the things not to be damaged or interfered with are amazing or, perhaps, miraculous. I don’t mean to suggest that piety is right-wing and impiety is left-wing.       

Also worth noting here is Wittgenstein's pointing out that it is possible to mean more than one thing by the term 'miraculous.'] 

This shows that it is absurd to say ‘Science has proved that there are no miracles’. 

[This seems questionable, but much depends on the meanings of words. For instance, if 'miracle' means simply 'event of a kind that we have never seen before' then science doesn't really seem to disprove the existence of miracles, although much might depend on what we count as a kind of event. This seems to relate to talk about laws of nature, which could bring us back to Hume on miracles. Hume defines a miracle as a violation of a law of nature by some supernatural agent. Science understood as, at least in part, empirical investigation surely cannot disprove the possibility of such an event. Nor, I would think, can it really prove (although it depends what we mean by 'prove') that such an event has never happened. Even events that appear to be regular might be miraculous in a way that we can't detect. Science should perhaps be understood as a way to investigate the world that includes the assumption that there has to be a rational explanation for everything. This rules out the possibility of miracles a priori. Which might be fine, but it shouldn't be mistaken for proof.]

The truth is that the scientific way of looking at a fact is not the way to look at it as a miracle. 

[We have, Wittgenstein suggests, two (or more) ways of looking at facts. And these are not just ways of looking but of thinking and responding to them. Science has proved to be a very productive way to look at things, but this does not make it the only good way to look at them, or the best way, or the right way in some absolute (evaluative and yet somehow neutral) sense.] 

For, imagine whatever fact you may, it is not in itself miraculous in the absolute sense of that term. 

[Here the question of what it means for a fact to be miraculous in the absolute sense is hard to avoid. If the ceiling of the room opened up to reveal a crowd of flying beings with trumpets and a large, bearded head bellowing "Behold! I turn thy head into a lion's!" and then someone gets a lion head and begins to roar, how could this not be miraculous in every possible sense? One answer is that there could be a scientific explanation even for these phenomena. Perhaps we only seem to see these events when in fact we are dreaming or hallucinating. Or perhaps the beings we see are not God and angels but aliens. Or they could be holograms. Hume argues that it is always wiser to believe that there is an explanation of this kind than to believe that one has witnessed a genuine miracle. But we need to read on to see whether this is the argument that Wittgenstein is concerned with.]  

For we see now that we have been using the word ‘miracle’ in a relative and an absolute sense. 

[Do we see this? A relative sense would be purely factual, a miracle being basically a highly unusual event. Science can handle those easily enough. An absolute miracle, or miracle in the absolute sense, would be something else. I'm not quite sure exactly what it would be, but perhaps an event that everyone would regard as miraculous, as not explicable by science, or else feel guilty for not regarding that way.]

And I will now describe the experience of wondering at the existence of the world by saying: it is the experience of seeing the world as a miracle. 

[We are moving quite quickly here, or not in the direction one might expect if one thinks about miracles primarily in Humean terms. But I think the idea is relatively simple and familiar. Wondering at the existence of the world, in the relevant sense of wondering, is not having questions that science might answer. It is wondering in a way to which such questions are irrelevant. It is closer to awe than curiosity.]  

Now I am tempted to say that the right expression in language for the miracle of the existence of the world, though it is not any proposition in language, is the existence of language itself. 

[How would the existence of language (or anything else, for that matter) be the right expression for something? Does the existence of language express anything? Surely only uses of language express anything. Do propositions just by themselves express anything? I would think it depends what we count as a proposition and as expressing something. For instance, we might disagree about whether a computer-generated sentence really says anything, as we might disagree about something that looks like a sentence that is only the result of the wind or the sea moving sticks around on a beach. But perhaps the existence of language itself, which is a marvelous thing, might be thought to mirror the marvelous existence of the world.] 

But what then does it mean to be aware of this miracle at some times and not at other times. 

[A miracle in the absolute sense, I suggested above, is something like an event that everyone would regard as miraculous with a kind of necessity. So then we surely couldn't, or wouldn't, regard it as a miracle sometimes but not all the time. And yet we might only be struck occasionally by how wonderful the existence of language, of meaning, is.] 

For all I have said by shifting the expression of the miraculous from an expression by means of language to the expression by the existence of language, all I have said is again that we cannot express what we want to express and that all we say about the absolute miraculous remains nonsense. 

[So thinking of the existence of language as the best or right expression of the miracle of the existence of the world will not do. It doesn't do what we want it to do.]

– Now the answer to all this will seem perfectly clear to many of you. 

[This seems unlikely, but people have thought something like the suggestion that follows.] 

You will say: well, if certain experiences constantly tempt us to attribute a quality to them which we call absolute or ethical value and importance, this simply shows that by these words we do not mean nonsense, that after all what we mean by saying that an experience has absolute value is just a fact like other facts and that all it comes to is, that we have not yet succeeded in finding the correct logical analysis of what we mean by our ethical and religious expressions. 

[If we use words in a certain way, one might think, then they do have a meaning after all. This meaning simply is their use. If we say that an experience has "absolute value" then it does have such value. (Not if just anyone says such a thing now and again, but if this were an established way of speaking, that is.) All that would remain would be to explain or describe exactly what this means. That is the kind of work that philosophers do all the time. There is no excuse to declare something nonsense just because it isn't immediately obvious what the right account to offer is. So we might think.]

– Now when this is urged against me I at once see clearly, as it were in a flash of light, not only that no description that I can think of would do to describe what I mean by ‘absolute value’, but that I would reject every significant description that anybody could possibly suggest, ab initio, on the ground of its significance. 

[Wittgenstein rejects this suggestion. It is not, he implies, that the right account has not yet been found. Rather, any account that made sense of talk of 'absolute value', etc. is wrong precisely because it makes sense of such talk.]

That is to say: I see now that these nonsensical expressions were not nonsensical because I had not yet found the correct expressions, but that their nonsensicality was their very essence. 

[It might sound strange to claim to know that no significant description would ever be good, but, as we shall see, Wittgenstein is talking about what he wants, and it is not strange for him to know that.]

For all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond the world and that is to say beyond significant language. 

[The point of choosing the expressions that attracted him when thinking about the experiences he has in mind was precisely that they "go beyond the world." So would just any nonsense do equally well? Perhaps. On the one hand, as an exclamation of amazement almost any words might do, as long as they were exclaimed in the right tone. For instance, imagine someone saying something when an amazing event occurs. In their amazement they might repeat whatever it was they just said but in a dazed way that trails off. It doesn’t really matter what the words are that they are repeating. And perhaps, even though the existence of the world is not an amazing event, being struck by the miracle of existence might happen suddenly and result in reacting as if to a miraculous event. On the other hand, the way we know we are talking about the same experience each time is that it gives rise to the same kind of expression.]  

My whole tendency and I believe the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk ethics or religion was to run against the boundaries of language. 

[This might sound like a big claim. How does he know what other people were trying to do? But presumably he means ethics or religion in the particular sense, or of the particular kind, that he is talking about here.]

This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely, hopeless. 

[Hopeless because nonsense will never make sense, and because nonsense is exactly what the people in question want to speak. It's interesting that Wittgenstein uses the word 'absolutely' again here, to describe the hopelessness of talk of 'absolute value' and the like. I'm not sure that this is at all significant though.] 

– Ethics, so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable can be no science. 

[Perhaps ethics in some other sense could be a kind of science, but this isn't what interests Wittgenstein. (And he would have opposed any attempt to make ethics a science.) It is not, I think, the fact that it springs from a desire that means ethics can be no science. After all, astronomy is a science, and it might spring from the desire to know more about the heavens above. It is rather that the language we characteristically reach for to talk about such things is nonsensical. Consider, for instance, Matthew 13: 45-46: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it." This is the kind of thing people say, but the kingdom of heaven is surely not exactly like a pearl of great price. It is priceless (if it is anything at all). There can be no science of such things as value beyond measure.] 

What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. 

[Whether this is true depends on what we count as knowledge, I would think. We do talk about knowing right from wrong, and sometimes call people who do evil ignorant. But we don't mean that ethics is a science. I'm not sure whether Wittgenstein would consider such ways of talking (potentially) misleading or simply wrong.]  

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. 

[The nonsense we are concerned with here is not ridiculous nonsense. Indeed, if it is not scientific then, we might think, so much the worse for science. Not that science is somehow incorrect, but it is far from being the most important thing there is.]