Monday, June 24, 2024

Schulte on Wittgenstein in 1929

Joachim Schulte's review of Wittgenstein's Philosophy in 1929 says this about my contribution to the collection:  

Duncan Richter (in “The Good, the Divine, and the Supernatural”) discusses central    concepts from Wittgenstein’s Lecture on Ethics, that is to say, concepts like those mentioned in his title, the distinction between relative and absolute value, “absolute safety”, “experience par excellence”, and other notions well-known to readers of that   lecture and the secondary literature dealing with its topics. The background of Richter’s reflections is a discussion between Cora Diamond and Michael Kremer. These authors focus on certain passages from Philosophical Investigations, in particular §107, which is read as referring to “a conflict” that could be seen as having taken place in Wittgenstein’s thought around 1929. This interpretation is fruitfully illustrated and supported by quotations from Wittgenstein’s manuscripts, “Some Remarks on Logical Form”, the Lecture on Ethics, and in many cases Richter’s characterisations of Wittgenstein’s words hit the nail on the head, for instance when he says of the better part of the lecture that it is “like one long false start” (p. 203). A good deal of the content of Richter’s piece is alluded to by a quotation from MS 107, where Wittgenstein notes in November 1929: “If something is good, then it is also divine. Strangely this summarizes my ethics. |Only the supernatural can express the supernatural” (Richter, p. 195). He is surely right in   foregrounding this passage, even though he misreads Wittgenstein in claiming of this remark that “even he [Wittgenstein] admits that it is strange” (this claim is repeated on p.208, where Richter speaks of “Wittgenstein’s strange identification of the good with the divine”).  Strangeness, however, is attributed, not to the quoted remark, but to the observation that the first sentence serves, or suffices, to summarise his ethics.

I agree that Wittgenstein attributes strangeness to the fact that "If something is good then it is also divine" summarizes his ethics. But why is this strange? Is it because Wittgenstein's ethics can be summarized in just one sentence? That doesn't seem so strange. It seems most likely to me that it is because the view that if something is good then it is also divine is in some sense strange. By 'strange' I don't mean false, of course. But it is unusual, and perhaps hard to understand. 

I don't argue for this reading in the paper, as I probably should have, but I don't think it's a misreading.

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