'The Walls of Our Cage'

Wittgenstein’s Lecture on Ethics

in Theoria
Author: Anthony Holiday
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The phrase which commences the title of this essay occurs among the concluding sentences of a paper which Wittgenstein presented to Cambridge’s Heretics Society in November of 1929, the momentous year in which he returned to academic philosophy and (in writing the paper, ‘Some Remarks on Logical Form’), began to make public his doubts about the viability of some of the logico-semantic doctrines of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. His offering to the ‘Heretics’ is generally known as his Lecture on Ethics (henceforth LE),1 although the typescript on which it was presumably based bears no title. The Lecture consists of a careful elaboration of the laconic statements in the Tractatus concerning the transcendental status of ethical and aesthetic values (TLP 6.42 – 6.423). Although Wittgenstein avoids any reference to his first great work, he, nonetheless, argues for the same position set out in the Tractatus, which is that there can be no propositions concerning such values, so that any attempt to say anything about what is absolutely good or beautiful transgresses the limits of language and results in nonsensical utterances.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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