Hanne Appelqvist: "The Role of Aesthetics in Wittgenstein's Philosophy"

The Higher Seminar in Aesthetics

Hanne Appelqvist, Helsinki University: "The Role of Aesthetics in Wittgenstein's Philosophy"

In his foreword to the 1977 edition of Culture and Value, Georg Henrik von Wright writes: “In the manuscript material left by Wittgenstein there are numerous notes which do not belong directly with his philosophical works although they are scattered among the philosophical texts” (CV ixe). While von Wright readily acknowledges the difficulty of separating such notes from Wittgenstein’s philosophical text, he seems to be committed – as an editor of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass as well as in his own work –to a distinction between philosophy proper and material understood as commentary of more “general sort”, as he says (CV ixe). Topics that fall under the latter allegedly less philosophical category of remarks include culture, religion, and the arts. 

The approach adopted by von Wright in his Preface to Culture and Value accords with the majority of Anglophone philosophy that typically takes culture and the arts to have little relevance for the problems of such core areas of philosophy as metaphysics, epistemology or ethics. But Wittgenstein’s work, I will argue, is not simply a fruit of the early analytic philosophy. As stressed by (for example but not exclusively) the proponents of the Kantian interpretation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, Wittgenstein’s work has deep roots also in the German tradition of philosophy. Moreover, as exemplified by the work of such thinkers as Hegel, Schopenhauer, Schelling, Nietzsche, Gadamer, and Adorno, the arts and music in particular have a much stronger philosophical relevance in the traditions originating in Kant than they do in Anglophone thought. After all, already Kant himself had argued that the unification of our system of discursive knowledge relies on a mode of thought that is non-discursive and indeed epitomized by a judgment of beauty (CPJ 5: 183–184). 

As von Wright himself acknowledges, Wittgenstein’s remarks on the arts are not limited to those we now find in Culture and Value (CV ixe). In fact, such remarks surface at key moments of Wittgenstein’s treatment of topics that belong to the presumably hard core of his philosophical work. Already in the Tractatus Wittgenstein explains the notion of logical form by reference to music (TLP 2.0131, 3.141, 4.014). And the key question of his later work about the understanding of language is elucidated by appeal to the (non-conceptual) understanding of a musical theme (PI §§ 184, 527, 531). In this paper, I will argue that Wittgenstein’s remarks on music and the arts in general are not simply mere illustrations of an otherwise independent philosophical account. Rather, Wittgenstein ought to be read as an ally of the aforementioned group of German thinkers with respect to his attitude towards the arts. This is to say that the recurring analogy between language and music in Wittgenstein’s work is meant to contribute to problems at the very core of philosophy and do so specifically by revealing the limitations of our discursive forms of thought. To show that this is the case, I will discuss two examples of the way in which Wittgenstein appeals to music in relation to explain the supposedly hard, logical or grammatical, core of work. The first example is from the Tractatus, the second from the Investigations– to be compared with an example from Culture and Value. By this exercise, I hope to provide one possible perspective for the re-evaluation of von Wright’s methodological base in the editorial work of Culture and Value.