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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religion

Wittgenstein provides his perspective on ethical and religious issues in a few brief statements in the last four pages of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In statement 6.43 he says that the good or bad acts of the will do not alter the world, but rather they “alter only the limits of the world”—in other words, they lead to a change in how the world appears to the moral agent. To a good-willed agent the world will appear differently from how the world appears to a bad-willed agent. In the same statement, Wittgenstein goes on to say: “The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man.” This means that a good-willed agent can achieve happiness or that for a good-willed agent the ultimate moral value is happiness. In the statement preceding 6.43, statement 6.422, Wittgenstein suggests that good-willing contains its own reward—happiness—while bad-willing leads to the opposite. He writes, “There must indeed be some kind of ethical reward and ethical punishment, but they must reside in the action itself.”

In his perspectives on God and death, Wittgenstein suggests that the realms of facts and value are quite distinct—this is because the matters of value concern the world as a whole and are unrelated to the facts within it. In statement 6.431, he says, “So too at death the world does not alter, but comes to an end.” In statement 6.4311, he says, “Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death… Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.” In statement 6.4312, he says, “How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.” In two statements which follow, he suggests that the consideration of God being the source of value is entirely related to world as a whole and with matter of value. Here are the two statements—statement 644 says, “It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists”; statement 6.46 says, “To view the world sub specie aeterni is to view it as a whole—a limited whole. Feeling the world as a limited whole—it is this that is mystical.”

These statements in the last four pages of the Tractatus lead to the book’s famous last statement 7: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” This statement is a reassertion of Wittgenstein’s belief that nothing can be said about the ethical and religious matters, since they lie outside the world.

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