Garry Hagberg on Wittgenstein’s Aesthetics

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The following is not new, but in case any of you haven’t come across it before, we wanted to recommend Garry Hagberg’s entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the topic of “Wittgenstein’s Aesthetics” (first published January 2007). We’ve reproduced the introduction to Hagberg’s SEP entry below. Please click here to read the whole thing.

(Did you know, by the way, that Hagberg is a wonderful jazz guitarist? He’s a member of The Atlantic Jazz Trio, and you can check out their great sounds here — be sure your computer’s speakers are on!)

Wittgenstein’s Aesthetics

Given the extreme importance that Wittgenstein attached to the aesthetic dimension of life, it is in one sense surprising that he wrote so little on the subject. It is true that we have the notes assembled from his lectures on aesthetics given to a small group of students in private rooms in Cambridge in the summer of 1938 (Wittgenstein 1966) and we have G. E. Moore’s record of some of Wittgenstein’s lectures in the period 1930-33 (Moore 1972). Of Wittgenstein’s own writings, we find remarks on literature, poetry, architecture, the visual arts, and especially music and the philosophy of culture more broadly scattered throughout his writings on the philosophies of language, mind, mathematics, and philosophical method, as well as in his more personal notebooks; a number of these are collected in Culture and Value (Wittgenstein 1980). In another sense, it is not surprising at all, precisely because of the central position he gave to the aesthetic: in writing about questions of meaning, as he did throughout his life from the earliest pre-Tractatus (Wittgenstein 1961, 1971) writings to the remarks from the last weeks of his life in On Certainty (Wittgenstein 1969), in writing about perception, as he did in Part II of Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein 1958), Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, Volumes I and II (Wittgenstein 1980a, 1980b), and Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, volume I (Wittgenstein 1982), and in writing about the contextual prerequisites to the emergence of sense in his philosophy of mind and language (in (Wittgenstein 1958) as well as his writings on the philosophy of mathematics), he was writing—if at one remove—about aesthetics. For questions of meaning, of perception, and of sense are all clearly central to aesthetic experience, and the writing he undertook on these subjects holds significance for questions of artistic meaning and interpretation that is still being explored and articulated (Lewis 2004, Dauber and Jost 2003, Gibson and Huemer 2004). Wittgenstein placed the aesthetic, not on a distant periphery of philosophical subjects, but then not at the center of a grouping of such interests either—for then it would still be a subject area unto itself. Rather, Wittgenstein interweaves the subject’s various and variegated strands throughout his writing in a way that in some cases shows explicitly, and in many more cases suggests implicitly, the layered interconnections between aesthetic considerations and every other area of philosophy upon which he wrote. In this article I will, then, look at the record we have of his lectures on the topic (which, predictably, take up many connections to extra-aesthetic issues along the way), but throughout try to offer a reading of them that situates them into the larger context of his philosophical work.

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