This special issue on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s aesthetics marks the beginning of a new era for Estetika. Starting with this issue, Estetika will be published by Helsinki University Press in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. Also the name of the journal has been slightly modified and from now on it will be Estetika: The European Journal of Aesthetics. We are pleased to continue to develop Estetika as an open access journal of the highest academic standard in collaboration with Helsinki University Press, a university press that is committed to the ideals of open science and making publically funded research available to all. The journal will continue to use triple blind peer review, which Estetika adopted already in 2012.
As anyone familiar with Wittgenstein’s philosophy knows, there is no sustained and comprehensive treatment of aesthetics in the corpus of his writings. This does not mean that Wittgenstein has no important insights to offer about aesthetics and the arts. Even less does it mean that themes central for his thought – the constitution of meaning, the nature of linguistic understanding, the relevance of human practices, aspect-seeing, or the criticism of essentialism and of naturalism – are not relevant for the field. Some of the classic contributions to aesthetics, for example by Morris Weitz, Stanley Cavell, or Arthur Danto, have drawn on Wittgenstein’s work either by applying it or by reacting against it.
An equally palpable feature of Wittgenstein’s work is that aesthetics and the arts surface frequently in his published writings, private diary entries, lecture notes, and conversations recorded by his students and friends. Moreover, Wittgenstein’s remarks on topics such as the correct way of reading poetry, the difficulty of understanding the aesthetic preferences of different cultures and historical periods, and the close analogy between linguistic and musical understanding are clearly connected to the themes for which he is mostly known. Surprisingly often, they are also presented in close conjunction with what are typically seen as his core contributions to philosophy, such as the Tractatus’s picture theory of meaning or the Philosophical Investigations’ discussion on rule-following. For example, in the Tractatus, ethics-cum-aesthetics as well as logic is claimed to be transcendental; and perhaps the most central Tractarian notion, that of a proposition, is illustrated by reference to a musical theme. In the Investigations, the understanding of a sentence is aligned with the understanding of a musical theme, and in identifying two interconnected aspects of understanding – one where the content of the sentence can be rephrased, the other where a rephrase is not available – Wittgenstein turns again to music and poetry as examples of the latter case.
In fact, the seeming lack of a systematic treatment of questions specific to aesthetics could also be seen as a manifestation of Wittgenstein’s peculiar style of writing philosophy. This is the style he himself characterizes by stating that ‘The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks’, connecting this tendency to the nature of philosophy itself. According to him, ‘the very nature of the investigation […] compels us to travel criss-cross in every direction over a wide field of thought’ (PI, p. 3). I believe that for Wittgenstein himself this wide field of thought essentially includes questions about the nature of aesthetic judgment, the role and relevance of the arts for philosophy, and the relation between discursive thought and the realm of aesthetics. In this respect, Wittgenstein’s thought does not easily line up with mainstream analytic philosophy, which is characterized by strictly defined niches of specialized subfields with their distinctive questions and methods. By contrast to a highly specialized academic philosophy that takes its lead from the natural sciences, Wittgenstein actually compares philosophical work to aesthetic investigation, where the latter means concrete engagement with specific aesthetic ‘puzzles’ presented, for example, by harmony and counterpoint or architecture.
Most aestheticians working on Wittgenstein have understandably turned to his lectures on aesthetics as the primary source of his treatment of the topic. The lecture notes from 1938 have been available for a long time, and Wittgenstein’s discussion on aesthetic reactions, aesthetic puzzles, the role of reasons in aesthetic investigation, and the criticism of psychologism in aesthetics recorded therein are generally well-known. A recent and important addition to the material relevant for Wittgenstein’s views on aesthetics is G. E. Moore’s lecture notes from 1930 to 1933, published by Cambridge University Press in 2016. Especially in the notes from 1933, we find earlier variants of Wittgenstein’s treatment of themes familiar from the 1938 lectures. However, by contrast to previously published material (including Alice Ambrose’s and Margaret Macdonald’s notes from the 1933 lectures published in 1979), Moore’s meticulously recorded notes bring the connection between Wittgenstein’s remarks on aesthetics and his developing account of grammar to a sharper focus. In doing so, Moore’s notes help us appreciate the significance of aesthetics for Wittgenstein’s broader philosophical concerns and his conception of philosophy.
The reception of Wittgenstein’s contribution to aesthetics has been as mixed as the reception of his philosophy in general. When commentators disagree on the very basics – such as whether the Tractatus presents a philosophical account of meaning or is designed to undermine the very possibility of such an account, or whether the notion of a rule is central in Wittgenstein’s later thought – it is no wonder that there are no generally accepted views about his aesthetics either. Granted, Wittgenstein’s argumentation is notoriously difficult to follow, partly because of his style of writing, partly because of the complicated editorial history of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass. A case particularly relevant for aesthetics is the much-loved collection Culture and Value, which brings together Wittgenstein’s remarks on the arts, religion, and culture. The uninitiated reader may easily approach this book as one of Wittgenstein’s works. However, the published remarks have actually been lifted from Wittgenstein’s manuscripts at the cost of losing their original context in a potentially broader train of thought. So while making Wittgenstein’s remarks on the arts and aesthetics available to the wider public and providing easy access to a more ‘general’ or ‘cultural’ side of his thought, the collection may also direct the reader to treat the remarks as isolated aphorisms without broader philosophical import. Moreover, what is taken to be important in Wittgenstein’s work often reflects the philosophical background of the interpreter. Situating Wittgenstein exclusively in the tradition of early analytic philosophy will push into background many important topics that just happen to fall outside of the orbit of that tradition. In turn, focusing exclusively Wittgenstein’s background in the Viennese high society and culture may lead to an equally one-sided picture of his contribution unless balanced by close attention to his work on philosophy of language and mind.
This special issue of Estetika, dedicated to Wittgenstein, aims at illuminating his work on aesthetics from a variety of different perspectives and interpretative traditions but always in relation to the broader scope of his philosophy. The issue opens with Severin Schroeder’s article ‘The Emergence of Wittgenstein’s Views on Aesthetics in the 1933 Lectures’. Schroeder’s article traces the development of Wittgenstein’s thought on aesthetics from his early equation of ethics and aesthetics in the Tractatus to the lectures on aesthetics from 1933 and 1938. Schroeder starts by a detailed exposition of Wittgenstein’s treatment of the meaning of the word ‘beautiful’ in 1933. He considers three different analyses of the meaning of ‘beautiful’ to be found in Wittgenstein’s lectures: beauty as a common ingredient of ‘beautiful things’, beauty as a second-order quality, and beauty as that which elicits a certain feeling – alternatives that are each rejected by Wittgenstein in favor of an investigation directed at the various uses of word ‘beautiful’. According to Schroeder, Wittgenstein’s account of ‘beautiful’ differs from standard cases of family resemblance words, because by contrast to the paradigm case of ‘game’, say, such uses do not only differ with respect to the objects to which ‘beauty’ is applied but also with respect to the contexts of application and the relevant criteria applied in those contexts. In fact, Schroeder argues, Wittgenstein’s treatment of beauty ultimately turns to the criteria of aesthetic judgments, which shows that the initial focus in the notion of beauty was not entirely felicitous. Rather, given Wittgenstein’s emphasis on the context of aesthetic judgment, what turns out to be more relevant for him is the elusive standards and criteria that we presuppose in our aesthetic discussions.
Joachim Schulte’s article provides a close reading of Wittgenstein’s familiar 1930 remark, published in Culture and Value (CV, p. 6; MS 109) and the way in which it relates to Wittgenstein’s philosophy in general. The remark in question opens with a recollection of Paul Engelmann and culminates in a claim about art’s ability to foster a contemplative sub specie aeterni attitude towards the world. In his article, Schulte engages critically with Michael Fried’s interpretation, according to which the remark in question is closely related to Wittgenstein’s later ideas of a surveyable representation, the requirement that philosophy leave its object of investigation as it is, and the importance of the everyday – notions that Fried connects to photography and Jeff Wall’s photography in particular. Schulte notes that there is no need to read the remark in the context of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy; after all, the idea of a sub specie aeterni attitude figures prominently in Wittgenstein’s early writings. But if the remark is connected with Wittgenstein’s later thought, then a context more plausible than that of surveyable representation and the category of everyday is provided by Wittgenstein’s idea of aspect change. It is this idea, Schulte argues, that will help us gain a better understanding of what Wittgenstein actually means by a perspective that belongs to a work of art.
Eran Guter’s ‘The Philosophical Significance of Wittgenstein’s Experiments on Rhythm, Cambridge 1912–13’ brings to focus Wittgenstein’s concrete engagement with the arts. Placing Wittgenstein’s early empirical experiments on rhythm in a broader scientific and philosophical context, Guter argues that while the implications of that work did not find their way to the Tractatus, they became important for Wittgenstein’s philosophy later. Specifically, the rhythm experiments served to lay the foundation for Wittgenstein’s later work on noticing an aspect and on different techniques for making comparisons and finding similes. Guter’s article also serves to illuminate the phenomenon Wittgenstein calls an aesthetic puzzle, for example, the attempt to find the right tempo for a musical performance – a task that essentially involves the possibility of hearing something differently. Guter relates this idea to Wittgenstein’s discussion on reason-giving in aesthetics as it is presented in recently published lecture notes by G. E. Moore. He argues that, in these lectures, Wittgenstein has already given up the hope of solving the question of aesthetic reason-giving by means of empirical investigation and has turned his focus on the aesthetic system at hand as the key to the problem of musical understanding.
Vojtěch Kolman’s ‘Wittgenstein and Die Meistersinger’ addresses Wittgenstein’s discussion on rule-following by relating it to the way in which rule-following is portrayed in Wagner’s opera, famous for its treatment of the role and relevance of rules in art. According to Kolman, the alignment between Wittgenstein’s train of thought and Wagner’s opera helps us identify three available positions on rule-following. In his reading, the extreme solutions to the rule-following paradox, portrayed in the opera and the Philosophical Investigations alike, are the radical denial of the relevance of rules on the one hand and the idea that rules are fixed and a priori on the other. Identifying these two positions with the Humean and the Kantian approaches respectively, Kolman suggests that, just like in the opera, in Wittgenstein’s treatment the position to be preferred lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Kolman argues that the resulting ‘middle position’ comes close to Hegelian idealism in its emphasis on the necessity of the social and practical dimension for the possibility of rule-following.
Andreas Vrahimis’s ‘Wittgenstein and Heidegger against a Science of Aesthetics’ compares Wittgenstein’s criticism of naturalism in aesthetics with Martin Heidegger’s treatment of the same theme. Situating the debate on what he calls a ‘science of aesthetics’ in the historical contexts available for the two philosophers, Vrahimis argues that the key parallel between Heidegger and Wittgenstein lies in their respective attempts to clearly separate the enterprise of psychology from that of philosophically illuminating investigation of the arts. However, as the article shows, the ways in which the two philosophers address the task also come apart. While for Heidegger the search for the original essence of the work of art is possible only by overcoming aesthetics understood as the study of experiences, Wittgenstein identifies the misuse of our language as the root of our temptation to explain aesthetic judgments in causal terms. The article closes by an analysis of the relevant points of disagreement in the underlying commitments of the two accounts.
In addition to the research articles, the issue features Oskari Kuusela’s review of Beth Savickey’s Wittgenstein’s Investigations: Awakening the Imagination. The issue also includes Saul Fisher’s critical note to Peter Lamarque’s and Nigel Walter’s article ‘The Application of Narrative to the Conservation of Historic Buildings’, published in Estetika 1/2019, and Lamarque’s and Walter’s responses to Fisher. Wittgenstein, who at one point of his life considered a career in architecture, wrote: ‘Work in philosophy – like work in architecture in many respects – is really more work on oneself. On one’s own conception. On how one sees things. (And what one expects of them.)’ (CV, p. 24). I believe that this issue of Estetika will provide its readers many opportunities for such work. I would like to thank the authors and the members of the community of Wittgenstein scholarship who contributed to this issue as referees for making it possible.