chapter  1
Ethics and aesthetics are — ?
ByMichael Tanner
Pages 18

My title is taken from the Tractatus, where Wittgenstein famously claims that ethics and aesthetics are one. I shall not be discussing his reasons for making this striking claim, the result as it seems to me, of a disastrous extrapolation, in ethics, from Kant’s already catastrophic transcendental moral psychology, where the source of moral value is placed in the noumenal will; and in aesthetics, an equally disastrous adoption, or adaptation, of Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s view of aesthetic experience as ‘disinterested contemplation’, and therefore removed from the causal nexus and any consequent practical concerns. In the Notebooks 1914-16, the entry for 7 October 1916 runs in part: ‘The work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis; and the good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis. This is the connection between art and ethics.’1 The connection had not, at that time, become an identity, but it is clear in what direction Wittgenstein was moving, and how he would arrive – and not only from motives of maximum gnomicness – at his later formulation. Crudely speaking, the further you abstract yourself from particular phenomena, the easier it is to proclaim their identity. The merging, for one bad reason or another, of two of mankind’s most remarkable enterprises was common at the end of the last century and the beginning of this; and even so extravagant a genius as Wittgenstein was in many ways, some of them surprising, a child of his time, and in part a fascinatingly gamey mixture of fin-de-siècle Vienna and debut-de-siècle Cambridge.