Wittgenstein and Moral Philosophy

Journal of Religious Ethics 22 (2):407-431 (1989)

Philip R. Shields
Beloit College
Recent books by Paul Johnston, D. Z. Phillips, Philip Shields, and B. R. Tilghman all depict Wittgenstein as centrally concerned with ethics, but they range from representing his main works as expressing and advocating a particular religious-ethical outlook to arguing that his work has no ethical content but aims primarily to clarify such logical distinctions as that between ethical and empirical judgments. All four books raise the question about the moral philosopher's proper role, and each suggests a rather different answer. Via the discussion of these books, I argue that Wittgenstein's stress on diversity in the ways of human life, his notion of conceptual grammar, the idea of a perspicuous representation, his lifelong involvement with art and his suggestions about its connection with morality, and his preoccupation with aspect-seeing-all suggest new possibilities of rehabilitating the historically recurrent idea that the philosopher may be a moral sage.
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