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Absolute and Relative Value in Aesthetics

From the book Aesthetics Today
Simo Säätelä


Wittgenstein’s “Lecture on Ethics” concludes with a paradox: all ethical and aesthetic value judgements are either relative, and thus completely trivial (since reducible to statements of fact), or absolute and important but nonsensical (since they go beyond meaningful language). While this distinction is embedded in a Tractarian conception of language and value, Wittgenstein’s treatment of it in the Lecture points forward to his later work, especially through its use of examples of “what we would say when”. But it is not until he frees himself from the Tractarian constraints on language and value that he can take in the full force of these kinds of considerations about use, and describe aesthetics in a satisfactory way. Examples from Wittgenstein’s later treatment of aesthetics show how the earlier unconditional distinction between relative and absolute value is understood instead as grammatical distinction within a family of different language-games involving aesthetic evaluation and appreciation.

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston