dinsdag 19 januari 2016

Wittgenstein and Virtue

It is no secret that Ludwig Wittgenstein had no particular warm feelings towards Judaism. But in the meantime he practiced philosophy in a way that strikes me as being Jewish in character.

That may have to do with the capricious character of his later writings, but I also find it in another area, that of his views on virtuousness.

Virtuousness has a rather antiquated sound, but there is much written right now on virtue ethics and virtue theory. The subject seems to meet a need, probably as a result of the secularization of society and the void which – rightly or wrongly – is associated therewith.

What most books about virtue have in common is an emphasis on the formation of good character. But otherwise the preferences of the many authors can vary from classical Greco-Roman virtue ethics, through Christian morality to Eastern virtue theories. With as a point of agreement that they all pretend to be universally true.

Except for the Jewish view on virtues, which seems to have no universal pretensions. At that point the agreement with Wittgenstein’s position is striking.

In his explanation of Wittgenstein, Bert Keizer tells what the philosopher intended to do: to show that meanings of the same word can be as different as interpretations of,  for example, the word ‘house’: a Bedouin by that word imagines a tent, a child his tricycle, an Eskimo his igloo and a Dutchman his bricks. To the word ‘virtuousness’ a similar multitude of interpretations is associated, in Wittgenstein’s view according to Keizer.

Therefore for the later Wittgenstein it is impossible to arrive at a clear concise characteristic of virtuousness that would be universally valid. In this he differs from the mainstream thinking about virtue in the same way as the Jewish tradition does.

Also see Levinas and Wittgenstein