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Wittgenstein and Leavis: Literature and the Enactment of the Ethical

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-264
JournalPhilosophy and Literature
Journal publication date1 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


For Wittgenstein, ethics cannot be put into words. This does not mean he thought ethics cannot be made manifest; indeed, he took the best manifestation of ethics to occur in aesthetics, and more specifically in literature. Wittgenstein takes us some way toward fleshing out literature’s “perspicuous presentations,” but not far enough. To do this, I appeal to F. R. Leavis’s notion of enactment and his view of the autonomous, active role of language in literature. I conclude that for both, the meaning of literature’s ethical enactments is determined not subjectively but intersubjectively. Literature imposes, and not merely proposes, ethical meaning.


Copyright © 2016. The Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in Philosophy and Literature, Volume 40, Issue 1, April 2016, pp 240-264

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