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In Search of Meaning

Ulrich Arnswald

Preface: The Most Important Aspects of Life — Ethics, Mysticism and Religion

Ulrich Arnswald

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The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something — because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his inquiry do not strike a person at all. — And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.
Wittgenstein, PI § 129

1The essays collected in this volume explore some of the themes that have been at the centre of recent debates within Wittgensteinian scholarship. This book is an attempt to express the difficult nature of ethics, mysticism and religion, their problematic status in the modern world, and the possible justifications for ethical and religious commitment. Naturally, it also discusses some of the main ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein. His very personal and often aphoristic way of writing cannot simply be restated or interpreted. However, his philosophy is in need of interpretation, and interpretations are — as we all know — often rather controversial.

2The collected contributions aim, therefore, at bringing new insight into the essence of Wittgenstein’s ethical and religious beliefs by understanding his concepts of thought and language in a more detailed way. In opposition to what we are tentatively inclined to think, the articles of this volume invite us to understand that our need to grasp the essence of ethical and religious thought and language will not be achieved by metaphysical theories expounded from such a point of view, but by focusing on our everyday forms of expression. The articles have in common an understanding of Wittgenstein as not proposing metaphysical theories, but rather showing us the way to work ourselves out of the confusions we become entangled in when philosophizing. Thus, the authors show from a Wittgensteinian perspective that the standard modern approaches to ethics cannot justify traditional moral beliefs.

3The number of books and articles on Wittgenstein’s philosophy is extraordinarily large, and due to this, in this volume no attempt has been made to record all debts and disagreements. This anthology is written with the conviction that the structure of Wittgenstein’s ideas on ethics, mysticism and religion and the connections between them owe much to an imagination that is required for philosophy but can also very easily lead us nowhere.

4On the basis of a Wittgensteinian approach the authors put forward an alternative account of ethics and religion that avoids this contradiction and recognises that the central issues in the ethical and religious fields cannot be resolved by conceptual analysis alone. By following this alternative account, we become aware of ethical theories and belief justifications that rest on overly simple accounts of the essence of human life.

5The articles that have emerged are published in English for the first time and criticize more recent standard interpretations of Wittgenstein’s work within the Anglo-Saxon academic community. This book is intended to be of interest both to those who are professional philosophers and those who are not. Works cited from Wittgenstein’s writings are quoted in their published English abbreviations. At the beginning of the book a list of abbreviations of frequently cited references can be found.

6This volume is a result of a project of the European Institute for International Affairs. The European Institute for International Affairs was founded as an independent, non-profit and non-partisan scholarly organisation whose main task includes encouraging the exchange of ideas and research in the domains of the social sciences and the humanities. This volume came together under the auspices of the University of Karlsruhe and the European Institute for International Affairs, Heidelberg.

7I am grateful to the EuKlId-series editors, Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Schütt and Prof. Dr. Bernd Thum, both of the University of Karlsruhe, who invited me to publish this book in their series. My gratitude also extends, of course, to all the contributors to this volume for having accepted the invitation to think about Wittgenstein’s ideas on ethics, religion, and mysticism. I am also indebted to Regine Tobias, Brigitte Maier and Sabine Mehl, at Universitätsverlag Karlsruhe, as well as Prof. Lawrence K. Schmidt at Hendrix College, Arkansas, for their support and suggestions. Finally, I would like to express my special gratitude to Jutta Gemeinhardt who gave assistance during the preparation of this volume.

8Heidelberg / Karlsruhe, July 2009


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