Weil & Wittgenstein

The Identity of Man – Winch Between Spinoza, Weil, and Wittgenstein

Sarah Trooper read

Throughout his philosophical career, Peter Winch had a particular interest in the philosophy of Spinoza, as is evidenced not only by a variety of references on a diverse range of issues in his works but also by several lectures and seminars he delivered on this thinker. A reconstruction of his interpretation of Spinoza’s system, which unites epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical considerations as mutually dependent, brings to the fore Winch’s interest in the individual not only as an important epistemological but equally as a moral agent, who is embedded in a web of circumstances that shape her view on the world and the possibilities and options she is able to entertain. Moreover, in his reading of Spinoza, the focus on the irreducibility of the individual’s standpoint is also connected to the philosophies of Wittgenstein and Simone Weil, a connection which adds at the same time an emphasis on a fundamental limitation of moral philosophy in general.

Sarah Trooper, “The Identity of Man – Winch Between Spinoza, Weil, and Wittgenstein,” in Michael Campbell & Lynette Reid, eds., Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch,  Springer (2020),  pp. 135-148

The Dimensions of Miracle: An Ethics of Mediation in Simone Weil, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Virginia Woolf

Collin (Lin) Michael Pritchard read

This project is concerned with the ethics of mediation, as might allow us to see the existence of the world as miraculous. To contextualize these terms, as involve the constraints of personal autonomy and understanding, this first chapter of this inquiry is a comparison of Simone Weil and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophies; from this comparison comes a recognition of the importance of ‘mediation’ in one’s understanding of value, of an “absence that is felt,” which argues for a form of attention constituted by one’s relation to the world and to others. The second chapter introduces how Weil’s concept of ‘reading’—that is, her conception of how one ‘reads’ meaning in the world—has both an ethical and theological dimension, as well as introducing Virginia Woolf’s fiction as exemplary of how this ‘reading’ is a principle of literature; through a comparison with Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘aspect-perception’, it argues for a kind of affective proprioception, which would place one’s actions in relation to a dimension both aesthetic and ethical. The third chapter is a study of Woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse’, which demonstrates the comparative ethics of literature, as a valuation of characters’ ‘reading’ of others and the world is both implicit and explicit in Woolf’s narration; this study profiles four characters—Lily Briscoe, Mr. Ramsay, Charles Tansley, and Mrs. Ramsay—and centers Lily Briscoe’s painting as a technique of mediation expressive of Woolf’s narrative style, and of certain ethics. This project ends on the question of miracle—and gestures to a gratuitous world.

Bard Digital Commons, Spring 2019.

Effing the Ineffable: The Mysticism of Simone Weil and Ludwig Wittgenstein

K G M Earl read

Both Simone Weil and Ludwig Wittgenstein hold mysticism—i.e., the belief in something utterly transcendent—centrally. The mysticism present in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus presents a problem: if “the mystical” is “deep” nonsense, and there is something important that cannot be sensibly presented in language, we are left in an undesirable situation. The mystical is taken to be of paramount importance but is ultimately inaccessible to reason. Weil, starting with political and theological considerations, arrives at a similar problem. A mystical position yields the “problem of mysticism”: There is the mystical; it is of crucial importance, and it is inaccessible to our reason. Weil’s mystical praxis of decreation is a solution to the problem. This does not present a way that we can come to the mystical, but a way that we can become aware of its revelation, which bypasses our reason.

Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia, MA dissertation.

‘In the beginning was the deed’

David Cockburn read

Winch’s readings of Wittgenstein and Weil call for a significant rethinking of the relation between ‘metaphysics’ and ‘ethics’. But there are confusions, perhaps to be found in all three of these writers, that we may slip into here. These are linked with the tendency to see idealist tendencies in Wittgenstein, and with his remark that giving grounds comes to an end, not in a kind of seeing on our part, but in our acting. The sense that we think we see in this suggestion is dependent on a distorted conception of ‘justification’. Getting clear about this involves coming to appreciate just how much of our nature as ethical beings is engaged when we do philosophy.

David Cockburn, Emeritus Professor, University of Wales.

The ethical implications of Simone Weil’s Notion of reading

Olwyn Stewart read

In this thesis I develop the ethical implications inherent in a short paper written by Simone Weil, entitled ‘Essay on the Notion of Reading,’ with a view to exploring possible ways in which we are able to incorporate the unconditional value of each and every human being into our everyday apprehension of the world. Mindful of the fact that conceptions of unconditional value tend to be associated with religious belief, I make a distinction between religious theory and practical religious engagement, privileging the latter, in order to show the common ground between theistic and nontheistic ways of understanding unconditional value. My focus is on practical ethics, and the relationship between our direct and immediate ethical responses and their conceptualization plays an important part in my thesis, in tandem with an important distinction between absolute and relative forms of evaluation. The emphasis I place on the relationship between direct responses and their conceptualization is developed in the light of Wittgensteinian philosophical insights, both of Wittgenstein’s own and those of certain other philosophers who employ versions of his method. I also draw on both Platonist and Aristotelian conceptions of virtue, with particular attention to the relationship between our natural ethical responses and the terminology in which they find expression.

The University of Auckland, Ph.D. dissertation (2012).

The Concept of Mystery and the Value of Philosophy in the Later Wittgenstein

Eric Springsted read

Alasdair MacIntyre has urged a project for philosophers of faith to do philosophy in such a way as to address the deeper human concerns underlying philosophy’s basic questions. This essay examines where Wittgenstein’s later philosophy makes a contribution to that sort of project. It notes the importance of his doctrine of “meaning as use” for thinking philosophically about religion; it is centered in the life-world of religious people. But it also deals with issues arising from Wittgenstein’s view that philosophy should be a sort of conceptual therapy that undoes confusion and leaves everything as it is, i.e., his defactoism. It argues that there is an underlying sense of value. This changes from the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations. In the latter, he ultimately shows a commitment to a philosophical value of openness and willingness to transform one’s mind by the discovery of what is given.

American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 85.4 (Fall, 2011) 547-563.

The Ethics of Simone Weil and Ludwig Wittgenstein

André Warren Heiti & Jan Zwicky read

This thesis investigates the ethics of Simone Well and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I claim that, for both Weil and Wittgenstein, ethics is not systematic or propositional: it is a discipline of attentiveness. For Well, this attentiveness is expressed through impartial respect for the needs of others. The self, which exists as a fixed point of view, interferes with the impartiality of the attention, and Weil’s idea of decreation, I argue, is a way of freeing thought from a point of view. I trace the continuity of Wittgenstein’s ethical thinking from his early to late work, and argue that, while he later rejects his Tractarian metaphysics and logical atomism, his reverence for the ineffability of value remains consistent.

University of Victoria, Thesis, 2006

Discussions of Simone Weil

Rush Rhees read

The work of Simone Weil has not garnered the attention it deserves in the Anglo-American tradition. In this book, Rhees, the noted thinker trained by Wittgenstein, provides the most sustained critique to date of Weil’s views on science and religion. In this decidedly Wittgensteinian spin on the philosophy of religion, Rhees’ observations on the major themes in Weil’s work–social philosophy, science, ethics, and religion–are presented. The book shows how Rhees wrestled with difficulties he found in the work of Weil, someone he held in the highest regard.

“In the field of Weil studies, this book is a ‘gold mine.'” — Richard H. Bell, author of Simone Weil: The Way of Justice as Compassion

“Weil was a highly original thinker and Discussions of Simone Weil helps bring out that originality. Rhees also makes a contribution to the philosophy of religion, for here we get to see how a genuine Wittgensteinian approach might work in tackling religious questions.” — Eric O. Springsted, coauthor of Spirit, Nature, and Community: Issues in the Thought of Simone Weil

Rush Rhees (1905-1989) taught at the University of Wales, Swansea, for twenty-six years and became Honorary Professor after his retirement. He is the author of Without Answers; Discussions of Wittgenstein; On Religion and Philosophy; Wittgenstein and the Possibility of Discourse; and Moral Questions. D. Z. Phillips is Rush Rhees Research Professor at the University of Wales, Swansea, and Danforth Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, California. Mario von der Ruhr is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Wales, Swansea.

D.Z Phillips assisted by Mario von der Ruhr, ed., New York: State University of New York Press, 2000