Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

John R. Hardwig

Committee Members

Glenn C. Graber, David Reidy, Thomas F. Haddox


Wittgenstein once remarked that the same kind of reasoning that occurs in ordinary conversations about works of art can be found “in Ethics, but also in Philosophy.” That observation has been almost entirely overlooked by his commentators. What is aesthetic reasoning? What does it look like in conversations about art? And where might we find examples of such reasoning “in Ethics”? To set the stage for my answers, I begin with an overview of the early Wittgenstein’s view of ethics and aesthetics, emphasizing two ideas that were retained in his later view of aesthetic reasoning: the moral importance of non-moral descriptions, and the power of a “picture” to regulate action and thought. I illustrate those ideas by considering the moral influence of Tolstoy’s parable of the Good Samaritan on Wittgenstein.

Next, I examine the passage in which Wittgenstein introduced aesthetic reasoning, and I articulate some general features of that concept. I also contend that we learn more about aesthetic reasoning by understanding Wittgenstein’s invention of the language-game concept as his reasoning aesthetically “in Philosophy.” Furthermore, I argue that the later Wittgenstein’s notions of aspect perception and grammatical pictures further inform aesthetic reasoning, revealing that it involves the introduction of grammar that can draw a person’s attention to unnoticed aspects of an object and equip him with further descriptions of that object. To illustrate that characterization of aesthetic reasoning, and to offer an example of such reasoning “in Ethics,” I return to Tolstoy’s parable and show that my interacting with it in a particular way involves aesthetic reasoning.

Finally, I argue that aesthetic reasoning continues to occur in ethics in that it is woven into discussions of stories in bioethics classes. A student can have her grammatical picture of the case that a story presents reshaped as she sees and accepts aspects of that story that she had not noticed, and this, in turn, might influence her ways of seeing and responding morally to other cases. I close by considering whether aesthetic reasoning occurs in ethics in other ways, and I articulate some implications of my work for further Wittgenstein studies.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."