Wittgenstein and Leavis: Literature and the Enactment of the Ethical


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.