Aesthetic Gestures: Elements of a Philosophy of Art in Frege and Wittgenstein

In Shyam Wuppuluri & Newton da Costa (eds.), Wittgensteinian (adj.) Looking at the World from the Viewpoint of Wittgenstein's Philosophy. Berlin: Springer. pp. 506-18 (2020)
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Gottlob Frege’s conception of works of art has received scant notice in the literature. This is a pity since, as this paper undertakes to reveal, his innovative philosophy of language motivated a theoretically and historically consequential, yet unaccountably marginalized Wittgenstinian line of inquiry in the domain of aesthetics. The element of Frege’s approach that most clearly inspired this development is the idea that only complete sentences articulate thoughts and that what sentences in works of drama and literary art express are ‘mock thoughts’ (Schiengedanken). The early Wittgenstein closely followed Frege’s lead on this theme. One sees this, for example, in the Tractatus, where Wittgenstein announces that only sentential propositions model (‘picture’) states of affairs whereas works of art are objects we perceive sub specie aeternitatis (1961, 83). By the 1930s, however, Wittgenstein began to revise his view beyond his initial Frege-inspired standpoint. He came to insist that works of art can convey thoughts as well, but that thoughts do not model (picture) the world of facts and hence do not convey information about measurable objects and events. Rather, his contention was that aesthetically configured thoughts that artworks communicate impart information about our perspective on reality and reconfigure our view of life. To be more explicit, successful (gelungene) or ‘good’ works of art (ibid.), in Wittgenstein’s view, can supply aesthetically instructive ‘gestures’ that open to living experience promising new ways of being. It is in this respect, he held, that artists ‘have something to teach’ (1980, 36).
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