Le Fils and the Limits of Philosophical Ethics


This paper is a study in contrasts. In the first part, I describe one prominent set of approaches to representing the ethical: those of analytic philosophy and the experimental moral psychology inspired by it. I argue that what is missing in this approach is a perspicuous representation of the ethical. The term “perspicuous representation” is drawn from the work of Wittgenstein, where it means a way of representing phenomena that reveals the inner connections between their parts or aspects and makes apparent their meaning for us. Arriving at perspicuous representations is fundamental to Wittgenstein’s interpretative/philosophical methodology. In Philosophical Investigations he says, “The concept of a perspicuous representation is of fundamental significance for us. It earmarks the form of account we give, the way we look at things” (122). I use the term in a slightly broader way than this. I take it to indicate a kind of achievement: the Wittgensteinian achievement of elucidating the inner connections between aspects of a thing, but also a representation that captures some of its richness, complexity and ambiguity.

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