Wittgenstein’s ‘Picture Theory’ and the Æsthetic Experience of Clear Thoughts

Dawn M. Phillips


Wittgenstein appeals to clarity when he characterises the aim, task and results of Philosophical activity. I will argue that Wittgenstein’s ‘picture theory’ in the Tractatus means that clarity has aesthetic significance.The ‘picture theory’ of thought and language distinguishes between the key notions of mirroring (spiegeln), representing (darstellen) and picturing (abbilden). Wittgenstein uses these notions to establish that a thought expressed in language is a proposition with a sense and that a proposition is a picture of reality. He tells us that the task of philosophy is to make thoughts clear. My question is: how should we understand the significance of clarity, if ‘making a thought clear’ is making clear a picture of reality? The distinct notions of mirroring, representing and depicting mean that the result of philosophical activity – the clarification of propositions – is inexpressible, valuable as an end in itself and pleasurable. For these reasons clarity has aesthetic significance.


20th century philosophy; aesthetics; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; aesthetic; clarity; depiction; mirroring; picture; pleasure; presenting; proposition; Tractatus logico-philosophicus; thought

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