Wittgenstein, Plurality and Context:

Art as a Case Study

Sonia Sedivy

June 1st, 2021

@ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

About the Speaker
About the Reporter

About the Speaker

Prof. Sedivy's research interests range across issues in philosophy of mind and perception, aesthetics, and the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.  In aesthetics, her work focuses on visual art, beauty and aesthetic properties.  Her recent book, Beauty and the End of Art, Wittgenstein, Plurality and Perception (Bloomsbury, 2016) uses Wittgenstein’s later work and contemporary theory of perception to offer new approaches to art and beauty that explain the historical and cross-cultural plurality of both.  She has edited a collection of newly commissioned articles Art, Representation, and Make-Believe: Essays on the Philosophy of Kendall L. Walton forthcoming this June 2021 (Routledge).

Her current book project develops a new approach to perception that pays attention to aesthetics from the outset Perception, Understanding and Aesthetics.

For more information visit Prof. Sedivy’s personal website.


Sedivy, S. (2018). Aesthetic Properties, History and Perception. British Journal of Aesthetics, 58, 345–362. https://doi.org/10.1093/aesthj/ayy039 Cite
Sedivy, S. (2016). Beauty and the End of Art: Wittgenstein, Plurality and Perception (1 edition). Bloomsbury Academic. Cite
Sedivy, S. (2014). Art from a Wittgensteinian Perspective: Constitutive Norms in Context. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 72(1), 67–82. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/jaac.12043 Cite


Wittgenstein’s work does not tend to be discussed as historicist. When we consider how his work reorients us towards our life activities and uses of language in their contexts, we don’t tend to note that the contexts are historical. This is understandable because the issues derive from philosophical work on language or mind or knowledge and so we think about Wittgenstein’s work against the backdrop of those areas in philosophy.

Though the notions of history or of historicism don’t tend to come up when we think about Wittgenstein’s later work, this is what I will do in this paper. I will discuss some of the ways that Wittgenstein’s work directs us to the changing historical contexts of our language uses and I will show how this fits with some of his cautions against definitions and theories.

To be specific, I am going to take art as my example. I will propose that Wittgenstein’s later work suggests that we need to understand historically specific arts in their contexts and how this gives us just the outlook we need to understand art and art practices in their diversity.

In addition, I think that the way of understanding art we get from Wittgenstein can be extended to some other practices that vary across cultures. The Wittgensteinian picture I reconstruct is important because it pays attention to specific historical differences and explains why we need to do look at practices and artifacts or artworks in their contexts rather than by abstracting away to more encompassing explanations or definitions. This is just the approach we need today as we aim to understand the diversity of cultural practices without subsuming them to the features of Western practices or to paradigmatic Western practices (if there are such).


See more BWS Lecture Series videos