Ladies and Gentlemen,
          Before I begin to speak about my subject proper let me make a
few introductory remarks. I feel I shall have great difficulties in
communicating my thoughts to you and I think some of them may be
diminished by mentioning them to you beforehand. The first one, which
almost I need not mention, is, that English is not my native tongue and
my expression therefore often lacks that precision and subtilty which
would be desirable if one talks about a difficult subject. All I can do
is to ask you to make my task easier by trying to get at my meaning
inspite of the faults which I will constantly be committing against the
English grammar. The second difficulty I will mention is this, that
probably many of you come up to this lecture of mine with slightly wrong
expectations. And to set you right in this point I will say a few
words about the reason for choosing the subject I have chosen: When
your former secretary honoured me by asking me to read a paper to your
society, my first thought was that I would certainly do it and my second
thought was that if I was to have the opportunity to speak to you I
should speak about something which I am keen on communicating to you and
that I should not misuse this opportunity to give you a lecture about,
say, logic. I call this a misuse for to explain a scientific matter to
you it would need a course of lectures and not an hour's paper. An
other alternative would have been to give you what's called a popular-scientific lecture, that is a lecture intended to make you believe that
you understand a thing which actually you don't understand, and to
gratify what I believe to be one of the lowest desires of modern people,
namely the superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science.
I rejected these alternatives and decided to talk to you about a subject
which seems to me to be of general importance, hoping that it may help
to clear up your thoughts about this subject (even if you should

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entirely disagree with what I will say about it). My third and last
difficulty is one which, in fact, adheres to most lengthy philosophical
lectures and it is this, that the hearer is incapable of seeing both
the road he is led and the goal which it leads to. That is to say: he
either thinks: “I understand all he says, but what on earth is he driving
at” or else he thinks “I see what he's driving at, but how on earth is
he going to get there”. All I can do is again to ask you to be patient
and to hope that in the end you may see both the way and where it leads
to. ---

     

        I will now begin. My subject, as you know, is Ethics and I will
adopt the explanation of that term which Prof. Moore has given in his
book “Principia Ethica”. He says: “Ethics is the general enquiry into
what is good”. Now I am going to use the term Ethics in a slightly
wider sense, in a sense in fact which includes what I believe to be the
most essential part of what is generally called Aesthetics. And to make
you see as clearly as possible what I take to be the subject matter of
Ethics I will put before you a number of more or less synonymous expres-
sions each of which could be substituted for the above definition, and
by enumerating them I want to produce the same sort of effect which
Gallstone produced when he took a number of photos of different faces
on the same photographic plate in order to get the picture of the
typical features they all had in common. And as by showing to you such a
collective photo I could make you see what is the typical — say —
chinese face; so if you look through the row of synonyms which I will put
before you, you will, I hope, be able to see the characteristic
features they all have in common and these are the characteristic
features of Ethics. Now instead of saying “Etthics is the enquiry into
what is good” I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into what is valu-
able, or, into what is really important, or I could have said Ethics is

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the enquiry into the meaning of life, or into what makes life worth living,
or into the right way of living. I believe if you look at all these phrases
you will get a rough idea as to what it is that Ethics is concerned with.
Now the first thing that strikes one about all these expressions is that
each of them is actually used in two very different senses. I will call
them the trivial or relative sense on the one hand and the ethical or
absolute sense on the other. If for instance I say that this is a good
chair this means that the chair serves a certain predetermined purpose and
the word good here has only meaning so far as this purpose has been pre-
viously fixed upon. In fact the word good in the relative sense simply
means coming up to a certain predetermined standard. Thus when we say that
this man is a good pianist we mean that he can play pieces of a certain
degree of difficulty with a certain degree of dexterity. And similarly if
I say that it is important for me not to catch cold I mean that catching
a cold produces certain describable disturbances in my life and if I say
that this is the right road that it I mean that it's the right road rela-
tive to a certain goal. Used in this way these expressions don't present
any difficult or deep problems. But this is not how Ethics uses them.
Supposing that I could play tennis and one of you saw me playing and said
“well you play pretty badly” and suppose I answered “I know, I'm playing
badly but I don't want to play any better”, all the other man could say
would be “Ah then that's all right”. But suppose I had told one of you a
preposterous lie and he came up to me and said “You're behaving like a
beast” and then I were to say “I know I behave badly, but then I don't
want to behave any better”, could he then say “Ah, then that's all right”?
Certainly not; he would say “Well, you ought to want to behave better”.
Here you have an absolute judgment of value, whereas the first instance
was one of a relative judgment. The essence of this difference seems to
be obviously this: Every judgment of relative value is a mere statement of

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facts and can therefore be put in such a form that it loses all the
appearance of a judgment of value: Instead of saying “this is the right way
to Granchester I could equally well have said “this is the right way you
have to go if you want to get to Granchester in the shortest time”, this
man is a good runner simply means that he runs a certain number of miles in
a certain number of minutes, a.s.f. Now what I wish to contend is, that
although all judgments of relative value can be shown to be mere statements
of facts, no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgment of
absolute value. Let me explain this: Suppose one of you were an omniscient
person and therefore knew all the movements of all the bodies in the world
dead or alive and that he also knew all the states of mind of all human
beings that ever lived, and suppose this man wrote all he knew in a big
book, then this book would contain the whole description of the world; and
what I want to say is, that this book would contain nothing that we would
call an ethical judgment or anything that would logically imply such a
judgment. It would of course contain all relative judgments of value and
all true scientific propositions and in fact all true propositions that can
be made. But all the facts described would, as it were, stand on the same
level and in the same way all propositions stand on the same level. There
are no propositions which, in any absolute sense, are sublime, important,
or trivial. Now perhaps some of you will agree to that and be reminded of
Hamlet's words: Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.
But this again could lead to a misunderstanding. What Hamlet says seems to
imply that good and bad, though not qualities of the world outside us, are
attributes of our states of mind. But what I mean is that a state of mind,
so far as we mean by that a fact which we can describe, is in no ethical
sense good or bad. If for instance in our world-book we read the descrip-
tion of a murder with all its details physical and psychological the mere
description of these facts will contain nothing which we could call an

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ethical proposition. The murder will be on exactly the same level as any
other event, for instance the falling of a stone. Certainly the reading of
this description might cause us pain or rage or any other emotion, or we
might read about the pain or rage caused by this murder in other people
when they heard of it, but there will simply be facts, facts and facts but
no Ethics. — And now I must say that if I contemplate what Ethics really
would have to be if there were such a science, this result seems to me
quite obvious. It seems to me obvious that nothing we could ever think or
say should be thech thing. That we cannot write a scientific book, the sub-
ject matter of which could be intrinsically sublime and above all other
subject matters. I can only describe my feeling by the metaphor, that, if
a man could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this
book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world. —
Our words used as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of con-
taining and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense.

     
Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural and our words will only express
facts; as a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water and if I were to
put pour out a gallon over it. --- I said that so far as facts and propositions
are concerned there is only relative value and relative good, right etc.
And let me, before I go on, illustrate this by a rather obvious example.
The right road is the road which leads to an arbitrarily predetermined end
and it is quite clear to us all that there is no sense in talking about the
right road apart from such a predetermined goal. Now let us see what we
could possibly mean by the expression “the absolutely right road”. I think
it would be the road which everybody on seeing it would, with logical
necessity
have to go, or be ashamed for not going. And similarly the
absolute good, if it is a describable state of affairs would be one which
everybody, independent of his tastes and inclinations, would necessarily
bring about or feel guilty for not bringing about. And I want to say that
such a state of affairs is a chimera. No state of affairs has in itself,

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what I would like to call, the coercive power of an absolute judge. —
Then what have all of us who, like myself, are still tempted to use such
expressions as “absolute good”, “absolute value” etc, what have we in mind
and what do we try to express? Now whenever I try to make this clear to
myself it is natural that I should recall cases in which I would certainly
use these expressions and I am then in the situation and in which you would
be if, for instance, I were to give you a lecture on the psychology of
pleasure. What you would do then would be to try and recall some typical
situation in which you always felt pleasure. For, bearing this situation in
mind, all I should say to you would become concrete and, as it were,
controlable. One man would perhaps choose as his stock example the sensa-
tion when taking a walk on a fine summer's day. Now in this situation I am
if I want to fix my mind on what I mean by absolute or ethical value.
And there, in my case, it always happens that the idea of one particular
experience presents itself to me which therefore is, in a sense, my ex-
perience for excellence and this is the reason why, in talking to you now,
I will use this experience as my first and foremost example. (As I have
said before, this is an entirely personal matter and others would find
other examples more striking) I will describe this experience in order, if
possible, to make you recall the same or similar experiences, so that we
may have a common ground for our investigation. I believe the best way of
describing it is to say that when I have it I wonder at the existence of
the world.
And I am then inclined to use such phrases as “how extraordi-
nary that anything should exist” or “how extraordinary that the world
should exist”. I will mention another experience straight away which I also
know and which others of you might be acquainted with: it is, what one
might call, the experience of feeling absolutely safe. I mean the state of
mind in which one is inclined to say “I am safe, nothing can injure me
whatever happens”. Now let me consider these experiences, for, I believe,
they exhibit the very characteristics we try to get clear about. And there

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the first thing I have to say is, that the verbal expression which we give
to these experiences is nonsense! If I say “I wonder at the existence of
the world<> I am misusing language. Let me explain this: It has a perfectly
good and clear sense to say that I wonder at something being the case, we
all understand what it means to say that I wonder at the size of a dog which
is bigger than anyone I have ever seen before or at any thing which, in the
common sense of the word, is extraordinary. In every such case I wonder at
something being the case which I could conceive not to be the case. I wonder
at the size of this dog because I could conceive of a dog of another, namely
the ordinary size, at which I should not wonder. To say “I wonder at such and
such being the case has only sense if I can imagine it not to be the case.
In this sense one can wonder at the existence of, say, a house when one sees
it and has not visited it for a long time and has imagined that it had been
pulled down in the meantime. But it is nonsense to say that I wonder at the
existence of the world, because I cannot imagine it not existing. I could of
course wonder at the world round me being as it is. If for instance I had this
experience while looking into the blue sky, I could wonder at the sky being
blue as opposed to the case when it's clouded. But that's not what I mean.
I am wondering at the sky being whatever it is. One might be tempted to say
that what I am wondering at is a t<…>autology, namely at the sky being blue or
not blue. But then it's just nonsense to say that one is wondering at a
tontology. Now the same applies to the other experience which I have men-
tioned, the experience of absolute safety. We all know what it means in ordi-
nary life to be safe. I am safe in my room, when I cannot be run over by an
omnibus. I am safe when I if I have had whooping cough and cannot therefore
get it again. To be ˇsafe essentially means that it is physically impossible that
certain things should happen to me and therefore it's nonsense to say that
I am safe whatever happens. Again this is a misuse of the word “safe” as the
other example was a misuse of the word “existence” or “wondering”. Now I want
to impress on you that a certain characteristic misuse of our language runs

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through all ethical and religious expressions. All these expressions seem,
prima facie, to be just similes. Thus it seems that when we are using the
word right in an ethical sense, although, what we mean, is not right in its
trivial sense, it's something similar, and when we say “this is a good
fellow”, although the word good here doesn't mean what it means in the sen-
tence “this is a good football player” there seems to be some similarity.
And when we say “this man's life was valuable” we don't mean it in the same
sense in which we would speak of some valuable jewelry but there seems to
be some sort of analogy. Now all religious terms seem in this sense to be
used as similes or allegorically. For when we speak of God and that he sees
everything and when we kneel and pray to him all our terms and actions
seem to be parts of a great and elaborate allegory which represents him as
a human being of great power whose grace we try to win etc. etc. But this
allegory also describes the experience which I have just referred to. For,
the first of them is, I believe, exactly what people were referring to when
they said that God had created the world; and the experience of absolute
safety has been described by saying that we feel safe in the hands of God.
A third experience of the same kind is that of feeling guilty and again
this was described by the phrase that God disapproves of our conduct. Thus
in ethical and religious language we seem constantly to be using similes.
But a simile must be the simile for something. And if I can describe a fact
by means of a simile I must also be able to drop the simile and to
describe the facts without it. Now in our case as soon as we try to drop
the simile and simply to state the facts which stand behind it, we find,
that there are no such facts. And so, what at first appeared to be a
simile, now seems to be mere nonsense. —

     
Now the three experiences which
I have mentioned to you (and I could have added others) seem to those who
have experienced them, for instance to me, to have in some sense an
intrinsic, absolute value. But when I say they are experiences, surely,
they are facts; they have taken place then and there, lasted a certain

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definite time and consequently are describable. And so from what I have
said some minutes ago I must admit it is nonsense to say that they have
absolute value. And I will make my point still more acute by saying “it is
the paradox that an experience, a fact, should seem to have supernatural
value. Now there is a way in which I would be tempted to meet this paradox.
Let me first consider, again, our first experience of wondering at the
existence of the world and let me describe it in a slightly different way[;|:]
We all know what in ordinary life would be called a miracle. It obviously
is simply an event the like of which we never have seen yet3 never2 have1 seen.
Now suppose such an event happened. Take the case that one of you suddenly
grew a lions head and began to roar. Certainly that would be as extraordi-
nary a thing as I can imagine. Now whenever we should have recovered from
our surprise, what I would suggest would be to fetch a doctor and have the
case scientifically investigated and if it were not for hurting him I would
have him vivisected. And where would the miracle have got to? For it is
clear that when we look at it in this way everything miraculous has dis-
appeared; unless what we mean by this term is merely that a fact has not
yet been explained by science which again means that we have hitherto
failed to group this fact with others in a scientific system. This shows
that it is absurd to say “science has proved that there are no miracles”.
The truth is that the scientific way of looking at a fact is not the way
to look at it as a miracle. For imagine whatever fact you may, it is not in
itself miraculous in the absolute sense of that term. For we see now that
we have been using the word “miracle” in a relative and an absolute sense.
And I will now describe the experience of wondering at the existence of the
world by saying: it is the experience of seeing the world as a miracle.
Now I am tempted to say that the right expression in language for the
miracle of the existence of the world, though it is not any proposition in
language, is the existence of language itself. But what then does it mean

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to be aware of this miracle at some times and not at other times[.|?] For all
I have said by shifting the expression of the miraculous from an expression
by means of language to the expression by the existence of language, all I
have said is again that we cannot express what we want to express and that
all we say about the absolute miraculous remains nonsense. — Now the answer
to all this will seem perfectly clear to many of you. You will say: Well,
if certain experiences constantly tempt us to attribute a quality to them
which we call absolute or ethical value and importance, this simply shows
that by these words we don't mean nonsense, that after all what we mean by
saying that an experience has absolute value is just a fact like other
facts
and that all it comes to is that we have not yet succeeded in finding
the correct logical analysis of what we mean by our ethical and religious
expressions. — Now when this is urged against me I at once see clearly,
as it were in a flash of light, not only that no description that I can
think of would do to describe what I mean by absolute value, but that I
would reject every significant description that anybody could possibly
suggest, ab initio, on the ground of its significance. That is to say: I see
now that these nonsensical expressions were not nonsensical because I had
not yet found the correct expressions, but that their nonsensicality was
their very essence. For all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond
the world and that is to say beyond significant language. My whole tendency
and I believe the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk
Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language. This
running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless. —
Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the
ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be
no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it
is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help
respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it.