Sub Specie Aeternitatis, by Laura Gioeni

In answering the main question “what is/ought to be a good architect?”, I’d like to discuss the Wittgenstein’s thesis by which “the work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis; and the good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis. This is the connexion between art and ethics”. (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Notebooks, 7.10.16).

The analysis will be led along two directions: in the domain of ethics and in the aesthetic one.

First I’ll try to clarify the meaning of the Wittgenstein’s statement with reference to Spinoza’s Ethics, via the interpretation of the contemporary Italian philosopher Carlo Sini.

Is Wittgenstein sharing, in these notes, the Spinoza’s abyssal thought? Wittgenstein’s idea of eternity seems very close to Spinoza’s definition: as essence of the substance, eternity is unexplainable by means of the concepts of duration or time. Eternity is rather the logical space of the necessity that gives itself in the figure of contingency of the event: so every action, as every project and art decision, is undecidable, always kept in the original oscillating and mirroring margin between the freedom of possible and the chains of necessity.

Furthermore, the Spinoza’s overcoming of the alterity between body and mind, implies and strengthens the relationship between Ethics and Aesthetics.

So in second place, I propose to investigate the aesthetic domain through the Merleau Ponty’s approach, whose perspective goes back to the root of aesthetics as phenomenology of perception (aisthesis), with the aim of finding the connection among art, body and behaviour. According Merleau Ponty the things of the world, including the works of art (and architecture), aren’t simply neutral objects standing in front of us to our contemplation: each of them have, on the contrary, an emotional significance and symbolizes and recalls a behaviour of our body. We don’t have a relationship of contemplative distance to the things: each speaks to our body and to our life”.

Hence, in this horizon, we must consider the architectural practice as inscribed in a double gesture: the design action that traces, cuts, incises, decides and our experience of architecture as rebound of our gesture. A double gesture that establishes a double threshold involving a double ethical dimension.

So, going back to the initial question, I think that, if we want to answer in a meaningful and philosophical way, first we need to answer the question “which can be the contribution of philosophy to the architect task?”. I think its contribution coincides with the very aim of the philosophical practice itself: it’s an ethical deep task, it’s the exemplarity of the exercise of inhabiting the limit and the threshold of the project, as place of the “mutuomorphomutation” (Joyce) of necessity and freedom, of history and life.

In each instant stays the eternity, in each event the free game of necessity that gives itself in a figure of the contingency, in every project the emergence of a destiny in a body.

A good architect is an architect sub specie aeternitatis

Laura Gioeni,  Politecnico di Milano, IT

Harvard Citation Guide: Gioeni, L. (2012) Sub Specie Aeternitatis, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

2 thoughts on “Sub Specie Aeternitatis, by Laura Gioeni

  1. Typographical cuts (or censure 😉 ) make incomprehensible the sense of the end of penultimate paragraph that was “in every project the emergence of a destiny in a ‘body to body’ with the world”. By this expression I aimed to preserve, in the Merleau-Ponty perspective, the meaning of an incarnate and emotional relationship between man and world. Thank you!

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