Wittgenstein discusses “the state of mind in which one is inclined to say, ‘I am safe, nothing can injure me whatever happens’” in his “Lecture on Ethics.” He goes on to characterize this as “the experience of absolute safety,” and to associate it with being “safe in the hands of God.”
Wittgenstein then makes the point that the concept of absolute safety is nonsensical. One is safe relative to certain events or certain classes of events, depending on the circumstances. If you’re in your room, for example, you’re safe from being hit by a bus. But there is no possible world in which you are safe from everything.
The concept of absolute safety indicates the concept of absolute value, or actions that have value regardless of anyone’s desires or goals, and this is the mystery. We believe there are actions that are good or bad in themselves, not just relative to some condition. They seem oriented towards another world, one that constitutes a standard against which we should measure this one.
We’d like to put what is meant by absolute value into words, but words only represent what is, not what ought to be. When we try to express what ought to be, therefore, we end up reducing it to a mere state of affairs to which, if we like, we may then attach the label “good” or “bad.” That I regard acts of kindness as intrinsically good is a fact about me and my beliefs, not about what ought to be.
Puzzles like this indicate “the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion,” which is “to run against the boundaries of language.” To talk about absolute value is to talk about something that can’t be represented as if it were representable. But, Wittgenstein adds, the fact that ethical and religious talk is nonsense shouldn’t lead us to ridicule those who engage in it. On the contrary, one should try to talk ethics and religion even though the result will be nonsense.
Thomas Cole, Childhood, from The Voyage of Life, 1842.