Is it Possible to Doubt Everything?
Topics on this page ...
- "Question Everything" (Descartes)
- Misdirected Questions about the Logic of Language
- Why is there anything at all rather than nothing at all?
- The Capriciousness of Nature
- Do you think there must be a reason why?
- When we think about God we think about "our" God, the familiar concept, not foreign ones
- The "Word of God" is always within a frame of reference
- Contrasting views of Augustine: Schweitzer and Wittgenstein (Early Draft)
- Enlightenment versus Medieval
- Where we ought to say "This game is played"
- What do we mean by 'understand'?
- Can Philosophy be Taught?
- Character and Philosophical Integrity
- Seeking Authority in Philosophy
Context: these are early logic of language studies, many of which need further revision and others of which should simply be discarded -- because they wrong (But a few are right).
Words that follow "Query:" are searches that led (or misled) visitors to find this site, and to which I have responded below.
"Question Everything" (Descartes)
[Note: there is a later and much longer discussion of this topic, with notes about Socrates, Descartes, Augustine, the Apostle Paul, and Voltaire here: Why question everything?]
The night cometh when no man can work.
For a time Samuel Johnson used a dial-plate for his watch with this quotation in Greek. But he set this dial-plate aside, feeling that his watch was too public and therefore pretentious a place for it. (Boswell, The Life of Dr. Johnson, 1768.Ætat.59) The quotation is from the Gospels [John 9.4]: "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." (King James Version).
Query: question everything; Descartes.
I do not know whether this query was sent to the correct page or not: it was sent to a story Solzhenitsyn told: "You're a mathematician. What did Descartes say: Question everything." But what did that mean -- everything?
"Question everything." Descartes' project in philosophy was to find something that he could not doubt, and to use that as the foundation on which to build his own system with the same a priori certainty as, if I recall correctly, the certainty which he believed was possible in mathematics. However, maybe the story from Solzhenitsyn is a bit more in the spirit of Socrates than of Descartes. Because the point of that story is to question all systems. With no exceptions. And Descartes did not question the applicability of the deductive method of mathematics to philosophy and physics.
Query: question everything; Socrates.
But note that Socrates' questioning was in Ethics; he did not ask questions like "How do I know that I am now in Athens and not rather on the moon, or How I do I know that I am now awake rather than asleep?" The question "Is it possible to doubt everything?" was not Socrates' question.
Skepticism is not irrefutable, but palpably senseless if it would doubt where a question cannot be asked. For doubt can only exist where there is a question, and a question only where there is an answer ... (TLP 6.51, tr. Ogden)
And neither a question nor an answer is possible if it cannot be "said" -- i.e. put into words that are not nonsense. But that assertion rests on the TLP's eccentric definition of the words 'sense' and 'senseless' ['nonsense'], and by 'what can be said' it means only: the propositions of natural science. Nonetheless, an assertion of doubt where there are no grounds for doubt, if not meaningless (see next paragraph) is irrational, and if philosophy is rational ... But the raw material of philosophy need not be rational.
We can distinguish -- but remember always, "there are many ways to cut a pie" not just one -- between objective and subjective doubt. By 'objective doubt' we can mean doubt where there are grounds for doubt and criteria for the resolution [or, removal] of the doubt -- resulting in a true or a false proposition. But by 'subjective doubt' we may mean doubt where there are no grounds for doubt, but where there is discomfort, wariness or unease about accepting that a given proposition is true (or, alternately, false) despite there being no reason not to accept it. But then we might also want to say that there is a third category, namely, "philosophical doubt", which consists of drawing a picture, so to speak, e.g. imagining a deity [god] who sees what we cannot see and therefore sees that we are deluded about the truth of this, that or the other proposition.
["If everything speaks for it, nothing against it ..." (OC § 191) -- But isn't that what we call 'certainty' [what everyone means by the word 'certainty']; isn't that what we call 'the absence of grounds for doubt' [cf. TLP [6.51]: "if it would doubt ..."]? Yes, but that was not Wittgenstein-Moore's question: "If everything speaks for .... do I know it?" I.e. is that what we call 'knowledge'? And no it's not: we don't call the absence of grounds for doubt 'knowledge'; knowledge is positive: it requires sufficient grounds, not merely the absence of grounds for doubt (-- I mean the concept 'knowledge' of course).]
Query: Descartes said a thing is not necessarily true because it is not controversial.
I.e. just because no one doubts it ... No, a proposition is not necessarily true just because no one doubts it, but is that the end of the matter? Why does no one doubt it? has to be asked. Is it because no one thinks to doubt it ["Community of Ideas"] or indeed does not even see a way to doubt it, or because there is no reason [identifiable grounds] to doubt it, and so on. But yes, consensus ["lack of controversy"] is irrelevant to logical necessity (as it also irrelevant to philosophical truth and falsity, although Aristotle had a different view about the place of consensus in philosophy).
Query: is it possible to doubt everything?
I.e. was Descartes wrong -- and if so in what way? Is it indeed impossible to doubt that "If I think, then I exist"? And are there other things that cannot be doubted, if that cannot be doubted, besides that?
"We must work while there is still light." And "questioning everything" is the work that we must do, according to Socrates. It is the path to "knowing oneself".
The difficulty is to put the questions deep enough, to go right down to the foundations of things (Culture and Value p. 62), to question everything, taking nothing for granted, if that be possible. That is in any case what philosophers want to do.
Query: why should you question everything?
Better: "Question everything!" -- "Why?" -- "Exactly." And the philosophical form of that query is instead: "Should you question everything?"
Absolute Skepticism as a "Picture"
Is it possible to "take nothing for granted?" -- For example, not to be unaware of the tools we are using in our questioning, e.g. logic-of-language's tool of making a distinction between sense and nonsense?
An investigation that tried to investigate everything at the same time would not be what we call an 'investigation' [Is it possible to doubt everything?]. We have a picture of Diogenes the Cynic: "I see that the sun is now casting daylight; nonetheless, my eyes may be deceiving me about this, and therefore I will light a candle, although the light this casts may be an illusion as well. I may be dreaming, hallucinating, drunk, or ill. There are so many possible illusions and delusions that it is impossible not to doubt everything." However, as Diogenes says that is he also doubting the meaning of the language in which he says it, e.g. the application of the names of common objects? Appreciating this objection, there was an absolute skeptic who chose to be silent and henceforth only silently wiggled his finger to indicate that he heard but would not reply. I cannot remember his name; maybe it was Cratylus [cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.1010a]. But how could anyone have come to know the reason for his silence?
ETYMOLOGY: 2. ... Greek etymology ... was involved in sophistic and philosophical speculation on the origin of everything, including, inevitably, language.... Cratylus, pupil of Heraclitus, said that knowledge of Nature's names was required for real speech; without that, utterance was mere noise. Indeed, in his old age, despairing of ascertaining Nature's names, he gave up utterance and used only gestures. (Oxford Classical Dictionary 2nd ed. (1970))
But what are "things" if all things are in flux? If everything is constantly changing and nothing is at rest -- then what are these things that bear "Nature's names"? Plato's response to Heraclitus was to invent the notion of unchanging but imperceptible Forms as the reality behind the changing appearances; these Forms are what bear "Nature's names".
According to what I have called "Wittgenstein's logic of language", a gesture belongs just as much to language or convention as any spoken sound or ink-mark on paper does; and therefore Cratylus should have simply remained impassive, because a gesture would have meant: "I hear you your words, but your words may be mere noise". -- But if all language really is nonsense [undefined noises], then Cratylus's gesture is also nonsense, and if so, then why make it? unless one imagines that it is not nonsense [meaningless].
"The picture is there, but what is its meaning?" (Philosophical Investigations §§ 422, 424) Is it useful to philosophy to call a doubt that we refuse to set or accept criteria for the removal of a 'doubt'? Just as objective certainty requires grounds, objective doubt also requires grounds. If we tried to apply the expression 'We can never know' to all cases, would we be saying anything at all? Would that not be like supposing that it is not nonsense to say 'I am here' in any and all circumstances?
"Is it useful, you ask? But surely that is merely a practical, not a philosophical, consideration." The question is: what if anything would be the meaning of the absolute skeptic's language? Our language gets its meaning from the use the community we belong to makes of it as it lives its ways of life; when that language is removed from that way of life, it loses its meaning [or, at least, that was the meaning of 'meaning' that Wittgenstein selected, out of the many meanings of 'meaning' available to the philosopher, for his logic of language].
Is my understanding only blindness to my lack of understanding? It often seems so to me. (On Certainty § 418)
That type of disquietude is certainly one of the things that makes a man into a philosopher. (cf. Zettel § 455)
The picture of the Greek absolute skeptics is not pointless, but its point -- i.e. the meaning of this picture -- is not obvious.
Questions without Answers as a "Form of Life"
Would it not be that asking questions about "the riddles of existence" simply belongs to our the human "form of life"? But, according to Wittgenstein, those "questions" are like the various life-guiding "pictures" found in religion (e.g. life after death, the Last Judgment, good as what God commands and evil what He condemns). Such pictures do not state hypotheses; they are not questions that are answerable by an examination of evidence. And so, at least in that respect, questions without answers resemble them. But just try to describe how "absolute skepticism" could be used as a life-guiding picture! Could anyone really live like the Diogenes who lighted his lamp in broad daylight, doubting everything all the time.
A dog is not puzzled by existence. Much less a cat. Such puzzlement simply does not belong to their forms of life -- i.e. such language applied to them is undefined in meaning: what would we mean if we said that a cat was contemplating the morality of killing for sport rather than hunger? or that a dog was pondering life's mysteries? If we could teach a dog to speak, could we teach it to talk about that? [We would not understand a lion if a lion could talk (PI II, xi, p. 223), but if a lion could use language would it then understand us?]
Is it possible to doubt everything? - The Limits of Investigation
... in every investigation there will always be that which is not itself investigated; in every experiment there will be data which are not the result of experiment; in every enquiry there will always be that which is not enquired into. (Drury, The Danger of Words (1973), p. 72)
Drury meant: which cannot be investigated because the word 'investigate' would be undefined. E.g. a statement such as 'I doubt that it is possible to remember anything' is nonsense, because it depends of memory and language to even be made (asserted). The limits of memory can -- i.e. this combination of words is defined -- be investigated; one may have one's doubts about the reliability of memory, and experience -- what else -- both confirms and refutes those doubts: but such an investigation depends on memory not being completely unreliable, just as that investigation depends on all language not being meaningless (The limits of sense and nonsense can be investigated, but not if all language is meaningless). Cratylus' position amounts to this: all language may be meaningless ... but that can neither be thought (said to oneself) nor communicated (to others) if all language is meaningless.
Query: what happens to thought when you doubt everything?
If to think is to use language, or, rather, where thinking is to use language, to doubt everything at the same time would be to make rational thinking and deed impossible: that would be what happens to thought.
Query: is it impossible to be skeptical about everything?
There are many levels; maybe -- although Drury argued against this -- one can doubt everything, just not all at the same time. But note, there is a doubt but with that doubt there is a method/technique to remove the doubt. Levels of skepticism. In philosophy: "I am talking about something deeper than that", a deeper skepticism, skepticism about all human knowledge, not a practical skepticism which has limits of sense and nonsense (grounds for doubt and for the removal of doubt) to answer to, but doubt of the ability of man to know anything that is not relative to the human way of knowing (Within the limits of man's nature, man knows many things -- but only within those limits; and so for a dog, a sparrow, a fish, as well). That type of skepticism cannot be resolved, because what there is nothing that we would call a 'resolution' here; it is a question without an answer.
Query: how do we know that things we cannot see both past and present actually exist or existed?
(1) One topic suggested by that query is a question Bertrand Russell asked: "How do you know that the world and all your memories of it did not spring into existence 5 minutes ago?" To give a meaning to that question seems to require the introduction of the picture of a god-like being who sees what man cannot see. (2) A different topic the query may suggest concerns ways of life, or more specifically the human way of life: "How do I know that the history I was taught at school is true or that places I have never been to exist?" The short answer that question is that I don't know. I believe. And the reasons, if there are any, why I believe what I believe vary from type of case to type of case. And where I say 'I' here we might as easily say 'we', although remember that human beings hold a wide variety of conflicting and, in the eyes of some, unwarranted beliefs. (Why do you use the Internet search engine you do? And why do you believe that?)
What do we mean by 'understand'?
Query: how people who are born deaf form their thoughts.
Question: how do we apply the word 'thoughts' to a deaf person? What do we call 'understanding a foreign form of life'? Do we imagine a people who do not use language to think? And if we are deaf ourselves, do we already know the answer to this question? Do we call one thing 'thoughts' for a hearing person, and something else 'thoughts' for a deaf person -- or do we apply that word the same way for all human beings? Does a born-deaf person have thoughts? How are we to answer that question? By examining the verbal testimony of people born deaf (or who became deaf at a very young age like Helen Keller)?
On the grammatical level, you can say we understand -- i.e. the word 'understand' is correctly applied here -- when we talk about 'a deaf person's thoughts', but then we talk about "deeper levels of understanding". One the one hand, it seems presumptuous to deny that anyone but a deaf person can understand what it is to be deaf -- if we mean "understanding on a deeper level"; but on the other hand, the question for logic is about our language's rules of grammar, which are public and the same for everyone. How do I know how people who aren't deaf form their thoughts? (What do I know about anyone else's soul? What I know is our agreement in the language we use [PI § 241].)
We are approaching this question from a logical point of view, not from a scientific one (if there is a scientific approach). -- That is the type of explanation-description that I would want; but someone else might want something very different. What a scientific theory would look like here, I don't know. And we require examples to clarify the meaning -- or to give the expression 'how people form their thoughts' a meaning.
What kind of investigation is the following? "When I am thinking about some question or other, I talk to myself, using the words of our everyday language of course. When deaf persons who have not learned to speak think about some question or other, do they picture the hand gestures of their sign-language to themselves?" That is a possibility. "But how do deaf people who are illiterate think about things?" What do we call 'thinking about things' in the case where language is not used to think? And now this is a grammatical investigation. Wittgenstein cites the case of Mr. Ballard, who is quoted by William James, that he had had thoughts about God before he had learned any language (ibid. §§ 342-349). Is that possible? What do we mean by 'possible' here? (Nothing I can think of.)
Query: physiological location of the mind.
Sent correctly to The Language of Mind. On the other hand, what harm does it really do if we reply: "the human nervous system"? Doesn't that depend on what consequences are going to be drawn from this identification: e.g. "brain dead" = "soulless"?
Here I remember what Drury, who had to deal with such cases, wrote about "the dependence of mind on body", all the reservations he had which he believed could never be resolved ("The mind and its place in nature"). [Maybe, after Kant, it should be: "Nature and its place in the mind". For a human being: percepts without concepts are blind: imagine the hell-on-earth life would be if you were suddenly robbed of all your concepts: it would mean no higher thought (no, nor even middling thoughts, only thoughts without words). "Nature" itself is a conception. It belongs to the human form of life. Dogs know nothing of "nature", although their lives are lived as a part of it, not as distinct from it, as are our own.]
We have all had the experience of death in life: namely, restful sleep. It would not be strange therefore to regard brain death as a state of permanent sleep -- if the correlations that can be made between sleep and brain death are convincing. But are not mistakes made in science? Yes, of course. After the government of Japan's surrender, the occupation forces distributed DDT to the Japanese people, telling them to pour it over their clothing and also over their bodies to kill lice (One Sunny Day, p. 76). Later scientists learned that DDT may be extremely harmful to human life (It was used in Italy against malarial mosquitos and resulted in many birth defects) -- but that does not mean that the scientists who advocated its use at the time were wrong to do that. They acted, I believe, on the best evidence available to them and with no intention of doing harm. And that is all that any of us can do. However, if we do not do this with the greatest modesty, always aware of the limits of knowing, we are reckless [arrogantly irresponsible].
From the point of view of the logic of language, the combination of words 'physiological location of the mind' is nonsense: the word 'mind' is not the name of an object and 'location' ["location-grammar"] is only applied to objects, and what would 'physiological' contrast with here? But that grammatical remark although correct does not fully respond to this query, which could be restated as: what correlations between physiological phenomena and mental phenomena have been made with respect to locations in the human body? (But if the query really was about "the mind", then it was sent to the correct page.)
Correlations. On the other hand, do you think there must be a correlation in every case between the mind and the brain? Do you imagine that someday scientists will be able to exhume Thomas Jefferson's brain, supposing it to be well-preserved, and say, "Ah, here is the Declaration of Independence; see the words "all men are created equal" ..."
But suppose that someday a machine were invented that could play back the contents of the brain the way a tape recorder can play back recorded speech. Then ... what is to be imagined? It needn't find the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident" but instead a formula which could be read with a protocol (algorithm): If x, get y, etc. until an entire collection of words was assembled. However, where would that collection of words get its meaning from? Would there be a dictionary housed in the human brain ... but such a dictionary would surely have to be very different from the dictionaries we are familiar with, for it would have to fully describe the use of each collection of words found in the brain. For what if the language spoken by the dead man were an unknown language, one for which there were no Rosetta Stone (We would hear the sound, but not know its meaning [the Stoics' lekton]). And so even if such a machine were invented, the question of what gives that collection of bare signs their meaning would remain. And a mechanical solution to answering that question has yet to be invented or perhaps SO far even imagined ("The limits of science -- concept-formation"; cf. the limits of Internet search engines). But even such a machine would not do, because even collections of words are not always used according to strict rules, and furthermore new thoughts occur to us: now where do those thoughts come from and where are they stored, supposing that they are stored, and how is their meaning to be determined? (It's a difficult picture to construct (try to imagine).)
Misdirected Questions about the Logic of Language
Query: it was modesty that invented the word 'philosopher' in Greece.
Query: why did Pythagoras reject 'wise man' and prefer the word 'lover of wisdom'?
A present, and maybe forever, search engines are meaning-blind. These queries should have been sent to Origins of the word 'Philosophy' which quotes Phaedrus 278d or to the map of Magna Graecia which quotes Pythagoras, but I believe that because the word 'modesty' does not appear in those pages, they were not. What a Web site about ideas needs: a search engine with the mind of a good reference librarian, where 'mind' = 'the ability to understand language'.
Query: the meaning of a word and its combinations.
But one cannot enumerate the indefinite; what would be the limit of possible meanings and combinations? Philosophy tries to invent new meanings and to revise old ones; this is continuous, never-ending.
Will there ever be a computer program that can handle ideas as a human being does, that can, so to speak, understand natural language? I don't know (Of course, if one ever is, the present search engines will be "cast into the outer darkness"). It is a difficult need. Because, again, if we use Wittgenstein's comparison of using language to playing a game, where what characterizes a game is it rules, what we find is that: "We often compare language to a game played according to strict rules" (PI § 81), and Wittgenstein's primitive language-games are examples of such games. But that is no more than a comparison (It is not a metaphysical theory about the "reality behind the appearances"), an analogy that can seldom be applied to our everyday language. Concepts simply don't have strict limits: their boundaries are easily extended or contracted (Nothing characterizes natural language more than this). Exceptions to that general statement are very rare (The concept 'simile' is one such exception).
And so an Internet site about ideas will very often find that queries are directed to the wrong pages of the site, because keyword-matching is not ideas-matching. (The site must also accept that it will be punished for search engine incompetence. That is the way of search engines: they have all the rights -- and you have all the responsibilities ... although you're never quite told just what those responsibilities are. Jury, judge, executioner, and you are just a bystander to a fate decided by a computer algorithm. And this applies both to the sites one visits -- and to oneself as a visitor.)
Far from regarding it as a commonplace phenomenon, that human beings are able to use natural language as well as we do (For we often use it to self-mystify ourselves) really ought to astonish us. But, well, "Shades of the prison house begin to close about the young boy", and the phenomenon of our native language has lost for us "the freshness and the glory of a dream".
Do you think that an algorithm can be written to understand irony (A human being understands the intention of this page and its title, www.roangelo.net/logwitt/geometric-point-gif-404.html, but to the search engine that page merely has a "non-informative title tag")? An algorithm is a bit more than a bit humorless: if a man could speak, it would not understand him (cf. If a lion could speak ...). How much of our use of language is this way: we obey a step-by-step protocol when we speak, just as when we play chess? What is the nature of language use in the humanities ... metaphor, allusion, creation.
The level of understanding of ideas: "gu gu gu". Maybe here you really can speak of the long childhood. Or maybe, but of course I don't know, it will be an eternal childhood. (There is nothing in the past eleven years of my site's referrer logs, however, to suggest that this is a question of a long rather than of an eternal childhood -- i.e. that the human mind is reducible to an algorithm.)
And then there is also this, that those who write search engine protocols do not know that a question such as "What is the size of a geometric point?" and "What are the three undefined terms?" are not questions belonging to geometry but instead to the philosophy of geometry.
Query: what is the Greek phrase that was used by ancient Pythagoreans as a way to emphasize that their argument was valid since it originated from Pythagoras himself?
Find a page with the words 'Greek', 'ancient', 'Pythagorean', 'argument', 'valid' -- and that is all that a search engine can do. The response to the query is found elsewhere: Ipse dixit. But that phrase, meaning "Himself said it", is Latin; the Greek for "He himself has said it", I don't know (although if I look in a dictionary for ipse dixit, I may find that the Greek original is: autos epha).
Query: Wittgenstein, about when we stop asking why, that is the answer.
The query does not concern "questions without answers", despite its being misdirected there, but (maybe) TLP 6.521: "The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem" (tr. Ogden), for, according to Wittgenstein at that time (although possibly not later), there is not even a question to ask (6.5, 6.52).
Query: philosophy of meaning of words.
For Wittgenstein's logic of language, the subject that studies "meaning of words" is logic -- but not logic in the search engine sense of 'logic'. (The word 'logic' is Wittgenstein's jargon or maybe his revision of that concept -- or maybe simply his selection of a particular sense of that word. -- I would say the last of the three, but given that there are quite different senses of the word 'logic' to select among, whichever is selected results in 'logic' as if it were a jargon-word, even if there is an historical justification for a particular selection.)
No philosophy, only grammar
Query: who said there is no philosophy; there is only grammar?
Well, did not himself say that: "In philosophy all that is not gas is grammar" (Fundamental Criticism of Wittgenstein)? However, to understand Wittgenstein's assertion to mean "There is no philosophy, but instead only grammar" requires understanding [the agility of an alert human mind], and [therefore] the query was misdirected.
So in philosophy all that is not gas is grammar. (Wittgenstein's Lectures, Cambridge, 1930-1932, ed. Desmond Lee (1980), p. 112)
You must always keep in mind -- because this is essential [a sine qua non for understanding W.] -- that 'grammar' is a jargon-word in Wittgenstein. (The word 'gas' = 'idle talk' ['vain' or 'boastful chatter'].) The later identification of logic with grammar is an evolution of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus assertion, with "grammar" replacing the original "logic is a mirror of reality" picture.
But the word 'gas' in Wittgenstein's remark is reminiscent of words from the TLP's Motto: "rumbling and roaring". But there is a difference, as shown by the remark Moore recorded: that nonsense is produced by trying to express by the use of language what can only belong to a language's grammar. This much, nonetheless, is constant [in the early and later W.]: metaphysics is nonsense -- because it tries to do what cannot be done, either because of "the nature of reality" (TLP) or because of the way our language works (the later [i.e. the post-Tractatus] Wittgenstein's "logic of language" in my jargon).
The limit of sense and nonsense is concept-formation -- but that does not answer the question of what sets the limits to concept-formation. In both the TLP and Philosophical Investigations the answer is of course "reality" -- but where and how exactly reality sets those limits is not easy to discover.
Socrates, Wittgenstein, Ethics
How does the notion of "rumbling and roaring" differ from Socrates' "with respect to wisdom he is truly worthless"? Wittgenstein was also fundamentally interested in ethics, but about ethics he believed that philosophy could say fundamentally nothing: because it [philosophy] certainly could not lay its [ethics'] foundations (PI § 124). Socrates believed that philosophy [reason] must try, whereas Wittgenstein from the very beginning rejected Socrates' way of looking at human life.
However, with respect to Wittgenstein: I wonder if anyone is not uttering nonsense if he says 'I prefer to live irrationally'. But on the other hand, isn't that what the "life of faith" is -- and don't people indeed live that way, "the unexamined life".
The State of Search: "sounds without sense"
We are in the condition of an anthropologist in the early stages of trying to understand the language of a new tribe: he recognizes individual sounds ("words"), but he does not yet know their meaning ("what the tribe does with those sounds"). He is compiling a dictionary without definitions (a syntax without semantics).
Query: rules in language; philosophy.
This query should be sent to Wittgenstein's use of the word 'grammar'. The search engine simply matches words; it does not identify 'grammar' with 'rules in language'.
There is a lot to learn about philosophy (in Wittgenstein's sense of the word 'philosophy', which characterizes that activity with the words 'confused' and 'unclear') from artless ["naive"] queries, that students are inclined to ask when they are not trying to be intelligent. For example:
Query: pictures of time dimension.
This is correctly sent to Philosophy of Time, although this query does seem to want to actually see [as an act of the five senses] time as a spatial dimension, as if we might take a photograph -- a 4-D photograph as it were, showing: height, length, depth, and time (in Cartesian display: x,y,z,t). That is, if this query does not intend 'pictures' in Wittgenstein's sense, it is quite revealing of the "philosophical, i.e. grammatical, confusions in which human beings are deeply mired [entangled]". We follow an grammatical analogy: "Height, width and depth can be shown in a photograph -- and therefore time can be as well, because we call all of them by the name 'dimension'."
Query: memory as a means of time travel.
Isn't the whole thing metaphorical -- i.e. is "using memory" any more so? What is the metaphor: "Travel in time as if traveling in space." -- Someone says: "But memory travel isn't really ..." As if anything were really time travel. There are many pictures of time travel -- Don't they all stand on the same level? "The same level" -- i.e. none are statements of fact; all are fantasy, pictures that float free of facts.
Query: ethics of time travel.
Does ethics govern fantasy [daydreaming]? Here we cannot even speak of a "thought experiment", because there is no connection to experience here.
Query: pictures concerning mind.
Here we see billowing clouds and other "representations" [If it cannot be presented, can it be represented? This is a question about logical possibility -- i.e. it asks for a definition (rule of grammar, grammatical explanation of meaning)] of "spirits". But what would be a not-misleading, not-mis-representing picture of how we use the word 'mind'? Or should we say that any picture of "the mind" misleads and misrepresents; -- i.e. that the word 'mind' is not the name of anything, and so that we should break with the notion of "pictures of the mind"?
[There are philosophical, as opposed to impressionistic, "pictures of the mind" in Concerning Mind and Body.]
... a drawing of the earth as a ball with the people at the antipodes upside down and ourselves rightside up. The drawing, [Wittgenstein] said, does not misrepresent; yet it tempts us to think that the inhabitants of the antipodes are beneath us, and that they really hang head downwards. (Norman Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: a Memoir, 2nd ed. (1984), p. 46)
Metaphysics, when it is not nonsense or jargon, consists of pictures that do misrepresent the way we use the words of our language. Anyone who philosophizes finds it difficult to break with the picture of Australia as "the land down under", of time as a river, and of "the mind" as churning brownish clouds. [How is it that there is a form of expression 'the mind'? Because the rules of syntax allow it, as they allow the construction of many other misleading forms of expression. (Correct syntax is not a guarantee of meaning; sense and nonsense is not a matter of form but of use.)] Here is another example:
Query: how come we don't get dizzy when the earth spins?
The picture of the earth spinning on its axis also "does not misrepresent, but it does mislead".
Query: language categories; Wittgenstein.
This should have gone to Parts of speech, that is, if 'categories' = 'parts of speech' in Wittgenstein's sense.
Query: philosophy, religion: compare.
In so many instances the search engine does more harm than good in the sense that: "There is something pertinent to your query at this site, but it is not on the page you have been sent to. And so both our efforts have been wasted." The query should have been directed to e.g. Religion and Reason according to Gilson, but the engine does not understand the query as 'comparison between philosophy and religion', nor of course does it understand any other idea: it looks for words or combinations of words [signs], but it knows nothing about the meaning of those words (although it can also direct you to a dictionary).
[The search engine is like the foreigner of whom the Greeks said: "the meaning is what the Greek hears, but the barbarian does not, when Greek is spoken."
[I did not appreciate just how poorly search engines work, when a search is made for ideas rather than for facts, until I had access to my site's server/visitor logs and was able to see the engines' misdirections. The engines are like sign posts that are very often not in order (PI § 87). I often want to exclaim that a child could give better directions, although that would not always be true. The introduction of the rel="nofollow" addition to the anchor tag was nothing if not a confession that the search engines have no understanding of language (They cannot in the least distinguish the apropos from the irrelevant).
[What amazes is not what the search engine, which is a beast wanting discourse of reason, returns as query results, but that human beings, who are not wanting discourse of reason, will accept even the most absurd of those results as possible responses to their queries.
["... the search engines have no understanding of language"; they have no understanding of ideas. -- Ought one to say "Of course they haven't!" -- but one is superstitious about what one does not fully understand, does not know the limits of. Suppose one said: all a machine [computer program] can do is to follow rules, a protocol, an "algorithm" [It doesn't do hocus pocus]. -- But isn't following rules what human beings do? Then maybe what is needed is a fuller set of rules? But natural language is seldom like chess or arithmetic: for the most part the concepts of natural language are fluid: our words do not have general [or, essential] definitions: we "play games" [That is a simile] of family resemblances [That is another] -- where noting new resemblances is often essential to the game: we extend the limits of our concepts (If we go "too far" we create jargon [-- but even in the case of Wittgenstein's concept 'grammar' there is still family resemblance to the acceptation of the word 'grammar', and indeed if there had not been, why would Wittgenstein have used the same word ("syntax" became "logical grammar": grammar and logic are the study of rules)? --]): we are not playing a game according to fixed rules, and the game we are playing much more resembles Wittgenstein's example of human faces, where family resemblances are subtle, rather than his example of games, where the resemblances are not subtle.
[Blaise Pascal distinguished between the "spirit of geometry" and the "spirit of finesse". A computer program has the former [It is completely at home with rules], but can it be "taught" the spirit of finesse -- given that we cannot teach that even to a human being who does not have it? "Social grace" at unstructured gatherings: someone with the spirit of geometry (but without finesse) asks: "What are the rules at this party?" -- Socialize, enjoy yourself. -- "How does one do that?" Can a system of rules [protocol] be written for the spirit of finesse? But is that spirit necessary for an understanding of natural language?
[What rules can be set to exclude nonsense? -- Because no sign (combination of words) is necessarily nonsense: we can invent a sense for any sign and make its sense explicit [as in jargon, or as in the Greek sense of "limiting"] -- but in poetry the sense is shown [suggested] by context. And the nuances of poetry are not without meaning, although philosophy is not concerned with what is personal about language [but only about, to be blunt, what is crudely public -- and after the fact [Philosophy is an autopsy] -- about it]. Can a set of rules be followed to correctly "parse" poetry -- i.e. to recognize where lines break even if a break occurs within an unpunctuated line? Is semantics entirely a matter of rules? Are rules alone enough to understand language? And now we need examples, because the possibility we are talking about here is logical possibility. But what is logically possible is whatever is describable. What one can say is that: if it has not been described, it is not logically possibly; what one cannot say is that: if it has not been described, it is not describable.
[One says: the human mind is flexible, not rigid, like a computer program; but that makes nothing clearer if we do not, or cannot [in which case we are talking nonsense], describe that flexibility. I wonder: is it possible to create an engine with the understanding of language of the reference librarians at the public library? Or is the only machine that can understand ideas the human body (ibid. § 359)?]
Query: who discovered that two objects cannot occupy?
... the same space at the same time? This was sent to a Philosophy of Science page, which is a correct response to "discovered" in this case. But I don't think that was what the query was about, namely Heisenberg's "uncertainty principle". But what was discovered? Here we can ask Kant's question: is the limitation in the nature of the world or in the nature of man? (You could add dye to the water and perhaps many other things too.)
Query: Wittgenstein's philosophy of pictures.
Now this is a very important, a central element in Wittgenstein's philosophy: the roles of pictures in our life and thought: the role of pictures in religion, and how pictures mislead us about the grammar of words, and about metaphysics as pictures. [Unfortunately I think this query refers to the Tractatus, to what some are pleased to called its "picture theory of meaning", and about which I have very little to say.]
Query: what's that when it's at home?
Query: a grammatical remark.
This query was misdirected [sent to the wrong page]. To counter that I made a link from that page to the Chapter Grammatical Remarks in the Synopsis of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language. (This is the most important reason to read server logs.)
[Is this what my Synopsis is: An Introduction to, or, Overview of Wittgenstein's Jargon, or, A Glossary of Wittgenstein's Jargon?]
Query: Wittgenstein, Russell: compare.
To recognize that there are two different conceptions of philosophy here [Philosophy as a collection of theories (Russell) as opposed to Philosophy as an activity of clarification (Wittgenstein)] is very important. But the word "compare" suggests to me that this query concerns the time of the Tractatus, when Russell was still thinking about logical form. It is an assignment from school. I could be wrong of course.
Query: what is meant when Socrates said that no evil can happen to a good man either in life or after death?
I have written my own thoughts about the Apology: "The only evil that can befall a good man is for he himself to do evil", and I have also recorded the thoughts of Eduard Zeller in his Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy (which are the same). But I do not think that anyone else should want them. I want to say: Think about this for yourself! What good does it do you to read someone else's ideas? Well, someone else may lead you to have thoughts of your own. But someone else may also stop you from having thoughts of your own. But if I say that what is important in philosophy is to think for yourself, doesn't this sound like a formula for remaining in ignorance? If you pass all your time among those who know no more than you do, you learn nothing; and of course no one knows more than himself.
Socrates: a good man fears nothing except himself doing evil (but if he is good he does not do evil, and therefore he has nothing to fear). To have evil done to oneself is a misfortune, but it is not a moral fault. The good man is the man who seeks always to do what is good, both in this world and in any other.
Why is there anything at all rather than nothing at all?
Note: this continues the discussion Questions without Answers.
The absurdity of existence -- both its that-ness and how-ness and of our being "thrust" or "hurled" into it at birth (Heidegger). -- Would Wittgenstein have said, "Nonsense, it's not absurd at all"? (Of course, that is the correct response: if everything is absurd, then nothing is -- i.e. the word 'absurd' would be meaningless if it could be simultaneously applied to anything and everything.) No, instead he said "What men mean when they say, The world is there, lies close to my heart" (LE/Notes p. 16). -- But is it enough -- from a grammatical point of view [grammar and sense and nonsense] -- to say that? If the meaning of this combination of words cannot be explained, then it has no meaning. And if it has no meaning, then why should Wittgenstein call it "close to his heart"?
Query: who said: "Why is there something rather than nothing?"
According to Gilson it was Leibniz and it was a Christian question, which presupposed the picture of creation out of nothing, which picture Leibniz replaced with his "pre-existent monads" out of which God fashioned "the best possible world", given the pre-existent possibilities. The Greeks thought of the world as eternal and necessary (otherwise it would not have been) ... or so I have read; however I think it would be strange if Leibniz really had been the first to ever pose this question.
Should I write then, in Questions without Answers: "... that leads us to ask Leibniz's question?" But I don't know if Leibniz saw this question in the way my page does. There may be many ways of understanding it, not just mine.
What is the significance of this fact -- and it is a fact -- that we are not inclined to take existence for granted, but instead question it? It may not have any more significance than any other delusory picture that we have has. There exists a creature with many confused conceptions [concepts]. -- And that is something else that may strike us as absurd, like anything else we are inclined to regard as dysfunctionality in the natural world.
The Capriciousness of Nature
Note: this continues the discussion Ethics versus Values.
See how the Fates their gifts allot,
For A is happy -- B is not.
Yet B is worthy, I dare say,
of more prosperity than A!
Wittgenstein's response was that "the truth is much graver than this fiction". (CV p. 71) But whether we think of the Fates or of physics, it strikes us that there is something not quite right about this world (like a man not quite right in his head): it just doesn't make sense to us. And that we, who are of course ourselves a product of nature, regard nature this way is remarkable. (Granted that, as the Mikado says, the human sense of justice is not perfect: "And I agree, if I am B"; nonetheless we do have what the natural world does not appear to have: a sense of appropriateness or balance, a sense of fairness.)
Schweitzer wrote that when after Socrates, the Stoics tried to discover in the world purposive activity, all they were able to discover was "activity pure and simple". (Civilization and Ethics, Part II of The Philosophy of Civilization (The Dale Memorial Lectures, Oxford University, 1922), tr. C. T. Campion, 2nd ed., Chapter 5 (A. & C. Black, 1929, p. 37) -- But what would the world have to look like in order for us to say that "the whole thing" had a purpose to which all the activity within it contributed [a purpose in relationship to which even activities that (looked at in isolation) appeared pointless could be shown to have a point]? Do we have a clear idea of that? If we look at the individual activities within a beehive, we can ask: what is the purpose of this or that? But is the word 'purpose' defined with respect to the beehive as such? If the world were a beehive, we would still be left with the question: why is there a beehive rather than nothing at all? But our world is not, as it were, a beehive: yes, there is purposive activity within the hive; but then a violent rainstorm destroys it all. (The peasant cultivates wheat, and a hailstorm destroys the crop.)
If a man looks at the sky and asks, "Why -- why did this happen?" he will get no answer. "We try to discern meaning ..." Perhaps you could say: we try to remake the world in our own image. Nature creates and destroys, not in the least the way a human being does, unless we imagine a self-destructive adolescent ... What we want to do is to imagine a picture, a mythology, that will put the world to rights for us. But this eludes us.
Do you think there must be a reason why?
"The cussedness of things .... The truth is graver than this fiction." (CV p. 71; Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology i § 139) That is, the "graver view" is that what happens to us is not a manifestation, or, the result, of malignance or capriciousness; it is not the act of an ill-willed god; it is not the product of design, intention, purpose. Why did this happen (e.g. a fall down the stairs)? If one is not asking about physics, then the answer is: not for any reason.
Frederick Copleston rejected the view that one might simply say that things were "de trop" (The world is "just there", things "just happen"). -- What Copleston could do here was to draw attention to forms of life, to those who do and those who do not continue the game (as in "language-game") here. If someone says "no reason", another "God", here there is a profound difference in "forms of life". (-- To what extent is this for the individual a matter of choice? because to that extent it is not a matter of forms of life.)
What Copleston could not do was to justify or condemn continuing or not continuing.
And the truth? The question is: what do we want to do with the word 'truth' here? Wittgenstein says, "The truth is graver than this fiction." But is his way of dividing into fact and fiction anything more than a point of view [a picture, of which there are many]? Is it not arbitrary?
When we think about God we think about "our" God, the familiar concept, not foreign ones
We are always pre-occupied with the god of our own religion (or of the religion of our youth), never about the gods of other religions. What Christian ever has troubling thoughts about the Hindu Gods? Why do we never ask ourselves about the Existence of God in the context of religions other than our own? or about Providence? We no more do this than we ask these questions about the Greek gods, whom we simply dismiss as mythology. And of course Hindus do not take the Christian God seriously either.
Someone raised as a Christian does not agonize over the existence of Vishnu (or Iswara, whom, I think, Aristotle's God resembles). If he says "Help, Thou, my unbelief" [Mk. 9.24], he does not have Vishnu in mind.
If you are brought up as a child to believe in elves (Z § 413) not as a fairy tale [or mythology] but as real, then you are going to have life-long questions about elves. [The impossibility (by definition, Z § 259) of verification plays a role in this, but more so the concept's service as an explanation (as answer to a question which, ironically, it itself makes the asking of possible).]
[Also, we tend to see other religions on the model of our own religion [the religion we have been brought up in]. So that if our religion is a nationalism (Judaism e.g.), we will assume that all religions are nationalisms. Here the word 'religion' itself is responsible for a lot of mischief: one assumes that this is a class with an essence (a common-nature category), that if something is called 'religion' we knows what that means. Whereas one cannot assume any such thing. There is no essence of religion.]
The "Word of God" is always within a frame of reference
The irony of the notion of "sacred scripture" [Surely the "word of God" ought to come through very loud and very clear, although, as is said in the Parables, it doesn't] is that even if one accepts that the god has spoken through his prophets, there is the question of the meaning of what he has said through them. Norman Malcolm quoted Lichtenberg (in German, of which the following is my translation)):
A book is a mirror: when an ape looks in, no apostle can look out.
An intolerant man will find in the Gospels an intolerant Jesus; an angry man, an angry Jesus; and so on.
We try to make ourselves aware of our preconceptions, to set our prejudices to one side. But what we cannot rid ourselves of is conceptions (frames of reference). Every investigation must begin by choosing one frame of reference out of many. There is no absolute objectivity because there is no absolute frame of reference [i.e. the word 'absolute' is undefined here]; it is only within a frame of reference that there is objectivity [i.e. that the word 'objective' is defined]. In philosophy we want to be rid of our subjectivity, of everything arbitrary. But just as important is to recognize the limits of objectivity.
Different cultures often make or remake the divinity or holy man in their own image. Thus in China, where the people have suffered centuries of hunger, the Buddha has a big fat stomach and a big round, laughing face: he is not hungry and struggling, but happy and mild.
Contrasting views of Augustine: Schweitzer and Wittgenstein (A very, very early draft)
- Augustine's view that all words are names, in the Philosophical Investigations.
- Augustine and time in the Philosophical Investigations.
- Augustine and the Philosophy of Time.
Augustine is rather the villain in Schweitzer's view, for being the author of the Middle Ages: the principal force behind the enduring Medieval world-picture's otherworldliness -- i.e. its rejection of this life and of this world (which Schweitzer called "life-and-world-negation"). In that view man cannot and should not strive to create the Kingdom of God on this fallen earth, but should instead seek only the redemption of his soul and its ascent to Heaven at death. Jesus' Kingdom of God, on the other hand, is delayed sine die.
That is an eschatological view. Schweitzer, however, rejected the understanding of the Kingdom of God found in the Medieval view -- i.e. the picture of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place in the sky so to speak where blessed "souls" go after the death of the body; he contrasted it to the view of Liberal Christianity, which was also Schweitzer's own view: that we must work to bring about the Kingdom of God in this life and in this world. (Schweizerische Theologische Umschau. 1953, quoted in Pilgrimage to Humanity (1961), tr. Walter E. Stuermann, p. 75-76). That is what Schweitzer called "world-and-life-affirmation": the view that this world is not "fallen" but is instead of inherent worth.
But with Schweitzer's view of Christianity -- as with Wittgenstein's own religion -- why would we expect there to be a simple summary of a lifetime of thought ["Philosophy in a nutshell"]? There are two elements to Schweitzer's religion that most religious thinkers have defined in such a way as to be irreconcilable -- namely, faith and reason --, but which Schweitzer did not regard as being in need of reconciliation [There was here for Schweitzer no "On the one hand, but on the other hand"]: there is reason ("Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it") -- but there is also devoutness (religious piety).
A general contrast between northern Protestant and Catholic Christian ways of thinking, feeling, worshipping, has been made by historians; and it would apply to Schweitzer -- were it not for the essential role of reason (rationality) rejecting all dogma, which derives from die Aufklärung. About Schweitzer, and maybe as well about Wittgenstein, it may be correct to say that: he was a northern Protestant: "intellectual" (the written word), "mystical" (in the sense of worship being an interior activity), and "musical" (especially Bach, in contrast to the visual arts).
Wittgenstein revered Augustine; he told Drury that he regarded the Confessions as possibly "the most serious book ever written" (Recollections p. 90), which is not to say that Wittgenstein necessarily shared Augustine's religious views (ibid. p. 148). But Schweitzer's attitude was profoundly different: Schweitzer refers simply to "the Church father, Augustine" (Civilization and Ethics, Chapter 5, p. 58) the one most responsible for the world-and-life negation of the Middle Ages (ibid. Chapter 6, p. 63 [cf. Chapter 11, p. 143]).
By beginning the Philosophical Investigations with a quotation from Augustine's Confessions, Wittgenstein was not only honoring Augustine, he was also saying: my book is a serious book too, even if I do not "call on God on every page", even if it says nothing about "all that music has meant in my life" (Recollections p. 160). My book was written with the same religious seriousness.
Wittgenstein told Norman Malcolm (Memoir of Wittgenstein, 2nd ed. (1984), p.59-60) that he had chosen to quote St. Augustine at the beginning of his Investigations, not because Augustine's view [picture] of language was unique (It might be found in many writers), but out of his deep respect for Augustine.
Enlightenment versus Medieval
According to Schweitzer "the decisive spiritual event of the modern age" (Civilization and Ethics, Chapter 6, p. 63) occurred during the 15th-18th centuries when Christianity turned away from life-and-world-negation (that is, from regarding "this world" as without inherent worth, which was the view of the historical Jesus and of the Medieval Church) to life-and-world-affirmation (Because of Jesus' ethic of love, there had always been in Christianity an affirmation of the worth of ethical progress, despite its lack of an affirmation of the worth of material progress: Schweitzer's metaphor was that one does seek to make improvements to a house that is being torn down). But Wittgenstein's world-view was medieval rather than modern: it consisted of life-and-world-negation (He did not regard man's material progress as being of inherent worth), at least to the extent that it was Christian, which I think it largely was.
Therefore, brethren, be ye patient, till to the coming of the Lord. (Wycliffe Bible, Jas. 5.7)
The Apostle James, however, says in the next verse that "the coming of the Lord is at hand". Can, by definition, one say "at hand" 2000 years later -- i.e. is that what we mean by the expression 'at hand'?
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, "Repent! for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Mt. 4.17)
The plain reading of the text, the plain reading of 'at hand', cannot be 'in indefinite millennia'.
The word 'heaven', as the note says, was used as a way to avoid using the word 'God', out of reverence. Thus 'kingdom of heaven' = 'kingdom of God' (It does not mean 'kingdom beyond the sky'). To 'repent' means: to ask forgiveness for one's wrong-doing and to forgive others any wrong they have done to oneself, but also: to change one's way of life in order to cease wrong-doing.
Those theologians who say that for God a millennium is no more than a moment [cf. Psalm 90.4] ("time in the eyes of God" [who -- muddled concept that 'God' is -- "exists outside time"]), these theologians are evading [dodging] the problem rather than facing it. One can always find some way of looking at a problem that makes the problem seem to disappear.
... the main problem of primitive dogmatics [according to Reimarus] was the delay of the Parousia. (Quest of the Historical Jesus, tr. Montgomery (1910), p. 21)
How many generations of injustice has humanity suffered in these years of waiting for Christ's return? For Schweitzer that ancient and Medieval world-picture is not "true and serviceable". But, therefore, what can be done with it -- i.e. what meaning can we give to [invent for] Jesus's teaching of the ethical Kingdom of God if we separate it from the world-picture of late Jewish Messianic mythology that he shared?
If, as Schweitzer did, "we let the text say what it says" and not try to force a strange or eccentric reading ("interpretation") of it, then what it says is -- that Jesus apocolyptic-eschatological expectation was mistaken: his death and resurrection did not bring about the Kingdom of God; he did not return "on the clouds" as the supernatural Son of Man. By the word 'imminent' no one means 'millennia in God's eyes'.
On the other hand, can anyone believe that the Kingdom of God can be created by us in this world ["My Kingdom is not of this world", but of the world of the supernatural Messianic Kingdom that God will shortly transform this world into], so long as the seven deadly sins remain. Is it not, as Voltaire said, that the best we can do is to work in our garden, knowing full well that the weeds [i.e. the unwanted native plants] will always return, because their seeds are generated by human nature, knowing full well that the revolution we so earnestly desire, the revolution in man's heart [mind], is never going to happen, that man will never accept Augustine's words that "whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done"? ("Voltaire's garden" -- but small outposts [villages] of the Kingdom of God can be established, however briefly, even there ("You can have your Lambaréné anywhere") -- i.e. even here in this world: if the Kingdom of God lives within you, you can bring that which is in you into this world, even if only in the smallest of ways. [Schweitzer's view is not far from the Socratic-Stoic view, although Schweitzer speaks, not of ignorance as the source of our wrong-doing, but instead of "the stubborn man within" who sees what he must do but refuses to do it.])
And, so, is that "on the other hand" the reason for the persistence of belief in an apparently, if not obviously, canceled kingdom? Obviously, there are many reasons (two of which are the willingness of some human beings to embrace dogma and superstition, and the ability of many human beings to avoid thinking about disturbing doctrines, pushing them as it were to the periphery of their visual field, focusing on Jesus's ethic of love, while silencing doubts about other things). But one reason, and a very powerful reason at that, may indeed be that "My sins have gone over my head" and that I am in need of redemption ("Life can educate one to belief in God ...").
Any man who is half-way decent will think himself extremely imperfect, but a religious man thinks himself wretched. (CV p. 45)
So we have two points of view, one "Medieval" and pessimistic -- i.e. it is not that improvements cannot be made in the conditions of men's lives, but that these improvements cannot be made permanent: "My kingdom is not of this world": it cannot be brought into existence by men, but requires a supernatural agent. And one "Enlightened" and optimistic.
The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It is not absurd e.g. to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion ... (ibid. p. 56)
On the one hand, this view may be "Medieval": that the condition of humanity is hopeless. But we must distinguish between and between: because it is not necessary to be religious in order to believe that; it may be a question of practical doubts, both: mankind is going in a self-destructive direction, and, it is his own nature that is sending him there. But on the other hand, the religious view would be that, because of God, salvation (versus self-destruction) is nonetheless possible, even if not necessarily in this world [this life]. That would be part of what we mean by 'religious faith'. But one might also believe that science (the growth of knowledge) and technology (leading to control over nature) will save humanity; that would be a faith, but not a religious one.
Can someone just choose one point of view or the other -- or does life force one view or the other on each individual? (ibid. p. 86). Or is this a matter of forms of life.
Where we ought instead to say "This game is played"
I wonder if you can ever speak about religion except in the first person [and at the stage in your understanding where you stand when you speak]. -- In the sense that: can you avoid seeing it through your own techniques of understanding? It's not as if I could suspend my critical reason, philosophical skepticism: that would be like saying "Think, but not really", and I don't know how to do that. Should we distinguish between forms of life here on the basis of techniques of understanding?
When I think about my life, I often in my thoughts ask people I have known to forgive me. But I cannot imagine ever asking God to forgive me. God starts life as a superman (He walks in the Garden, Moses sees His back) (anthropomorphic polytheism), but then ceases to be a man of any type, super or not (monotheism). And at that point (monotheism) I no longer understand this idea, which appears to me to be nothing more that an incoherent picture, a grammatical editing of the concept 'god' that results in nonsense [like Russell's hippopotamus, an object without dimensions or mass -- but then what does it mean to call "it" an 'object'?].
Does anyone really believe that "God is known by the things he has made"? It was, I believe, Schweitzer's faith that He is not so known. But if someone does believe that, then mustn't he ask himself: if this world is not fair [just], then why believe that its Creator is? God may be love, but one cannot deduce that from the forces of nature. Nothing about dogmatic Christianity makes sense, and believers know that it doesn't, yet they continue to believe. But if religious belief is indeed "irrational" -- or at least non-rational: "Here I do not use reason" --, then how is one to come to a rational understanding of it? Clearly one cannot [Certainly one cannot if one follows the path I have taken with these remarks].
Our mistake is to look for an explanation where we ought to look at what happens as a "proto-phenomenon"; that is, where we ought to have said: this language-game is played.
The question is not one of explaining a language-game ... but of noting a language-game. (PI §§ 654-655 [cf. Z § 541-542])
Am I looking for an explanation where I ought instead to be saying: this game is played; -- not this language-game, because the specific language used in the case of religion is apparently secondary; and because nonsense is nonsense for everyone if sense and nonsense are objective, as they are in Wittgenstein's logic of language. (That is, religious behavior may be compared to games -- i.e. activities done more or less according to rules -- and we might speak of the "religious game", but the comparison of religious behavior to primitive language-games would need to be defined, because it has no obvious meaning -- i.e. there is no natural extension of a concept -- here.)
'Proto-phenomenon' means: there is no basis for this; it is bedrock: it is the basis of other things. What you must remember about a language-game:
it is not based on grounds. It is not reasonable (or unreasonable). It is there -- like our life. (OC § 559)
Nothing comes before this: "In the beginning ..." There is no bedrock beneath the bedrock.
["Grammar tells what kind of object anything is. (Theology as grammar.)" (PI § 373) But is faith following reflection ["faith seeking understanding"] what we find puzzling about religious belief? because theological reflections are subject to criticism (the critical use of reason); whereas according to Gilson: "faith is not found at the conclusion of any philosophical reasoning." And it is the dogmatic faith of Gilson's type -- that "proto-phenomenon", that world-picture -- that we want to understand in the Philosophy of Religion. (Why would Wittgenstein have reproached Drury, saying: "You mustn't pick and choose just what you want in that way"? It wasn't out of his acceptance of dogma. Things are not so simple as I have described them here.]
Can Philosophy be Taught?
"Almost always, what I write is only me talking to myself" (CV p. 77). I am trying to get a clear view of something -- for my own sake; not for the sake of anyone else: countless other people have as much or far more talent for thinking as I have: what can I give such people? At most a glossary of Wittgenstein's jargon.
I don't think that you can teach anyone else philosophy: you cannot ask their questions or do their thinking for them: maybe you can help them to have thoughts of their own (although you may as easily stop them from having thoughts of their own); maybe you can introduce them to metaphors and methods (which you hope they will not turn into mechanical formulas); maybe you can present them with examples of critical thinking, of critical thinking as a way of life (Socrates). But we are all far better off going to the original sources. So why? Before the Internet I wrote in notebooks, but what I wrote in notebooks was never rewritten. Now, because what I write here is public, it gets rewritten, and each rewriting is more critical thought applied to the questions. So this is useful to me.
My thoughts probably move in a far narrower circle than I suspect. (CV p. 63)
The circle of my own thoughts is indeed very narrow. The logic of language, the justification for belief, and the nobler life (the good man of the Greeks), is about the limit. What else do I think about?
Character and Philosophical Integrity
I never feel sure of my facts. (And I don't know how many texts on a topic one has to read in order to be justified about feeling sure of one's facts. But more than one, I would think. And then one has to remember exactly what one has read, and I am not good at that.) I am indeed irresponsible. If a proposed fact seems credible to me [plausible, consistent with what I believe I already know or which convincingly undermines what I believe I know], I don't investigate further; instead I immediately turn to the ideas it suggests to me. Is this an example of my lack of philosophical integrity -- of my lack of character: aren't facts as important as ideas? In many cases in our lives, because of the practical consequences of ideas, facts are far more important than ideas: ideas based on false statements of fact can be very harmful to human life. ["For the gods see everywhere" -- its application to work in philosophy.]
This is actually an extremely common human failing. -- Which fact does not justify this failing in me.
Seeking Authority in Philosophy
I received the following note asking, I think, for my qualifications to write about Wittgenstein's philosophy. The short answer is that I have none. But I wrote a slightly longer one too. An Internet mail I was sent and my response to it:
"I was searching for some overviews on Wittgenstein's thinking and came to your extensive site. I am only beginning to read the contributions, but can you tell me your background -- student, professor....?"
I am neither a professor nor a student enrolled in a university.
As the Preface to my pages states: "This is not a work of history or of scholarship" (A work of scholarship would for example include a review of the literature on the subject).
On the other hand, books in the library are, from an academic point of view, maybe far safer guides.
My reply was churlish, and perhaps unreasonable. Because it is of course quite natural not to want to waste your time with crackbrained rubbish ... but oughtn't you to be able to judge that for yourself? What am I being asked: do I say the same things that the "academic authorities" say? I don't know: I haven't read them in thirty years, and those I read at that time left a very bad impression: philosophy done in the old way: vague (with few examples or definitions), mixing verbal and real definitions up all over the place, classifying Wittgenstein's work as belonging to this or that ill-defined category, etc., the traditional "fog and filthy air" of the professional philosophers.
I might have added to my reply that, so far am I from being a professor or student, if anything interesting is happening in philosophy nowadays, I would be the last person to know. I live in an intellectual desert, with no one to talk to and with only a few old books for company. (My dream would be to live in a university town so that I could attend public lectures, and even classes if I were admitted to the university.)
"Crackbrained nonsense." But I am reminded of an old movie about Toulouse-Lautrec where he says: "Some people go to the gallery to look at the name plates under the paintings." The worth of what is written in philosophy is something you must judge with your own critical reason.
What my Preface should say is: This is a work of philosophy, not of scholarship or of history, and that is how it should be judged.. What I have written must in history stand to the evidence (and therefore I must cite my sources) and in philosophy stand to reason.
When someone speaks as an historian, we can question with what authority he speaks, what his qualifications are [If someone speaks about the meaning of historical events, we should ask him how well acquainted he is with those events (the evidence)]. However, when someone speak as a philosopher, we cannot demand to know with what authority he speaks, because in philosophy he does not speak with authority; no philosopher does. A philosopher speaks with reasons or describes a point of view, a way of looking at things.
Query: how to understand Wittgenstein.
This was sent to the correct page -- namely, my homepage where it says "Preface (Please begin here)", because this is "how to understand Wittgenstein": begin by understanding the nature of his principles. But I think it is impossible to get anyone to begin by reading my Preface.
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