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Mankind after the Garden

In the Bible's story of Adam and Eve human beings "become as gods, knowing good and evil". But what then is their future relationship with God? What are Abraham and Prometheus -- and the serpent in the garden -- for mankind?

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Preface: what follows are ideas in the context of logic of language (which is my jargon for Wittgenstein's later work in philosophy: How is sense distinguished from nonsense in the language used to discuss philosophical problems?) They are old now, but there are a few ideas here.


Definition of the Good or of 'the good'?

Is the only reason Wittgenstein kept silent about ethics as such in the later years that -- in his philosophical view -- there isn't much that's helpful to say about ethics (His Lecture on Ethics (circa 1929-1930) talks about "absolute value", and for Wittgenstein neither ethics nor the eternal questions can be put into words that are not nonsense; the contrasting account is Socratic ethics)? Would a definition of 'the good' and the problems involved be similar to aesthetics? But in ethics: "This is how people use these words, with all their inter-relations" (Wittgenstein's conversation with Bouwsma) -- would such a description be useful? Would it be at all what we want? What we want is to know what it is "how we should live our life" (Plato, Gorgias 472c, 487e, 492d, 500b-d; the Republic's "no small matter, but how to live"), not how people use the word 'good'. That is not, however, the case in aesthetics, where pure description could be quite acceptable to us, as Wittgenstein's lectures on aesthetics show.

In the case of the good, do we want a real rather than a verbal definition? Was this what Plato's Socrates wanted? How might that be of use to ethics? Because if we could say what all good things have in common, then we could use that as a standard by which to judge whether or not anything was good (which is what Socrates wants from Euthyphro. However, are there "real definitions" of concepts, or only verbal ones? (To investigate a concept is to investigate the use of a word.)

Wittgenstein was silent, but Xenophon's Socrates does say "what the good is", as does Socrates' revision of the Greek concept areté.


"The groundlessness of believing"

Note: this continues the discussion of foundational propositions, the groundless grounds of belief.

The foundations of our lives do not themselves have foundations.

When Wittgenstein said "I have reached bedrock" (PI § 217), you have to remember that the earth is round, and consequently that bedrock itself doesn't rest on anything. [This is a metaphor, picture.] So the picture of bedrock that doesn't show that the earth as round [i.e. a globe, a sphere] -- that is to say, pictures that portray only a flat earth -- are to say the least misleading.

This shows how a metaphor can be abused, used to create a misleading picture. Compare the expressions "self-evident" (as if there really were evidence: as if a thing could serve as its own foundation) and "intuitive" (as if this meant anything other than 'guess-work'). If you mean without grounds, say 'without grounds'. Otherwise you will think you know what you don't know, that you understand what you don't understand.


"Dreams and Vain Fictions"

Note: this continues the discussion "The three values a statement in metaphysics may have" (true, false, nonsense).

I myself would characterize metaphysics as "dreams and vain fictions of our own devising" about "occult [i.e. hidden, underlying] qualities" (Isaac Newton). I would say that metaphysics consists of idle pictures; 'idle' also in the sense that this is not what I want from philosophy. However, it is one thing to say that metaphysics is not what its authors believe it to be, but quite another to say that metaphysics is nonsense (i.e. meaningless sounds, noise). After the Tractatus, I do not believe that Wittgenstein would have said the latter. And that is why I changed my Synopsis's original Preface, which read:

Wittgenstein believed he had shown philosophical problems to be confusions about linguistic conventions, which philosophers mistake for questions about facts (Z § 458; RPP i § 949).

Is "confusions about linguistic conventions" incorrect, then? No, but 'confusions' seems to suggest 'nonsense'. To say that metaphysics is "linguistic confusion" is not to say that it is nonsense. See e.g. Wittgenstein's remark that 'It is 5 o'clock on the sun' may suggest pictures to us, but that these pictures do not tell us how that combination of words is to be used, and I would also called those suggested pictures "metaphysics".

I do not know, however, if Wittgenstein would have called 'It is 5 o'clock on the sun' an example of metaphysics. But it is an example of what he said to G.E. Moore: "Nonsense is produced by trying to express by the use of language what ought to be embodied in the grammar" (PP iii, p. 312). That is to say that '5 o'clock on the sun' needs to be defined (given a meaning, a grammar) before we can say that it is that time. Words do not have meanings (in Wittgenstein's sense of 'meaning') in themselves which they carry about with them quite independently of any context in which they appear ["the language-games that are their original home" (PI § 116)].

The view of language that metaphysicians have, if they think about language at all, seems to be: W.E. Johnson's "If I say that a sentence has meaning for me, no one has the right to say it is senseless" (Recollections p. 103; cf. LC iii, p. 68: "as though you could talk of understanding a word without any reference to the technique of its usage", as if meaning were subjective rather than objective, as if one could say: "Don't I know my own mind"). What Wittgenstein wrote about metaphysics:

Philosophical investigations: conceptual investigations. The essential thing about metaphysics: that the difference between factual and conceptual investigations is not clear to it. A metaphysical question is always in appearance a factual one, although the problem is a conceptual one. (RPP i § 949; cf. Z § 458)

What should be inferred from the last sentence, that this is one of Wittgenstein's theories about the origins of philosophy? (Cf. "For them after all it is not nonsense" (OC § 37.)

"Philosophy is a working on oneself"

Note: this continues the discussion How I see Philosophy.

I have for a very long time now been writing about Wittgenstein's work from memory. And I doubt whether I shall ever reread his books again, although it would of course be possible to go deeper, to understand more or differently. While it is true that my interest is in philosophy [The Socrates of Plato's Apology remains after more than thirty years my great hero], and not in the philosophy of Wittgenstein per se, it is also true that Wittgenstein's "logic of language" is the only reliable guide [his logic does not come out in the wash] that I have ever found in my search for clarity: for clearing up the vagueness and confusion that I once felt -- and sometimes still do feel -- surrounded by. [I used also to ask myself questions about God, about ethics (right and wrong), and always: of why is there anything rather than nothing at all?]

Working in philosophy ... is really more a working on oneself. On one's own interpretation. On one's way of seeing things.... (CV p. 16)

That certainly belongs to how I now see philosophy. In that sense, philosophy is not a cooperative [collaborative] effort. But I did not begin by seeing philosophy that way: I wanted to know the truth -- i.e. "the ultimate truth". But now I can see many difficulties with that notion. [Socratic ignorance, which I would say is both: knowing that and knowing why you do not know.]

The Ascent of Mankind

Note: there is a later, clearer summary of the following early, exploratory remarks.

There is no alternative to "playing god to God" (Alexander Pope). Even if you believed that God had said: "Do this!" you would still have the obligation to ask if is it right to do this? If God tells me to murder a child, then God is wrong.

In the case of ethics, religion may give guidance, but it can do no more, because one cannot surrender the responsibility of one's moral judgment ("conscience") -- because man is "as the gods, knowing good and evil" -- to anyone, not even to God.

It is curious about the Garden story that God is presented as being against man's learning good and evil, in a word, to man's becoming a moral being. Why? Is it because then man would not only judge himself -- but would have the right and the responsibility to judge -- the will of God, "to play god to God"? It is a curious aspect of the story. (Another is that this story is referred to as "the fall of man", whereas surely it is the rise of man.)


"Man's character is his fate"

Query: what does "a man's character is his fate" mean?

Aphorisms provoke thought -- the thought needed to give a suggestive but undefined combination of words a definite meaning. And so what does Heraclitus' aphorism (Fragment 119) mean? In itself nothing. And so, Why not think about this for yourself; why not invent your own meaning for his words? That is, philosophy is philosophizing -- or, critical thinking about basic and ultimate questions, such as man's fate -- and shouldn't every human being think about such questions for himself? (The alternative is an eternal childhood.)

"Why not ask someone else for the answer?" Because (1) that may cut short your own thinking, reflections that might have led you to learn something of value to yourself as an individual, and because (2) in any case, there is no "the right answer" to this query, because many different meanings might be given to Heraclitus' words, as might be given to any aphorism (or other undefined combination of words).

In a sense philosophy is not cooperative (or, collaborative) work. It is instead "really more work on oneself, on one's own view of things" (cf. CV p. 16).

Is it consistent for the one who has called these pages Wittgenstein's Logic of Language to say that? Well, 'a logic of language' is my jargon, and my Introduction is my own point of view (my own interpretation of Wittgenstein's thought), far from the only possible one.

A philosophy is a rational way of looking at things (That's my "working hypothesis" about "what philosophy is" -- i.e. I don't know whether that proposition applies to everything we call 'philosophy', but it seems consistent with the examples I am aware of), and even if one adopts a particular philosopher's point of view (Note "adopts for oneself": That is not History of Philosophy but Philosophy itself), one has to make sense of (or, interpret) it in one's own way.

The principal theme of the page about philosophy's project of questioning all things is, after all, in slogans, "Question everything!" "Dare to doubt!" "Think for yourself!" But let's suppose that "you're right and I'm wrong". Very well, then. In an obvious way, a man who is timid and yields to his own timidity [or, cowardice] will have this aspect of his character determine what happens to him [his fate] in life [C.D. Broad claimed this was his own case], and a man who cannot control his anger will have his fate decided by his lack of self-control. And an impatient man, a greedy man, a lustful man, a slothful man, and so on through the rest of the "seven deadly sins", will all find the direction of their lives and their final ends (their fates) determined by these aspects of their character. Thus the proverb: "Either you learn to control your passions, or they will control you."

That may be what Heraclitus meant, but surely there are other possibilities for you to imagine. For example, how does the aphorism apply to a man of noble character; will not his fate be determined by the demands he believes ethics makes of him?

"A man's character [i.e. own nature] is his fate" might be opposed to the view that a man's fate is determined by something external to him, for example by the providence of gods or demons, or by chance. As if to say: a man grows like a tree -- i.e. his fate is determined by an acorn, which will always grow into an oak, and never into some other type of tree. But this ignores the soil and weather where the acorn is planted (Nature vs. fortune). At most, it seems, we might be justified to say that a man's fate is not solely determined by what is internal or external to him, but by their combination.

However, is a man really like a tree [Is his nature the immutable design of God?] -- can't he change his character, for example, an impatient man set aside that bad habit formed in his time of ignorance of the good? [And if virtue is knowledge, can't he, then, by the use of reason become patient? Where reason is master, maybe.]

Query: does fate define a man's character?

I don't know: the seed versus the soil, the soil versus the seed. Why don't I know? Because this is not a logic of language question, but a question of knowledge about the world, of observation and experience of life. It is not a logic puzzle.

Although maybe it can only be a thought experiment? But on the other hand, "scientists, who ought to know" (Belloc), have looked at twins who were separated at birth and grown up in different environments, things like this. Is that what you want to know -- i.e. what criterion have you set for a correct answer to your query? Or do you want the answer to come to you out of thin air according to the non-criterion of "whatever seems right" to you?


Do different life forms live in different worlds?

Note: this discussion is apropos of Wittgenstein's notion "forms of life".

Do ants and I live in different worlds? You could say that we do, because I perceive-conceive ants, but do ants perceive-conceive me? Because we perceive (well, we have different perceptual organs) differently and conceive differently, that is, if ants conceive -- i.e. if the word 'conceive' has anything we would call an application in the context of the life of ants (Wittgenstein's method: to ask what, if anything, is the meaning of the proposition 'Ants conceive' rather than ask if that proposition is true or false) -- then we could be said to be living in different worlds.

You cannot say that "the limits of my concepts are the limits of my world", because there may indeed be familiar percepts that are "blind", conceptually a blur, but nonetheless commonplace parts of "my world". Cf. the difference between seeing rust and seeing "some red stuff" (Z § 711: how would a Martian see our world if it were radically different from its own? It would not be blind (although its percepts would be), but it would be without understanding/knowledge (i.e. concepts) of what it perceived).

The omniscient God -- what do things look like to Him? God's world is a different world from our world, although God can also perceive and conceive as we do, but of course not vice versa. What sense can we give to the words 'absolute perspective'? "A perspective encompassing and melding all possible points of reference into one"? That's a nice combination of words, a fine-sounding rule, but has it an application? An application to what? -- certainly not the world of our experience; and it seems always this way when we try to talk about God, that is, about the concept 'God', that we will reject anything anthropomorphic. Is the proposed new rule nonsense? How to decide?

Everything, anything, we can describe entails the selection of a point of reference -- i.e. it is a conditional perspective, and the perspective of God is unconditional (Question: can we simply negate rules of grammar in this way to talk about God, that is, about the concept 'God'? How is it to be determined whether we can or not?) We don't have a normal use for the combination of words 'unconditional perspective' or 'unconditioned perception' -- "but yet that is be what we mean by 'the perspective of God'". Can you say something like that? Does the analogy make anything clearer (Cf. "theology as grammar" (PI § 373))?

"Percepts without concepts are blind"

There is a small black spider (It does not weave webs; I don't know what it does) that lives in this house. On occasion I have induced it to climb on my hand, which it is not reluctant to do, and held my hand before my eyes, and it seemed to me that the spider would turn to face my face. But even if the spider has eyes with which to see (and I don't know whether it has), I do not believe that it does see me.

I say that although the spider does in some way perceive me, for it responds to my behavior, that it does not see me -- because it is unable to conceive me (e.g. as an instance of the species man or even as a single organism). I see the spider because I have our concept 'spider' (and the plethora of other concepts that form that concept's background), but the spider does not see me, because it has no concept 'man'. The spider has the percept(ion) but it does not have the concept. "How do I know"? That is a grammatical question, and the reply is only a grammatical remark (or, reminder), stating a rule, which we should all easily recognize: Because "We only say of a human being and what is like one that it thinks" (PI § 360). But can I be certain (of my inference), for I am not acquainted with a spider's inner life, with its soul (or, mind)? "Well, one might say this: If one sees the behavior of a living thing, one sees its soul" (ibid. § 357) -- because how else shall we define the word 'soul' in this particular context (particular case)? (Does a spider have an inner life? -- That is a grammatical question -- i.e. a question about the use of a word.)

The absence of Canine morality

A language-game "is not based on grounds" but "is there -- like our life" (OC § 559). If our life is "just there", then it is unexplained, and so according to Wittgenstein is our form of life [life form]. Nor does Wittgenstein think that it needs explanation (in a metaphysical theory or myth about underlying reality) or justification [What would a justification look like here?].

Myth as an Answer to an Unanswerable Question

Note: this continues the discussion Questions without Answers.

In the Garden story, man eats the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and in this way human beings become different from the other animals. Morality does not belong to the forms of life of the other animals. We can of course train a dog that if it does such-and-such, we will punish it, and this may elicit canine behavior that resembles human guilt (The dog may hide its head under the table when we come home from work e.g.). If, however, we had tried to train the dog to do just the opposite, would the dog have responded, "No, I cannot do that; it would be wrong"? It is all the same to a dog what it is trained to do, to the old dog the same as to the puppy; it may have instinctual disinclinations, but it has no conscientious objections. (How do I know? It is not a question of knowledge but of undefined words -- e.g. what does 'conscientious objection' mean as applied to a dog. Here there is no resemblance to human behavior; will the dog sit in the middle of the street as an act of civil disobedience?) Many, although not all, children even when quite young have a sense of fairness. But fairness does not belong to the canine or any other animal form of life regardless of age.

That is an example of a form of life expressed as a myth. "The human life is different from the lives of other animals -- Why?"

Query: Greek myths that explain unanswerable questions.

If you have no method for answering a question, then the question is, by definition, unanswerable (e.g. [possibly] the origin of natural language). But in the case of the Greek myths the questions were not unanswerable -- because there was a technique for answering them: myths about the gods were offered. For instance, thunder is the judgment of Zeus, storm at sea the anger of Poseidon; natural phenomena are the gods at work. One might say that for the earliest Greeks these questions were unanswerable from the point of view of natural causes (such as e.g. Aristotle's "Thunder is the sound of fire being extinguished in the clouds", or even Aristophanes' ribald "... sound of clouds breaking wind"). If we are willing to accept a theory, or a Greek myth: if a god gave speech to mankind (as Prometheus gave him fire), then the question is not unanswerable, because there is a method/technique for answering it that we find acceptable. So there are several senses of 'unanswerable', one from the point of view of whether there is a method of answering, another from the point of view of whether we find the method satisfying (which is what every explanation seeks to be). Most, if not all, of the examples I give of man's eternal questions without answers might be answered with myths about the gods. But those myths are not what we want. Nor is there any other method that we would find acceptable.

Prometheus sacrificed himself for mankind

But Eve and Adam did not eat the forbidden fruit in order to learn to distinguish between good and evil. How could they when, like the other animals, they had no knowledge whatever of good and evil? No, they ate the forbidden fruit in order to become god-like, maybe as a small child tells her mother, "Some day I'll be the mother and you'll be the daughter." They had no idea what they were bringing upon mankind. So they should not be compared to Prometheus (who understood what it was that he was stealing from the gods), at least not with respect to intention; no, it is the serpent who is to be compared with Prometheus.

Which myth is more profound? Both his mastery of fire and his moral sense separate man from the other animals. However, man without fire is conceivable, but man without morality is not. ("Philosophical investigations -- conceptual investigations.")

Fire as a symbol for Mind

On the other hand, if we see the fire of Prometheus as a symbol of human reason (e.g. "... seen in the light of reason"), then Prometheus brought mankind freedom from the gods by means of rationality: our ability to reason. Man can free himself of gods -- i.e. of myths -- if he chooses to. And note: although reason is possible without morality, morality is not possible without reason (See Ethics versus Values).

Prometheus: I made men cease from contemplating death.
Blind hopes I gave to live and dwell with them.
Chorus: Great service that thou didst for mortal men!
Prometheus: And more than that, I gave them fire, yes I.

... they, before as babes,
By me were roused to reason, taught to think;
...
For first, though seeing, all in vain they saw,
And hearing, heard not rightly ...
But without counsel fared their whole life long
... And I
Found Number for them, chief device of all,
Groupings of letters, Memory's handmaid that,
And the mother of the Muses ...

Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.), Prometheus Bound, tr. E.H. Plumptre [in Harvard Classics (1909) Volume 8, p. 175, 182-183]. In Aeschylus's story fire is not identified with reason, but reason and knowledge ("eyes that see rightly") are also the gifts of Prometheus, given to mankind despite the wishes of Zeus. Where mankind's sense of right and wrong comes from, Aeschylus does not say in this play.

[Aeschylus fought in the infantry at Marathon, and may have been an eye-witness to the sea-battle at Salamis.]

The "blending of Forms", "Irreducible but yet divisible essences"

The following remarks are apropos of nominal versus real definitions in the context of Aristotle's "definition of man".

If the essence of man is what all things named 'man' must (because it is defining of man: "that without which man would not be man") have in common, then we can't say -- apropos of Aristotle's definition of Man as rational animal (Animal being the "genus", Rational the "difference") -- that Aristotle's selected genus is the essence (i.e. the defining common nature of man), because Animal would be the essence of all animals -- and without rationality man would not only not be different from the other animals -- he would also not be man. In other words, according to Aristotle the essence of man is to be a rational animal. (This is, I think, why Plato speaks of "the blending" of Forms (Sophist 252e), which here would be Animal and Rationality, for how can an essence be composed of parts (which is a different question from "How can an essence not be irreducible?")? For are not the Forms essences? (or are they?) Is 'animal' (or "animalhood" or "animalness") not the name of an essence? but can't the category 'animal' be further divided into -- into what? Parts? -- the categories 'rational' and 'non-rational'?)

If the essence or "real" general definition of philosophy, that is, of a philosophy is: a rational questioning in logic, ethics, and metaphysics, then is the essence of philosophy composed of "parts", for Socrates asked no questions in metaphysics and was his work therefore not philosophy?

And so 'genus' doesn't mean 'essence'. But then what Aristotle is talking about isn't the Socratic definition: it doesn't say (1) what all things called by the common name 'man' have in common, and (2) what distinguishes man from all other things. The common nature of man is rationality, for Plato's picture of the human soul as separable from the body is a logical possibility: Man without his animal dross is imaginable, whereas man without rationality is logically impossible (for whatever will be described is an animal, but the essence of man is not, as it were, reducible to ape).

(What distinguishes man from other rational beings, if there are such beings, would have to reflect what the nature of those other rational beings is; for if their conceptual thought-world were incomprehensible to man, then man would no more call those beings rational than he calls birds rational ("Birds do talk, and we don't understand them").)

"... that man is rational." But that is the Greek essence of man: namely, reason; whereas the Jewish essence of man is: morality. But Greek ethics is rational, and therefore the Greek essence subsumes the Jewish one? But for the Jews morality is obedience to God, and therefore man's essence according to the Jews does not subsume the Greek one. (As to the Kantian account of ethics, of "absolute value" and "categorical imperatives", that subsumes the Jewish essence of man and is also subsumed by it.)


"The Choice of Saviors"

Note: The original of the following (much more than the present version) seems to have been written in the spirit of Voltaire's Écrasez l'infâme! ("Crush the infamy!"), namely religion, many years ago. I would not write this way now, and I do not now think I should have written with such immoderation then either, because it is not in the spirit of the Enlightenment's gift of religious tolerance. And it is also based on a primitive concept, for many things are called 'faith'), not only the silencing of reason in order to assent to dogma. The following, then, is propaganda, not philosophy, except in so far as philosophy is advocacy of a particular way of looking at things.

Sometimes it may not possible to restore an institution. Sometimes it may need to be utterly demolished before that something worthwhile can be constructed from its rubble.

I believe that we of the West (which Wittgenstein, that strange man, did not regard himself as being) would have been infinitely better served by having as our savior -- but not as "our Lord (Master) and Savior" -- Prometheus rather than the Jesus Christ of Catholic Christianity. (There is a salvation found in the words of Jesus, but that is not salvation in the Church's sense of the word 'salvation'.)

Asia, both of the near and far East, has never been through the school of philosophy. It either exalts superstition and racism (by any other name, because you are born into the "chosen people" or "the elect") or "social harmony" through submission to tradition and the authority of the established rulers.

Human salvation, such as it is, lies in the use of natural reason ("Know thyself" and "Nothing too much"), which is the specific excellence proper to man, not in irrationalism ("faith"), the ideologies of which have limited countless human lives (Of course for the poorest of the poor, it has also given their lives the illusion of dignity and meaning). Orientalism, which the Greeks fought back at Marathon, Salamis and Plataea, poisoned the West, somewhat through Pythagoras and Plato, and completely through Christianity. This was obviously not because the Greeks were not themselves superstitious, but because they were able -- indeed, they were the first in human history to be able to emerge from superstition -- because they were not dominated by the concept 'faith' (cf. Wittgenstein on being in the grips of a concept and unable to break free of it (CV p. 79)) as the Western world has been, because of Christianity's roots in Abraham.

Salvation comes through the Greeks. ... although there is also a sense in which salvation comes through the Jews, namely their religious sense that it is not possible to love God without loving one's neighbor as oneself, which it the foundation of both piety and justice, i.e. right conduct towards God and man respectively.

Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it. (Out of My Life and Thought, tr. Lemke (1990), Epilogue, p. 240)

What I wrote was that "my own thought is that it was Catholic Christianity that took Jesus away from me by turning him into the Incarnation of God and replacing his kingdom of God with a Heaven to which souls go at death, and it was Albert Schweitzer's reverence for reason and historical-critical theology that returns Jesus to his historical context that gave Jesus back to me. But not, of course, as an object of faith --" Or not of that faith. And that was what I meant above by "... so that something worthwhile may be constructed from the rubble".


Superstition among the Greeks

Maybe Greek superstition -- i.e. belief in magic -- really could be called a "false science" (as James Frazer thought), because oracles, divinations, astrology are ways of trying to forecast the future (just as are modern weather projections, which are science) or to defend oneself against the wrath of the gods (as expressed by weather, disease, elemental forces apparently beyond human control).

But that is not so with the "submission" to an irrational God or gods of the Orient -- That type of magic is not a false science. Prometheus rebelled against the gods rather than submit to them [Submission is the essence of Wittgenstein's pantheism], and like Adam and Eve he too was punished -- with the difference the Prometheus fully understood what he was doing (He was not a child).

Why does the Lord God say, "Behold Adam is become like one of us, knowing good and evil ..." (Gen. 3.22)? I think it means that man, because he must now judge for himself what is right, what wrong, will no longer must obey the gods (the "us" of the verse). That is maybe only my eccentric reading of the myth, but it is what I believe to be worthwhile in this myth. The text continues with the Lord God saying that Adam (i.e. man), having once rebelled, may rebel again and this time eat from the tree of life and thereby live forever ... That there is, apparently, death in the Garden of Eden shows that the Lord God's Garden and the Kingdom of God are not the same conception. (But I cannot think of anything useful to do with the second part of the verse.)

Plato and Reason

Plato's Phaedo is rationality taken to an extreme -- or would be if rationality could only follow one course. But pure reason -- i.e. reason allowed to drift free of experience -- may lead (and be led) -- in many directions. (Nonetheless, Plato does in his Republic 332a-335e does usefully show the method of pure reason in ethics, highlight propositions that are at once rules of grammar and guides to the good in ethics.)

In the Phaedo Plato follows the analogy wherever it leads Plato. But it's as if in this case this leads him to over-reach himself by neglecting the Greek maxims (Protagoras 343b), because the man who "knows himself" knows that neither by external nor by internal forces can a man be transformed into whatever one pleases, e.g. into a philosopher. (Existentialism is based on the same mistaken assumption that man can create his own essence.) A man is, instead, like the acorn of the oak tree that can be subjected to various soils, nutrients, weather conditions, but remains nonetheless an oak (This aspect of his character is his fate). And the man of moderation (temperance: "nothing in excess" or "nothing too much") recognizes and accepts this.

What is unique to Plato is his long-windedness (in the athletic sense), his ability to sustain [build] an astonishingly long argument using dialectic, which is the the step-by-step method of Socrates in Xenophon too.

And Unreason (Plato's Republic is philosophical conjecture, not dogma)

But Plato is not always read as if his works were the creation of critical reason -- and like all philosophy subject to refutation (something which Plato emphasized again and again in his dialogs). Instead those of his readers who do not understand the nature and spirit of philosophy, turn his reasoned conjectures into dogma, as if such readers could not distinguish between questions and answers but only treat everything as if it were an answer.

"Reasoned conjectures" -- is that what philosophy is (When writing to Malcolm [Letter No. 9] Wittgenstein used the expression "plausible remarks")? What else? Speculation -- not wild, not irrational, not religious speculation -- is part of it. But conceptualization and re-conceptualization more so: "Look at things this way!" So it seems to me -- and finding new ways to look at things is not reasoned conjecture (A frame of reference does not consist of possibly true or false propositions). The excellence, according to the Greek philosophers, appropriate to man is reason (the use of his intelligence, rationality), from which he learns self-discipline (and the rest of ethics). Is that is reasoned conjecture? You know I don't know. Can we ever exclude even the possibility of "But on the other hand"? (Only in the case of "logical propositions" -- i.e. definitions -- which are called propositions solely on the basis of their form, not their meaning. For example, it is not false to state that 'The good for man is not the good for man' but merely nonsense (i.e. undefined language).)

Suppose someone said: Being of poor health is good for man, being diseased and malnourished is good for man. Being irrational, impulsive, barbaric is the good for man. (How shall rationality prove that irrationality is the good for man -- given that 'irrationality' means 'the rejection all proofs, either of reason or of experience'? The question is unclear, but its point is not: even discussing the topic of rationality versus irrationality demonstrates a confidence in rationality to determine the answer.) I often suspect that anyone who claims that the good for man is not objective -- i.e. not a matter for reason to decide -- is simply being perverse (particularly when they attempt to demonstrate it). Of course human beings often reject reason in favor of irrational world-pictures ("religious revelations" e.g.), but what is proved by that? (Human beings also often choose pleasures which are harmful both to their bodies and souls; what is demonstrated by that?)

Religious instruction does not teach; -- instead it trains children not to seek reasons; it trains them to bad habits; it is just the opposite of philosophy. Religious instruction, the catechism of dogma, trains children to be lazy thinkers, to assume rather than to question. The acceptance of "mysteries" as a habit of thought ... training them to accept either without reasons or with bad reasons. Some children cannot be so trained, e.g. Albert Schweitzer; but others become so well trained that even if they later rebel against dogma -- their rebellion is nothing more than the replacement of one dogma by another. (Not every aspect of that is unique to instruction in religion, however. Training in geometry at times resembles training in dogmatic [divine] theology, which is undoubtedly a use of reason, but in no other way resembles philosophy.)

Abraham "after the Garden" [i.e. after the birth of morality]

If I could rewrite literary history, the story of Abraham's sacrifice would have a very different ending. Abraham would say: "Father, I will not obey you to do this evil deed." And then the God might have said, "I see that my work is finished here. My son is now a man." And then the gods might have departed from human history. Instead they have remained to keep mankind in an eternal childhood. Abraham might have been like Prometheus; instead he became "our father in faith" (i.e. in childhood [obedience]). Doubtless someone long ago rewrote the story of Abraham's sacrifice of his son this way. [Who was the serpent in the Garden? Contrast the serpent with Abraham.]

Rhetorical questions. If murdering a child is what the good man does, then what does the evil man do? And if God commands man to kill a child, then what does the devil do -- command him to kill two? (Plato's method of tautologies in ethics)

[That God is the father does not mean we are to live the life of an eternal child, which is what a return to the Garden of Eden would be -- an eternal nonage. God is the father, but I am an adult son, a grown man. The Garden of Eden is not the kingdom of God Jesus speaks of, for the will of Jesus' father is not arbitrary: it commands only that the good be done, namely that mankind live the ethics of love, mercy and forgiveness that Jesus speaks of.]

If Abraham really were our spiritual father (our father in chains), there would be no philosophy. The Lord God could say: What are you who question my ways (Isaiah 55.8)? And the rest would be silence. (Adam and Eve escaped the earthly -- prison, not paradise.)


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