Home - Wittgenstein's Logic of Language | Bibliography and abbreviations | Site Map | Site Search

Facts do not exist unconceptualized, independent of frames of reference ("theories"). Every fact is already a conceived fact. And therefore if it is unconceptualized data (percepts, artifacts) that Goethe wants to study, then what he wants to do is undefined method and language.

"Percepts without concepts are blind" and "Statements of fact without frames of reference are nonsense (undefined language), and artifacts without concepts are blind (unintelligible)".

"The rules of grammar are arbitrary in the same sense as the choice of a unit of measurement" (PG I, x, p. 185). Nothing has a length before that, but once a unit, once a frame of reference, grid, or mesh is chosen, then there are lengths and other facts.

Context: the background of this discussion is "logic of language" or the way language with meaning is distinguished from nonsense (i.e. language without meaning) in philosophical problems. About my philosophical writing.

What is the meaning of "All fact is already theory"?

What might Goethe mean by 'theory'? Not 'scientific hypothesis', but maybe 'thesis' or 'conception'. What is the relationship between "the conceived facts" and reality itself? Would Goethe's statement be correctly rendered into English by 'All fact is already conceived fact', meaning that there are no facts independent of theories? That would be what is "most important" to remember when trying to study (know) nature as it is in itself.

« Das höchste wäre zu begreifen, daß alles Faktische schon Theorie ist »

The most important or highest thing to remember is that everything factual is already theory.

That statement sounds quite like Kant's "Percepts without concepts are blind", and if 'concept' in Kant = 'theory' in Goethe's vocabulary, there appears to be equivalence in meaning. Unconceptualized sense-perceptions are not facts. Conceptualized sense-perceptions are. Empirical propositions are the statement of conceptualized sense-perceptions.

Lichtenberg wrote: "Don't call it a theory, but a way of presenting it to the mind", that is, not a 'theory' in the sense of 'testable hypothesis', because an hypothesis is not what a concept is (By 'concept' we mean 'rules for using a word' or for Kant 'conception'); there are no true or false concepts (The word 'misconception' has no application in this context; it is not the antithesis of 'conception' here).

As if Goethe were to say, "Remember that all fact is already concept." Concept-formation and the conceived facts.

All facts are the "conceived facts". Are we blind to anything unconceived, unconceptualized? Not all concepts are identical with language, although philosophical ones are.

A Sign without and with Sense

An oracle is "mere sound without sense" unless a meaning is invented for it, and out of context Goethe's proposition is an oracle, an aphorism, an undefined combination of words (nonsense).

When I look, as I have done below, at the instances where I refer to Goethe's words on this site, I find that I have given those words this meaning: that a fact -- i.e. a statement of fact or factual proposition -- is a fact only relative to (or with reference to or within) a particular frame of reference. In another frame of reference that same statement of fact: (1) may be nonsense (i.e. an undefined combination of words), or (2) it may state a rule of grammar (in Wittgenstein's jargon) (i.e. it might belong to a definition or explanation of language meaning), or (3) it may have the opposite truth value (e.g. false rather than true).

And now examples are needed (Examples are the true and only masters in philosophy) in order to: (1) to make the general thesis about statements of fact clear, and (2) to test whether that thesis stands against being refuted (because it is unclear in meaning, or self-contradictory, or contradicts verifiable experience) in the cross-questioning of Socratic dialectic (in this case, the dialectic is me holding discourse with myself). The fewness of examples is the principal problem (limitation) of this page.

References on this site to Goethe's Maxim

  1. Indeed, isn't that what the Greek philosophers thought, that the good for a thing is determined by its nature, and therefore that the good for man is life lived in accord with the specific excellence (areté) that is proper (appropriate) and unique to man, both as man and as an individual? As to exactly what that excellence is, argument can be taken -- but is that not the case with all facts (Goethe: a fact is -- and logically only can be -- a fact within a frame of reference)?

    (Source: Plato's Gorgias: Can ethics be derived from facts (can ought be derived from is? But is the concept 'ought' necessary to ethics and likewise the concept 'value')?)

  2. Questions about "meanings" belong to the "the logic of our language" (and historically logic is not concerned only with form but also with meaning), and it follows from this that logic of language is the foundation of philosophy, that philosophy must begin with setting criteria for distinguishing nonsense from sense.

    Using the tools of Wittgenstein's logic of language we can give a grammatical account of the (public) facts in plain view about how we use language ... but is Wittgenstein's the only possible objective logic of language or are there alternatives? Plato's "the meaning of a name is the unknowable essence the name is the name of"? (In logic of language we seek a non-theoretical "theory" of meaning; that is because logic is the study of rules, not of "intuition". (Locke's theory of abstraction is an example of a theory of meaning; it is ruleless.) If we cannot describe even a single alternative, is that because that is where an absence of imagination leaves us?

    "No fact is independent of a theory" (Goethe). A synonym for Goethe's 'theory' would be 'network'. (Examples are the only masters in philosophy. Generalities without examples are empty (of meaning).)

    (Source: The Limits of Language: Adduction versus Induction)

  3. Query: Wittgenstein, net over language.

    The picture is of a fisherman's net or the mesh of such a net. Synonyms are "way of looking at things" and "point of view", but much clearer is a picture-frame of reference -- i.e. a graduated frame around a picture. But if we think of the frame-of-reference as a grid we lay over the world (concepts, or, language laid over "percepts"): some things will be caught in our net, while others pass through (some will be invisible to us). "The different nets correspond to different systems for describing the world. Mechanics determines one form of description of the world" (TLP 6.341-6.342).

    Another example to explain the metaphor or picture: Wittgenstein's 'meaning' = 'grammar' is a net that does not pull in concept-formation (It does not give an account of the origin of our concepts).

    Wittgenstein's later philosophy as a net. It does not capture what is problematical about our life: it does not address the eternal questions -- those are not caught in its net.

    (Source: Wittgenstein's net simile | The justification for a particular classification system)

  4. The sayings of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. But, now, that is very different from philosophy, because philosophy does not consist of mere sayings but of reasons forged into arguments that are able to stand up against refutation by Socratic cross-questioning. Although statements are made within a frame of reference -- Goethe's "Any statement of fact is a statement of fact only within a framework" -- within that frame of reference they can be put to the tests of clarity, reasoning, and verifiable experience.)

    The meaning of Wittgenstein's precept "Don't think, but look!" (PI § 66). Just describe the facts in plain view to anyone's eyes and experience: Wittgenstein's account of games (i.e. of the concept 'game', of the grammar of that word 'game') is an example of this method. In contrast 'to think' = 'to theorize' or 'speculate' or 'conjecture' or 'explain by means of what is not in plain view". Two points of view (frames of reference, "theories"): "Nothing is hidden" (ibid. § 435) versus "The essence is hidden from us" (ibid. § 92). I think that is an example of Goethe's "All fact is already theory".

    Note that I have never seen Goethe's words in Goethe's written context and therefore that I am only imagining meanings that might be given to what are for me undefined combinations of words. I have also never seen Kant's words 'Percepts without concepts are blind' in Kant's written context.

    (Source: "Socrates, wise man story" or "words of wisdom of Socrates' and their meaning".)

  5. For then our picture would be designed for a god who has seen what we cannot see (PI § 426). No, that is not the picture's application; that is not what justifies the picture. But then how is the picture justified in natural science and natural history? In the same way as the picture of "those sub-tropical times ... when the coal measures were laid down" (DW p. 108) -- i.e. circumstantially. The circumstances we know -- and even these are "already facts in a theory" (Goethe) -- are "the geological formations and the fossil record" (ibid. p. 111). From these circumstances we proceed to build up our imaginative picture of "those sub-tropical times" and of "man opening his seeing eye". But these pictures have no application to reality; they are not pictures of any known reality -- otherwise they could be compared with that reality. They are extrapolations from the evidence, children of the imagination. To imagine is not to know; although there may be good reasons for what is imagined, speculation should not be mistaken for knowledge.

    He only errs who thinks he knows what he does not know. (Augustine)

    (Source: about M. O'C. Drury's "Concerning Mind and Body")

  6. In the context of "Facts are theory laden", there is Kant's "Percepts without concepts are blind", and Goethe's alles Faktische schon Theorie ist ("all fact is already theory", meaning possibly that any fact only exists as a fact within some theory -- or, way of looking at nature -- we have conceived or preconceived, rather than somehow (I don't know how) letting nature be what it is rather than in any way forcing it to be what we have preconceived it to be.

    What does Goethe mean by alles Faktische ist schon Theorie? That "everything factual is already theory"? But if everything were theoretical, then nothing would be -- but that is not Goethe's meaning, which is that: there are no facts outside [independent] of frame of reference (The frames are theoretical, not the facts within them). The idea might also be stated this way: there is no "absolute point of view". A point of view is a frame of reference.

    (Source: Is seeing theory-laden? Is seeing concept-laden?)

  7. Speculation remains speculation. The historical hypotheses of scholars are no more than imagination added to the (believed to be known) historical facts, which may be mistakes or delusions, and are always subject to further historical evidence or revision. An hypothesis, a theory -- which is an imaginative arrangement [organization] of a selection of data [conceived facts] -- should not be treated as if it were itself a fact.

    How How Kant and Goethe saw facts: the facts are the conceived facts.

    As if the sense were an atmosphere accompanying the word, which it carried into every kind of application. (PI § 117)

    We hear the word 'fact' and assume we know "what is meant by that word" -- as if we had abstracted the essence (halo) of the fact. But we certainly don't know "what is meant" by the word without a grammatical investigation of the particular case. There is no grammatical essence [essential definition] of the word 'fact'. (Only examples can test whether that claim is true. Empirical facts, historical facts, mathematical facts.)

    The theory is not the reality: even the cleverest theory about distant historical events is at best only a picture of a possible reality [of a possibility]: it may have been that way (which implies that it may also not have been that way).

    (Source: "Preface to the study of the Philosophy of Religion")

  8. "Concepts are the language of percepts." The word 'concept' (very often) = 'sign (as used by Wittgenstein: marks on paper, spoken sounds, gestures, the purely physical aspect of language) + rules of grammar (rules for the use of a word in the language)'.

    To be talked about is to have already been conceived (Goethe: "The thing to remember above all is that anything factual only exists as factual within some theory or other" (Das höchste wäre zu begreifen), etc).

    (Source: ("The language of percepts" is concepts)

  9. The conceived facts.In a letter to Max Born, Albert Einstein uses the expression "conceived facts". Maybe, for there is no way to know (i.e. this is metaphysical speculation), there is a raw reality for man to have perceptions of, but man knows percepts only as mediated by his concepts. There are no facts before man conceives them. (That is of course a grammatical remark, if there is an "of course" about it.) (So far as I can see for now.)

    (Source: Is seeing "concept-laden"?)

  10. Philosophical Exaggerations. I want to say: the artifact doesn't change regardless of anything we may say about it; talking doesn't change reality. Or does it? Not if we picture reality to be independent of us [man] -- but is it? (i.e. in what sense is it not?) I want to say: our concepts may change but our percepts do not (This is metaphysical realism).-- But is this correct (or even: not nonsense), if percepts without concepts are blind?

    But on the other hand, Goethe: "Remember that a fact is only a fact within a theory"; and N.R. Hanson: "facts are theory-laden". Both those statements are exaggerations [which is to say that they are not false in all cases].

    Exaggeration. What "theory" does Plato's statement about sentences in the Sophist belong to?

    The signs we use in speech to signify being are surely of two kinds.... One kind called 'names', the other 'verbs'.... By 'verb' we mean an expression that is applied to actions.... And by a 'name' the spoken sign applied to what performs these actions. Now a statement never exists solely of names spoken in succession, nor yet of verbs apart from names. (262a, tr. Cornford)

    I don't think understanding that statement requires knowing anything more than the English language; it is not "only a fact in some theory (or frame of reference)". And I don't think the statement 'The grass is green' is "only a fact in some theory" (unless 'theory' = 'concept' in the sense that 'grass' and 'green' are concepts, not percepts, but is that what Goethe has in mind? Maybe.) What theory? What frame of reference? (Suppose by 'theory' here Goethe would mean 'world-picture' -- would that make his generalization true? Not if both expressions are equally vague in meaning.) How do we use the word 'fact' (the distinction between fact and theory)?

    Our naive, normal way of expressing ourselves shows you not a theory but only a concept. (Z § 223)

    Unless we specify this definition: 'concept' DEF.= 'theory'. In some contexts that may be a true grammatical account. But in other contexts it would be a false account, and in others an assigned meaning which might blur many distinctions that we want to uphold.

    Concepts may alleviate mischief or they may make it worse. (CV p. 55, remark from 1946)

    The word 'concept' is too vague by far. (RFM vii § 45, p. 412)

    Neither the word 'theory' nor the word 'concept' has an essential meaning, and in some cases their grammars may overlap, e.g. 'theory' and 'conception [of something]' where both simply mean: a way of looking at things. So we find 'Freud's theory about dreams' or the question: 'What was Freud's conception of dreams?'

    (Source: Which do I mean by 'fact': 'statement of fact' or 'artifact'? [A statement of fact can be contrasted with an artifact, although note that what is said here about statements of fact can also be said about artifacts or "signs", i.e. ink marks or spoken sounds, the physical aspect of language only. (This is Wittgenstein's sign and symbol distinction: the difference between a sign and its use in the language.)])

  11. But well, as Plato says in the Gorgias (460a, 490b), "Stop one moment!", "Hold there a moment!" Surely it is knowledge -- and absolute knowledge at that -- that all truth is only truth relative to some frame of reference or other (Goethe)! Or is that not a statement of fact? It belongs instead to the definition of the word 'truth', and thus like all grammatical propositions is not falsifiable. The expression 'absolute truth' is simply an undefined combination of words. All knowledge is relative to a frame of reference; no knowledge is independent of such a frame.

    [Of course in religion absolute truth is said to belong to God, and so is absolute perspective. And religion also says that "God is like a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere". Decide for yourself whether such language, based as it is on grammatical analogies, is nonsense. Note that in the context of Cartesian geometry the antithesis of 'relative' would be 'unrelated', not 'absolute' (unless 'absolute' = 'unrelated'), but there is no place (i.e. there are no addresses) off the geometric plane: no point is unrelated; all points are relative.]

    It is possible to doubt everything -- however, it is not logically possible to doubt everything at the same time: because rational doubt requires rational grounds for doubt. The investigation of anything in doubt must proceed from something that is not in doubt.

    In every enquiry there will always be that which is not enquired into. (DW p. 72; scientific investigations normally take sight, memory and language for granted (p. 71))

    Note that these are all grammatical reminders of sense and nonsense.

    What you cannot say is that any randomly chosen frame of reference is just as useful to our work in philosophy as any other. For a frame of reference is a standard of measurement, and so, if e.g. a frame's smallest unit of measurement is the meter stick, then anything smaller than a meter is invisible to it -- and therefore does not exist within that frame of reference [system of measurement]. Wittgenstein's net has such limits.

    (Source: Herillus's view of the worth of knowledge versus Wittgenstein's)

  12. Query: everything is theoretical.

    Could Goethe be paraphrased: Every fact is only a fact within a frame of reference: there are no absolute facts? That would be clearer than the translation: "The most important thing to remember is that any fact is only a fact in a theory." Because the paraphrase says which definition of the word 'theory' we are using. Although: which definition was Goethe using?

    The word 'theory' has many meanings -- i.e. there is no general definition of 'theory' (although it is very hard to break one's irrational -- i.e. contrary to all evidence -- conviction that there is).

    (Source: "The subjective element in reason" (How do we use the word 'fact'? and Is 'theory' an important word?))

  13. Theory = world-picture. Those are remarks about the concepts 'fact' and 'opinion', about how we use words; or, again: remarks about the "depth grammar" (in Wittgenstein's jargon) of the words 'fact' and 'opinion'. As is this remark (which may be an exaggeration): a fact is only a fact within the context of a particular world-picture, but of such pictures there are many, indeed as many as there are "communities of ideas". An example of a "fact only in a particular world-picture": the use of the word 'know' in the fable "The Born-Blind People".

    (Source: How to distinguish facts from opinions)

  14. Query: physics, matter of fact.

    I wouldn't say (i.e. categorize things this way) that facts as such belong to physics, but that only theories about facts (although every fact is already "theoretical" -- i.e. conceptualized -- if percepts without concepts are indeed blind) belong to physics. But there are many, many issues to consider here. See M. O'C. Drury's Philosophy of Science: a scientific theory is a way of organizing a selection of data as pictures, models or maps; as well as the fallacious view that a scientific theory can become a fact (because a theory is essentially fact plus imagination).

    (Source: Russell's sense of the word 'grammar')

Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 7 July 2023 : 2023-07-07 (Original version 16 August 2013)

The URL of this Web page:

Back to top of page

Wittgenstein's Logic of Language - Introduction and Table of Contents | Bibliography | Site Search | Site Map