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Anything in general - Defining abstractions

Anything "in general" is presumed to be a common nature, which would be the presumed meaning of a common name. (So when I say 'in general' I mean 'general definition', such as Socrates sought in ethics.) But although many things can be said about games in general, e.g. that they are watched, played, and enjoyed -- what is said about games does not belong to a definition of the word 'game' if by 'definition' we mean 'the rules for using a word'.

About games, Wittgenstein described what we know, the facts in plain view. And by the standard of experience, "games in general" (the defining common nature of games) is like Plato's Forms -- i.e. we can only say, in perplexity, about such-and-such a presumed common nature: "What's that is when it's at home?" -- because it isn't found in our world (Plato, Parmenides 132a, 133c), and that means that here 'common nature' is an undefined combination of words (i.e. 'nonsense' as defined by logic).

One question would be whether the meaning of the common name 'love' is the common nature (1) that all things we call 'love' share, and (2) that makes love a unique concept. (These are the two parts of Socratic definition.)

But another question is whether the combination of words 'What is love?' is a question or simply an undefined combination of words (nonsense)? Because what kind of answer are we asking for if we ask that question? Do we want to point to some "thing" and say -- "Ah, that is love. I always wondered what it was"? Misleading grammatical analogies as between the words 'mind' and 'brain', as between the words 'thinking' and 'spinning wool', as between the words 'thought' and 'honey', or between the words 'love' and 'warm air'.

[Why investigate words rather than the phenomena they name? Because rules for using words ("concepts") set the limits of phenomena. If indeed "percepts without concepts are blind" (Kant), that is all we know about this -- Certainly we don't know the "raw percept" ("phenomenon in itself", whatever that is when it's at home) -- if we say no more than we know.]

Context: these are logic of language studies. In my jargon the expression 'logic of language', which comes from Wittgenstein's TLP, means: what is the difference between sense and nonsense in the language used in philosophical discussions?


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The following were exploratory remarks maybe related to the discussion of Wittgenstein's grammatical remark 'Love is not a feeling'. But they are also related to my bit-more-than-a-bit confused and confusing discussion apropos of Plato's Phaedrus of the concept 'love'.

'What love is?'

Rather than try to say "what love is", which is a combination of words with no clear meaning, we say things about love: "Love forgives everything; it believes everything; it hopes for everything; it endures everything", Paul the Apostle writes. Or we say what love is like, as Helen Keller's teacher, "you cannot touch love" and she explains what 'love' means by saying that love is like "the warmth of the sun". No, not "about", not "like", but tell me what love itself is.

It seems true, although it seems strange, that there is no language-game in which the question 'What is love?' is a move (PI §§ 22, 49b; Z § 294). It appears by grammatical analogy to be a move, a normal use of language, but it isn't. (Cf. 'What is the mind?') The only answer is that the word 'love' is not the name of anything you can point to -- i.e. that is not the role it plays in the language.

"Do you see the mother caressing her child? That is love." -- Well, I see the mother, the child, the act of caressing -- but I do not see a fourth thing, namely something named 'love'. This makes the grammar of the word 'love' clearer. And so is 'love' like 'cause' (as in the billiards discussion) -- i.e. not a name at all? The conjuring trick (PI § 308): "It is the name of a phenomenon".

How does a word 'name a phenomenon'? The difference between 'Love is a phenomenon' and 'The word 'love' names a phenomenon'? Well, there is no difference. Elves too are a phenomenon -- a phenomenon in the language, in the imagination and in literature. That is how broadly we cast the word 'phenomenon': anything and everything is a phenomenon, "in one sense or another". (The word 'thing' is cast just as universally across our language.)

[Phenomena and objects. Concepts and phenomena (and definition)]

'Love is a phenomenon in the human way of life' -- is that a grammatical or a factual remark? That love is a phenomenon -- i.e. is the name of a phenomenon -- belongs to grammar. That is it a human phenomenon is, however, a matter of fact. (Not everything in this discussion is grammar, nothing ontology.)

A lion would not see love, because love belongs to the human, not to the lion's, form of life. But how is it possible for a public phenomenon to be invisible, for the lion too sees the mother caress her child.

It just isn't clear what someone who asks "what love is" is asking for. What would an answer look like, that is to say: Offer a model, a standard of some kind, a pattern. "This is the pattern your answer should follow."

"What is love?" The word 'love' names an emotion, and a disposition. In this way that answer makes "what love is" clearer: by saying that it belongs among other phenomena we place in that category such as fear and longing. ("We are interested in the concept and its place among the concepts of experience" (PI II, xi, p. 193); cf. definition by related concepts).

In what kind of cases do we have a use for the question 'What is x?' -- About what kind of things can we ask "What is it?" and expect a direct answer rather than, what by comparison looks like, a runaround. No one replies to Paul, "Please don't tell me about love; tell me what love is", for what would they be asking Paul?

What is love? What is thought? What is cold air? Pictures: (1) name of an object = of a solid object (one that resists when you can push against it (Gegenstand), as in materialism), (2) name of a phenomenon = of as a "gaseous object" (like a continuous fluid suspended in space). Two phenomena: an ammonia cloud, love -- and the imagination's picture of both is the same, both of them are invisible but "somehow palpable" ("tangible, to the mind").

Love, grammatical reminders and commandments (Paul)

Is Paul defining 'love', or is he saying "what love is" as if he were stating an hypothesis about love? Is there a difference here? Well there is no hypothesis unless Paul's statements can be true or false.

When he talks about love (1 Cor. 13.4 ff.), is Paul reminding his readers what we mean by the word 'love', as if we had forgotten (or maybe never thought about)? Not that, or not only that, because Paul is teaching about the Christian way of life -- and he is commanding: "This is what Christian love is -- i.e. this is how the Christian must live his life, how he must act."

But then is Paul not talking about an emotion, for he talks about what we must do regardless of how we feel? "Love God with thy whole heart and thy neighbor as thyself!" is not a command to have this or that feeling, nor even this or that disposition (Cervantes' prisoner: "You can force me to lie down, but you can't force me to sleep"), but to act in this or that way.

These are grammatical questions, i.e. questions about the use (meaning) of language. Paul's words are a reminder of Jesus' commandment to love -- but also a reminder to the forgetful of "what it means to love" (because many fall away from their religion without being aware of it). Is "what it means to love" "an explanation of meaning" in Wittgenstein's sense? In other words, does Paul explain the meaning of the word 'love', state the rules for using the word 'love' by stating what he is calling 'love'?

I sometimes think we need a fresh scheme, that we are mistaken to try to fit everything into Wittgenstein's logic of language, which, like Socrates' logic of language ("The meaning of a common name is the common nature it names"), becomes a preconception rather than an investigative tool.

Is it an hypothesis about love that "Love forgives all, it endures all"? It is a commandment made by Jesus' ethics of love on anyone who would belong to the kingdom of God. So Paul is not simply describing what someone who loves does: his account is not Aristotelian, i.e. he does not describe love as if a description were all that he wanted, but rather as someone calling his hearers to amend their lives.

What would an hypothesis about love look like -- the proposition that romantic love is often accompanied by jealously, for example? But if that proposition is true, does it belong to a definition of the word 'love'? Well, "often" is not "always" and mustn't a definition be "always", i.e. jealously is not a defining characteristic of 'romantic love'. (Cf. "concept fluidity", for example: must thunder always be accompanied by lightening? asked not as an hypothesis about thunder, but as part of the definition of the word 'thunder'.)

There is no answer to 'What is love?' in the sense of an hypothesis about the essential nature of love, which would be a question asked at this point by metaphysics, because it is not an unresolved empirical question in the context of describing how we use the word 'love' -- or is there some doubt to resolve here? Cf. "Maybe games do have a defining something that is common to all games but which no one has so far noticed!" (PI §§ 66, 345).

"The meaning of the word 'love' is neither the common nature of an object nor of a phenomenon." But I did not ask you what the meaning of the word 'love' isn't -- I asked you what it is. That is the trouble with Wittgenstein's logic of language, namely that a description of the use of some words is very complicated, and a definition is most serviceable when it is simple.

[We wouldn't say, "This remark applies in general but not in particular" -- i.e. this remark applies to everything in general but to nothing in particular.]


The Profound in Metaphysics

I have finally begun to see what is profound in metaphysics (its sense of wonder), even if profoundly mistaken, if that's what it is -- and in some cases it is -- but in all? That is a fundamental trouble with Wittgenstein's work, that some becomes all, as if he has discovered the essence of philosophy, and although discovered empirically according to a logic of language, nevertheless generalized into a metaphysical insight.

Maybe you have to be cured of metaphysics (in Wittgenstein's sense of learning to distinguish factual from conceptual investigations), if that's what I've been, before you can see what is profound in it.

What is profound in metaphysics is its presumptions, even if shown to be misconceptions, as well the figments (fantasy pictures) it conjures up to answer those questions.

Of course, if we call Kant-like conceptions of philosophy metaphysics, it is not necessary to look very far to see what is profound about metaphysics of that kind: does reality exist? in the sense of a single reality, or is the essence of reality to be only relative points of reference?

Plato's mysticism

The metaphysician is not a man who has been deprived of his five senses (BB p. 59), not even in Plato, because Plato uses what we perceive "while in the body" to seek to reach beyond what the body's five senses perceive. Plato is a mystic in Schweitzer's sense of the word 'mystic': someone who seeks to have knowledge of things that are outside our experience of this world.


Time and Chaos

Query: time isn't a real thing.

For a moment I was struck by that picture (reverted back to "the primeval chaos"), that the word 'time' names no object and therefore time isn't a real thing. That instead of immediately thinking that 'time' isn't a name-of-object-word; that isn't its grammar, its part of speech. But only for a moment. (The old way was exciting (all metaphysics is like contact with God, 'mysticism' in Schweitzer's sense), vertiginous, as if looking into an abyss of darkest night with stars as the ground under you disappears.)

When philosophizing you have to descend into the old chaos & feel at home there. (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 136 51a: 3.1.1948]: Translator's note: "'old chaos' could also be rendered as 'the former chaos'"; the CV (1980) (p. 65) rendering is "primeval chaos")

Maybe only once you have the tools -- if that's what "Wittgenstein's logic of language" is for me -- to defend yourself against that chaos are you willing to redescend into it -- and appreciate philosophy's problems as they originally presented themselves to you. I want to say (but this is maybe incorrect): something of the seriousness of man's thought (and therefore life) -- the profound mystery of our existence -- is lost when metaphysics is lost. (I say "maybe incorrect" because, rather than lost, metaphysics -- even in the context of Wittgenstein's logic of language -- may only be in need of a revised understanding.)

[The discussions of this topic: "Time is unreal" and "Is Time Real?" | "Time doesn't really exist" -- But can space be touched either?]


Empirical versus theoretical (Scientific method and Turn of Mind)

At the time, English aeronautics was transforming itself from a fledgling, essentially empirical, science to one grounded on firmer principles, taking forward the perceptive concepts of powered aeroplane flight set down by Sir George Cayley a century earlier. Frederick William Lanchester (FRS 1922), who disapproved of trial and error methods, had produced his theoretical calculations for the lift acting on an aircraft wing. (Ian Lemco, "Wittgenstein's aeronautical investigation" (22 January 2007))

I think the only question for science is which approach works (gives results) -- whether the empirical or the theoretical (The rest is for philosophy of science to worry about sorting out): "trial and error methods" versus "theoretical calculations". But this led me to ask if there aren't empirical and theoretical minds, as e.g. Pascal distinguished between the spirit of geometry and the spirit of finesse.

Was Socrates' mind (way of thinking) more empirical or more theoretical? And Descartes? Wittgenstein's way of thinking could be more theoretical in this: that he claims a generality for his characterizations of philosophy that does not seem justified by the very few examples he gives. He says that all philosophy is conceptual confusion: "the essential thing about metaphysics" (Z § 458) -- (This may appear tautological, because factual questions are verifiable by experience, whereas metaphysical questions are not; otherwise metaphysics would be physics -- but it is not tautological: the claim that metaphysical investigations are not empirical investigations and the claim that metaphysics is grammatical confusion are not the same claim at all). What Wittgenstein says about the essence of philosophy is metaphysical -- i.e. characteristic of the "theoretical mind", although because of the meaning of 'meaning' he chose for his work in philosophy the basis of his method is empirical.

The empirical element of the rationalism of Socrates and, in a very different way, of the Rationalism of Plato is this, that in ethics they are both talking about the world of our experience (about "no small matter, but how to live"), but Plato in his tautological ethics (Republic 332a-335e) makes a priori deductions that are applicable to how man should live his life.

If method = mind, Socrates' method of definition is empirical, Plato's method more theoretical (Phaedo 99d-100a, but also Euthyphro 6d-7d).

Query: philosopher who thinks he knows it all.

Descartes with his Method of endless deductions? Although he begins by doubting everything he can find grounds to doubt, which is close to everything, he ends with so much certainty that he can claim to have found "the reasons by which to prove the existence of God and of the human soul", all this by no more than inspecting his own ideas.


The Method of Geometry

We wish to prove that proposition q is true. Therefore we try to prove that the proposition NOT-q is true, because if NOT-q is false, then q is true (maybe, for there is the question of the excluded middle). For example, in order to prove 'Reason is the excellence proper to man', we try to prove that the proposition 'Reason is not the excellence proper to man' is true. That is the method of geometry.

The tautology: 'q or NOT-q, but not both'. We want to prove the truth of q, and so we assume that NOT-q is true. But reasoning refutes NOT-q. And from NOT-NOT-q follows that q is true.

Query: Descartes' law -- in order to find the truth you have to believe that all you know is false.

That is the method of geometry.

Query: what is nonsense logic in geometry?

The notion of "undefined terms" as we normally use the word 'undefined' is "nonsense logic in geometry" ('nonsense' = 'undefined' = 'without meaning'). But if 'nonsense' = 'foolishness', then a proof's assumption that NOT-q is true might in some cases look like "nonsense logic".

The persistence of "undefined terms"

Query: why is there a need for undefined terms in any mathematical system? Why can't we define every term in geometry?

(Again, these queries are not philosophical, they do not question a thesis but seek its justification instead. Is there a need? and Can't we?) This is a possible reason (although it is a misconception): "For it is evident," Pascal wrote, "that the first terms we wished to define would presuppose others for their explication ... and thus we should never arrive at the first" (On the Geometrical Mind, tr. Scofield). The reply to Pascal is that defining terms by means of other terms is not the only way to define terms: we call many different kinds of things 'explanations of meaning', i.e. 'definitions', not only sign-for-sign substitution rules. (And Pascal's "first terms" do need to be defined for the sake of orientation if nothing else.)

Another reason "undefined terms" might be needed in maths is geometry's contact-with-experience words: if geometry's points, lines and planes cannot be seen with the eye of the body ("Have you ever seen any of these things with your eyes?"), then they must be seen with the eye of the soul, just as Plato says they must. Although this too is a misconception -- The words 'point', 'line' and 'plane' are defined, not visually, but instead by means of rules (of the game): those words have no visual meaning.

The reason given by Friedrich Waismann, that maths only needs definitions when those definitions are used as steps in a mathematical proof doesn't apply to this particular query. Or does it? Because maths uses all sorts of words that it does not define, e.g. the words 'all' and 'the' -- now, what would geometry's definitions of 'all' and 'the' look like? Is a definition needed, and if it isn't needed then Ockham's razor applies (and that is a possible reason why maths "needs undefined terms", as in the query).

Query: explain why some terms in geometry have been kept as undefined terms, like point.

How to account for the persistence of the old logic of language, the old grammar, despite its unsuitability for its task? Tradition and authority have no place in philosophy -- and these queries concern a philosophical not a mathematical puzzle. Philosophy is a voice crying in the wildness -- Put the question marks deeper! (CV p. 48)

Query: concept of how to know by Socrates as based on religion.

I first misread this query as "how to live", but the reply is the same either way ("how to know"), Well, but it isn't "based on religion". Even if the "divine sign" gave Socrates knowledge (but a premonition is not knowledge), that would be "knowledge" for Socrates only. -- It would not be a method for seeking knowledge that his companions could use.

To claim that the good for man is to act contrary to the excellence (virtue/moral virtue) that is proper to him -- To claim that the good for man is not to live in accord with the excellence that is proper to man -- involves one in endless absurdities, as for example? That the good for man is being irrational (rejecting reason), being conformist to tradition (rejecting creative imagination) and authority (rejecting thinking for oneself) --. This is the method of geometric proof: Suppose NOT-q to be true.


Language like a game (PI § 108)

"The second Wittgenstein compared language to a game. In what ways are they alike?" In the case of chess (PI § 108), both have pieces and rules (words and grammar). But not all games have equipment (e.g. foot races among friends have none), and the rules of all games are not overly strict (e.g. Are you allowed to leap over the fence or must you go around it? Well, there is no rule unless the racers want to make one).

Query: questions have no answer, but they still exist.

Well, but this is it: Do they exist, or are they only a babble of words? Games played according to strict rules versus less-strict rules: the eternal questions -- are these an example of the latter? Or is "questions without answers" not a game at all (or not the game we take it by analogy to be, but a quite different use of language)?

Query: questions that make sense but have no answers.

Is that logically possible (The question of antitheses)? Is the question therefore "complex"? -- because it assumes that there not only can be but that there are such questions. Could you say it is therefore circular?

Suppose someone replied: "There are such questions, but no one knows what they are"? Or said that "doubtless, there are further such questions that no one has so far identified, more eternal questions ..."


Linguistic analysis

"Letting the words speak to you" does not make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense. They may say one thing to you, another to me (I do not have in mind here cases where Russell's theory of descriptions is applicable). My old teacher wrote (14 October 2008) to me, now a few years ago:

... but two serious set-backs since (...) have rendered me uncomfortable in body & walking -- no pain, mind you, just gross discomfort. I've done a linguistic analysis to satisfy myself as to the difference between pain & discomfort.

The method of linguistic analysis, if it should be called a method, invites unclarity. Its results are that "whatever seems right is going to be right" (PI § 258), W.E. Johnson's "no one has the right to say it is senseless"; no, indeed, what right would they have.

What decides which analysis is correct? Here the question is not what, but who. Is it a matter of consensus? Is that how we define words -- by taking a vote? But Wittgenstein says that rules of grammar are nothing more than "what anyone knows and must admit" (Z § 211; PI § 599) -- and is that not taking a vote? No, it is not: the agreement is co-incidental, not contractual, but if anyone wishes to dispute a definition, we can test it in Socratic dialectic, cross-question the objection or counter-thesis, putting it to the test, to be refuted or agreed to as a true description of our common practice. Whereas with linguistic analysis, there is no disputing Johnson's claim -- he cannot even dispute it with himself, so to speak: where there are no grounds of rightness, whatever seems right is -- neither right nor wrong.

Philosophers very often talk about investigating, analysing, the meaning of words. But let's not forget that a word hasn't got a meaning given to it, as it were, by a power independent of us, so that there could be a kind of scientific investigation into what the word really means. A word has the meaning someone has given to it. (BB p. 27-28)

I think the above applies to linguistic analysis/analytic propositions. I will apply it that way, as if an analytic proposition stated what the real or true meaning of the word it analyzed is. "... they let the words speak to them."

Query: why does philosophy begin with logic?
Query: philosophy begins with language.

The second query answers the first, if that is the answer: that if the tool (medium) of philosophy is language, and if the tool for examining and determining language meaning is logic, then ...

Query: critical thinking is in which branch of philosophy?

If there is a branch in which it isn't, that branch isn't philosophy: it is a phantom limb.


View versus Thesis

Query: what is excellence in Socrates' eyes?
Query: can one regard virtue as knowledge?

The second query states a view, in the sense of 'view' of: way of looking at things, of arranging the facts, of framing the facts. ("Virtue is knowledge" as a way to look at ethics.)

As to the first query: But if it is only in Socrates' eyes, then is it philosophy? If by 'view' is meant 'thesis' rather than 'way of looking at things', then a view must be put to the test of Socratic dialectic, to be agreed to or refuted: If a man knows anything he can give explain and defend ("give an account of") what he knows to others (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1). And so excellence must be the same in Socrates' view as in the view of his companions in dialectic. (To the traditional Greek concept areté ("excellence"), Socrates added moral virtue.)

"For to me too there is no greater pleasure than to have Socrates brought to my recollection ..." (Phaedo 58d, tr. Jowett), for the lessons that are to be learned from his methods and life. And so, as above, I retell these stories over and over again.

According to W.K.C. Guthrie, it was matter-of-course for the Greeks that the good for a thing is the excellence that is proper to it (as in their myth of all things being designed with a function by the gods). And thus for man as well.

But by the word 'view' might be meant: What is Socrates' point of reference, which might be e.g. "Know thyself", meaning know the specific excellence (i.e. the ethical areté) that is proper and unique to man, for then you will know how to live our life, in contrast to what is Kant's point of view, if I understand it, which I may not, that one feels oneself compelled to embrace particular "values", to take a particular course of action.

Can views in that sense of 'view' be put to the test of dialectic? Are there really frames of reference that are independent of philosophy's ability to refute them? According to Wittgenstein, yes (OC § 611), but according to Wittgenstein ethics is about "absolute values", about which non disputandum est (although my childhood says it should be non disputanda sunt). Is the only "refutation" of Kant to say: I don't want to look at ethics your way?

[Although adduction is not dialectic, it may be used as a tool there ("For example, the horse-trainer ..." seems to be Plato's favorite adduced analogy).]

Query: Gestalt shift -- any thing can be interpreted in any way?

Is that this phenomenon's implication? But no, you have to identify an aspect; you cannot simply say of the duck-rabbit that you see a giraffe's head: you must show where you see e.g. its eyes, mouth.


About the fly-bottle

Qual o seu objetivo em filosofia? -- Mostrar à mosca a saída do vidro. (Investigações filosóficas § 309)

Question: is the fly-bottle transparent, translucent, or opaque? Transparent, I think, because that is why the fly bumps up/runs against the limits of the bottle, that is, of language, because it does not see the glass, the limits of its cage, the limits of language (which it would do if the bottle were opaque). The translucent bottle would be the bottle of the mystic, who sees the limit but thinks he can see something beyond it.


Recollection and Real Existence

Query: why did Plato lay so much emphasis on recollection?

How does man know the things that he knows if he does not know those things empirically (i.e. through sense perception)? Plato asks, "Have you ever seen any of these things with your eyes?" (Phaedo 65d) apropos of the examples he gives, "absolute uprightness", "absolute beauty", "absolute goodness" -- all of which appear to name perfections that no one has ever seen, as well as "absolute tallness", "absolute health and strength". And so, Plato says, because you have never seen these things but nonetheless know of them, it must be that you recollect them from a time when your soul's perceptions were not mediated by your body's senses.

Wittgenstein wrote to Sraffa: "Every way of thinking is all right as long as it isn't stupid." -- Well, is Plato's way of thinking "stupid"? Was he deluded in thinking that there is such a thing as uprightness itself, independent of any particular uprightness acts, "absolute" uprightness? But if the meaning of a common name must be a (defining) common nature? Is that "must" a "stupid prejudice" (PI § 340)?

Well, but have you ever seen "tablehood" or "cuphood" (Diogenes and Plato) -- have you ever seen anything but individual tables and cups? Remember that an absolute definition must say not only (1) what a given class of things is, but also (2) in what way that class of things is different from all other classes of things: not only (1) "What is a table?" but also (2) "What differentiates a table from all other things?" -- Its uniqueness is its essence ("tablehood").

Query: why did Plato say that all we can imagine exists?

This may be an allusion to Plato's Theaetetus 189a: Thinking must be of something real. Because as Plato follows Parmenides: "Of what is not, it cannot be said that it is" (Plato, Sophist 256d-258e). Taking Russell's example 'The golden mountain does not exist', Plato could say of the proposition 'The golden mountain is not' that what it really says is: There is a mountain which is not golden. A does not exist does not mean NOT-A but instead B -- i.e. something different.

More interesting, maybe, would be if Plato were to say that "what can be described can happen too" [TLP 6.362] -- meaning that whatever is logical possibility ("whatever can be described") can also exist. Why say that? Well, "Have you ever seen any of these things with your eyes?" yet they are logically possible (if indeed they, e.g. "absolute beauty", are logically possible) and they "must" -- i.e. they can be deduced to -- exist.

No, it does not have to exist in any sense. (Z § 69)

If I say that pieped does not exist, I am not first imagining pieped to exist; what I am denying is that 'pieped' is a word in our language. You can't say that pieped must exist in some sense.

Plato and the Phaedo

Query: theory of the absolutes; Plato.

We could also call this "Plato's theory of / the meaning of / common names".

Query: what Plato believed was the only hope for salvation and the good life.

Philosophy, of course; philosophy leads to moral excellence. And moral excellence is both the good for man, and his salvation: "No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death" (Apology 41c-d, tr. Jowett).

[Related pages: The philosopher "minds his own business" (i.e. his own affairs when the community is intent on viciousness he cannot affect against) (Republic 496c-d) | The philosopher makes dying (i.e. the separation of the soul from the body) his profession (Phaedo 67e-68a)]

Query: absolute beauty completely independent of the senses.

"... independent of the senses" -- i.e. "have you ever seen beauty itself with your eyes (Phaedo 65d)? It may seem that if a common nature is the meaning of a common name, then no one has ever seen the meaning of a common name. But Plato does not say that, for he cites the examples of clay (Theaetetus 147a-c) and "quickness" (Laches 192a-b) as cases where the common natures (Absolutes?) are seen.

Although have we seen quickness itself? We have a universal formula for the application of that word 'quick'. So that knowing a thing's absolute form is not the same as seeing that form with you eyes. And so some Forms are not even "metaphorically" visual, e.g. the Form of thunder. (Is Aristotle's definition 'noise in the clouds' the Form of thunder ("thunderness")? or is "the noise of fire being quenched in the clouds"? Or neither according to Plato -- i.e. can Aristotle be restated in Plato's terms?)

For Plato the Forms appear to be such as "eye hath not seen nor ear heard" -- i.e. the eye of the soul is not a mirror of the eye of the body. What the soul saw when it saw absolute beauty is not something that the body can see (otherwise presumably the body would see it). That does seem to be Plato's meaning -- way of reasoning -- in this dialog. The Absolutes (Forms) must exist (Phaedo 99d-100a), and so if they are not perceptible, then they must be imperceptible.

Query: according to Plato's view there are two kinds of existence - the changing invisible and the unchanging visible.

The query as stated is false; just the opposite is Plato's view. As to the opposite, as to "the changing visible" -- does it "really" exist? or has it merely the appearance of existing? If the "changing visible" really exists, then why can't it be known? Well, of course it can be, as e.g. Socrates knows his own name (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 2, 24). But that is not something "worth knowing" (Plato, Apology 21d) -- What Plato seeks is knowledge of the truths that are of "importance" to know, "the noblest and greatest" things, such as goodness and beauty themselves.

Was I wrong then when I wrote that according to Plato there can be no knowledge unless it is of "an unchanging invisible"? Or is "Everything perceptible is in a state of change" an axiom in Plato's thinking -- and that what we know is the-unchanging-in-the-changing, e.g. not Socrates' name but "nameness", an absolute no one has ever seen with his eyes? (The Absolute is what we fix our thought on (Parmenides 135c), not "the changing visible".)

Grammatical aside. Couldn't we say that the word 'beauty' is not the name of a phenomenon but is instead the name, so to speak, of a characterization of phenomena? So that maybe if there were no noun 'beauty', but only an adjective 'beautiful' -- no one would imagine that we were talking about the name of some independent thing?

As if the noun 'beauty' were the product (creation) of following a misleading analogy. On the other hand, what then of Dostoyevsky's remark that "Beauty is an awe-inspiring and terrifying thing" -- is he not here talking about a phenomenon, about "beauty in general" and its effect on the human being? (The expression 'in general' is too vague by far.)

[Would we say that 'beautiful flower' is not the name of two things, two phenomena: but instead there is one phenomenon and one characterization of a phenomenon? Or is 'beautiful flower' itself the name of a phenomenon? as if there were two phenomena: flower and beautiful flower? (The word 'phenomenon', like the word 'thing', is a blunt instrument.)]

"True holiness"

Query: what is the true definition of being holy? Socrates.

The "true definition" will be (1) the one that describes how we use the word 'holy' (maybe "family likenesses", but that is only one possibility; another may be definition by related concepts (Schweitzer and J.S. Bach)) -- versus the "true definition" will be (2) the one that offers a universal standard for applying the word 'holy'.

Traduttore, traditore

Query: Plato believes true philosophers aren't afraid of death; interpretation.

There are three most pertinent texts: (1) Apology 29a, which is Socratic ("Fear of death is thinking oneself wise when one is not", for man does not know what death is), and (2) Phaedo 67a-68a, which is Platonic (Death is the separation of the soul from the body, and the soul once freed is able to know the truths that it most yearns to know), and (3) Phaedo 68d-69c, which is both (Virtue is knowledge: the philosopher knows what is and what is not to be feared, and loss of pleasure is not one of these).

If Plato's Forms are what is seen from the perspective of God, then the soul freed of the body shares the perspective of God? Well, have not the Catholic Christians said this, that "who sees God sees all things" (Pope St. Gregory the Great), and is it not the soul they are speaking of as seeing God?

The word 'interpretation' -- what do we mean by it? Sometimes 'interpretation' = 'translation' ("translator = traitor"). Plato's ideas expressed in other terms -- i.e. in terms that are not his own.

Interpretation. "Look at Plato this way!" But if that way isn't Plato's own way, then is it Plato you are studying or a meaning you yourself have assigned to his words? About some readings that are given to the text you can say this, "... for you yourself made it meaningless" (cf. Z § 259). The word 'interpretation' may contrast with 'the plain (straightforward) reading of the text' or 'the reading in context'.

Terms of thought

Wittgenstein's notion "absolute value" and Socrates -- but Socrates "did not use that concept" = "think in those terms". If you dress a philosopher in clothes that are not his own, will the philosopher be underneath them? Changing Socrates' face as in a picture-puzzle, his vocabulary, working-concepts, the concepts he thinks with, the tools he uses to think.

Socrates did not "think in those terms" -- i.e. he did not use the concept 'moral values' to investigate ethics. [Apropos of Guthrie's view of Socrates' logic and ethics.]

But aren't courage, piety, etc., moral values? Not unless 'values' = 'virtues', which it does not. Those words are not merely different names for the same thing: they are different concepts. (In what way different?)

Does 'value' = 'excellence' (areté), whether moral virtue or not? Is love of fodder a value? Is it an excellence proper to beasts? Yes, for the first (a beastly value), but for the second we must take argument -- i.e. is love of fodder an excellence proper to beasts? Gluttony is not accounted a human virtue, although it is a value of many human beings.

We may want to say that we are stating a moral principle when we say that it is worse to do wrong than to be wronged. But Plato does not "think in those terms" -- i.e. he does not use our concept 'moral principle', which is a phrase which suggests the view that the principles of ethics are inherently ungroundable, that ethics is irrational.

But if we are not stating a moral principle, then what is the combination of words 'Wrongdoing is the second greatest of all evils' (Gorgias 479d)?

So years ago I wrote. 'It is worse to do than to suffer wrong' (ibid. 474b) is a proposition in form -- but which proposition type is it? Not a statement of sense perception, nor a rule of grammar, nor a religious proposition ... If it is an "ethical proposition", how is the category ethical-proposition type -- of which both ethical-categorical-imperative and Platonic-ethical-proposition would be sub-categories -- to be defined? Would this serve as the criterion for inclusion-exclusion: propositions that say how man qua man ["man as such and only as such"] should live his life?

Man as an ethical being (man qua man) contrasts with e.g. man as "the shepherd qua shepherd" (Thrasymachus 345c-d). (What is the excellence proper to the murderer qua murderer? Does murder belong to the excellence proper to man qua man? Only the second question belongs to ethics.)

"Thinking is digesting"

Occasionally, very occasionally, someone writes to me, maybe because they think I know what I am talking about. And thus I received this request: "I might end up reading the Tractatus and The Philosophical Investigations, but What is the best book digesting the thought of both books?" And so I replied.

If you are asking about a good introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy, I don't know of one. I have read very little secondary literature, and that many years ago.

About the Tractatus I would read with care Paul Engelmann's Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein, with a Memoir (1967).

As to Wittgenstein's post-Tractatus writing, that I have studied on my own. But after more than 40 years I am still finding new ways to look at it. You might find it helpful to read Wittgenstein's The Blue Book first. The Investigations begins in medias res, whereas The Blue Book is written a bit closer to a book of instruction, with something like an introduction.

I'm afraid that's all I can tell you. But if you are going to undertake the study of Wittgenstein's work, I think you will find it will take years of thinking to begin to make sense of it in a non-dogmatic way, treating his generalizations with skepticism, remembering always that SOME does not prove ALL. (Wittgenstein told Norman Malcolm: "thinking is digesting".)

I don't know if that is "playing ping-pong with a tennis racket" (Recollections p. 140), but I wouldn't like to cheat anyone by pretending that philosophy is easy or that someone else can do your thinking for you.


Language, Logic, Philosophy

Query: discuss the three questions that concern ancient Greek philosophy.

According to the Stoics, those three questions would, I think, be: (1) How to think/reason? (logic); (2) How to live? (ethics); and (3) What is real? (metaphysics). But some philosophers contest that there are only three questions and some add (4) What/How does man know? (epistemology).

Query: types of philosophical wisdom.

With respect to the Stoics' division of philosophy into three parts maybe: Wisdom in logic = knowing how to reason (but also knowing how to distinguish sense from nonsense in language); Wisdom in ethics = knowing how to live one's life (but Plato adds knowing what to do in the particular case); Wisdom in metaphysics = knowing reality (but also knowing what is higher (what is highest = religion)).

Query: tool used by philosophy in searching for its object.

Logic. -- But "defining logic" may also be philosophy's object, as e.g. "we are discussing no small matter, but how to reason". And so "defining logic" means hypothesis formation? Yes, but this hypothesis is verifiable rather than speculative.

Query: difference between philosophy and logic.

The difference between a whole and its parts, or between a project and a tool used in it.

Query: according to the ancient philosophers what is the meaning of meaning?

If this does not mean What is the meaning of the word 'meaning'? then what will it mean? At first blush I thought, the question is anachronistic if meant in the sense of word-meaning rather than thing-meaning, but then what is Plato's Cratylus about?

Query: what is the origin of logic?

Wittgenstein: "I must begin with the distinction between sense and nonsense. Nothing is possible prior to that." (PG i § 81, p. 126-7) Could there be a language -- a form/way of life -- in which no distinction were made between meaning and meaningless speech? Such a language would not be a language, would not be what we call 'language'.

As to history, "Your question and answer uses language, so I have to talk about language" (cf. PI § 120). This is why language is the concern of logic: how to distinguish sound from unsound reasoning, as well as "sound with sense" from "mere sound without sense" (nonsense); reasoning in philosophy is a use of language.

Syntax and nonsense

Note: there is also a later discussion "Between syntax and semantic" of this question.

Query: Wittgenstein's rejection of logic.

But only if logic = syntax, as in the propositional calculus (mathematical logic) it does. As well as in the TLP? Maybe also in theTLP, logic = syntax (The order of the elements of the proposition must correspond to the order of the elements in the fact of which the proposition is a picture: that order appears to be belong to syntax).

Query: grammatically correct but senseless sentence.

In the beginning I give examples of misleading grammatical analogies -- Wittgenstein's example of syntax permitting the creation of nonsense: 'Milk me sugar' (PI § 498) -- but the important question is why is it senseless? It is not because of its syntax, but because it has (so far) no defined use in the language. In other words, we don't normally use the combination of words 'Milk me sugar'.

Query: Nonsense poems don't make sense because none of the grammar rules are followed.

So far as I know, then, I've never seen a "nonsense poem", or maybe the query is counterfactual, a True-False question. Is the question whether the poem is without meaning ("doesn't make sense"), i.e. is mere noise? or is the question whether the poem is absurd (e.g. "The dish ran away with the spoon") -- i.e. the word 'nonsense' is ambiguous in meaning. In Wittgenstein's sense of 'nonsense' (i.e. "mere noise"), the question is whether the poem's combinations of words have an already defined [because we can always invent a new use for them] use in our language, not whether the poem's syntax is normal or not: 'Milk me sugar' [PI § 498] is nonsense (i.e. a combination of words with no defined use in our language) but its syntax is the same as 'Tell me stories' (if 'milk' is a verb), which is not.

The normal use of a word DEF.= the word's use "in the language-game that is its original home" (ibid. § 116).

"... it's the meaning that is nonsense, not as it were the syntax: 'Milk me sugar' is nonsense but its syntax is the same as 'Tell me stories', which is not." Of course the meaning can't be nonsense, because 'nonsense' means 'absence of meaning' (as in 'the meaning is without meaning'). But 'Milk me sugar' is not absurd; it's sound without sense (although "in a sense meaningless, but in a sense not", i.e. in a sense of 'meaningless'). But can syntax be nonsense? in the sense of 'nonsense' = 'unused language' (but not in the sense 'undefined language'). For example, 'Me stories tell' is not English other than broken English ... The shipwreck of our remarks is this: that we can, using very little imagination, invent a use/meaning for any language whatsoever to have. That is the importance of the normal case if we are going to be able to say anything about the logic of language at all. [Cf. Newton's "This rule we must follow, that the argument of induction may not be evaded by hypotheses", in this case the equivalent of "induction" being our normal use ["usage"] of language and "hypotheses" being imagined uses for normally unused language.]

Query: grammar as logic not rules.

But 'logic' = 'rules', as does 'grammar'. A "logic" without rules would not be what we call [by the name] 'logic'.

Query: logic is both a branch of philosophy and instrument of doing philosophy; discuss.
Query: logic is broken branch of philosophy ... discuss.

"What are the correct rules for reasoning?" is the branch, and the application of those rules to the study of particular philosophical problems is the instrument. (As to the second query: some philosophers have regarded Metaphysics that way, as broken philosophy, which, unlike broken English, is mere sound without sense.)

Query: is logic a branch of philosophy and an instrument of doing philosophy?

And so I called this the philosophical form of the query -- i.e. a question, not an answer (Don't tell -- Ask!). But (Wittgenstein's idea) every assertion might be rewritten as a question-and-answer: 'Is logic -- doing philosophy? Yes!' (cf. PI § 22) But a thesis is an answer offered to Socratic dialog: "discuss" = Test in dialectic (thesis, cross-question, revised thesis, cross-question ... refutation or agreement).

Query: classified areas of philosophy.

Socratic philosophy has no secret doctrines (although, according to Guthrie, Plato may have had); it is public. And public too is Wittgenstein's logic of language, but public is a different sense of 'public'.

Query: a name means an object in logic.

But that is precisely what it doesn't mean, never, neither for imaginary objects (gryphons and goblins), for abstract objects (ideas, the mind, beauty), nor for physical objects (donkeys and books).

Query: what is the name of the method Socrates used to induce people to use their common sense and seek answers to various philosophical questions?

The 'Socratic Method', or, 'dialectic', I imagine. What is or isn't "common sense" [senso della misura, capacità di giudizio] belongs to a community of ideas -- but philosophy wants to see both within and without (inside and outside) the community. That is where it looks with the theses and cross-questions it examines in Socratic dialectic. (Maybe 'common sense' here contrasts with 'religious belief' or 'superstition'.)

Query: is air logical or real empirical?

As if you could ask whether gas were an abstract object (an abstraction)? as chaos is (apparently!).


Robert Louis Stevenson's Mr. Hyde - "growing daily in badness"

In Xenophon's text, Socrates says that he is "growing in goodness" (Memorabilia i, 6, 9; iv, 8, 6).

If I understand Henry Jekyll's final statement, then if a man indulges what is evil in himself, that part of him will gain ascendency, that is, it will come to dominate his character, making him on balance more evil than good. And now, so it seems to me, then, that the converse may be true, that if a man encourages what is good in himself, if he nourishes that rather than what is evil, then it may be that the good in him will gain ascendency over the evil in him. Maybe that has to be our hope, in any case, that the latter is possible, and that we may find ourselves, like Socrates, to be "growing in goodness".

Had I approached my discovery in a more noble spirit, had I risked the experiment while under the empire of generous or pious aspirations, all must have been otherwise ... The drug had no discriminating action; it was neither diabolical nor divine; it but shook the doors of the prison house of my disposition; and ... that which stood within ran forth. At that time my virtue slumbered; my evil, kept awake by ambition, was alert and swift to seize the occasion ... Hence, although I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll ... The movement was thus wholly toward the worse. ("Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case")

Of course this is related to "for the body is a source of endless trouble to us" (Phaedo 66b-d) rather than to Virtue is knowledge.


Too many assertions, too few questions

Query: class question: why does the just person as well as the unjust believe that wrongdoing pays better?

Giving a thesis the form of a question does not make it one. The presumption of belief here is an assertion (which, as we use the word 'presumption', means that it is the requirement, not the result, of an investigation (PI § 107)). Nor is that presumption disguised, but it assures a foregone conclusion -- and that is not philosophy.

Epictetus and the stolen lamp: the just man does not "believe wrongdoing pays better". The one who took that lamp paid a very high price for it -- the price of making himself a thief. "What does it profit a man to gain a lamp, but lose himself as an ethical being?" (Matthew 16.26)

"If right-doing = being good, and wrong-doing = being evil, then how is wrong-doing a better payment? How can the good for man be wrong-doing!" But seeing that a proposition is absurd, and refuting that proposition, are not the same thing (Hume's absurd propositions). The task in this particular case is for Plato's method of tautologies.

Query: philosopher always asks why.
Query: how to question everything?

Seeking a universally applicable method -- that would be ideal, like Socrates' standard in ethics. But, I think, there is instead a whole toolbox of methods. But I also think that the sense or nonsense question is where to always begin rather than e.g. true or false -- and that question is a universal standard.

[Is the account of the notion of a standard of judgment in Plato's Euthyphro the historical Socrates' idea -- or Plato's? Well, but being a good student [of philosophy] is not copying your teacher's ideas, but putting those ideas to use for your own ends.]

Ask whether the proposition makes sense (and then "What is its sense?"), because it may simply be an undefined combination of words (i.e. nonsense). What is it's meaning? comes before: Is it true or false? That is the later Wittgenstein's "new method in philosophy": to set aside the question of truth to ask about sense and nonsense (about that aspect of the proposition) instead.

But that method is not so new, for it is used by Plato in Republic 339a-b, with the difference that Plato then goes on to examine the truth or falsity of the defined proposition: "I have learned your meaning, but whether it is true or not I have to try to learn", whereas Wittgenstein finds the propositions of philosophy to be nonsense (expressions of conceptual confusion), and therefore the question about their truth does not arise.

But does Plato have a method, a standard, for objectively distinguishing sense from nonsense in philosophy? That is the question that must next be asked.

Query: how to find Wittgenstein's among all the other graves?

I think that I had written a good page, the grave as it was thirty-five years ago, and yet it is hardly ever seen. I suppose my work isn't what is wanted. This doesn't trouble me, but it does perplex me. (I also think well of my translation of selections from Franz Parak's Wittgenstein at Cassino, as well as my Life of Robert Schumann. Original works that are hardly seen.)


Grammatical remarks and Statements of fact (hypotheses)

Query: what do you think piety is?

Even if this question-sign can be given a sense, I want to say, it is still a mistake to ask it; its orientation is wrong. As if "what piety is" were a matter for conjecture (hypothesis) rather than a call for a definition of a word. Before you ask what the nature of the thing is, ask what thing you are talking about.

Identifying "what thing you are talking about" is done with a language definition. If that definition reports how we normally use a word (in contrast to an assigned meaning), then it is a statement of fact about our language (and that means about our way of life; it is anthropological.)

But isn't a statement of fact an hypothesis? But the word 'hypothesis' has various meanings: not all hypotheses are metaphysical conjectures; some are verifiable statements of fact.

Definitions are statements of fact that any speaker of the language, if it is language he actually uses (terms he thinks with), is able to verify: "Yes, that is how we use this word."

But isn't that "he is able to verify" an hypothesis? Logic's grammatical remarks are not the same as the definitions stated in dictionaries if those definitions are of words the person looking up the word is unfamiliar with (but if the sign-for-sign definition is understood, then that person is able to verify an account of how the word used to define [definiens] the unknown word [definiendum] is used). Logic of language's grammatical remarks are reminders.

By definition of 'statement of fact', any statement of fact can be true or false, but what would it be like if Wittgenstein's description of how we use the word 'game' -- i.e. of what we call 'games' -- were false?

If the knowledge we hold in common about our language were unreliable, then there would be no distinction between sense and nonsense. Something must stand fast [That is a logical necessity]: What would it be like if Socrates were mistaken about his own name? If we were unable to be certain of the basic facts about our lives, then anything you like (i.e. anything follows from a false antecedent; that is the logic of the counter-factual conditional).

But why 'must'? The question is: isn't it correct to apply a word in some circumstances and not in others?

An objective distinction between sense and nonsense -- i.e. that the words 'sense' and 'nonsense' are defined and not nonsense -- exists in our language. It is indeed a precondition for there being language at all.

Why 'objective' -- is there some other? Subjective? But we don't call "whatever seems right" making a distinction: a capricious standard is no standard.


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