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Philosophy begins in boredom

In his later work did Wittgenstein want to say what the essence of philosophy is (which would be a general theory about the nature of a thing (Z § 458)), or did he only want to make clear what the essence of that aspect of philosophy that interested him is (an essence which would be verifiable by the examples he gave)? And why was he willing to talk "nonsense" (God, ethics) as he did in the "Lecture on Ethics" and when talking to M. O'C. Drury, but not in his book Philosophical Investigations?

[Goethe, as I, meant in contrast to such things as holding a lovely girl in your arms, breathing in sea air, and all the other beautiful things there are in the world.]

Boredom is the mother of poetry. (Goethe)

Friendships often bloom where there's nothing else to do. (Puskin)

What is the attraction of Wittgenstein's philosophy, a philosophy that solves not a single philosophical problem, indeed that does not even discuss the problem at the very heart of Greek philosophy from the Sophists and Socrates to the Stoics, namely Plato's "no small matter, but how to live"? (Wittgenstein's later work: a very limited definition of 'philosophy' and a very abstract view of reality.)

The principal foundations of my thinking in philosophy are (1) the Socrates of Plato's Apology and in Xenophon's statement of the Socratic standard for knowing in philosophy, and (2) the logic of language or the question of which standard should be used to distinguish language with meaning from language without meaning in philosophy.

Outline of this page ...

Philosophy, as Wittgenstein used the word 'philosophy'

Philosophy, as we use the word, is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert upon us. (BB p. 27)

Philosophy, i.e. what Wittgenstein gives the name 'philosophy' to, is a fight against the self-mystifying spell that language casts over the mind (cf. PI § 109). Or again, philosophy is the fight to break the grip our misunderstanding the logic ("grammar" in Wittgenstein's jargon) of our language holds us in.

Now, this is very important because here Wittgenstein says that he is defining the word 'philosophy' as he defines the word 'meaning', i.e. by saying that there are many meanings of the word 'philosophy', but that he is choosing this one rather than some other. This is important because here he says, This is what I am calling 'philosophy', just as he says "meaning, in the only sense of the word 'meaning' which interests me is ..." (PP i, p. 257; BB p. 65)

And so this answers (maybe) the question I asked elsewhere: does Wittgenstein think this is the only thing philosophy is, the only thing that philosophers do or can do? Or is Wittgenstein only saying that this is the only aspect of philosophy that interests him?

Wittgenstein is not, at least in the Blue Book, identifying the essence of philosophy with this statement; he is not saying, This is what philosophy essentially is (which he does say about metaphysics in the Philosophical Investigations. He does not identify metaphysics with philosophy -- because logic (of language) also belongs to philosophy -- but he does say that metaphysics is essentially conceptual confusion and never speculation about what reality in itself is).

In the Blue Book it is more like: There are many meanings of the word 'philosophy', but the meaning I have selected is ... Just as there are many meanings of the word 'meaning', but Wittgenstein chose one for his work in philosophy; there are many meanings of the word 'philosophy': Wittgenstein chose this one, saying this is the work that interests him, the work he wants to do in philosophy.

The limits of Wittgenstein's (work in) philosophy

Philosophy, as I use the word ...

Is that a definition? Which kind -- verbal or real definition. "Real" would be a thesis-hypothesis about the essence of philosophy, "verbal" a description of how the word 'philosophy' is actually used -- or the meaning its user is assigning to it or has chosen for it. A definition sets limits. But which kind of limits does it set in this particular case? I think I have said which kind I think above: a selection, a choice is made; a choice, not the only possible choice.

Cross of Gero, circa 970 A.D., Cologne Cathedral (Clark, 'Civilisation' (1969), illus. 20), 59 KB

And the other kind of faith?

Religious faith ... is a trusting. (CV p. 72, remark from 1948)

How often had he dared to walk out to God's grace without an umbrella open? (Marshall, A Thread of Scarlet (1959), xxx, 1)

As the Catholic Church uses the word 'faith' it means primarily the body of doctrine the Church believes has been revealed by God. But that is not all it means by that word. For faith in God is what dares to trust in God alone rather than in oneself. "Our Lord didn't like dying on the cross" (Marshall, The Bishop (1970), i), and without the kind of faith that is trust, he could not have gone to his crucifixion with the words "Thy will not mine be done."


Theology is speculation about what no one knows. Divine theology is "faith seeking understanding" and as like as not finding only misunderstanding instead.

Metaphysics in contrast to Natural Science

The eternal questions without answers are not, and could never be, questions for natural science to answer. The clue to why is given by the definition of the word 'faith', namely that faith is ("confident") belief that what is visible has its origin in what is not visible [Hebrews 11.1,3] -- or in other words, that what is perceptible to the senses has its origins in what is (essentially) not perceptible to the senses.

But the limit of natural science is the empirical -- i.e. its limit is what is (at least in principle) perceptible to the senses. And the answers to the eternal questions lie beyond that limit, a "beyond" that natural science does not recognize as even possibly existing -- because that recognition would negate the first principle of the whole scientific project that reality, even ultimate reality, can be discovered by studying what is in principle perceptible to the senses; the project of natural science is to assign to natural phenomena natural causes (what is essentially imperceptible is, if it exists, "supernatural").

An example. What is death? according to natural science versus What is death? according to metaphysics.

One can't really say that metaphysics is the view sub specie aeterni, because a physicist may also try to understand the universe "from the point of view of eternity", looking as Thales looked to find what is unchanging, what is eternal, in the reality we perceive with the senses. The distinction would have to be that metaphysics looks for a different kind of answer -- but how different?

Was Thales' way a natural scientist's way of looking at things rather than what we now call a philosopher's way? If Socrates were to look at the world sub specie aeterni, what would he be looking for? The only example I can think of is death, as above; are there no others, e.g. "Why is there anything rather than nothing?" Not that Socrates asked that question, but would Plato have asked it? and how would he have responded if asked? He did use the concept 'the world as a limited whole' [TLP 6.44-6.45], which is the Sophist's "all things" or "everything" [233e-234a].

"How many things I can do without!"

What is the moral of this story of Socrates' response to seeing the "goods" for sale in the marketplace (Diog. L. ii, 25)? The gods can, so to speak, do without everything -- i.e. they do not need anything; they are self-sufficient. Is the simple life -- i.e. one that requires very little to be lived (simple food, a modest cloak, and serviceable shelter; what more does a philosopher need of what merchants call "goods"?) -- therefore god-like? and therefore good (for of course the gods are good)? But that is only part of it. (Cf. "Being in the world, but not of the world" -- i.e. not "worldly". The philosopher does not live sub specie temporis but focused on eternity, which is "otherworldly" (sub specie aeterni). As Plato says, if Socrates had been anyone who was "of the world" he would have run away from prison (Phaedo 98c-99b); but a philosopher's life is devoted to higher things: the truth, goodness (ethics and ethical-idealism). That may be the moral of this story, for I think it is more than simply Socrates going without shoes, eating and drinking only when he is hungry and thirsty, and in this way being nearest in likeness to the gods.

Albert Schweitzer thought that Socrates' ethics or measure of good was "rational pleasure" (Civilization and Ethics (2nd ed., 1929), p. 33). Well, first, that is not true; it was, rather, "rational moral virtue". And second, the word 'pleasure' might mean most anything (it does not even need 'pain' as its antithesis, because it also contrasts with e.g. 'numbness'), and even in Xenophon it is awareness that one is "growing daily in goodness" that is the highest "pleasure" (Memorabilia i, 6, 1-9), which isn't what we usually have in mind when we use the word 'pleasure'.

Socrates' question was (in dialectic form): what is the good for man? Is it not life in accordance with the specific excellence ("virtue") that is proper and unique to man's nature? And what is that excellence? Is it enjoying pleasure and avoiding pain? But even if it were that (although it seems that animals live such lives except when instinct interferes), even then wisdom would be needed -- i.e. distinguishing what you know from what you don't know, and not imagining that you know what you don't know -- if man were to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. (This is discussed in Plato's Protagoras.) "Is knowledge of pleasure and pain what virtue is (for many say that pleasure is the only good for man and pain the only evil)?" Well, but unlike the animals, for man there is not only natural virtue -- but there is also moral virtue: unlike the animals, man knows good and evil. Pleasure may or may not be a natural virtue (excellence) -- but it is not a moral virtue; or is it this way: {piety, courage, justness, self-control, pleasure} and {impiety, cowardice, injustice, licentiousness, pain}? If we are asking for the specific excellence that is proper and unique to man, then the answer is rational moral virtue (Synonyms for 'rational' are 'reasoned' and 'wise').

Note that by 'self-control' or 'self-discipline' we usually mean the denial to oneself of a pleasure, above all a denial to oneself of the sweetness of one's own bad habits, which might include e.g. impatience, losing one's temper, things we don't normally classify as pleasures. Thus the concept 'pleasure' is so broad, so freely extensive, that we might classify most anything as a pleasure. (And this diminishes the concept's usefulness.)

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