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Wittgenstein and the Propositions of Ethics

And if the propositions of ethics are of a different kind from the propositions of metaphysics, then what becomes of Wittgenstein's project in philosophy? For "absolute value" is not the only possible foundation of ethics, not if Socratic ethics is not nonsense. And if it is not, then what justification would there be for saying that ethics is not part of philosophy, as it has been since the time of Socrates (Diog. L. i, 18, 14)? And so there is the question of: Wittgenstein and Philosophy itself (Plato, Euthydemus 307a-c).

A part of speech and proposition type found in ethics

There are many possible answers to questions that define such words as 'wisdom' (What is wisdom for man?) and 'happiness' (What is happiness for man?); they belong to the word category word with many possible meanings. In other words, it belongs to the grammar itself (in Wittgenstein's jargon) of questions that define this particular class of words that they may have many possible answers.

There may be very-general definitions of such words as 'wisdom' and 'happiness' -- for otherwise it seems we would not know whether we were talking about the same thing or not in our discussions. For when we ask if Epictetus answers the question "What is happiness?" the same way Socrates does, we are not asking if they define the word 'happiness' the same way or differently [Although that is a possible question, it is a grammatical question and not the question philosophers ask in ethics] -- but "what those things are" is the answer to the questions of "what wisdom is" and "what the good (or, happiness) for man is" according to Epictetus and Socrates.

But there needn't be general definitions for the words 'wisdom' and 'happiness', because alternative answers to "what they are" may be based on a model (sample) rather than a rule of grammar, which is only one of many kinds of definition. Thus is the good for man, life according to Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, which is "the life guided by thoroughgoing reason, godly benevolence, a mindfulness of death, and indifference to personal fortune or misfortune" -- or is the good for man something else such as, for example, "The good for man is rational pleasure"?

And so it seems that in this type of case we point to a phenomenon with a word and then talk about the phenomenon rather than the word's meaning? In other words that "we define things" as well as words ... Which is exactly what Wittgenstein denied is done in philosophy, because on Wittgenstein's account of philosophy (i.e. of what philosophy is) we only try to define "things" rather than words because our understanding of the logic of our language is muddled.

The question is: how do we determine what the "thing" we want to define is? Because it is concepts that say what things are, not "things in themselves" (if there is such a thing when it's at home) that say what concepts are -- i.e. "things" are not self-defining. "Percepts without concepts are blind" (Kant): concepts set the limits of the things we perceive, whatever those "things" are (which we would have to not be "blind" to know).

But is it true even of metaphysics?

Maybe that is because those are questions in ethics, and Wittgenstein limited philosophy to logic and metaphysics. But even of metaphysics, is that true? For is someone who wants to define love, as e.g. in Plato's speeches in the Phaedrus -- i.e. to "say what the thing named 'love' is" -- confused? We might say, if he asks for the essence or common nature of love, then he is confused about the grammar of the word 'love'. But need that be what Plato is asking for? But if he simply points to resemblances among phenomena we call by the name 'love', that is anthropology, not philosophy. The question of "what love is" is not a question in ethics as such, which the question, "Is love an excellence proper to man and therefore belonging to the good for man?" would be. And so maybe about metaphysics Wittgenstein was correct.

"There are words about whose meaning we are at variance," Plato says. But we are not at variance about the meaning of all words. About "abstractions" it may be that in some cases in some ways we are. But we have to distinguish between and between. If "define things" is what we do in some cases in philosophy (e.g. in the case of wisdom), it does not follow that we can do that in all cases in philosophy. [That would be a variation of the apparent fallacy of some therefore all in Wittgenstein's thinking in philosophy.]

There are many definitions of 'definition'

"Propositions that define words belonging to the category ..." What would the word 'define' mean here? for it is not a question of making grammatical rules: If Socrates says that "The good for man is life in accord with the specific excellence (areté) that is proper and unique to man", namely rational moral excellence [What is Socratic ethics?], that is not a rule for using the words 'the good for man'. It is not a definition in that sense of 'definition'.

There are many types of propositions besides the simple true-or-false type, just as there are as many meanings of the word 'definition' as there are of the word 'meaning'.


Outline of this page ...


Wittgenstein and the Propositions of Ethics

... we were like children after larks, always on the point of catching the art, which was always getting away from us ... Then we got into a labyrinth, and when we thought we were at the end, came out again at the beginning, having still to seek as much as ever. (Plato, Euthydemus 291b-c, tr. Jowett)

We are not analyzing a phenomenon (e.g. thought) but a concept (e.g. that of thinking), and therefore the use of a word. (Wittgenstein, PI § 383)

Which does philosophy investigate, phenomena or concepts?

Query: wisdom as a living in terms of what is truly important.

As to the grammar of the word 'wisdom', compare the remarks about the concept 'excellence' (areté) -- how the grammar of that word allows it to be defined in diverse ways .... But in which sense of the word 'define'? The general, i.e. common nature, definition of the word 'wisdom' -- if there is such a definition (which I don't know what it would be) -- is very general. And if what is general is made more specific we use the word 'define' or 'further define' -- but that is not what happens in this case. It is not that the conventional meaning of the word 'wisdom' is being further specified [This is not a case of setting limits to a fluid concept] -- but that a thesis about what wisdom in human life is, is being offered. The proof of this is that the thesis can be put to the test of Socratic cross-questioning to determine its truth or falsity, whereas a conventional definition, which is simply a rule of grammar, cannot be.

And this case, namely the class of words exemplified by 'wisdom' and 'excellence', is of special interest to logic of language or grammar -- because it runs, or seems to run, contrary to Wittgenstein's account of philosophy. For the investigation in this case -- the philosophical investigation -- is the investigation of a phenomenon rather than of the use of a word. And that is precisely what Wittgenstein claims that philosophy isn't (Z § 458). But yet that seems to be precisely what ethics is -- ethics which, apparently because of his notion "absolute value", Wittgenstein says is not a part of philosophy.

We may ask about a word or about a phenomenon

We are not analysing a phenomenon (e.g. thought) but a concept (e.g. that of thinking), and therefore the use of a word. (PI § 383) [Note in margin: Only it is possible to be interested in a phenomenon in a variety of ways] (ibid. § 108).

And so it is possible to be interested in the grammar of the word 'wisdom' -- or -- to be interested in "what wisdom is". And it is precisely the second interest which is the interest of ethics, because it is not nonsense to say, "Wisdom (or, true wisdom) is this rather than that." And so if the word 'wisdom' is defined as 'knowledge of how to live our life', then 'and our life should be lived in accord with the excellence that is proper to man' is a thesis about the "phenomenon" of what wisdom for man is. (This could be clearer. Illustrations are needed.)

Now, when Plato points out that there are words about whose meaning we are at variance (Phaedrus 263a-b), are we at variance (i.e. in disagreement) about the conventional definitions of those words -- or about the nature of the phenomena those words name? (The Phaedrus discourses on the nature of love.) And if we are at variance about the nature of the phenomena, is this because of our ignorance of the grammar of our language (Wittgenstein: "the logic of our language is misunderstood")?

Query: why wise people question everything.

Does it belong to the grammar of 'wise', i.e. to the conventions for using the word 'wise', that the wise man questions everything? -- or is it wise to question everything because there is benefit in doing so? I think the latter, because it is logically possible -- (i.e. such cases can be described, e.g. it may be wise not to seek to know too much about the inner life of another human being) -- for questioning everything to be harmful and therefore unwise.

If we try to describe how words of our language are actually used (i.e. their normal usage), then our descriptions are statements of fact about language that may be true or false. For example, 'Stand roughly over there' (PI § 71), and 'Bring me a handful of sand' (Z § 392) -- how many grains of sand are there in a heap, how many raindrops in a shower? We do not define the words 'heap' and 'shower' that way. If someone said that 'a handful of sand must weigh four ounces', that would be a false report of our actual use of the combination of words 'a handful of sand'.

Thus a word's general definition may be very general indeed, and adding further specificity may falsify a report of that word's usage. For example, the word 'philosophy' defined as 'love of wisdom'; when I make that general definition less general by adding 'in logic, ethics, and metaphysics' to it, am I creating a less general grammar -- i.e. giving the word 'philosophy' an assigned meaning that is contrary to normal usage -- or am I saying what the nature of philosophy is -- or am I doing both? What does and doesn't belong to the grammar of the word 'philosophy' -- i.e. what belongs to the verbal, what to the real, definition? (I wrote that logic of language is concerned only with verbal definitions, but then what is the relationship between logic of language and philosophy?)

When Plato says that philosophy is the pursuit of "the knowledge [wisdom, art] which will make us happy" (Euthydemus 292e, tr. Rouse ["the knowledge of the art or science of happiness" (tr. Jowett)]) is that an example of an assigned rather than a report-of-usage meaning/definition? It looks to be an assignment, because it makes the general definition of the word 'philosophy' more specific than in practice it is. -- And so, is that what "further specificity" in this instance is -- a thesis about what something (namely, philosophy) is? (Is that what my own "further specified definition" of 'philosophy' is, i.e. both a definition of a word and a thesis about what something (namely philosophy) is?)

When Plato says that "Wisdom is the only good, ignorance the only evil", that is not a definition of 'the good for man', but a thesis in ethics, subject to refutation in Socratic dialectic (where it may be shown to be or not to be tautological [Indeed many arguments/proofs in ethics may be, as Plato has shown, tautological]).

What is the relationship between assigned meanings and persuasive definitions? -- Well, just what do we mean by 'persuasive definition'? Is that simply a description of an aspect of a word's grammar? that, in some cases of persuasive definition although not in all, a word's grammar is made less general by means of persuasion? But then by 'persuasive definition' we mean that a verbal definition (or meaning as Wittgenstein's logic of language defines the word 'meaning'), rather than a phenomenon's nature, is being specified.

(The vagueness of the concept 'persuasion', because someone may be persuaded either by strong of weak reasons ("in their Schools they keep two Logics", the Just and Unjust). But this remark is an aside.)

Cf. 'What is important in life?' The meaning of the word 'important' is very general. Is it intentionally left general, or is "further specificity" impossible without destroying (rather than simply revising) our concept? As is the meaning of 'wisdom' -- and so many different things might be designated as "what wisdom is": What is the good life for man? Various answers are grammatically possible, because 'good life' is a very general concept? or shouldn't it be characterized that way? (When we categorize, in some (or all?) cases, we make a comparison: is "general" a helpful or misleading comparison here?)

Things versus words

Query: not all questions have answers; some things are simply imperceptible.

What the things named by abstract terms (terms which must be the names of invisibles, because they are not the names of visibles) are, no one really knows. What is love in itself, for example? Love is "simply imperceptible"; no one knows the answer to the question of what love is.

That nebulous account of the meaning of our language is the alternative to Wittgenstein's logic of language; it is the view prior to the Gestalt shift from the old schoolbook grammar's definition of 'noun' ("the name of a person, place or anything else") to Wittgenstein's later view of language meaning. But, now, which view is correct? (But, I earlier wrote, neither is correct or incorrect, for there are many meanings of 'meaning'; the only question is which definition of meaning is most useful to clarity in philosophical thinking. Which "conceptual tool" wounds and which "heals the wounded understanding"?)

Wittgenstein to philosophers: stop asking for Socratic definitions of words. Instead, ask how we use (as we use tools) those words (e.g. how we learn or how we would teach someone else to use common names), because -- because why? Because asking for common nature definitions has from the first been barren of results (BB p. 19-20). The query's picture "simply imperceptible" reverses Wittgenstein: it again places language in control of man rather than man in control of language: it allows vagueness and confusion to rule over man, presenting him with no exit from that condition of mind (Epictetus).

And so "In philosophy we define words not things" is a slogan I invented for one project in philosophy. But is it only for one project among others, or are there impossibilities with other projects? Was Plato wrong, or was his project in philosophy simply different from Wittgenstein's?

The contrary proposition, the opposite to Wittgenstein's distinction between language sense and nonsense: 'Sense and nonsense are subjective, but nonetheless the distinction is real.' But a subjective distinction -- i.e. "It seems to me to have sense" or "It seems to me to be nonsense" (PI § 258) -- is as good as no distinction.

If words are the names of things, then isn't philosophy's subject those things rather than their names? Strange kind of things, then, because philosophy's subject is abstractions. And "have you ever seen any of these things with your eyes?" (Phaedo 65d) Then is the subject of philosophy "invisible concepts"? Well, no, not if 'concept' = 'rules for the use of a word'. But if we are talking about "invisible things" -- i.e. absolutely imperceptible things -- then what can we talk about other than about rules for using words? "Abstractions" -- those words whose meaning is not clear to us, but about which we make hypotheses about their meaning, their "meaning" being the things the abstract terms name. Is that a logic of language? does it make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense in the discussion of philosophical problems? "The meaning of the invisible."

Conceptual versus metaphysical questions in philosophy

Query: is not knowing the same as knowing? Philosophy.

But this is not a factual question (nor a metaphysical question) about what knowing (really) is, although in form of expression it appears to be. But instead it is a grammatical question -- i.e. it doesn't ask for an hypothesis about what a thing (namely, knowing) is, but instead for a rule for using the word 'knowing', specifically: Does it belong to the conventional definition? of the word 'knowing' that knowing that you don't know something is knowing something? For example, if you know that you don't know what death is, do you know something?

If we don't know whether there is a rule one way or the other, that is because there is no such rule. And so, say whichever you like, that it is or isn't knowing -- but understand that whichever you say, you are only inventing a more or less arbitrary rule for the use of the word 'knowing' -- and not stating an hypothesis about what knowing is. (Cf. organizing schemes, e.g. {the class of knowable things} -- for what purposes do we create classification rules?)

Metaphors in both directions

Query: what makes the branches of philosophy become a philosophy?

Well, didn't I speak of the confluence of three lines of thinking, so that one might speak of branches coming together to form a philosophy. And this is important: that the branches may (empirically?) come before the trunk of which they are (logically, i.e. by definition?) branches.

Query: Wittgenstein, logic as grammar.

So I say, that is what this site is about: Wittgenstein's revision of the concepts 'grammar' and 'logic'. But it would be clearer if the query said: "Wittgenstein, logic as descriptions of language use (or, meaning)." In that revision, grammar and logic are about language meaning, and therefore about rules (if language meaning is objective rather than mere seeming). Wittgenstein's answer to the question: "Language in itself is nothing but dead signs (marks on paper, spoken sounds): what gives those signs meaning?" is: The role/s of those signs in our life as tools.

Query: relationship between logic and critical method of philosophy.

Logic isn't the "critical method of philosophy"? But there have been many different definitions of 'logic' in that word's history, the most general being "the art of reasoning". If we define the word 'logic' broadly, as both Socrates and the second Wittgenstein did, then logic includes definition and e.g. the Socratic method of refutation through the uncovering of contradictions in reasoning, or, in other words, 'logic' DEF.= 'philosophy's critical methods'. [Another ancient name for logic is 'dialectic' (Diog. L. i, 18).]


Another proposition type

Query: true wisdom is caring properly for the soul.

And so there is Socrates in Plato's Apology: to give thought to the ethical aspect of oneself (soul), to make oneself "as good and wise as possible", before giving thought to one's body (36c).

The word 'true' here seems to serve no further purpose than emphasis, because it belongs to the grammar of the word 'wisdom' that many different theses about what is and what is not wisdom are grammatically (i.e. "according to the rules of the game", "as in language-game") possible. We may, although it seems that we needn't, define the word 'wisdom' as 'knowledge of the good for man' (if, that is, to know the good is to do the good, or, in other words, if virtue is knowledge, for we would not call a man who knew what was good, but did what was bad, wise; indeed we would call him a fool), but then various things may be identified as wisdom, e.g. "The good for man is to perfect the ethical aspect of himself" or, in other words, "to care for his soul".

Further, the answer to the question of what the good is for man need not be philosophical. It may be religious. The difference is that philosophical answers are theses that must be put to the test in Socratic dialectic, to be agreed to (i.e. accepted as true) or refuted (i.e. shown to be false). Answers to "What is wisdom for man?" do not escape criticism as if they were merely arbitrary rules of grammar (i.e. conventions). And this is important, that there is a grammatical difference between the propositions By the word 'wisdom' we mean 'the good for man' and And the good for man is care of his soul. The second proposition is a philosophical thesis, specifically, a thesis belonging to ethics.

In this context, in philosophy when we say "what wisdom is" we are not describing the way the word 'wisdom' is normally used (which would be a statement of fact about our language), nor are we revising our common concept 'wisdom' (which would be akin to assigning that word a non-normal meaning [i.e. redefining that word], as e.g. Wittgenstein did when he told Moore that the word 'grammar' as he used it was "his jargon"). No, we are stating what Wittgenstein said that we don't state in philosophy (PI § 128), namely a thesis. Ethics consists of these theses.

Among the senses of Wittgenstein's jargon is proposition-types as language-games. And just as there can be a proposition type 'question without answer', so too it seems there can be a proposition type 'question with many grammatically-logically possible answers', of which e.g. 'What is wisdom?' is one. These would contrast with true-false propositions of the 'This is how things stand' proposition type (model) -- which are what we usually think of when we think of propositions, a thought which may very often lead us to misunderstand the logic of our language -- as well as with tautologies and contradictions, foundational propositions of certainty (e.g. 'My name is ...' and 'I am going to die'), maths propositions, psychological propositions (e.g. 'I have a headache'), and so on propositions.

Another word in this particular category of proposition types is the word 'happiness', the "meaning" of which -- i.e. in which sense of 'meaning'? -- is different for the philosopher than the usual one. (It has to be the "real" meaning as in "real definition", i.e. a philosophical hypothesis (thesis) about "what happiness is for man". And here is a way to use the expression 'true meaning', although because of the logic of language muddles it may foster, I would discourage, but "there are many meanings of 'meaning'".)

["... although the phrases 'good man' and 'does harm' are phrases we know how to do things with" (Plato's Method of Tautologies in Ethics). And so I would like to talk about multi-value (non-essential) words as well as propositions, for we can also ask, "What is the good man?" and "What is or isn't harm?" (I don't remember what this remark was to be about.)]


Who was Socrates?

Query: who is the man Socrates?

Unknown. We make for ourselves (or allow others to make for us) portraits of Socrates, images of the historical Socrates as we imagine him to have been.

Query: to doubt and question and think for themselves, Socrates

That is what Euripides is accused of in Aristophanes' The Frogs, Euripides who is said to have been Socrates' friend.

Query: Know thyself questions. Socrates' view of knowing oneself.

I tried to say what I think the two types of questions we must ask ourselves are: about man as such and about oneself as an individual man. With respect to these questions, the sought answer is the answer to What is the specific excellence proper and unique to man as such, and what are one's own particular limits to excellence as an individual man? To know oneself is to know the specific excellence proper to man as a reasoning (rational) and therefore ethical being (because Socratic ethics is rational reflection), and to oneself as a being with limits: what tasks are within my reach, which outside it (This is a question of practical excellence)? These are two meanings of "areté", after Socrates revised that concept.

Conceptual revision is the sharpening of tools. And the redirection of our interests (PI § 570).

Query: is philosophy's goal to find what we don't know?

In two senses it is: (1) to discover one's own ignorance, because not to think oneself wise when one is not, i.e. not to think one knows what one doesn't know about what is most important to know, is the aim of philosophy (Socrates), but (2) then to replace our ignorance with knowledge, for no one seeks to know what he thinks himself already to know (Plato).

Query: what is the method of ignorance?
Query: method of ignorance.

To assume that you don't know rather than that you do? To ask rather than tell (If you know, then-therefore (the word 'therefore' is here used not to mean "previous propositions justify this deduction", but to indicate a definition of 'know'), you can tell others)? The method of Socrates: Don't tell -- Ask!

Query: a common man assumes knowledge; a wise man assumes ignorance.

The query sounds in form Confucian, if 'wise' is changed to 'superior man'; to make it Socratic in form, change 'wise man' to 'philosopher'.

Query: dialectical style of Plato's Republic and Confucius' Analects.

"The master said to such-and-such disciple" suggests conversations, but does Confucius ask questions seeking that his disciples suggest answers and then cross-question their answers? I don't know.

Query: How can Socrates be justified in claiming someone's opinion on some topic is mistaken when he has no opinion on that topic himself?

Socrates doesn't merely make "claims", as if he spoke as an oracle does. Rather through the method of dialectic, i.e. question and answer and cross-question, Socrates shows the inherent contradictions in an opinion thus proving it false. He sets a criterion for 'knowing', and this criterion does not require that he know the answer himself, only that he set a criterion that must be met before anyone can be said to know the answer. (The full reply to this query is found in the "Socratic irony" comments.)

Query: humility of Socrates.

For 'twas modesty invented the word 'philosopher', setting aside the title 'wise man' (sophist). And so I called Socrates, the Master of Those who don't Know, i.e. who don't think they know what they don't know. By 'humility' we mean both 'self-knowledge' ("knowing the condition of one's own mind" (Epictetus)) and 'modesty' (i.e. 'meekness' really), the quality Plato esteems in Theaetetus 210b-c.

Query: what does the word 'love of wisdom' mean?

That is the reverse etymology of 'philosophy'.


Plato's Ideas, abstractions and metaphysics

Query: crossword clue : in philosophy an abstract concept presented by Plato.

"Idea"? which is both itself an "abstract concept" and the meaning of abstract concepts: the meaning of a 'concept' = 'common name' is an Idea (Form). Is the word 'Form' also the name of a Form? the Form of all Forms, the common nature of Forms? But Plato discusses many other "abstract concepts" e.g. 'soul', 'justice', 'wisdom'.

Query: what are the history of Plato and Aristotle from birth to the end, and what is their knowledge contribution to date?

Drury's response to Thomas Macaulay (DW p. 97-98): you mistake the role of the philosopher. Because it is not the task of philosophers to create knowledge, but to create understanding (or rather understandings, for no reference point is absolute). Philosophy points out limits: its aim is to distinguish what we know from what we think we know -- but do not. And there is also this, that the development philosophy seeks for man is not material (technology) but ethical. (Philosophical speculation about ultimate reality does not develop. Metaphysics is instead like an exhibit of pictures taken from different angles. And even logic is this way; it is ways of looking at things.)

Query: why do philosophers question everything, including things that have been established?

Because from philosophy's point of view, the answer to no philosophy question is, nor can ever be, beyond discussion. Socratic dialectic is the result of today, not of forever (i.e. its result is never "established once and for all time").

Query: the theory of part holiness as against absolute holiness.

The words of the query may be given this meaning: that by 'part' is meant "definition by examples that go no further than themselves as a guide to what is and what is not holy: These and similar things" -- in contrast to 'absolute', meaning: "definition by identifying the common nature (identical qualities) all bearers of a common name share: it is a set of rules". The first is sometimes called "definition by enumeration", the second "essential definition", the second being what Plato seeks everywhere, Socrates only in ethics.

As to the meaning of common names, Wittgenstein found that in many, possibly most, cases that although there are resemblances among the bearers of a common name, no one of those resemblances is defining of the common nature of the name's bearer. Indeed, that the bearers of the common name often (perhaps usually) have no common nature is a matter of the facts in public view.

And so Wittgenstein's account of the meaning of common names contrasts with e.g. the theory of abstraction, which is speculation that a non-public event takes place in the mind or soul of man. Wittgenstein's account is logic, but the theory of abstraction is metaphysics: it says that despite any apparent appearances to the contrary the reality is that ... The background: "Well, we must abstract the essence, for otherwise we could not know how to use the common name." That "must" and "could not" do not belong to logic, but to conjecture about a supernatural (Well, what else is the essentially imperceptible?) phenomenon.

Which do we want from philosophy? Description of the facts in plain view or conjecture about a hidden reality that is presumed to exist? But as neither way of responding to the philosophical problem of common names provides the absolute standard Socrates seeks (Euthyphro 6d-e), doesn't that make Aristotle's response idle -- (if the theory of abstraction originates with Aristotle's Posterior Analytics 100a~5, which I don't know if it does, although isn't that theory implicit in Aristotle's description of the Socratic method of induction and definition? Of course, implicit ≠ self-aware) -- because it adds nothing to Wittgenstein's response except a uncomparable picture (i.e. a picture that cannot be compared with what it is presumed to be a picture of), not knowledge?

The query's presumption is parts definition versus absolute definition. But "parts" are parts of a whole, and that there is for every common name a whole seems idle: "There is a whole, but I can't tell you what it is" versus "There is no whole; there are only particulars, among which there are resemblances." [But then any A resembles any B in some way or another. Wittgenstein's adding 'family' to 'resemblances' makes his comparison looks like the "theory of abstraction" smuggled in by means of the word 'family'.]

What is the relationship, if there is a relationship, between what Aristotle says about Gorgias' part definition and the theory of abstraction? (But hasn't Aristotle's remark to be placed in context?)

Those who speak in general terms [as if there were an essence of virtue (Plato, Meno 72a-73c)] ... are wrong. To enumerate the virtues, as Gorgias did [ibid. 71e-72a], is much nearer the mark than to make this kind of [general] definition. (Aristotle, Politics 1260a25)

Socrates, according to Aristotle, begins with induction, which is sense perception ... but so does everyone else: Plato's point is that sense perception alone cannot account for the concepts we have; and therefore Plato posits Forms, whereas Aristotle posits "abstraction": but sense perception can establish neither: they are merely competing philosophical theories -- i.e. speculations which try to account for all the data in a self-consistent way.

But these are not mere organizing principles: the speculations of Plato and Aristotle are not the "facts plus imagination" of the geo- and helio-centric models of the solar system -- because the imaginations of both Plato and Aristotle introduce facts that cannot be proved to exist: namely, that the meaning of a common name is the common nature it names: -- i.e. they presume "common nature" to be a fact, whereas it is no such thing; indeed because it is not a fact is why they conjure it into existence "to save the appearances": it ought to be there, it must be there: reality must conform to their preconceptions.


Kant, Metaphysics and Ethics

Query: you see the pictures but you don't know their names, Kant.

"Percepts without concepts are blind," Kant says. And the query's "pictures" (percepts or raw perceptions) are blind if 'name' = 'concept' and 'concept' = 'meaning'. By the word 'name' we mean not merely a combination of letters but a combination of letters that has a use in our language; that use is the difference between language with meaning and nonsense. An unconceptualized percept is "nameless", i.e. unintelligible. (These are of course grammatical remarks.)

Query: word "stuff" of philosophy.

Would percepts be "stuff" (the English rendering of the Greek word 'physis'), and does 'stuff' = 'matter' (What word does Aristotle use?), and then concepts are "form" (but 'form' suggests 'outline', 'shape', 'structure', and those are visual concepts).

Kant and abstractions (Hamann)

In, A History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy (1960) II, vi, 1, (1994 ed.) p. 137-138, Frederick Copleston says the following about Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) of Königsberg (p. 135).

In his Metacritique on the Purism of Pure Reason [which "was begun in 1781, the year in which the Critique of Pure Reason was published" (p. 137n2)] Hamann attacked the Kantian separation between reason, understanding and sense, and between form and matter in sensation and conceptualization. Kant deals in abstractions. There certainly is [Copleston says], for example, an activity called 'reasoning'; but there is no such thing as "the reason" or "the understanding".

And this is related to "we disregard some aspects when we work" (F.H. Bradley), but the separation is indeed an abstraction [an act of abstraction (and here the word 'abstract' is used clearly, its meaning being 'to separate out in thought, specific aspects']: There are no bare percepts [i.e. unconceptualized percepts are without meaning, like sound without sense (noise)] -- and that statement is the point of the distinction between percepts and concepts. (These are grammatical remarks. The combination of words 'percept without concept' is undefined.)

And this is related to Goethe's "All perception is already conceptualization" ("... alles Faktische schon Theorie ist"), which would be a restatement of "There are no percepts without concepts [-- There are no bare perceptions --] that are intelligible", and if they are not intelligible they might as well not be [i.e. exist] at all. All fact is already theoretical ["bare facts" do not exist; perception is concept-laden (N.R. Hanson)]: all perception is already conception [that is, fitted into a conceptual scheme].

Hamann's criticism that Kant thus "separates matter from form", as if -- well, I don't know if Kant really did hypostatize "the understanding", "the reason", or if he really thought of matter as a thing ontologically separable from form ... although what else would "the thing in itself be" if form is imposed by the human mind, the location of all objectivity? [Is all form imposed by the human mind?]

(I am used to thinking in abstractions, i.e. in concepts without percepts, and when I turn to a novel which demands thinking in images ("picturing things in the mind"), I find it hard work.)

That there are no bare percepts is shown by this, that it is impossible to describe, to give an example of, a bare percept. (Of course this is logical possibility, i.e. grammar.) It does not follow from that we can distinguish percepts from concepts -- i.e. invent the contrasting concepts 'percept' and 'concept' -- in philosophy that therefore percepts and concepts are parts of a divisible whole, as if they might be separated from one another.

But isn't that what we in fact do in the case of the duck-rabbit? the drawing being the percept, 'duck' and 'rabbit' being the concepts? But such examples of Gestalt shift are not the normal case -- i.e. we can't say "And therefore we can always make a separation". Besides which, isn't 'drawing' a concept? [Note.--This is how tautologies are made: when you are unwilling to call anything a counter-example.]

If we think of something, for example, the experience of a sensation (feeling) that we say (PI § 290) is unfamiliar and we don't know what name to call it ... Would that be a bare percept, an instance where we could say that the percept "is blind"? But haven't we have already conceptualized the percept by calling it a sensation, unfamiliar, unnamed, and so on [Again: this is tautology-formation]. So maybe Kant should say, "Percepts without concepts would be blind" (because there are no such percepts in reality). [The tautology: "There are no blind percepts, because a percept can always be placed in the category 'thing' or 'phenomenon'.]

What is metaphysics?

Note: the following is based on Copleston's account of Kant's Enquiry into the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morals (1764) (Modern Philosophy IV, x, 3, p. 190-193), but as seen through my eyes of course.

According to Kant, unlike mathematics which begins with definitions, metaphysics begins with a phenomenon of experience and attempts to define it. This appears to be Aristotle's distinction between verbal and real definitions: a real definition is an hypothesis about what some natural thing or phenomenon is. That is, the interest of metaphysics is phenomena, rather than language conventions (i.e. rules for using signs), because deductions from language conventions are what the conclusions drawn from the axioms (or postulates) of e.g. the arithmetical calculus and geometry are.

Is Plato's discussion of love, i.e. of the phenomenon of love, in the Phaedrus an example of what Kant has in mind, for Plato begins with a phenomenon of experience, namely love, and attempts to say what it is? That Plato calls 'love' a word about whose meaning we are at variance shows that by 'meaning' he means 'real definition', i.e. definition of a thing or phenomenon rather than of language.

Kant's concern would not be with our idea or notion of space (the discovery of the essence of which is the aim of linguistic analysis, an "analytic proposition" being a statement of the essence of one of our notions or ideas) but with the phenomenon of space itself. According to Kant the method of metaphysics is "fundamentally of the same kind" as the method of Newton's physics [p. 192] (which Newton calls "experimental philosophy"). I think what would apply would be that, according to Kant as to Newton, "experiments are the true masters to follow in physics", that experience is "the master of those who know", not the ideas or notions that are common currency or the axioms of mathematics, both of which are more like preconceptions that reality is forced to conform to than like knowledge of that reality itself.

Kant and "the concepts of experience" (PI II, xi, p. 193). I think 'concepts of experience' contrasts with e.g. 'concepts of mathematics'. But maybe it should be "Kant and the creation of the concepts of experience", except that: What is the difference between Kant's metaphysics and linguistic analysis? because Kant does not himself create the concepts he examines. For example, 'space' is a concept of experience that is common currency. Maybe we could say that Kant wants to investigate the concept afresh, not as it were through introspection as in linguistic analysis ("What is the essence of space?" Wittgenstein: rationalists let the words talk to them) but somehow (I don't know how) through a reexamination of the phenomenon of space itself. To examine the phenomenon (the precept) rather than the thought (which is what the concept is).

Three questions. What is the relationship between the theory of innate ideas (which title I am giving to Aquinas' theory of innate concepts and propositions "without which thinking is not possible", according to Gilson) and Kant's theory of innate categories? Is it ironic that knowledge of Kant's categories is derived from experience -- i.e. from an examination of our concepts of experience -- rather than being itself innate? But if that derivation is valid, then mustn't man have the concepts of experience that he in fact does have -- i.e. aren't others impossible? (I asked about alternatives to 'space' and 'object'. Those are examples of "the concepts of experience", i.e. of perception. If I understand what I am talking about (and that is a huge if), then that category contrasts with e.g. the concepts of logic, e.g. 'rules of grammar', 'tautology', which are non-necessary ways of categorizing perceptions.)

... life can force this concept on us.

So perhaps it is similar to the concept 'object'. (CV p. 86)

Does it matter -- i.e. is there a difference other than different ways of looking at the thing -- whether we say that the concepts of experience are innate or "forced on us" by our experience of the world? (But if the only difference is points of reference, then this is not an instance of "metaphysical knowledge".)

Kant, Ethics and Physics

Note: the following is based on Copleston's account of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) (Modern Philosophy IV, xiv, 4 & 5), but again, and even more so this time, as that account is seen through my tired eyes.

In Kant's way of thinking ethics and physics share this quality: that just as Newton's laws of physics are universal, so too the laws of ethics are universal [p. 318]. But the comparison is not "just as", as if physics and ethics were simply two different kinds of law (The shared word 'law' makes the difference appear too slight (PI § 339)!)

Because the hypotheses of physics are based on experience, and therefore inconsistency with experience falsifies them, but Kant is not, of course, setting forth a physical hypothesis that there are universal moral laws, but a "contrary to the appearances" metaphysical proposition, i.e. a philosophical thesis (speculative position) based on reasoning alone for which there is no physical test (verification).

If I understand aright, Kant's ethics consists of universal laws, i.e. to be a proposition that states a "law of ethics", the proposition must be universalize-able -- i.e. the proposition must be such that: It, and never its contrary, is ethical for everyone, everywhere, in all times.

But isn't the ancient principle that "You must help your friends and harm your enemies" universalize-able? And yet we learn from Plato's discussion (Republic 335b - 335e) that the ethical (or, good) man harms no one, neither friend nor enemy. Nevertheless, can't the ancient principle that one should harm one's enemies be made universal?

"But if everyone harmed his enemies there would never be peace among men." But the question is: How does Kant know that peace rather than war is the good for man, for a universal law must state what is good for man to do? And so I can't help but wonder if Kant's ethics isn't dependent on "absolute values" (or, "absolute goods") to determine what should and what shouldn't be universalized.

If Kant says that peace rather than war is the good for man, and that therefore harming one's enemies cannot be universalized, that principle (i.e. that peace rather than war is the good for man) is not itself a categorical imperative. It is instead Kant saying that something (namely, peace) is of "absolute (for otherwise it would not be a universal law) value", that something is worthwhile -- i.e. the categorical imperative has two parts: an antecedent and a consequent, and the antecedent is a statement of absolute value, of what is the good for man: "The good for man is ..., and therefore ..." (Cf. the If, then form of an hypothesis).

Note that at some point you are going to have to reach bedrock; if A is the argument for peace, then what is the argument for A? -- and that can't go on forever; e.g. that "The good for man is to live in harmony with the excellence that is proper to man" is bedrock in Socratic ethics -- but its contradiction is foolishness, e.g. that the good for man is the life that is contrary to reason and embraces ignorance. Does Kant's ethics have a similar bedrock the contrary of which is foolish?

Rather than 'absolute value' maybe Kant would say 'universal (moral) law', to follow his comparison of ethics to physics, although it is a slight of hand (PI § 308) to say that "just as" objects conform to universal laws of physics, man must obey universal laws of ethics [p. 318], because objects do not have a choice whereas man must choose to obey universal moral law (Indeed it is, as Kant says, man's choosing that makes an act ethical). The kind of necessity here is as different as the kind of law.

Is the only common quality -- i.e. essence -- of Kant's universal moral laws that they are universal, i.e. that the laws of ethics are whatever propositions of action are universalize-able? Or is there some other quality they must share? (This is something I don't know.)

It may be said, of course, that we ought not to make heavy weather of concrete examples. The examples may be open to objection; but even if Kant has not given sufficient attention to their formulation, the theory which they are supposed to illustrate is the important thing. This would be an apt observation if the theory, in its abstract expression, were clear. But this does not seem to me to be the case. [ibid. IV, xiv, 5, p. 326]

But how else would (the meaning of) "the theory in its abstract expression" be made known other than by examples (Criticism of Kant on this point)? Well, there isn't any. We should always make "heavy weather" rather than "apt observation" in philosophy. The criterion of understanding in this context is precisely the ability to give "concrete" examples (of Kant's thesis). Otherwise philosophy is going to be endless "does not seem to me ..." (This is the whole point of Wittgenstein's logic of language, according to me.)

Our ability to give valid examples shows whether we understand a theoretical proposition's meaning, because that is a criterion of understanding that can be tested in Socratic dialectic, unlike Hegel's non-criterion of understanding.

The following is what I originally wrote apropos of the question of Ethics and "Do good and evil exist?" (originally "Kantian versus Socratic", but I have now changed this to "Wittgenstein versus Socrates" because with that I am sure of the ground I am standing on, although Schweitzer's account of Kant supports my earlier statement).

Historically there have been two responses: To ask if there are "absolute values" is to cast this question in a Kantian light, where man is ruled by the irrational force of "conscience" which imposes "categorical imperatives" on him. But the question looks very different when cast in a Socratic light, where the thoroughgoing use of reason finds standards which apply to all mankind by responding to the Delphic precept "Know thyself", thereby discovering what the excellence proper to man is.

Then I thought to revise that to the following.

..., where the ethical man is ruled by the irrational force of "conscience" (inner sense of duty) which imposes "categorical imperatives" (universalize-able duties) on him....

Is Kant's ethics rational or not? Because "absolute value" is not rational, but yet, the standard of universalize-able imperative is a rational one.

Natural science gives philosophers a false picture of what the question and method of metaphysics is, Gilson says in his The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Chapter IX, "The Physicism of Kant". (Frederick Copleston: rationalism and empiricism can be seen as experiments to find the limits of maths and physics as models for philosophy.)


Is the end of a tautology also its beginning?

Query: how can logic lead us to a clear grasp of meaning of life?

This is a model logical tautology: If p is true, then q is true. p is true. Therefore q is true. And so what can logic do? Can deductive logic only lead us in a circle, in the end telling us no more than we knew at the beginning, or are all tautologies not idle (If my account of Plato's method is correct and if ethics, "no small matter but how to live", has something to do with life's meaning, then logic of Plato's kind can help the understanding)? But what are we calling a 'tautology'? A 'proposition that cannot be false'? (What kind of possibility is this "cannot"? It means that the negation of a tautology is nonsense; in Wittgenstein's words "a tautology cannot be significantly negated".) And so 'tautology' it seems will include definition (rules of grammar) and logical deduction. (Of course a proposition that cannot be false cannot be true either. This is characteristic of rules.)

In some cases it seems that because we choose the axioms with which to begin, we predetermine where we can go. For example, the parallel postulate that is used in Euclidean geometry but not in non-Euclidean geometry.

As to inductive logic, it's a bit of a quandary. Although induction forms hypotheses (i.e. generalizations) based on true and false propositions of experience, is inductive logic -- logic? That question is asked because induction bases its hypotheses on only a selection of facts; induction is as incomplete as our experience is incomplete. But surely (or not surely?) to understand the meaning of our life is to grasp the meaning of our experience. It is inductive, not tautological. But is this acceptable to philosophy: "Based on our limited experience, our life's meaning is ..." I don't think that's what we want from philosophy.

We find Socrates using both logics (as Aristotle describes Socrates' method), but as Plato has Protagoras say, such philosophy is only our agreed to presumptions, the result of today's discussion, which may be refuted by tomorrow's discussion. Why did you think Plato has Socrates say that "man's wisdom is in truth worth nothing" (Apology 23b)! What is man's wisdom concerned with if not with our life's meaning, for is that not the guide to how we should live our life? (But yet, Socratic ethics does not require knowledge of that meaning, which is well, because it is knowledge no man has. [But Socrates' ethics is quite general in its guidance; and we live life in particulars.])


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