Ethics and Verification
The kind of verification is the kind of language-game: can there be verification in ethics? (Also: What did Isaac Newton mean by 'hypotheses'? "I saw and made no deductions.")
These are brief "logic of language" (How are sense and nonsense to be distinguished in the discussion of philosophical questions?) and historical remarks.
Topics on this page ...
- The fallacy of following a false grammatical analogy (or grammatical model)
- "And I make no hypotheses"
- "The Body-Snatcher" ("... and I saw and made no deductions")
- Plato's "Ideas", Wittgenstein's "family resemblances"
- Can the word 'game' be defined by a list of games?
- Plato's Forms and Kant's Categories
- The grammar of the word 'God' (yet again)
- The morality of rendering unto Caesar (Stevenson, David Balfour)
- Apropos of "Can reasoning teach man what the life that is proper (or, good) for him to live is and help him to live that kind of life?"
- Socratic and Platonic Queries
- Philosophy is ignorance acknowledged
The type of verification is the type of language-game.
The fallacy of following a false grammatical analogy (or grammatical model)
Note: When is an analogy a 'false' analogy? If it is claimed that A is like B in such-and-such a way, then if A is not like B in that particular way, then the analogy is false. (Likewise, a model is 'false' if it is not consistent with the facts it is claimed to be a model of.) The locus classicus: Philosophical Investigations § 90.
Query: it seems that ethics is merely a matter of convention, because statements about what is ethically good or evil cannot be verified.
Response: The type of verification is the type of language-game (cf. PI ii, xi, p. 224: "The kind of certainty is the kind of language-game"). In this query the wrong model of verification (i.e. a wrong -- i.e. inapplicable -- method for testing truth and falsity) is appealed to, because the propositions of ethics are not verified by the senses as are the propositions of mechanics (Here, as in the TLP, classical mechanics is looked upon as the sole model: all language must conform to it -- i.e. all language "must" work the way it does in mechanics, or that language is -- i.e. must be -- nonsense). But it does not follow from this that the propositions of ethics are not verifiable: the type of verification is the type of language-game.
[Cf. Proposition types: different kinds of propositions as different kinds of language-games. | Can the propositions of ethics be empirically justified?]
Variation. The query suggests a false grammatical ('grammar' in Wittgenstein's jargon) account of the logic of our language, because this is the mistaken method to [try to] apply: Any claim of truth and falsity [including in ethics] -- i.e. any proposition looked at [tested] for its truth or falsity -- must be forced to conform to the grammatical model of 'The book is on the table' or 'There are clouds in the sky' -- and those propositions that do not conform to that model must be judged to be "conventional" -- i.e. arbitrary, not provable.
But are all conventions neither true nor false (i.e. unprovable)? And it is no answer to say "ultimately unprovable", because every assertion is ultimately unprovable: there is no bedrock beneath the bedrock: axioms are free floating. (Why is this? Because there is no absolute point of reference: "the eye of God" is not the eye of man.)
A thesis for dialectic to agree to or refute: "You cannot prove the proposition that 'The good man intends to harm no one' is true." Because the truth of a tautology -- for that proposition is simply a reminder of how we use the expression 'the good man' in ethics: it is a remark about the concept 'the good man', for "If the good man intends harm, then what does the bad man intend?" and so forth -- does not need to be proved by experience but only by showing its valid derivation from [or consistency with] other propositions (in this case, by contrasting 'the good man' with 'the bad man').
Likewise we define 'strength' by contrasting that word with the word 'weakness'. And so, I saw a headline in the weekly prints: 'Most vulnerable are God's "masterpieces"'. I did not see the article itself; I can only respond to its title [-- but cf. maybe Wittgenstein's lecture: Today I saw a poster saying: '"Dead" Undergraduate speaks." (Lectures & Conversations on ... Religious Belief iii, p. 65), for combinations of words taken out of context often enough make us think (which may be useful so long as we don't imagine that we are necessarily using those combinations as they were used in context) --]. If that is the case then I must ask why Jesus made the lame to walk and the blind to see: should he have not done just the opposite, making the sighted blind and the sound-of-limb lame. No, God's masterpiece is not the vulnerable; it is instead the compassion one feels for human beings (indeed, for all life) that is more vulnerable than oneself. Calling an undesirable condition desirable, a flawed work a masterpiece is the same as calling bad good and good bad -- i.e. it does not change the facts of our life; otherwise we should envy those who are more vulnerable than we ourselves are, whereas we would in fact cure the vulnerable of their disability if we were able to, just as Christ cured the blind and the lame.
In religious lights, the excellence that is proper to man is not vulnerability; it is, instead, love; it is compassion for the vulnerable. (The lioness of "If a lion could talk ..." lets the runt of her litter die, which we might call heartless -- were it not that the concept 'compassion' has no place in her thinking, nor has 'empathy'. Those concepts have a place in the human form of life.) In philosophical lights: the excellence that is proper to man is not irrationality (unreason) but instead for man's understanding to be healed of irrationality by reason. The contrary theses misidentify the excellence that is proper to man. (Remember that ethics is not merely a collection of values; rather, 'ethics' is 'reasoned reflection about values'.)
Which seems related to "essence belongs to grammar" (cf. PI § 371).
And yet we want to say that this definition is not arbitrary -- and it isn't [In what way, then, isn't it? What "we want to say" is raw material for philosophy; it is not itself philosophy]. What might be said to be arbitrary (i.e. solely a matter of discretion) is our determination [choice] to use the concepts 'good man' and 'bad man' at all. For it is not necessary for ethics to use those concepts. E.g. in Xenophon, "The good = the useful". How can you go from that principle to the principle that 'The useful man harms no one' or 'It is not useful to do harm to others'? Useful? -- useful to what? And so if we want to get anywhere in this investigation of the inter-relationship of our concepts, we are going to have to do a lot of thinking about it (because it is not at all obvious). "It is useful to care for the soul" -- really? in what way exactly? (In order to achieve the excellence that is proper to man. Why -- is that excellence, then, ethics? No, ethics is one use of reason -- and it is reason that is the excellence proper to man.)
But Plato's tautologies are not ethics' sole proposition type, because there are also ethical propositions that are proposed answers e.g. to the question 'What is the good for man?', answers that can be put to the test of truth and falsity in Socratic question and answer, being cross-questioned by both reason and experience (because knowledge of what the excellence proper (both to man and) to oneself as an individual is something only the life experience of Know thyself can teach man).
Query: why does good and evil exist?
Can you say that life forces these concepts on us? These concepts like all others were made by and for man, not man for these concepts. (And yet I treat them as essential currency [of thought] in my discussion: Do good and evil exist?) We picture human beings in primitive conditions, the cave man: there is only strength and weakness. Is that a picture of reality? Fairness as innate in man; displayed by youngest child, "That isn't fair!"
But needn't the child be taught the concept 'fairness'? The child can learn it; but the child can also learn the concept 'elf' -- and that does not make the concept 'elf' innate. Where does philosophy end? Where empirical investigation begins? when more than knowledge of the facts in plain view is needed? (Why would that be philosophy's limit?) But is that investigation needed here? What is the query asking? (Maybe about theodicy, but that question does not interest me; but the question of "why" those concepts exist does (What I want [to know] from philosophy).)
Query: why "monsters" are not ignorant.
Hume's "monsters" (human beings without empathy and a sense of right and wrong): we think of them as damaged rather than ignorant (ignorant as in the context of "Moral virtue is knowledge") ... a man with no compassion may be likened to a man without legs (?) (but what else might he be likened to?). The thing is, however, that from the point of view of ethics, one's feelings don't come into it: If it is right for the good man to be compassionate, then regardless of how any individual feels he is obligated to be compassionate. (Schweitzer thought that compassion is the origin of all ethics. I don't know, but the question is: whether it is the logical origin or only the natural origin. Feeling belongs to nature; ethics, being reasoned reflection, does not, if we make the usual conceptual contrast between man and nature.) And therefore, if anyone acts without compassion, it is -- if we look at ethics using the frame of reference "virtue is knowledge" (which is the only way of looking at things [or, point of view] I find useful to ethics, for Hume's account, like Aristotle's "habit", Kant's "conscience", and Schweitzer's "compassion", simply offers a description of man's condition without saying how a man may become an ethical/good human being) -- then it is because the "monster" is ignorant of the good.
"And I make no hypotheses"
Note: there are related remarks apropos of das Ding an sich ("the thing in itself"): speculative theses and Kant's innate categories.
About the power (or, force) of gravity, Isaac Newton writes, hypotheses non fingo, meaning that: I do not conjecture as to what this "force" is in itself (for such conjecture would be what is called "metaphysical speculation about the reality underlying reality"). As far as I can see, and that may not be very far, the expression 'force of gravity' has no meaning at all other than the meaning given to it by a rule for the way (or, method by which) this "force" is measured .... "An unsuitable form of expression is a sure means of remaining in a state of confusion. It as it were bars the way" to seeing the matter aright (PI § 339), for here the grammatical part of speech (namely, 'noun') suggests to us over and over again that the word 'force' simply must be the name of some mysterious "thing" or other; and it makes it only a very little clearer to say that the combination of words 'force of gravity' has no meaning apart from how force of gravity is measured. The cloudy picture the noun suggests to us refuses to vanish.
The "force of attraction". If you say that A gravitates towards (or, is attracted to) B, this measurement is what I think Arthur Eddington means by "pointer readings", i.e. instrument of measurement readings. But Eddington seems to imply by this expression -- for he says, "We have dismissed all preconception as to the background of our pointer readings, and for the most part we can discover nothing as to its nature" -- that there is a "background", a "something", a hidden reality, something occult "behind" these pointer readings. And that in itself is a preconception -- a metaphysical preconception (cf. Newton's "hypotheses"); that is, that there must be something behind this measurement, some reality unknown or even unknowable by man. Eddington might well employ Newton's words "and I make no hypotheses". -- But of that, remember what Wittgenstein says: that in so far as they think they see the limits [of what is knowable] they also think they can see beyond them (cf. CV p. 15).
In his youth a receiver of bodies of dubious origin for medical student dissection, experienced what some would regard as a supernatural occurrence, others as an instance of shared hallucination, remarked in his old age that he might look much younger now if had "an easy conscience and a good digestion":
"Conscience! Hear me speak. You would think I was some good, old, decent Christian, would you not? But no, not I; I never canted. Voltaire might have canted if he'd stood in my shoes; but the brains" [and here he tapped his skull], "the brains were clear and active, and I saw and made no deductions." (R.L. Stevenson, "The Body-Snatcher" (1884))
"I saw and made no deductions" is an instance of Newton's "I make no hypotheses": I saw but I made no "hypothesis" -- i.e. I did not speculate, or, conjecture -- as to the cause of what I saw. Many "hypotheses" might have been possible, ranging from the theological to the scientific, but such conjectures would have gone beyond what he saw -- i.e. beyond what he knew by experience; what he did, instead, was simply to describe his experience and that was all.
Query: the later Wittgenstein believed that meaning resides not in the relationship between words and things, but rather in the way we use words.
But sometimes it does "reside in the relationship between words and things", as in the case of names of objects. To define the word 'cow' (to someone who has already learned the method of ostensive definition) amounts to pointing at examples of cows, not to describing "language-games" in which we use the word 'cow'. (Remember that there are two parts to Philosophical Investigations § 43.)
Plato's "Ideas", Wittgenstein's "family resemblances"
Query: Plato, world of forms. Wittgenstein, family resemblance.
Query: Wittgenstein's forms of life and Plato's theory of the forms.
What do they have in common or how do they contrast? Wittgenstein gives no definition of 'family' -- i.e. he does not state by what criterion a family of words can be identified. What is the difference between saying that e.g. games share various resemblances which one may point to and saying that "games form a family"? There is none at all; and therefore that metaphor fails as an account of the meaning of common names (i.e. To say that common names share "family" resemblances is to say nothing at all about them beyond that their applications resemble one another in various ways). And Plato does not state how to determine whether any given word names a Form or not, and if that is the case, then how can the Forms be the source of the meaning of words, except in a rather vague "theory of meaning", which certainly does not make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense (It is not "a logic of language")? Wittgenstein uses an undefined metaphor and Plato uses a picture that cannot be applied to our world (i.e. the world): if one can speak only metaphorically of a place of knowledge "on the other side of the sky" and not knowable by man in the shadow world man perceives while "in the body", then does one succeed in saying anything about the "world of Forms" at all? Plato presents an idle "picture", which is one of the things that metaphysical propositions may do.
Whereas Plato's metaphor at least does suggest a picture to the imagination (It is a "metaphysical theory", i.e. a speculation about the reality hidden behind sense experience), Wittgenstein says nothing at all with his metaphor (simile). He makes shift, or tries to make shift, with a metaphor; but a metaphor that cannot be translated into prose is no metaphor. And so there is the metaphor, the poetry, of "family" resemblance, but what is the prose? What exactly does 'family' mean? "But answer came there none." Because it has no meaning: there are resemblances; the word 'family' adds nothing to that. (And why? Because anything may resemble anything else in some way or another, and with the word 'family' left undefined, any such resemblance may be called a "family resemblance"; but what is applicable to everything is applicable to nothing: the word 'family' is (the paper hat on the chess piece [cf. the grammar of 'I am here' and 'It is now']).
Note that the perplexing question "What is the meaning of a common name? Is it a common nature the common name names?" is not answered. Plato thinks it must be ("metaphysical necessity"), whereas Wittgenstein says that it isn't ("judging by the appearances," metaphysicians would say, but that is not how we normally use the word 'appearances': the facts in plain view are not appearances but reality) but doesn't say what it is -- nor how it is that we have the particular concepts that we do have.
[See also the earlier discussion: How does "family resemblances" relate to the Socratic search for truth?]
Can the word 'game' be defined by a list of games?
"... and the like" -- would a list of games be the definition of the word 'game'? No, because the class of all games is not closed: new members may be added to that class anytime (and sometimes it mayn't be clear whether something belongs on that class list or not). But if someone told us that he knew "what a game is" but were unable to compile such a list, would we accept that he knew the meaning of the word 'game'? But suppose he always applied that word correctly, always identifying, never misidentifying? (These questions simply never arise. We use our everyday language without giving much, and mostly no, thought to its grammar.)
Plato's Forms and Kant's Categories
Query: Kant versus Socrates question.
Maybe this query alludes to: Kant contrasted with with Plato: Kant's categories that belong to -- i.e. do not (or may not? for it is impossible, according to Kant, for man to know das Ding an sich = (maybe) reality as it is in itself) exist independently of -- the subject [namely, man] (such as space and time), and Plato's Forms that are independent -- i.e. exist independently -- of the subject. (Note: but this query may also allude to the contrast between Socratic and Kantian ethics, or to other topics that have not occurred to me. Cf. "Innate ideas": Kant and Descartes.)
The grammar of the word 'God' (yet again)
Note: this continues the discussion of What can be done with the word 'God'?
Come to from another direction, or, from another context: My only loyalty is to the good and the true, and that I call 'God'. That, of course, is neither a statement of metaphysics nor of faith. But it belongs to what I mean by the word 'God'; cf. Bertrand Russell's Theory of Descriptions: "We may say, following Russell: [the word 'God'] can be defined by means of various descriptions" (cf. PI § 79). But if the word 'God' is a tool, and it is that, it remains quite vague just what I am doing with it, for just which descriptions, among the many common ones, do I have in mind? For I certainly don't mean all of them; that would not be a true account of how I myself use the word 'God'. If I say, "Judgment of a human being is God's responsibility, not man's", then is it clear what I mean by the word 'God'? (That statement is anthropomorphic, however? But it is also a reminder of how man should live his life.) "Looking at everything from the perspective of eternity. That is what I mean by 'God'." And the good and the true are all that is of worth from that perspective. I think that comes the closest I can to a statement of what I mean by -- i.e. to a definition -- of the word 'God' as I use that word. Mine is but one meaning (one "description"), however, among the many possible meanings ("descriptions") belonging to that word -- but those possibilities are essential background to my use of that word. For the word 'God' as I use it, is not arbitrarily chosen; it is deliberately chosen, chosen because of its background; cf. Wittgenstein's use of the word 'grammar' (Conceptual revision)).
R.L. Stevenson uses the expression "a scorn of sublunary things" (The Master of Ballantrae, Chapter 6) and that is part of what I mean by the word 'God'.
The morality of rendering unto Caesar ...
"You are the head of Justice in this country," I cried, "and you propose to me a crime [namely, not preventing the sending of an innocent man to the gallows]!"
"I am a man nursing with both hands the interests of this country," he replied, "and I press on you a political necessity. Patriotism is not always moral in the formal sense. [...] I regard in this matter my political duty first and my judicial duty only second. [...] you must remember very clearly the year '45 and the shock that went about the country.[...] Who saved it? [It was the Highlands clan that now demanded the conviction, on perjured testimony, of a member of another clan.] I repeat; who saved the Protestant religion and the whole frame of our civil institutions? [...] do you propose to plunge your country in war, to jeopardize the faith of your fathers, and to expose the lives and fortunes of how many thousand innocent persons? ... These are considerations that weigh with me, and I hope will weigh no less with yourself, Mr. Balfour, as a lover of your country, good government, and religious truth."
"I cannot see beyond [the injustice (of convicting an innocent man)], my lord. It's the way that I am made. If the country has to fall, it has to fall." (R.L. Stevenson, David Balfour, Chapter 4)
"... moral in the formal sense" -- Eh? what's that when it's at home? If "the Protestant religion and the whole frame of our civil institutions", if the "country, good government, and religious truth", must be founded on a lie, then ...? That "informal morality" is no morality at all: it is the immorality that comes from the barrel of a gun. The words of the Lord Advocate are an example of rendering unto Caesar the things that are God's, morality being the first and last of the things that are God's. The Lord Advocate's "informal morality" is the morality that gains the whole world but loses its soul, for "it daily hears the words of Christ, but he prefers its own" (like the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky): that is not the Christian religion -- it is, instead, the absence of religious faith. (And, no, that faith does not require that you to tell the murderer where his intended victim is hiding, leaving the consequences of your truthfulness in the hands of God (Kant), for man must use the reason he has been endowed with ("work on that part of the plan that you can see" - Lichtenberg; the "plan" for a Christian is the ethics of Jesus we learn from the Gospels). But religious faith does require that you prevent a man's being hanged for a murder he did not commit -- regardless of the consequences of your preventing that wrong-doing.)
[Cf. the Catholic Christian notion "a just war" -- a notion that claimed to justify the extermination bombing of the Second World War (According to Robert S. McNamara, who was involved in this campaign, the fire-bombing of Japanese cities by the United States of America killed 900,000 civilians). Was the bombing of the Second World War an act of Christian faith or was it a rendering unto Caesar the things that are God's?]
"... a scorn of sublunary things". What happens on this earth is important because of the suffering it causes (and we must, within the limits set by the standard of what is good, do what we can to ease that suffering). But it's not worth getting too upset about the injustices of this world; rather, work to cure the injustice within yourself: for the rulers of this world are and have always been and always will be men intent on viciousness (i.e. the opposite of virtue): their eyes will be forever fixed on earth, on "gaining the whole world". I believe that is Jesus' view of the rulers of this world, and I would add and I think safely, that the rulers of this world care little either for the truth or for justice if those disturb the type of social order that serves what they believe to be their interests. (Once when Dostoyevsky was sitting in a cafe in Switzerland, he pointed to a little girl with her grandfather and said to his companion, "Imagine that some Napoleon comes along and destroys all this!" Everything political, everything aimed at either replacing or maintaining a present order tends towards the immorality that comes from the barrel of a gun; there seems to be a dreadful inevitability about this).
Paul: "For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth." Anything else is not our Christian faith. (And that means that Paul, in the infamous beginning of Romans 13, was wrong about the rulers of this world: God did not place earthly rulers in authority. That chapter of Paul has ever since been for mankind "the thirteenth at table".)
Whatever else I may think of Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief, in its Introduction Tolstoy makes a noteworthy point, I would say, that those he criticises give equal weight to the Apostle Paul's words, placing them on the same level as they do the sayings and teachings of Jesus. To do that seems very strange to me.
Apropos of "Can reasoning teach man what the life that is proper (or, good) for him to live is and help him to live that kind of life?"
Note: this continues the discussion Socrates - Care of the Soul.
Query: chi nasce rotondo non muore quadrato.
There is a proverb that "a leopard doesn't change its spots". -- But man is a rational (i.e. he is endowed with "discourse of reason") animal, and, therefore, by the use of reasoning he is able to change himself with regard to ethics. That is the serviceable way of looking at man; because, however, if man sees himself as the helpless victim of nature (e.g. Heraclitus' "A man's character is his fate") his "spots" will remain forever as they are, and, therefore, that is not a useful way, from the point of view of ethics, for man to see [look at] his life. There are many aspects of his body that a man cannot change, but his mind both is and is not of his body -- i.e. we do not use the word 'mind' to name an object (whether a visible object or one invisible, i.e. a ghost); but that there are correlations between the mind and the central nervous system of man seems undeniable (Plato recognizes this in Phaedo 66b-d), but those physical correlations to the various phenomena of mind are not used to define the word 'mind'. (Which are we talking about -- how we use the word 'mind' or the mind as phenomenon? There is a relationship between concept and phenomenon; the difficulty is to describe the relationship correctly, i.e. to give a true account of the grammar of 'mind'). With regard to himself as an ethical personality, man does well to adopt the motto: "a man can do all things if he will".
Query: topic of philosophy, to refute that doing evil is ignorance.
I often wonder if those who ask this question -- which simply concerns a way of looking at things (namely: from the reference point of seeking to be ethical, what is the most useful way for man to look at his life?) -- are not simply looking for a pretext to punish -- i.e. make suffer -- human beings who don't do what they want them to do. Why would ignorance be punished, any more than mental illness? (But they do punish mental illness in a vindictive, revenge-lusting society!) To "punish" = to play god, to judge not deeds but the men who do those deeds: To 'hate' = to 'wish harm to come to or to be done to'. None of that is what the good man does (Plato, Republic 335e: Plato's version of ethics drawn from conceptual investigation alone derives valid rules of ethics from tautologies alone). In our life it is sometimes necessary to respond to men's wrong-doing (i.e. to judge men's deeds), but only God is able to judge the men who do those wrongs (But that remark should be A, B, C -- i.e. elementary -- to everyone) and how God does this is beyond our comprehension (cf. Tolstoy's story "God sees the truth, but bides His time", and also CV p. 86 [MS 174 7v: 1950 § 1a]).
Socratic and Platonic Queries
Query what can I do to humble myself from ignorance?
The only way -- and it is not easy, because what we do from habit is sweet to us -- is to keep constant watchfulness over yourself in order not to fall back into the bad habits you acquired in the time of ignorance, before philosophical reasoning taught you what is the good for man; otherwise you will fall into every moral error, all of which have their source in thinking you know what you do not know, for virtue is knowledge. Humility ("Confess thine ignorance!" it says in The Imitation of Christ) -- i.e. self-knowledge -- begins and ends with conscientiously distinguishing what you know from what you are ignorant of (and should not fancy you know); that is part of what Epictetus meant by "knowing the state of your own mind". And we must never tire of reminding ourselves of this. That is the meaning I will give to the language -- the combination of words -- of this query.
Query: what does this mean, that philosophically man's knowledge is so limited that he does not even know himself?
So Plato says in the Phaedrus ("Now I have no leisure for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous" (229e-230a, tr. Jowett)), but although he says that, Plato does believe that Plato knows what man himself is, for otherwise he would not have dared to try to impose a philosopher-king on Syracuse (cf. Euthyphro 15d where Socrates says to Euthyphro: "You would not dare prosecute your own father if you were not certain that you knew what piety (or holiness) is; you would not risk the gods' wrath if through your own ignorance you might commit an impious deed." Remember that by 'piety' we do not mean only one's duty toward the gods, but also e.g. a child's duty toward its parents ("filial piety")). Does man know himself? Yes, because he is able to identify the excellence that is proper to man (the two parts of "Know thyself"), but No, because man does not know his place in eternity, or even his destiny, so to speak, whether it is an afterlife or an eternal sleep without dreams (Apology 40c-41c).
Note: the Socrates of Plato's dialogs is not the historical Socrates, but necessarily a literary invention (see Plato, Heraclitus, Socrates), and I'm afraid this applies even to Plato's Apology, although, as with the other earliest dialogs, there is something of the character of the historical Socrates, and nowhere more so than in the Apology. And although there is of course also much literary invention in Xenophon's Memorabilia, Xenophon does cite as a source Socrates' companion Hermogenes, who, unlike Plato, was present at the death of Socrates, which suggests to me that Hermogenes was closer and more faithful to Socrates than Plato was.
Query: does goodness equate to beauty to the Greek way of thinking?
No! we do not define "things" or "abstract ideas" or "conceptual phenomena": we define words: the Greek word rendered by the English word 'beautiful' is not equal in meaning to the Greek word it renders. Of course I am reacting to the query in not the only possible way, for if the query is not intended in the naive/common/popular/pre-Wittgenstein way, then "concepts express and direct our interests" (PI § 570), and that the Greek concept differs from the English one tells us something about the Greek way of thinking -- or at least of the conceptual tools the Greeks had readily to hand, the concepts that were common currency.
Query: Socrates, to know thyself is to understand the extent of your own ignorance.
That is part of both "Know thyself!" as man [mankind] and as an individual man, but it is not the whole. Because rather than "understand the extent of one's own ignorance", it is also to understand the nature of man's [mankind's] ignorance, and not only the extent of one's own. (Knowing the limits of mankind's ability to know is called "learned ignorance". But the caution with that notion is, however, that one should not jump quickly to the view that something or other is unknowable by man [mankind], for that jump may be simply a fatuous form of thinking you know what you don't know. The Que sais-je? really should come at the end a very long investigation -- and nowhere else.)
Query: a refute of people who live in an unexamined life because of more freedom.
Only in George Orwell's 1984 will you find engraved on the Ministry of Truth building, IGNORANCE IS FREEDOM. It is quite the contrary, however, because those who think they know what they do not know, as those who act from ignorance do, "mislead themselves and mislead others" (Xenophon, Memorabilia, iv, 6, 1). There are many things, e.g. gossip about movie stars, about which it can truly be said that "ignorance is bliss" -- but how one should live one's life is not one of those things. Ignorance in ethics is the path away from what is good; it is the path to all wrong-doing, the path to harming both oneself and others.
Query: is there an answer to this question?
This query belongs with the query "Is the answer to this question no?" (Paradox Formation). ("If we answer Yes, that there is an answer to this question, then what is that answer? And if we answer No, that there is no answer, then what is the question to which there is no answer?") Remove a form of expression from the context (i.e. the circumstances of our life) in which it has a use and you may discover countless grammatical absurdities. The human context is the point of -- i.e. that is what I think can be learned from -- the Fable of The Born-Blind-People.
Query: why does Wittgenstein say that to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life?
Because language has its life (meaning) only within a form of life. (See the preceding query.)
Query: if there are no definite answers to philosophical questions, why ask them and why investigate them?
On the one hand, this query's premise is mistaken, because there are definite answers to philosophical questions within the context [or, within the frame of reference] of a particular philosophy (Russell's "Theory of Descriptions" is an example). Again, what is philosophy (at least according to me)? It is rather the case that any particular philosophy is a rational way of looking at things (CV p. 61), one way, not the only way. And so a philosopher may answer a question in his work, whereas a different philosopher may reject that answer or even say that one or the other or both the question and answer are nonsense.
My "achievement" is very much like that of a mathematician who invents a calculus. (CV p. 50)
What did Wittgenstein mean by that -- in what way is it "very like"? The mathematician's achievement is to invent a new technique for accomplishing a task, a new method, new conceptual tools possibly. Wittgenstein invented a method for distinguishing between conceptual and factual investigations, and he invented a tool, namely, [his revision of the concept] "grammar", to accomplish that task with. Maybe that is what he meant. However, from "that a method had been found", which was what Wittgenstein told G.E. Moore that Wittgenstein had done (PP iii, p. 322), it does not follow that anyone will, much less must, adopt that method. A method has a place only within a particular way of looking at things.
But, contrariwise to the query, there aren't even indefinite answers to the Eternal Questions. Why ask them? According to Wittgenstein, we shouldn't: to ask them is to misunderstand the limits of language (PI § 119), even if, also according to Wittgenstein, not to ask them (and if they can be asked at all, then they are not undefined combinations of words (i.e. they have meaning; they are not nonsense ('nonsense' in the logic-of-language sense))) is to be "blind to something important, even to the most important thing of all" (CV p. 27). In other words, "the riddle" (TLP 6.5) does exist, but -- but what?
My question here: Is this related to "the climate of our world", of whether it is cold or not (which, being a conceptual distinction, is logic)? or is it simply the nature of the human life form to ask these questions (which is anthropology)? or the way of looking at things which is embodied in one particular form of life (which is partly both)?
Seeking God knows what
Man as a religious (an explanation-seeking) creature, seeking what exactly? We can't even say. An answer, an explanation -- which he can't even describe what one would look like. (Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt weiß was ich leide. But Goethe's character knew what she longed for, whereas man does not: "the understanding that surpasseth all understanding"? The mystery of our existence is a mystery for which there is no model on which to base a correct reply: and if the question is not clear there can be no answer to it -- and yet, we think, we shall recognize the answer if we see it.)
Another name for 'a model on which to base a correct reply' -- i.e. to base a criterion for a correct answer having been found -- is 'touchstone'. And this is the correct method in philosophy: "So we have set up a [chosen our] touchstone (a criterion). Now let us put our thesis to the touch [i.e. to the test], to be agreed to or refuted in Socratic cross-question and answer." That in re never try to answer a question until you have figured out what the question is [i.e. what is being asked], for otherwise you will have no touchstone [standard] for whether your answer is correct or not. (The " questions without answers" (the "eternal questions" of mankind) maybe should not be answered; perhaps they are rhetorical (That is at least one possibility), but rhetorical questions [i.e. remarks] of the type that say: "Look!" -- and if so then theses-to-be-accepted-or-refuted is not their place in our life, not a use we can put them [i.e. this type of tool] to in our language.)
Query: describe Socrates' general method of philosophizing known as dialectic. 2 points.
What, knowledge of this method is worth only 1/49th of the exam?! For what treasures are the other 49 points awarded?
Query: sample question and answer key on virtue according to Socrates.
"Vivat academia!" indeed.
Query: Socrates' distinction between essence and example.
That distinction is at issue in Plato's Euthyphro, because in that dialog Socrates seek a standard of judgment in ethics (How to make ethical judgment as objective as measurements of width and length, weight and mathematical calculations?), and an example or even a collection of many examples does not seem able to serve that purpose. (How to judge whether any particular phenomenon is a game or not? That is Wittgenstein's grammatical/conceptual investigation, but it is also an investigation of the facts about our language that are in plain view. To say that there is no essential definition of 'game' is not of much moment, but to say that there are no essential definitions of ethical terms is a thesis which Socrates wants to refute, for ethics is a discussion of "no small matter, but how to live" our life.)
Query: why wonder is the genesis of all philosophy?
That proposition commits "The Fallacy of SOME, Therefore ALL". To say that perplexity prompts us to seek to be unperplexed is one thing; to say that there is no other source of philosophy is quite another (Unless, that is, the proposition is a tautology rather than a statement of fact: 'We ask questions in philosophy because we are perplexed' is a tautology if the word 'perplexed' is defined so broadly that it can be correctly applied to any and all philosophizing; cf. the grammar of the words 'thing' and 'phenomenon'). In this instance e.g. I am not philosophizing because I am perplexed, but because I want to give a correct account of how Plato uses the word 'wonder'; for by the word 'wonder', after all, various different things might be meant, e.g. 'awe' or 'astonishment' and so on, but Plato has something most specific in mind, namely, 'wonder' = 'perplexity' (Theaetetus 155c-d).
Most of the remarks on this Web site concern "logic of language" studies. But the question of how to objectively distinguish sense from nonsense -- or, rather, in this case to resolve an ambiguity (each person assigning whichever meaning suggests itself to him) -- is not always perplexing (although in philosophy it very often is). In the case of defining the word 'wonder' in the proposition 'Philosophy begins in wonder', what we do is point to its original home in Plato's dialog. (In this particular case what we do is to bring words back from the realm of indefiniteness to specificity (cf. PI § 116).) Something like this.
Philosophy is ignorance acknowledged
Query: the subject of philosophy is concerned with what we don't know rather than what we do know.
Query: Socrates is more concerned with what we don't know than with what we do know.
First: or with finding the limits of what we do know (Wittgenstein's "tracing the shore line of the vast ocean beyond"). Second: it is by what we don't know, but think we know, that we are misled and mislead others (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1), thus making "conceited ignorance" (i.e. thinking you know what you don't know) a grave obstacle to man's living a good life (or, life of good), because the excellence proper and unique to man is the life guided by reason, but if reasoning is based on false premises, it misfires. In the words of Augustine: "He only errs who thinks he knows what he does not know." That is the fundamental lesson we must learn from Socrates in philosophy, I think, (although there are other lessons, e.g. about "Know thyself!").
Socrates' saying that he "knew nothing but his own ignorance" is found both in Plato (Phaedrus 235c) and Diogenes Laertius ii, 32 (although its original source is unknown) but just what he may have meant by that ..... As to Plato's early Socratic dialogs, however, the cause their ending only in the exposure of ignorance may be -- as Aristotle describes that method -- Socratic common-nature definition itself when applied to ethics ..... The historical Socrates' aim was for he and his companions to live the life that is the good for man; the objective of his dialectic (question and cross-question) is not to end in ignorance, but in knowledge, or wisdom, of how man should life his life. (There is a quite different account of Socrates in Xenophon, one in some ways more useful to the student of ethics than Plato after the Apology.)
When you begin with a preconception, or, false premise, the query you pose can only be answered by showing that your preconception is mistaken, or, that your premise is false. (That might be called "dissolving" a problem, but it may also be solving the problem if the false premise is replaced with a true one.) Plato's account versus Xenophon's: what is a true proposition in one may be a false proposition in the other. If you ask about Socrates, the answer may be: which Socrates, whose Socrates? (Context. Frame of reference.)
Query: Socrates. Know thyself as a moral imperative.
The query may seem to suggest for "Know thyself!" a Kantian version ("moral imperative"), not Socrates' own. In Greece "Know thyself", like "Nothing too much", was popular wisdom, or, a proverb -- unless because it was inscribed in Apollo's temple at Delphi, it was a religious imperative (cf. Antigone), an act of piety. But "moral imperative" suggests "categorical imperative" -- and that is wrong: Socratic ethics is fully rational (Kantian "conscience" is not). Only if "Know thyself" is what reason demands of man, and it does, is "Know thyself" an imperative in ethics.
Query: in Plato's Apology, from what two sources did Socrates learn he was the wisest man?
We might say that there were four sources that showed Socrates that "no man is wiser [than Socrates]": Apollo's oracle at Delphi via Chaerephon's report, and then Socrates' own questioning of politicians, poets, and artisans. But I don't know quite what the query is seeking. Maybe we could say, from (1) the voice of God (2) verified by the voice of experience (Xenophon, Apology i, 15-16).
Query: did Socrates say question everything?
Query: Why did Socrates contest everything?
"Test all things; keep only what is true and serviceable [i.e. good]" (Paul, more or less, and riven from context) -- i.e. distinguish what men know from what they only fancy they know but do not. Any claim that a man knows something must be put to the touch -- i.e. to the tests of reason and experience ("contested") to see if it is true or if it is not knowledge but instead merely self-delusion. (A man may, however, be at peace with himself without being at peace with the "community of ideas" he finds himself living in, as was Socrates, although Wittgenstein was not.)
Query: where do logic and critical thinking fit into the five branches?
Well, which five have you sliced the philosophy pie into (See e.g. the next query below)? In Socratic philosophy -- i.e. in philosophy done in the spirit of Socrates' use of thoroughgoing reason -- logic (or, critical thinking) is universal: it is more akin to a part of the sap which flows through the whole plant than to a distinct branch. That is, logic (the tool, the methods) is essential to philosophizing -- but it may not be the only thing that is essential to philosophy. (That, in any case, is my account. Logic studied for its own sake -- i.e. divorced from the philosophical problems that give it direction (PI § 109), as it is in the "Symbolic Logic" courses taught in schools -- is of no interest to me.)
Query: which branch of philosophy was Plato in?
The Greek? The Rationalist? The influencers of Catholic Christian theology? The founders of philosophical schools? Philosophers who wrote dialogs? Philosophers whose work is now commonly studied at universities? Philosophers who wrote about Socrates? Philosophers who were ancient Greeks? Philosophers who were criticised by Aristotle? Philosophers who had a pupil with as great a gift for philosophy as they themselves had? And so on. There are many ways to slice the pie of philosophy, many possible branches of its tree.
Remember that whether we use the metaphor "parts" or "branches" or some other, all we are talking about is classification schemes; and of those there are many ("as many as you like; even more"). But there are no God-given categories (pace Kant), no God-given absolute point of reference -- or how would what that point is be determined [found]? (That is, of course, a grammatical, not a metaphysical, question: it asks for a definition of 'absolute', criteria by which to apply that word ... although our second nature (upbringing) wants us to seek a metaphysical answer to it.)
Query: how many branches of philosophy do we have?
Query: how many branches of philosophy are there?
How many? "As many as you want; even more than you want" -- i.e. the number is unlimited. Invent as many classification schemes as you like -- and there will still be more possible.
Query: how does Socrates disprove the god at Delphi in the Apology?
In the Apology Socrates does not try to disprove, i.e. try to show the god's words to be false ("for the gods, except as they are slandered by the ancient myths, do not tell lies"), but only to understand, because the apparent meaning of the oracle's words is at variance with Socrates' experience of knowing only his own ignorance. Beyond that, however, is this question: is the Apology historical in its account: was that Socrates' actual response to Apollo's oracle -- did Socrates begin questioning himself and others only to discover if he could find a man who was wiser than he was -- or is that a response Plato's own invention? (1) Reason why I might doubt that is was only Plato's invention? The differences between the Socrates of the Apology and of the Socrates in the dialogs that followed. (2) Reason to believe that Socrates' response to the oracle's words was Plato's own invention? "Plausibility" -- for can you say that the Socrates of Plato became a literary invention only after the Apology rather than that he always was such an invention? History scholars, according to W.K.C. Guthrie, believe that the Apology was written twelve years after Socrates' death.
Query: Socrates said "the unexamined life is not worth living". What sorts of things did he mean we ought to examine? How did Socrates say such an examination should be carried out?
By questioning [examining] both himself and others to see if any man knows what he thinks he knows about what is most important for man to know, namely, how to live (ethics), for a life without that kind of questioning (Apology 37e-38a) is not worthy of the excellence this is proper to man (Man is not "a beast wanting discourse of reason).
The method of 'dialectic': Someone states a thesis (a claim to know something), and then someone else must either agree (accept that thesis) or attempt to refute (through cross-question) that thesis, resulting in a clarified or altered thesis. Da capo.
Query: how to answer an exam question on Plato's Apology.
Query: Discuss, not less than 120 words.
Query: if you are going for a test on the subject philosophy what are the obvious questions according to you?
Is this what should be expected from the realm of the "professional philosophers", the latter day Sophists (or Sophists-manque, because they are not on the level of Protagoras), the realm of those who take money to instruct others in philosophy (or, at least to instruct others in philosophy is what they say they are able to do)? These queries are deeply disconcerting: they provoke a rejection of the very roots of the way of life ("community of ideas") that we live in, that the foundations of that way of life are wrongly placed. In the Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn said about his life before prison: "so many years wasted not knowing how to live". And living in a way that allows such queries to arise is not knowing how man should live his life.
Query: how does Descartes help us understand the Apology?
That isn't an assignment in philosophy -- but in dogma/slogan swallowing: The instructor says it is so, and so must be so. The philosophical question is: Does Descartes help ...? Answer: yes, he shows that Socrates' method is correct whereas Descartes' is wrong, because the first stops us from thinking we know what we do not know, while the second (i.e. Rationalism) encourages/fosters just the opposite. ETC. As if there weren't countless contrast/comparisons one might make, rather than only the instructor's offered rote learning! (Kant's "Dare to doubt!" in this context means: "Think things through for yourself! And be willing to accept the consequences of that.") (Schools, instructors that set questions and answers make students stupid in philosophy.)
Query: Socrates would disagree with Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblance.
(1) In philosophy the conclusion comes at the end, not the beginning, the philosophical query being: Would Socrates ...? (2) What is "Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblance" when it's at home? I.e. is there anything for Socrates or anyone else to disagree with here -- other than with Wittgenstein's choice of metaphor, comparison to the resemblances among members of a family? That there are resemblances Socrates can of course see, but are those resemblances the meaning of common names? (3) The word 'piety' is a common name, as are the names of the other cardinal virtues -- but is its meaning a common nature? Is it a correct grammatical account to characterize the use of an ethics-word as pointing to one or more defining common features among the things it is applied to? (4) Or is it as Wittgenstein says, that various common features there are, but that those common features are not defining?
Instructors of philosophy (Sophists) -- charlatan =DEF. one who presumes to teach what he does not know although he imagines himself to -- versus philosophy itself. (Plato, Euthydemus 307a-c)
Query: everyone of us should seek out the best teacher, Laches (185e-186b).
Instructor: "What a subversive idea!" -- Aside: "If you know a wise man, visit him early; let your feet wear out the threshold of his door" (Sirach 6.36). -- Student: "But Socrates does not award diplomas -- and I want to get on in this world. I'll stay with Callicles" (Plato, Gorgias 484c-486c).
... a change in the way people live so that these questions just don't arise. (CV p. 61)
Most days what I find in my site's server logs is ignorance. And to work one's way out of that ignorance demands a lifetime dedicated to that work. And an "Introduction to Philosophy" course, such a children are forced through at school, may do far more harm than good, leaving children convinced either that they know what they don't know or that philosophy has nothing to do with them.
"... that by groping their way towards him they might perhaps succeed in finding him." Whatever else we mean [CV p. 50] by "finding him", in philosophy it seems to me that it must mean this: escaping from that vast ocean of "vagueness and confusion", of metaphors that are disguised nonsense, i.e. not metaphors at all, but simply undefined combinations of words. That is, to find the clarity that comes from making an objective distinction between sense and nonsense in philosophy and thus allows you to distinguish between what you know and what you don't know (although which, in an ocean of vagueness, you may easily think you do), and so clearing the ground of received conceptions (e.g. the grammar of 'point' in geometry) which for you are preconceptions that lead to endless self-mystification. (Was something like this clarity the aim of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus?)
And the worst of all ignorance is the ignorance of the Sophists, the "professional philosophers" (university professors) who, rather than lead children away from language-induced ignorance, confirm them and even deepen them in that ignorance. (Those who think they know what they do not know "are mislead and mislead others". A bad teacher is infinitely more harmful than a bad doctor: a bad doctor only harms the body, but a bad teacher harms the soul.) So many queries from school children are examples of a minefield of undefined words, of the thoughtless utterance of language.
Query: conceptions of knowledge in the Theaetetus.
What might that mean other than e.g. hypotheses about -- i.e. suggested accounts of -- how we use the word 'knowledge'. But 'hypothesis' suggests verification, and is that found here? The examples given are the verification; without examples an hypothesis is only a guess. Is the proposition 'By the word 'thunder' we mean 'noise in the clouds' ' an hypothesis? Unless we are inventing a rule, then it is a statement of fact about the English language, possibly false (otherwise it could not possibly be true either; note that the possibility here must be both logical possibility and real possibility, e.g. 'thunder' must name a sound that mankind can hear; as a counter-example: 'the voice of God' is not the name of a sound).
However, suppose Plato say that there is a phenomenon named 'knowledge' and that he is exploring the nature of that phenomenon in this dialog -- (But question: if he says this, do we understand what he is saying? Can you give an account (describe its use, or, give an explanation of its meaning, to others) of the meaning of the combination of words 'the phenomenon of knowledge'? If we use Socrates' criterion for 'knowing' in philosophy (and I know of none more useful to philosophy), then if you cannot give an account of what you know to others, you do not know it, or, in other words, to 'know' means 'be able to tell others'; a meaning that you cannot put into words is in philosophy no meaning at all -- but here, do you even have any notion of what such a description would look like?) --, for it "is possible to be interested in a phenomenon in a variety of ways" (PI § 108. A brief reminder about the distinction between defining a word and defining a phenomenon)? "Plato seeks a real definition of knowledge." Is it possible to seek that? Cf. "the phenomena of thought" -- experimental psychology does investigate that -- not by using the methods of logic of language studies, however (and what other methods shall we use if we are to maintain the distinction between sense and nonsense in philosophy?).
According to Wittgenstein, all philosophical investigations are conceptual investigations (i.e. investigations of our concepts, i.e. of the use [or, in Wittgenstein's jargon, the "grammar"] of words), and to fancy otherwise is to confuse a factual investigation with a conceptual one. Is that what Plato would be doing if he said that he was "investigating the nature of the phenomenon of knowledge"? I don't know -- but it doesn't matter! We look, not at what Plato may intend to do, but instead a what he does do. And so, for example, about Plato's "Knowledge is justified true belief", we don't ask if it is true or false statement about "the phenomenon of knowledge" (whatever that is when it's at home); we set that question aside to deal with the prior question: is Plato's statement sense or "nonsense" (for an undefined combination of words can be neither true nor false). And so, on my account, that combination of words is merely a conceptual muddle: knowledge is not a class of belief, and neither by 'knowledge' nor by 'belief' do we mean a state of mind. That is what we find if we look at how we use those words; and if anyone gave a contrary account we would say that his account was false. Plato may intend to investigate a phenomenon, and he may believe that is what he is doing -- but when we look at what he is doing, we find that what he is doing is investigating the interrelationships of our concepts -- inter-relationships of which he gives a false grammatical account.
Query: philosophers' logic problems with solutions.
Query: what is the difference between wisdom and foolishness?
I want to respond: There is vital logic and then there is idle logic, one worthwhile, the other a mere diversion. "We are discussing no small matter, but how to live", Plato's Socrates says. Years ago I wrote (something like): "Every step his followers have taken away from Socrates has been a misstep." Somehow I cannot help but think that the whole aim of philosophy is this -- not to think you know what you don't know.
Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 26 July 2013 : 2013-07-26 (Original version 16 June 2013)
The URL of this Web page: