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Logic at Sea

We continue with preliminary and later logic of language remarks. What does it mean? the expression 'logic of our language' is Wittgenstein's, but in my jargon it means: an answer to the question of how sense (or, meaning) is distinguished from nonsense in the discussion of philosophy. [The specific why of this page's title.]

Topics on this page ...


The Relationship between logic and grammar

Query: logic, statements that don't make sense but do grammatically.

If you talk about logical form in the context of Wittgenstein's shallow versus deep grammar distinction -- (forgetting for the moment that in Wittgenstein's work the word 'grammar' is jargon, 'grammar' a revised concept) -- contrasting it with grammatical form [i.e. syntax], you are using a one-ended metaphor [simile: A is like B] because natural language-meaning is not a function of form, regardless of how the language's syntax is recast, (but of use in the language), and so "When is a form not a form?"

By both the words 'logic' and 'grammar' are meant "rules of the game". In our language, there are rules of form (syntax) and rules of meaning ... but to which of either logic or grammar do the latter belong? As Wittgenstein defined the words 'grammar' and 'logic' in his conceptual revision, to both, as well as syntax to both: everything that describes the use of language belongs to grammar-logic.

If syntax "makes sense" it is because a combination of words is consistent with the rules of syntax (e.g. Noun + verb = sentence, e.g. 'Theaetetus flies'), but if the combination of words is normally -- (for we can always invent a meaning for any combination of words, but if we do that we are not describing normal usage) -- undefined in meaning (e.g. 'Porridge wonders'), then it does not "make sense".

[Further discussion: Between syntax and the semantic (i.e. meaning).]

Must it be possible to show both ends of an analogy?

Three Comments

(1) "... one-ended".  ["A is like B, but I can't show you A." A = logical form; B = grammatical form (syntax). "I can't show you" -- i.e. a difference does not show itself in that one [namely, B] is a form whereas the other [namely, A] is not. No, both A and B are forms; both are syntax; nothing more/else.

[What is presumably different about them is the meaning they suggest, although it is the same meaning for both -- for otherwise the sense of B would be nonsense (It is not the sense of 'The square circle exists' that is senseless, not its meaning that is meaningless ('nonsense' ≠ "senseless sense").]

(2) "... metaphor/simile".  ["shallow form/shallow syntax" vs. "deep form/deep syntax", as if to say that its deep syntax is the language's meaning. But what does this magical syntax=meaning look like? Well, it looks just like any other syntax.

['The gold mountain does not exist' versus 'There is no x such that x is both a mountain and gold'

["Syntax A is proposition B's true syntax, as my conceptual investigation shows." -- But then shouldn't we be investigating concepts -- i.e. the use of words -- rather than language/linguistic form?]

(3) "... is a form not a form?"  [Wittgenstein's distinction concerns the meaning of the language -- and meaning, on his account, is not a matter of form but of use. What matters (to its meaning) is not the form of the sign (sounds, marks on paper), but the use it is put to. That use is the sign's meaning (PI § 43).]

Two propositions: 'The book is on the table' and 'The table is under the book' -- We would say that both propositions have the same visual meaning. But yet we want to say that the two propositions have different -- somehow different -- meanings.

Is the only difference between the two propositions syntax -- is that the only difference from the point of view of meaning? Points of view. Distinct points of reference -- is that the difference in meaning? What are we calling the 'meaning' (DEF.) here?

Form of words versus meaning (Wittgenstein's criticism)

If I had to say what is the main mistake made by philosophers of the present generation, including Moore, I would say that it is that when language is looked at, what is looked at is the form of words and not the use made of the form of words. (LC p. 2)

The use in the language (PI § 43) of the form of language is its meaning (in Wittgenstein's logic of language).

In contrast to Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell did mean form when he contrasted the "philosophical grammar" (or, logical form) of a proposition with the grammar of the sentence-sign of the proposition (as we normally e.g. write that proposition on paper or speak it aloud). Russell uses the word 'grammar' the way we are taught to use it at school; it is not a jargon-word in his philosophy.

[How does Russell know which is the correct form when talking e.g. about 'gold mountain'? We accept his account -- i.e. we incline towards his way of looking at the thing. Does that way make the thing clearer? I think: only if you were perplexed about it to begin with. Otherwise you just "see Russell's point".

[Could you say that by changing the form of a proposition Russell shows the proposition's actual use in our language -- i.e. what we really mean by it? (But how queer that we shouldn't know ...) Then it would be like Wittgenstein's "disguised nonsense" versus "patent nonsense" distinction (PI § 464).]

Thus if for Russell it is the grammatical form versus the logical form, for Wittgenstein it is the grammatical form [i.e. syntax] versus the logical, not form, but meaning; the logical meaning, or, in other words, the grammatical meaning (remembering again now that 'grammar' is a jargon-word for Wittgenstein).


Shadow reality ("gold mountain", "round square")

The proposition 'The square circle does not exist'. The proposition 'The square circle does exist' -- is it nonsense? because 'square circle' is nonsense (an undefined combination of words). Whereas the proposition 'The gold mountain exists' is false, not nonsense.

'There is an x such that x is both circular and square' -- is that proposition false, or nonsense? 'There is no figure that is both circular and square' is a rule of grammar, a fact about words of our language, not a fact about the world. But 'There is no gold mountain' states a fact about the world.

Russell: my form of expression, which I am calling 'philosophical grammar', does not make it appear that an x must have some kind of existence -- for otherwise we could not deny that it [i.e. the value of x] exists: "I must first imagine x existing and then negate the proposition that it exists". This suggests the picture of a shadow reality, populated with gold mountains and square circles -- i.e. populated with falsehoods, and nonsense combinations of words. The last remark shows the absurdity of the shadow reality picture.

Why Wittgenstein wrote, "Russell's merit is to have shown that the apparent logical form of the proposition need not be its real form" (TLP 4.0031, tr. Ogden), I don't know (cf. Sophist 237a). Only someone who has been in the grips (the "mustness") of a picture can feel the merit of being released from it. Someone who has always regarded the picture as foolishness cannot (It is Wittgenstein's concept 'grammar', not Russell's "philosophical grammar", that makes it folly).


Query: what question has no answer?

Presumably: Why?

Is it like this -- we follow an analogy (grammatical)? We ask, Why does this happen?, Why that?, and then we prescind from these parts to ask about the whole: Why does anything happen at all? ("Is there providence?")

We ask, Why is there this?, Why that?, and then, Why is there anything at all rather than nothing at all?

But what makes sense (i.e. is defined language) to ask about a PART, may not make sense to ask about the WHOLE.

Is that all it is? Why, what more do you want there to be?

The "questions without answers" are all like that, that we couldn't say what kind of answer we are seeking with these questions, what an answer to these questions would even look like. (Or, you could say, the word 'answer' is undefined with respect to man's eternal questions.)

"The riddle doesn't exist." It is merely an undefined combination of words -- i.e. nonsense...... That it sounds absurd doesn't mean that it's false. I.e.: to dismiss is not to refute. "There is something problematical about existence per se" -- but just try to say what.

[That is not "recovered". But there are two parts to lost and found: what was not lost cannot be found. And for the Greeks there may not have been anything to lose: you cannot stop asking a type of question that you have never asked.)]

Query: Gorgias, the best way to rid ourselves of false belief.

Is to put our beliefs to the test -- i.e. to refute and be refuted in dialog [Socratic dialectic]; and that is why I request critical comments about these pages (which no one sends), for as Plato's Socrates says: it is more useful [beneficial] to me to be refuted (and so discontinue in my ignorance) than to have my thoughts [propositions] affirmed (Gorgias 457e-458b; cf. Sophist 230b-d). Mistakes make you think and revise; affirmations don't.


Missing the point | Perpetuating the old way of thinking

Wittgenstein: "A philosopher says: Look at things this way!" (CV p. 61, a remark from 1947) But many are unwilling to set aside the old way. And yet the old way must for a time be set aside -- We must be willing to suffer a Gestalt shift if we are to understand a way of thinking different from our own in philosophy. "Look at this through the eyes of Plato! See the question of the meaning of a common name -- which, if it is not a common nature named by the common name, is indeed perplexing -- in Plato's way."

Why to read Plato's dialogs?

Query: what are the three possibilities that Socrates gives for what might be meant by giving an account?

(The following remarks are not apropos of Theaetetus 201b-210a, but of our use of the historical Socrates' method.)

But what if there is no essence of 'giving an account'? What the word 'account' means varies from case to case or from type of case to type of case. "The kind of account is the kind of language-game" (cf. PI II, xi, p. 224).

We ask for a speculative theory of "giving an account" where we ought to ask for examples of language-games where an account is given: we ask for an essence of accounts where we should ask: What are the rules of this or that particular game? -- because the meaning of 'an account' in a particular game is shown by the rules of that particular game.

Theories about common names

We must, at least for a time, set aside our preconception that there must be a general definition. That notion has always been, not the result of investigation, but a requirement philosophers have imposed on their investigations (Socrates in ethics only, Plato with respect to all common names), and maybe we are misled by their presumption/preconception: for the general definitions we sought/demanded have ever been a requirement we brought to our investigations and never their result (cf. PI § 107).

Our preconception that there must be a general definition shows itself to have been a misconception. It belonged to a theory of language -- i.e. a metaphysical theory about "what must be the case" -- rather than a logic of language -- i.e. a description of what we find when we look.

Plato often only tells us what we do not find when we look, but he never draws the apparent conclusion that this is because it is not there to be found, but instead assumes that it is invisible/imperceptible.

When a "may be" becomes a "must be", that is akin to madness (metaphysics).

In my opinion, those who read Plato in the way of this query (cf. those who seek/ask about the various "definitions of the holy" Plato offers in the Euthyphro) read him wrongly, because that is not what there is to be learned from Plato, and it simply perpetuates the old way of doing philosophy -- i.e. not distinguishing conceptual from factual investigations, ignoring the basic (underlying) question of how to objectively distinguish sense from nonsense.

Does Wittgenstein have an alternative "theory of language" to the theory that the meaning of a common name is the common nature it names? Well, Wittgenstein's remarks about the common name 'game' offers evidence that the meaning of the word 'game' is not a common nature it names -- i.e. he points to an anomaly. And an anomaly disproves a theory.

As to Wittgenstein's various theories about the source of man's philosophical problems, such as "A metaphysical question is always in appearance a factual one, although the problem is a conceptual one" (RPP i § 949) -- the word 'always' indicates a theory (generalizations are theories) -- if you want to treat those as hypotheses then you can falsify an hypothesis by finding anomalies. But you are going to have to do that on Wittgenstein's terms -- i.e. using the meaning of 'meaning' he himself used in his investigations. (A changed context means a changed meaning.)

But then are we criticising Plato on his own terms? Well you know I don't know.

Query: the philosopher associated with the notion of family resemblance among the members of a class denoted by a term e.g. game is?

The word 'class' in the query suggests that games have a one-thing-in-common, an essence, namely, "game-ness", as if the membership of classes were not fluid, but were as well-defined as Plato imagined his Forms must be. But that is just the opposite of what Wittgenstein pointed out with this simile.

The query is thoroughly wretched query, an expression of an unwillingness to conceive (to give birth to) something new -- and yet that is the essence of philosophical understanding (that, and not "to restate the new in terms of the old") -- to see things using unaccustomed categories rather than the old categories: e.g. Why 'term' rather than 'word', 'class' rather than 'common name', 'notion' rather than 'comparison'? Here revised is the query:

Which philosopher compared the similarities among games to the resemblances among the members of a family?

... although Wittgenstein never said how to distinguish one family from another.

Wittgenstein did not say "for example", for he gives no other examples. But words with similar (in this respect) grammars to the word 'game' are e.g. 'religion', 'theory', 'metaphysics', as we discover if we look at the usage of those words in the way Wittgenstein looked at [i.e. examined] our usage of the word 'game'.

Query: list of philosophers and their definitions of philosophy.

Why shouldn't the concept 'philosophy' be just as fluid as many another concept? Why do we expect there to be a general definition and believe that if we can't state one, then we don't know what we are talking about? It just seems to us that it must be that way; for how could it be otherwise: It would leave us "facing a phantasm"!

As if Socrates had been a fool: But if the meaning of a common name is not a common nature named by it -- then Plato asks, "what is to become of philosophy?" What becomes of rational discourse if the common names we use are meaningless [i.e. undefined in meaning] -- i.e. if we don't know what we are talking about, babbling on like madmen? (Plato, Parmenides 135c)

Query: remembering, true meaning of meaning.

Recollection. Well of course, and I had not thought of that: for Plato, the word 'meaning' itself must also be the name of a Form -- i.e. there must be an essence of meaning (if 'meaning' is indeed the name of a Form). But I don't know where, if anywhere, Plato discusses that specific topic.


Hypotheses in historiography (critical theology)

Query: Albert Schweitzer, Jesus never existed.

That was Bruno Bauer's conclusion (shared by some later biblical scholars). But although the hypothesis that Jesus never existed resolves some difficulties -- e.g. why there is no historical record of his existence apart from the Synoptic Gospels -- it also creates many difficulties, more difficulties than it solves.

Schweitzer speaks of "scientific" historiography, by which I think he means: a critical study of documents that tries to develop an hypothesis that can explain the data -- i.e. give a self-consistent account that (1) resolves more difficulties than it creates ("But if that is so ..."), and (2) is not driven by religious doctrine (as "faith seeking understanding" in Karl Barth).

At the end of the chapter "The Debate about the Historicity of Jesus" (in his The Quest of the Historical Jesus, English language edition of 2001) Schweitzer writes:

we must conclude that the supposition that Jesus did exist is exceedingly likely, whereas its converse is exceedingly unlikely (p. 436, tr. Cupitt).

although, Schweitzer also writes, that by the standard of "strict scientific thought":

Every historical assertion depending upon evidence from the past which is no longer directly verifiable must ultimately remain an hypothesis.

To assert that the historicity or unhistoricity of Jesus has been proved ... means no more than that according to the available evidence the one is very probable whereas the other is not (ibid. p. 401-402).

[Question: what does Schweitzer mean by 'directly verifiable'? I think, Athens' Parthenon is, whereas the sculpture of Three Graces supposedly carved by Socrates, is not. Courts of law recognize documents only as proof of their own existence, not of anything claimed in the documents.]

Schweitzer asks what reason would the Apostle Paul have had for choosing a common-place -- or even a mythical rabbi (i.e. someone who had never existed) -- to base his own life, religion, theology on? Cf. Plato and Xenophon: they turn Socrates into a literary character, but nonetheless behind those characters is a far-from-common-place historical personality. Was Jesus not also such a personality? Stories are told for many reasons, but that the whole of the New Testament is nothing but stories based on a non-existent man's life and thought -- i.e. that nothing in the Synoptic Gospels is history rather than mythology -- does seem implausible ...

That we find it implausible is proof of nothing except the way we are inclined to think. (Remember that the whole of the Pentateuch is mythology -- or do you really imagine that once upon a time there was a Moses, a Noah, an Abraham.)

The question: What would the hypothesis that Jesus never existed make clearer? versus What would the hypothesis that Jesus never existed make even more perplexing?


Something even metaphysics cannot offer an hypothesis to explain

Query: how does a sentence give meaning with all of the words in it?

So, then, philosophy begins in wonder? Be struck by how puzzling this phenomenon is: how is it that we are able to combine words into a sentence and convey new meaning with it, for we have not been taught to use each and every combination of words we read or speak.

The truth is: I don't understand the question, because I can't imagine even what type of answer it is seeking. The query suggests that something mysterious is happening here -- and indeed it is; the phenomenon of human thought, the fact that human beings are able to work with fluid concepts, should fill us with wonder.

But what has that got to do with logic of language, which is only able to describe the rules of the game ("as in language-game") to the extent that any exist, not how it is possible for a species to exist that is able to use such a natural language. Something like this is the only response to the query.

Drury: you are asking for an explanation where the very notion of an explanation makes no sense (DW p. 92, 76). Neither God nor even metaphysicians can understand nonsense (PI § 500), i.e. undefined combinations of words. And that is what our question "How?" is here.

Even metaphysics can "make no hypothesis" in this case.


Logic at Sea

If I do not record these remarks and comments when first they occur to me, I lose them because I will not remember them tomorrow.

Imagine an explorer. He sails into waters that he does not recognize and comes to island he does not recognize and believes that he has discovered a new island, only to find that he has only rediscovered it. For when he looks in his ship's logbook, he finds that he has already been to this island and has already done a better survey than his present one. But all that, he has forgotten. And so my new ideas are very often only my old ideas, and not too often better thought. And after many years (fifteen) now without refreshing sleep, it seems that I shall never return to the condition of my young mind.


"The death of God" -- What does it mean?

If I understand Bonhoeffer, the sense in which you could apply to him the expression 'God is dead' is in the sense that John's Gospel and Letters speaks of, namely, "No one has ever seen God. It is only the Son who is closest to the Father's heart who has made Him known to us." But, question: what has Jesus made known to us -- if we only know about God through him, then what do we know about God?

I think that it is in this sense that Bonhoeffer speaks of Christianity as a loss of God -- i.e. of "the religious God" or the God of what Bonhoeffer calls "religion" or "religions", as the "God of power and might; Heaven and earth are full of your glory" of the Catholic Mass: "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory." I think that it is any claim to know that God that Bonhoeffer says Christianity does not make.

That is suggested to me both by the Letters and Papers from Prison and by excerpts from a sermon Bonhoeffer gave to the German parish in Barcelona dated 9.9.1928:

With that the difference between Christianity and religions is clear ... here is the cross, there [in "religions"] the crown, here [in "religions"] God, there [in Christianity] man ... [Comment: I believe that by the word 'man' here Bonhoeffer means "the cross of Christ"] ... what is hardest of all to bear ... is having to renounce ... God himself ... (Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer [1967], various translators (1970), p. 80 [p. 80])

Note: all words in brackets were placed there by me, not by Bethge or his translator. The "here" and "there" is my reading of the text.

Comparison to Schweitzer

Although Schweitzer does not speak of renouncing "God as a working-hypothesis", there is a slight comparison to be made here to Schweitzer's idea that Christianity chooses to be an ethical rather than an explanatory religion. For although that is a very different distinction, nonetheless in both cases there is renunciation of any understanding of the God of Nature or "religious God", which I imagine is what most people take 'God the Father' to mean.


Is any particular picture ("Theory of Descriptions") essential to the concept 'God'?

Note: I have many times before tried to describe (i.e. to give to others an account of what I know, which, if I do know, I should be able to do) our concept 'God', something which is not at all easy to do. The following account is different from earlier ones.

Query: Bonhoeffer, God does not exist.

No, according to Bonhoeffer, only "God the working-hypothesis" does not, so to speak, exist (because by Ockham's principle of reasoning: that God is not needed to explain the phenomena, which can be accounted for by natural causes). -- But that is only one part of our concept 'God'. Or, in other words, that is only one picture among many others that we attach to the word 'God'.

Question: But do all those pictures belong essentially to our held-in-common grammar for the word 'God' [the concept 'God' and the "Theory of Descriptions"]? Could we say: whether or not a picture belongs to the grammar of the word 'God' depends on which particular use of the word 'God' we are examining [investigating]?

Does e.g. the picture God the Creator belong to our concept 'God', to the grammar of our word 'God'? Not everyone who uses the word 'God' "seriously" (RPP i § 213) has a place for that picture in his life -- i.e. his life may or may not be guided by that particular picture. But does that aspect -- i.e. conceptual fluidity, in this case the variable boundaries of the concept 'God' [-- not only with respect to extension but also with respect to intention -- i.e. the concept 'God' cannot only be extended/expanded outwards; its boundaries can also be withdrawn/contracted inwards --] belong to the grammar of the word 'God', of our held-in-common concept 'God'? It seems so.

(Which should that concept be characterized as: multifarious or protean?)

But can you say, therefore, that someone to whom that picture is a guide uses the word 'God' differently from someone to whom it is not a guide? Say whichever you like: yes or no -- just so long as your general statement does not stop you from describing our actual use of language: "Say what you choose, so long as it does not prevent you from seeing the facts" (PI § 79).

Should we say, then, that those who use the word 'God' seriously simply take part in a strange form of life -- i.e. "strange" because the concept 'God' in its importance and fluidity is not clearly comparable to any other form of life? (Cf. PI § 654: there is nothing more basic than religion to explain religion by means of; it is akin to instinct.)

Where unclarity seems not to be a blunder

The way you use the word 'God' shows not whom you mean -- but instead what you mean. (CV p. 50 [MS 132 8: 11.9.1946])

The remarks above might be about either the grammar of the word 'God' or the grammar of the word 'grammar'.


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