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What follows is now quite old and a bit confused in places, but there are some worthwhile ideas here. It was written using the tools of what I have called "Wittgenstein's logic of language". Wittgenstein's theories about the origin of philosophy in language, which are the foundation of his project to banish philosophy, contrast with the classical theory of the origin of philosophy in man's fundamental ignorance.

A Comparison of Two Projects in Philosophy: Wittgenstein's Logic of Language and Isaac Newton's Rules for Reasoning in Natural Philosophy

Background: the Introduction to Wittgenstein's Logic of Language says that the principles of Wittgenstein's logic are comparative rather than ontological. But those comparisons may also be described as Wittgenstein's rules for reasoning in philosophy, as they are here. (A further question is what the relation of those rules to Wittgenstein's views about the origins of philosophy is, and a similar question may also be asked about the relation of Isaac Newton's rules to his fundamental views about reality (as his notion "absolute time and space" suggests), although I don't discuss that here.)

Wittgenstein's logic defines language meaning from the point of view of the connection between grammar (rules for working with signs) and meaning and nonsense (BB p. 65).

I must begin with the distinction between sense and nonsense. Nothing is possible prior to that. I can't give it a foundation. (PG i § 81, p. 126-7)

In Wittgenstein's jargon or revision of our concept 'grammar', grammar = the rules both of semantics (sense and nonsense) as well as syntax (form) for using signs (i.e. sounds, ink marks, i.e. the purely physical aspect of language). Rules: what for logic characterize a game. Playing games: what using language is (very often) compared to. These three notions belong to the first part of Wittgenstein's philosophy, the spoken part.

Outline of this page ...

Projects in Philosophy

Although we don't ordinarily use words according to strict rules (BB p. 25), Wittgenstein compared the use of a word to a move a in game played according to strict rules, and called such games "language-games". A language-game is an object of comparison, and comparison brings out similarities and dissimilarities.

Title page of Newton's Principia Title page of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Grammar

So too we can compare what Wittgenstein did in inventing his logic with what, say, Isaac Newton did in inventing his physics. In his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy") of 1687, Newton stated four:

Newton's Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy

Rule I

We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.
To this purpose the philosophers say that ... more is in vain where less will serve.

Rule II

Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes.
As to ... the descent of stones in Europe and in America; the light of our culinary fire and of the sun ...

Rule III

The qualities ... found to belong to all bodies within the reach of our experiments, are to be esteemed the universal qualities of all bodies whatsoever. [Note 1]
... if it universally appears, by experiments and astronomical observations, that all bodies about the earth gravitate towards the earth ... that the moon likewise ...; that, on the other hand, our sea gravitates towards the moon; and all the planets one towards another ... we must, in consequence of this rule, universally allow that all bodies whatsoever are endowed with a principle of mutual gravitation ... [Note 2]

Rule IV

In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions inferred by general induction from phenomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined, till such time as other phenomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions.
This rule we must follow, that the argument of induction may not be evaded by hypotheses. [Note 3]

General Scholium

... we have explained the phenomena of the heavens and our sea by the power of gravity, but have not yet assigned the cause of this power ... and I make no hypotheses [hypotheses non fingo; fingere: to form, imagine, fabricate]; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called an hypothesis [Note 4]; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction ... [Note 5]

Possible Alternatives to Newton's Rules

Newton invented rules of a game -- i.e. a method (he called his method 'experimental philosophy') -- and we can describe what (logically possible) alternatives would be to Newton's rules -- simply by negating them.

First, simpler causal accounts are not to be preferred to more complex ones. Ockham's razor, which is Newton's Rule I, requires us to adopt heliocentrism -- because it is less complicated than geocentrism with its Martian epicycles. But remember that heliocentrism (the picture of "the solar system" familiar to every schoolchild) is a theory. It was a theory, not a fact, when it was invented; it is a theory, not a fact, now; and it will always be a theory, because a theory is an organization of selected conceived facts -- i.e. it is facts plus imagination (the organization of the facts is a creation of the imagination). It is a particular way of looking at things, e.g. the way we choose to organize the raw data of the night sky. The model is not a fact, and can never be one, because to the grammar of 'motion' belongs: how do we determine what is moving? And so too: that 'what is going around what' depends on where we are standing -- i.e. on our reference point (As with Archimedes' remark about being given a fixed point for his fulcrum: the combination of words 'absolute point of reference' is undefined). The question 'But what is the reality -- i.e. which is the system really heliocentric or geocentric -- in this case?' is nonsense. Or what sense shall we give it? [Note 6]

And this shows that Newton's Rule I is a program (philosophical project), and that it would be another program were someone to say: "But after all we are earthlings and the earth is the center of our universe", and so choose to adopt the geocentric model. The rule would be maybe: in all our considerations we are to place humanity at the center of things (so that, for example, a study of rabbits would be concerned only with the relation of rabbits to human beings). That is not Newton's science, but it is a possible alternative to it -- and no less a "science" for that.

Second, therefore, contrary to Newton's Rule II, there is no reason why each natural effect should not be assigned a unique cause. Suppose that in his comment Newton had said: 'the heat of our culinary fire and of the sun' -- and wouldn't his rule have required him to say that? Would any physicist now say that the heat of our culinary fire (fireplace fire) is the result of a nuclear reaction? So then why is it not disturbing that Newton would have been required to say that then? In philosophy we don't want ever to say more that we know (BB p. 45). But Newton's Rule II requires that we say a vast amount more than we know. So that an alternative to this rule would be: To each particular event we are to assign (i.e. assume there to be) a unique cause, until such time as we can demonstrate the causes of particular events to be the same.

Therefore, third, contrary to Newton's Rule III, bodies outside the reach of our experiments are not to be assumed to be of the same nature as those within. And fourth, contrary to Newton's Rule IV, a wait-and-see attitude is not to be assumed toward the existence of anomalies -- i.e. induced generalities are merely useful as "hypotheses".

I think we can see in these counter-rules the suggestion of a skeptical (i.e. very cautious) philosophy very different from Newton's philosophy -- i.e. very different from what we now call 'natural science'.

(The most striking thing about Newton's rules: how non-necessary they are!)

Natural Science is a philosophy

We mustn't not see that natural science is a philosophy -- for Newton's rules certainly are that: the Philosophy of Isaac Newton. The bedrock (ultimate foundation) of that philosophy is that the whole of reality is in principle perceptible to the senses (The "in principle" distinguishes this from crude materialism). There is no place in this philosophy for the reservation that there may be "more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy", as Hamlet suggests to Horatio (just as there is no place in Wittgenstein's philosophy for the reservation that there may be philosophical problems that are not mere conceptual confusion).

Science: enrichment and impoverishment. The "one method" shoves all the others aside. By comparison they seem poor, preliminary at best.

You must go right down to the original sources so as to see them all side by side, both the neglected and the preferred. (CV p. 60-61)

To see them all side by side. Newton's rules are not necessary assumptions; their only necessity is that of rules: the bishop is not allowed to move through occupied squares, only because that is a rule of the game (although we do also speak of "practical necessity" -- i.e. limits to what we are able to do). Like Newton, Wittgenstein invented a project in philosophy. There have been many other projects in philosophy (as varied as e.g. Descartes' new way of ideas and Socrates both as a method of logic and way of life).

Wittgenstein told Moore that:

it did not matter whether his results were true or not: what mattered was that "a method had been found". (PP iii, p. 322)

A method -- a method, not the one and only method (although "the" may have been Wittgenstein's meaning. Criticism of that method would describe alternative logics of language to Wittgenstein's). Here the comparison with Newton shows the fundamental dissimilarity of these two philosophies, for the aims of Newton's and Wittgenstein's methods were different: Newton wanted to find the "causes of natural things" and the "universal qualities of all bodies"; like the philosophers who came before him, Newton wanted to explain the basic principle (cause) behind natural phenomena (e.g. the universal gravitation of matter as why the tide comes in). Wittgenstein, on the other hand, did not want to construct a picture of reality -- but, rather, to clear up the conceptual confusion that conjures up philosophical -- i.e. metaphysical ("Where is the mind?") -- problems where there are none (PI § 109: "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language"); that clarity was the end of philosophy, in both senses of the word 'end' -- i.e. both philosophy's aim and termination (CV p. 7). This was because he sharply distinguished philosophy from empirical science (TLP 4.111: "Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences"), and because according to both Wittgenstein's TLP and later claims, metaphysics is not logically possible.

A project is a rule for looking at things

The history of philosophy (or, in other words, of "the love of wisdom in logic, ethics, and metaphysics"), may be seen as a series of related projects, each saying: "Look at things this way! for this is what I am going to do!" That is what a philosopher says -- from which point of view to identify and resolve philosophical problems. And so, what were Wittgenstein's Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy -- i.e. what he called "the method [that] had been found" to G.E. Moore?

Wittgenstein's Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy

  1. Compare language to games ("language-games") where what characterizes a game is its rules.
  2. Look at language from the point of view of the connection between grammar (i.e. rules or conventions (PG i § 32, p. 68-69), both the syntactic and especially semantic rules for using signs) and sense and nonsense (BB p. 65) by distinguishing between a sign and its meaning -- i.e. between the purely physical part of language (as e.g. spoken sounds and marks on paper) and the rules for using the purely physical part of language.
  3. See the sign as a tool, and at its meaning as the use we make of that tool. Ask for the use rather than the meaning, because the word 'meaning' suggests (1) that the meaning of a word is the thing the word names (regardless of whether that thing is tangible or abstract), and (2) that the meaning of an abstraction exists independently of man and can only be speculated about -- whereas, in contrast, the word 'use' suggests an instrument we employ (PI § 421) to do some work in our lives.
  4. Don't think (i.e. preconceive how language must work), but look instead at the conceived facts in plain view! (PI § 66) Let the use teach you the meaning (ibid. II, xi, p. 212) rather than try to guess what the meaning is (ibid. § 340) as if introspection might reveal that to you.
  5. Look on the language-game as the primary thing (ibid. § 656) -- i.e. "ways of life" are "the given", the raw material that has to be accepted (just as that we ourselves exist has to be (OC § 599) just be accepted). Think anthropologically: take nature (the natural history of man and what he does), not what people say about nature, as your guide (CV p. 37, 41, 1).
  6. Ask if the word or sentence is ever used this way in the language-game that is its original home (PI § 116). Look for the meaning of a word in its everyday use, in contrast to its apparent role in metaphysics (How do we normally use the word 'mind', in contrast to an apparent metaphysical question such as "What is the mind?").
  7. Invent fictitious language-games as objects of comparison, counter-factual realities, in order to make the concepts (i.e. rules for using words) that we actually do have clear to us (PI II, xii, p. 230b).
  8. Only describe the facts in plain view -- don't "explain" them, i.e. 'explain' in the sense of postulate a reality as the cause behind the facts (as e.g. "the Theory of Abstraction" is).
  9. Check the account books of language -- look at what human beings do, not at what they say about what they do (PG ii § 11, p. 295).
  10. And so on ...

In contrast to Newton, it is not easy "simply by negating these rules" to see what an alternative to Wittgenstein's rules for reasoning in philosophy would be. We may be able to see that, however, if we ask what an alternative to the foundations of Wittgenstein's philosophy might be.

The Origins of Philosophy

Wittgenstein, like Newton, said "I make no hypotheses" (RPP i §§ 48-49). But if he made no experimental hypotheses, he certainly made theories about the origins of philosophical problems.

And so rather than the history of philosophy's origins in Greece, the next section describes Wittgenstein's theories about why human beings philosophize, theories about what causes the perplexity of Plato's "philosophy begins in wonder" (Theaetetus 155c-d), theories that suggest that philosophical problems are really no more than conceptual confusion, grammatical jokes (PI § 111) caused by our failure to understand the logic of our language.

The analogies between regions of language theory

People say again and again that ... we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks. But the people who say this don't understand why it has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions.

As long as there continues to be a verb 'to be' that looks as if it functions in the same way as 'to eat' and 'to drink', as long as we still have the adjectives 'identical', 'true', 'false', 'possible', as long as we continue to talk of a river of time, of an expanse of space, etc. etc., people will keep stumbling over the same puzzling difficulties and find themselves staring at something which no explanation seems capable of clearing up. (CV p. 15, from 1931; in The Big Typescript, "Philosophy" § 90)

As long as there is a verb 'to be' that follows the same syntactic rules ("functions") as action verbs such as 'to write' and 'to walk' -- i.e. words meaning to act or in other words to do something ... That is the idea Wittgenstein is pointing to, to a line of thinking our language suggests to us: Walking is doing something, and, therefore by grammatical analogy, be-ing must also be doing something (although it isn't clear just what).

In Sophist 261e-262c, Plato says that "by 'verb' we mean an expression that is applied to actions ... sounds [that] signify any action performed or not performed" (tr. Cornford) and defines 'proposition' as 'a combination of verbs with names', as e.g. 'A man understands' (262c) and 'Theaetetus flies' (263a).

But if we define the word 'verb' that way -- (which Plato doesn't, for a 'verb' may also "signify the nature of anything that exists or does not exist" (262c), as the verb 'to be' does: 'The sky is blue') -- then we may follow false grammatical analogies, just as we do when the word 'noun' is defined as 'the name of a person, place, or thing' -- i.e. if we say that all verbs are names of actions just as all nouns are names of objects and locations.

And that is grammatical analogy that, according to Wittgenstein's theory, misleads Etienne Gilson when Gilson says that being is acting ('being' is an "action verb"). To be as such is (somehow, I don't know how) by the very fact of being doing something. (Is there anything we call 'the act of being'?) Is Gilson's proposition 'God's essence is be-ing' no more than an undefined combination of words? It seems to suggest a picture, a vague image (Suppose I say, the "image" that comes to my mind is of the buzzing of a beehive?), when Gilson says that 'to be' is an action verb. Does a grammatical analogy here perform a conjuring trick, a "mystification of the intellect by means of language" (PI § 109)?

A picture is conjured up which seems to fix the sense unambiguously.... a picture which forces itself on us ... but does not help us out of the difficulty, which only begins here. (ibid. §§ 426, 425)

[Philosophers make analogies between] forms of expression in different regions of language [as e.g. from 'table' to 'mind': if the table is in the dinning room, then the mind must be somewhere as well]. (PI § 90)

Is there anything we call 'the act of being'? Or is that expression mere word magic? And how shall we decide? Wittgenstein's suggestion is to return words that create metaphysical puzzles to the language-games that are their original homes (ibid. § 116), because that is where their normal use in the language is to be found ("If we are using the word ... as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?) (ibid. § 246)) ... but, of course, a different picture of language meaning -- namely that the meaning of a word is the essence of the thing it names, a meaning the word retains in all contexts -- stands in the way of our doing this.

Don't look at it as a matter of course, but as a most remarkable thing, that the verbs 'believe', 'wish', 'will' display all the inflexions [i.e. conjugate on the same pattern as] possessed by 'cut', 'chew', 'run'. (PI II, x, p. 190; e.g. 'I am sleeping' and 'I am running'. "Don't look at it ..." recall "A philosopher says, Look at things this way!" (CV p. 61), and that means that there are other ways than this particular way, too.)

And so this theory about the origin of philosophy can be call Wittgenstein's "Analogy Theory of the source of philosophical problems". For isn't it a theory? Because from that we can trace the path of a possible analogy, it does not follow that anyone actually does follow that path (makes that analogy). Wittgenstein's remark is meant to be an explanation -- an explanation of the cause of something, namely of how we get into perplexity: "A false analogy is followed; that is what really happens. There is no philosophical problem, merely an illusion."

Wittgenstein: "Don't say could but would" (Z §§ 351, 134). But does saying that remove what is theoretical in the statement? Aren't Wittgenstein's posited analogies an instance of Drury's "reality behind the phenomena", a theory, i.e. a selection of conceived facts plus imagination? Because that these analogies are made by someone who philosophizes is not a fact (and certainly not that someone "unconsciously" does). Wittgenstein instead offers a model, as he does with a game played according to strict rules -- although we "can't say that someone who is using language must be playing such a game" (PI § 81), or must be following such a syntactic analogy.

Reminder. There is no essential difference in meaning (definition) between the words 'description' and 'explanation'. A proposition may be either a description or an explanation, depending on context. We just have to look (at the particular case, the particular context) and see what the proposition is actually being used to do. [Divergence between the grammars of 'description' and 'explanation', an example in science.]

The transcendence theory

That was not Wittgenstein's only theory about the origins of philosophy. A second was his "transcendence theory":

.... And what's more, [staring at these puzzling difficulties] satisfies a longing for the transcendent, because in so far as people think they can see the "limits of human understanding", they believe of course that they can see beyond them. (CV p. 15)

This may refer to the author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus himself -- the whole of which he claimed to be "nonsense", a saying of "what can't be said". The book was transcendent metaphysics (philosophical mysticism): "seeing beyond the limits of what can be seen".

To Waismann: "Running into the limits of language? Language is not a cage." [Note 7] There are no borders of "the sayable" to try to rush full tilt across into "the unsayable". The word 'sayable' ("what can be put into words") contrasts with 'undefined', not with 'unsayable' ("what cannot be put into words (but nonetheless is)"), because "nonsense" that can convey meaning is not nonsense (absolute sound without sense).

The conceptual confusion theory

Wittgenstein's theories are generalized insights (in the context of a particular definition of 'language meaning') into particular cases, as e.g. his theory that "A metaphysical question is always in appearance a factual one, although the problem is a conceptual one" (RPP i § 949). Whether he commits the Fallacy of Some therefore All is the question.

The "instinct theory"

I really want to say that scruples in thinking begin with (have their roots in) instinct. (Z § 391)

Where our language suggests a body and there is none: there, we would like to say, is a spirit. (PI § 36)

The instinct to sense souls in everything that moves causes human beings to create philosophical problems. This may be called "primitive animism" -- but are we so unlike those we call primitive? If even an educated person senses a soul in any unexpected movement at the periphery of his visual field -- then clearly not.

The example of an uncrumpling paper seems like Wittgenstein's "wriggling fly" (PI § 284)? There we sense a soul. And 'sense' means: this is involuntary, a matter of instinct; no inference is drawn here. We sense a soul, "life", in a wasp. And that, just as instinctively, we sense souls behind the words of our language.

Wittgenstein's later logic of language warns against sensing souls in objectless words (PI § 36), misconstruing their grammar as if they were names of abstract objects. The Aufklärung view of language: there are no souls in things. (As in Hoffmann's Klein Zaches, the fairies have been banished from the kingdom by the court philosophers. Not that we would want fairy tales about souls -- cf. Plato's Forms (metaphysics: fairy tales with proofs) -- as our philosophy.)

We take all nouns for names of objects, even nouns that are obviously not names; and where there are no objects, there we imagine spirits to be the objects named (PI § 36). All Wittgenstein had the right to do here was to make a grammatical rule setting limits, namely that where there is no object neither is there an "abstract object". It does follow from this definition, of course, that there are nouns that are not names, but rather, it is the result of investigation -- i.e. of looking at the public use of language -- that gives Wittgenstein's definition its point.

We must not forget even our more refined, more philosophical doubts have a foundation in instinct. E.g. that expressed in "We can never know ..." (CV p. 73, a remark from 1948) .... a language-game does not have its origin in consideration. Consideration is part of a language-game. (Z § 391) [A language-game] is ... there -- like our life. (OC § 559)

In the case of insinct, 'foundation' would mean 'origin' or 'source' or 'roots'. An example of "we can never know" would be "the inner life of another human being", which is an eternal question such as are those about the "why" of existence and about an afterlife.

The printed page theory

[On the printed page, especially the dictionary --] The power language has to make everything look the same ... makes the personification of time possible ... (CV p. 22)

As between the Hatter and Alice in A Mad Tea-Party. "If you knew Time as well as I do, you wouldn't talk about wasting it. It's him". As well as the personification of "nobody" by the White King.

Did Wittgenstein make theories? Well, do the "instinct theory" and "analogy theory" and "printed page theory", etc. try to explain the "appearances" (Newton)? If by 'theory' we mean 'a selection of facts plus an explanation', the explanation (the accounting for) in this case being of the origin (causes) of a selection of philosophical facts (some, not all), i.e. problems, then Wittgenstein made theories.

The language replaces non-language-behavior theory

The words 'I am in pain' replace crying. (PI § 244)

Our language-game is an extension of primitive behavior. (Because our language-game is behavior.) (Instinct) (Z § 545)

Wittgenstein said that he did not think philosophy's task was to "explain" anything (PI §§ 655, 126, 496).

Why do you demand an explanation? For you will then be staring at something else demanding an explanation (cf. Z § 315). That is Drury's idea of philosophy as a full-stop.)

But if that is so, then why does Wittgenstein also say: "Here is one possibility: 'I am in pain' replaces crying?" (PI § 244) For isn't that an explanation?


Theories are the foundation of Wittgenstein's philosophy

Wittgenstein wanted to say, as Isaac Newton had said, "I make no hypotheses." But theories lie at the heart of Wittgenstein's philosophy ... although a theory of meaning is not one of them, because Wittgenstein's later logic of language is comparative, as e.g. when Wittgenstein compares language to a game played according to fixed rules, but does not claim that language really is -- i.e. must be (which is what a theory would say) -- such a game.

The question is, is it even logically possible according to Wittgenstein's philosophy for there to be a philosophical -- i.e. metaphysical -- problem, when even a single example would overturn that philosophy? Further, the question is, what would such a problem look like? What would the definition of 'philosophical problem' -- which is needed before a problem can even be looked for -- be according to Wittgenstein?

What I don't believe: that Wittgenstein defined -- i.e. set the limits to (the boundaries, the extension of) the concept -- philosophy with the intention of making philosophy impossible, as if the only reason that there can be no metaphysical problems is simply that Wittgenstein doesn't want there to be (which would be Russell's view in My Philosophical Development, that Wittgenstein had made for himself "a lazy philosophy").

On the other hand, why is the question "Is it logically possible"? Because the question belongs to logic (grammar, definition), because Wittgenstein's "theories" are theories only in the sense that the pre-Socratic myths are theories: they are explanations of the causes of things, but they are not explanations that allow for the possibility of anomalies; they are not hypotheses to be put to the test. So it seems to me, because it seems to me that Plato's question about the essence of man is a metaphysical problem, as is the question of an afterlife and the other questions without answers: they are problems it is logically possible to speculative about the answers to; but they are not, as Wittgenstein seems to say they must be, nonsense, i.e. mere conceptual muddles. They are metaphysical questions that most philosophers before Wittgenstein would recognize as philosophical questions, even if unanswerable.

Different in kind theories of origin (Natural history in contrast to Logic)

Why did philosophy have its origin in the city-states of ancient Greece? I suggest some possibilities below, but were those conditions unique to Greece, and are they "necessary and sufficient causes" such that given them philosophy must arise? Thus any reasons offered are speculative merely. Besides, there is an element that seems cannot be accounted for, which is why there is no knowable why.

Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible. (Kenneth Clark, Civilisation: a personal view (1969), xiii, p. 347)

Greece, geography and philosophy

When in The Greek Way (1942), Edith Hamilton contrasts the geography of the broad, flat plain of the Egypt's Nile Valley with the "steep stone mountains, in little sheltered valleys where the great hills were ramparts to defend", she does remark on the implications it suggests about the origin of philosophy. For in Greece, in contrast to Egypt, it would have been possible for a small group of men to band together to defend their independence and freedom.

It's true that such a group might be led by a strongman (tyrant), but is also possible that such a group might be a cooperative relationship between comrades. And the formation of that relationship would be the birth of democracy, for democracy is discussion, debate about many things, not only about what is to be done, but about why it is to be done (the way man should live his life), and so from this relationship philosophy could be born, or begin to be born.

Or begin to be born, because it also may be, or seems it must be, that philosophy is born not only of discussion but through the conflict of ideas in discussion, that is to say, the introduction of new ideas, so that "a community of ideas" is challenged. And that challenge may come from within the community (the individual genius) or from without.

And in this context, as historians like to suggest, the new ideas could come about through trade and travel, interchanges with outsiders (foreigners), peoples with different ways of life and religions, which may have suggested a comparison of customs (Greeks seafarers might bring back tales, but geographers and historians, Hecataeus and Herodotus themselves traveled to foreign lands).

Some communities closed their gates to keep foreign ideas out. But as the Acts of the Apostles says [17.21], the Athenians welcomed new ideas, although they responded to them with skepticism [17.32].

And so democracy and travelers could be seen as the origin of philosophy. Those are possibilities, but that is all they are, possibilities more or less plausible, not true or false (verifiable).

Ionian skepticism

To the democracy-travelers theory must be added the essential importance of skepticism to the birth of philosophy. Because it is skepticism that leads to criticism of a community of ideas, which criticism is philosophy. Without that skepticism any argument that men do is done within their community of ideas, and that is not philosophy (This was Wittgenstein's criticism of Frank Ramsey (CV p. 17) even if the tools of logic are used. (Ionia was the birthplace of philosophy, and of historiography.)

When Wittgenstein suggests theories about the origin of philosophy he cites examples, but how would the democracy-travelers theory be compared with what it pretends to explain, which is not philosophy's logical origin but rather philosophy's origin that is lost in mankind's natural history?

An hypothesis that can only be verified but not falsified is no hypothesis

Wittgenstein's theories about the origins -- don't these lie at the heart of his philosophy? And aren't they tautologies, i.e. propositions that can only be true? Because how can they be falsified when they are only a selection of data looked at in a particular way? And why should we choose to look at philosophy in a way that does away with philosophy? Why jump from Some to All as Wittgenstein does? Why, indeed?

... But only because that is how I want to fix [i.e. set the boundaries to] the concept. (Z § 325)

Here it is difficult to see that what is at issue is the fixing of concepts. (PI II, xi, p. 204)

But that is not what is most difficult to see here. Rather it is --

.... but not as if I chose these concepts. (OC § 317)

That is, do we choose our philosophy, our way of looking at things? In philosophy or in any other foundation of our life -- in life do we choose e.g. whether we are religious or not?

Is a philosophy chosen or forced on one?

A concept forces itself on one. (That is what you must not forget.) (PI II, xi, p. 204)

Every serious change in one's way of looking at things requires a "change in the structure of the brain, a new neural alignment" such as is said to happen (I think I have read that it is said to happen, although I don't know who said it, if anyone did say it) when people have religious conversions, fall deeply in love, or have nervous break-downs ... I intend that only as a metaphor, of course. But then where is its translation into prose? I think in this simile, if a metaphor can be the prose version of another metaphor -- no, but it may be more apt than the first, because I don't know anything about the brain beyond its location and general appearance.

When we try to accept as serviceable to the truth a different philosophical way of looking at things, it needn't be that we reject it because we don't understand it, as if all our acceptance needed were a different explanation of the philosophy.

Can one's choose one's philosophy? I myself couldn't adopt Aristotle's or Descartes' way of philosophizing as my own way. I think, no, no more than a religion can be chosen, nor the people we like. (If someone speaks of "temperament", that is a characterization, not an explanation of the phenomenon.)

A philosopher says "Look at things like this!" -- but ... that doesn't ensure that people will look at things like that ... (CV p. 61)

"But that doesn't ensure that people can look at things like that." It may not be possible for someone to accept (and many reject Wittgenstein's "meaning is use in the language" definition of 'language meaning') that a language sign can be meaningful without its being the name of something ("A noun is the name of a person, place, or thing, i.e. of an object, phenomenon or abstraction", or "A noun is the name of a person, place, or thing, and the meaning of a name is the independently existing thing the name stands for" even if that thing is an "abstract object"). For it may make one feel that one's thinking had lost its anchor to reality.

You say: the point isn't the word, but its meaning, and you think of the meaning as a thing of the same kind as the word, though also different from the word. Here the word, there the meaning. (PI § 120

I have emphasized the word 'thing' in the quotation. The picture is of a word's meaning existing as an independent thing of some kind (an object, or a nebulous phenomenon, or an even more nebulous "abstract object").

But what thing is the word 'elf' the name of? If I can accept that the meaning of a noun need not be a "thing the noun stands for", then I may be open to accepting a different definition of 'language meaning', and, again, if I can accept that the meaning of a common name isn't the unsayable ("the mysteriously abstracted essence that can be known but cannot be put into words") common nature it names .... but I needn't ever be able to accept that way of defining language meaning as serviceable to the truth. It may always seem to me wrong-headed (Points of view).

Among Wittgenstein's later theories is not a theory of meaning

Theories lie at the heart of Wittgenstein's philosophy -- but a theory of meaning is not one of them. Wittgenstein project in logic is to look for the meaning of language (stated in rules of grammar) in man's customs (co-incidental versus contractual conventions), i.e. his ways of life where language signs are used -- rather than in independent facts of nature that may explain concept formation (PI II, xii, p. 230), i.e. facts that would be the things that words really stand for, their true meanings.

And that is why a concept is in its element within the language-game. (Z § 391)

Why "within the language-game"? -- i.e. within the "language-game that is the concept's original home" (cf. PI § 116) -- which, if it does not explain concept formation, does describe the concepts that man has formed, concepts which are themselves facts of nature (natural history). Indeed, some language conventions are connected to the nature of man (ibid. § 250), such that there is little "mere convention" about them, as is the case in the philosophy of psychology in the relation between recurrent behavior and grammar.

Logic is not natural science (Although it often describes the facts in plain view, it does not theorize about them). If we made no distinction between convention and nature, we would obliterate the distinction between the concepts 'sense and nonsense' and the concepts 'true and false'. The distinction between sense and nonsense belongs to rules for using language, whereas the distinction between truth and falsity belongs to statements of fact that are to be compared (and thereby verified or falsified) to reality.

Objection: "Shouldn't reality (facts of nature) justify our ways of life (language's co-incidental conventions, customs) -- as Socrates thought with reason in ethics?" But Wittgenstein turned away from that project in philosophy because it has shown itself to be fruitless. And so rather than reality (i.e. nature independent of man), he made making our concepts (i.e. rules for using language) clearly seen his project. His insight was to look at the language sign as a tool, and at its meaning as the work it is used to do (ibid. § 421), because if we do we will free our thinking of many conceptual muddles (and mistaken preconceptions about language meaning).

Philosophy studies the foundations of things -- but it cannot give a philosophy a foundation (ibid. § 124) -- because the only thing a philosopher can give are rules for reasoning, project and myths (metaphysical speculation).

But what are we calling the foundations?

One keeps forgetting to go right down to the foundations. One doesn't put the question marks deep enough down. (CV p. 62)

We want to find the foundations of the philosopher's philosophy. But how do we know when we have gone deep enough? Is it when we can identify the philosopher's rules for reasoning in philosophy? But there is also the question of what the philosopher takes for granted. (Further, there is the question: what do I take for granted when I look at the philosopher's work? I don't want to presume anything -- but how shall I defend against doing that?)

In this context, I ask myself --

Where does a Book of Philosophy Begin?

Do I want to say that I haven't begun at the beginning? That I ought to begin with a metaphysical preliminary? "The world is all that is the case. What is the case is ..." e.g.? Would Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, a book that says and is written with the presumption that there is no metaphysics, begin with a metaphysical preface? That would be a very strange thing.

What I seemed to want to say is that I am approaching things with the presumption that philosophy is as down to earth as any other act of natural reason. Meaning what by 'presumption' -- because isn't philosophy that way? (Socrates was a religious man, maybe by our lights a mystic (believing in oracles and divine signs) -- but not in his philosophy, which was done by the natural light of reason alone.)

It is only when writing about philosophy that one feels that one ought to begin by stating one's metaphysical presumptions (whatever those are when they're at home). If we were writing a book about carpentry, we would not feel the need to begin way. And is a philosophy book different? Well -- no, and that's what I want to say. I want to say: don't imagine phantasms; this is just like a book about anything else (cf. PI §§ 108, 97). I want to say: "nothing out of the ordinary is involved" (ibid. § 94) here: a book about philosophy is not a book about strange phenomena, an account of "the inner night of the soul" (Hegel), as it were.

Ought I to try to bare the foundations of Wittgenstein's logic of language -- the metaphysical presuppositions of it? But what would those be: that language exists, that human beings exist, that the earth exists -- and that everyone knows this; and that Wittgenstein doesn't assume anything out of public view? Can you say: Wittgenstein assumes that language exists and that human beings use it, etc.? -- That sounds like G.E. Moore's defense of common sense. It is still metaphysics: a theory of reality. And that was not Wittgenstein's project in logic. In comparison, however, although he wanted to make no hypotheses, Isaac Newton's natural philosophy is based on the metaphysical presumption of absolute space and time (which Albert Einstein changed to relative space and time).

"It is there -- like our life." (OC § 559) -- Is that the only thing that needs to be said or does not even that need to be said? Only if that makes something clearer. What would that be? It is like the command to say no more than we know, not to be presumptuous, not to claim to know what only a God could know (ibid. § 554).

Metaphysics isn't a hall of mirrors

Fichte: "Idealism is a speculative position", i.e. idealism not a bizarre re-picturing of things in plain view (The Science of Knowledge, first footnote). Wittgenstein: "A philosopher is not a man out of his senses, a man who doesn't see what everybody sees" (BB p. 59). What both these statements mean is that there is no disagreement e.g. about the visual and aural facts of experience. Instead there is a disagreement about the "meaning" of the facts: what is disagreed about is the reality underlying [behind] the facts. (Wittgenstein's TLP is a work of metaphysics, stating what it says is the common nature ("general form") of the proposition [4.5; cf. PI § 114], not an abstract-art-like drawing of a familiar landscape.)

There is something about my life -- namely that I and the world exist at all -- that is a mystery, indeed the mystery of mysteries, as Wittgenstein, despite his earlier ideas ["The riddle doesn't exist" (TLP 6.5)], found himself unable to deny. But that impenetrable riddle and all the lesser riddles of our life should not be mirrored in our way of writing philosophy: there is a difference between mystery and self-mystification -- i.e. the barely readable, indeed, often unreadable, language that many philosophers have written (and our Sophists continue to write). The philosopher philosophizes to clear up confusion, not to contribute to it (Plato, Theaetetus 155c-d).

Our discourse has to be expressed in our language, if there is anything to express. Which is why we have to talk about our language. (cf. PI § 120)

Philosophy is "an account of what we know" (Socrates): it is reason, not "empty words and poetical metaphors" (Aristotle, Metaphysics 991a). It is also not science:

[Aristotle] had a precise word for 'science', episteme ... a scientist knows not only that something is so ... but why it is so; he has acquired by reason "knowledge of the causes and first principles" (Metaphysics I, 1). [Note 8]

Whereas the philosopher "knows only that something is so". And so Wittgenstein thought that "description must take the place of any kind of explanation", i.e. descriptions of our concepts, especially of their limits, and that, in contrast to natural philosophy, the only experiments we do in philosophy are "thought experiments" -- i.e. we may invent fictitious language-games as objects of comparison (This belongs to Wittgenstein's method of language-games).


A philosophy is a project, a program, or rather any philosophy may be looked at as a project. I ought, then, to collect as many sets of Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy as I can, because nothing is more harmful in philosophy than being able to look at a problem in one way only (cf. PI § 114: "One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing's nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it."), or to not seeing that there is more than one way to be interested in a phenomenon (ibid. [§ 108]).

It is very difficult to describe paths of thought where there are already many lines of thought laid down, -- your own or other people's -- and not to get into one of the grooves [as e.g. of wheel ruts, or of a gramophone I think]. It is difficult to deviate from an old line of thought just a little. (Z § 349)

Maybe describing many different sets of rules for reasoning in philosophy will show how to invent an alternative to Wittgenstein's logic of language, although all I myself can do is to imitate a technique (various techniques), apply a method (various methods), ideas, but not invent one of my own.

The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment. (George Orwell, "The Freedom of the Press" (1943))

Note 1: I think, although I don't know, this is called the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature. And it may be compared to "the principle of rationalist historians: that what was possible once is possible still, and what is incredible now is incredible always" (J.B. Bury, Ancient Greek Historians i, 2). [BACK]

Note 2: Aristotle had distinguished between the sublunary and superlunary worlds (i.e. "below the moon" versus "above the moon"), holding, for what he regarded as compelling reasons (but also some preconceptions -- what Newton called "hypotheses"), that the nature of superlunary bodies must be different. And it had long been the practice among those who did not understand the spirit of philosophy to use Aristotle's works as an inerrant authority: they treated reasoned conjecture as if it had the status of dogma. So that with his Rule III Newton not only made the rule that the same physical qualities were to be attributed to bodies in all places, but also the rule that "experiments are the true masters to follow in physics" (Aristotle had been called "the master of those who know" [il maestro di color che sanno] by Dante Alighieri. [Following Dante's pattern, Socrates could be called il maestro di color che non pensano sapere ciò che non sanno.])

From the viewpoint of rules (theory construction) alone, Newton and Aristotle gave different rules for constructing models or pictures -- and so, too, of looking at the world. (A theory is a selection of data plus its imaginative organization. It is a human creation, beginning with its "conceived facts".)

Galileo's Role in Newton's Rejection of Aristotle

Greek astronomers [cosmologists] supposed that supralunary [above-the-moon] events were of a different kind from sublunary [below-the-moon] events -- in a word, that the heavens above the moon were of a different nature than the earth below and that, unlike earthly events, supralunary events were "perfect", which meant that they were not subject to change (in the sense of degradation). It was also supposed that, supralunary bodies being perfect, their motion must be circular and uniform.

But by means of the telescope Galileo observed, for example, that spots on the sun changed their shape and position or size, which was regarded as evidence that the supralunary world was not "perfect" and that therefore sub- and supra-lunary events might have the same causes -- i.e. that one set of natural laws might account for them rather than two sets [hence Newton's universal gravitation]. Galileo's further influence lay in his conviction that the language of nature is the language of mathematics, which on his model would be the mathematics of mechanical physics.

The Greek view that the heavens were "perfect" was a requirement brought to the investigation; it was not the result of investigation (PI § 107). And, therefore I asked, shouldn't we speak of the Keplerian Revolution rather than, or as well as, the Copernican Revolution? Because wasn't the important insight the adoption of a model that was suggested by the evidence (elliptical motion) rather than a model to which the evidence was required to conform (circular uniform motion).

Source: this account of Galileo's role is based on Isaac Newton by J.D. North, London, 1967. Galileo died the year Newton was born (1642), when Kepler (1571-1630) had already been dead for twelve years.

Galileo and Scientific Abstraction

The view of physics that the "reality is particles in space" is a highly abstracted -- i.e. selective of what it chooses to measure, what ignore -- view of reality.

[According to Galileo] science proceeds more by what it has learned to ignore than by what it takes into account.

I don't know in what context he may have said this, and so I will place it in Drury's context of scientific theory-making: "a selection of the data", as with Eddington's example of physics and an elephant sliding down a slope. When Galileo says that "the language of nature is the language of mathematics", he is setting limits to what he is calling 'nature'. And Newton's Rules for Reasoning in Natural Philosophy also set limits (ignoring "hypotheses", for instance).


Note 3: Comment to Rule III: "We are certainly not to relinquish the evidence of experiments for the sake of dreams and vain fictions of our own devising ..." We can invent unlimited pictures of possible realities, of how we imagine that things might be, but Newton prohibits using these pictures as an alternative to experimental evidence: in his philosophy these pictures are called "hypotheses" and far from being a path to knowledge are instead an obstacle to it.

Note that Newton called his rules simply "Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy" without qualifying the word 'philosophy' in any way. His philosophy was an alternative to metaphysics (which he called "dreams and vain fictions of our own devising"), not a supplement to it, as a new branch of philosophy might have been said to be. After discovering Newton's philosophy, Kant said: it used to be that metaphysics was the queen of the sciences ("departments of learning") but now she is like Hecuba abandoned, barren and bereft. (Of course, the absolute space and time of Newton's philosophy is an alternative metaphysics, not an alternative to metaphysics.) [BACK]

Note 4: I think that by the word 'hypothesis' in this comment ['scholium' = 'clarification' or 'explanation of meaning'] Newton means a proposition that states either a logical possibility that is not also a real possibility ["metaphysical hypothesis"] or a logical possibility that is also a real possibility ["physical hypothesis"].

'I make no hypotheses' = 'I do not engage in speculation', e.g. in metaphysical speculation (i.e. conjecture about supposedly hidden causes).

It seems that to Newton, then, natural philosophy should be a "triumph of fact [with no] taint of fancy in it" (Hard Times v), as distinct from the later scientific project, which is the creation of theories, which like all other theories are a mixture of fact and fancy. (Cf. the contrast between theoretical and empirical science.)

By 'hypotheses' Newton means both unverified statements of physics and unverifiable statements (i.e. in Newton's context: metaphysics). [BACK]

Note 5: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, Book iii, tr. Motte, rev. Cajori, 1934. (Question: Is what is "rendered general by induction" knowledge?) [BACK]

Note 6: M. O'C. Drury, The Danger of Words (1973) p. 102. (The exclusive disjunction between theory and fact.) [BACK]

Note 7: Anrennen gegen die Grenze der Sprache? Die Sprache ist ja kein Käfig. (LE/Notes p. 14) The safest translation is, I think: "Running against the limits of language? Language is not a cage", because Wittgenstein himself used the English word 'running' (Lecture on Ethics p. 12). Max Black chose for his translation: "Thrusting against the limits of language?" (LE/Notes p. 16) Earlier I suggested maybe "tilting against" (quixotically) or "rushing full tilt as if to break through the border".

Wittgenstein's earlier idea had been that we try to go beyond the limits of meaningful speech, but that these limits cannot be breached, and if we nonetheless try to breach them the result of our attempts can only be nonsense. Because the world consists of facts and the only meaningful thing language can do is to mirror those facts. That is the correctly understood "logic of our language", the essence of language, the proposition, according to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. That was a metaphysical theory about how language "really" works, despite language's not "appearing" to work that way. [Piero Sraffa's criticism.] [BACK]

Note 8: M.I. Finley, The Ancient Greeks (rev. 1977), p. 120. [BACK]

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