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The Point of View of Grammar and Sense and Nonsense

Wittgenstein defined a point of view, which was his selected meaning of 'meaning', and looked at philosophical questions from that point of view and no other.

Foreword: How is language-with-meaning distinguished from language-without-meaning in philosophical problems? That is the question of, what in my jargon is called, logic of language. But the remarks here are now quite old, and some strike me as quite foolish (ignorant). They are steps on the path to maybe better thoughts.

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Wittgenstein defined a point of view

Note: this continues the discussions in the Preface to this site, and in The False Grammatical Account.

Wittgenstein had defined a point of view and asked questions from that perspective. "A point of view" -- Which point of view? The point of view of: grammar and sense and nonsense (the word 'grammar' in Wittgenstein's jargon or revision of our concept). "I am looking for the grammatical difference." (PI II, viii, p. 185i)

Wittgenstein defined a point of view and asked questions from it. It was a new point of view [It contrasts sharply with Bertrand Russell's view that philosophy is a collection of "speculative theories" closely allied to the sciences], which is why he is called a philosopher. It was a new method (actually collection of methods), a new set of rules of investigation, a new "program", like Isaac Newton's Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy.

Are philosophy's problems without solutions?

The form of expression 'philosophical problems' is itself a problem, because the word 'problem' is paired with the word 'solution', and the word 'solution' suggests: we're finished and done with this. But are we ever finished and done with anything in philosophy. (Cf. Z § 447)

Thomas Aquinas made his presentations in the form: "It seems that ..., but on the other hand ..." In this way he tried to present the best reasons for each of two replies to every question, one contrary to the other. I tried to do this with What are we calling 'logic'? from the historical point of view (for and against).

For any proposition p, What reason favors its truth? and what reasons against it? and which is stronger? This is related to the method of Aristotle in his Metaphysics, to examine a philosophical problem by looking at the solutions to it offered by his predecessors (Aristotle criticizing and revising their ideas as he does).

Are there philosophical problems if there are not also philosophical solutions?

Is Metaphysics Nonsense?

Friedrich Waismann: "What you must not do with a philosophical question is: -- try to answer it."

Wittgenstein believed he had shown philosophical problems to be confusions about linguistic conventions, which philosophers mistake for questions about facts (Z § 458; RPP i § 949). (From the original version of the Introduction to my Synopsis)

That sounds as if metaphysical statements were meaningless, whereas it is often that their meaning, or possible meaning, is not what it is taken [assumed] to be, that what appear to be speculations about the reality underlying facts are, in Wittgenstein's view, only misunderstanding of the logic ["grammar"] of our language; such statements are made because when we philosophize the distinction between conceptual investigations and factual investigations is not clear to us.

If not necessarily nonsense, philosophical-metaphysical problems contain a minefield of undefined words or undefined combinations of words. A "minefield" because the nonsense is hidden, so that we assume that we understand language whose meaning, if any, we don't understand. But philosophical mines are not easy to trigger: as if they were mines that were always buried a bit too deep beneath the surface of the soil.

That would be the view of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.53 -- but redefined from a a very different understanding [view] of how language works. Was it ever, however, Wittgenstein's view that "metaphysics is utter nonsense" in the sense of meaningless sounds? Certainly not in the sense of Moritz Schlick's definition where with regard to assertions 'nonsense' = 'unverifiable' (although perhaps 'not falsifiable' is the idea: if nothing can count against the truth of a statement of fact [empirical proposition], then the statement is, by definition, not a statement of fact; but statements of fact are not the only kind of statement).

Idealism, Realism, and physical objects

But is it an adequate answer to the skepticism of the idealist, or the assurances of the realist, to say that 'There are physical objects' is nonsense? For them after all it is not nonsense. (OC § 37; cf. ibid. § 35)

But if it is not nonsense to them, then it is not nonsense to us either (unless by 'nonsense' Wittgenstein simply meant 'foolishness'). What Wittgenstein meant, I think, is that it is disguised nonsense not obvious nonsense to them (PI § 464). Either that or it is a question "in a deeper sense", a "question without an answer": the picture that it requires for its meaning a god who sees what we do not see. ("metaphysical pictures")

["For them after all it is not nonsense." Which sense of the word 'nonsense' -- i.e. 'foolishness' or 'undefined combinations of words' -- did Wittgenstein mean?]

Science versus Metaphysics

What is the difference between a metaphysical theory and a scientific theory? Well, you know: I don't know. (It is not that one is verifiable and the other is not.) What, in principle, is the difference? When Eddington and Jeans talk about atomic particles being "ultimate reality", that is metaphysics. When Russell and Moore talk about the "logical analysis" of a proposition, when Wittgenstein says that metaphysics is really an expression of linguistic confusion, all that is metaphysics. Saying that A is "really" B is metaphysics (by any other name, it is still metaphysics). Drury always referred theories to Bishop Butler's dictum: "Everything is what it is and not another thing." [Would 'Everything is what it is and not some other thing' be a synonymous but clearer form of expression here?]

Question: if it weren't for the technological applications of science, would science -- that is scientific theories per se -- be regarded as anything more than another type of metaphysics, namely the "metaphysics of Newton" as opposed to e.g. the "metaphysics of Aristotle"? Certainly businessmen and government would take no notice of it, and it might not be taught or preached in the schools.


"Sense data" and Seeing-As

Note: this continues the discussion Norman Malcolm's view of G.E. Moore.

What charm does the notion of "sense data" have for philosophers? I have never been able to see a way around Kant's "Percepts without concepts are blind". When I look across the lake, I do not see patches of green and black (as I do when I look at a "crazy quilt" [patchwork quilt]); I see trees and what we call the play of light and shadow. And the remark about crazy quilts is important here: the combination of words 'I see patches of green and black' has uses in our language, but one of those uses is not to mean the same as 'I see trees'.

If an artist trains himself to see patches of color rather than objects, he has not trained himself to see "reality in itself"; what he has trained himself to do is to look at things in a different way from the way that we normally do. Then he would indeed have the right to say 'I see patches of green and black' when he looked across the lake, but his statement would not then mean the same as 'I see trees'. And far from asserting a contrary statement of fact, he would be following the same rules of grammar [In Wittgenstein's jargon or revision of our concept, grammar includes semantic rules (definitions) as well as syntactic -- i.e. rules of sense and nonsense, not only of structure] that we normally do.

Nonsense is produced by trying to express by the use of language what ought to be embodied in the grammar. (Quoted by Moore, PP iii, p. 312)

What this means here is that a statement like 'Seeing trees is really only seeing patches of light and shadow' is nonsense, unless we wish to redefine the expression 'seeing patches of light and shadow' to mean the same as 'seeing trees'. That would be all that would be involved here: a new definition [rule of grammar, convention].

The difficulty, if there is one, is not to understand something difficult but something simple -- namely, that our normal way of speaking is neither careless nor incorrect. Rather it is conventional -- i.e. a matter of following conventions [rules of grammar]. And therefore if anyone wishes to use language that is not in accordance with those rules -- all he can do is to either talk nonsense or invent new rules, because all that is involved here is rules, not facts or theories (Z § 223) about [non-linguistic] reality.


Does Mathematics consist Entirely of Rules?

Note: this continues the discussion Philosophy of Mathematics. In the following remark 'akin' means that the two concepts are connected in an essential -- i.e. defining -- way; their relationship is more than merely "comparable".

... mathematical propositions are essentially akin to rules ... (Wittgenstein, RPP i § 266c)

Is 5 x 7 = 35 a rule or an application of rules? The important thing is to ask that question. If you try to go on to answer it, this suggests that you suppose that you know how to apply that distinction in all cases without regard to the particular case -- in this instance, to the particular case of mathematics.

An example of where the distinction between a rule and its application is clear would be: If I am sent to the city with the instruction that I am to turn left at every left turn, then if when I am at Lynnbrook and Walnut Streets I turn left, then the proposition 'I turn left at Lynnbrook and Walnut Streets' is not a rule -- because it was not stated in the instructions that I was given. It is an application of the rule: 'Turn left at every left turn'.

Now is there something analogous -- extremely similar -- to that in the case of mathematics? 5 x 7 = 35 -- We have the multiplication table [and the rule might be instruction in how to use the table: find the number 5 on the left hand side, the number 7 on the top, and the answer is where the row and column intersect (Adults don't do this with 5 x 7, but they might well with 16 x 14)], but that table is not necessary. There are other ways of showing that "five sevens are 35". We can do this by means of a drawing or a chart-type drawing where units are indicated by small circles or boxes arranged neatly in rows and columns, the way children are taught [if they are taught this; some children are only taught the multiplication table, and are not presented with the picture of "five sevens" in a drawing but only with the mysterious 5 x 7 -- i.e. the meaning of the equation is never explained: just memorize and write the correct answer on the exam].

We might want to say that 5 x 7 = 35 is a summary -- i.e. that as 5 x 7 = 35 appears in the multiplication tables it is a summary. But it needn't be: we could have started at that point [i.e. with the multiplication tables and never have given an [a quasi-historical] explanation of where this summary came from] rather than with a picture showing 5 rows of 7 objects and counting them up.

The reply to the question about rule or application is that any mathematical statement/equation might be either -- depending on how it is used in the particular case.

In tennis it seems we can say there is a clear distinction between the rules of the game and playing the game, and we can say the same thing about chess. But in mathematics the distinction between the rules and an application of the rules is not so easy to make. In chess the rules are [implicitly] applied as you play the game [There is no need for explicit application: the rules of chess are quite simple; questions about the rules only arise when we are learning to play the game: I've forgotten the castling rule e.g. or the rule for the movement of the knights]. But in mathematics -- looked at from a philosophical point of view -- we don't know what we are doing; that's not the way mathematics is taught to us, and indeed if we tried to teach children that way we would only confuse them: in the case of mathematics, first you learn to play the game, and only after that may you reflect upon the philosophy [or, "foundations"] of mathematics [Philosophy of Mathematics is a view from outside the calculus]. Mathematics was presented to us as a technique/practice -- i.e. do this, imitate this. Equations are drawn on the blackboard, and we are told [trained] to imitate them.

We are not taught mathematics in terms of rules and applications of rules -- i.e. by having that distinction made for us. That is not the way we are taught to think about mathematics -- although indeed we are not taught to think about mathematics at all in school; we are trained to imitate what our teacher does. But on the other hand, given that the foundations of mathematics is not a branch of mathematics (but instead a topic in philosophy), there is no need to teach it in any mathematics class: it does not belong to the calculus. The foundations of mathematics are not even considered in secondary-school. -- But, on the other hand, philosophy is not taught in secondary-school, and indeed most people avoid it even when studying at university. [My thinking is "Greek": what matters is to understand. Whereas what matters to engineering e.g. is only to apply. -- Maybe the latter is the ancient Roman view of things.]

We could say that a peculiarity of mathematics is that any mathematical statement, such as an equation for instance, can serve either as a rule or as an application of a rule -- depending on the context in which it appears [Wittgenstein: "and it is the service that matters" (PI II, iv, p. 178g) -- that is where we must look for the meaning]. That is to say that the particular use is going to determine the meaning [i.e. whether the meaning is rule or the meaning is application]. On the other hand, an application is an application of rules or a rule: it must be possible to state the rule which the application applies, if you are going to call something an 'application'; just as you must give an example of what would be an application of the rule if you are going to call something a 'rule'. (A natural language example is Wittgenstein's example of two colors occupying the same place at the same time.) And, further, in some cases we might say that the distinction is only a matter of point of view (of ways of looking at the thing). And now: Look and see! (PI § 340) Drury wrote:

But here I seem to hear the voice of my former teacher, Wittgenstein, thundering at me. "Give examples, give examples, don't just talk in abstract terms, that is what all these present-day philosophers are doing." (The Danger of Words (1973) p. 38)

We might ask: can we imagine an occurrence of 1 + 1 = 2 where that statement is an application of a rule rather than a rule? It might be an application belonging to the counting-picture above in the case of a small child, although that still looks like a definition of '2'. If you don't know that '1 + 1 = 2', then can you be said to know what '2' means? A child might be able to count to five and therefore know a meaning of the word 'five' even though the child does not know that 5 x 7 = 35 -- i.e. doesn't know how to use that equation [doesn't know "what its meaning is"].

The limits of Wittgenstein's philosophy, of Wittgenstein's logic, is the limits of the individual's powers of imagination -- i.e. of one's ability to think up / invent examples, anomalies -- i.e. the ability to think of both familiar and strange cases.


What is the difference between a scientific and a metaphysical theory?

Note: this continues the discussion M. O'C. Drury's Philosophy of Science. But there is a later remark which very concisely makes this distinction: "The limits of science is concept-formation".

What is the difference between a scientific and a metaphysical theory? [This asks for definitions.] Well, we need examples. I think you could say that in the case of the Pythagoreans' 10th planet, that its existence is not answerable to the evidence, not answerable to any facts; nothing can show it to be false or inconsistent with any facts; or at least: it can't be falsified by anomaly [e.g. if a spaceship did not find the planet on the far side of the sun from the earth e.g. (or hidden behind the moon e.g.), that would only imply/entail that the planet is not there, not that it is nowhere]. I think that would be the mark [what is essential to] of a scientific theory, that it can be falsified by anomaly [or, That a prediction is made and if it doesn't happen that way, then the theory must be discarded or revised. -- But how exactly revised? because above I gave an example of the Pythagoreans revising their theory]. 'Falsified' in the sense of being shown to be inconsistent with the facts, and if it's inconsistent with the facts then it must be rewritten or rejected. A metaphysical theory doesn't have to face this?

If a theory isn't answerable to the evidence, then the theory is speculation. You could say that metaphysical theories are speculations -- but of course that is all they claim to be [In some cases maybe you could say that, but in others perhaps not? "Speculative philosophy"; the word 'theory' itself implies something other than the truth (i.e. something factual/known facts). Just as with scientific theories some people find metaphysical theories "more satisfying" (Drury) than their unanswered/unanswerable questions would be; whereas of course other people detest metaphysics precisely because it is speculation, not truth.] Drury sets the standard that scientific theories have to supply predictions, which of course would be falsifiable (or "verifiable" in the sense of consistent).

Perhaps we are looking for a distinction that doesn't exist, because we are defining the distinction -- by including an unlimited number of revisions -- out of existence. What you can say is that if the revisions make the theory too complicated (e.g. the epicycles of Mars), then we will be only too willing to discard it for a less complicated "model, picture, map"; -- perhaps unlike the Pythagoreans who, even after a search of space, might cling to their picture (Perhaps the planet is invisible e.g.), because in the Pythagorean view there must be a tenth planet: this is not the result of their investigation but a requirement of it. [Is the root of a distinction to be found here? But what about "ether" in science: "measurement is not possible in a vacuum"; in Einstein's view, the universe must be a plenum, and since vacuums do exist, it was necessary to invent an undetectable space filler, call it 'the ether'. This is just like the Pythagoreans it seems to me: "if any gaps were left ... they eagerly caught at some additional notion".]


'Beauty' and Karamazov

Note: this continues the discussion Aesthetics or Philosophy of Beauty.

Plato to the Sophist Hippias: What is beauty? Wittgenstein: "the word 'beauty' is hardly used at all".

We are concentrating, not on the words 'good' or 'beautiful, which are entirely uncharacteristic, generally just subject and predicate ('This is beautiful'), but on the occasion on which they are said -- on the enormously complicated situation in which the aesthetic expression has a place, in which the expression itself has almost a negligible place. (LC p. 2)

But Wittgenstein was well familiar with Dmitri Karamazov's speech that "Beauty is an awe-inspiring and a terrifying thing -- God and the devil are fighting there and the field of battle is the human heart!" In the notebooks for The Idiot Dostoyevsky wrote: "Two kinds of beauty -- two kinds of love" (i.e. the love that draws one's thoughts, lifts one's heart to higher things, e.g. the face of Raphael's Sistine Madonna, and the love that is sensuality, lust).

Look at the idea of "the beautiful", the use of the word 'beauty' -- look at the place that had in Dostoyevsky's thinking, in Dostoyevsky's life and writing. So whether or not this word plays an important part, important role, in aesthetics, -- may depend on the epoch; it may depend on the person [the particular writer] as well.


What Philosophy is?

The following continues the discussion of C.D. Broad's Review of Norman Malcolm's Memoir of Wittgenstein. I share Broad's rejection of the [Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus's presentation of Wittgenstein's ideas because of its lack of explanations ("examples and illustrations"), although I do not accept Broad and Russell's view of philosophy as a kind of science either.

What am I calling philosophy? (Limits of interest)

Note: The following remarks are very old now, some of which I would not now make, say apropos of metaphysics as my enemy, although not all.

What was philosophy for Socrates? -- By the name 'Socrates' I mean [cf. PI § 79] the Socrates of Plato's Apology and whatever resembles that Socrates in Xenophon's Memorabilia, Apology and Symposium, and in Epictetus and in Diogenes Laertius. That is, the Socrates who asks questions, not the Socrates of Plato's dialogs [who is a literary character endowed with Plato's Heraclitean presuppositions and other predilections] who invents metaphysical pictures [i.e. Plato's "philosophical theories" or conjectures that abandon Socrates' method of induction (Socrates' method of reasoning from the particular to the general, based always on experience)]. My thinking is in the tradition, not of the "Socrates with answers [opinions]", but of the "Socrates with questions". -- That for me is what 'philosophy' is: questioning and cross-questioning what we think we know, seeking not speculation but clarity.

[In the division between "dogmatists" and "skeptics", I would fall among the latter, were it not that, following Wittgenstein, I now ask about the meaning, if any, of what is said before I ask about its truth. (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 105 46 c: 1929])]

The word 'logic' ['dialectic'] in the thought of that Socrates means: a way or method of asking questions -- i.e. the critical use of natural reason (destructive criticism), especially as a critique of language. -- That is what interests me in philosophy: questions that seek to free me from "the vagueness and the confusion", the "metaphors" that [because they are nonsense] cannot be restated in prose, that envelop our way of life. 'Philosophy': trying to make confused things clear [unconfused], in order "to heal the wounded understanding" [Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)]. That is what philosophy was for me. [Why as a youth I was drawn to philosophy: "Because "all my life I have felt surrounded vagueness and confusion."]

That is of course a selected meaning of the word 'philosophy' rather than a full account of its acceptation [common usage of that word]. Many other things are called, and justly called, 'philosophy', including metaphysics. Even the popular sense of the word 'philosophy', as in philosophy as wisdom, is justified, and not only by acceptation).

Plato's genius for speculative philosophy ("Plato's dubious contribution" to philosophy I would call it -- but only because what Plato wants from philosophy is not what I want) I would characterize as: philosophy going down a false path. But of course no one forces anyone to follow Plato down that path, and, in any case, that path ["metaphysics"] had already been prepared by the pre-Socratics: a royal road to nowhere. In my view. (Newton: "dreams and vain fictions of our own devising": metaphysics [Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Comment to Rule III of his "Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy"].)

[Note: I would not say all that now, but that if offering unverifiable answers to questions that physics does not answer is a "road to nowhere" from the point of view of knowledge -- given that the alternative is a Wittgenstein-like silence -- there is after all no harm in speculation so long as it is recognized that its theses are not hypotheses: they are conceptual investigations, unrelated to knowledge of reality. And we may learn many things by seeking answers to our questions, regardless of whether our questions are idle or misconceived.]

Plato is of course not to blame, as Aristotle is not to blame, for what has been done with his words by those who are not his followers -- i.e. by those who do not understand the spirit of philosophy, which is an eternally questioning spirit. Plato's Republic is a philosophical, and therefore speculative, search for what is true. No philosopher treats it as if it were Sacred Scripture, a text (or pretext) for 20th century Europe's atrocities (and I have heard it blamed for those, for example for eugenic culling).

If I remember correctly, and I may not remember correctly, in Italy's Medieval universities students hired their own professors, as in the Athenian gymnasia, which were not only for training the body, but also for education, where philosophers as well as Sophists might teach their students. Now it is only that way after we leave school: we go to the library to choose which books we hope will help us with our philosophical thinking. But while in school, on the other hand, all too often the student exists for the teacher, not the teacher for the student; and a student is fortunate indeed if he happens upon a teacher of philosophy from whom he can learn more than a few phrases, however important those phrases may be (I am remembering now lectures about Kant and Fichte in which I learned phrases that have become very important to me, but only, I suspect, because I have invented a meaning for myself for them).

If only we could return to the old way. But now there are academic degrees ... although I do not know the "meaning" of a degree in philosophy; it is not like a medical doctor's degree. If a man is educated, this will show itself in the thoughtful way in which he speaks and lives. But if a man has no true thirst for learning or has wasted his education on things that are of no importance to him --. Socrates did not award Antisthenes of Athens a degree; that is not why we honor Antisthenes. (Schubert asked: Kann er was?)

"But now there are academic degrees ..." Well, but surely man has to make a living. -- "Why, money's life to a man!" (R.L. Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) But ethics does not invent justification for wrong-doing, except when one lies to oneself. Do you imagine that the student of philosophy's way of life can be easy? It is not only Socrates' "myriad poverty" that he must face -- but also the limits of his conscientiousness. It is not easy to think honestly, i.e. to make a a way of life consistent with a line of thought, but the demand of philosophy is nothing less than that.

Sophistry is professional. Sophists are "professional philosophers". But philosophers are amateurs -- not members of a "professional community" -- rebels, not conformists ("professionals").

Je sème a tout vent.

Motto of the publisher Larousse: "I sow in all/any wind/s." But Larousse demands payment, whereas I do not. Neither do dandelions. Neither did Socrates.


"Time isn't real"

Note: this continues the discussion The meaning of 'meaning' in Wittgenstein's Logic of Language.

Someone says, "Time isn't real." -- This sounds as if we already knew what 'real' meant, and that therefore the assertion were about time. As if the meaning of 'real' were constant in all contexts [was a constant in all contexts]. (This view of language uses a different meaning -- if indeed it is conscious of this question -- of 'meaning' than the one Wittgenstein chose for his logic of language.)

You could say that what interests logic is not what a word suggests to any individual ["To me a ... is ...", e.g. "For me a gentleman is someone who ..."], but what the word means to everyone who speaks the language, the common rules [rules held in common, common (held in common) rules] for its use. [cf. my comment to OC § 37 above]

You must not be contemptuous of the particular case. (cf. BB p. 18)

[Particular case = particular application/example.] Because that is where the meaning of language is to be found. Someone who says "Time isn't real", however, simply has a naive understanding -- if they have ever considered this question -- of the logic of language. For them 'definition' means what is found in dictionaries -- i.e. very brief equivalent-word formulas -- where the meaning of a word is a generality whose applications should be clear [are assumed to be clear] to any educated person. And on the basis of those definitions it is assumed that we now can leave considerations about language behind and speak about things not about mere words. And so it is assumed that the meaning of the word combination 'Time is not real' is already understood by everyone, and therefore we can talk about the things named 'time' and 'reality' without further ado.


"Is economics a science?"

This again sounds as if we were already quite clear about what we meant by 'science'; as if we already knew the criteria for applying the word 'science' in every particular case; as if we already knew the criteria for placing any discipline in the pre-existent [like Platonic Ideas] category 'science'. So that the question was only one of whether economics met those criteria. "Is economics a science?" sounds as if this were only a question about economics (as if the word 'science' had an essential meaning already well-known to us).

And that is of course not an answer but a rejection of the question. (PI § 47)

Because the question is unclear, its language undefined in this particular case. [There are two questions here: what are you calling 'economics' and what are you calling 'science'? What does it make clearer if one states that "Keynes did not regard economics as a science; it was rather, he said, an art of model-making, an art for which few thinkers have talent"? (Keynes and Alfred Marshall) But isn't making models what scientists do? Perhaps Keynes meant "not an exact science" or "not an experimental science" like physics and biology. It makes nothing clearer to state that.]


Do you know what is said if you do not know why it is said?

Note: this continues the discussion Statements-of-Fact.

People say 'So-and-so said such-and-such' e.g. 'Plato said ...' but don't include the reasons why he said it. Question: if you do not know the reasons for someone's saying something [why he said it], then do you know what he has said -- i.e. the meaning of 'such-and-such'? Maybe someone expresses an opinion: "I believe such-and-such", or, "I find such-and-such plausible"; -- do you know what 'plausible' means, do you know what 'opinion' means, unless you are also given the reasons behind the statement of opinion?

This is like asking whether you know what is being asserted -- if you do not know how the assertion is to be verified. In some cases, Yes, you do know; in other cases, you do not know. All you can say is that you do not necessarily know in all cases. ["The craving for generality", rather than examining the particular case. (BB p. 18)]

Is there any sense to saying 'Such-and-such, I believe, is the case' or 'Such-and-such seems more likely to me' if you do not say why you believe it to be the case or why you believe it to be likely?

This is something to ask oneself: why I am saying 'I believe' here? because I am not certain? but what would I need to know, if anything, in order to be certain?

'It's my impression that ...' and 'I think it likely that ...' -- This is a really thoughtless way of speaking (thinking). The student of philosophy seeks to know if there are reasons -- i.e. if there is a justification -- for what he believes; these reasons belong to the meaning of the belief as part of its grammar. No human being should a mindless collection of unexamined statements of beliefs.


"Biblical" versus "Greek" - Wittgenstein's view of the Good

Note: The following notes were originally intended for my comments about Wittgenstein at Cassino ["What manner of man was Wittgenstein?" Russell asked], but they have been superseded by pages about The Philosophy of Religion.

When in 1949 Wittgenstein told Drury, "Your religious ideas have always seemed to me more Greek than biblical [variation: Hebraic]" (Recollections p. 161), what did Wittgenstein mean? I believe he was referring to the Schlick's statement that "theological ethics contains two conceptions of the essence of the Good", the "Greek" or "rationalistic" (i.e. there is a reasonable explanation) view being that "God wills the Good because it is good"; whereas the "Biblical" view, Wittgenstein's own view, would be that "The good is [This is a definition of 'the good'] the will of God": "If any proposition explains just what I mean, it is: Good is what God orders." (LE/Notes p. 15, from 1930) There is no theodicy ("reasonable explanation") in the Bible: instead the creation of Leviathan is pointed to: what manner of creature is man to presume to question the ways of the creator? (Isaiah 55.8-9: "My ways are not your ways.")

I think this is what Wittgenstein meant, apart of course from denying that "what is good" can be given a foundation.

"Here I do not use reason"

Note: this continues the discussion Philosophy of Religion.

In Wittgenstein view one can only talk about religion from one's own level -- not one's own level of understanding (i.e. knowledge and reason), but one's own level of character (what is called "depth"). That is not the point of view of what I have called 'Wittgenstein's logic of language', in which an objective distinction is made between sense and nonsense. I think there were places in his life where Wittgenstein would have been willing to say: "Here I do not use reason" (LC p. 59). There are none in my life, not even in music.

But what are we calling 'reason'? Albert Schweitzer sometimes applied that word to insights that were only justified by his own reflecting or pondering on a question and arriving at a point of view -- that is, a way of looking at things that seemed to him the best. That was the case with Reverence for Life. It is not that Schweitzer did not give reasons -- present an argument -- for his point of view, but that reasons can also be given for other points of view, and none are conclusive [That is part of what we mean by 'points of view' or 'frames of reference', that none is absolute].

And by 'reason' Voltaire, as a precursor of Logical Positivism, simply meant "empiricism", which is not philosophy at all. We may mean so many different things when we speak of "the use of reason" or say that something "stands to reason", that 'reason' is usually no more than a slogan-word. It is not an easy word to define, because it can only be defined by examples (There is no equivalent-word-definition for it). Which of course doesn't imply that we should not use the word 'reason', only that we should not use it uncritically [thoughtlessly]. Which is what I think we usually do.

On "Spirituality"

Note: The following are now very old remarks. I would not talk this way about prayer now. They were a radical reaction against my having, in younger days, allowed the non-rational or irrational -- too large a place in my way of life (This applied to music uncritically e.g. and to the many other "irrational roots" in man). They may reflect my response to Socrates' thoroughgoing reason as the guide to how man should live his life (ethics and the excellence that is proper to man), unlike in earlier days, I now accept -- although they may also reflect something more primitive than that: namely, a reaction against Wittgenstein's view that the "non-rational" is what is most important in our life. The comparison I make below can be made, and anyone can dismiss religious faith as self-delusion. I would certainly not do that now, for I now see that religion is far deeper and more difficult to understand than philosophy -- that religious questions require religious answers rather than philosophical ones, and vice versa. What in one context -- i.e. taken out of context -- is absurd, in another may be full of meaning. Tilting at scarecrows is not the challenge here.

One might call this either "my view" (according to me) or "my limitations" (according to Wittgenstein; cf. possible "forms of life").

Because there is no logical way to distinguish between adult "spirituality" and children's make-believe, I cannot take "spirituality" or "prayer" (for is that any more than talking to oneself?) seriously. I would say: this is self-delusion. Of course, all I am doing here is making a comparison (Certainly I am not saying what the essence of "spirituality" is), a comparison that appeals to me. Someone might object by saying, "But the whole background is different!" Similarly someone might suggest a comparison between a criminal law trial and a sporting event -- a game, which is characterized not only by rules but by strategy and winning and losing --, and receive the same objection.

Does 'religious experience' have the grammar of Wittgenstein's "private language"? If one claims that it is an experience of God e.g.? There seems to be a grammatical kinship here, although the expression 'religious experience' does have a common usage.

Religion is taken -- or perhaps can be taken ("forms of life") -- seriously by some human beings; not by others. But level of intelligence and knowledge have nothing to do with that whether-or-not someone takes religion seriously or does not. That is an empirical remark.


Picturing a world where 2 + 2 = 5

But what would this mean: "Even though everyone believed that twice two was five it would still be four"? -- For what would it be like for everyone to believe that? (PI II, xi, p. 226g)

Wittgenstein imagined a world, a self-contained world next door to ours, in the mathematics of which 2 + 2 = 4 did not exist, because the people of that world had no practical application for it (and the philosophers there questioned whether it was "conceptually possible"), because whenever the objects of that world were grouped together then, from our perspective, they either increased in number or decreased in number, just as the objects in our world do neither.

In that world next door, might not 2 + 2 = 5? Certainly we could invent a calculus where this was true (i.e. correct according to the rules of that game). Suppose that the people next door always assigned a value to the addition-sign. And that in the case of 2 + 2 = 5 they called this a "Plus 1" addition. They also had "Plus 2" addition, where 2 + 2 = 6 and 5 + 7 = 14. (And either they would say that we next door knew only "Plus 0" -- or in their arithmetic 'Plus 0' would be undefined: perhaps to their way of thinking, if + has no value, then it is be meaningless.) We object: this addition system would be useless for counting sticks (or at least the sticks in our world). But perhaps in the world next door, whenever one group of objects was joined with another group, a counting using "Plus n" was always necessary and that the value of n varied from one type of object to another, e.g. oranges were "Plus 3" but apples were "Plus 1" or even "Plus -1". And every school child knew that if you added "Plus 3" objects to "Plus 7" objects, then you had to use "Plus 14".

It would not be that this people had only a physics, and not also a mathematics. It would only be that the rules of this people's elementary mathematics were much more complicated than ours. Their laws of physics could be just as stable as ours: the addition of oranges always giving the same result by counting as it did by "Plus 3" addition.

[If we] imagine certain very general facts of nature to be different from what we are used to ... the formation of concepts different from [or own] will become intelligible to [us]. (cf. PI II, xii, p. 230a)

In the world next door perhaps their philosophers would say that it was conceptually impossible for there to be an addition if nothing were added, which proved that 'Plus 0' must be meaningless not only in practice but also in thought.

Or it might be the case that the people of that world never used their mathematics for practical purposes, that they never even dreamed of doing this, and that 'Plus 0' was simply undefined -- i.e. a meaningless combination of signs -- in their language, their mathematics. These people never used their mathematics for anything except mathematics [never applied it to anything except mathematics], just as we only ever use chess to play chess. The rules of their addition calculus might be anything, although their mathematical "games" would have to be what we call "everywhere bounded by rules", in the way that we say that our arithmetic is; -- "have to" because otherwise we would not call what they were doing a 'calculus'

For what would it be like for everyone to believe that? (PI II, xi, p. 226g)

I was thinking when I imagined that of "forms of life" here, but Wittgenstein may have had something else in mind besides the apparent necessity of "agreement in forms of life" (ibid. § 241). -- Maybe Wittgenstein had something much less predictable in mind.

That 2 + 2 = 4 or 2 + 2 = 5 has sense or is true is a question that can only be asked [i.e. is only defined] within a particular mathematical system [calculus]. Question: are 'true' and 'meaningful' equivalent terms in mathematics? In some cases we might want to say that: e.g. '2 + 2 = ...' is more akin to a definition than a proposition, but not in all cases: e.g. in a complicated long-division problem, if we discover a mistake, we do not say that our calculation was meaningless.

The expression 'conceptually possible' means 'logically possible' means 'defined language'.


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