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Classification of Metaphysical Statements

Time is not real. Time is real. -- There is an afterlife. There is no afterlife. -- There is an absolute point of reference. There are only relative points of reference. -- The limit of reality is the same as the limit of sense perception. "There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." -- Material objects exist. Material objects don't exist.

Most simply put metaphysics asks what is real, just as logic asks how to reason, and ethics asks how to live.

There are three values propositions of metaphysics may have: (1) they may be nonsense (mere undefined combinations of words), or (2) they may be pictures: some idle (mere logical possibilities, imagination floating free of reality), but some metaphysical theses as well, or (3) they may be conventions of grammar (disguised rules for using language).

Topics on this page ...

Background: these are "logic of language" (Wittgenstein's expression in my jargon) remarks: How is language-with-meaning (sense) distinguished from language-without-meaning (nonsense) in the discussion of philosophical problems?


Wittgenstein's view of Metaphysics (A summary without examples)

Notes: this discussion supplements the discussion Dreams and Vain Fictions of our own devising.

In the following remarks the word 'picture' must be treated with care, because metaphysics "is a speculative position" (Fichte): Don't try to picture it: the Idealist sees the same thing everyone else sees when he opens his eyes.

Metaphysics is not concerned with things as they "appear" to be (which is the realm of natural science), but instead with things "as they are in reality", the "reality beyond the appearances", "ultimate reality". In that sense there cannot be an "explanation of metaphysical philosophies in pictures", if, that is, all pictures are pictures of "the appearances" -- i.e. what we can see or imagine (describe) seeing. (There are speculative pictures of "the mind", but those are "grammatical jokes", mere language muddles -- whereas Thales' statement that the essence of reality is water is not.)

The word 'appearance' normally contrasts with the word 'fact' -- but for metaphysics, what we call facts are also mere appearances. Thus, it seems, that the subject of metaphysics is "the reality behind reality" (Plato, Republic 515c). (What is metaphysics? | Plato, Forms and shadows)

A statement in metaphysics [a metaphysical proposition] can have at least three values:

1. It may be nonsense -- i.e. an undefined combination of words. (Of course this might be the value of a statement in any subject, not just philosophy.)

2. It may be a disguised rule of grammar (PP p. 312) -- rather than the statement of fact ("real definition") its author the metaphysician intends it to be.

3a. It may be a suggestive picture -- i.e. one that suggests images to us, but that takes us no further. The proposition 'It's 5 o'clock on the sun' illustrated by "a grandfather clock which points to 5" (PI § 350), and maybe the "questions without answers", are examples of these.

Many such pictures give a false account of the way we use some "sign" or other of our language -- i.e. they are a mistaken understanding of the sign's "grammar" (The distinction between a sign and its use in the language), e.g. the word 'mind' as the name of an invisible object.

3b. Or it may be a way of looking at things -- i.e. speculation that is not subject to falsification by anomaly. (Note that some scientific theories are also ways of looking at things -- that is, ways of summarizing [organizing, for every scientific theory is facts plus imagination] a selected set of data -- that are not falsifiable, e.g. the heliocentric and geocentric models of the solar system.)

Of course it may also simply be an idle picture -- although note well that metaphysicians know that their pictures cannot be compared with "perceptible reality" -- i.e. that their metaphysical propositions are not empirical propositions -- and therefore it does not trouble them that their speculative propositions cannot be verified or tested by experience. For, metaphysics says, "Our experience is only experience of appearances, not of reality itself"; "we see only a shadow play cast by unknowable things-in-themselves, ghosts either cast in our senses [Kant] or by our own minds [Fichte]"; cf. Plato's cave image (Republic 515c). Which statement may be an example of senses (2) or (3a) of the word 'metaphysics'.

[Some religious pictures may resemble these "idle pictures", because they also are not hypotheses; however, pictures in religion are used very differently from the way metaphysicians use pictures, e.g. they are not speculative. (Proposition types: different rules for different "language-games".)]

3c. Or it may be a picture that it is "logically impossible" for us to be taught how to apply: "How is this picture, e.g. Michelangelo's God creating Adam (LC, p. 63), to be compared with what it is said to be a picture of?" But there is no answer -- i.e. the word 'compare' is not defined in this particular case; indeed, the artist did not intend for a comparison to be made.

However, there are also cases where it is possible for us to learn how to apply a picture offered in philosophy, but where we dismiss the picture as "metaphysics" -- i.e. nonsense (in logic of language study's sense of 'nonsense') -- out of ignorance (like uneducated people who call everything they don't understand, and maybe don't want to understand, "theology"). Of course metaphysical pictures may be dismissed as "nonsense" in the sense of 'foolishness', but that is not logic.

3d. Another possibility, but not one that Wittgenstein recognizes (PI § 128): A metaphysical proposition may be a philosophical thesis, e.g. Aristotle's 'Man is a rational animal' is not a verbal definition of the word 'man'. But it may be cross-questioned in Socratic dialectic, for it seems that in Plato's view man is essentially a soul (It's not clear in this case that "essence belongs to grammar": Plato is not defining the word 'man'; nor does he seem to be conceptually confused), and a soul once freed from the body, i.e. from the animal, the "source of endless trouble to us", is man not then fully rational? and is that not man's fate (Phaedo 64c)?

Metaphysics and Wittgenstein

I don't know whether Wittgenstein would have classified all those kinds of propositions as 'metaphysical' or not -- or whether he would have regarded them all as especially important sources of perplexity in philosophy. With respect to e.g. (3b): "If you know that a statement is not verifiable, then you know something important about its grammar, not necessarily that the statement is meaningless" (cf. Malcolm, Memoir 2e, p. 55) -- i.e. you have to look at the particular case because, although some non-verifiable statements are meaningless (e.g. cases where the meaning is determined by the method of measurement but no method of measurement is assigned), not all are. And many of these have everyday uses in our language, e.g. 'I have a toothache'.

But (3b) is not, I think, what Isaac Newton means by 'hypotheses', because some "dreams and vain fictions of our own devising" -- i.e. some that belong to physics rather than metaphysical -- may be subject to disconfirmation by describable evidence; e.g. it may be only that at present this evidence is not "within the reach of our experiments". However, if no evidence can disconfirm a thesis because of the way the thesis is defined, then I don't know if Newton would call that thesis "an hypothesis" or not. And only that kind of case is what I have in mind in (3b); I have called it elsewhere a tautology, although I do not know whether every tautology is "a way of looking at things" (PI § 401).

Drury says that "fact-proof" -- i.e. not falsifiable by further evidence -- is what a scientific theory is not or in any case should not be (although at the very least some scientific theories are not falsifiable, e.g. the heliocentric and geocentric models, but nonetheless are by definition of 'scientific' scientific theories, because they (a) organize all the known data in a self-consistent way, and (b) do not themselves pretend to be facts rather than simply a model or way -- i.e. one way, not the only possible way -- of summarizing the facts). And, so, I have called "ways of looking at things" (3b) metaphysical, in this instance because they are "anomaly-proof".

And so 1-3 above is one scheme for classifying metaphysical statements -- but, Norman Malcolm says about classification schemes, "There are many ways to cut a pie." This then is only my summary of what I have seen, or think I have seen, in Wittgenstein's work in Philosophy, and M. O'C. Drury's work in Philosophy of Science, so far. And, granted, that without many examples it may simply be confusing (The roles of examples in logic-philosophy).

Finally, note that there is no essence of metaphysics. On the one hand, I called the eternal questions without answers metaphysics, but on the other hand I called Thales' project in philosophy, if this was his project in philosophy, namely speculation about the natural reality behind natural phenomena, which excludes those questions, metaphysics as well.

Metaphysics is speculation about ...

"Idealism is a speculative position" (Fichte) -- i.e. don't try to visualize it. No, the Realist and the Idealist see exactly the same world (e.g. if asked to draw what they see when they open their eyes, their drawings would be identical). Wittgenstein: "A philosopher is not a man out of his senses, a man who doesn't see what everybody sees" (BB p. 59).

Metaphysics is about what is not perceptible to the senses. And if we can only picture what is perceptible to the senses, then we cannot picture the speculations of metaphysics.

Query: what would image metaphors be for each of the metaphysical philosophies?

This is exactly what you should not do: invent "image metaphors". Remember that what the metaphysician sees is the same as what everyone else sees: the worlds of the Idealist and of the Realist are, on the sense perception level, identical -- the only difference between them is in what they speculate to be the unseeable reality lying behind what they can see (According to the Realist things are exactly what they appear to be: what man sees is the reality, not something else. But, of course, that position is just as speculative as the Idealist's). In philosophy images are contraband: they serve only to mislead rather than make things clearer.

Query: if "a picture is worth a thousand words", then explain the meaning of the metaphysical philosophies using pictures rather than words.

In an old Charlie Chan movie, as an illustration of the principle that "Generally nothing explains the meaning of words so well as a picture" (LC ii, p. 63), the detective tries to use a drawing to explain to the waiter what he would like for breakfast: Mr. Chan draws a grid and circles it. But instead of bringing him waffles, the waiter brings him a book of crossword puzzles.

A picture cannot only be understood; it can also be misunderstood. Even a picture that does not misrepresent, as Mr. Chan's does not, can mislead (Malcolm, Memoir 2e, p. 46). A picture can not only explain, it can also mis-explain.

Query: what are examples of metaphysical fact?

Metaphysics is based on facts about the world, but there are no metaphysical facts: metaphysics is speculation about the foundations of facts; it is not the discovery of facts. Metaphysical propositions are not statements of fact, although they have the form of statements of fact. The proposition 'Man is mortal' is a statement of fact, in contrast to statements of speculation about whether there is an afterlife or not. Metaphysical speculation is not knowledge.


Note: The metaphysics I had in mind when I wrote the following remarks were the metaphysics imposed on us at school, namely Aristotle, Plotinus, Boethius, Locke, Hume, Leibniz, which in my youth seemed -- and to youth rightly so -- a diversion from philosophy's vital questions.

Query: how did the earlier philosophers treat the problem of the basic substance of the universe?

As physics, we would say, if the "basic substance" is material -- but otherwise, as metaphysics: Metaphysics is about what is not in principle perceptible to the senses (if there is any such thing and therefore such a thing as metaphysics), as e.g. Pythagorean number-points.

The Endless Afternoon of Metaphysics

The impression that not only what we call metaphysics but everything that was called philosophy at school gave me: vague propositions at best suggestive of something, at worst plain nonsense -- i.e. undefined combinations of words. The question of truth or falsity (of "How do you know?") was not asked -- as if that were not the point. But even if it had been asked, there would have been no answering it, for we must first know a proposition's meaning before we can know whether it is true or false. Surely philosophy does not amount to trying to guess the meaning of cryptic, speculative texts -- i.e. to speculation about speculation!

It may be that some regarded or accepted that vague speculation is what philosophy has been, is, and should be. But for students who wanted to know the truth, it was an afternoon in the endless afternoon of metaphysics: "In the afternoon they came unto a land in which it seemed always afternoon", a land like Pytheas's arctic sea: "a cold dense fog in which men could neither walk nor sail".

Kant himself likened metaphysics to "a dark ocean without shore and without lighthouses" (Preface, The only possible ground (1762)), which Hegel seems to have acknowledged without being troubled by it, as if wandering about in the dark were a path to philosophical wisdom.

"Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas -- only I don't exactly know what they are!" (TtLG i)

It often seemed to me that the professors of philosophy at the university, the moment they turned to philosophy lost the ability to express themselves clearly. (I see now that they could not have done so -- because they treated the distinction between sense and nonsense as a matter of common sense, rather than as philosophy's essential first question.) I wondered why so few philosophers seemed able to produce, in Norman Malcolm's words, "readable sentences".

Even those professional philosophers who lectured or wrote about Wittgenstein were not able to consistently write readable sentences -- their language looked English, but it often had no meaning, unless, of course, I invented a meaning for it. And so I ask: Why when in all his work after the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein was able to write everything in readable sentences (i.e. in the language of everyday, the meaning of which is clear) -- are his professional critics unable to write such sentences? And I think it is because they have not really learned what Wittgenstein has to teach them about language.

As I wrote in the Introduction to a Synopsis of Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Logic: Wittgenstein purposely wrote in the down to earth language of everyday life and with lots of examples. And I ask why our professors did not. That is, I think there "must" be a connection between unreadable sentences and confused thinking (or even meaningless -- and not only for other people -- combinations of words). I think that without a logic of language, one has no way of knowing whether one is saying anything or simply babbling. Wittgenstein, in my view, wanted to insist on an objective distinction between sense and nonsense. And that is what I want.

The Sophists and Philosophy

Someone wrote that my account of philosophy is "odd". I hope it is odd. It is certainly at odds with the accounts of the "professional philosophers" (professors), as I recall them.

At the end of Plato's Euthydemus, he contrasts "professors of philosophy" -- i.e. Sophists -- with philosophy itself, and he simply notes that in every profession most people who practice it either are middling or bad at it. And it is this way with philosophy, too. But that does not make philosophy itself bad.

Metaphysics at school

Namely, Aristotle ("substances"), Plotinus ("emanations"), Boethius ("eidolons"), even Locke ("I presume it will be easily granted me, that there are such ideas in men's minds: everyone is conscious of them in himself"), Hume ("the imagination", "the passions") and Leibniz ("divine atomism") ... although there was as well a sympathetic metaphysics in my eyes, namely Kant, Fichte and Berkeley (although the last-named's ideas weren't discussed at school, and all three are known to me only from history books: words, phrases, propositions).


Blaise Pascal's view of Metaphysics

We could rewrite Z § 458 this way:

Philosophical definitions [i.e. definitions given in philosophy] = verbal definitions. The essential thing about metaphysics: it obliterates the distinction between real definitions [i.e. hypotheses] and verbal definitions [i.e. conventions, or, rules].

Metaphysics is blind to the distinction between a real and a verbal definition.

That is what Pascal said in his essay "On the Geometrical Mind". In his criticism he uses the word 'nominal' for 'verbal', as did Aristotle; however, that form of expression shows a misunderstanding, because all words are not names of objects [whether visible or invisible]:

Nominalists make the mistake of treating all words as names, and so of not really describing their use ... (PI § 383)


The essential thing about metaphysics: that the difference between factual and conceptual investigations is not clear to it. A metaphysical question is always in appearance a factual one, although the problem is a conceptual one. (RPP i § 949)

Before I wrote: "I do not know what, if anything, should be inferred from the last sentence." Is Wittgenstein saying that this is how he looks at, and intends to look at, metaphysics -- or is he saying that metaphysics "really" is this way? Is this a statement of point of view, or a testable hypothesis, or an unfalsifiable theory -- i.e. is it itself a metaphysical statement? This is apropos of Wittgenstein's "theories" about the origins of philosophy.

Metaphysics and magic

Metaphysics and magic: both seek knowledge of the occult -- i.e. of a reality that is hidden, or imagined to be hidden, from the five senses, and both do this without regard to empirical verification (The natural sciences also seek knowledge of what is hidden e.g. from the naked eye and to this end they make use of instruments such as the telescope and microscope, but what they claim to learn by means of such instruments is subject to verification ... although about less basic instruments and methods, I know nothing (See Drury's view)). In that way metaphysics and magic are akin; but whereas metaphysics puts its theses to the test of pure reason (i.e. non-self-contradiction), magic is not put to any test at all; belief in magic is superstition (instinct). In some cases metaphysics is word-magic, having its source in instinct that has not been corrected by a proper understanding of the logic of our language, but instead misunderstands that logic, e.g. by holding the view that "All nouns are names, and the meaning of a name is the thing the name stands for" -- regardless of whether that thing is anything, or not.


Sources for Wittgenstein's definition of 'sign'

Note: this supplements A Sign versus the Meaning of a Sign.

Sign: conventional marks on paper or sounds. Words, sentences, gestures, etc. PI §§ 431-432, Z §§ 143, 227.

"... the sensibly perceptible sign (sound or written sign, etc.) of the proposition" (TLP 3.11, tr. Ogden) "... why, that is nothing but sounds, ink-marks. --" (PI § 431) "Every sign by itself seems dead. What gives it life?..." (ibid. § 432) "... a mere sequence of sounds or written shapes" (Z § 143); "gesture" (ibid. § 227). The "physical properties" of language (PI § 108), "The shape of the chessman corresponds here to the sound or shape of a word" (ibid. § 31).

"The sign is the part of the symbol perceptible by the senses" (TLP 3.32, tr. Ogden) sounds like (although I do not know whether or not it is) the Greek distinction between a sign and its meaning, the 'meaning' being "what the Greek understands but the barbarians do not although they hear the sound [i.e. the sign] when Greek is spoken". TLP 3.321 (tr. Ogden): "Two different symbols can therefore have the sign (the written sign or the sound sign) in common -- they then signify in different ways." ["Sign", "Symbol", "Rules of Grammar"]

Distinguish (i) sign, and (ii) symbol.

(i) the sign is the written scratch or the noise. We give the scratch or the noise -- the word -- meaning, with which it is used in the proposition which has sense.

(ii) everything which is necessary for the sign to become a symbol is part of the symbol ... A sign can be nonsensical but a symbol cannot.

... the words 'I am tired' written on the blackboard are an incomplete symbol. Anything that makes the sign significant is part of the symbol.

When we explain the meaning of a sign by pointing, we complete the symbol.

The place of a symbol in language is shown by the way in which it is used. (Wittgenstein's Lectures, Cambridge, 1930-1932, ed. Desmond Lee (1980), p. 26-27 [1930])

Thus by 'symbol' Wittgenstein means here: a sign plus its "grammar", or, "everything needed to describe its use". But talking about "symbols" shows that Wittgenstein's thought here is transitional; cf. Bertrand Russell's account of Wittgenstein's thought at that time.

The definition "everything needed to describe the use of language" may be too broad. For example, the notation or font in which a sign is written does not normally belong to its meaning, although it may belong to a description of its "use". (cf. the distinction I made between words and "word-als" in the context of the number-numeral distinction, in which context number could contrast with "number-al".)

Convention to indicate a sign with quotation marks

Bertrand Russell used this convention in his essay On Denoting in 1905; but I do not know if it was original to him. Below: the combination of words 'The first line of Gray's Elegy' is a phrase or sentence fragment; it does not, is not used to state a proposition; I think that is what Russell is saying here. His use of the word 'denoting' is not important (Any linguistic sign, whether it denotes or not, may be indicated this way), only the quotation marks ("inverted commas") convention.

When we wish to speak about the meaning of a denoting phrase, as opposed to its denotation, the natural mode of doing so is by inverted commas. Thus ...

The first line of Gray's Elegy states a proposition.
'The first line of Gray's Elegy' does not state a proposition.

However, Russell's use of the word 'grammar' was different from Wittgenstein's.

Without mark-up [as Russell's quotes notation] there is a contradiction: 'June and July are of equal length, and July is longer than June.' With mark-up, that contradiction is not possible. Cf. 'May is both longer and shorter than June.'

G.E. Moore's distinction between a sign and its sense

The proposition 'The sun is larger than the moon' is the same proposition as the proposition 'Le soleil est plus grand que la lune', and one would be misusing the word 'proposition' if one used it in such a sense that they were not the same; but the sentence 'The sun is larger than the moon' is not the same sentence as the sentence 'Le soleil est plus grand que la lune', and one would be misusing the word 'sentence' if one used it in such a sense that they were the same. ("Russell's "Theory of Descriptions"" (an essay by Moore from 1944), in G.E. Moore, Philosophical Papers (1959) [PP] viii, p. 158)

So in this passage G.E. Moore makes the distinction between a sign (Here "sentence") and the meaning or use of the sign (Here "proposition"). One which I had not thought of: the English and French signs have the same use in the language (or in their respective languages), although they are different signs.


"Perhaps only genius entirely understands genius." - Robert Schumann (Maxims for Young Musicians)

How can an unintelligent (stupid) person like me talk about an intelligent person's work without dragging that person down to my own intellectual level? Maybe with respect to intelligence a man can look down but he cannot see up? I do not know what it is like to live in the mind of an intelligent man -- so how can I write about it? How can a man who is unable to see over a wall understand a man who can see over it? What does that man see? Can he tell you? Did Wittgenstein do that in the Philosophical Investigations? How would I know? "What an intelligent man knows is difficult to know" (Goethe) -- so then how shall I know it? I think I delude myself, through ignorance and the consequent presumption: the worst thing about being stupid is that you don't know that you are stupid -- although maybe you can sometimes sense your own limits.

What I am writing is shallow stuff? But how am I to know that, and what can I do -- other than stop writing?

No one can stand on anyone else's shoulders ["on the shoulders of giants"] in philosophy. No one can stand higher than his own forehead -- nor write about what can be seen from higher up.

Variation. You cannot stand on someone else's shoulders in philosophy. If you could, there would no longer be Platonists, Cartesians, Hegelians, usw.

Jumping higher than one's own forehead. It's not only the thoughts of God that are beyond my understanding, that are higher than I am able to jump.

When J.S. Bach was asked how he had accomplished the many things he had, he answered, "I applied myself. Anyone who applies himself can accomplish as much."

Quite. No.

Through whose eyes shall we see Wittgenstein?

Note: this supplements the discussion of Bertrand Russell's question "What manner of man was he?"

"... the newly colonized parts at the periphery" (Letter to Keynes, 6 July 1935, K.26) ... Wittgenstein had many years earlier written to Russell recommending Tolstoy's romance Hadji Murád ([Summer 1912], R.6) which, if I can remember across the years, is set in just such a remote place.

Russell wrote that Wittgenstein "gave all his money to his brothers and sisters, because he found earthly possessions a burden". -- But money is only one type of earthly possession, and is not a burden in the way that clothing, furniture and a library of books can be. Money need not make difficulties for a man who wants to travel [through the world and this life] light. Or so, in Socratic "myriad poverty", I imagine.

What manner of man was Wittgenstein? Through whose eyes shall we look? Through Karl Britton's e.g., deep seriousness. Through the eyes of Drury, deeply religious. Shall we look at the photograph of Wittgenstein in old age. Very serious. Or shall we picture him teasing [being facetious with] Malcolm?

Is it difficult to hold all these views together at the same time? Can we imagine a man who takes life with the greatest seriousness laughing light-heartedly? [Socrates, for example, although no one took the question of how man should live his life -- or indeed lived his life -- with more ethical seriousness than he did. I think so.] With some men it is as if to picture them laughing shatters the picture of them as serious men, as if for some men laughter would betray a frivolous nature (i.e. would show them not to be serious men, as if laughter were not consistent with their taking life seriously). [Would we imagine Jesus laughing merrily with the other guests in the story of the wedding at Cana-in-Galilee? I don't think so.] There are of course many ways to laugh. Small children laugh, innocently, mischievously; but the laughter of a grown man may at times be cruel or ironical or bitter-sweet.


The Reductionism of the Physicists

Note: this continues the discussion The Philosophy of Science of James Jeans.

"From the point of view of atomic particle physics, cancer does not exist: there are cancerous cells, but not cancerous atoms." And you cannot treat atoms from the point of view of biology, because atoms don't exist from that point of view. (Of course, atoms don't exist from any point of view: they are theoretical constructs. What we can say is that considerations of what may happen at the atomic level of investigation have no place in biology proper, even when biologists make use of radiation e.g.)

At the atomic level cancer cells don't exist (but then neither do human beings, for that matter).

The mistake here is, I think, trying to treat all science as if it were physics, of trying to treat biological questions as if they were questions of physics, a subject-matter (a method) to which biological questions do not belong. Of course if you try to treat a biological question as if it were a question of physics, the question disappears. These disciplines have a point of view (frame of reference), questions and methods for answering them that are only appropriate to themselves. (This remark is much too general for its meaning to be clear, much less its possible truth or falsity to be judged.)

Etienne Gilson speaks of logicism and philosophy -- i.e. of trying to treat the questions of metaphysics as if they were questions of logic (but what does Gilson mean by the word 'logic'? Not logic of language), of trying to apply the methods proper to one discipline to the questions of another disciple, a discipline that requires different methods. The result in this case was that metaphysics disappeared. 'Logicism': reducing philosophy to logic. This is the mistake Eddington makes as well when he speaks of ultimate reality being the reality of physics: he reduces natural science to physics.


For What Philosophy is? (Continued)

Motto: A philosopher must have the capacity to be deeply puzzled.

"A book to teach you how to think"

... if you thought there was a book that would teach you how to think, it would seem the most important book in the world; but that is not how things are." (Recollections p. 100)

But they were that way for me, although the book needed ten years to teach me.

Thirty years ago I wrote in an autobiographical sketch for school that, if there was anything in my life that I would not be willing to part with, it was "Wittgenstein's having taught me how to think". I think I would still say that now, although I of course now see that what Wittgenstein taught me was not "how to think" but "a way to think", one way of thinking, which I have called "logic of language". But there is this about that way: it is the only way of thinking I know that can overcome "the metaphor, the vagueness and the confusion" I felt surrounded by: it is the only method I know to get clear about the meaning/use of language in philosophy. Of course without Socratic philosophy and ethics, my life would indeed be wretched; but without Wittgenstein it would be hellish: life inside a confused mind, with no exit.

To the ideas of those two teachers I must now add a third: Albert Schweitzer's writings about religion. (When three separate lines of my thinking converged.)

To "overcome the metaphor, the vagueness and the confusion." What does 'metaphor' mean here? Disguised nonsense parading as metaphor: nonsense masquerading as metaphorical-sounding language (cf. PI § 464), but a metaphor that cannot be restated in prose is no metaphor.

What is a Philosopher?

Is everyone who thinks about philosophy a philosopher? For example, am I a philosopher? What, not after all these years? Rubbish, my studies are only beginning. I "grow old learning new things" (Solon) about philosophy. There is no end to learning, because we can always go deeper into a philosophical problem.

Would you ever call yourself a philosopher? If I found the magic fulcrum (Archimedes). Is that what philosophers do? A philosopher gives himself "a fixed point of reference" (fulcrum) -- a new frame of reference, that he latches onto as if it were his salvation -- as if things had suddenly become clear to him: "A method has been found!" (cf. PP iii, p. 322). What I latched onto I found in Wittgenstein's writings -- (because I am not myself a philosopher, but only the student of philosophers) -- is a method for objectively distinguishing sense from nonsense in language in philosophy: The essence of vagueness and confusion -- is language seeming (PI § 258) to have meaning. That is the importance philosophy has in some lives (in other lives this place is taken by religion, in others by mere appetite for pleasures). "A book that could teach you to think ..." If I invented a new and worthwhile rational way of looking at things, then I might be a philosopher. But if I am not a philosopher, then what am I? Socrates called not only the talented, but all human beings to think about philosophical questions, about how man should live his life.

"If I found the magic fulcrum." -- This is like Tolstoy's childhood stick [the green stick hidden in the ravine near his parents house, on which, according to his older brother Nikolay, was carved the secret of universal love]. This is what someone who philosophizes longs for: a key to understanding any and all things. Critically -- i.e. by means of "discourse of reason" (discursively) -- understanding.

A remark Wittgenstein made in his notebook in 1944 may be given a meaning in this context. For he wrote about philosophical longing. What shall 'peace' mean here if not 'understanding'?

Thoughts that are at peace. That is what someone who philosophizes yearns for. (CV p. 43, a remark from 1944)

Philosophical thoughts may be at rest only for the moment, but some answers to questions do bring peace, as e.g. an account of the grammar of a word that makes its use clear to you: "Ah, now I can go on; now I can find my way about" (PI § 123). Feeling lost and longing to find one's way -- this is what Wittgenstein may have been talking about, because an unresolved philosophical question is like a thorn in your paw.

But, well, our mind lives in a garden of thorns. But we take up questions even if only in hopes of diminishing by small bits the vagueness and confusion (the irrational) that surrounds us. What a philosopher really yearns for is to understand everything -- everything "elementary and final" (Schweitzer) in logic, ethics and metaphysics, that is.


The Old School

Like [Samuel] Clarke [(1675-1729), a defender of Isaac Newton's philosophy] I find it hard to decide whether Leibniz would have gone further and said that the Absolute Theory [of space and time] is just meaningless verbiage. (C.D. Broad, "Leibniz's Last Controversy with the Newtonians" [a lecture from 1946], in his Ethics and the History of Philosophy (London, 1952), p. 181 [p. x])

Question: "meaningless verbiage" as opposed to meaningless what?

I think there is no doubt that the Newtonians held, and that Leibniz rejected at all levels of his thinking, the substantial theory of Space and Time. (ibid. p. 189)

As if capitalizing the words 'space' and 'time' made anything clearer. This is word magic characteristic of metaphysics. Like giving special emphasis when lecturing to the sound 'being' (which seems to be a way of capitalizing that word, 'Being', when speaking), it makes nothing clearer. What Broad calls "the Substantial theory of Space and Time", he contrasts with "the Adjectival theory of Space and Time"; according to the latter "theory", there "is not another kind of particular existent called 'Space' beside matter" (ibid. p. 188).

For the Newtonians 'space' was the name of something, whereas according to Leibniz it was not; I think that is what Broad is saying.

Many things that Broad calls "theories" can be shown to be nothing more than questions of verbal definition (i.e. disguised rules of grammar). ["The substantial theory of space" and "the adjectival theory of space" amount to this -- is 'space' a noun or an adjective, so to speak: well, how do we use that word?] And Broad really is doing what Pascal said: mixing real and verbal definitions up all over the place; there is no sharp distinction being drawn here. (It simply isn't enough to put a few quotation marks here and there and claim that this makes the distinction.)

Moore, Russell, Explanations of meaning

What G.E. Moore wrote about Russell in his diary (30.8-2.9.1909), that Russell was "too confident of insufficient explanations as to meaning of words ..." (quoted by Ronald Clark, Life of Bertrand Russell (1976) p. 106), applies to Broad too.

... for events may be contemporary [i.e. may happen at the same time] as well as successive [i.e. may happen after one another], and we can give no account of either rest or motion unless we conceive the identify of space at different times as well as difference of place at the same time. (Broad, "Leibniz's Last Controversy with the Newtonians", p. 182)

As if the meaning of all this language were clear and required no definition: after all, everyone knows what we mean by 'rest', and everyone knows what we mean by 'motion' [something which I believe I showed is not the case], Etc. (To "conceive" here means nothing other than to give definitions, explanations of meaning -- i.e. of the meaning of words, not of things.)

In this essay, also, Broad seems to treat this as all a matter of opinions: arguments may refute here, but nothing can prove to be true. And if that is so, then it is not to be wondered that Broad thought philosophy unimportant. (This rather than Wittgenstein's philosophical investigations is what Russell should have called "an idle tea-table amusement" (My Philosophical Development (1959) p. 217).)

Aside. Maybe the only one who can really feel the liberation that is Wittgenstein's Logic of Language -- who can understand its importance -- is the long-suffering student of philosophy, who has spent years under the yoke of C.D. Broad and such like "professional philosophers".

"Physical Theories" versus Hypotheses

Broad says that the heliocentric scheme was "simply a mathematical solution of a mathematical problem", but "it was treated as a physical theory". (Broad, "The New Philosophy" [a lecture from 1944], in his Ethics and the History of Philosophy, p. 146 [p. ix])

By "physical theory" Broad means nothing more than metaphysics' "really real". Or why use the word 'theory' here? If it is physical -- i.e. factual -- then it isn't theoretical; and if it is theoretical, then it isn't physical. A theory, in science, is based on evidence (observed facts) and answerable to further evidence, but that is its only relation to fact. "Physical theories" in this context are pictures -- from whatever source -- that are mistaken for the metaphysician's or for religion's "really real". Both Galileo and the Catholic Church made this mistake.

In 1616 (seventeen years before Galileo's condemnation for publishing his Dialog Concerning the Two Chief World Systems), when Robert Bellarmine was 74 years old, he was be given the task by Pope Paul V of informing Galileo of the decision by the theologians of the Holy Office that "the opinion that the sun is the center of the universe and immovable and that the earth moves" cannot be "held, taught, or defended in any way," but can only be discussed as an hypothesis. Galileo accepted this decision, and this was the end of Cardinal Bellarmine's involvement. [History Outline]

As an inventor of scientific theories (hypotheses) -- that is, of Drury's "models, pictures, maps" that are based on collected evidence and answerable to any new evidence -- Galileo should not have wanted to discuss the Copernican theory in any way other than as what it was: a work of the scientific imagination based on facts, but not itself a fact. But Galileo still had, as we say, one foot in the old world: instead of saying, as we would, that Copernicus had conceived a new way for us to imagine the relations of the heavenly bodies ("a solar system"), Galileo said, as the medieval Aristotelians before him would have said: Copernicus has drawn us a picture of the universe as it is in itself: in Copernicus' picture we see the mind of God.

But there were still epicycles in the Copernican mind of God. It remained for Kepler to invent a still simpler model from that point of view.

The theologians of the Holy Office thought their dogmatic picture showed them the mind of God -- the mind of God as revealed by God himself, rather than as discovered by mathematical-astronomers. Likewise a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, namely Saleh bin Fawzan al-Fawzan, disallowed the adoption of "modern theories", holding instead that the sun revolves around the earth. That was in March 2014. Modern theories in contrast to an earlier theory about what revolves around what -- and that is the point, that these are all theories about the facts -- i.e. all facts plus imagination -- all dependent on a selected reference point. Thus, in this respect, Galileo, the Holy Office, Fawzan, all mis-conceived the issue.

As to metaphysics, whether of the theologians or of the scientists, showing us the mind of God, we could say that it does, but only if we remember that the mind of God was invented by the mind of man.

"Mathematics is the language of nature"; no, mathematics is a language of man. How do you account for the fact that things can be done with this language of man as opposed to with other languages of man? In what sense of "account for"? (i.e. this question-sign has not been given a sense.) We can only note that: This technique works, and not some other; this net catches shrimp whereas this one does not. And that one net, one language, rather than another allows us to do things does indeed tell us something about reality (TLP 6.342) -- but not that the net or mathematics is magical. [In what sense 'magical'? As if to say: "here we have found the language of God himself"? But why suppose that another, more useful language (net) may not yet be invented? just as Kepler came after Copernicus.] Mathematics is the language of physics, of physics as it is now done; but mathematical physics is a human invention.

The eye of God was invented by the eye of man. And what else is absolute time and space except the absolute perspective -- i.e. the perspective of God Himself, the "really real" of the metaphysicians. (Whether the combination of words 'absolute point of reference' -- cf. 'absolute motion' -- is nonsense or not is an important question.)

Related topics: "The Keplerian Revolution", with "Brahe's Model of the Solar System", and "Kepler's Ellipses and the Interconnection of Theories".


"With the idea, now is always"

We might want to say that part of "what makes a man into a philosopher" (cf. Z § 455) is an indifference toward the facts: what interests him are the ideas that the "facts" -- whatever they are presumed to be -- suggest to him. And thus the invention of "fictitious language-games" ... although in "logic of language" we cannot be indifferent to the actual "rules of the game" -- i.e. grammatical facts about our language -- not if we are to resolve many of philosophy's conceptual muddles.

"If you accept the premisses, then you must accept the logical conclusion." That is one sense of the word 'logic'. But in some contexts (e.g. the investigations of Sherlock Holmes if those weren't fictional, or deciding public policy) an indifference to the facts is just the opposite of what "makes a man into a philosopher", if philosophy has anything to do with love of the truth, which it explicitly has since Socrates: "wisdom is the only good, and ignorance the only evil" (Euthydemus 281e), because "those who think they know what they do not know are misled themselves and mislead others" (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1).

Neither of those two cases is what Drury is talking about. But I have a bit more confidence in my application of the saying -- i.e. "If we imagine such-and-such to be the case, then ..." which may be valid even if it is counter-factual -- than in Drury's. Because as Drury uses that saying the possibility of a re-conceptualization of the problem that makes it resolvable (or dissolvable) seems to be excluded. But I don't think that possibility can ever be excluded; indeed, we can state that "With ideas everything is possible" (That is why philosophy is possible). Although in this Drury is correct: Nothing can force anyone who is not so inclined to accept a re-conceptualization of the problem (cf. "We only give up an hypothesis for an even higher gain" (Philosophical Remarks § 227); here 'hypothesis' = 'way of looking at things'). Drury's quotation in context:

No one will ever be in better position than those who came before him] to solve a problem [the relation of mind to body] to which the notion of a "solution" does not make sense. I have no need to fear that tomorrow some new discovery will invalidate everything that I have written here. "In the idea now is always." (M. O'C. Drury, The Danger of Words (1973) p. 74-75)

No, but there is always the possibility that people will stop asking Drury's question, that this way of looking at things (conceptualization) -- i.e. "mind-body relationship" -- will be replaced by other ways of looking at man (and similar creatures (cf. PI § 360)), e.g. by a change to our vocabulary, by the loss of some words (concepts/conceptual tools with which we reason) or by their revision (re-definition). People needn't go on asking Drury's question; e.g. Wittgenstein's later work has that effect: one can no longer grasp old philosophical problems in the way one had done before once those problems are examined from the point of view of logic of language. (Plato's "Knowledge is justified true belief" (Theaetetus 201c-d) is an example. And once you appreciate that the word 'mind' is not the name of an object or place or instrument of any kind, mind-body relationship looks different to you. Note "looks different" -- i.e. is revised -- not disappears, no more than the question of what we mean by the word 'knowledge' disappears. An example of a problem that does disappear is: What is a geometric point?)

In some places I have used the introductory remark "If I know what I am talking about, and I may not know what I am talking about". I have meant by this: sometimes (1) "The idea may be interesting, the conclusion even valid -- but it may all be based on a mistaken premiss. Nonetheless I think the idea is worthwhile"; but sometimes (2) "I am not yet sure whether my reasoning is sound here". In other words, I have not used the remark in Drury's sense of "In the idea now is always".


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