Home - Wittgenstein's Logic of Language | Bibliography

Why Philosophy Cannot be Easy

Topics of this page ...

Note: the remarks here are now quite, very quite, old. Their background is "logic of language", or, How is language with meaning to be distinguished from language that is without meaning (nonsense) in philosophical problems?

Concepts and Abstractions

Note: this continues the discussion of the role of examples in giving explanations of meaning in contrast to identifying common natures as the meaning of common names. It is also related to "abstractions are the subject of philosophy", because if "philosophy is talk about abstractions" it is vital to have a clear understanding of the nature of "abstract terms".

Philosophy is love of ... various things: truth, clarity, understanding, learning, and similar things. (Maybe "love of wisdom in logic, ethics, and metaphysics"? But what is 'wisdom' to mean? Maybe 'knowledge of the truth', 'clarity', 'understanding', and so.) "Do I know any more about it myself?" (PI § 69) But if anyone does not have the concept 'philosophy', then I shall try to teach him by means of examples how to apply the word 'philosophy' (ibid. § 208) That is, I shall try to teach him the rules for using (or, the "grammar" of) a word (namely, 'philosophy'); a mastery of the technique of applying these rules (ibid. § 199) is what we call 'having the concept'.

A philosophy book is an object; philosophy is a concept.
A philosophy book is concrete; philosophy is an abstraction.

If you really want to fill people's heads with bizarre and useless pictures [cf. PI § 305], you will talk just this way.

But is it really so very harmful to use the word 'abstraction' this way? But what is the point of it? Is it that: you can go into a bookstore and ask for a philosophy book, but you cannot ask for philosophy itself -- i.e. there is no object that corresponds to that word 'philosophy' other than the particular objects (books, sounds if we are speaking, journals) that are classified under that category name? But is that what the word 'abstraction' suggests?

"The chess pieces are objects, chess an abstraction." -- I would not talk this way. But if someone does, what is he saying? He might be teaching English grammar ('The word 'philosophy' is not the name of an object, but rather of an abstract idea' is a rule of grammar), giving a vocabulary lesson e.g. But other than that, I would discourage the use of this expression (PI § 339). Category mistakes are not trivial: they reveal that we are trying to follow a mistaken grammatical model, and this is one way we fall into a muddle in philosophy. (ibid. § 90)

The historical association: 'abstraction' meaning: to abstract the essence, as if there necessarily were an essence (or, inducible common nature) in all cases even if on one can say what it is (This qualification shows that "the theory of abstraction" is a metaphysical theory, not a description of perceptible reality).

Is philosophy the essence of the books in the "Philosophy" section of the library? (Russell)

The history and the etymology of the word 'abstraction' does not necessarily show us its present meaning [its present use] -- that is, how it is now used by common speakers of our natural language (as opposed e.g. to philosophical jargonists). In any case, the word 'abstraction' does not suggest anything more "abstract" than the word 'concept' does. Although I may in my study of logic define a 'concept' as: 'a set of rules for using a word', this is in reality my own jargon, because our common word 'concept' is nowhere near so well-defined (delimited in meaning; the limits of its application are not so clearly set as I set them). Rather than 'concept', consider 'idea', 'notion', words like that, basically: any noun that is not used to name an object (does not belong to the part of speech name-of-object).

Saying that philosophy books are concrete [tangible, touchable, visible] objects, and that "philosophy" is an abstract [invisible] object. Wittgenstein: "The trouble is that this makes the difference look too small" (PI § 339). The difference here is between parts of speech (the semantic rather than syntactic families or categories of word use, not found in school textbook grammar) that are not at all alike.

"Parts of speech", "language-games". Would Wittgenstein have conceived his book Philosophical Grammar if he had not for a time been an elementary school teacher (Remember that he did at that time publish a short word book [glossary or dictionary] for children)? That is an example of a counter-factual conditional.

With some concepts: the rules will be a statement of essence. In some cases you might say, then, that the use of the word 'abstraction' is justified -- although not as the name of some occult [essentially hidden] mental process; rather, the justification will be a rule explicitly stating what it is that every application of the word has in common (e.g. 'By 'simile' we mean a comparison using the words 'like' or 'as' '). Logic knows nothing about occult mental processes, but only about the public grammar (rules) of our language.

The thing is: the word 'abstraction' may look like an explanation: what you do here is to abstract the essence, like a dentist abstracts a rotten tooth. ("But that is not the end of the matter, which in fact only begins here." (PI § 425)) This is an explanation -- i.e. something that looks like an explanation -- that explains nothing. An "essential meaning" (abstraction) that cannot be stated in rules is no meaning at all.

Another trouble with the word 'abstraction', as indeed with any noun, is that it appears to be a name, a name of an object (or a phenomenon, like 'thinking' or 'love'), and if not a visible one, then obviously a invisible one, present in the mind and possibly elsewhere (Plato's "the other side of the sky"), a name that allows us to grasp hold of ghosts that would otherwise elude us. "Intangible object" -- this is another bit of self-mystification: here you are following a false path, the wrong grammatical model. (You must break with the picture that all words are names.) "An intangible object, but an object by any other name."

"Is abstraction itself an abstraction?" Here there is a confusing form of expression: Do you mean the word 'abstraction', "the abstract object named 'abstraction'" -- or the concept 'abstraction'? -- This [i.e. that we can substitute one form of expression for the other] shows that we use the words 'abstraction' and 'concept', 'idea' etc., in the same way. "Is an abstraction itself an abstraction?"

Is the essence of philosophy the activity of philosophizing? (Socrates does not say this, but it is suggested by the place of dialectic (dialog, discussion) in his way of life (Apology 37e-38a), which is the way of life of philosophy.)

Why Philosophy cannot be Easy

Related topic: why is there philosophical jargon rather than philosophy in easy language?

Query: Wittgenstein made easy.

I think my Synopsis of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language is as easy -- simple, straightforwardly stated, down-to-earth -- as it can be.... On the other hand, I wonder if much of what I have written can be understood by anyone who has not already learned to think in the new way this philosophy requires, that is, by anyone who continues to regard language in the old way.

I wonder if many people will understand just how great the change in point of view is: gray, as it were, becomes black and white: sense and nonsense become objective rather than subjective (i.e. not objective). This is why I wrote in the original preface to the appendixes to Wittgenstein's Logic of Language:

Nothing in this appendix should be taken to represent Wittgenstein's views, but this appendix won't be understood without first understanding Wittgenstein's logic of language.

It is the work of many years to learn to think in a new way. (It may be likened to a Gestalt shift, but one involving one's entire thought-world.) Thus, philosophy is not for tourists, nor is it half-hearted work. It is a whole lifetime's devotion. It is love.

What an educated man has learned is difficult to learn. It is not easy. And whatever it has cost him to learn, it will cost you too. (Goethe and Wittgenstein, cf. CV p. 10, 13)

And this applies to every thinker who is worthy of the title 'philosopher'. As it applies even to the study of the history of philosophy -- and even to the study of the history of ideas -- if that is approached philosophically.

Query: Wittgenstein made simple.

Why? do you imagine that Wittgenstein made his work needlessly complicated? Well, but don't I say that in my Introduction that Wittgenstein assumed background that his students did not have -- because they could only have gotten it from him. For example, he had to explain his jargon-word 'grammar' to G.E. Moore. So, then maybe my Synopsis of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language could be called "Wittgenstein made simple", from that point of view.

Query: what is Wittgenstein's philosophy trying to say us?

But how strange that anyone should be able to say -- i.e. to say more clearly or to summarize -- what Wittgenstein himself was "somehow" unable or unwilling to say, as if someone could understand his thought better than he himself did! Schweitzer: "If you want to understand a man's work, read what he himself has written. No one understands someone else's thought better than he does himself." Schumann said that perhaps only genius is be able to completely understand genius. At most, others may, at best, provide some background, as I have tried to do.

Query: Wittgenstein easy ...

If you imagine that philosophy can be made easy, you are not going to get far -- if anywhere -- with philosophy. Philosophy is a challenge to your individual conscience: how seriously do you take your intellectual integrity; how seriously do you take our life? Philosophy is a self-test of one's own character. Now, how could that ever be easy?

Further, you have to think about philosophical problems for yourself (You do not read a philosopher's work the way you read when you are simply looking for information which you accept: a Philosophy book is not a History of Philosophy book e.g.). -- And you really do have to force yourself to think in philosophy (which is like trying to force yourself to swim underwater (Malcolm's Memoir (2e) p. 47; cf. CV p. 75-76). And there is also this: that philosophical thinking is unstructured (How could it be when everything is called into question?) and it never comes to an end. [Statements in philosophy do not end in periods (.) but in ellipses (...)]

If there is an adjective that does not characterize philosophy it is 'easy'. On the other hand:

Query: simple philosophy notes.

Maybe we say that we are not good with difficult ideas. -- But does that exclude us from philosophy? Not from Socratic philosophy, which meets each human being at his own level, and asks questions about "elemental [elementary] and final things" that are comprehensible to any human being, as I think mankind's eternal questions are.

And there is no reason whatever why philosophy should not and cannot be written in "readable sentences", other than its author's lack of clarity in his own thinking.

Query: Wittgenstein easy.

If philosophy were merely a collection of opinions to memorize, perhaps it could be easy. But that is a ignoble conception of it. Philosophy is the testing of opinions by the natural light of reason alone, to see which stand up to Socratic cross-questioning and which do not. (Socrates bound forever the concepts 'philosophy' and 'truth' to each other.)

Query: Arthur Eddington believed that through science we could become acquainted with the innermost secrets of nature - True or false?

It hardly matters what he "believed" (which I think Eddington states in his book The Nature of the Physical World). The philosophical question is: what did Eddington argue, and does his argument stand against refutation when cross-questioned?

Query: easy philosophy topics.

If the topics are easy, they are not philosophy, although on the other hand, they are often simply stated, indeed, some can stated in words of one syllable.

Showing every step in the line of thought

An essential part of Socrates method in logic (dialectic): in every discussion to first obtain agreement from his companion before going on to the next step of the investigation. (cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 14-15)

Arguments that are not transparent are of no use to philosophy. (cf. Wittgenstein, "Philosophy" § 89 in The Big Typescript)

For my thinking in philosophy that is what I want: to try to make my thought completely explicit. I must show each and every step in the calculation as it were, and each step must be fully explained. Like maths teachers taught us at school: "Show your work"; then it will be clear whether you know what you are talking about. That was Wittgenstein's procedure in the Philosophical Investigations. However, philosophy is not mathematical: arguments are not calculations, and exactly which explanations of meaning are needed varies from individual to individual (PI § 87), and therefore my account of Wittgenstein's philosophy is different from his account: I feel the need to say things [clarify things] that he did not say, and not to say things that he did say.

This surely was the way G.E. Moore felt: I mustn't leave any gaps in the argument: every step must be shown -- and it must be expressed in (what Norman Malcolm called) "readable sentences". This was a categorical imperative for Moore: the "must" was not only a philosophical [i.e. an element of his method of philosophizing] but also an ethical "must". [Not all thinkers can say that the ethics that guide their work in philosophy (i.e. their philosophical or intellectual integrity) is the same as the ethics displayed by the way they live their [daily] life, but perhaps Moore could; that was certainly what Wittgenstein wanted ("a unity of thought and deed", in Schweitzer's words).]

This is how philosophers should greet each other: "Take your time!" (CV p. 80)

Because when you are in a hurry, you mistake preliminary remarks for considered opinions, and you leave gaps in your understanding -- but it is precisely seeing such gaps that is necessary if you are to "put the question marks deep enough down" (ibid. p. 62). Take the time to question everything. Philosophy is not a competition against anything other than the limits of your own conscientiousness, of your own integrity as a thinking human being. "In philosophy the winner is the one who finishes last" (ibid. p. 34) [where 'finishes' means 'comes to a conclusion'].

"Weaknesses of Wittgenstein's language-games"

Query: criticize Wittgenstein's language games.
Query: criticize Wittgenstein's word games.

Again, this is would be very important: to criticize -- find objections to, and to find alternatives to -- Wittgenstein's comparison of the meaning of a word to a move in a game (as in "language-game") (PI § 23) -- in order to say: "But using language is not like playing a game in such-and-such specific ways; a more faithful comparison is between language and ..."

But my suspicion is that again this is a query in the old way of philosophizing: it seeks theoretical objections, as if Wittgenstein had offered a "real definition" or a "philosophical theory" about language meaning, saying what the meaning of language "really" is -- (or as if he had a philosophy of language) -- rather than made a comparison.

Query: criticism of Wittgenstein's language games.

The only destructive criticism would be if Wittgenstein's simile were a tool that does not do the work that it was invented to do -- i.e. does it make [the meaning of] our philosophical problems clearer to us or doesn't it? In other words, is Wittgenstein's conceptual tool 'language-game' fit for purpose? In some cases Yes. In others No. For example, what is done with language in both aesthetics and religion is not usefully compared to playing games (if what characterizes a game is its rules) -- i.e. that comparison is not helpful to the philosophical understanding either of aesthetics or of religion.

[There are a few more remarks apropos of meaning as use (in the language) and language-games.]

Religion and "primitive language-games" (The Origins of Religion)

Note: this supplements the discussion "Religion and Language-games". (The philosophical origin of philosophy is discussed elsewhere.)

The origin and the primitive form of the language-game is a reaction; only from [out of] this can [the] more complicated forms develop. (CV p. 31; cf. OC § 475, 359, Z § 391)

Does it make the nature of religion clearer if we regard its origin as a reaction from which its more complicated language grew? About the "false grammatical account" I wrote:

A piece of crumpled paper, forgotten to one side, suddenly begins to unfold; we immediately sense a "soul" as the source of the movement.

Our inability to believe that our loved ones who have died are really dead; how disturbed we are by some of our nightmares, and on the other hand, how refreshed we our by other of our dreams; our fear of lightening and our amazement at the night sky; our fear of the dark; our desire to control what is not certainly within our control (most future events e.g.); our fears of illness and starvation; our fear of our darker lusts and passions; our disgust with our weaknesses; our shame at our monkey-like qualities; the depth of our emotions; our desire for justice.

We may imagine that religion has its origins in such things, as a reaction to them. But when we react, we reflect -- that is what is natural to human beings (unlike e.g. to dogs). Our reflections may be absurd or primitive (e.g. making loud noises to frighten away evil spirits), but they are nonetheless reflections (thoughts, consideration).

Language did not emerge from some kind of ratiocination. (OC § 475; cf. Z § 391)

What would be an example of a "primitive language-game" -- i.e. one that is a reaction rather than a reflection? Wittgenstein gave the example of 'It hurts' replacing crying (PI § 244). The adult exclaims spontaneously 'It hurts' and just as spontaneously another adult comforts him: 'There, there' and so on (ibid. p. 178).

The religion that we are acquainted with, however, -- we, that is, who were not raised in primitive societies -- does not consist of primitive language-games. If I pray for forgiveness for my sins, this is not the reaction Wittgenstein was writing about; this is rather something that was built on it. -- And entirely built by other people, not by me: I was taught this behavior whereas I was not taught to cry or moan. [We may imagine a tribe of people that trains or teaches children to suppress expressions of pain; nonetheless, even in such a tribe, if it be human, naturally babies will cry.]

Prayer as a "language game"

Note: there is a later discussion of the question: does the comparison of prayer to playing a game make the nature of prayer clearer?

Can't praying be described as a language-game ("language and the actions into which it is woven") (or as a group of more-similar-than-not games)? In Catholicism, e.g., the child is taught to kneel, to make the Sign of the Cross (which is itself a prayer) and to recite words which it may or not have any idea about the meaning of, namely the Our Father and Hail Mary. And what the child does can be compared to moves in a game (First the child kneels, then it makes/says the Sign of the Cross, and so on).

But what does comparing praying to playing a game, to making moves in a game, make clearer? Is this a satisfying way of looking at religion? Because this is where Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Religion would stop [i.e. if his Philosophy of Religion consisted of nothing more than making comparisons between our use of language and playing games]. There is justification within a game (That is the function of its rules), but no justification can be given for the game itself; some human beings play it, although others do not. -- Or by what standard will you judge a "form of life"? (See below)

Description versus Judgment

Beyond that, I suspect that there is something here that I do not understand. Because I want to say here: "Wittgenstein is trying to undermine reason" with his analogy between language and games -- that is to say, to deny philosophy its proper task, which is not only to describe but also to judge.

My new way of philosophizing"

This method consists essentially in leaving aside the question of truth and asking about sense [meaning] instead. (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 105 46 c: 1929])

But why shouldn't a "language-game" (form of life) face the test of reason: why shouldn't the justification for it be questioned? Don't we do this? What else do we mean/intend by calling some practice or other 'superstition'? (Again and again I want to ask this, and so I imagine that I am not seeing why Wittgenstein rejected the role of philosophy as the critic of all our beliefs.)

The rules of a game justify moves within the game, but they do not justify the game itself. Why should not philosophy criticise the game itself ("This game is played" -- why stop there)? Criticism is a form of life; it belongs to the philosophical way of life, as we had it from Socrates. Again and again it is said, "There are no absolute standards of judgment" -- but is that statement true? Consistency -- if we deny that this is a universal standard of judgment and that anything that is inconsistent should be rejected, then I would certainly say that "Wittgenstein is trying to undermine reason". And I cannot think of anything to say in favor of it.

Note: words that follow "Query" on this page are search queries that were found in my site's logs. They are combinations of words that directed, or misdirected, visitors to this site, and which have suggested thoughts to me.

Query: logic is a form of life.

I can only guess what this query is about, and so I will use its words this way: Is the critical use of reason (i.e. philosophy or logic [The tools and methods of philosophical criticism may be called 'logic' (as may such things as the "Principle of Contradiction")]) merely one form of life among others? And this means: Is philosophy able to pass judgment on other forms of life?

"Able" -- i.e. justified, because other forms of life, e.g. dogmatic religions, do pass judgment on philosophy (the critical use of reason, "secularism"). By 'form of life' here I will mean specifically: the standards or rules of a way of life (as in Diogenes Laertius: "if, that is, Cynicism is a philosophy, and not merely a way of life"); so that here I will regard dogmatic religion as a way of life that might be chosen or not chosen.

"Religions pass judgment on philosophy." -- But this makes philosophy take on the false appearance of just one more ideology among many others. And that is wrong: philosophy is not, as I understand it (both from Socrates and from Wittgenstein), a collection of doctrines (Russell's view was different); philosophy is criticism, methods of criticism, standards of criticism -- and it also self-criticism. Philosophy is not an ideology, but a technique. And not only a technique of "giving an account of what you know" but also a technique of criticising (passing judgment) on that account (on whether or not it is reasonable [justifiable]).

Is logic (the method of reason, rationality) merely a "form of life"?

When two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and heretic. (OC § 611)

"... which cannot be reconciled with one another." -- The immediate question is: what standard is Wittgenstein using here to decide that two principles cannot be reconciled? (Socratic ethics has a very different view of principles.) Wittgenstein is using precisely the standards of philosophy. And I think [i.e. I am inclined to say] that: you cannot use criticism as your technique and at the same time say that criticism is a "form of life". Philosophy -- i.e. [obsessively] asking for "an account of what you know" -- may or may not be an individual's way of life; but the methods of asking for an account are not themselves a way of life [i.e. to say otherwise is to make a category mistake [??]].

Why should I call just anything an alternative technique to the techniques of philosophy. (Cf. we don't call just anything 'evidence' -- that is not how we use that word; we do not e.g. call a dream evidence (LC p. 61).)

"The only standard of dogmatic religion is: Amen. God has spoken." -- If I say that, I have only described what I find when I look. And if I ask: "how do you know that God has spoken?" again, the answer to this question is only descriptive of the rules of a game ("If you know that a proposition cannot be verified, you know something important about it, not necessarily that it is meaningless.") However, in the questions I ask and in the descriptions I give, however objective they may be, will not a judgment be implicit?

In any case, implicit in Wittgenstein's descriptions is a judgment: That Wittgenstein was an advocate of the use of critical reason is evident in his writings, which are nothing but criticism, i.e. philosophy pure and simple.

Query: how to criticise philosophy.

This query is, I think, responded to on this page: you must use philosophy itself to criticise philosophy, because to philosophy belong the tools of criticism. Criticism will expose the limits [limitations] of philosophy [or of "human reason"]; or in other words criticism will distinguish what we know from what we do not know, and what philosophical reasoning is able to do and what it is not able to do.

Query: philosophical criticism religion.

It is more revealing to ask for religious criticism of philosophy, for religion cannot criticise philosophy. Because religion is not a critical apparatus: it cannot criticize philosophy (It does not have the methods for that). Religion can only restrict the use of reason ("silence thought"), and if it is willing to question everything it does not do that in the spirit of philosophy, because its results are a foregone conclusion. By contrast, thoroughgoing and free-thinking criticism of philosophy using the critical tools of philosophy is philosophy, not religion.

Philosophy criticises its own foundations

Philosophy criticises its own foundations: it subjects itself to criticism; in this way it differs from all other disciplines: philosophy questions its own principles [axioms]: philosophy questions everything. "A science [subject discipline, body of knowledge] does not justify its own principles" (Aquinas). -- And it does not question them either. -- That level of questioning [questioning at that level] is what we call by the name 'philosophy'. And philosophy subjects all "sciences" and all "forms of life" to a criticism of their foundations (and of how they build on their foundations).

[Yes, I know that I am plunged in vagueness and confusion once again. Not finding something [a key] to grab hold of, I seem to be snatching at the air. I hope there is, to use Wittgenstein's metaphor, an idea [a re-conceptualization] here working its way toward the light.]

The Logic of Natural Language Versus Formal Logic

Query: difference between language in formal logic and everyday speech.

First there is the question of what we are calling 'logic', for that word has many different historical meanings. One distinction may be made between the word 'logic' as Socrates and the later Wittgenstein used it, and the propositional logic:

And the "propositional logic" of the Greek Stoics has to do with the grammar -- as stipulated by philosophers -- of such signs as 'and', 'or', and 'if...then' in cases where philosophers use those signs to "connect propositions". The "propositions" may or may not state facts -- or they may even be nonsense. "Symbolic logic" (the propositional calculus, mathematical logic) does not want to know what it is talking about, which is why it uses the signs 'p', 'q', and 'r' to "stand for" propositions.

The logic [or, "grammar", in this case specifically: the truth conditions] of the counter-factual [counter-factual, contrary to fact] conditional of formal logic is different from the logic of the counter-factual conditional in our natural language. With the latter, when we argue hypothetically, we don't say F⊃T (False antecedent implies [entails] a True consequent) in all cases for P⊃Q (If p, then q): "If I had never been born, then my children would not have been born; but I was born and, therefore [anything-you-like]." -- No, that is not how we use counter-factual conditionals in everyday reasoning: "If I had never been born, my children would be rabbits [or moths, or steamships, etc.]." -- No, we do not reason that way. If I had not been born, then my children would not have been born either, and if I have children then they are human beings like me. We do not reason in natural language, "If Descartes was an Austrian, then October comes after November." -- No, November comes after October regardless of where Descartes was born.

In the context of Protagoras's gifts to philosophy, I wrote:

If had not been for the Greek victories at Marathon and Salamis, then philosophy and science would not exist in our world.

But someone else might argue that this might not have been the consequence if Greece had been conquered by Xerxes. Both types of logic allow us to argue either way in this case. But in order to know that natural language logic allows this, we need to know the meaning of the language we are using. But to know that formal logic allows this we have only to know that the antecedent of the conditional is false, and therefore that any consequent whatever will be true.

If P is false, then Q is true. Let Q≡(R∧~R) [Q = (R AND NOT-R)]. Therefore, (R∧~R) [R AND NOT-R] is true. This can be deduced with formal logic, because formal logic knows nothing about the meaning of 'Q'. There is, in sum, little reason to say that the P⊃Q of formal logic corresponds to [is equivalent to] the "If..., then..." statements of natural language.

Query: did the Wall Street crash make Italy invade Abyssinia?

Conjectures about the causes of historical events are often posed as counter-factual conditionals: If Wall Street had not crashed, would Italy have invaded Abyssinia? If you wrote in your exam: "But Wall Street did crash, therefore [anything-you-like]", you would very likely fail, and you would not be able to appeal your mark on the basis of: "But that is the logic of the counter-factual conditional", because that is only its logic in formal logic.

"Were it not for Julius and Augustus Caesar, September would still come after June." [This is not the same as: "the seventh month would come after the sixth month" which is a matter of definition: in counting seven comes after six. The etymology of 'September' does not necessarily show you its present meaning.] "If Napoleon had not had a head cold at Waterloo, then he would have won the battle." If you wanted to compare this use of language to a game, then you could say that formal logic and natural language logic are games played according to different sets of rules, and therefore that they are different games.

In Russell's notation p⊃q [If p, then q] is verified if p is False or if q is True. But clearly this is not what we mean when we say If p then q in normal usage. In normal usage we are talking in terms of hypotheses and not propositions, but, for example, if I say "If I strike a match (p) there is a flame (q)", we do not regard it as confirmation of "If p, then q" if I don't strike a match .... Or take a statement giving a time-limit -- "If x happens within the next half-hour, I shall be surprised". If x does not happen we do not regard this as confirmation of the statement. But in Russell's usage ~p [NOT-p] does verify p⊃q [If p, then q], which shows that our ordinary usage of If p then q differs from his. (Wittgenstein's Lectures, Cambridge, 1930-1932, ed. Desmond Lee (1980), p. 117-118)

[In Wittgenstein's jargon at that time:] A proposition ["any expression which can be significantly negated"] can be verified; a hypothesis cannot, but is a law or rule for constructing propositions and looks to the future -- i.e. enables us to construct propositions which say what will occur and which can be verified or falsified. (ibid. p. 16 [22])

In the Stoics' account of the conditional, which is far different from Russell's, the meaning of the conditional is, for its truth or falsity, of at least as much importance as its form.

Although there are resemblances [similarities] between formal and natural language logic, we could say that the differences here are too great to justify saying that they are only variations of a single game rather than that they are two different games; e.g. we might question what is being done with the signs 'true' and 'false' here: same games -- i.e. grammars -- or different games. We should not assume that the words 'true' and 'false' have an essential meaning.

[I am like someone trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle of many possible shapes [solutions], not just one, a type where one does not see that a piece is missing until one finds it. Or like someone spelunking in a pit where all bottoms are false, but who never learns this lesson.]

How to say the whole thing in a few words?

"The Later Elements of Wittgenstein: my explanation of the definitions, metaphors and methods the philosopher used to make an objective distinction between sense (language with meaning) and nonsense in philosophy, by revising the concept 'grammar' and identifying logic with meaning rather than with form, as well as his view of philosophy as clarification of what is in plain view rather than as speculation about what it seems is not. The context described in the Introduction is very important to understanding what Wittgenstein was about in philosophy." [5 January 2019]

Although for several years my site had been refused, I continued to suggest it once in a while to a once well-known directory which apparently no longer exists [Closed in September-December 2014]. Maybe like Diogenes I thought I needed practice being refused (His friends found him standing in front of a statue with his hand stretched out for alms, and that is what he told them). But what is the point [lesson] of that story? Does the following say, in a few words, what "A Synopsis of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language" is?

The definitions, comparisons and methods, rather than doctrines or theories, that Wittgenstein used to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense in the context of philosophy.

Would anyone understand that who had not had the same thoughts himself? Another idea I had (but here 'grammar' is a jargon-word and so obscures rather than clarifies):

Wittgenstein's identification of logic with grammar ["grammar" in Wittgenstein's jargon], and assigns [to] philosophy the task of conceptual clarification [in the context of philosophical questions] rather than of theory making.

How can I say the whole thing in a few words? I feel like I have to say everything at once. The first version that occurred to me I rejected:

An account of the shift from philosophy as theory-making to philosophy as the activity of resolving conceptual confusion [i.e. making language clear].

But that is only part -- and maybe not the most important part -- of what my site is about: namely, Wittgenstein's redefinition of the word 'grammar' to include rules of meaning ["grammar and sense and nonsense"], and his selection of a limited meaning for the word 'meaning' in order to make meaning objective rather than subjective. Because without that objectivity, Wittgenstein's project in philosophy program (In CV p. 76, Wittgenstein speaks of projects "in the sphere of the mind") as an activity of clarification would not be possible.

[The problem with philosophy as theory-making is demonstrated both by Rationalism and by Empiricism. And, yet, Plato's speculations are not idle: how to explain concept-formation, he asks, and trying to answer that question leads him to many discoveries as his thinking evolves in his dialogs. Possibly all a metaphysical speculation can say is it may or may not be this way; nonetheless, that a picture, a logical possibility, can be drawn may show something, if about nothing else then about the human mind.]

However, I think that anything I write will be understood only by someone who has already understood what I have called 'Wittgenstein's logic of language'; that really is my jargon, I suppose. [Rather than "the logic of our language is misunderstood", Wittgenstein might also have said: the meaning of our language is misunderstood (because actually in his philosophy it was to become that 'logic' = 'grammar' = 'meaning').] The next time I suggested this:

[Introduces] Describes the metaphors, definitions and methods [the philosopher] used to create an objective distinction between sense and nonsense.

Years later I suggested this:

An account of the definitions, metaphors and methods used to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense.

But for another directory, for the category "Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, Analysis and Commentary - Collects essays, reviews, studies, interpretations, and critiques about Ludwig Wittgenstein" -- I don't know if it is still active (I never see this directory as a referrer in my visitor logs) -- an editor kindly described my site this way: "Robert W. Angelo offers his study of Wittgenstein's view of grammar as a tool for philosophizing. With texts by other thinkers illustrating his logic of language." So maybe I don't understand what's wanted.

[Perhaps my text should have been called The Elements of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language rather than "A Synopsis of ..." Did I mean a "perspicuous representation", a "bird's-eye view" or "synoptic view", which are Wittgenstein's translators expressions for Übersicht ("overview", "survey")? I don't remember. The word 'elements' would have been clearer; and indeed I used the expression "the elements of Wittgenstein's logic" when I originally wrote the page about Projects in Philosophy.]

Finally I suggested these descriptions:

Defines the word 'grammar' in L.W.'s jargon and how that concept is used to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense in philosophy.

The methods and metaphors used to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense, identifying Logic with grammatical meaning, and Philosophy with clarifying concepts.

I wrote something about one sentence long summaries. It's true, they do force you to think. But there are many other things that need to be thought about -- namely, the three parts of philosophy, particularly the second -- "while there is still light".

What can be worthwhile about the site?

Does it bother me that "my work" -- that is to say, my understanding [my "interpretation" (CV p. 16 [MS 112 46: 14.10.1931])] of Wittgenstein's work -- is not found useful by very many visitors? It used to do. I wonder if it ought to have. Because it's not as if Wittgenstein needed me to make his ideas clear to other people. Norman Malcolm quoted Lichtenberg:

Lichtenberg, age, apostle

A book is a mirror: when an ape looks in, no apostle can look out. (Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel; wenn ein Affe hineinguckt, so kann freilich kein Apostel heraussehen.)

This is my own translation, which may be wrong. I take the word 'apostle' to mean a teacher-reformer with a new word to say [a new principle to advocate]. I am not sure how the word 'ape' should be taken: if an ape looks in, surely no apostle will appear, because an ape sees its own refection, which is not that of an original thinker, but only that of an imitator. But I take 'ape' simply to mean: someone unable to break with the established categories to learn a new way of thinking; a brutish fellow (man with a closed-mind). I really don't know, but my prose version might be: Wittgenstein's philosophy cannot be taught to someone who is not able (or, perhaps as in the case of Russell, not willing) to look at things in a new light. "The philosopher says: Look at things this way!" (CV p. 61)

It may happen that one believes one is seeking the truth, whereas all one is doing to seeking to have one's own views affirmed. To many queries I want to respond: Are you asking or telling? For it often seems to me that many people look into books as they look into mirrors -- i.e. to see their own face.

Did I once imagine that I have an apostolic a mission? Was it not instead vanity, calling attention to myself: "I have something important to say!", when it is in fact only a case of reflected (or misreflected) glory? "Shouldn't I stop troubling myself about this and just go on writing for the desk drawer?" I largely have. But on the other hand, to bring some clarity to "the vagueness and confusion" that surrounds us ("Philosophy begins in ... perplexity"), to emphasize the importance of the question of how to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense (the "logic of language" in my jargon) to philosophy .... But on the other hand, Wittgenstein did not think that many people would understand his work in philosophy, and maybe he would say that I do not understand it.

If what I write is useful to others maybe it is because I too want to know the answers to these questions; I too want to understand these things. (But what may be also may not be, etc.)

Wherever we look, whether in philosophy (or anywhere else in the Humanities) or the sciences, we find muddles caused by the failure to distinguish between propositions of experience and rules of grammar, between facts and concepts (RPP i § 949; cf. the distinction between "real" and verbal definitions). But if Wittgenstein himself couldn't smash the fly-bottle (PI § 309) once and for all, do I think that I can! Well, no, no; but if maybe I can help a few people by trying to point the way out of that bottle -- which masquerades as "a city with seven towers" (but linguistic bewitchment is not a condition anyone freely chooses to live in) -- that's quite enough for me.

I see so many assignments teachers set their students that begin with a "real definition" and end with the question "Do you agree?" -- To which the reply should be: Do I agree? -- agree about what -- about the definition of the word 'x' or about what "x really is"? And by means of such assignments grammatical jokes perdure the centuries, perpetuated by the very institutions that should be freeing students from them.

Historical Notes (The Earlier Internet)

The Internet has changed so fundamentally -- the creation of its content has changed from an outsider to an insider activity -- that the following notes concern only the Internet of the later 1990s.

But a few sites that I know of have linked to my site. For which I am very grateful, because at present links have become the Vox populi that rules the search world; without links a site may be buried so low on the list that no one ever finds it, or it may simply not be indexed at all (as dozens of my site's pages are not).

  1. Wittgenstein Links. This page, www.helsinki.fi/~tuschano/lw/links/, by a philosophy student in Finland, was the first to link to my site; that was before the site had its own domain name, when the site was hosted at sites.netscape.net/roangelo/Logwitt/, a host which no longer exists.
  2. Communication which used to be here: home.earthlink.net/~benfranq/communication.htm. Why my site was selected for that page is not explained there. Wittgenstein's work is important to General Semantics, although it must be remembered that Wittgenstein's interest was philosophy (PI § 109) and that he selected the meaning of 'meaning' that, in his view, best serves philosophy. -- But there are countless other meanings of the word 'meaning' involved in communication that semantics must recognize and investigate.
  3. Writings by C.D. Broad (www.ditext.com/broad/bybroad.html, see 1959). Professor Broad of Trinity College, Cambridge, who had himself known Wittgenstein for many years, wrote a review of Norman Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir.
  4. [Other History of Philosophy Resources] which used to be here: http://miguel.decastro.pagesperso-orange.fr/OtherHisPhiResources/default_bottom.htm. I do believe that my Synopsis of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language is introductory; however, I do not believe that one can "go beyond" that introduction, e.g. to generalize about "language games" in a way that Wittgenstein himself did not.
  5. Conceptanalysis, Language and Logic/Ludwig Wittgenstein (www.jkerkkonen.com/wittgenstein.htm). This site is also from Finland.

The last page listed has an important quotation from the TLP, which in Ogden's translation reads: "Most propositions and questions, that have been written about philosophical matters, are not false, but senseless.... Most ... result from the fact that we do not understand the logic of our language" (4.003). Hence the title of my site (and its jargon words 'logic of language'). -- But this quotation, in my opinion, can only be understood in the light of the Philosophical Investigations, because the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus does not, as it were, practice what it preaches, as can be said also of TLP 4.112.

My site has now (ca. 9 May 2006 [DMOZ closed in March 2017]) also been listed at the "Open Directory Project" in the category www.dmoz.org/Society/Philosophy/Philosophers/W/Wittgenstein,_Ludwig/. I am grateful, although the site's description is embarrassing: "Robert Angelo introduces the metaphors, definitions and methods Wittgenstein used to create an objective distinction between sense and nonsense in the context of philosophy." I think that anyone reading that would respond: "Who on earth is Robert Angelo?" And they would not be wrong. Maybe I do not have the intellect that is needed for philosophical thinking. -- But this I would say that I do think that my site presents Wittgenstein from a different point of view from that of the "professional philosophers"; Wittgenstein's work, at least from The Blue Book forward is a radical break with the speculative tradition: Wittgenstein's "later philosophy" does not offer theories of reality -- and until you grasp that, you do not understand it. I think my notion of a "logic of language" is vitally important to philosophy and must be faced by all students of philosophy: How do I distinguish between sense from nonsense in the language of philosophical discussions?

And one more surprise (Diogenes was patient and I must be too). On 25 July 2011 I requested admission and on 25 September 2012 it was accepted by the Best of the Web directory in the category "Top > Society > Philosophy > Philosophers" (botw.org/top/Society/Philosophy/Philosophers/), but whether it is still found there (or indeed anywhere else on the Internet) I don't know. I suggested this description: "The methods and metaphors used by Ludwig Wittgenstein to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense, identifying logic with grammatical meaning, and limiting the scope of Philosophy to clarifying concepts". The editor of that site wrote this description: "Wittgenstein: Logic of Language - Analyzes Wittgenstein's methods and metaphors used to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense." And so I am grateful for this listing, most unexpected after all this time.

Another site used the expression "Wittgenstein in a nutshell". I'd rather think of my account as "Wittgenstein in a city with seven towers" (Inferno iv), but given that year after year fewer and fewer visitors are directed to my site, I should be grateful for any characterization.

"General Semantics"

Query: S.I. Hayakawa, Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein's later work and Hayakawa's General Semantics (Language in Thought and Action 2nd ed.) are alike in that both have clarity in our thinking as their aim, but unalike because General Semantics is both practical and theoretical, whereas philosophy according to Wittgenstein's later thinking is not theoretical (This contrasts with Russell's view of philosophy as a collection of speculative theories about the nature of things).

In other words, Wittgenstein's work is neither science nor (after the TLP) metaphysics: it does not aim to say either what as a matter of fact language meaning is or what language meaning really is (both of which are what 'theoretical' above means). Using language isn't in fact playing a game ("physics") or somehow "despite the appearances" really playing a game (metaphysics) -- but using language can be compared to game-playing (in that both language use and games are based on following rules); and the comparison to game-playing makes language meaning clearer by giving an objective standard against which to measure sense and nonsense (This is called "logic of language" in my jargon).

Wittgenstein's work is not Philosophy of Language as e.g. he uses only one meaning of the word 'meaning', although there are countless others. His work is concerned only with clear thinking about problems in philosophy.

[Philosophical problems are resolved by] looking into the workings of our language [but our looking] gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems (PI § 109).

Language is important only because philosophy is important. Although concern about the relationship between language meaning and philosophical problems goes back to philosophy's early days (Socrates and logic), nevertheless not all philosophers share it. As to those who don't, some say their interest is in the things named by words, presuming that to be the meaning of language ("Words are names and the meaning of a name is the thing the name stands for"), while others say their interest is in "thought" rather than in language, presuming language to be a transparent clothing of thought.

I think that what Hayakawa was trying to do is very important; my only criticism would be that, like A.J. Ayer's writing about things unverifiable [i.e. non-verifiable, non-hypothetical], e.g. religion, Hayakawa's view is very shallow. In the case of the latter I always want to say, "But you are missing the deeper human issue here: you have stopped the investigation before you have reached the level at which clarity is possible; at a higher level people who do not share your dismissive view of religion will feel cheated [misunderstood], and the communication you wish to foster will not be possible."

Query: General Semantics vs. Catholicism.

"The map is not the territory." How is this principle to be applied to religion? If we compare language to a map, then if there is no territory that corresponds to the map, the map is of a fantasy world of our own creation rather than of the world of empirical reality (conceived sense perception). But religion does not claim to be empirical (Wittgenstein's remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough: "There is progress in science but not in magic"). Therefore, should religious language be compared to maps and territories -- rather than looked at e.g. using the method of language-game types -- if the "logic" of its language is to be understood?

In other words, if we compare religious language to a map, claiming that the two are similar -- then in exactly what ways are they similar -- and also in what ways are they dissimilar; is the route to salvation to be compared with the route to the grocery store -- e.g. both involve following rules, but it is only in the case of the route to the grocery store that verification is to be made by correlating a map to a territory ["Die and see" is not a method of verification]? [What are religious pictures, when they are not idle, according to Wittgenstein?]

On the other hand, to the extent that a religion claims to be an historical religion (e.g. the Catholic "Profession of Faith" names Pontius Pilot), it is to that extent empirical and subject to historical criticism, and thus the map-territory distinction may apply to it in some ways.

Philosophy beneath the Snow

Wittgenstein wrote that there is a time when ideas are sown and a time when they are harvested (cf. CV p. 28, 78). And it may be that a seed sown in the fall lies under the snow, like winter wheat, waiting to sprout in the spring. Although there may just as easily be nothing under the snow.

Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 30 September 2012 : 2012-09-30

The URL of this Web page:

Back to top of page

Wittgenstein's Logic of Language - Introduction and Table of Contents | Bibliography | Site Search | Site Map