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Philosophy and Death

Death is one of two things -- either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. (Plato, Apology 40c-e, tr. Jowett; 40c-41c)

To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come ... (Hamlet iii, 1)

Death may be a sleep without -- or with dreams.

The path is through perplexing ways,

And when it's done we die, you know,

And then ...

And then? I know not what;

no more do you.

(Cf. Byron, Don Juan, Canto I, st. 133-134)

Everything is a mystery to us. All we know is that there is one thing -- to be alive. And another state: not being alive. (A. Schweitzer)

The fear of death is only an instance of thinking oneself wise when one is not; for it is to think one knows what one does not know. (Plato, Apology 29a, tr. Guthrie)

Either there is an afterlife or there is not, in sum. And to claim more than that -- i.e. to claim either that materialism or an afterlife is the reality -- is to think you know what you don't know, to think yourself wise when you are not. And that is the cardinal sin in philosophy, which Plato called "conceited ignorance" in contrast to "Socratic ignorance" (Apology 21d).

Death, reason and belief | Plato, Aristotle, Stoicism

Although Plato presents reasons for his picture of death as "giving up the ghost" (Phaedo 64c), that is of death as the soul leaving the body, he does not confuse belief which is the outcome of Socratic dialectic with knowledge of "everlasting to eternity".

In Gorgias 522e-524b, Plato describes how at death the soul comes to judgment for the way a man has lived his life, and if his wrong-doing has not been punished in this life it will be punished in the afterlife (for punishment is the only forgiveness for wrong-doing), but if a man has lived blamelessly his afterlife will be blessed. Plato states this account in mythical form, and although he says he believes it to be true, he does not claim to know that it is true. (At the end of philosophy, for Plato there are myths.)

But further, according to Plato, no one welcomes death more than the philosopher, for he is glad to set off for that place where he will find the wisdom he has all his life sought. Meanwhile, in this life, Plato says, "the philosopher makes dying his profession" by detaching his thinking from any influence of the body, because sense perception, rather than reveal true realty, clouds the soul with mere appearances instead. (Phaedo 67e-68a, 66c-67b)

Augustine's hope about death was similar to Plato's, for he prayed: "I shall know You, my Knower; I shall know You even as I am known. This is my hope, and in this hope I rejoice." (cf. Confessions x, 1)

On the other hand, Cleanthes the Stoic was in no hurry to die, for although he was "ready to depart", he said that when "I consider that I am in all points in good health and that I can still write and read, I am content to wait" (Diog. L. vii, 174). But where did the Stoics believe they departed for? Their souls were to be absorbed back into the Fire of Reason (i.e. the world's soul) from which they had come: rather than find wisdom at death, they would become part of it (so to speak).

But Aristotle's thesis is contrary to Plato's thesis, and contrary to the Stoics' thesis, as well as to the ignorance of Socrates. For according to Aristotle, if wisdom is to be had only beyond the grave, then (maybe Aristotle held that) it isn't to be had at all.

An afterlife perhaps, but of what kind?

According to Leo Tolstoy, what tells man how he should live his life is the thought that he must die one day. But as to the afterlife: "... whether he found there what he hoped for, or whether he was disappointed, is something we shall all soon know" (Master and Man).

And death itself was nothing to be afraid of: at best it would be seeing God face to face and at worse dreamless sleep which, as Socrates had pointed out, was a pleasant inexperience. (Marshall, George Brown's Schooldays (1946), xlviii)

But, Socrates says in Plato's Apology 40e, death may be "a change from here to another place" (tr. Grube), but beyond that, if we are to say no more than we know, there is only "what we are told" in various myths. There are many possibilities between the best and worst myths (and "the worst" may be far from the worst. There is an ancient Mesopotamian vision of death as a narrow space where, in yellow light, insects listlessly move their wings; those are the souls of the dead).

Life and death. Light and darkness

Who knows if death be life, and life be death [Euripides], And breath be mutton broth, and sheep a sheepskin [Aristophanes]? (The Frogs)

For Plato, as in Euripides' words, [existence in] the body is the soul's grave (Cratylus 400b), whereas Aristophanes' words are ambiguous: they may or may not be the mocking words of the materialist, for they identify "life" with the dead sheep's remains and breath with its "death".

At the scaffold

Tell him that for me this is the end but also the beginning ... (Dietrich Bonhoeffer's last message to Bishop Bell, shortly before he was taken to the scaffold at Flossenbürg)

"You will be sending me where I've often wanted to go ..."

"Into darkness?"

"Oh, the darkness I have known was not death. Just an absence of light. You are sending me into the light. I am grateful to you."

Between the pressure on the trigger and the bullet exploding a strange and frightening doubt crossed his mind: is it possible that what this man believed may be true? (Greene, "The Last Word" (1988), vi)

The Grim Reaper

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat,
  and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid. (T.S. Eliot)

The eternal footman snickers because today I help you into your coat, tomorrow into your coffin. Death stands behind your shoulder, the footman who waits to one day touch you with its icy hands and place you in the tomb with no return from the eternal darkness. (Rather a disturbing image, if you picture yourself alive rather than dead when you are placed in the tomb. But that is the picture of death as an event in life rather than its limit. Which picture is correct? As grammar (in Wittgenstein's jargon) the second, but metaphysically, who knows.)


Tombstone of an Athenian sailor

Tombstone of an Athenian sailor

"He sits on the prow of his ship, his shield and helmet beside him."
(C.E. Robinson, Everyday life in ancient Greece)

As a child I read in a children's book that in the Greek world most of the souls of the dead did not go to Tartarus or to the Elysian Fields. They went to Asphodelos, to wait, forever, for nothing.


Outline of this page ...

Philosophical background: Wittgenstein's expression "logic of language" as my jargon asks: How is the distinction between sense [language with meaning] and nonsense [language without meaning] made in the discussion of philosophical problems?

Words that follow "Query" were Internet searches that were directed to this site.


... by the natural light of reason alone

Query: when is understanding death philosophical?

First understand the query: What are we calling 'philosophical'? The questioning and answering of the first philosopher Thales was done by the natural light of reason alone, not invoking myth or revelation. And so it seems that when an understanding of death is based on natural reason alone, it is philosophical .....

But that by itself won't do, because isn't natural science thoroughgoingly rational and ultimately verifiable by experience? But philosophy need only be rational, not verifiable.

But when is the question of death philosophical? When rather than about the death of the body (which is a question for natural science), we are asking about whether there is an afterlife, which is not an empirical question, although it is a rational question.

In philosophy "What is death?" is a question without an answer beyond: "I don't know", an eternal question, an eternal source of wonder (both of awe and of perplexity) for mankind. But -- unless religion were to be classified under the umbrella of Philosophy -- that in itself does not make the question of death philosophical, because the question of death is also a religious question. Some additional criterion is needed, and that criterion is by the natural light of reason alone.


Preface to many topics on this page: in 2005-2006 I fell ill and was at one point told that my heart might stop; it did not, but while waiting many months to see a doctor who could help me, I helped myself by following Paul's advice to Timothy, "Take a little wine for the sake of thy infirmity" (I doubt this was good advice; it is certainly not my advice). I had never before been seriously ill, and I had never in my adult life drunk much alcohol (which has thought-altering effects). Both those experiences, when they were still fresh and naive, provoked many of the ideas (thoughts, reflections) on this page. But the ideas of those days are here put to the test of philosophical reasoning, to see whether they are sense or nonsense, and, if they have meaning, whether they are true or false.


What are we calling 'Reality'?

Query: study philosophy; lose touch with reality.

Is that what someone who doesn't study philosophy is in touch with then -- reality? People come to philosophy for many reasons: there is more than one door to philosophy (Entrances are logic, ethics, and metaphysics). Some are drawn to metaphysics, not because they want to "lose touch with reality", but on the contrary, because they want to get in touch with what is really real (in contrast to appearance).

Plato believes it possible to demonstrate using reason alone that the only way to be in touch with reality is to seek death in life (that is, to separate the soul from the body, as the soul will be at death), and that is what his philosopher does (Phaedo 67e-68a): "true philosophers make dying their profession, [for they would] be glad to set out for the place where there is a prospect of attaining the object of their lifelong desire -- which is wisdom [that is, knowledge of reality]".

Query: why we must die according to philosophers?

If that is allusion is to Plato's Phaedo, philosophers make dying -- i.e. divorcing the soul from the body's five senses -- their profession: we must "die" even in this life if we are to know anything of absolute reality, which the five senses cannot reveal to us, because they know only the changeable. That is Plato's meaning of "dying": seeing beyond the shadows (i.e. beyond change to the unchanging).

"Reality is not masked by experience but by language"

On the other hand, according to Wittgenstein the philosopher is someone who must cure himself of many linguistic mystifications of the intellect (PI § 109), many "diseases of the understanding" (CV p. 44 [MS 127 76r: 1944]), before he can see the world aright , and that may include curing himself of the conceptual misconceptions of Plato, if that's what they are.

Maybe the query is an allusion to Callicles' claim (in Plato's Gorgias 484c-486c) that the study of philosophy after a man is no longer young makes the man lose touch with practical reality, unable to defend either himself or those dear to him.

Why Study Philosophy then?

The Cambridge professor C.D. Broad wrote that he was merely a "professional philosopher" -- i.e. someone who made his living as an academic teaching and writing about philosophy, not someone for whom philosophy was a way of life. He contrasted that with Socrates for whom, of course, philosophy was not only a method of seeking to know the truth but also a way of life.

Query: Socrates' view on death and the meaning of life.

But for Socrates there is no "I am going to die, and this tells me how I should live my life". Rather, in Socrates' view, if I know the excellence (both the natural and moral virtues) that is proper to man (namely, rational moral virtue) and I live faithfully by that standard, then I live the life of a good man. And if I am a good man in that way, then I have no reason to fear death either as an eternal sleep or as an afterlife (Plato, Apology 41c-d, 29a, 40c-e).

Socrates lived for the good alone, seeking to know the excellence that is proper to man and living in accord with it (following the Delphic percept Know thyself). If human beings did not die, would that affect the answer to how we should live our life? Further discussion of what Plato calls "no small matter, but how to live" follows.

Plato doesn't directly ask whether: if there is neither a life before birth (when the soul knows absolute reality) nor an afterlife (when the soul again knows absolute reality, which is the desire of the philosopher), then how shall the philosopher live his life, that is, if man is never to leave the cave of Republic 515c? But in Gorgias 512d-e he seems to say that ethics -- i.e. "the way one can best live the life that is to be his" -- is unaffected by whether "our little life is rounded with a sleep" (The Tempest iv, 1) or something else.

But Socrates did not view life "in the body" as Plato did, namely as "an obstacle to knowledge" (Phaedo 67a-b), but rather as half our companion in the search for knowledge, the other half being, of course, reason. Socratic philosophy is thoroughgoing reason working to know (and direct) our experience of life.

Query: the function of death in the search for knowledge. Plato.

In the Phaedo 67a-b Plato says that the absolute (the truth, reality in itself) cannot be known while the soul is "in the body' but that after death, when the soul is free of the body, the absolute can be known. And that is the rather strange function of death in Plato's search.

If another philosopher offers a different ethics (Life-philosophy, worldview) from Socrates' ethics, that isn't necessarily because that philosopher has a different view of what death is or because he identifies something different from Socrates as the excellence proper to man. Because another philosopher simply may not "think in those terms". According to Kant there is a "moral law within, a categorical imperative", and for Wittgenstein the question of the good for man concerns irrational "absolute value". However, for Socrates ethics belongs to philosophy -- i.e. it is thoroughgoingly rational (Virtue is knowledge).

Aristotle - Is death to be feared?

All evils are to be feared, but nothing good is to be feared (That remark states a tautology, but it is not a tautology of the kind which "tell us nothing", because it makes our concepts, the meaning or how we use our words clear). But according to Socrates to fear death is to think one knows what one does not know (Plato, Apology 29a). But it appears that Aristotle thinks he knows something wiser than this, for he lists death among the things to be feared (Nicomachean Ethics 1115a10-11). So much then for Socrates, who knows that he does not know "what death is" (Apology 40c-41a) -- but then also for Aristotle's advocacy of the human consensus ("it is thought to be"), because it is hardly unusual for men to think they know what neither they nor anyone else knows, and the common belief of the Greeks of Aristotle's time was that death is a mere shadow-like existence in the underworld -- and therefore that man's death is evil.

Now death is the most terrible [i.e. terrifying, or most fear-inspiring] of all things; for it is the end, and nothing is thought to be any longer good or bad for the dead. (Nicomachean Ethics 1115a27-28, tr. Ross)

Aristotle had faith in the vox populi, that in the vote (so to speak, and contra Plato) -- i.e. the common beliefs of all mankind -- the truth lies waiting to be extracted (by Aristotle in Aristotle's way). The question is still of course, not whether the common belief of men is fear of death, but whether the philosophical thinker ought to fear death or not -- i.e. whether there are logically compelling reasons to fear death rather than admit one's ignorance of what death is.

What do we know about death? No more than what the child said when he was told that my father had died: "That means we won't see him anymore." And to say more than that is to say more than we know. (I still think, as I have thought all my life, that every step away from Socrates his heirs have taken has been a false step.)


"All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal."

(Philosophy as a point of view & a way of life)

Our common belief is that we are going to die -- someday. What does that belief mean -- from the grammatical point of view -- for the way we live our life? (Believing versus giving mere mouth honor to a belief; cf. "I say I know one thing, but I live as if I believed another".)

To adapt a metaphor from Solzhenitsyn: There are two chess players: one is staring intently at the board considering his next move. He does not see that his opponent has raised a club and is about to strike him down with it. Death does not play by the rules of any game.

One man has raised his eyes from the board and seen the club that is going to strike him down. And it is from that perspective that he sees our life. This contrasts with the man who remains fixated on the game, even at the threshold of death, demanding revenge on rather than mercy for his fellow human beings. As if he lacked the perspective of death, as if he could see no further than this world and all that is important in it.

Like and unlike the religious man, the philosopher does not see this world as his home (Maybe he has no home, no "continuing place", but in any case his home is not here in this world). The religious man sees himself as an exile, or the Christian does, but for the philosopher this world is simply his temporary residence (whether or not it is a transit point to some other), one he is always in readiness to leave. Whether his life in this world ends with a dreamless sleep or not, his life in this world ends, and therefore -- and therefore? That is the philosophical question.

The perspective of the philosopher is not this worldly rather than the eternal. That is another thing that "makes a man into a philosopher" (Z § 455).

Things more important than death

It was a day in November after the war. It was snowing. They were digging a trench for a gas main. They began to measure. "Citizen commander," the ex-soldier pleaded softly, "please let us off the last few centimeters. We can't manage them. Our bellies are empty, our strength's gone, and the weather -- well, look at it."

"And get myself put on a charge just because of you, eh? Think up another one!"

Looking up at him, the three faces no longer seemed alive as the snow fell on them. The young fellow forced his lips open and said, "All right, chief. It'll be your turn to die one day."

All that had been ten years ago. Yefrem didn't work in the camps anymore ... But what had been said then had stuck in his mind, coming to the surface today. It had been the first sound in his ear that morning: "All right, chief. It'll be your turn to die one day." (Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward, tr. Bethell, Burg, i. 15, "To Each Man His Own")

"You're going to die one day, too." and when that day comes, what will seem important to you?

Death's implication for Socrates

After the jury's verdict at his trial, Socrates was asked by his friends if he was preparing for his trial (where the indictment against Socrates demanded the penalty of death). He replied, "Do you not think that I have been preparing for it all my life." (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 8, 4, and Xenophon, Apology 3; cf. Plato, Phaedo 67d-e, however in a different sense there.)

My life in this world must come to an end; I must die. What does it mean for the philosopher? There are two questions: what is death (which is a metaphysical question, irresolvable like all such questions)? and what, if anything, does it imply for how I should live my life (which is ethics)? Does my death affect what is the good for me, which Socrates identifies with the excellence (areté) that is proper to me as man and as an individual man? For even if life in this world were unending, the philosopher would not live differently than he does now: his task in life is to seek to know the good, to seek to live the life that is proper to man, regardless of how much time there is.

But on the other hand, knowing that our time in this world is limited, surely we must examine with the greatest care the various activities that we might involve ourselves in -- to ask, of the many goods that might be done in this world, which is appropriate for me? That is the "examined life" of the philosopher that Socrates called on the Athenians to live (Plato, Apology 37e-38a).

"We are discussing no small matter, but how to live" (Plato, Republic 352d). In the context of the two meanings of 'forms of life' ('ways of life' and 'life forms') that I have distinguished, is this a case where the man of reason is able to make a fundamental choice between ways of life? (And this would be a uniquely human choice. No other animal asks itself this question -- i.e. we would not know what anyone meant who said that e.g. a dog chose its way of life.)

To make a choice, because there is a very different way of looking at our death: that death is going to negate everything, that "all will be lost, all forgotten". -- And so, "Why should you want to live a life of "decorous simplicity and manly self-control" (J.O. Dykes)? So that in the end you can tie a beautiful ribbon around it -- and toss it in the trash?" -- and that consequently it doesn't matter what one does, in which ways one loses oneself, to amuse oneself, to pass the time until the unavoidable end -- sc. death. Like Chekhov's character Chebutykin's response to all things: "It doesn't matter."

Query: we live to die? Aristotle.

The futility of life seems inherent in it: we must die. Children are taught to obey "... for do we must what force will have us do," Richard II says. And to play games metaphorically and actually, to jump through hoops that their masters hold up for them, and to accept and enjoy this. Some question the community of ideas into which they are born. What Aristotle thought beyond the materialist's view of the soul and death, I don't know. Plato saw salvation (for good souls) in death. Socrates was indifferent to death: we don't know what it is, whereas we do know what the good for man is, namely life in accord with the specific excellence proper to him, etc., which we find to be the life of philosophy (thoroughgoing reason).

The life of philosophy and moral virtue (the Socratic life) versus a life of self-abandonment. There may be a relationship between metaphysics and ethics here, the relationship is between thinking you know what you don't know, namely what death is -- and how we should live our life..

The foundations of Socrates' ethics

The questions for Socratic ethics: (1) is there an excellence that is proper to man? (2) with which man should live in accord if he is to live the life that is the good for man? These questions are, of course, asking what the thoroughgoing use of reason tells us (for that is the project of Socratic philosophy).

Socrates and self-control (temperance, self-discipline)

The one thing about Socrates that his friends and companions most loved him for is the one thing we don't bother too much about: his self-control. Xenophon describes him as "so self-controlled that he never chose the pleasanter rather than the better course" (Memorabilia iv, 8, 11).

Xenophon contrasts here the pleasant with the good. But for Socrates is that contrast the same as the contrast between the ignorant and the wise? No, because a thing may be both pleasant and wise, as it may also be wise and unpleasant. And the same with good and evil: the good may be unpleasant or pleasant. Will the wise man therefore concern himself about what is pleasant or about what is good?

There may be times when it would be pleasanter to be unvirtuous -- to be slothful, impious (neglectful), unjust (unbalanced in our judgments of others), and intemperate (ill-tempered). Because the pleasant-unpleasant belongs to the irrational. Wisdom in contrast is rational. "Will the wise man be ruled by the rational or irrational in ethics?" is a rhetorical question. If wisdom = "the use of reason to distinguish sense from nonsense in language, and the true from the false in propositions" is not the excellence/good proper to man, then philosophy is the sport of the foolish. But, you see, philosophy (reason) is the only tool man has to sort wisdom from foolishness, and therefore were reason to be overthrowable by reasoning there would be nothing left to man but instinct; but the irrational is not a tool; it is a reed moved by every breeze, the "beast wanting discourse of reason". This is why Pascal said of man that he is a reed, yes, but he is a thinking (i.e. reasoning) reed and in this is man's dignity (Pensées vii, 430; vi, 347).

Socrates chose the good regardless of whether it was pleasant, because he was guided by wisdom (reason) rather than by the irrational. Wisdom was his self-control, because virtue is knowledge of the good (philosophical wisdom).

Rather than "growing daily in goodness", Xenophon could have said that Socrates was "growing daily in wisdom".

How could the good = the pleasant for man unless the good = the irrational? (Surely this is a rhetorical question, for how can the irrational be the good for a creature endowed with reason, i.e. a "rational animal".)


Is there equivocation here: for example to speak of self-control as the characterization of a deed versus to speak of self-control as a moral virtue? No, because self-control (self-restraint, self-discipline) is only a moral virtue when it is directed by wisdom rather than ignorance of the good, if their perceived good is what all life aims for: it is an excellence proper to man, but it is not a moral excellence ("virtue"). For how can an immoral deed, regardless of how it is accomplished, be virtuous? On the other hand, we speak of "the intention to do good". (Yes, this topic is confusing, but the confusion is grammatical, a knot tied with rules of grammar.)

[When Alexander the Great says that "the measure of a man is what he concerns himself with", by what standard is man to be measured?]

Self-control is part of the philosophical way of life -- but not something unique to it. What is unique is that in philosophy, self-control is directed by the search to find and to live according to the good for man [the excellence appropriate [proper, specific] to man]. What makes it possible to choose this "form of life" is that it requires only the use of reason, something that all men have (or they are without choice).

By 'the good life' philosophy does not mean 'the life a man finds the most pleasant', or, 'the life dedicated to pleasure', but 'the life dedicated to the good'. Plato argues forcefully in the Gorgias and the Philebus that pleasure is not the good for man. According to Xenophon, however, Socrates reasoning is simply that the good is the useful, but above all, the good is what is useful for the "care of the soul" (or, as we might say, "the ethical mind").

And what has "logic of language" to do with that? Logic -- that is to say, the art of reasoning -- is the philosopher's tool. He has no other (or what would it be? Philosophy is a rational project; that is as we have it from the first Greek philosophers and Socrates).


Philosophy and oblivion-seeking

Most human beings are terrified of nothing so much as being left alone with their own thoughts. Like children we want always to be amused. "But culture does not seek to pass the time, but to use time for its higher purposes" (Bruno Walter). From the Greek word for 'leisure' comes our word 'school', meaning: the time we use for Learning.

The philosopher does not practice escapism [seeking distractions]. He does not seek an opiate [Wine as an opiate]: he does not seek the "land in which it seemed always afternoon" (The Land of the Lotus Eaters). Why? Is there a reason for this -- or is it only a chosen way of life? (Question rhetorical: what is the specific excellence proper to man and what is its relation to the good [life] for man?)

When Socrates saw the many "goods" displayed for sale, his response was, "So many things I do not want of." (cf. Diog. L. ii, 25)

Among the goods of the marketplace is the "spirit of the age" (or, "community of ideas"). A philosopher does not want to have anyone else think his thoughts for him, or to feel his emotions for him [to tell him what to think and what to feel; to direct his thoughts and emotions (as in Orwell's 1984)], like a popular song designed to rob its hearer of the ability to think.

Paul the Apostle wrote: "When I was a child, I thought as a child does, reasoned as a child does, spoke as a child does ... but when I became a man I set aside the things of childhood." It is our misfortune that under capitalism our childhood exists for no higher purpose than to be exploited by commercial interests, above all by the entertainment [pastime] industry. But, as Paul also wrote: "You must wake up now."

And so we come to philosophy in the awakening mind. However, first I will consider the body, because if there were no body, there would also be no death of the body -- and without death, our life might surely be looked at from a very different point of view.

The body, according to Plato - But is that its only role?

So long as we keep to the body ... there is no hope of our attaining our object, which we assert to be absolute truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is liable also to diseases which overtake us and impede us in the search ... it fills us full of loves and lusts and fears and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away from us the power of thinking at all. Whence come wars and factions and fighting? Whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? Wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and by reason of these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some speculation, the body [i.e. our sense perceptions and what these suggest to us] is always breaking in on us causing turmoil and confusion in our enquires, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth. It has been proved to us by experience [i.e. by our experience of seeking absolute truth] that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in herself must behold things in themselves; and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire and of which we say we are lovers. (Phaedo 66b-d, quoted by Drury, DW p. 83; tr. Benjamin Jowett)

Partly, though not entirely (nor most importantly), from which Plato concludes that we cannot know the truth "so long as we keep to the body". But can Plato be correct? Were it not for the body, what would 'true' and 'false' when applied to our perceptions mean -- i.e. how does the soul know that "she is beholding" -- i.e. perceiving -- things in themselves rather than mere illusions of things in themselves? Plato seems to be equating the eye of the soul with the eye of God.

Analogy to a Shadow

Plato has a picture: Whatever, while in the body, we call reality is not reality, not the truth, but only an imperfect rendering of it, as a shadow is an imperfect rendering of the object that casts it (Republic 515c). Reality is not perceived with the body (Phaedo 65d); reality -- i.e. the unchanging Absolute -- can only be seen with (the figurative eye of) the soul.

Query: does Plato think we see through or with our ears and eyes?

While "in the body" we see with (as "through a glass, darkly" or "in a dark manner") the eyes. When the soul is freed it sees as well -- but directly without any mediation. (Paul's words in this context also suggest that a life form sees reality in a mirror image of the life form itself.) Obviously that is a metaphysical picture.

Query: where instead did Plato think we could find the true purpose of life?

It seems absurd to say: Die in order to find out how to live your life ethically. But yet we often do grow older learning things that are now useless to us, e.g. how to live wisely at a younger age than we now are. But certainly Socrates believed he knew (and could defend that belief in dialectic) how man should live his life (Knowledge of the kind that Plato sought, however, is a different matter, one requiring a standard that seems to exist only because Plato's metaphysics demands that the meaning of a common name, e.g. 'holiness', really is a common nature).

Yet far from being designed to rob man of reality, the body seems to have been designed by a god to keep man from going mad -- that is, from losing all touch with reality. (The demands of the body: keeping "a sense of proportion".)

Hunger drives even the wolf from his cave. (French proverb)

The gods are free of any need to acquire money "for the sake and in the service of the body", but in the myths which picture the gods as god-like men (that is to say, anthropomorphically), the gods do not handle this freedom well.

On the other hand, the need for money for the body often pushes human beings to criminal, possibly unethical, deeds.

When the young needn't concern themselves about money, they often come to a bad end (They often come to a bad end anyway). But youth lack the sound judgment that comes (or may come) from experience of life in the body.

As to the deadly sins such as greed. May they not as easily come from a corrupt soul as from the appetites of the body -- why suppose that only the body can corrupt the soul? According to Plato, is the body always the cause of ignorance? (as in "Virtue is knowledge, vice = ignorance", or does Plato distance himself from Socrates' way of looking at things when he (i.e. Plato) talks about money, illness and the body?)

Does being free of the need for money, and free of ill-health, amount to being free from the demands of the body? No, because so long as the soul "remains in the body", the body still may fill it with "loves and lusts and fears and fancies of all kinds".

Despite all this, some human beings who are financially independent and healthy in body manage to live without "losing touch with reality". Why is this? From prudence or fear, or the absence of desire (luck) -- or from ethical self-discipline (philosophy: Virtue is knowledge, wisdom)?

What are we calling 'reality'? Does Plato make a distinction between "apparent reality" (which is the perception of things-in-flux by the soul while in the body) and "really real reality" (namely the Absolutes, which are imperceptible to the soul while it is in the body)?

And as to "apparent reality", is it mere appearance and therefore a "false reality"? Is the artisan's knowledge (Apology 22c-e) not really knowledge [a practical pseudo-knowledge, "pseudo" because it concerns what is in flux, subject to change]?

What do we mean by 'really' -- (the antitheses: 'real' versus 'illusion')? Do we use that word only where we can also speak of 'mistake-correction'? It isn't "a move in this language-game" to say, "Well, the correction will be made when the soul is quit of the body" -- i.e. that is not our normal use of this language (Cf. "Is there an afterlife?" -- "Die and see." is not our language-game of verification).

(Metaphysics' "but on a deeper level" -- is that nonsense? The question is: if you break the rules here, are you playing the game at all? Or can you play this game wrong -- i.e. is there a metaphysical use of language? In logic of language, a game is defined by its rules.)

According to Plato, is the reality we see, subject to flux as it is, an illusion? Or is it an inferior, yet real, knowledge of reality? If Plato really does believe that knowledge can only be of what is unchanging, then hasn't he to call man's apparent-knowledge of what-is-in-flux illusion? (Is that what he has found in Heraclitus?) Or, with respect to the unchanging, is Plato's view that knowledge of the Absolutes is all that matters to the philosopher (rather the way finally seeing God is all-important to the religious man)?

"The Reality behind Reality"

Plato's use of the words 'truth' and 'reality': the truth behind the truth, and the reality behind reality. (In Drury's words: Plato replaces the reality lying before eyes with an abstract picture of his own creation. This is what metaphysics does, both in philosophy and in the sciences.)

Can't we give a sense to Plato's words; can't we imagine a picture to apply them to? Yes, but that does not answer the question of whether Plato is presenting anything more than an idle picture unconnected with anything other than human imagination -- that is, that Plato's "really real" is not real at all, which is another way of saying: not the truth.

For it is obvious nonsense (PI § 464) to say that "all is in motion, nothing at rest", because the grammars of the words 'rest' and 'motion' are interdependent (The two words are antitheses, meaningless unless contrasted).

Will Plato answer that there are indeed things that are at rest, but that, however, they can only be seen by the eye of the soul, which is a metaphor for say that the existence of things at rest can only be reasoned to (and knowledge of them accounted for with "theory of recollection")? That is a possible picture.

When Plato says "the other side of the sky", that would be the side only the eye of the soul can see, and like the soul it would not be material.

But surely verification must divide wisdom from fantasy (imagination floating free of perception; percepts without concepts), or what will? Certainly not logic (in the sense of 'the principle of contradiction'). And what can be the standard of verification if not the body?

On the other hand ...

Wittgenstein wrote to Mrs. Malcolm from the solitude of a remote and primitive cottage in Ireland: "... that I have to do all my housework is a great strain, but it's undoubtedly a great blessing, too, because it keeps me sane, it forces me to live a regular life ..." (Malcolm, Memoir 2e, Letter no. 30). Sanity, a regular life. But is "a regular life" a life of sanity -- of health? Plato did not think so:

[The god who rules over the dead] will have nothing to do with men while they are in the body, but only when the soul is liberated from the desires and evils of the body. Now there is a great deal of philosophy and reflection in that, for in their liberated state he can bind them with the desire of virtue, but while they are flustered and maddened by the body [they cannot be bound to virtue]. (Plato, Cratylus 403e-404a, tr. Jowett)

That appears to be a rejection of the view that moral virtue is knowledge, unless, in Plato's view, knowledge in ethics is not possible "while in the body". (As to the god of the dead, the gods do only good, nor can they do otherwise given that, on Plato's account (grammatical: it is a definition of the word), the good is God.)

The housework has to be done for the sake of the body. But here Plato says that it is the body that stands in the way, or draws man away, from becoming fully morally virtuous -- i.e. fully good. "The housework keeps me sane" (i.e. the demands of the body keep me sane) -- but at what price does this "sanity" come? Is someone who is "flustered and maddened" to be adjudged sane? And does a sane man choose to do what is wrong and therefore harmful to his soul? Plato quotes the saying (Cratylus 400b) that "the body is the grave of the soul"; -- it also might be called the madhouse of the soul.

The Thing in Itself: Reality beyond the Individual

"What is the thing in itself?" There is no thing in itself -- because from which perspective might it be known? -- The combinations of words 'absolute reference point' and 'the absolute point of view' are undefined (nonsense) language. Even if we imagine a deity's perspective, why should that perspective be given a privileged position over any other? Aren't the other perspectives also "real"? What are we talking about with the words 'the thing as it really is in itself'? Of course we have no idea. Which is often the way in philosophy.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" Martins said to me.

"Do you?"

"I do now."

"I also believe that drunk men see things -- sometimes rats, sometimes worse." (Greene, The Third Man)

"Drink-induced" perspectives. We say that these are illusions, not reality: they do not show us "the thing in itself". What I really want to say: There is no reality -- beyond forms of life: "So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?" (PI § 241). The limit of reality -- is forms of life ... or "life forms" [biology]. Ultimately: there is no reality beyond the individual; how could there be -- if 'reality' is defined relative to a reference point, and none is absolute? Which is another way of saying: There is no reality, in the sense of a thing in itself known from an absolute perspective, because there is no such perspective (because 'absolute perspective' is undefined language). Which amounts to saying: "Although we do indeed have uses for the words 'real' and 'apparent' -- don't make too much of that." Alice falls down the rabbit's hole -- and now what is real, what illusion? For whom -- for Alice, for you, for me, -- for "us"?

[Casting nets over reality? But does reality as such exist? (Thales and Plato's shadows) | Das höchste wäre zu begreifen, daß alles Faktische schon Theorie ist: "The most important thing to bear in mind is that all fact is already theory" (Goethe) | Percepts, concepts and "the conceived facts"]


Shadows versus Reality

When philosophers ask about "the thing in itself", they are not of course asking about how we normally use the word 'reality': they are already familiar with the language-game with 'real' and 'illusion'. Instead they are asking about the underlying background of human perception of what we normally call 'reality'.

But do philosophers, then, have a picture of "absolute reality"? Even an idle or incomparable picture (Newton's "dreams and vain fictions of our own devising") cannot be conjured up out of nonsense (i.e. undefined combinations of words). But when Plato talks about Forms and the shadows in the cave, he does not seem to be making "sounds without sense" -- and indeed he isn't, because we can give explanations of the meaning of his language. (The project of metaphysics is only inherently nonsense in the jargon of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus -- i.e. according to that book's abnormal definition of the word 'nonsense'.)

Why is the word 'reality' so important to us? Because it names a concept that has a vital role in our life: "We are discussing no small matter, but what is real, what illusion." Logic, ethics and metaphysics are the foundation of our life.


Ethics, Metaphysics, and Reality

By definition (or, assigned rules of grammar) the lotus eaters in the land of eternal afternoon, who do not interact bodily with their perceptions [with "what they perceive"], can perceive neither illusions nor realities, because their perspective is divorced from the familiar "language-games" with the words 'real' and 'illusion'.

Here is a connection between the body and reality. Of course the lotus eater is still "in the body", but he is not dependent on the senses for his present perceptions, and so he is akin to a disembodied soul. (I want to say that the connection between the body and reality -- as we normally use the word 'reality', not "in a deeper sense" -- is thus shown to be a logical, that is a grammatical, one: that our concepts 'body' and 'reality' are connected or interconnected in just this way.)

Whether sober reality or a drink-induced "reality" is more beneficial to man is a question belonging to ethics. But to metaphysics belongs the question that if reality is unknowable in itself -- but only from the perspective of some form of life/life form or other, then why is what we normally call 'reality' any more really real than the lotus eater's "dreams" (Well, dreams from the perspective of those who do not share them)? And then the question for ethics is: Is either perspective more beneficial to man than the other?

If the lotus eater really is happy with his illusions and I unhappy with reality (as we normally use the words 'reality' and 'illusion'), why shouldn't I join him? Here there is a danger of the word 'happy' being used equivocally: (1) life in accord with the specific excellence that is proper to man and therefore is the good for man, and (2) a state of mind, of peace and well-being. Any relation seems possible: both (1) and (2); either (1) or (2) but not both; neither (1) nor (2).

The lotus eater may have attained (2), but he hasn't attained (1). Strange to say, his happiness is not the good for man. You might think that if the man who had attained (1) were truly wise, he would also have attained (2). But that is either an hypothesis or a tautology (created by the definition of 'wise' in this context). You might also want to say that philosophers have hard heads -- or that there is something of the religious fanatic about them. I think so too.

Virtue in a vicious world

On being asked what is the most impressive spectacle in life, he answered, "The sight of a good man quietly pursuing his course in the midst of vicious people." (Aristippus of Cyrene, from Zeller [Socrates and the Socratic Schools] in Durant's Life of Greece (1939), p. 505, 701n31; cf. Plato's Republic 496c-d)

This was also the glory of the saints, that they had been good in a bad world. (Marshall, To Every Man a Penny (1949), xxiv, p. 112)

What we are left with is a picture without an application: what we really want to know about is the reality beneath our [perceived] realities, the underlying, the permanent -- i.e. independent of all perspectives [points of view, frames of reference, forms of life/life forms] -- reality, just as we want to know the why of life and death. This is related to the question of "Why is there anything, not rather nothing?" In both cases we follow analogies -- like the child who moves the bishop along the diagonal and clear off the chessboard (to safety, as it were). It's not that you play the game (as in language-game) wrong (OC § 446) -- i.e. nonsense (following an analogy and thus creating undefined language) is not a wrong move in the game: it is no move at all. Well, but is it nonsense? As we normally "play the game" -- i.e. use language -- it is. But is there an abnormal way that is not nonsense -- i.e. can a question about "absolute reality" be asked at all?

We are rather in the position of St. Peter Canisius' catechism: of always seeming to give the heretics the stronger arguments. Why not spend every evening in a pleasant alcoholic haze after all, because reality, from the perspective of skepticism on a deeper level -- what is reality other than a word -- like Falstaff's reflections about the substance of honor -- "What is it? -- Air". And yet, the philosopher does not. So maybe it is not a matter of choosing a way of life as I wrote above.


Infinal Acts

[No, "there is no such word" as 'infinal'. I made it up. It belongs to the class of all words that don't exist, as does 'unfinal'.]

When I was warned that my heart might stop at any moment (I was led up the garden), I thought of Socrates in prison, as I remember it, after the verdict. When he was asked if he was preparing for his death, he answered, "Do you not think that I have been preparing for it all my life?" After my nearness to death (which wasn't), I think I am not afraid of my dying (which does not mean I am indifferent to the ways I might die, for falling asleep is one thing, violence another (but that is fear of violence not of death)), and that this is because I have thought about it every day for the whole of my adult life. In my view death is as Socrates describes it in Plato's Apology (40c-41c).

Why be afraid? Death is an adventure. Soon you may know answers to questions you have never been able to understand, let alone answer. (Terry Waite, Taken on Trust, Chapter 4)

Are the "eternal questions" mysteries or self-mystification: "never been able to understand"? (Aporia)

The only reason to fear death is if one hasn't taken proper care of one's soul -- that is to say, of the ethical aspect of oneself -- and if, as Plato believed, the wicked face judgment and punishment after the death of the body. (If God's mercy is not infinite, things won't go well at all.)

"What would you wish to be found doing at the hour of your death?" (Epictetus, Discourses iv, 10) Well, that is what you should always be doing, because you may die at any moment [We are like the small red insects found in old books that by accident we kill without wishing to as we turn the pages]. Socrates, however, did not believe as Plato did (He did not disbelieve either; Plato's picture simply had no place in his thinking). He believed that wickedness is ignorance, that no one who knew better would ever harm his soul. And that is what I believe.

[In the Christian picture of God the Creator, the nearness of death is the nearness of God (that is to say, of seeing God "face to face", of "knowing even as I am known"). The nearness of judgment, but also the nearness of mercy. (In Plato's judgment-after-death pictured in the Gorgias 522e-524b, there is no mercy for unpunished wrong-doing.)]

Wittgenstein: "We all need a lot of help." And there is the irrational of the rational animal. But is that to be overcome "by the grace of God", or as Socrates believed by knowledge of the good, with reason as the tool for finding that knowledge (This is the Socratic understanding of "Know thyself": seek to find the specific excellence proper to man, because to live in accord with that is the good for man). That is as we picture Socrates, who had both knowledge of what is good for man and self-control -- against the violent force of the evil habits formed in the time of ignorance of the good -- which are the devil itself: the past has sown the wind and we now are in the midst of an irrational whirlwind.

"What would you be found doing when death overtakes you?" Epictetus' question is a guide to living. If you always have that question before you, it will stop you from doing many foolish things that you ought not to do. For who would ever lose his temper and speak hurtful words if he believed that would be his last act in life.

Query: what is the relationship between sleep, dream & death from a philosophical point of view?

How are sleep and death related -- i.e. what comparison, that we think is important, can we make between death and sleep? -- That in both death and sleep the individual does not participate in the community or perceive the world? That in both there may be dreams? 'He is dead', 'He is asleep' -- is the difference only in the language from the point of view of the person spoken of? No, neither the dead man nor the sleeper has a point of view; and only a living person can dream (We don't say of a corpse that possibly it dreams), and that person can have a point of view only within the dream. (If death is a sleep with dreams, then the dead individual lives only in his own dreams, not in a shared reality.)

Life becomes burdensome

I was disappointed when my death did not happen. I had thought I was finally near knowing; but now it seems I may have to wait many more years to find out (I feel ill-used). So maybe "not afraid" is the wrong way to characterize my attitude. Yes, I want to know.

And while it is true that "I grow old learning new things" [and doing foolish things, because I have "grown old without growing wise"], I no longer hope for a great philosophical insight to come along (an unprecedented revelation), and therefore there is no longer anything to wait around for: I am in a sense bored. And that is not quite the same thing as lack of fear of death.

It is true that two of the three foundations of my thought and life only became clear -- indeed only became known to me -- in the years after my not dying. But those are philosophy within the limits of time and space, which is not what Platonic philosophy longs for. I would not say as Wittgenstein says "how little has been done when these problems have been solved" (Preface, TLP, tr. Ogden), because ethics, "no small matter, but how to live", is not of little importance.

This story is told by Herodotus (History 7.46). When at the Hellespont Xerxes reviewed his vast forces and wept at the thought of how short life is, that in a hundred years none would be alive, he was answered with the words: "Weep rather for this, that brief as life is there never yet was or will be a man who does not wish more than once to die rather than to live" (Translation by Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way (1942), viii, p. 178).

Of course these thoughts wax and wane. Would I make the statement that "I am bored by the philosophical condition of my own mind" now? Or as I approaching the age of death, am I now like the Stoic Cleanthes of Assos, who when grown quite old was asked why he did not kill himself as other Stoics had done, answered that so long as good health remained and "I can still write and read, I am content to wait"? I do grow old learning new things.

The Why of existence

"The ways of fate are indeed hard to understand. If there is not some compensation hereafter, then the world is a cruel jest." (Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger)

Fate is the how-ness of the world, but what interests me at death is the world's that-ness. In other words, it is not about rewards and punishments for the just and the unjust (a notion which is incomprehensible to man, for whom vice is ignorance: we wander lost in ignorance, our own thought-worlds the only guide), nor eternal life (which is also an incompressible notion), that interests me. What I seek for all the harm that I have done to others and whatever harm I have suffered myself, is to know why I have lived. I cannot think of a crueler fate for a human being than to cease to exist without ever learning why he was given existence. And if there is no why, that is the ultimate cruelty.

But again, Socrates was not bound to that picture (which is all it is). Nor need anyone else be: it belongs to a particular thought world, to a particular way/form of life. For Socrates, whatever death may be, the good is itself reason to live, to judge living worthwhile.

When at the age of sixty-two he was told that his death was imminent, Wittgenstein replied, "Good, people live too long anyway." So then maybe I too think that "people live too long"? What I would say [or would have said at that time] is that my life has become burdensome to me, and that the best thing to do with an unnecessary burden is to lay it down.

"And that is not quite the same thing as lack of fear." A visitor to ancient Sparta said it was no wonder the Spartans were so willing to die in war given the wretched conditions of their home life. Augustine said it was nonsense to say that you loved something but at the same time were not afraid of losing it. But I want to say that I have lived with the thought of death for so long now that it seems like a friendly (a beloved) presence to me.

On the other hand, someone -- (I don't remember who it was) -- wrote that When you are young death might seem like a refuge to you, but when you are old it just seems like a terrible waste.

Some men really do fear oblivion, Socrates' dreamless sleep, while others fear Shakespeare's "in that sleep of death, what dreams may come". There are various points of view here -- various ways of looking at things that vary in attractiveness depending on one's state of mind.

Do I understand Kirillov's final act, namely sticking out his tongue? I would say that Kirillov paid too much honor to human foolishness (He made human beings too important). I suppose he might also (or perhaps really) have been sticking his tongue out at the God he professed not to believe in.

"Then has my study of philosophy been time lost?" In the sense that I have never lost sight of "the riddle of life's meaning", I would say that it has not. Being a student of philosophy, and that is what I have been ("Thank you, philosophy, for having been in my life, for having been my life") since I awoke from childhood, maybe in my seventeenth year, is a never-ending preoccupation with "the eternal questions".

Query: Socrates. Philosophy is a wonder.

It is both wonderful and remarkable that man philosophizes, that man asks himself and others these questions and discusses them across the ages. But that's not what Plato is talking about (Theaetetus 155c-d), which is wondering at one's own ignorance.

Viewing the world sub specie aeterni ["under the aspect of (from the point of view of) eternity"] ... is [the] mystical. (TLP 6.45)

The attitude of philosophy is watching, studying (thinking) and waiting, of vigil (Luke 2.8). And therefore is there a crueler fate for a human being than to die without ever knowing what he has been waiting for? And if there is no why -- [a "why" which is comprehensible in human terms -- as if there were some other terms! (Is it "the mystical" in religion and metaphysics or only "the self-mystifying"?)] -- nevertheless there is eternal wonder (or, I should say, perplexity) -- there is the fascination of "logic of language" studies -- and there is philosophy itself.


Appearance and Reality - "On a deeper level"

Note: this continues the discussion "forms of life" (patterns and ways of life) and "Is reality limited to what is perceptible to the senses?"

The limit of the empirical -- is concept-formation. (RFM iv § 29, p. 237)

Percepts and concepts: if "percepts without concepts are blind" (Kant). -- However, it is "patent nonsense" (PI § 464) to say that therefore all is mere appearance, that human beings [can] never know reality, but only reality as [i.e. in the form of] humanly-conceived percepts -- i.e. as what they are allowed by human nature [that particular "life form"] to perceive -- and as their concepts set the limits of their ability to understand [make "sense of"] what they perceive. Why is it nonsense? Because if all is appearance then naught is: both the words 'reality' and 'appearance' are meaningless if "all is appearance". [Antithesis and Meaning.]

But, on the other hand, is there not also "skepticism on a deeper level" -- i.e. not "you play the game wrong" (OC § 446), but instead: you undermine the game's foundations? But what does that amount to here -- is it not simply that one stops applying the words 'reality' and 'appearance' to "the world we perceive", but says instead that reality as it is in itself (whatever it is when it's at home) lies "beyond" our perceptions of it?

Is that not what Plato does -- does he not talk about the reality behind (so-claimed) reality? Isn't that what all metaphysics does -- and indeed is that not what religion has traditionally done ("Through faith we see ... that what is visible came into being through the invisible" (Hebrews 11.3))?

Is all such talk nonsense? "You follow false grammatical analogies." But was that what Plato does? That is, he undoubtedly follows an analogy (e.g. between an object and its shadow) -- however, was it a grammatical analogy that he followed? But if Plato does not talk nonsense, then what does he talk about? He follows analogies; he makes analogies. Well, one can adapt Drury's criticism of replacing facts with theories:

Reality which lies before us at every moment is replaced by the abstract picture we have ourselves created. (DW p. 100)

The analogy we have ourselves made replaces ... or does it only replace so-called reality? Is this a case of: "A philosopher says: Look at things this way!" (CV p. 61) Wittgenstein says ..., Drury says ..., but why should the person inclined toward metaphysical speculation look at things their way? Wittgenstein says that he is "destroying ... nothing but houses of cards" (PI § 118) -- however, that does not answer the question of whether all metaphysics is nothing but "houses of cards".

I am not an enemy of metaphysics. But what I want most from philosophy is to distinguish between sense and nonsense -- i.e. what in my jargon is called logic of language in philosophy. I want to make disguised nonsense evident to myself (PI § 464), whether it is found in metaphysics or anywhere else. But I don't see reason to believe that metaphysics is necessarily nonsense (One of the three values a metaphysical statement may have is indeed nonsense, but there are two others as well).

More than the appearance of death?

"Mr. N.N. is dead." -- Yes, Mr. N[ame] N[ame] is dead (not his name but the man himself has died): there is no question of mere appearances here; his death was confirmed by two trusted medical doctors and shortly after it began to rot his body was cremated. Mr. N.N. is dead -- that is reality, not mere appearance. (As in Dickens' Christmas Carol, "Marley was dead ...")

Human limbs do not grow back like lizards' tails (cf. OC § 274). That also is reality, not mere appearance. (The first (about limbs) is a statement of fact of our experience of the world, while the second (about reality) is a grammatical remark: a short description of how we use the words 'appearance' and 'reality'.)

Despite our desire to generalize (and have done with this), "we must not have contempt for the particular case" (BB p. 18; cf. Z § 438). If we made such-and-such generalization it was because we had particular cases (vaguely) in mind, and not others.

Yes, but now imagine Mr. N.N. from the perspective of an ant. -- Do you think the ant conceived the late Mr. N.N. -- that an ant conceives a human being [as in the category/class 'human being'] at all -- and with all that 'human being' implies -- or possibly even Mr. N.N. as a single organism? Such an analogy is what may suggest that "all is appearance" -- i.e. concept-mediated percepts. (Of course this has implications for the eternal question "Is reality confined to what is in principle perceptible to the senses?")

And so we come back to Wittgenstein's notion of "forms of life" (which includes both the concepts 'ways of life and 'life forms'). -- It is not that there is no truth or falsity [and therefore no knowledge], but that there is only truth or falsity within the frames of reference of a form of life -- possibly even only within a given life form.

"So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?" -- It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life. (PI § 241)

I tried to give an example of this in "Fable of The Born-Blind People, a fictitious natural history". It's maybe not well written, but it does show a relation between grammar and reality ("the facts that can explain concept-formation" [PI II, xii, p. 230]).

Implicit agreement in language conventions

The agreement is shown by what people do, and the agreement is implicit not explicit -- i.e. it is not an agreement by pre-arrangement. Establishing (by explicitly agreeing to) a convention is one use of language, but it is not the normal one: we acquire language by participating in the lives of others when we are young, not by negotiating a grammatical agreement with others.

"Life Forms" and Concept-formation

Can the lioness who abandons the runt of her litter and the human mother who cossets her frailest child understand one another? If the lioness could speak (PI II, xi, p. 223), would the lion and human do anything more than call each other "fools and heretics" (OC § 611)? On the other hand, think of this in the percept-concept context. We are assuming that the lion's percepts are sufficiently similar to ours to allow the formation of concepts similar to ours; without similar concepts communication would not be possible. Imagine the percepts-concepts of an ant (if we can imagine an application for 'concept' in the case of an ant).

Plato and the Body and Logic [Grammar]

"The needs of the body force us to return to reality; they are what define reality for us." -- Now, in which sense of 'define'? Not in the linguistic [logical, grammatical] sense of 'defining a word'. But such a definition of the word 'reality' [as implied in this argument] can be formulated: by 'reality' we mean whatever the healthy [i.e. non-delusional-because-of-head-injury e.g. or non-delusional-because-of-drinking] body demands that we acknowledge [recognize, respond to]. Now, is that what we mean by 'reality' in our common, everyday language?

If the body could make no demands on us, if we no longer "kept to the body" (Plato), would the word 'reality' lose its present meaning (as the word 'weight' would if the cheese sample's reading were inconstant (PI § 142; Inventing fictitious facts for fictitious language games). [Is this like saying that our statements about reality are a superstructure on the economic base, economics being about the body. If we imagine that human beings are not answerable to economic necessity, then does the word 'reality' lose its present meaning?]

What is important here -- i.e. what is important to the logic of language here -- is the logical-grammatical connection between our concepts 'bodily needs [limitations]' and 'reality'.


About death, lasting remarks

Query: does death rule life? Philosophy.

According to Plato, for the philosopher -- i.e. for the one who seeks to know reality (i.e. to have knowledge of the absolute) -- death should rule: "... true philosophers make dying their profession" (Phaedo 67e-68a), because only once free of the body can the soul know reality rather than a mere shadow-play (Republic 515c), mere appearances rather than the reality underlying them.

That is Plato's view of the relation between death and life. And it is a view which in his dialogs Plato defends with reasoning about knowledge and the soul -- but Plato's view is subject to refutation in discussion where counter-reasoning (grounds for doubt) may be put forward. That is, despite its being -- or rather because it is philosophical, Plato's view is not knowledge.

Like most things -- (or everything?) -- in philosophy, about death no one knows what to make of it (It is neither a question of fact nor of logic). The important point (in my view) is that any thought about what death is, is metaphysics (death is a question without answer), i.e. speculation rather than knowledge. In other words -- i.e. in Socrates' words -- to think you know what death is, is to think you know what you don't know, to think yourself wise when you are not.

When we think about death, death seems to stare back at us like a black wall, as the limit of our life [TLP 6.4311] in this world and of the lives of those we love and of the things we love in this world. But what our response should be -- i.e. what our attitude to that very general fact of nature (PI II, xii, p. 230) should be ...

Does death make nothing matter -- (since "all is to be lost, all forgotten", and if life's meaningless, Camus asks, Shouldn't I kill myself?) -- or does it make everything matter? About death Albert Schweitzer had no view -- As is life itself, death is an utter mystery -- beyond that our death does not negate the value either of life itself or of our working to better mankind both ethically and materially. This he called "the world-view of life- and world-affirmation", but whether it is strictly a philosophical (in contrast to a religious) world-view, I don't know. It contrasts with other life-guiding pictures, e.g. with the Medieval Christian belief that our life on earth is an exile of prayer, penance and detachment, and with Buddhism's belief that this world is a false reality, a mere play of shadows which the enlightened regard as merely stepping stones on the way to non-existence.

And what is philosophy strictly? Well, as we received it from Socrates, philosophy is to say no more than we know (cf. BB p. 45), and as to death it seems that by the very nature of the problem it is a riddle that can be solved by no one. In other words, philosophy doesn't know death's meaning. Last remarks about death, then. Socrates said, I don't know, and that's what philosophy is. It was modesty that invented the word 'philosopher'.


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