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Socrates and Wittgenstein

What are the origins of their respective paths: What did they seek from philosophy? What questions did they ask? How did they see language meaning? Wittgenstein in contrast to Socrates.

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Background: the "logic of language" (as I use Wittgenstein's expression) asks how language with meaning (sense) is distinguished from undefined words or combinations of words (nonsense) in philosophical problems.


Wittgenstein and Socrates - The Origins of their Philosophical Quests Contrasted

The word 'quest' suggests both 'search' and 'question'. And so about Socrates and Wittgenstein, what questions did they ask, and what did they seek from philosophy?

[My investigation of the logic of our language] gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems. (PI § 109)

Wittgenstein believed that philosophical problems are nothing more than conceptual confusion ("houses of cards" to knock down (ibid. § 118)), and that directed his "grammatical investigations". But Socrates could also say, "My investigation gets its light from ..."

Query: things Socrates asked.

Socrates' investigation in philosophy took its light from the philosophical question Socrates was seeking an answer to. For Socrates wanted to know how we should live our life ["ethics"] -- i.e. what the good is for man -- and because he believed, as the Greeks did, that the good for any thing is existence that best accords with the specific excellence ["virtue"] proper to that thing -- he asked what the excellence proper to man is ["Know thyself"]. And because he believed man's specific excellence to be moral virtue informed by reason, he asked what the essence of virtue [piety: correct conduct towards God; justness (fairness): correct conduct towards human beings; self-control (temperance, self-discipline); and courage] is -- because if we know the essence of virtue, we know what we should do in any particular set of circumstances [Euthyphro 6d-7d] if we are to be ethical human beings.

Whereas if someone believes (cf. PI § 52) that all questions of ethics -- being as he conceives them questions about "absolute value" -- are neither questions about facts (objective experience) nor about concepts (i.e. rules for using language) and therefore are neither questions for natural science nor for philosophy ["logic"], then he will not ask the kind of question Socrates asked. And Wittgenstein did not ask that kind of question.

Wittgenstein's incomprehension of Socrates

Wittgenstein believed Socrates' search for common-nature definitions mistaken, which it may have been if it was a search for what is not there to be found, but beyond that, Wittgenstein seems not even to have appreciated the point of Socrates' quest in the Euthyphro, which explains why Socrates may have wanted to find those definitions.

Wittgenstein also seemed not to appreciate what Socratic philosophy is primarily about. But if Plato's understanding of the words of Apollo's oracle at Delphi is correct, and I think it is, then Socrates' most important contribution to philosophy was his absolute insistence on maintaining [demand to enforce] the distinction between what we know and what we only think we know (but do not); that was the purpose of Socrates' philosophical method of question and cross-question ["And that which we know we must surely be able to tell"]. Why Wittgenstein did not appreciate this -- why he thought the discovery of ignorance in Plato's dialogs "a terrible waste of time", I don't know, because later he himself wrote: "The difficulty in philosophy is to say no more than we know" (BB p. 45), and that is the same idea as Socrates'.

"The logic of our language is misunderstood"

But does our language have only one logic -- [What are we calling 'logic'? (the Greek word logos)] -- or are there instead many "logics of language" -- i.e. may there not be many different possible ways to distinguish -- and distinguish objectively -- between sense and nonsense in language? And so I described Socrates' logic of language as an example of a possible alternative to Wittgenstein's logic of language, because in logic, 'what is possible' = 'what is describable (because it is described)'. Of course, that is a distinct question to whether Socrates' logic is serviceable.

Between Socrates and Plato. Who was Socrates?

Plato's philosophy of Forms ["Ideas", Archetypes, Patterns] is post-Socratic. It does not continue Socrates' mission as Socrates understood that mission; it goes in another direction. Plato wanted what the mystic wants, namely knowledge of absolute reality, which is not what Socrates was looking for.

I would like to describe the historical Socrates [Ur-Socrates] as found in Plato's Apology and early dialogues [Euthyphro, Laches] as well as in Xenophon [Memorabilia, Symposium, and Apology]: the Socrates who (1) distinguishes between "what you know and what you merely think you know, but do not" (for example, about what death is); (2) the Socrates who sets this standard for philosophy: that 'to know' means 'to be able to explain what you know to others'; (3) the Socrates of the Socratic method [dialectic] who asks, but cannot answer because he knows only his own ignorance; (4) the Socrates of the good = the useful or excellent (fineness in quality, as e.g. in music), or beneficial (above all to the rationally moral aspect of man); (5) the Socrates who is guided by the tests of reason and experience (not reason alone [Platonic preconceptions]); (6) the Socrates of Socratic ethics; (7) the Socrates who is the philosophical way of life.


What philosophy is? "That is a philosophical question"

At school we are told, or should be told, or should not be told (if the thesis is demonstrably false), that "the question of what philosophy is, is itself a philosophical question".

But is it true that there are no philosophical questions (subjects) independent of a particular conception of philosophy by a particular philosopher or school of philosophers (e.g. Descartes' "New Way of Ideas")? Because if a philosopher says that there is no such thing as metaphysics, he does not deny that if there were such a thing, it would be (the subject or one of the subjects of) philosophy. If one philosopher says that metaphysics is speculative mysticism and another philosopher says that, no, metaphysics is instead merely linguistic muddle, then it seems they are agreed about what the philosopher would like to know, and thus about what the subject of philosophy is or would be.

Is it correct to say anything more than that What philosophy amounts to is a philosophical question? There is equivocation here because: the questions of (1) what the subject of philosophy is, and of (2) what philosophy amounts to, are different questions -- and yet the answers to those questions are both called "what philosophy is".

What we could say is that the questions of whether ethics is or is not a part of philosophy (Wittgenstein versus Socrates) and of whether logic is or is not part of philosophy (Socrates, Wittgenstein versus Aristotle) -- are themselves philosophical questions -- and in this case we are talking about both what the subject of philosophy is and what philosophy amounts to (e.g. insight or nonsense).

Concepts "too vague by far"

What do we mean by "conception of philosophy" or by a statement such as "Philosophy is whatever a particular philosopher conceives it to be"? (Nebulously vague notions: 'concept', 'conception' -- there are few rules for using those words, although a grammar, or definition, can be assigned, as e.g. my 'concept' = 'rules for using a word', but such specificity is not our normal use of the word 'concept' -- which simply is vague, a blunt tool stranded in the nebulous.)

The word 'concept' is too vague by far. (RFM vii § 45, p. 412)

Is there, then, as the thesis states no essence of philosophy, i.e. no general definition that includes what is common to all philosophy while excluding everything that is not philosophy [The general definition I suggested was: "Philosophy is love of wisdom in logic, ethics, and metaphysics", but both Aristotle and Wittgenstein would object to that]? Another possibility: that the answer to the question "What philosophy is?" is determined by what a particular philosopher wants philosophy to be: what the philosopher's particular interest in the phenomena is will direct his project in philosophy, and what he calls 'philosophy'.

"... as conceived by." Is this a question of stating a definition of the word 'philosophy', of selecting one meaning from among many meanings of that word? Or by "conceived by" do we mean: giving birth to something new -- rather than revising what is old? But it's difficult to distinguish between "revised" and "new", given the possibility of making comparisons between the new and the old, as e.g. between "logical form" in Plato and in Bertrand Russell.

Mathematics and Metaphysics (opposites)

Kant says that maths begins with definitions (mathematicians work from definitions) whereas metaphysics works towards definitions (Copleston, A History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy (1960) IV, x, 3). But that does not say which type of definition metaphysics works towards. Because Kant does not want to simply describe how we use the word 'space', but instead to say "what space really is". That is, the metaphysician works towards real definitions, i.e. hypotheses about "things" rather than factual (i.e. public and therefore objective) descriptions of the use of words as e.g. of the word 'space'. As if Kant were to say, "We are not analyzing a concept but instead a phenomenon, and therefore not the use of a word -- but instead the nature of reality", which is just the opposite project in philosophy from Wittgenstein's (PI § 383).


"Philosophy as Ignorance or Nonsense"

I don't want to think just to convict myself, or even someone else, of unclarity I am not trying to understand something simply in order to see that I still do not understand it. (CV(1998 rev. ed.) [MS 133 188: 27.2.47])

What is unclear to you and what you don't understand is also what you don't know. Wittgenstein says that, unlike Socrates, he not want to philosophize simply in order to convict himself of ignorance (ibid). Wittgenstein seemed to have no appreciation of what Socrates was doing, nor, as his own words show, did not see the worth of Socratic ignorance (Apology 23a-b), because Wittgenstein was not seeking wisdom in philosophy, the answer to "no small matter, but how to live" (ethics), but only the answer to "no small matter, but how to think" (logic), but Socrates sought both and saw that maybe the presumption that you know what you doesn't know is what stands between you and the answers, blocking the path.

And when Wittgenstein writes that all he himself is doing is destroying "houses of cards" [Luftgebäude] (PI § 118), why shouldn't you respond: I don't want to philosophize simply in order to convince myself that philosophy is all nonsense! much less that the riddle of existence doesn't even exist!

So what should be said about Wittgenstein's aim versus the aim of Socrates? Earlier I asked: what is the worth of Wittgenstein's philosophy -- this philosophy which solves not a single philosophical problem, and certainly not Socrates' problem of "the universality of value-judgments" (to use Guthrie's form of expression), of an absolute standard in ethics (to use Plato's form)?

Why did Wittgenstein write "just", "simply", "merely", "only"? What more did he want? He wanted to make what was unclear definitively clear -- to be finished once and for all with philosophical problems (PI § 133) by making the disguised nonsense of philosophy clearly visible (ibid. § 464). But Socrates did not want only to discover ignorance, but also to live the life that is the good for man, and to help his companions, and indeed everyone in Athens (Apology 30a-b, 37e-38a), to live that life (Xenophon Memorabilia iii, 9, 5). But even if Socrates' only aim in philosophy had been to distinguish what you know from what you only think you know (but do not), that would have been a worthy aim for philosophy -- indeed, Plato says, even if philosophy did nothing else for you but this, it would surely have done you a good service (Theaetetus 187c).

Where does our investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (PI § 118)

I spend my whole life in going about and persuading you all to give your first and greatest care to the improvement of your souls, and not till you have done that to think of your bodies or your wealth. (Plato, Apology 30a-b, tr. Church, rev. Cumming)

Socrates means not only the rational mind but also, and above all, the ethical part of man: the part concerned with good and evil and amending one's life, to which Wittgenstein's notion "absolute value" is not serviceable because it is not rational. When Plato says "we are discussing no small matter, but how to live" he takes it as understood that our discussion is philosophical, which means rational ("discourse of reason"), as does Socrates when he says that moral virtue is knowledge of what is good. Whereas Wittgenstein's irrational notion contributes nothing to philosophy.

"Conceptual investigations are idle" (Russell)

Bertrand Russell thought that Wittgenstein's later work had made philosophy trivial ("tea-table amusement") (My Philosophical Development, New York: 1959, p. 217). Why shouldn't Russell have said: I don't want to think simply in order to see that I do not -- and logically ["grammatically"] cannot -- understand "the world" metaphysically?

Of Cats and Men

Why should man want, for what would be left of our human-ness, if philosophical problems were to "completely disappear" (PI § 133)? But on the other hand, suppose philosophy is mistaken, that Wittgenstein was right when he wrote -- despite his later thoughts -- that "The riddle does not exist"? What if Leibniz's question ("Why is there anything rather than nothing at all?") is nonsense, merely an undefined combination of words?

POLUS: To me it seems fantastic ... but I suppose it is consistent with what was said before. SOCRATES: Then surely we must disprove that, or else this view must follow. POLUS: Yes, that is so. (Gorgias 480d-e)

Of course you still owe us a proof that Leibniz's question is nonsense. Nonetheless, regardless of whether the specific riddles of the "eternal questions" are proved to be nonsense, man will still have to answer three questions, namely how to live, how to think, and what is real, which if there were no riddle he should not have to answer, any more than a cat has to answer them. And so, is this a worthy [worthwhile] conception of philosophy, that rather than, as it has always done, seek the answers to those questions, philosophy should define itself out of existence? that the philosopher's only aim should be seek out "houses of cards" to destroy (PI § 118)?

Dissimilarities, but also similarities

Immanuel Kant wanted "to heal the wounded understanding" in philosophy. According to Socrates the worst wound is thinking you know what you don't know, which is akin to a self-inflicted madness (Xenophon, Memorabilia iii, 9, 6).

Philosophy of Ockham

Dialectic is in fact the only activity, whose method is to challenge its own assumptions so that it may rest firmly on first principles. (Plato, Republic 533c-d, quoted by Drury in a letter to Rhees, 2 March 1959)

Drury's comment is that "Philosophy proceeds not by the accumulation of information but by the discarding of assumptions." Guthrie wrote that "the man who has rid his mind of a false conception is already nearer the truth" (Socrates (1971), p. 179). An example of this would be Wittgenstein's investigation of the assumption that the meaning of a common name is the common nature it names. An assumption -- 'presumption' would be clearer -- is what you think you know but do not.

Meanwhile, according to Wittgenstein the wound is the "bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language" (PI § 119).

"What we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand" (ibid. § 118), that is, we are becoming clearer about the meaning of the language we use. And that too is a worthy aim for philosophy (Indeed, it formed part of Socrates's method of step-by-step agreement).

Meaning, public, objective, Wittgenstein, Socrates

But there are many, many meanings of the word 'meaning' besides the one meaning of 'meaning' Wittgenstein chose, the one Wittgenstein selected ("Let's only bother about ...") consistent with his game metaphor -- but are there other meanings of 'meaning' that make the distinction between sense and nonsense objective? Are there alternatives to Wittgenstein's logic of language? (Long ago I argued -- or tried to argue -- that Socrates had a logic of language rather than "a theory of meaning".) Wittgenstein wrote:

What interests me in the sign, the meaning that matters for me is what is embodied in the grammar of the sign.

By the word 'sign' Wittgenstein meant the physical aspect of language, e.g. spoken sounds, ink marks on paper, things like this. And by 'the grammar of the sign' Wittgenstein meant the rules for using the sign that give the sign meaning.

I ask: "How do you use the word; what do you do with it?" -- That will tell us how you understand it.

Here Wittgenstein is comparing language to tools which are used to do work, as he will also compare using those tools to making a move in a game, as e.g. moving a piece in chess or playing a card in whist.

Grammar is the account books of language. They must show the actual transactions of language. (PG i § 44, p. 87)

Account books can be opened to the public, audited to show whether the rules [of the game] have been correctly followed or not, thus creating sense or nonsense. The meaning of language, if 'meaning' is defined this way, is objective, independent of hidden mental states (PI § 126).

(The limit of this metaphor is that everyday language conventions are coincidental -- in contrast to contractual -- agreements between the speakers of the language which are not rigid, unlike the transactions in a court of law, although those are also a set of shared rules, open to the public.)

The method of Socrates -- and therefore the meaning of language in his discussions with his companions -- is likewise "open to the public" -- nothing is hidden (PI § 435), for if a man knows anything he can explain what he knows to others (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1). Contrast this to Descartes' method of introspection and Hegel's "inner night of the soul".

Wittgenstein did not investigate language meaning in the many meanings of 'meaning' that we investigate the language of poetry with, because the language of philosophy is the language of reason ("discourse of reason"), and unobjective meaning ("poetry") is not serviceable to philosophy. The language of philosophy is prose, as is likewise the language of Socrates' dialogs.

Wittgenstein's investigations are like F.H. Bradley's: We "disregard certain aspects when we work". Or indeed, like Eddington's treatment of an elephant sliding down a grassy hillside. Because his subject is not language, but philosophy (PI § 109).


What do we mean by 'conceived as'?

It occurs to me that 'conceived as' = 'pictured' where I have most often used the first expression in these pages, although does the second expression make anything clearer?

The expression -- the uses we make of 'conceived as' in the language really needs further explanation (i.e. grammatical accounting: a description of [the rules [definition] of] its use). Our natural response is to ask, "A picture -- a picture of what?" And if there is no object to compare the picture with, then what are we taking about -- why are we uttering the word 'picture'?

"Russell conceived philosophy as ..." or "Russell pictured philosophy as ..." What does that mean? Cf. the child who has made some marks on paper. -- The question in this case is not "What does it mean?" but "What do I mean by the marks I have made on paper?" Does 'conceived' mean anything more in this example than 'defined'? But which type of definition? "This, my project (work), is what I am calling 'philosophy'" is a verbal definition, but that does not make it arbitrary; the historical use of the word 'philosophy' is the background of such definitions.

What is the relation between our concepts 'concept' and 'conception'? If a 'concept' is a set of rules (i.e. definition), is a 'conception' also a set of rules?

If a 'concept' is a set of rules, then a concept is a game, i.e. is like a game, something played according to rules (a game as in "language-game") [PI II, vi, p. 183a (This idea is suggested by G. Hallett's index of the text)]. Of course that is only one way that we use the word 'concept' (The meaning I assign, for example), because sometimes it will be equivalent to 'picture' ("We make for ourselves pictures of the facts", real or imaginary), and countless other things ('ideas', 'notions', etc.) which we don't normally call -- i.e. classify as -- definitions. Should we, though?

"We make for ourselves pictures of the facts ..." But remember that all facts are already concept-laden (because "percepts without concepts are blind" -- and maybe not only blind, but also empty, without substance): there are no bare-percepts that one can talk about -- because 'language-using' = 'concept-using': using language is using concepts.


Philosophy, not entirely an unrequited love

In Why study philosophy, then?, I wrote:

"So then has my study of philosophy been a failure?" In the sense that I have never lost sight of the question of "life's meaning", I would say that it has not been. A student of philosophy is someone with a never-ending preoccupation with "the eternal questions", with "first and last questions" [logic, axioms, and death] and with the "mystery of existence" [life, ethics].

To that I wanted to add: Thank you, philosophy, for having been in my life, or, actually, for having been my life. I am grateful to have had the happiness to dwell among these questions. To stop thinking and writing about "elementary and final things" -- that would be death in life. ["I also believe that drunk men see things -- sometimes rats, sometimes worse."]


More things in heaven and earth

Query: universal versus particular philosophy. Hamlet.

I've no idea, but "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Horatio's philosophy" could be the particular, whereas "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in man's philosophy" could be the universal.

Hamlet's words "... than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (i, 5) needn't be taken in the singular (particular individual) sense of 'your' rather than in the plural (universal) sense of 'your', and universally they may mean 'philosophy' in its earliest sense, namely the sum of human knowledge (as distinct from metaphysical conjecture, fairy tales and fiction). That knowledge, Hamlet could say, doesn't allow for the existence of what Hamlet has just seen, namely his own father's ghost.

There is no more place for ghosts in Horatio's philosophy or world-picture that marks the limits of reality and therefore of what is really possible, than there is for Svengali's complete hypnotism of Trilby in Billie's philosophy. 'Things do not just vanish.' 'People do not return from the dead.' The distinction between the reality and fantasy.

Western people are now materialists, as is consistent with their scientific worldview, or rather, as is consistent with the project of science misconceived as metaphysics, which is what materialism is: they believe in only what they have seen and touched or ultimately can be seen or touched. In the old motion picture Svengali (1931), the actor who played the mesmerist, pronounced the line to mean: "I have powers which the ordinary man has no place for in his philosophy."

But in the context of the play, I believe Hamlet's remark is the particular sense of 'your' : Horatio's philosophy does not allow for the existence of such things as ghosts, whereas after seeing his father's ghost, Hamlet's now does.

The skeptical reply to any suggestion that Hamlet had seen a ghost would be: "Can it only be explained one way? Can't it be this or that?" (LC ii, p. 60-61; cf. PI § 52)

"I fear," said Holmes, "that if the matter is beyond humanity it is certainly beyond me. Yet we must exhaust all natural explanations before we fall back upon such a theory as this.... I take it, in the first place, [Watson,] that neither of us is prepared to admit diabolical intrusions into the affairs of men. Let us begin by ruling that entirely out of our minds."

"Come, come," Horatio might say, "is that the only possible explanation?" Indeed, no reasonable person regards that as even a possible explanation.

"An unjust world is a meaningless world"

Query: Hamlet often says that life is meaningless - why is he so convinced of this?

Because "the time is out of joint ... things rank and gross possess it merely" (ii, 1) -- in a word, injustice makes it "meaningless". God is an absent gardener and it falls to man to do the weeding of an unjust world ... where that is possible, but it is not everywhere possible. There is Gertrude's marriage e.g. "within a month"; but Hamlet does not accuse Gertrude of complicity in his father's death, and so: how is Hamlet to set that right ("female fickleness" or want of fidelity). If nature is indifferent to justice, then is the world not "meaningless" (unintelligible and repugnant)? There are weeds in Voltaire-Candide's garden that cannot be extracted, or so it seems.

In Hamlet's view of life, there could only be hope against hope -- i.e. hope with nothing for its foundation "except hope itself" (the legacy of Pandora in Hesiod's Works and Days), which is "meaningless" -- i.e. worthless and repugnant.

The word 'meaningless' here does not mean that no sense can be made of it, but that its sense is that the world is in the hands of the devil: evil conquers good, injustice justice.

[The comparison of Shakespeare's Hamlet with Aeschylus' Agamemnon. On the one hand the strong characters of Clytemnestra, Electra and Orestes, and on the other, Gertrude the stupid, Ophelia the weepy, and Hamlet the whiney.]


The Vox populi ("Assimilating Wittgenstein")

They say that the voice of the people is the voice of God. I've never believed that. (Beethoven)

Those who do believe that must answer for the silencing not only of Socrates but also of Galileo. (Well, no, not of Galileo: the Catholic Church doesn't ask "the learning church" to vote on theological questions.) But unlike Plato and other philosophers ("The truth is not decided by taking a vote"), Aristotle does accept the vote, that is, "the voice of the people", although only when it is universal: "We maintain that what everyone believes is true (once we, Aristotle, have revised it)". (Aristotle and the consensus omnium.)

Query: another name for philosophy logic puzzles.

In the case of Zeno of Elea, 'paradoxes' may be another name ('paradox' DEF.= 'speech against the common belief' (orthodoxy), I think, if I am not, as I often am, mistaken). And Aristotle would have, then, to prove those false, since they are contrary to the "universal belief" of mankind, where Achilles does indeed pass the tortoise and the arrow reaches its target.

As if philosophy could ever have "lots of friends"

In my view not only "the logic of our language is misunderstood" -- but that also Wittgenstein's work in philosophy is misunderstood. -- Drury wrote in 1966 that Wittgenstein's writings are not "easily assimilable into the very intellectual [and spiritual] milieu they were largely a warning against" (Recollections p. xi), and Malcolm in 1984 that Wittgenstein's work "has not been genuinely assimilated within academic philosophy" (ibid. p. xiii). And the translator of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Grammar wrote in 1973 that academics falsely believed they had assimilated Wittgenstein's work, which I take to mean that it's as if the "professional philosophers" had said: "Very well, we've learned the lessons Wittgenstein has to teach; we've understood all that, and now we can get back to doing things -- i.e. misconceiving language meaning -- the way we always have."

What I would say is that you cannot both say that you have understood -- or must I say accepted? -- Wittgenstein's later "critique of language" and at the same time go on doing philosophy in the old way -- i.e. philosophizing in generalities, dreaming up real definitions of abstractions (Rationalism: "letting the words speak to you", i.e. taking their meaning to be whatever the words suggest to you, whatever seems right to you -- without any objective logic of language at all) with few or no examples, always in "unreadable sentences".

Freud's fanciful pseudo-explanations (precisely because they are so brilliant) perform a disservice.

(Now any ass has these pictures available to use in "explaining" symptoms of illness.) (CV p. 55, a remark from 1946)

Replace "fanciful pseudo-explanations" with "limited insights" and that is the other danger, namely that Wittgenstein's generalizations may be blithely used to "explain away" the problems of philosophy. Students who have no interest in philosophy will say: "There are no great philosophical problems of existence because those are only pseudo-problems. Philosophy just mops up language muddles."

Neither Wittgenstein nor any other philosopher could ever be assimilated except in a doctrinaire, "slogan-swallowing" way (cf. "Existentialism" in the 1960s) -- as if philosophy could ever have "lots of friends" (Recollections p. 147), as if philosophy could ever be easy.

(For the Preface [to the Philosophical Investigations]). It is not without reluctance that I deliver this book to the public. It will fall into hands which are not for the most part those in which I like to imagine it. May it soon -- this is what I wish for -- be completely forgotten by the philosophical journalists, and so be preserved perhaps for a better sort of reader. (CV p. 66) ... I am really writing for friends who are scattered throughout the corners of the globe. (ibid. p. 6)

Once published neither the writer nor the written word can defend itself. Who are Wittgenstein's friends?

Philosophers come and go, but philosophy is always philosophy

Query: what have we really learned from Wittgenstein?

What is there to be learned from any philosopher beyond what Socrates tried to teach his companions, as in the last words that Drury had from Wittgenstein: "Whatever becomes of you, don't stop thinking" (Recollections p. 170): "the unexamined life is not worth living" (Apology 37e-38a). I have written about what I think Wittgenstein's master question in philosophy is, and that is what I think there is to learn from Wittgenstein: that if our thinking is to be critical, then it must be founded on an objective distinction between sense and nonsense.

What a philosopher has to teach is not easy to learn, because what a philosopher has learned [seen] is not easy to learn [see] .... But what does a philosopher have to teach? "A philosopher says: Look at things this way!" (CV p. 61) But his is not the only way. [Wittgenstein and the "final word" in philosophy.]

Philosophers come and go. Philosophies fall in and out of favor. But philosophy is always philosophy.


Rules, the subject of logic. And Games.

Query: jump-rope game, rules, school.

This really is just like asking for a definition -- i.e. rules for using a word. This query allows you to be struck by just how similar language and games are, and yet that simple metaphor was an act of philosophical genius.

Query: Ludwig Wittgenstein believed that language was structured like a game.

No, Wittgenstein did not believe that: he did not have "a theory about the structure of language" at the time he introduced his game simile: using language can be compared to playing games, where what characterize a game are its rules. Both language-use and game-playing are more-or-less guided by rules.

[Variation 1. We is always looking for a theory (because we cannot imagine anything else that philosophy might be other than a theory about reality). What Wittgenstein believed was that he had found a useful comparison (way of looking at language), namely let us compare language to a game, where what characterizes a game is rules (logical grammar).]

[Variation 2. What Wittgenstein believed was that this comparison is useful to philosophy. In Wittgenstein's "logic of language" meaning is not a matter of form ("structure") but of use -- and it was the meaning of language that concerned him. What he did was to compare language to games: words are [like] game pieces the moves of which are governed by the rules of the game. -- This was not a theory, not a thesis or doctrine about what language "really" is or about a "hidden reality behind the appearances" (PI § 345: in logic nothing is hidden).]

To understand Wittgenstein here, we must learn something new -- must learn to look at philosophy in a different, a new way. Here is the most important difference between the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Philosophical Investigations: about the TLP you could say: Wittgenstein believed such-and-such about language, because in the TLP Wittgenstein thought he was taking about what language "really" is [its essence], about how it "really" (despite any [every] appearance to the contrary) works. Wittgenstein's later principle is comparative, not ontological.

Although in the page Projects in Philosophy, I suggest that Wittgenstein did put forth several theories in the Philosophical Investigations, e.g. about the origins of philosophy, his concept 'language-games' is not one of those.

The logic of comparison

What you could say is that Wittgenstein believed that it is, in many cases, worthwhile to compare using language to playing games. [A comparison is not a theory, because anything can be compared to anything else in some specific way or another, and saying that x is like y is not the same as saying that x is y. That is the logic of comparison. Language is not a game, certainly not "really" a game. -- Using language is not playing a game (although there are word games that children play).] The question is: just how similar is any bit of language to a game -- are its rules like the fixed rules of chess, for example?

There is no winning or losing in a language-game [An equivalent might be confusing your companion by making a move (i.e. saying something in reply) that was nonsense, like moving a chessman along a diagonal and clear off the board]. 'A is like B' does not equal 'A is B'. For example, a plane tree in summer is like an awning: both provide shade from the sun; but a tree is not an awning, and in winter it is not even like an awning. A comparison is not an identification. An identification of the type 'x is really y' is a theory ("metaphysics"). There is no "Wittgenstein's theory of language-games"; there is only a comparison he made between language and games.

Wittgenstein called the rules of language "grammar", but by 'grammar' he did not mean only 'syntax' ["structure", "form"] -- but also and most importantly 'semantics' -- i.e. "everything needed to explain the use of language". Above all, he meant the explanations of meaning, the definitions, the [coincidental, not contractual] conventions [rules] for using a word in the language. If we compare a word to a tool -- what work do we do with it? For a large class of cases, what we mean by 'the meaning' is the use that we make of a word in the language, the work we use it to do (PI § 43).

[That is the meaning of the word 'meaning' -- and it is only one meaning of the word 'meaning' -- that Wittgenstein chose for his logic of language. This is neither the science of theoretical linguistics nor Philosophy of Language; it is, instead, logic as "the art of definition". "Let's only talk about the grammatical sense, and not concern ourselves with meaning in any other sense." (PG i § 32, p. 68-69)]

According to the Tractatus, language is structured like architects' cardboard models of the buildings, streets, infrastructure, they propose to construct. And in this case there is structure, but it has nothing to do with Wittgenstein's game metaphor. I cannot imagine what 'structure of a game' might mean -- i.e. what anyone might mean by that combination of words (although you could make a step-by-step chart of the [rules of] play of the game). You could talk about the layout of a chessboard or of a tennis court and call that 'the structure of a game', but it isn't obvious what the relationship of that to language-use would be -- i.e. what comparison would be made between the two.

Questions about structure or form belong to the time of the Tractatus, but the game comparison belongs to later works, such as Philosophical Grammar, The Blue Book, and Philosophical Investigations, where the meaning of language is not a matter of form, but of use.

Wittgenstein's post-Tractatus work cannot by understood if it is approached from the "old way of thinking" (PI Preface), the old point of view where philosophy is about inventing theories and doctrines. It requires learning to look at philosophy from a new point of view.

Query: philosophy of language course textbook, Wittgenstein.

Well, but did Wittgenstein have a philosophy of language? (in contrast to a logic of language). -- But the query is wrong, quite wrong: it misunderstands Wittgenstein and his work in philosophy. There is more to language -- to the meaning of language -- than is dreamt of in Wittgenstein's philosophy (i.e. in Wittgenstein's limited definition of 'meaning': there are many meanings of 'meaning'; Wittgenstein chose one for his work in philosophy). Wittgenstein's work is Philosophy, not Philosophy of Language; he is interested in language only because he is interested in philosophy, which, according to him, doesn't merely use language as its tool, but is itself a by-product of language.

Furthermore, why a "text book" when you have Wittgenstein's own writing, the later in simple, everyday language, clouded only by the reader's preconceptions (PI § 103), to study. Why ask for the circus-mirror reflections of the sophists ("professional philosophers") rather than that? Ersatz isn't better than the real thing.

Aristotle's ethics and logic tautologies

Query: importance of logic in language.

If the query alludes to Aristotle's logic, then doubtless "all, some, not-all, none" are very important elements of language -- i.e. the classification scheme implicit in our language itself teaches us how to think, how to reason: e.g. "IF all cats are animals, AND Fluffy is a cat, THEN ..." etc.

Akin to this -- that is, in the same family of ideas -- is Aristotle's middle concepts and the moral virtues, as in this chart (from memory).

Distorted
deficient
Virtuous Distorted
excess
blasphemous,
irreverent
pious superstitious
indulgent,
irresponsible
just,
fair,
equitable
rigid,
intolerant,
merciless
cowardly brave,
courageous
foolhardy,
reckless
licentious self-controlled,
temperate
inflexible,
humorless

And which family of ideas is this? The family of conceptual relationships we learn when we learn language.

Query: role of logic in language.

Expressed this way, I think I understand the query, and the example of Aristotle's classes and sub-classes, synonyms and antonyms, would serve that purpose.

Query: logic, metaphysics, poetry, Wittgenstein.

Here I'd like to say (at first blush; therefore this is not philosophy): there is a relation between one and two [logic and metaphysics] and then again between two and three [metaphysics and poetry], but not between 1 and 3 [logic and poetry].


The meaning of the word 'God'

Note: this continues the main discussion Is the word 'God' a name? and Can there be a "real definition" of God?

What is the meaning of the word 'God' -- how is that word used in our language?

"The concept 'God' or 'gods'", or, "the concept of God or gods". Both those forms of expression -- although I would not use the second, because it suggests that 'God' is the name of an "abstract object" about which one has a "conception" or "theory" about what it really is -- mean our held-in-common rules for using the word 'God', although those rules are various and few if any are essential (cf. PI § 79).

Is the word 'God' the name given to the solution of the riddles of existence, e.g. to Why is there anything rather than nothing? Wittgenstein, although he did believe in God in some sense of 'believe in God' (although I am unable to figure out which sense; he wrote: "The way you use the word 'God' shows not whom you mean -- but instead what you mean" (ibid. p. 50), but what did Wittgenstein mean, because he always used anthropomorphic language when talking about God. (Wittgenstein's austere faith.)

God -- the concept 'God' -- is an explanation that explains nothing. God is not an explanation but the silencing of the demand for an explanation [for any explanation].

If you are faced with an insoluble mystery ("The riddle of existence"), what is added to that by the invention of a further mystery [God]? That there is a difference between a Mind and a rock, and that man can do nothing with a rock here.

That would be another way of saying that there is no such thing as natural theology but only investigations of the grammar of 'the God of the philosophers'. There are as well investigations of the grammar of the word 'God' -- i.e. of how we use that word in religion (cf. Wittgenstein, "Theology as grammar" (PI § 373)).

There used to be [and perhaps there still are] elementary courses in "philosophy" at universities titled "The Problem of God". But that puts the answer before the question, and furthermore it gives the answer an opaque name. It posits a solution rather than identifies a problem to be solved. Because wasn't the riddle -- i.e. life's problem -- what suggested God and gods to man to begin with? And therefore that is where you must start: with the problem (the riddle, the perplexity). Otherwise God is just a picture that is forced on you merely because it exists in our language. That is, the concept, the institution of language-use, is there -- i.e. it exists as a given for us (OC § 559) -- and now what position are you going to take towards it? -- But that is not the place to begin. Instead, what is needed is a fresh beginning, free of any concept 'God'.

When Socrates, who most surely believed in gods, asks about how we should live our life, he does not ask for knowledge in ethics based on knowledge of the gods, which no man has. Socratic ethics is founded on what is known of man's nature, his life in this world. (Although Plato says that it is an ethics serviceable for this world, and any other where man may find himself, for it is a life free of wrong-doing. (Gorgias 527a-b))

Socrates' belief in gods has at least this advantage: that one can say of the Greek gods that, being all-rational, they are benevolent without contradicting experience, because they are not also all-powerful.

What would it be like never to have learned [been exposed to] the concept [the words] 'God' and 'gods'? If you can examine the riddles of existence from that perspective, you may see the world aright, if it is possible to see the world aright.

If someone does not believe in God, he does not need to teach his children 'There is no God'; he can omit to teach them the word 'God'. (Cf. Z 413: the original has the words 'fairies' and 'fairy', but the grammatical point is the same.)

Can we say that? Certainly we can say that. The concept 'god' belongs exclusively to the human form of life (What would it mean to say that a cat believes in God?) -- but not essentially so; human life without it is quite imaginable (and indeed primitive man's thought-world, in the place where A. Schweitzer studied it, is without that concept: there are mal-intentioned nature spirits only).

Strange that whole epochs cannot free themselves from the grips of certain concepts, 'God' e.g. (cf. CV p. 79; the original has: 'beautiful' and 'beauty'.)

However, it is quite possible to free oneself of useless pictures, for examples, the picture of the word 'mind' as the name of an invisible object ("spirit"), and of the pictures Pascal called "the God of the philosophers and scholars" and Bonhoeffer called "God as a working hypothesis" as well. The God of religion, however, is a different matter: our life can be an education (CV p. 86 [MS 174 1v: 1950 § 1b]).


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