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Philosophy begins in Wonder

SOCRATES: I see, my dear Theaetetus, that Theodorus had a true insight into your nature when he said that you were a philosopher; for wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder. (Plato, Theaetetus 155c-d, tr. Jowett; "wonder" in Aristotle.)

But in which sense of the word 'wonder'? What is 'philosophic wondering'?

According to Plato, being puzzled and therefore wanting to be unpuzzled is the origin of philosophy. G.E. Moore agreed, as did Wittgenstein, but perhaps not Immanuel Kant ("Two things fill us with awe: the starry sky above and the moral law within"). In Plato's Apology the oracle of Apollo at Delphi gives Socrates special reason to wonder in philosophy.

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Background: The expression 'logic of language' is taken from Wittgenstein, but in my jargon it asks: How is sense (language with meaning) to be distinguished from nonsense (language without meaning) in the discussion of philosophical problems? Note: words that follow "Query" were Internet searches that were directed or misdirected to this site.


The following discussions concern the origins of philosophy in the human mind. An account of the historical origins of philosophy is given elsewhere.

Philosophy begins in Perplexity (in being puzzled)

Query: what is wonder in philosophy?

For Wittgenstein and Moore philosophy begins in perplexity, not somewhere else, not in "the starry sky above and the moral law within" (Kant), not in 'wonder' in Kant's sense. Plato wrote that the origin of philosophy is "wonder" (Theaetetus 155c-d) -- however, the wonder Plato speaks of there is 'wonder' in the sense of 'puzzlement' or 'perplexity' (Meno 84c), not 'wonder' in the sense of 'awe', 'amazement', or 'curiosity'.

Philosophy begins in being puzzled by something -- although not by just anything, but by something within the scope of philosophy, namely, something in logic, ethics, or metaphysics (if that is where we choose, as the Greek Stoics did, to place the limits of the concept 'philosophy'. Or is there "a real definition of philosophy"?) -- and wanting, and therefore seeking, to no be longer puzzled by it. Cf.:

"Wonder" and philosophy in Aristotle

For men were first led to study philosophy, as indeed they are today, by wonder. Now, he who is perplexed and wonders believes himself to be ignorant ... they took to philosophy to escape ignorance ... (Aristotle, Metaphysics 982b, tr. A.E. Taylor)

I think Aristotle means seeing that you don't know something results in your seeking to know it ("wondering") -- and this seeking is called 'philosophy'.

Puzzlement gives birth to a longing for clarity, which may come from further knowledge -- or it may come from rethinking what we already think we know. When I was a youth I said, "All my life I have felt surrounded by vagueness and confusion", and I was told this was a good reason to study philosophy. Although the logic of language part of this has lessened somewhat, the other part (contra the TLP [5.6, 6.4312] "The riddle doesn't exist") has not, not philosophically it hasn't:

"Life will always remain for us an enigma" (A. Schweitzer)

That conception of philosophy, as its eternal questions -- unanswered and unanswerable -- show, sees our life as being lived in the midst of an enigma or mystery ("the riddle") that it wants to solve, and like all thinking called philosophy since Thales, its method and standard is to seek to solve that problem by the natural light of reason alone. That solution is the wisdom, as elusive as it may be, this philosophy seeks. [Metaphysics: "What is fundamentally and ultimately real?"]

But that solution is not found in apparent reality [historically called "the appearances"], and so philosophy so-conceived seeks to know the reality beyond apparent reality -- being skeptical of the proposition that To be is to be perceptible (or at least in principle perceptible), whereas what is not in principle perceptible does not exist -- (And that the limits of reality just happen to be the same as the limits of the five-sensed, three-dimensional mind of man does sound most implausible, doesn't it?)

Because empirical verification is natural science's standard for knowing, its methodology is sense-perception limited -- but that standard is not an ontological claim. In contrast, this philosophy wants to know reality from the point of view of metaphysics (ontology) and ethics -- absolute but humanly comprehensible reality -- which is different from the point of view of natural science.

Socrates as a special case of philosophy beginning in wonder

On the other hand, according to Plato's Apology (but not Xenophon's Memories of Socrates), philosophy for Socrates had its origin in the words of Apollo's oracle at Delphi that "no one is wiser than Socrates", which perplexed Socrates because he didn't think that he knew anything worth knowing.

Socrates also "wondered" at the task set man by the words inscribed at the temple of Apollo at Delphi, namely "Know thyself": Seek to know the specific excellence that is proper to mankind and to yourself as an individual, because life according to that excellence is the good for you, the guide to how you should live your life. The Greeks had long applied those words to practical skill, but Socrates extended it to moral virtue as well.

It was Socrates, with his firm faith in natural reason and his profound love of the truth for what is good, who introduced the study of ethics to philosophy (Diog. L. i, 14, 18), to which it had not belonged before the time of Socrates and the Sophists. He used the method of answer and cross-question -- a discussion of the kind called 'dialectic' or 'dialog', in contrast to 'speech-making', 'oration', a 'lengthy discourse' (cf. Plato, Gorgias 461d-462a) -- to make his study.

"Amazement"

Query: does philosophy start with amazement?

In some cases maybe philosophizing follows as a response (because philosophy is rational reflection) to amazement = astonishment (that anything exists). But Socrates did not concern himself with what we now call metaphysics (which in those days was called physics), or indeed speculation of any kind (Phaedrus 229e-230a).

And so Socrates did not ask, as philosophers like Leibniz ask, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" (The picture is of all existing things as a single unit named 'the world'). But it may happen that philosophy begins in astonishment at that picture of things, astonishment that anything at all exists (which Wittgenstein in effect calls "nonsense that conveys meaning").

A question that is itself the answer?

Query: philosophy begins with amazement.

According to Wittgenstein: philosophy only begins there if we don't know where to stop, namely at our astonishment.

Here we come up against a remarkable and characteristic phenomenon in philosophical investigation: the difficulty -- I might say -- is not that of finding the solution but rather that of recognizing as the solution something that looks as if it were only a preliminary to it. "We have already said everything. -- Not anything that follows from this, no, this itself is the solution!" ... If we dwell upon it, and do not try to get beyond it.

The difficulty here is: to stop. (Z § 314)

To go on to try to philosophize here shows that you don't understand the limit of rationality -- i.e. of philosophy as "discourse of reason", of what can be put into words and cross-questioned. Astonishment is the answer to this question without answer, the end beyond which there is nowhere to go. To ask that question is the answer; there is nothing further to cross-question.

Query: philosophy begins in wonder, and it ends in wonder. Socrates.

Philosophy begins in perplexity, perplexity about what is real, about how to live, how to think -- and it also ends in perplexity, for who can answer such questions definitively? For every metaphysical picture there is another; for every idea about the good for man there is another; for every method of reasoning there is another. In the Apology, Plato says philosophy or wisdom begins and ends in seeing that one does not know "anything of much importance" (if Plato's form of expression here is not hyperbolic, for maybe Socrates knows things "worth knowing"?) Certainly no one knows the answers to the eternal questions, nor to Plato's question about the meaning of common names if it is not the common nature they name, because to dismiss that requirement as a misconception (as Wittgenstein does) does not resolve Plato's dilemma of finding a universal guide in ethics for every particular circumstance of our life.

Query: difference between philosophy and wonder.

Things that perplex us are the raw stuff of philosophy, but they are not philosophy -- not if philosophy has anything to do with philosophizing, because then philosophy is what we do about that stuff, namely, try to resolve it by the natural light of reason alone. Philosophy begins in recognizing our not-knowing (or, ignorance) -- however, it does not presume that we can never know, that we can never resolve our perplexity. For Socrates, his conclusion that no man is wise comes at the end of his investigation, not at its beginning, and even so he says that he himself will never stop seeking wisdom, never give up until he knows (Euthyphro 15c).

Generalization and Presumption

Query: assuming that philosophy begins in wonder.

Does Plato observe and then assume that the origin of all philosophy is perplexity (ignorance of what one would like to understand), or is his claim so general as to be irrefutable? In contrast, did Wittgenstein observe and then unjustly assume that all philosophical perplexity is caused by conceptual confusion (and nothing else) when he generalized from Some to All? For example, if someone who is perplexed by death, is he perplexed because he is conceptually confused, as Wittgenstein's generalization would hold? (In contrast, the materialist is not perplexed by the facts, but he is conceptually confused.)

We want to generalize in philosophy because that is one of our two ways of understanding (The other is this: philosophy must never gloss over the particular case: there are anomalies) -- of what we call 'understanding'. It is the source of our theory-making. And it is the source of our being misled. It is why Plato everywhere seeks the essence of things (which would be the meaning of their names), whereas about himself Wittgenstein said, "if someone shows me [examples of] how a word is used and its different meanings, that is just the sort of answer I want" (Recollections p. 115), but even he could not resist the temptation to generalize: "The essential thing about metaphysics: that the difference between factual and conceptual investigations is not clear to it. A metaphysical question is always in appearance a factual one, although the problem is a conceptual one" (RPP i § 949). And he was wrong:

Perplexed by death

In what way is someone who wonders what death is perplexed (by concepts or by facts)? And someone who wonders what "the essential nature of man" is, as Plato and Aristotle did (and as Socrates had done in a different way) -- in what way is he perplexed?

Metaphysics and Curiosity

Query: philosophy started with a sense of curiosity and wonder in ...?

What I am calling philosophy began in Greece (Diog. L. i, 4). Did Thales ask about the reality of things because he was perplexed (confused, puzzled) or simply because he was curious (thirsting to learn, intrigued, fascinated) to know? As was his using geometry to measure the height of an Egyptian pyramid by the shadow it cast in the sand, Thales' wonder at the stars in the sky, where 'wonder' = 'curiosity', was proverbial among the Greeks of Plato's time (Theaetetus 173e-174b). Metaphysics of the pre-Socratic kind may well have begun in curiosity, and wanting to satisfy that curiosity by the natural light of reason alone. (Question: has metaphysics a place in the education of the young child?)

Philosophy begins in "mistakes in language"

But Wittgenstein set philosophy on a different course: philosophy begins in "our failure to understand the logic of our language", or in other words, in things that our language prompts us to say or ask. Contrary to Wittgenstein's view is the view that philosophy begins, not in misunderstanding the nature of language (i.e. in not being able to distinguish sense from nonsense), but in the "fundamental impulse to reflect about the world [that] stirs us during those years in which we begin to think independently" (Albert Schweitzer) --

Philosophy begins at the age of reason when the impulse to form one's own worldview begins

Query: metaphysics arises from ontological wonder.

Historically that might be said about Thales and the pre-Socratic philosophers. But for all people who seeking understanding by the natural light of reason alone, there is now something inherently perplexing about existence, namely that anything exists at all. And so there arises the question "Has existence as such an aim?"

That perception of existence might be called wonder arising out of the state of things ("ontology") -- or really, that perception might be called one kind of metaphysics -- not the pre-Socratic kind which doesn't ask why anything, in contrast to nothing at all, exists, but only what the essence of everything that exists is. What I read long ago, I don't remember where and it may be nonsense, is that in the Greek view of things, if existence exists, so to speak, it is because it is impossible for it not to.

[Note.--Schweitzer was referring to awakening from the slumber of childhood, when one seeks one's own view of things ("worldview") and of how one should live one's life. Both these might be said to arise from ontological = existential wonder, although the first is metaphysics (impossible, according to Wittgenstein), and the second is ethics (not part of philosophy at all, according to Wittgenstein).]

Philosophy, chaos and order

Query: Wittgenstein, philosophy begins in a lost way.

That is a very nice restatement of "A philosophical problem has the form: I don't know my way around" (PI § 123). I have lost my way = I am puzzled (cf. ibid. § 151). Most often in philosophy this is because it isn't clear to me whether I am asking about the nature of a phenomenon or about the use of a word (concept).

If philosophy begins in wonder, then is to philosophize to wonder, i.e. to be in a state of perplexity? "He serves me these days in darkness, but soon I shall bring him into the light" (Faust I, "Prologue in Heaven"), but does someone who philosophizes ever see that light, despite groping his way [Acts 17.27] towards (or away from) it? or do only illusions replace other illusions? And so "philosophy begins in a lost way", but does it also end in a lost way? "Is my understanding only blindness to my own lack of understanding?" (OC § 418)

[The god Apollo, the patron of philosophy, is the symbol of order and limit.]

Query: philosophical questions make you wander.

If you don't know your way about (PI § 123), you wander, I guess. And certainly when trying to solve a philosophical problem we often start off in directions that show themselves to be irrelevant to the problem's solution. Perplexity is this way: not knowing where the solution to the problem lies -- "I ask countless irrelevant questions. If only I can beat [a path] through this forest!" (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 136 117a: 15.1.1948]; cf. CV (1980) p.67) -- sometimes not even knowing what a solution to the problem would look like. Theaetetus: "philosophical puzzles set me wondering: whatever do they mean? My head gets quite dizzy when thinking about them" (155c).

Query: philosophy begins with order.

Maybe philosophy begins with wanting to put things in order (as if ignorance were chaos), or to "make sense of things" (as if ignorance were chaos). Cf. Wittgenstein's metaphor of tidying a room.

Philosophy and the Birth of Learning

Query: what other fields or disciplines could possibly have started from the wonder and curiosity of man?

The question is misleading, because it suggests that other disciplines originated independently or parallelly to philosophy, whereas they all arose out of philosophy = "music" = training of the intellect or Learning or "thirst for knowledge": philosophy became narrower when Plato said that the philosopher is not someone who wants to know just anything (Republic 475c-d), but that there is a particular field of knowledge that is the field of philosophy. Before then, 'philosophy' covered all fields of knowledge.

Query: why is philosophy the mother of all disciplines?

Is it, in what way, in what sense? Maybe we could say -- (i.e. I don't know if this is Thucydides' "what really happened") -- that biology is the mother of botany and zoology, i.e. that biology branched into narrower fields of interest (But to sub-divide is not the human way to give birth). But can we say this about philosophy? because e.g. did Socrates add the field of ethics to philosophy [Diog. L. i, 14, 18] or did Socrates invent the rational study of "no small matter, but how to live" (Plato, Republic 352d)? What I don't think we can say is that Metaphysics (which was the earliest area of philosophy) gave birth to Logic and/or Ethics. (Even if we identify 'philosophy' with 'learning', we surely don't mean by 'philosophy' a single subject -- what would it be? -- was the origin of all others.)

And so the query presents us with a metaphor, and now we ask what its application is -- (That is the logical way to proceed, not the wildly-speculate way I began above) -- i.e. we ask: A is like B -- in which specific way? (What is the logic of comparison?) "Philosophy gives birth to subject areas the way a mother gives birth to children" -- or rather, philosophy gave birth to all subjects just as the earth is the mother of all mankind (or Rome was the mother of all Romans in the story of Brutus the Elder and the oracle)? Is the meaning [application] of that metaphor clear?

The query's saying "Philosophy is the mother of all disciplines" ... maybe we could say that curiosity [perplexity] added to reason [logic] gave birth to [is the mother of] all the intellectual disciplines -- and that we call this -- i.e. perplexity plus logic [curiosity plus reasoning] -- 'philosophy'. That might answer the query's "why" -- i.e. give a meaning to its metaphorical saying, although that is not the only possible meaning (and I don't imagine it's the one the instructor is asking for).

Query: wonder is the beginning of philosophy.

Maybe we could say that wonder is the beginning of wisdom, philosophy the seeking of wisdom, and that not wondering enough is the source of all folly. And so we could in other words say that questioning is the beginning of wisdom (certainly it is for Socrates as Plato portrays him in Apology 37e-38a and Xenophon in Memorabilia iv, 6, 1, because the greatest good for a human being is wisdom -- because without wisdom there is no rational moral virtue, the specific excellence proper and unique to man).


Perplexity and semantic grammar

Query: Wittgenstein, and philosophy is bad grammar.

Maybe given the inability of philosophers to write "readable sentences" (Malcolm) you might want to say that. However, 'grammar' is a jargon-word in Wittgenstein's logic of language. It means the same as 'the logic of our language' above.

Query: philosophy as bad grammar.

Seeing philosophy as bad grammar -- is this a Gestalt shift? No, because by 'Gestalt shift' we do not mean a reasoned change: but a change that simply happens. When I used that metaphor -- I think mistakenly (for is it really applicable?), I simply wanted to suggest the enormity of the change. (Reason or persuasion in philosophy? For persuasion is akin to a Gestalt shift. But in philosophy we learn to look at things differently, and that learning is a thoroughgoing use of reason -- if it is philosophy rather than flibbertigibbetry.)

Query: meaning of life is caused by language - Wittgenstein.

Someone who has followed a grammatical analogy asks, "What is life's meaning?" or "Why is there anything at all?" (He thinks: what can be asked about the part, surely can also be asked about the whole. Why does one imagine that?) Could such questions exist without language? Do I believe that anyone who had never learned a language could ask them? The truth is that we don't know what it might mean to say that they could (Philosophical Investigations §§ 342-349). But does it follow from that -- that language causes them to be asked? You might say: language causes higher mathematics [What are Numbers?].

The author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus said that "The riddle does not exist" [6.5]. But if the riddle is nonsense, then how can we understand what it means to say that it does not exist? God himself cannot understand nonsense (i.e. undefined language), and "nonsense" that can convey meaning is after all not nonsense (Piero Sraffa). When is nonsense not nonsense?

Query: applying logic in our day-to-day living.
Query: logic in our day-to-day life.

Is this is related to "a book that would teach you how to think"? But don't we already know how to think logically (in Aristotle's sense of 'syllogistic logic'), because logic happens to be a built-in feature of our language? When we learn language we learn that "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal". On the other hand, there are countless types of bad reasoning which are not a matter of form but of sense. And so we have:

Query: false logic in speech.

Does false logic = unsound reasoning? When someone says "I don't understand your logic", does he mean "How does A follow from B? It is not clear to me from what you say"? Does 'logic' = 'line of reasoning' here?

How do we define 'line of reasoning' except by giving examples of reasoning. How do we learn, and how would we teach someone, to reason -- the meaning of the word 'reason'? Someone says "Here are the reasons for, here against, such-and-such course of action; let us weigh these alternatives". But another says instead "Let me think about it", but by 'think' does not mean 'reason it out' but that his decision will be for whichever course he "feels comfortable with". The latter does not "apply logic in our day to day living".

The category name "informal fallacies" suggests that "in some [mysterious] way" these fallacies resemble the "formal fallacies" demonstrated with syllogisms, although they do not. (cf. the vague picture suggested by the "concrete object" versus "abstract object" distinction, which makes the difference appear too slight). This verbal self-mystification is characteristic of our "savage" (PI § 194) form of life.

What I really want to ask, but maybe cannot give a clear sense to, is -- is rationality (or, reason as a guide to living) merely a "form of life"? Must I really say of that fellow who does not "apply logic in our day to day living" that he simply lives differently than I do? Of course the reasoning man will always attack the unreasoning man -- but does he have the right to?

"Reason as a guide to living". I wrote elsewhere: "There is no place in my life where I would want to say: Here I do not use reason". Of course not everyone will accept Schweitzer's statement that "Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it." There they might want to say instead that they do not use reason (Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief i, p. 59).

"... logic in our day to day living" -- This is of course, to any follower of Socrates, an essential topic. There is Wittgenstein's famous remark to Malcolm:

... what is the use of studying philosophy ... if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life.... (Letter No. 9)

Wittgenstein contrasted "making plausible remarks" about topics in philosophy [Is that what we do in philosophy -- make "plausible" remarks?] with thinking clearly about the problems (above all, the ethical problems) of our daily life.

"... bad reasoning which is not a matter of form but of sense." There are manuals of "informal fallacies" in the library. I can remember only a few: complex question ("Have you left off beating your father? -- Answer yes or no!" [Diog. L. ii, 135]), where the correct response is to "ask to divide the question", and the ad hominem (which is when the person making the argument is criticized rather than the argument itself), for example, and there are a few which I have never found a clear example of, for instance circular argument (and indeed this is why I don't find academic manuals very helpful, because either they give no examples at all or too few examples, so that it is seldom clear to me what they are talking about).

I suppose we could say that this was the area Wittgenstein was working in. However, the fallacies that concerned him were those that arose from our failure to understand the logic -- that is, the grammar", in his jargon -- of our language. And that the clarity I spoke of above comes from understanding the logic of our language. [Or as I should say: with an understanding of the logic of our language.]

The preface to the TLP is, I think, quite correct: the logic of our language is misunderstood (tr. Pears & McGuinness). But then how is it to be understood? (As if Wittgenstein's would be the last [the final] word on that matter! although I know of no alternative logics of language except that of Socrates' logic, which I don't know if it is worthwhile in philosophy.)

"Philosophy begins in the things human beings say"

... I would like to [begin my book] with the original data of philosophy, written and spoken sentences, with books as it were. (CV p. 8 [MS 110 10: 13.12.1930])

G.E. Moore wrote in his autobiography that for him philosophy begins in the strange things philosophers say. In Wittgenstein's view, our misunderstandings of the logic of our language prompt us to say those strange things.

Query: philosophy is wondering.

Philosophy begins in wondering, in being puzzled, being curious, being in awe. Of course we could say that for Moore, philosophy begins in wondering about the strange things philosophers have said, e.g. "The external world doesn't exist", "Time isn't real", things like this. But conflation (PI § 22) like that -- i.e. classifying all philosophizing as "wondering" -- destroys distinctions, leaving us poor in categories.

Query: philosophizing or wondering.

But we don't want to make the concept 'wonder' too broad, too blunt, too indefinite, by erasing its borders. We aren't always -- or don't believe that we are always -- perplexed when we are philosophizing: sometimes we have the illusion that we have solved a problem and then we write with confidence, not doubt.

Query: who said philosophy begins in doubt? Philosophy begins with a question.

If doubt comes before certainty, then maybe that would be Descartes' saying, because that is Descartes' method, to begin by doubting everything that can be doubted in hopes of finding something that cannot be doubted.

Often though, philosophy begins with an apparent insight into something philosophical, as e.g. Thales metaphysical proposition that "Reality is water", about which doubts and questions only arise later. That is how philosophizing begins for G.E. Moore, with a proposition that must be tested to see what its meaning is and whether it is true (which was one of two ways that philosophical discussion began for Socrates).

Philosophy may begin with doubt as it does in Cartesian philosophy, or it may begin with an assertion or a question, as it does in Socratic philosophy. But it needn't always begin with a question.

Query: why do questions exist?

We can describe a language in which it is impossible to ask questions, a language in which e.g. only assertions can be made or commands given. But can we describe a human community in which the asking of questions cannot be part of its way of life, because it has no defined method for asking questions (no question-and-answer "language games")?

Because even a dog may have a questioning look about it, perplexity as shown (PI § 360) by its inclined head, as may a small child: What is happening? What is this that are you doing? (This appears to be the earliest connection between philosophy, wonder and education.)

Samuel Johnson

In July this year he formed some scheme of mental improvement, the particular purpose of which does not appear. But we find in his "Prayers and Meditations," p. 25, a prayer entitled, "On the Study of Philosophy, as an instrument of living;" and after it follows a note, "This study was not pursued." (Boswell, The Life of Dr. Johnson, 1755.Ætat.46)

All my thoughts (since I put aside "the things of childhood") have been focused on life in the light of death, and I am not easily distracted. I have always believed that philosophy should be at the service of life (which was Socrates' view). It is not a diversion. (Unless life in a confused mind be at the service of life, then the logic of language cannot be seen as being very far removed from life. What use is philosophy? If a man learns how to think ... The subject of Logic as one of Philosophy's three parts.)

In which sense of the word 'logic' were the queries about? If by 'logic' we mean 'the rules of the game', then these include the "rules for reasoning" (if we are willing to say that there really are non-arbitrary rules). By 'logical' I believe Schweitzer meant 'self-consistent thought' and Pascal 'non-contradiction'. We do, of course, apply this principle every day, but examples of this are best left to the young student to discover.

["This study was not pursued." As were many other pledges to amend his life Johnson made to God, and so Johnson said, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" -- i.e. intentions that aren't followed through.]

Query: Wittgenstein, language alive.

The word 'alive' here I take to mean 'use', that the meaning of language is to be found in what human beings do with it, and that what we do may have countless variations: our concepts are fluid. Wittgenstein compared using language to playing a game according to fixed rules (PI § 81), but that is a comparison not a requirement (ibid. § 107); the actual rules may be far from fixed -- or not.

The meaning of a sign (in Wittgenstein's jargon, 'sign' means: the physical aspect of language only, e.g. spoken sounds, marks on paper, lines drawn in the sand, gestures made with the hands) is the use human beings make of it -- in practice, as we live our life. The task of logic (grammar) is to describe that practice, either as it actually is or as it might be in a counter-factual world (of which the Fable of The Born-Blind People is an example) in contrast.

Query: Wittgenstein Blue Book, life, sign, use.

Otherwise a sign is dead ink marks or dead sound -- i.e. without meaning, "lifeless": what gives the sign life [meaning]? Wittgenstein's answer was: the role it plays in our everyday life. A sign lives in the language-game that is its original home (PI § 116).

The difficulty is that I feel that I must give the entire background, as it is given in my Synopsis, or, as I used to have at the top of my pages: this page won't be understood without first understanding Wittgenstein's Logic of Language. -- Because this really is Wittgenstein's logic of language, his conception of philosophy: it is not the logic of language, nor the only way that philosophical problems can be looked at. A lot of background is required to understand his work; it is, as he said, not "for tourists".


Cause and Correlation

Note: the following continues the main discussion: M. O'C. Drury's philosophy of science.

Is the mere making of correlations science? (If Hume's account were correct, that there are in reality nothing but correlations, could there be what we call natural science?) At most one might believe in the significance of a strong correlation -- that is, believe on the basis of nothing more than the correlation that there is a causal relationship as well. -- But is that science [what we want to call 'science']? Claude Bernard did not think so. The statistical studies the public prints report each day -- are they a caricature of science? Shouldn't such correlations be regarded as no more than preliminary studies ["working hypotheses"] that ought not to be reported outside the research community?

But, on the other hand, shouldn't well-established correlations be reported to the general public -- e.g. correlations between poverty and health? And do we not also call well-established correlations such as this 'science'? That does not stop a mechanism [cause] from being sought, however, and is not tracing a mechanism the ideal of science -- what we call 'scientific explanation'? I don't know. According to Eddington, the ideal of science -- as evidenced by the actual practices of scientists -- has changed.

Statistics - Generalities

Max Frisch shows what statistics amount to this way (Or rather this is the way I thought I remembered, but see pages 129-131 of Homo Faber ("Man the Maker"), tr. M. Bullock, 1959).

"The bite of this snake rarely results in death," the doctor said. "Its venom is fatal in only three percent of cases."

"I see ..." the mother said. "Then if I had 100 daughters, I would only lose three of them. But I only have one daughter."

In Dickens' Hard Times, Tom says to Mr. Gradgrind, "You've used these statistics to comfort others, father. Now use them to comfort yourself."

Facts Replaced by Theories

Doctors treat lab reports and vital-sign machines rather than the human being lying in front of them. This is another instance of replacing a fact with a theory: "Reality which lies before us at every moment is replaced by the abstract picture we have ourselves created." We could adapt Ignazio Silone's observation about political parties: "First there is a fact; then there is a theory to explain the fact; then the theory is identified with the fact; then the theory replaces the fact."

How mistaken I was as a young doctor when I thought medical practice was a matter of medical technique. That would make a doctor a body mechanic! No, a doctor must be a person who feels in his own body and spirit all that the patient suffers in body and spirit .... I've come to understand that medicine is a vocation, a personal call from God -- which means that examining a patient, taking an x-ray or giving an injection is part of the kingdom of God. (Takashi Nagai (1910-1951), quoted in Glynn, A Song for Nagasaki (1988), xxix)

This is what A. Schweitzer wanted, that his hospital be a village of the kingdom of God, a place where life is treated with reverence.


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