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Goethe - Unity of Life and Thought

What did Goethe represent to Wittgenstein? Maybe we can use Albert Schweitzer's understanding of Goethe as an object of comparison.

Outline of this page ...

Preface: The background of my remarks is the question of how nonsense and sense in philosophy are distinguished in language (or, in my jargon, "logic of language"), but the first topic of the present page is historical.

Albert Schweitzer's view of Goethe

Earlier I wrote that "I do not understand the symbol that Goethe is for native German-language speakers" (and consequently how Goethe was important to Wittgenstein), and my impression is that this lack of understanding is quite common. Schweitzer's view of Goethe suggests that the reason we don't understand Goethe is that we are trying to measure him with an inappropriate yardstick.

He does not fill one with enthusiasm. In his work he advances no new, inspiring theories. He offers us what he has experienced in thought and action and what he has transformed into a higher reality. Only in personal experience do we come near to him [and] find him a friend instead of a stranger. (Schweitzer, "Goethe Prize Address, 28 August 1928", quoted in Pilgrimage to Humanity (1961), tr. W.E. Stuermann, p. 60)

... Goethe left behind him no completed world-view ... He gave us, however, a confession of faith in a view of life .... The greatness of a thinker rests in the unity of life and thought which he has achieved. We find this in Goethe. (Goethe: Vier Reden ["Goethe: Four Studies"], 3rd ed. (1950), quoted in ibid. p. 63)

Wittgenstein's post-Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus work did not leave behind a "completed world-view" either. It offers no "theory of reality": it has replaced theory-making with concept-clarifying (the meaning of reality with the meaning of words). But certainly all of Wittgenstein's life was a "confession of faith in a view of life", and that view was of the pre-eminence of ethical and aesthetic values.

Goethe's message ... "Become yourself a man who is true to his inner nature, a man whose deed is in tune with his character." (Centennial celebration of Goethe's death in Frankfurt am Main, 22 March 1932, quoted in Marshall, Poling (1971), p. 195)

Where there truly is a unity of thought and way of life, there a man can say "My life is my argument". (And that was why Schweitzer became a doctor in Africa, where he might "preach without words" [On the Edge of the Primeval Forest & More from the Primeval Forest, tr. C.T. Campion, p. 109].)

For Goethe, although the ethical is a universal value, it finds expression in an individual or concrete way. He himself sought to express this in living to the achievement of nobility. For him the true good was to impart truth, purity, and peace. (Pilgrimage to Humanity [ibid.] p. 62)

At the end of my days as a student, I reread by chance the description of the Harzreise ["Harz Mountains Journey"] in the winter of 1777. It struck me as wonderful that this man whom we consider an Olympian, made his way through November mists and rain in order to visit and try to bring spiritual help to a pastor's son who was in spiritual distress.... I discovered in the Olympian a profoundly simple man. I learned to love Goethe. Thus, when I had to render help to some man in the course of my life, I said to myself, "This is your Harzreise." ("Goethe Prize Address" p. 56)

Wittgenstein said to Drury: "It is my belief that only if you try to be helpful to other people will you in the end find your way to God." [Wittgenstein's Religion (an account at my level of moral, cultural, and intellectual understanding, imposing my own limitations on my subject)]

... it struck me as significant for all of us that Goethe, in his endeavor to understand human destiny, permits Faust and Wilhelm Meister to end their lives in thoroughly humble activities [Wilhelm Meister became "a surgeon in order to serve, although he was not prepared [by his earlier life] for it"], through which they achieve humanity in the fullest sense. (ibid. p. 57)

Whether or not this was really only an idea rather than an intention, it remained Wittgenstein's longing for most of his life.

Resignation is part of Goethe's world-view. A person should not act in the interests of the results but simply from an inner necessity.... Never did Goethe react in kind to the many open and concealed hostilities which he met. He went his way amid all these assaults quietly and peacefully. ("Goethe: Four Studies" p. 62)

As in Aristippus of Cyrene: "the most impressive spectacle in life is the sight of a virtuous man steadily pursuing his course in the midst of vicious people." (Will Durant, Life of Greece (1939) p. 505 [source: Zeller, Socrates and the Socratic Schools (1877) p. 367]).

In preparation for my medical career, I had to study natural science. I did it as a student but [Goethe] as a man of research. How remote the natural sciences were from the intellectual achievements I had planned before I entered my practical work! [Schweitzer was at the age of thirty already a doctor of both theology and philosophy, as well as an authority on, and performer of, the music of Bach and of classical organs.]

Then I remembered Goethe had come back into natural sciences from intellectual activities. It disturbed me that he had lost himself at the time when so much of what moved within him should have been given its final form. [But when Schweitzer himself undertook his medical studies, he] discovered why Goethe surrendered himself in loyalty to natural sciences. It is a distinctive gain and an occasion of enlightenment for anyone immersed in intellectual work to confront facts which are to be reckoned with, not because he has imagined them, but simply because they exist. All thinking is strengthened when, forsaking preoccupation with imagined entities, it must work its way through reality. And when I experienced this [for myself] ... I was able to view the man who made this movement before all of us. ("Goethe Prize Address" p. 57-58)

Wittgenstein's youthful work is metaphysics; it is speculation, an "enquiry into the essence of the world", full of "imagined entities". In contrast, his mature work does not wish to "go beyond" the facts, but instead to make clear what is in plain view. Wittgenstein wrote:

"What a sensible man knows is hard to know." Does Goethe's contempt for laboratory experiment and his exhortation to go out into uncontrolled nature & learn from that, does this have some connection with the idea that an hypothesis (wrongly conceived) is already a falsification of the truth? (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 110 257: 2.7.1931]) And is it connected with the way I am now thinking of starting my book -- with a description of nature? (CV p. 11)

We could say that the Philosophical Investigations begins with a description of nature, the language-game of the two builders (and it presents no "theory about what is really happening" behind that game).

Don't let yourself be guided by the example of others, but by nature! (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 163 39r c: 8.7.1941]; cf. CV p. 41)

[Once he was in Africa, Schweitzer, who was now a doctor, had to do the manual labor necessary to construct his hospital; and when in 1925 there was a threat of famine, he had to clear the jungle for land on which grow food to feed his patients.] When I was overwhelmed with despair, I thought of Goethe, who had his Faust busy at the end redeeming the land from the sea in order that men might live and find nourishment there. ("Goethe Prize Address" p. 58-59)

[But] A deep concern for justice infused [Goethe]. At the turn of the last [i.e. 19th Century], theories arose which contended that what was to be achieved should be done without regard to the right and without regard to the fate of the men affected by the change. I did not know how these theories ... were to be met. [But in Goethe I find] the ardent desire to do what had to be done without sacrificing the right.

[In the last pages of Faust, Faust] says that he is tired of justice. But the well-intentioned act [of destroying a hut that stands in the way of his reclamation project] becomes a frightening deed by which lives are lost.... The addition of this episode a the end of Faust gives us an insight into Goethe. How deep was his concern for justice and how profound his longing to accomplish things without injuring others! (ibid. p. 59)

This, I don't believe, was a view that Wittgenstein shared. His politics were authoritarian, justifying even Stalin's brutality if it had the right end in mind. (Recollections p. 205).

[From his youth through his old age Goethe was involved in the thought and events of his time.] If he is no longer master of his material in Wilhelm Meister's Travels, it is ... because the material has developed into something immeasurable and intractable. He is trying to infuse this material with his whole experience and his deep concern for the future.... [Goethe] attempts to be a person who comprehends the coming new era ... ("Goethe Prize Address" p. 59-60)

Before us, Goethe lived through the anxieties and labors of [our early 20th century. One of the obligations his spirit places upon us is] to wrestle with ourselves and with everyone else so that, in a time of confusion and inhumanity, we can remain true to the great humane ideals of the eighteenth century ... (ibid. p. 60-61)

Maybe this is why I do not understand Goethe -- because I am expecting, and looking to find, the wrong thing. Because I am looking for "new, inspiring theories" or a "completed world-view", instead of looking for the outlook and humanity of the human being, the man who was Goethe. E.T.A. Hoffmann declared of Goethe: "He lives, and he wants us all to live too!" On the other hand, Schweitzer explains why Goethe's world-view was incomplete -- and that Goethe's greatness lies in this incompleteness.

"Goethe's world-view based on nature-philosophy"

In his Civilization and Ethics (Part II of The Philosophy of Civilization (The Dale Memorial Lectures, Oxford University, 1922), tr. C.T. Campion, 2nd rev. ed. (A.&C. Black, 1929), Chapter 12, p. 137-138), Schweitzer wrote:

What separates him [Goethe (1749-1832)] from Kant, and Fichte, and Schiller, is reverence for the reality of nature. Nature is to him something in herself, not merely something existing with a view to mankind. He does not require from her that she shall fit herself completely into our optimistic-ethical designs. He does no violence to her either through epistemological and ethical idealism or through presumptuous speculation, but lives in her as a human being who looks at existence with wonder and does not know how to bring her relation to the world-spirit within any formula.

Descartes led modern philosophy astray by cutting the world up into objects which have extension and objects which think, and by going on, moreover, to refuse to each of them the possibility of influencing the other. Following in his steps, thinkers rack their brains over the problem of these two parallel kinds of existence, and try to embrace the world in formulas. That the world is life, and that in life lies the riddle of riddles, never enters their minds. Hence they overlook in their philosophizing what is most important.... Being in the line of descent from Descartes, Kant and Fichte renounce all philosophizing over the real world.

... and it is because he cannot join them in this that Goethe dares to confess that he understands nothing about philosophy. His greatness is this: that in a time of abstract and speculative thought he had the courage to remain elemental.

Overwhelmed by the mysterious individual life in nature, he persists in maintaining a magnificently imperfect world-view.... He strives to reach an ethical world-view, but admits to himself that he cannot carry it through [nature-philosophy is unable to provide him with any criterion of what is ethical], and he therefore does not venture to attribute a meaning to nature. To life, however, he will attribute one. He seeks it in serviceable activity. To make the world-view of activity at home in nature-philosophy is to him an inner necessity. The conviction that activity provides the only real satisfaction that is to be found in life and that therein lies the mysterious meaning of existence is shown by him in Faust as something which he has laboriously gained during his pilgrimage through existence and to which he will hold fast, without being able to explain it completely.

The range of this world-view of Goethe's which deals thus with reality remains hidden from his contemporaries. Its incompleteness alienates their sympathies and irritates them. For knowledge of the world and of life which cannot be reduced to a system, but sticks fast in facts, they have no understanding....

Schweitzer saw "the reconciliation of ethics and nature-philosophy as the central problem of world-view" (ibid. Chapter 10, p. 123). I wonder if in "letting nature be nature" Goethe realized Drury's ideal of "keeping wonder secure" (The Danger of Words (1973) p. 114). Allowing that nature is "something in herself, not merely something existing with a view to mankind" means not regarding our ethical struggle as a struggle against the natural world [The laws of physics -- and even of biology as well -- are no more evil than a mouse is evil. If the natural world is disassociated from any concept 'God' (that is, from any personality [providence] as the cause of events), then one can share the world-view of Goethe: the world is a mystery to us, but nothing more. The concept [or, actually, idle picture] 'God' and its ill-disguised variations ('the Absolute', 'Being', 'World Spirit') has done a lot of harm, distorted our thinking. To "heal our wounded understanding" we must free ourselves of the picture of God as the puppet-master behind the world, the puller of marionette strings, of human beings as puppets in a show-box. In the world-view of Goethe we are not a God's victims. But as in life we are in death, as in sanity we are in madness, so too in adulthood we are in childhood so long as we are unable to free ourselves of that picture, a picture entirely of our own imagination]. [An Ethical versus an Explanatory Religion]

A Unity of Life and Thought

"I am with you always" (Matthew 28.20; cf. Rom. 8.35-39). But what would that mean for Schweitzer? Although Jesus's death did not usher in the supernatural Kingdom of God, but nonetheless His ethic of love, His picture of the Kingdom of God, remains? -- And why not, for does the good and the true require authority to validate it? Whether dead or living, Jesus has the power to change men's lives, as Albert Schweitzer's own Christianity shows.

And as in Goethe, Schweitzer saw a unity of life and thought in the Apostle Paul.

Side by side with Paul's achievement as a thinker must be set his achievement as a man.... He proves the truth of his ethic by his way of living it. (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, tr. Montgomery (1931), p. 333)

For Paul a Christian is one who is in union with Christ through the experience of dying [to this world] and rising again with Him [to live in this world without belonging to it]. In Paul's thought the ideas of redemption from sin through Christ and of realization of the Kingdom of God are unified in a way that remains valid for all time, according to Schweitzer, despite the differences between our world-picture and that of early Christianity. Schweitzer believed that no one can "do anything for the Kingdom of God who does not bear the [ethic of love, of the] Kingdom of God within him". (ibid. p. 388)

Schweitzer was, as he described Goethe, a man of whom it could be said that in him there was a "unity of life and thought". Schweitzer accomplished the integration of word and deed that even despite our high ideals most human beings do not. Compared to Schweitzer's Reverence for Life, what does Wittgenstein's game metaphor ("Let us compare using language to playing a game, where what characterizes a game is its rules [where what defines a game is its rules, or absence thereof]") amount to? What does it tell us about ourselves if we are so estranged from living life that we prefer our "logic puzzles" to seeking a life-philosophy in which to make our ideals and deeds coincide?

During part of his [Strasbourg] university days [Schweitzer] lived at the same house on the Old Fish Pier -- No. 36 -- where Goethe had lived as a student. (Marshall, Poling, Schweitzer, p. 21 [cf. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought, Chapter 2, p. 15 in both tr. Campion and tr. Lemke])

Natural Grace

Whenever I want to speak [think aloud] about anything, it seems that I must always begin by saying a lot of confused and mistaken things, and only then can I begin to think clearly about the thing. What I am inclined to say, what is "first blush", is almost always wrong. Maybe I should say that I do not think before I speak [or write]; or that I think by speaking (either to myself or aloud or on paper).

On the other hand, Wittgenstein when he lectured was trying as it were to force himself to have "natural grace", to make his ideas turn out correct the first time, by focusing intensely on his subject. I wonder if that can be accomplished by self-discipline. And if my flighty way of thinking is a moral fault.

From the age of about 16 onwards, I formed the habit, in thought, of turning a sentence over & over in my mind ... I would do this with every idea that came into my head.... I think over a book before beginning to write, & when I begin the real work is finished. Of course I always compose each sentence fully in my head before beginning to write it out. (Quoted in Ronald Clark's Life of Bertrand Russell (1976), p. 405)

So maybe this is not a question of natural grace. On the other hand, in 1948 Wittgenstein told Drury: "Sometimes my ideas come so quickly that I feel as if my pen were being guided" (Recollections p. 153). But on the other hand, it is reported that Wittgenstein carefully revised the remarks he intended for his book, the Philosophical Investigations.

Note: words that follow "Query" are Internet search-strings from my site's server logs.

Logic Questions. Metaphors.

Query: the philosophy behind logic.

That was what I always wanted to ask at school: what is the nature of the subject "symbolic logic" (the propositional calculus, mathematical logic); for what reason do we study it -- i.e. what is its usefulness, if any, to philosophy? I am skeptical whether my teachers could have told me; in their eyes "formal logic" seemed to be an end in itself, requiring no justification for its study or existence. But what has it do with philosophy? It now has nothing except historical association. [Wittgenstein discusses what he calls Frege's or Russell's logic in WLFM p. 227, 256.]

Query: facts and logic, Socrates.

According to Aristotle, the historical Socrates' method was inductive: first examine the facts, and then generalize from those facts. That second step is logic.

That distinction is useful in the context of the traditional, or, received, false grammatical account of our language, where what we could say is that: Plato's Socrates tries to fit the [linguistic] facts to [his] logic, whereas Wittgenstein tried to fit [his] logic to the [linguistic] facts. That is to say, Plato's Socrates sets a standard for language to conform to (Platonic-Socratic definition), whereas Wittgenstein instead tries to describe the facts in plain view, regardless of whether they are as we think imagine they "must" be or not -- and regardless of whether they answer our preconceived questions or not.

Query: dialectical method, Socrates.

Guthrie wrote that Socrates' mission was to make men aware of their ignorance and "then to invite them to join him in the search for truth by the dialectical method of question and answer". That is, 'dialectical method' = 'the method of question and answer', so that we can say that "Socrates' method of discussion -- i.e. of asking questions and suggesting answers -- is called 'dialectic'". It appears from Diog. L. i, 18, that the words 'logic' and 'dialectic' are the same in meaning; however, in iii, 48: to use dialectic is to "refute or establish some proposition by means of question and answer", and such refutation, if it is philosophical (as opposed to eristic), uses the rules of logic, and so it is not identical to logic. What etymology suggests is that the word 'dialectic' has a wide family of meanings, but all having to do with speaking. And therefore it would be natural to call Plato's Dialogues 'examples of dialectic', noting that dialog is not the only form that "the art of reasoning" (i.e. logic) is employed in.

In the case of 'dialectic' and of other words that are not commonly used (and which are neither names of objects nor of processes easily described), we are always tempted to look for an essence, a simple key -- i.e. the one thing necessary -- to understanding: as if we might discover the "true meaning" of a word.

The ability to make general [or, summary, or, in a nutshell] remarks (without examples, of course, and that means: without understanding) passes for education among us. But if we want to know what the "dialectical method" of Socrates was, we will have to examine it in Xenophon (always obtaining agreement at each step of the argument before advancing to the next) and in Plato's dialogues (thesis, cross-question, modified thesis or counter-thesis, cross-question, and so on until agreement, refutation, or irresolution). [Maybe, in order to recognize all the elements of Socratic dialectic, we should try writing a Socratic dialog ourselves.] Would there be an easier way -- even if a general definition of 'dialectical method' can be given?

Query: fluid logic.

That expression is an oxymoron with respect to most things commonly called logic, because if it is "fluid" -- i.e. not "fixed in place" or "solid", then it is not logic. [Where there is logical necessity there is no flexibility at all; e.g. the rules of chess are not fluid.] But not in Wittgenstein, where logic = grammar and "fluid grammar" is not an oxymoron but the usual case. [Well, so maybe this query was about physics -- but there is no "logic" -- i.e. logical necessity -- in the science of physics, but only in metaphysics (Indeed, that is one way to distinguish physics from metaphysics).]

Query: difference between ignorance and Socratic ignorance.
Query: how can Socrates be both ignorant and wise, oracle?
Query: Socrates' ignorance amounts to wisdom.

What is "Socratic ignorance"? Socrates tells us in his defense before the jury (Plato, Apology 21a-d): "I spoke with a man who was reputed by many to be wise, but I found that he did not know what he thought he knew [about the good and the beautiful]. And so it seemed that I was a bit wiser than he is, because although I too know nothing, I do not think I know what I do not know." The man Socrates spoke to was ignorant -- (Plato called this "conceited ignorance") -- and therefore he was not wise in the Socratic (i.e. as Socrates understood the oracle to mean) oracle's way. But Socrates' ignorance is a kind of wisdom, because if you see that you do not know, you can also see that you need to seek to know (for no one seeks to know what he thinks he already knows).

Thinking that you know what you do not know is thus -- in every way -- the very opposite of wisdom; it is simply ignorance. Whereas Socratic ignorance, that is, recognizing your own ignorance, is the beginning of all wisdom and, according to Plato's Apology (23b), also the end. Those who do not know what they think they know will always be "misled themselves and mislead others" (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1).

But how did Socrates determine if anyone knew something or not? He, of course, needed a standard of judgment, or, definition of 'to know', and of course he had one: that if a man knew anything, he could give an account of it to others.

Query: grammatical use of 'might' or 'could'.

That is English as a second language, also for me. "Do I know any more about it myself?" (PI § 69) What is the difference between 'may' and 'might', 'can' and 'could', or for that matter between 'can' and 'may'? "Aren't these words used to make distinctions?" Any pair of "signs" [i.e. the purely physical part of language, e.g. ink marks on paper, spoken sounds] may be used by someone to make a distinction; but here the question is -- is it our common usage to use those words to make distinctions?

English is my first language; I have spoken it all my life. If I look at what I myself have written I find that I use all four of those signs to express logical possibility, that for every occurrence of 'could', 'might' and 'may' I could substitute 'can' with no change of meaning. These words belong to the part of speech 'modal-words' -- i.e. 'possibility-words'.

The truth is that I choose among those words solely on the basis of whatever seems right to me -- especially whatever "sounds right" to me. English is full of words that in common usage have the same meaning, e.g. 'ethics' and 'morals' -- there is no difference.

Query: Wittgenstein's concept of language games.

The query's form of expression is somewhat better than would be 'Wittgenstein's theory of language-games', but it is still less clear than the form of expression 'Wittgenstein's concept 'language-games'' -- because here the word 'concept' means 'rules for using a word' and what the query asks for would be a definition of a linguistic sign.

There is no "real definition of language-games", which would be what 'the theory of ...' and maybe also 'the concept of ...' would suggest that there is. (In any case, isn't it enough to simply ask about "Wittgenstein's language games": what does the addition of 'concept of' or 'notion of' make clearer?)

Query: "I am not a religious man."

This is actually a very, very strange thing for Wittgenstein to have said, because isn't "seeing every problem from a religious point of view" one of the very things that we call 'being religious' -- i.e. doesn't that belong to the "grammar" of the word 'religious' [to our concept 'religious']? (Perhaps Wittgenstein was simply being reserved, like someone who denies that he is a Christian because he does not want to debase something he deeply respects by citing himself as example. Wittgenstein did, after all, deeply respect deeply religious persons.)

Query: compare and contrast magic and religion in an anthropological sense.

However you make this distinction (Malcolm: "There are many ways to cut a pie") -- if you [choose to] make this distinction at all -- it will be largely arbitrary (i.e. a matter of discretion, not of logical necessity) where you decide to place the limits of these two closely related concepts. [Wittgenstein's "Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough" makes no distinction made between religion and magic.]

"... if anyone believes that particular concepts are absolutely the correct ones" (PI II, xii, p. 230b). If anyone thinks that this or that concept must be used, he should remember that there are indeed many ways to cut a pie, depending on the purpose we have in mind: there is no one right way to do it. And so it is with the concepts that we use to divide up reality.

Query: is religious language always metaphorical?

Is it ever metaphorical? That is the logically -- i.e. "grammar and sense and nonsense" -- prior question.

Religious language does not consist of metaphors, because, by definition of 'metaphor', a metaphor must be re-stateable in prose. So that, if the language of religion consisted of metaphors, you could say, "Drop the metaphor: just state the facts without the literary fog." But you can't say that about language in religion.

In every serious philosophical problem ... [one] must always be prepared to learn something really new. (Wittgenstein, Remarks on Color i, 15)

In the case of religion we find a use of language that has nothing in common with the language of Newtonian mechanics, which is our usual model when we consider language which purports to be about the nature of reality: "This is how things stand." But with religion we find instead incomparable pictures (such as the Last Judgment, to which there is no reality [actual experience] to compare). Religious language consists neither of statements of fact nor of metaphors.

The language spoken in rituals often makes no type of statement (mythological or otherwise) about reality. It makes a very different use of language, one to which Wittgenstein's comparison of language to games (as in "language-games") may have no light-shedding application (that I can think of). Reciting verbal formulas is indeed like playing a (primitive) game according to strict rules -- but that comparison tells us nothing about the meaning of those verbal formulas, which is instead to be found in the place prayer and ritual has in human life (which is a different meaning of 'meaning' than Wittgenstein's "grammatical" meaning), or does Wittgenstein's notion of propositional-types as language-games make the meaning of the language of prayer clearer?

Query: Wittgenstein what is a word really, a piece in chess.

The word "really" here signifies -- not a metaphysical theory about the essence of words -- but persuasion to a point of view. Wittgenstein: Look at a word this way rather than some other way! Make this comparison! Persuasion was the only tool Wittgenstein had against the Platonic Socrates' way of looking at language. He could only say: Look at language my way instead!

Those sentences have the form of persuasion in particular which say "This is really this". This means there are certain differences which you have been persuaded to neglect. (LC p. 27; cf. Z § 461)

But did Wittgenstein say what a word "really" is? What he said was that we can compare a word to a piece in chess: we can distinguish between a game piece (cf. word) and the rules of the game. cf. "grammar" or "meaning" of a word. [An analogy is not a statement of identity.]

Query: Wittgenstein's metaphor of games.

The form of this query shows insight. Because that is exactly what it is: a simile, a comparison, a metaphor: Wittgenstein compared our using language (as well as many of our other human practices) to playing games where what defines a game are its rules, and where words [linguistic signs] are like the chess-men of chess, physical objects used to make moves in a game. A comparison is not a theory: a theory says that "A is really B", whereas a comparison says only that "A can be likened to B in some specific way or another". (A comparison is more akin to a statement of fact: "A dictionary is like the rule book of a game, because a dictionary reports our rules for using the words of our language" is an example of a metaphor that might be called true, whereas "A rock is like a fish because both can swim" is an example of a metaphor that we would call false).

Query: e.g. of ostensive or demonstrative definition.

The word 'demonstrative' in this context is quite helpful: sitting down in a chair in order to define [demonstrate] 'to sit down in a chair' is an example of a demonstration, or, of "definition by demonstrating", which is one of the things that an ostensive definition is [i.e. what we mean by the expression 'ostensive definition']; although I might prefer to call defining 'to sit down in a chair' by demonstration an example of a "play-acted definition", and reserve 'ostensive' for simple pointing (as in the case of the proposition 'King's College is on fire').

Similes and Common Names

Query: who invented the simile?

Who indeed. What would it be like if we never made comparisons -- if making comparisons were a way of thinking that did not belong to the human form of life? What if there were no "A is like B" in our language, if there were no way to make analogies? There would be a lot less conceptual confusion. For instance, the confusion caused by following misleading grammatical analogies would be eliminated, as would the confusion caused by vague and only apparent metaphors.

But what might be lost? Would common names be lost -- would there be nothing but individuals [particulars], at [the very] least in the case of definition by family resemblance rather than by common nature? That is, for example, why do we call both A and B 'chairs' even if they are not of identical design? If A and B are not identical, we must point to similarities (and also away from differences: you can sit on a rock or a table or indeed on the ground, but we do not for the reason call those 'chairs', but neither must everything we call a 'chair' have been designed to be one either).

Would the word 'mankind' no longer exist (for it is similar to a common name)?

What would the world be like -- i.e. what would our thinking about the world be like -- if we were unable to made comparisons -- if the human form of life lacked this concept formation-skill?

On the other hand, there is a difference between being able to see similarities, that is, to learn to use common names -- and being able to point those similarities out to others, which is what one must be able do to state a comparison, analogy, metaphor.

Animals which resemble human beings (e.g. dogs, but not wasps) appear to have common-name formation skills, at [the very] least with respect to identifying species. Dogs show by their behavior that they recognize an individual man as belonging to the class 'human being', although human beings come in many different shapes and sizes. Here we can really talk about thinking without words -- i.e. as opposed to thinking as "operating with signs" (BB p. 6, 15-16).

Suppose, therefore, we said: maybe instinct invented the simile. But what kind of "maybe" [type of possibility] is this? It is not a causal explanation (testable hypothesis), but a myth that we may be inclined or be persuaded to accept (cf. LC p. 21), for it is based on nothing more than an analogy (simile).

To invent a simile is to point out a similarity; it is demonstrative. It is a demonstration: "A is like B, in such-and-such a way."

"But not wasps." Do you really think that a wasp has the concept 'human being'? What would it mean to say that it had?

Query: how did simile become part of our language?

If, as Wittgenstein says, the meaning of a common name is not a common nature it is imagined to stand for, and instead there are only similarities between things bearing the common name, then without similes -- i.e. the human ability to see similarities -- or to make comparisons between things -- most of what we call language would not exist.

How does a simile become part of everyday speech, e.g. get absorbed as an idiom into our everyday language. Often vague similes, pernicious -- or, often, insidious -- to the understanding if we do not know how to translate them into prose (non-metaphorical language). A simile, metaphor, that has been absorbed into the language as normal idiom, that one is unable to restate in prose -- maybe because it is impossible to restate nonsense in prose -- for it may be that many of the metaphors that have become idiomatic are [now] nonsense [even if they had a clear use in their day].

As to the query: cf. trying to explain one's meaning to someone else: "You know, like when ..." That is my speculated origin of simile. [Science metaphors such as 'solar storm', but one ought to know that one does not know the prose version of those; they may be harmful to the understanding, but they are not, if we understand the logic of language, insidious (hidden), because we do not take them for granted. (There are also the type of similes that are repeated thoughtlessly by the press and intentionally by demagogues, e.g. to jump start something or other (the economy, e.g.) is like jump starting an automobile engine's battery, although exactly how it is like that, if it indeed it is like that, is never said; and indeed, these similes are uttered by dishonest politicians as a substitute for actually saying anything. And that is one way similes become part of our language.)]

Query: Wittgenstein, language is like.

Exactly: language is like: "What I invent are new similes" (CV p. 19). Language is like a game e.g.

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