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Is the Unexamined Life - Worth Living?

That not only is the unexamined life worth living, but that it is more worth living than the examined life.

Are there reasons against Socrates' claim that "an unexamined life is not worth living" (Plato, Apology 37e-38a)? But wouldn't those reasons have to be put to the test of reason -- i.e. be examined? And wouldn't that examination ask reason to put itself to the test of reason? (But can a ruler measure itself?)

Set reason to make war against itself. Were the Greek philosophers wrong -- is discourse of reason not the distinctive excellence that is unique and proper to man and therefore the good for man?

Outline of this page ...

Notes: the background of this page is "logic of language" or how a distinction is made between language with meaning and language without meaning when discussing philosophy.

Words that follow "Query" are Internet searches that were directed or misdirected to pages of this site. These fragments of language -- undefined combinations of words (PI  § 500) -- often suggest a meaning to me that I want to respond to (Goethe: fragments make you think).

In what way might an unexamined life be worthy of a human being?

The highest standard of judgment

Is the life of reason -- i.e. the examined life -- the only life worth living for a human being? But mustn't any assertion to the contrary be examined to see whether it stands to reason or not? And wouldn't that presume that reason is the highest standard of judgment -- which is the very thing the contrary view denies?

The correct order of a philosophical investigation: (1) What does it mean? and only then (2) Is it true?

Before you try to answer a question ...

What do we mean by 'worth living' or 'worthwhile'? Plato's Apology says two things, (1) that man's wisdom is worthless (23b), and (2) that a life not spent seeking wisdom is worthless (37e-38a).

The first proposition is not entirely true, maybe, for it seems that man can know a few things that are not worthless, even if, as it appears, he cannot know anything ultimate. Likewise, should Plato have said: the unexamined life is not the most worth living? (Platonic hyperbole)

'Worth' = 'value' -- but valuable for whom or for what (valuable = good = useful in Xenophon)?

By what standard of measurement is an unexamined life not worth living? If something under-reaches its nature, falling short of the excellence that is proper to it (a dull knife, a thoughtless mind), is it living a life that is not worth living? This is asking for a definition of language.

Rather than 'not worth living', could Plato have said 'The unexamined life is not the good life for man'? By what standard is 'good' measured?

Before you try to answer a question, determine what is being asked by the question. Knowing the meaning of 'x' means being able to explain the meaning of 'x' to others; that is the Socratic standard for knowing in philosophy. "Every explanation you can give yourself, you can give to others too. And when you explain to others what you know, you don't tell them less than you know yourself."

The good for a thing is the existence that accords with its undebased nature

Query: is Socrates' unexamined life theory false?

The word 'theory' I will take to mean a 'thesis' or 'proposition' that is subject to refutation in Socratic question and answer. But first, what does Socrates mean by "The unexamined life is not worthy of man" or "is not worth living" (Plato, Apology 37e-38a)? Does he intend that statement to justify cruelty towards animals and plants, or involuntary euthanasia?

In the view of the Greek philosophers, every life form has a way of life that is the good for it, namely, the life that is in accord with its nature, or, more specifically, in accord with the distinctive excellence that is proper to its life form. To discover what that excellence is for man is to "Know thyself" (both as mankind, and as an individual).

Man's nature is uniquely endowed with reason. And, according to the Greeks, reason is the defining excellence that is proper to man, and therefore a life that is subjected to the critical use of reason, which is what "the examined life" is, is the good for man. Socrates said nothing beyond that.

Not to think oneself wise when one is not

For the Socrates of Plato's Apology the examined life is the life that seeks never to think it knows what it does not know, but recognizes its ignorance and seeks through discussion, both with itself alone and with others, to cure itself of its ignorance.

The strongest argument for the examined life is this: That we live according to what we believe to be true, and that "those who think they know what they don't know are themselves misled and mislead others" (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1) about what the good is for man. Their perceived good is what all living things aim for, and if that good is misperceived ... (Silenced reason is a refuge of conceited ignorance.)

Aristotle, in classifying man as a "rational animal", identified the capacity for unlimited intellectual development as essential to the nature of man.

Aristotle's "definition of man"

That is in appearance, not a verbal definition of the word 'man', but a statement of fact (hypothesis) about what man really is. But if "essence belongs to grammar [i.e. to the definition of s word]" (PI § 371), as Wittgenstein says, then we are discussing a system of classification, not the common nature of man ("man-ness"). And what is or is not a defining characteristic of [i.e. essential to] anything is determined by which classification system we choose to use. (Concepts define phenomena, not vice versa.)

So we are talking about Aristotle's way of looking at things or frame of reference, although within that frame there is objectivity. And therefore its logical status is queer -- i.e. if it is a proposition, then what counts against its truth? So perhaps it is a verbal definition of the form: (1) if you understand what we mean by 'animal', and (2) if you understand what we mean by 'rational', then (3) you understand [i.e. see that it follows from the definitions of those two words] that man is an animal that is rational. And in being an animal that is rational, man is unique, because no other animal is rational. (This uniqueness meets the second requirement for a Socratic definition, according to Aristotle's account of Socrates.)

A life ruled by instinct is an eternal childhood

But in what way might Aristotle's way of looking at things [if that's what it is, because it may be claimed that Aristotle's categories are the categories of reality, not merely the categories of a particular classification system], this "theory of man", be false? Is it based on a false statement of fact -- i.e. is man not endowed with critical reason; is man not able to develop his understanding throughout his life, barring injury or disease?

Obviously a man who is ill must live in accord with the limits his illness places on him. The good for him might e.g. be courage and resignation when illness takes away from him the ability to put his mind to philosophical use.

In the biblical story man learns the difference between good and evil, a moral sense that as an animal he did not have. Man leaves childhood behind as he leaves his father's house. That is one way human beings became "like gods". The other way is through the (metaphorical) gift of Prometheus, not fire in a physical sense, but fire in the intellectual sense of the ability to reason (to ask questions and to doubt answers). Socrates recognizes both when he says that man's distinctive excellence is rational moral virtue.

To live a life of silenced reason is to live a life of instinct and impulses, the life of a child. The unexamined life is, in the words of Kant, "an eternal childhood".

Turning reason against reason

He, O men, is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. (Plato, Apology 23b 23b, tr. Jowett)

Why want what is worthless? It is the test of reason, the test of for and against, that says what is and what is not worthless. ('x is good' ≠ 'I like x') Socrates' wisdom is not worthless.

I cannot see how to counter Socrates or Aristotle ... or even what is being asked for. What would a counter-argument look like if to argue against reason as the guide to how we should live our life -- would require us to use reason -- i.e. to refute "Socrates' examined life theory" would require us to examine man's life.

Query: refute the statement that the unexamined life is not worth living.

What is one to say -- that a thoughtless life -- a life that is careless and carefree (as a French actress said: "Life is worth living, but not worth thinking about") is the good for a being that is uniquely able to ponder life's meaning? But suppose one came to the conclusion of Shakespeare's Macbeth v, 5:

All our yesterdays have lighted fools [namely, each of us] the way to dusty death ... Life's but a ... tale told by an idiot [i.e. a babble of words] ... signifying nothing [i.e. without meaning].

But even to reach that conclusion requires that life first be examined -- and you must use reason to justify that conclusion. (You must, in a word, demonstrate by the use of reason that to be reasonable is unreasonable -- i.e. that it is unreasonable to live a life that is guided by reason, which is what 'the examined life' is.)

And further, any conclusion you reach is never safe from being refuted -- i.e. you can never give up reasoning once you begin on that path. Once we awaken from the slumber of childhood, there is no turning back: the life of the adult human being is by its very nature the life of reason -- unless it is not to be lived in accord with the excellence that is proper to a man or woman, which is rational moral virtue, but only to a small child or an animal ("I do whatever I feel like doing").

It cannot be proved that man's nature determines what is the good for man (Hume)

Things a philosopher tends to take for grated, that men do not need to be exhorted to the life of philosophy and moral virtue, that all men desire to be pious, just, brave and temperate and above all wise ..... As Socrates said at his trial, a philosopher must look a fool to other men (cf. Gorgias 484c-486c). And that and this is true of the student of philosophy as well, that he appears to live in a counterfactual reality, in a dream world. (Brief review of Socratic ethics.)

Does Socrates merely state the values of the philosophical way of life, such as he himself lived? Is our question "a question of values" rather than of fact? That would be the view that ethics is irrational, as in David Hume, that "it is impossible to derive an ought from an is", that is, a good-or-evil from a fact.

But that is not the Greek way of thinking. An animal acts from instinct because it must, because it is "a beast wanting discourse of reason"; it is not capable of dialectic (i.e. question and answer; it has no language) -- so dialectic is not an excellence that is proper to an animal -- but it is proper to man. And it is a fact that man is capable of dialectic -- and indeed even to claim that ethics is irrational, Hume must use reason as his weapon. We cannot say that it is an excellence of man -- i.e. a characteristic that his proper to his nature -- to use his mouth to carry his young (as cats do) rather than his hands. And we cannot say that about instinct versus reason either. Those are matters of fact.

'You cannot derive an ought from an is' is a very strange proposition -- i.e. be struck by just how strange it is! (What kind of impossibility is being claimed here -- logical impossibility?) This is a puzzling query; it is worth pondering, although it is like the query: "why should I want to be happy?"

If a question of fact is not being disputed here, then what is?

There is no hypothesis to test here; and there is no theory to prove false (falsify) -- or what would its falsification look like -- what would an anomaly be -- a discovery such as: "Contrary to what had been believed for millennia, human beings are in fact incapable of the critical use of reason, of examining their life in a philosophical way".

It is not a hypothesis that philosophy is practiced; it is a matter of established fact. As I am using the word 'fact' here, it is defining of a fact that there is nowhere for objective doubt -- i.e. doubt with grounds for doubt -- to get a foothold. Otherwise we would have a testable hypothesis rather than a fact.

Does the test of experience refute the proposition that an unexamined life is not worth living?

Temples dedicated to truth which no man knows, and to reason which never dried a tear. (Chateaubriand)

But the conclusion comes at the end of an examination or investigation, not at its beginning. That "reason never dried a tear" is an empirical proposition, i.e. a proposition to put to the test of experience rather than to the test of reason. If the proposition were true, would it follow that the life of reason is not the good for man? Philosophy is the love of wisdom, not of something else.

Query: how can we empirically justify Plato's proposition about an unexamined life?

Maybe we can ask about man's nature, about what is the excellence most proper to man's nature, and whether Socrates is wrong to think that the answer is rational moral virtue. Socrates' ethics is empirical.

The philosophical question is not "How can?" but "Can?" Can the propositions of ethics (in contrast to logic and metaphysics) be justified by experience? Is the kind of verification really the kind of language game? (In Wittgenstein's jargon, a 'language game' is 'a use of language compared to playing a game according to rules'.) Natural science (sense-perception) propositions and the propositions of ethics belong to different kinds of language games.

The kind of certainty is the kind of language game. (PI II, xi, p. 224)

Wittgenstein contrasts three kinds of propositions: psychological certainty ("He is much depressed"), mathematical certainty ("25 x 25 = 625"), and (what I'll call) foundational certainty, ("I am sixty years old") (ibid.) Here he is calling kinds of propositions kinds of language games.

"It is not to man's good to sleepwalk through life." What empirical test could we put that proposition to? For instance, suppose A who lives an examined life does more foolish things than B who lives an unexamined life? I don't think so -- i.e. that is not a test of the proposition's truth. Because the point of "Know thyself" is to be -- to the best one can -- an ethical human being; if you were born a fool (or if you are destined to suffer misfortune because of your poor reasoning skill), it isn't going to change that. But that's not its purpose.

Ethics is "no small matter, but how to live", in Plato's words. Now, what empirical test can the proposition 'Man should be ethical' be put to? Well, there is this: Does ethics ("knowing good and evil") belong to the excellence that is proper to man? And to answer that question does involve an empirical investigation -- namely, what is the nature of man?

Query: refuting Socrates' an unexamined life is not worth living.

How to do that, if to refute the proposition requires that life be examined. Refutation is a use of thoroughgoing reason.

To refute is to examine -- and any claim that a proposition has been refuted is itself subject to refutation (i.e. at no point does philosophical question-and-answer allow you to say, "I know, and even God himself can't tell me otherwise", although it's true that objective doubt requires objective grounds, and imagination may be needed to invent or find them). In other words, philosophy never comes to an end.

During the French Enlightenment the word 'reason' underwent a dramatic change in meaning; it became its opposite. When Voltaire speaks of "reason", he has empiricism in mind (which is what he imagines Isaac Newton's work to be), and he opposes "reason" to Socrates inner voice as if premonition were superstition (which it would be, as Apollo's oracle's words would be, if Socrates did not them to the tests of reason and experience to discover their meaning and truth).

"Socrates' ethics is also called empiricism"

If what is the good for a thing is determined by the thing's own nature, then its nature has to be studied in order to determine what the good is for it. Xenophon's Socrates identifies the good with the useful (or excellent or beneficial, in the case of man, above all beneficial to the ethical mind or soul). That is one thing that could be called "empirical ethics", since what man's nature is and what benefits man are questions of experience. But another is Aristotle's account of Socrates' method of definition: he would examine members of a class [e.g. the class of all holy things] in order to determine [or try to determine] what their common nature is.

[Socrates] showed equal ability in both directions, in dissuading and persuading men ... For he had the skill to draw his argument from facts. (Diog. L. ii, 28-29, tr. Hicks)

That kind of ethics is completely different from Kant's "categorical imperative", which seeks no justification for "the moral law within". (Cf. TLP 6.422, which is Wittgenstein's account, wherein "ethics" consists of commandments that are independent of the tests of reason and experience: the good is whatever God commands. Kantian ethics is anti-rational.)

Query: arguments against the unexamined life is not worth living.

When Pope Francis was asked (December 2013) about atheists, he said, "God's mercy is infinite. What is important is for each of us to obey his conscience" (The pope's statement may allude to the doctrine of "the supremacy of conscience" which was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council). Now, is someone who is living thoughtlessly -- i.e. not examining their conscience -- doing that?

Note that the word 'conscience' has meaning outside Kantian ethics: it needn't mean obedience to unjustifiable commandments ("moral imperatives") -- because by the word 'conscience' we may mean the result of reflection, which in Socratic ethics is philosophical (i.e. rational) reflection. The life of philosophical reflection is the very opposite of the life lived non-rationally or thoughtlessly, which is what "the unexamined life" is, the life of "a beast wanting discourse of reason", a life unworthy of Aristotle's rational animal.

Missions and Quests in Philosophy

Note: this continues the discussion Socrates' mission in philosophy.

Why study philosophy?

When asked what advantage had accrued to him from studying philosophy, [the] answer [Antisthenes of Athens gave] was, "The ability to hold converse with myself" (Diog. L. vi, 6, tr. Hicks) -- i.e. to have a conversation, a dialog with himself, a discourse (which "beasts wanting discourse of reason" and uneducated human beings cannot do or have not learned to do). To learn how to talk to oneself and to cross-question oneself -- that belongs to what Socrates calls "the examined life" (Plato, Apology 37e-38a). If there is a use to studying philosophy, that is it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

... do you notice that uneducated people find it very difficult to decide things objectively, and that they allow some more or less fortuitous minor circumstance to turn the scales? It seems to me quite remarkable. I suppose one first has to take pains to learn to distinguish between thinking personally and thinking objectively; and, in fact, many people never learn to do so ... (Letters and Papers from Prison [Letter of 1 February 1944], tr. Fuller, Clarke and others, p. 125-126 (1967 edition))

What Dietrich Bonhoeffer means by 'thinking personally' is shown by what he contrasts that with, namely 'thinking objectively'. If it is useful to act rationally ("objectively") rather than irrationally ("personally"), weighing the reasons for and the reasons against, cross-questioning each side to determine which makes the stronger case [and thus which tips the scale, to use Bonhoeffer's metaphor above], then philosophy is useful.

Many human beings never learn to do this. One kind of person acts on impulse, seeing only the present moment, and another kind acts only after brooding over a question until they just "feel comfortable" doing one thing rather than another, both types of persons acting without regard to whether what they choose to do stands up to -- i.e. withstands -- the test of reason. That is not the way of life one learns from philosophy to live.

Socrates' mission as a philosopher.

At that time the words 'philosophy' and 'philosopher' had not yet been commonly defined, and philosophy did not yet include the subject of ethics, which Socrates introduced (Diog. L. i, 14). A held-in-common definition of 'philosophy' came later. We might compare Wittgenstein's mission as a philosopher: "The logic of our language is misunderstood, and I have come to set that misunderstanding right" with Socrates' mission. (Cf. projects in philosophy, where project = mission.)

Is it correct to say that Socrates' mission was to invent, not philosophy as such, but philosophers? For although Socrates did teach a philosophy (ethics and logical investigation or "the art of words"), was that the defining characteristic of his life?

Was to teach men logic the mission of Socrates (the Socratic logic of language in Plato may be mistaken, as the meaning of a common name in ethics may not be a common nature that can be empirically induced) -- or was to teach men philosophy as the way of life of the philosopher (as it is described in Plato's Apology) Socrates' mission?

But Socrates did teach a philosophy. In logic, Socrates established a standard for knowing in philosophy: to 'know' is to 'be able to explain to others what one knows'. And in ethics, Socrates established an answer to the precept "Know thyself", namely that to live in accord with the distinctive excellence that is proper and unique to man is the good for man, and that excellence is rational moral virtue.

"The riddle does not exist"

Query: why is there something now rather than nothing?

Now in contrast to when? Why does anything exist rather than nothing at all? It is all very well to say that the riddle of existence does not exist because there is no defined method for solving that riddle (TLP 6.5 ff.), but even Wittgenstein found he had to admit that the riddle does exist. Of course, whether Leibniz's question is identical with the riddle is another question. Where, then, does the riddle clearly exist? In the three questions a cat does not have to answer.

Then about Wittgenstein's "conception of philosophy" -- i.e. the aim he assigned philosophy and where he set philosophy's limits. We could say that if "The riddle does not exist" belongs to Wittgenstein's logic of language, then his logic of language is as fundamentally flawed as that of Plato's presumption that "the meaning of a common name is the common nature it names", despite its flaw being of a very different kind. It cannot be acceptable to humanity that philosophy retreat [withdraw] from life's elementary and final questions.

Why ask questions, the eternal questions, which no one has ever been in a position to answer [because no one has defined a method for answering them], such as are the fundamental questions of existence? Nonetheless we do not cease to ask those questions. The convictions that "really, nothing ought to exist" or that the distinction between good and evil is not arbitrary, is fundamental to our world-picture. This is something that we all recognize: we do not take existence for granted, but instead we are puzzled by it.

Or should we say that a "nothing" serves as well as a something about which nothing can be said (PI § 304) -- i.e. that if there is no logically possible answer then there is also no logically possible question (TLP 6.5)? We can say that, but our way of life shows that we do not believe [accept] it. The elemental and final questions [ethics, existence] we call 'philosophy' are "there -- like our life" (OC § 559) too; and there is something fishy about calling them nonsense, i.e. undefined combinations of words.

What then becomes of philosophy? Seeking clarity where there are conceptual muddles by investigating the logic of language is not the end in itself of philosophy -- or is it (TLP 4.112)?

If you know that a question cannot be answered or that a proposition cannot be verified, you know something important about its grammar, not whether or not it is nonsense.

"A riddle which nobody can solve" (or not)

However we look at it, existence will remain for us a riddle.

Is that nonsense? Was I talking nonsense when above I wrote: "... but as all of us know: The riddle does exist"? Well, don't we know that? The question is, of course, what might we mean by the word 'know' here. (What would it be like if we did not know?)

He had not been educated, as we have been educated, to regard religion as being rather a bad guess at a riddle which nobody can solve, and he was mediæval enough to regard people who disbelieved in the guess as traitors to Our Lord. (Bruce Marshall, Father Malachy's Miracle, rev. 1947, iv, 2)

That it is "a riddle which nobody can solve", very well; but it is not "a guess", bad or otherwise, because a 'guess' is an hypothesis. Nonetheless, that it is an answer to "a riddle which nobody can solve" seems obvious -- if it is obvious, because to the materialist there is no "riddle of existence", and the notion that there is belongs to a mythology which seeks a someone rather than a something as the cause of things, which would be God by any other name, what else.

Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and nonsense (the limits of language use)

And so it is not to be wondered at that the deepest problems are really no problems. (TLP 4.003, tr. Ogden)

The TLP's picture of how language works eccentrically declares most uses of language to be nonsense.

Its "real definition" of the word 'nonsense' -- i.e. metaphysical hypothesis about what linguistic nonsense really is -- "defines" the riddle of existence out of existence. Or rather it would do that but fails -- precisely because the TLP's definition of the word 'nonsense' is an assigned meaning (although at the time Wittgenstein imagined it to be a real, not a verbal definition), not the normal one, because normally any language that conveys meaning is not nonsense.

The TLP gives a false account of the logic of our language: the TLP is itself a misunderstanding of our language's grammar (or, in other words, of how our language distinguishes between sense and nonsense). All our normal uses of language continue despite the TLP, which can only say to its readers: You are not seeing the relation between language and the world aright if you keep trying to talk about these things (the riddles of existence, God, ethics); you are only uttering "mere sound without sense".

Query: does Wittgenstein offer a talking cure for the philosopher?

"... we must pass over in silence", and the philosopher will pass the riddle [6.5] over in silence if he has "seen the world aright", having climbed and then "thrown away the ladder after he has climbed it" [6.54], the ladder being the text of the TLP. Would that be Wittgenstein's "talking cure"? (Or is this query a misapprehension of "The philosopher's treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness" (PI § 255), or only a foreign form of expression?)

Again, the trouble is that "senseless talk" -- i.e. "nonsense" -- that conveys meaning is not what we normally call nonsense. The TLP's definition of 'nonsense' is not the normal one. And this is what causes the thought-experiment in philosophy that is Wittgenstein's Tractatus to fail: that it is possible to talk about what it says we must pass over in silence, that "whereof one cannot speak" [7] one can in fact speak.

The Facts in Plain View

Note: this continues the discussion "Facts versus Theories" in the later philosophy of Wittgenstein.

The first and principal difficulty for anyone trying to understand Wittgenstein's work after the Tractatus is that one tries to read it as Bertrand Russell did -- i.e. as if Wittgenstein were still offering "philosophical theories [about the really real]" -- instead of seeing in his work a radical break with that way of thinking (if that is what it is).

Language meaning is not occult

The new way of thinking limits itself to seeking clarity about the facts in plain view, simply by describing those facts, not by trying to invent theories to explain those facts (as if those facts were somehow not really real, but only symptoms of a reality that stood hidden behind them (which is what e.g. the "theory of abstraction" claims)).

I have said again and again in these pages that Wittgenstein wanted to establish an objective distinction between sense and nonsense. But he did not invent that objective distinction -- It already exists in our language; what he did was to select the meaning of the word 'meaning' that allows that distinction to be made. There are many meanings of the word 'meaning'; Wittgenstein chose a particular one.

That is of course an angle from which one might try to criticize Wittgenstein's philosophy ... but I think, only if one can invent an alternative "logic of language" to Wittgenstein's, one which will also have its roots in the facts about how we use our language, and one that is also objective [Or course, were it not objective (verifiable), we would not call it a 'logic'] -- one that does not condemn sense and nonsense to the status of "whatever seems right" to the individual (as e.g. W.E. Johnson or to someone'simpression of meaning), thus robbing philosophy of any claim to truth (which is objective and answerable to experience).

Maybe rather than "in order to make [establish] an objective distinction", it ought to be: "in order to maintain the objective distinction between sense and nonsense".

More about the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus ('nonsense', 'objects')

Note: this adds to or subtracts from the major discussion of the TLP.

Query: Wittgenstein nonsense metaphysics.

According to the Tractatus, the only language with sense is declarative sentences of the form: This is how things stand [TLP 4.5], or in other words, the propositions of natural science, especially clearly the propositions of the classical mechanics of physics, although the TLP's picture of language was suggested to Wittgenstein by a magazine report of a Paris court case: a model was used in court: the names of objects corresponded to objects in the model.

Propositions such as 'Kindness is good' and 'Freedom of thought is a natural right' -- i.e. any statement of value, as well as any statement about God -- but also any statement belonging to logic (e.g. the definitions of words) -- are "nonsense".

The example I gave of removing ambiguity in order to create an "ideal" language in the context of "Sign", "Symbol", "Rules of Grammar" -- i.e. that the expression 'laws of the game' is not equivalent in meaning to 'laws of nature' -- cannot be put into words, according to the Tractatus, because neither the words 'rule' nor 'law' are names of objects.

In the view of the Tractatus, "the meaning of a name is the object the name stands for". But here the word 'object' is TLP jargon, meaning 'atom' in the ancient Greek sense of 'uncuttable' or 'absolutely simple' ["logical atomism"] and "all words that are not nonsense are such names".

If by 'metaphysics' the TLP means language that is without sense, then the TLP's definition of 'metaphysics' is a very broad one indeed.

Query: The limits of my language mean the limits of my world; definition of.

If I understand (and I may not understand), according to the TLP [5.6: "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world"], the only not-nonsensical language is the language of natural science [6.53], and therefore the limit of "my world" is the limit of the language of natural science that I know (Other people may of course know more or less natural science than I know) [5.62c]; cf. "The limits of my knowledge are the limits of my world". ("The world is all that is the case" [1], and the propositions of natural science say: "Such and such is the case" [4.5].)

Reality according to the TLP

The TLP's reality would consist of two parts, the natural ("the world") and the supernatural ("the mystical"). As to the natural, "the world" is the totality of facts, while "my world" is a subset of the totality of facts, namely the facts I am acquainted with. (To the facts correspond the propositions of natural science.) Supernatural reality consists of things that are not in the world but nonetheless exist such as God and moral value.

"The world" is a subset of reality (and my world is a subset of the world).

Solipsism, or Only I exist

Are my sense data the same as the sense data of other people, and thus is my world the same world as the world of other people? "What the solipsist means is right" [5.62].

Later Wittgenstein will write (PI § 241) that human agreement about "what is the case" is shown in the language we use ... And do we know any more about it than that -- that we agree, not contractually, but in our behavior towards what we perceive to be reality, the language we speak being part of that behavior, the way of life of our community?

Descartes' meditations are solipsistic.

What belongs to Grammar

To understand the Tractatus is to see that it is, as a matter of fact (although not of intention), a book of jargon: Wittgenstein redefines words such as 'world', 'fact', 'object' (and 'sense' and 'nonsense' as well), imagining that he is saying what the world, what facts, what objects, what sense and nonsense really are. So you must set aside the normal meanings of those words and use those words in Wittgenstein's way instead; otherwise you won't understand.

Of course Wittgenstein's intention was not to invent jargon (mere language conventions); he wanted to say what "reality really is"; but if we do not treat his propositions as jargon, then they are nonsense (e.g. 'The world is the totality of facts, not of things' [1.1]), for as Wittgenstein later said: "Nonsense is produced by trying to express by the use of language what ought to be embodied in the grammar" (PP iii, p. 312), e.g. by saying "The world is really ..." rather than "By the word 'world' I mean ..."

Wittgenstein: What is philosophy?

What is philosophy? An enquiry into the essence of the world [Wesen der Welt]? We want a final answer, or some description of the world, whether verifiable or not. (Wittgenstein's Lectures, Cambridge, 1930-1932, ed. Desmond Lee (1980), p. 21; cf. Drury's letter to Rhees)

That is the TLP's view of philosophy, despite Wittgenstein saying in that book that "philosophy does not consist of philosophical propositions", because the TLP does consist of just such philosophical propositions, e.g. 'The world is the totality of facts, not of things.' [1.1]. (Wittgenstein could not deny this by claiming that the propositions of the TLP are nonsensical [6.54]: because "nonsense" that can convey meaning is after all not nonsense). But it was, of course, the philosophical propositions view of philosophy that Wittgenstein later argued against:

What we are in fact doing is to tidy up our notions, to make clear what can be said about the world. (Wittgenstein's Lectures ..., ed. Desmond Lee, op. cit.)

That possibility ("what can be said") belongs to grammar -- i.e. it is logical possibility or language that has been defined by having its application described (the language to which we have given a meaning). E.g. one can ask what color the leaf of a tree is, but not what color the number 5 is.

[There are more, but not better, remarks about Wittgenstein's statement "Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt" (TLP 5.6) elsewhere; q.v.]

Is someone who asks about the essence of the world confused? When Thales conjectured about the essence of the world, that it is water, was his conjecture merely nonsense (i. e. sound without meaning, an undefined combination of words) -- is it language without meaning to say that 'The whole of reality is reducible to water'?

But why "my" world? Why not just "the" world?

If it is my world, then should not the book begin, "My world is all that is the case"? Why then "The world is ..."? If "the solipsist is right" [5.62], then doesn't 'my world' = 'the world', unless its simply that I can add to my knowledge, and thereby extend the boundaries of my world, and therefore my world must be a subset of the world?

Misunderstanding 'alone I understand'

[The limits] of that language which alone I understand mean the limits of my world. (TLP 5.62, tr. Pears, McGuinness)

What does the word 'alone' add? It cannot mean the language that only I understand -- because the language of natural science belongs to the community, not to the individual. So 'alone' would seem to refer to that subset of the language of natural science that I myself know.

[Aside. If the meaning of a string of words [proposition] were sense data arranged in an "atomic fact" [cf. PI § 48], then only I could know the meaning of the words I uttered [pretended to use, according to Wittgenstein, because a non-objective use of language is not a use of language (logic = rules)] because my sense data are mine alone, and no one else's. Of course Wittgenstein does not say that, but there does seem to be a fundamental relationship between the natural sciences as the Tractatus speaks of them and sense data [percepts] (cf. Drury's remark).]

Wittgenstein's proposition (TLP 5.6) is often taken out of context and stated as if it were a truism. But if the only language that is not nonsense is the language of natural science, then my world does not include my inner life, e.g. my feelings of despair and irrational hope, my appreciation of music.

"The world" is a subset of reality (and my world is a subset of the world)

What shows itself in the world -- what is among the TLP's "facts", sayable in the propositions of natural science? What only "makes itself manifest"? Can emotions always be put into words? Wittgenstein's own example: can how a clarinet sounds be put into words (PI § 78)? Doesn't how a clarinet sounds or how oranges and lemons smell belong to "the world", or do they belong to the supernatural (mystical)?

If it does not "make itself manifest", or, "show itself", in the world, then it must show itself outside the world but nonetheless in my life, for otherwise to whom or what would it show itself?

But perhaps, not "my world", but "my reality" doesn't exclude the experience of music (mostly ineffable) or God or "absolute value". Wittgensteindid say to Ficker about the TLP that "the important part" was the part he had not written" (written about?), presumably the part that "cannot be put into words". And that is the part that is important and therefore, the world isn't important, nor is language. The "what we can't put into words and so must pass over in silence" -- that's the part he did not write about, the important part, of our life. So the limits of my world or the limits of my language, are not the limits of my life: my world is only fraction of my life? (The world ≠ reality.)

Piecing together a philosopher's picture puzzle is not philosophy

[If Wittgenstein's Tractatus is worth studying, it would be for the philosophy in it. But as it is, the Tractatus is an example of barbarous metaphysics, an absurd thesis that philosophy is nonsense (although not nonsense as we normally mean the word 'nonsense'). Studying the book for its own sake -- you will learn more from doing the crossword. If Wittgenstein's Tractatus matters, it would only be because philosophy matters, but does the Tractatus matter to philosophy? "Here is some language -- now invent a meaning for it" is not philosophy. It is more like geometry, the satisfaction one feels in inventing a meaning is the same as one feels after proving a theorem.]

"Which alone I understand"

The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world. (TLP 5.62, tr. Pears, McGuinness)

But why does Wittgenstein say "of that language which I alone understand"? For if there were something that only I could understand, then it could not be put into words that were not nonsense, because there would no criterion by which to distinguish between "the language which I alone understand" and meaningless sounds (What is public is verifiable; what is private is not; and language whose meaning is not verifiable is language without meaning). But, on the other hand, the whole of the TLP, according to Wittgenstein, can't be put into words that are not nonsense, but yet he doesn't say that he alone can understand the language of the TLP.

Why does he say ...? Well, but he doesn't say that, not in Ogden's translation, which Wittgenstein revised before its publication.

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 5.62, tr. Ogden

That the world is my world, shows itself in the fact that the limits of the language (the language which I understand), mean the limits of my world.

So that the language that I understand is only a subset of all language that may be understood. The world is everything that is the case, but I am knowledgeable of only a limited part of that "everything".

Language, "the world", and Knowledge of Reality

Does a child in its infancy before acquiring language have a "world" (or a "my world")? And a man who has never learned language, a mentally limited man e.g., does that man have a "world"? Is this an absurd consequence, or is it deliberate, that man without language is also man without a "world"? Then the animals, a dog e.g., do not have a "world". If the knowledge of language is the limit of knowledge of "the world", then small children and animals have no knowledge of the world, of the facts.

What is a concept, what is a definition of a word, in the TLP? Is a concept a concatenation of names (Does it say "This is how things stand" if the concept is "true"? How does it do that)?

"The slayers of metaphysics"

Query: Wittgenstein killed metaphysics.

Quite the contrary, for you might say that the Tractatus gives metaphysics a place to hide -- namely, in "the mystical", in "senseless" propositions about "the essence of the world" such as those of which the Tractatus itself consists: for of course, if Wittgenstein can somehow "say what cannot be said", then others can try too. Given that much of the TLP claims to be "nonsense that nonetheless conveys meaning", it can hardly be said to have "killed" metaphysics.

[There is a later note about "the limits and the mystical".]

About Wittgenstein's later work, does it grant that there is a "metaphysical use of language" (PI  § 116)? And if it does not (as, if I understand anything at all about it, I think it must not do), does it commit the fallacy of Some therefore All when it says that all metaphysical problems are nothing more than muddles caused by language, for aren't there examples where it is not?

Immanuel Kant

If anyone did "kill metaphysics", it was Immanuel Kant by undermining Rationalism's claim to synthetic a priori knowledge [knowledge prior to experience, without verification by experience, e.g. proofs such as are found in Euclid's geometry applied to the real world, but also Descartes' "clear and distinct ideas"]. For if "percepts without concepts are blind", that is, if concepts define phenomena and not vice versa, and there are no "real definitions" of concepts, but only rules for using words, then Rationalism's project in philosophy is impossible. The Kantian question is still: "How do you know?" which was the Socratic question, the question of Socrates. If Rationalism does not consist of "real definitions of our concepts", then metaphysics is not possible as a mode of knowledge.

You think that with your philosophical investigations you are tracing reality [cf. PI § 114] whereas all you are tracing are the limits of our "concepts" (in Kant's sense of 'concept': an innate category of thought or innate frame of reference), which are the only frame through which we can look at reality (whatever that is when it's at home, "the thing in itself"). According to Kant.

[Although to Kant it seemed "barren and bereft", "time was when metaphysics was the queen of the sciences", Kant wrote, whilst reviving her to give birth to the idealisms of Fichte, Schelling (1775-1854) and Hegel. "Metaphysics is dead. Long live metaphysics!"]

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Query: Wittgenstein killed metaphysics.

A title to add to "Jack the Giant Killer and Other Fairy Tales". Because: the death only occurs if we look at things the way Wittgenstein does. And there is another way to see them, and possibly even to refute Wittgenstein's thesis that metaphysics is mere conceptual confusion (PI § 118), at least in some cases (Wittgenstein's Some therefore All fallacy). I certainly wouldn't accept Wittgenstein's claim that there is no metaphysics that is not nonsense, given that is so only because he has excluded from metaphysics whatever is not nonsense (e.g. the eternal questions), which may well be what Wittgenstein does.

Wittgenstein's criticism of the notion that there is a metaphysical use of language might also be seen as "killing metaphysics", although it does not make metaphysics as picture-making impossible (such pictures simply aren't hypotheses).

For Types of Definition

There seem to be three basic kinds of definitions: synonymous, ostensive, and play-acted.

Query: psychology pictures of feeling-words.

This would be a very useful way to define psychological words, not by means of a single cartoon pane (drawing), but by a series of panes (cartoon strips). This could illustrate clearly the "whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven" which Wittgenstein called a "language game" (PI § 7). It would be an example of ostensive and play-acted definition. It would be far better than attempting a verbal (synonymous words) definition, which would inevitably suggests ghost-like phenomena (ibid. § 36), and would not be too much more helpful than a definition in words of the word 'red'.

From the point of view of the logic of language nothing is hidden -- i.e. definition is a matter of publicly stateable rules. In early childhood we learn to conceal [and to feign] our emotions (PI § 249), e.g. our anger, in order to avoid being spanked or in some other way punished; but we do not begin life by concealing our emotions.

Behaviorism and language meaning

Here is the point of Behaviorism. It isn't that they deny there are feelings ["that there is a difference between pain-behavior accompanied by pain and pain-behavior without any pain ... What greater difference could there be?" (PI § 304)]. But they say our description of behavior is our description of feelings. (Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics ... iv, 7, p. 33)

From the point of view of the logic of language, describing behavior is the method of definition (e.g. a definition of the word 'hope' taken from literature). When we try to define psychological words, we are not trying to describe something occult, something ghost-like hidden within us, but only the facts in plain view. It is from those facts that Wittgenstein's logic takes its definitions of our language's psychological vocabulary. That is the only way to make language meaning objective (verifiable, logical = ruled by rules).

Objection. But if "no difference could be greater" (PI § 304), then ought we not to be focusing on the pain that accompanies the pain-behavior rather than on the behavior itself? There are many points of view from which to be interested in a phenomenon. But what does "the accompanying pain" have to do with the logic of language -- i.e. with making an objective distinction between sense and nonsense [with definitions]? That is the question, and consequently what does it have to do with philosophy?

Query: rule for using the word 'there'.

The form of this query is very clear. Don't ask for the "meaning" of a word; ask for the rules (for using the word). "The rules" as in "the rules of the language game". The grammar of 'there' is similar to the grammar of the word 'this'.

Query: meaning of the word 'metaphysics'.

Asking for the etymology, asking for the root words of 'metaphysics' -- 'the book in Aristotle's works that comes after the book of Physics' -- is not too helpful. And so we look (flounder about) for an essential definition. It never occurs to us to ask for examples of metaphysics, because we do not think of examples as constituting a definition -- serving as rules of grammar -- but in Wittgenstein's logic of language, that is what examples do. (If we wanted to define Wittgenstein's example 'game', we would have to define that word by giving examples -- and this procedure is the normal, not the exceptional procedure).

The requirement of an essential definition

It has puzzled me why Socrates is regarded as a great philosopher. Because when Socrates asks for the meaning of a word and people give him examples of how that word is used, he isn't satisfied but wants a unique definition. Now if someone shows me how a word is used and its different meanings, that is just the sort of answer I want. (Recollections p. 115 [Drury could only date this remark "1930(?)"]

Requiring that there be a general definition (essential or common nature meaning) of a word results in giving a false account of the grammar of our language, if, that is, what interests us is "to see how in actual life we use words" (ibid.) rather than to create metaphysical myths about our language (in the manner of Plato).

Well, but Wittgenstein had either never read Plato's Euthyphro or had somehow, I don't see how, failed to see why Socrates would want common nature definitions in ethics. Otherwise why would he say what he did to Drury, unless he was blind to Plato's puzzlement about the meaning of common names.

Coincidental agreement in way of life

If language is to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in definitions but also ... in judgments.... It is one thing to describe methods of measurement [definitions], and another to obtain and state results of measurement [judgments]. But what we call 'measuring' is partly determined by a certain constancy in results of measurement. (PI § 242)

The procedure of putting a lump of cheese on a balance and fixing the price by the turn of the scale would lose its point if it frequently happened for such lumps to suddenly grow or shrink for no obvious reason. (ibid. § 142)

Disputes do not break out (among mathematicians, say) over the question of whether a rule has been obeyed or not. People don't come to blows over it ... (ibid. § 240)

What we have to mention in order to explain the significance, I mean the importance, of a concept, are often extremely general facts of nature: such facts as are hardly ever mentioned because of their great generality. (ibid. § 142)

Why of an essential definition is sought

But people do come to blows over right and wrong, over what is and what is not the good for man. That was what Socrates was concerned about: universal definitions and therefore agreement in ethics (Phaedrus 263a-b, Euthyphro 7d).

Socrates believed ethics to be rational, that right and wrong can be determined by reason, deduced as they should be from the specific excellence proper to man. Whereas Wittgenstein contributed nothing to ethics [TLP 6.422] but a variation of what Kant had said long before him, that there is no disputing the foundations of ethics (OC § 611) -- that "absolute value", like the "categorical imperative", is not rational (it they cannot be determined by reason).

W.K.C. Guthrie said that Socrates did not come with answers, but with questions and a method for trying to answer them (as well as a faith in reason). That is what philosophy is. Whether Socrates' method is useful to the understanding or not is itself a philosophical question.

Query: Socrates, essential definition, objectivity.

An essential definition is a standard of measurement, like a ruler, against which things can be judged. If you know what all pious acts have in common (and what distinguishes pious acts from all other kinds of acts), then you can deduce whether any particular act is pious or not. Such a standard makes a judgment objective, agreed to by all as correct. (This is what Plato asks for in Euthyphro 6d-e.)

But for an "essential definition" to be objective, it must be public (which the hidden results of the theory of abstraction are not). Only if you must be able to put the essential definition you think you know into words that can be put to the tests of reason and experience (as Euthyphro's suggestions are in Plato's dialog) -- is knowledge, by definition, objective.

That is, however, not the only way we use the word 'knowledge': it is Socrates' selected use, one meaning of the word 'knowledge' chosen from among others. But just as Wittgenstein wanted sense and nonsense to be objective, so too Socrates wanted knowledge to be objective; and therefore they defined the word 'meaning' and the word 'knowledge' with that end in view.

Philosophical Queries and Replies

Query: Wittgenstein's word game.

Is there any reason to prefer the expression 'language game' to 'word game'? Yes, because there is no absolutely simple unit of language, the word e.g. A game may require a specific combination of words, which is what a phrase or sentence is, not merely a word standing by itself. (All words are language, but not all language is individual words.) And gestures too may be essential to a particular language game.

"If a lion could talk ..."

Note: this supplements the discussion of patterns of life, as well as the main discussion (A lion would not understand humor).

Query: Wittgenstein, see language as meaningless.

In Wittgenstein's TLP language can be senseless without being meaningless. The TLP itself is an example of such language. But enough of that. "There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it" (Cicero).

"But birds do talk, and we don't understand them"

If we compare birdsong to language, it is a language without meaning for us. Is the 'for us' nonsense? A thing may be important to a bird that is unimportant to us; does 'important sound' = 'meaningful sound'? Now hear human beings speaking a foreign language, one you do not know: Hear that as birdsong. But would we call birdsong a language if we think of all the ways human beings use language? (A "primitive language game" can be seen as a complete language.) Here the word 'meaning' is easily used equivocally: 'meaningful sound' -- do we mean 'meaningful' as a declarative sentence, a proposition, is meaningful? A command, invitation? "Here I am. My song is beautiful, attractive. Come mate with me." That would be an hypothesis; do birds continue to sing after mating? Would we "settle for that explanation" of birdsong -- what is the aim of an explanation here?

There is singing that is composed of sounds made by the voice which belong to no language. So just because sounds are made you cannot conclude: "Those sounds must have a meaning." And yet we may be inclined to say just that about birdsong.

Should we compare this inclination to superstition? Is instinctive anthropomorphism superstition? What it shows how little insight we have or feel we have into the inner lives of the animals around us, rabbits, sparrows. Someone says: "They don't have inner lives"; another: "It is arrogance to say that they don't have inner lives"; someone else replies: "I really don't know what to think" (Thomas Arnold).

Acquainted with another's inner life (soul)

... someone may feel concerning certain people that their inner life will always be a mystery to him. That he will never understand them. (CV p. 74)

We do not say that possibly a dog talks to itself. Is that because we are so minutely acquainted with its soul? Well, one might say this: If one sees the behavior of a living thing, one sees its soul. (PI  § 357)

Ought we to say that? Well, the word 'soul' is our tool, a tool of our language. What work do we want to do with it?

Drury wanted to "keep wonder secure", Wittgenstein "the mystical". "Confess thine ignorance" shouldn't be so very difficult for us -- and yet we are strongly inclined (the relation between ignorance and arrogance) to regard other animals as lower life forms: birdsong is nonsense; squirrels do not have inner lives; mice don't suffer from being kept in cages; lobsters are to be boiled alive.

Someone says: "Don't be sentimental" ... Someone else replies .... (There is a relation here -- i.e. a comparison to be made or a comparison that suggests itself to me or that I want to make.)

"If a lion could talk ..." Well, a bird can talk, and we do not understand it. Or did Wittgenstein mean: "If a lion could speak English ..." as I imagined elsewhere it might.

When birds speak we hear -- sound without sense. When birds hear us talk, what do they hear? "Human beings make noises, but their sounds are without meaning."

Query: how many parts of speech in our language?

We divide the world up (like we divide a pie into slices) for our particular purposes, e.g. Wittgenstein's philosophical grammar. But there is no absolutely correct way to do this, but instead all divisions are relative to our particular purposes.

Query: Socrates and his philosophical view about man.

It is characteristic of our way of thinking to elevate our own point of view above all others, but there are not only philosophical views, but also religious views, scientific views, and so on, of man. Philosophers, religious, scientists, will all say that their way of looking at man is the correct or most important or most serious way. The philosophical way of looking at man -- as reasoning, as ethical (Socrates' view) -- is not the only one.

Query: seeing: action, state; Wittgenstein grammar or grammatical.

You may be able to regard seeing as an active rather than as a passive state -- i.e. you may if that combination of words is defined. -- But if you do this, you must not think that you are saying what seeing really is. And thinking just that is the danger here. ("... shows you, not a theory of seeing, but only a concept of seeing." (Z § 223))

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