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Wittgenstein versus Philosophy

I have written these pages from the viewpoint of logic of language (which is Wittgenstein's expression as I have defined it: how to distinguish between sense and nonsense in language, specifically in philosophy). However, there is more to philosophy than logic of language, or so I say here.

Topics on this page ...

Note: this page, now very old, was written largely as an exploration of possible answers to the question: Why did Wittgenstein set the limits to Philosophy where he did in his later work (i.e. in the second [WII] in contrast to the first [TLP] Wittgenstein), keeping Logic but excluding Metaphysics (by dismissing it as mere conceptual confusion) and Ethics? But what I wrote here has since been superseded in many ways by Three conceptions of philosophy and by Wittgenstein's philosophical code, although my question has never been conclusively (nor convincingly) answered. Unless it has here: Socratic Ethics and Wittgenstein's "absolute value".


Wittgenstein and pantheism - Conceptual preliminaries

There really is no distinction for ethics to make between monotheism and pantheism. For in both cases the god is omnipotent, and in both cases whatever happens [in the world] is the will of God, and has to be accepted as such.

Now, as to the question of God's benevolence, what difference is there between the monotheistic and the pantheistic views? Benevolence actually has no application in either case; it does not connect up with either view, because the concept 'benevolent' or 'good' does not apply to the concept 'God', because God is the measure of what is good ("the meter-standard") and therefore cannot be measured: the good is whatever God says it is. [Plato made a muddle of the old religion when he identified God with the Good (As soon as we say that God is good we come into conflict with experience which tells us that God is not good). But Wittgenstein's religion was not Platonic.] In both monotheism and pantheism, one must simply accept what God does, regardless of what God does -- i.e. regardless of what happens in the world. "I am who I am," the god tells Moses, implying that Yahweh is not in any why accountable to man for what He does (i.e. what happens in the world).

But that is not the meaning of those words in context: Moses wants to know the god's name, because to know the name of something is to have power over it ("primitive word magic": the Lord God gives Adam "dominion" over the animals by allowing Adam to name them). By saying "I am who I am," this god is saying: Don't imagine that you can manipulate me, Moses! But in the context above I have used those words in place of "Were you there when I created leviathan!" [The folk tale Rumpelstiltskin is also an example of primitive word magic.]

God (Yahweh) to Moses: I am independent. Don't imagine that you can use my name as if to do magic through it: "In the name of [God], let it happen that ...": I am not to be manipulated by means of my name; I am independent of you.

I would say that [to speak of] Wittgenstein's pantheism is the same as [to speak of] Wittgenstein's monotheism -- that is to say, one might call Wittgenstein a pantheist or a monotheist indifferently [One might say, indifferently (because here it is "a distinction without a difference"), that Wittgenstein's world-view was pantheistic or monotheistic].

The moment one introduces omnipotence, monotheism becomes indistinguishable from pantheism; pantheism becomes indistinguishable from monotheism. (But 'pantheism' and 'deism' are different concepts; Wittgenstein was not a deist; the notion of a Watch-Maker -- or any other "God of the philosophers" -- played no part whatever in his religion.)

Because an omnipotent God is an amoral God, just as Nature is amoral, and if that is so, then there is no reason to not equate God with Nature. In the theism of Jesus, God is an ethical personality and therefore -- empirically -- not an omnipotent one; but Jesus' religion is not empirical: God our Father is both all-powerful and all-good, and He is that despite our experience of this world, where it does indeed appear that the Father gives his son who asks for bread a stone (and no myths about evil spirits having power over this world can rationally account for the stone). But in the supernatural kingdom of God, God is subject to his own law, which is the law of love -- although the word 'good' is without application in the kingdom of God because there is no evil there, unless evil continues to exist as a picture of the world before the kingdom came [It is not necessary e.g. for a golden mountain to exist for us to be able to describe one (Russell)].

The pieces of this conceptual puzzle are not easily made to fit together. Or, in other words, here rules of grammar are not easily made consistent. In Wittgenstein's view, in any case the particular words you use is not what is important in religion, but rather the difference they make in the way you live. Belief in a last judgment, for example, or belief that "God is the Father".


Wittgenstein's world-view (Rejection of)

To begin with an object of comparison. Wittgenstein's view of life was not the same as Spinoza's, for Wittgenstein fused, or tried to fuse, acceptance of Nature, as it is given to us in the circumstances of our life and of the world, with a life devoted to acting in accord with Christian love (and the seeking of individual salvation). The contradiction inherent in that view of life is that it requires one both to accept but also to change oneself and, in some ways, to change the world (because that is what a teacher does, and Wittgenstein was always a teacher in his relations with younger men and women). Whether there were as well contradictions in the way Wittgenstein lived his life seems me to depend on how one looks at his life.

Note.--It is important not to lose sight, when discussing what was or was not Wittgenstein's world-view, that Wittgenstein never said what (CV p. 50 [MS 132 8: 11.9.1946]) he himself meant by the word 'God'.

Spinoza's pantheism: his world-view (nature-philosophy and consequent ethics)

[Spinoza tries to found an ethics on nature-philosophy.] Everything that exists, he says, is given in that infinite Being, which may be called either God or Nature [Spinoza "conceives of God merely as the sum-total of nature"] [which] presents itself in two forms: as thought (spirit) and as corporeity (matter). Within this divine nature everything, human activity included, is determined by necessity [Comment: as in axiomatic geometry, which is Spinoza's model for reasoning in philosophy. Schweitzer likens it to "an ice-bound landscape" (p. 116)]. There is no such thing as doing; there are only happenings. The meaning of human life, therefore, cannot consist in action ... [Instead, it] consists in coming to an ever clearer understanding of man's relation to the universe. Man becomes happy when ... he ... surrenders himself to [the universe] consciously and willingly ... (Albert Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, tr. Campion, 2nd rev. ed. (1929), Chapter 10, p. 117; more about Spinoza's ethics.)

Pantheism, which is the conflation of the concepts 'God' and 'Nature' (by 'nature' I mean here 'everything that is not man'; and the following is how and why I make that distinction here) is not a view of things that I can accept -- Why is this? Because I, as man, am unlike everything else, stand in opposition to nature. And why is this? (1) Because I have "discourse of reason" -- i.e. the tool of language with which to perceive/conceive and reason, and (2) because man has a moral sense: nature is amoral, but man is not; nature displays values, but man by his very nature -- if man be man rather than child or beast -- must judge the values that nature displays. Thus man must "play god to God" if 'God' = 'Nature' -- i.e. render a judgment on the values displayed by the natural world. That belongs to man's task in Ethics (which is man's reasoned reflection, in contrast to instinct; when man acts by instinct, he is not man but merely animal). The concepts 'values' and 'ethics' are very different concepts despite their interrelations.

"... because man can stand in opposition to nature." He can -- but must he? The meaning of man's life, according to my account of the excellence that is proper to man, is to rebel against -- i.e. not accept -- whatever is irrational or amoral. Why? Because man is endowed with reason and with the concepts 'fair' and 'unfair', 'good' and 'bad' ['evil', 'wicked'], 'right' and 'wrong' (The grammars of these words intersect essentially; the grammatical rules of 'God' and 'nature', on the other hand, do not). In man are combined man's two great myths (i.e. insights into the condition/nature of man): Prometheus and the Serpent in the Garden (in my view of each).

Ethics is an evaluation by thoroughgoing reason of the values displayed by nature (Here I include man in nature, which is the other concept 'nature', not the one I used above). The meaning of my life is not to be in harmony with what is bad (or, evil) in nature, but to be in rebellion against it. It is in this respect -- i.e. in his acceptance rather than rebellion -- that I cannot accept Spinoza's view (for it is a way of looking at things, as are all philosophies whether they are called metaphysics (i.e. propositions about "ultimate reality") or not) -- or Wittgenstein's, which seems to me -- at least with respect to God = the natural world = pantheism and that to be in harmony with nature is the good for man -- the same view as Spinoza's. That I as man stand in contrast to nature refutes pantheism -- because man is ethical but nature is not (and what is amoral cannot teach man morality, although he may learn by judging it); the two do not have the same essence and they cannot melt into one another, into a unity.

Man's rebellion is not a case of man "playing god to God", because nature is not God. Man indeed plays god to nature, that is to say, judges nature (i.e. the values displayed by both animal and plant life -- "the spectacle of life at war with itself" (Schweitzer) -- as well as of the natural elements at war against life). But nature isn't God, not as we normally use the word 'God', as varied as that use is (cf. Russell's "Theory of Descriptions").

I believe this is an inevitable consequence of all study of philosophy and of nature. One does not lose belief in a God, to be sure, but it is no longer the benevolent God of our childhood; it is a being whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and this is not especially helpful to the helpless. (Lichtenberg, Aphorisms, Notebook J, tr. Hollingdale)

"... a being whose ways ..." At this stage in the development of my religious thinking, that appears to me a very primitive conception of God (i.e. concept 'God'), one that is unserviceable to a religious view of our life. The God the father of whom Jesus speaks, for example, is in no way "the God of the philosophers"; Jesus offers no proofs for his words, but only a vision of a kingdom of God ruled, not by the ethic of power, but by the ethic of love, a kingdom that is not this world. It may be that by 'God' most people do mean "the Almighty, the Creator", which for some is a workable notion (and here there is great variety in "how workable") and for others a straw-man to knock down (and here there is rather tiresome pointing to inconsistencies with our experience of the world that any schoolboy might point to). Well, "when I was a child, I thought, spoke, reasoned as a child does", but there are stages beyond childhood. (This stage, for example, which may be as far as I myself am ever able to go, although deeper men appear to me to go much farther, or at least in very different directions, Wittgenstein e.g. for one, Drury for another, Dostoyevsky yet another.)

In the struggle for true world-view as it is enacted in the thought of humanity, the ultimate question is always this -- how can man, not only in thinking and in suffering, but also in acting, become one with infinite Being. (Albert Schweitzer, Indian Thought and its Development [1935], tr. Mrs. C.E.B. Russell (1956), p. 194)

This shows you just how radically different world-pictures ("thought worlds") can be, for my view of the ultimate question in religion and philosophy is utterly different from Schweitzer's, although it's true, it is also the question of one's stance towards "the world", but the very word 'stance' suggests not unity, but separateness.

Being cured of (Wittgenstein) -- or by (Socrates, Kant) philosophy?

Professor Michael Wolff, who read Part One of the Moral Sciences degree as an undergraduate at Cambridge University in 1945-47, wrote that: "Wittgenstein and [John] Wisdom both had the effect they wanted on me and that was, as I now understand it, to "cure" me of philosophy. I read Part Two English ..."

I've often wondered if Wittgenstein's world-view wasn't pantheistic: that a person should accept existence ("The riddle does not exist") and be at peace with the world as one finds it, that world being the "will of God" and 'good' having no meaning except 'God's will'. And that philosophy, being a condition of not being at peace with existence, is therefore an illness that one needs to be cured of. I don't know if that is quite right, but on the other hand I think there is something right about it. I've often thought that Wittgenstein's attitude toward philosophy did not come from philosophy but from religion. What else would account for Wittgenstein's regarding philosophy as something one needed to be cured of -- in the sense of stop doing. Although Wittgenstein's "logic of language" certainly did change after his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, his world-view seems not to have changed: it seems that philosophy -- regardless of "logic of language" -- was to him a mistake. (Cf. PI § 119. What did Wittgenstein's later work mean by "the limits of language"? He certainly did not regard those limits quite the way that I understood his later work to, as being of our own creation rather than dictated to man by our reality.)

In any case I don't think that affects what I have called, in my jargon, his later "logic of language". I don't think that requires anyone to regard philosophy as an illness.

I would say that Wittgenstein's "logic of language" is one thing, Wittgenstein's world-view (life- and nature- philosophies) another -- quite another. Wittgenstein's "logic" does not necessarily follow from his world-view, nor vice versa. His logic of language is entirely consistent with Goethe's nature-philosophy, for instance. I certainly don't think that philosophy is an illness -- even if it has its birth in confusion and puzzlement, and even Wittgenstein told his student Drury: "whatever becomes of you, don't stop thinking" (Recollections p. 170) -- and wasn't philosophical (reasoned, critical) thinking what he had in mind.

Well, these are very high seas, very general remarks, and I may not know what I'm talking about. But if Wittgenstein's world-view really does call for us to abandon philosophy, then I think the truth is that it is not philosophy but his world-view that we need to be cured of. Goethe too could have said about nature: "It is there -- like our life" (OC § 559), without having a pantheistic view of "the world".

Wittgenstein's God

The Essence of Being, the Absolute, the World-spirit, and all similar expressions denote nothing actual but something conceived in abstractions which for that reason it is also absolutely impossible to represent to the mind.

How does thought come to such a meaningless proceeding as making man enter into a spiritual relation with an unreal creation of thought? (Albert Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, 2nd ed. (London, 1929), tr. C.T. Campion, Chapter 20, p. 241)

Aren't the members of that list of "unreal creations of thought" simply other names for God? Wittgenstein wrote: "how God judges a man is something we cannot imagine at all" (CV p. 86) -- but told Drury that by 'God' he did not mean a super-man [Olympian god, "another being like myself, outside myself, but infinitely more powerful"] (Recollections p. 108). But then what did he mean? I would say that grammar of 'God' -- if God is not simply identified with "the World" (pantheism [In which case, why use the word 'God' at all?]) -- just is the grammar of 'super-man', after the grammar of 'super-man' has been stripped of the very rules that give the word 'super-man' meaning.

In his notebooks for the Tractatus Wittgenstein wrote: "How things stand is God. God is how things stand" (Notebooks 1914-1916, tr. Anscombe (Oxford, 1961), p. 79 [1.8.16]). What does that mean, if it means anything, if not that "God is the world"? "In order to live happily I must be in agreement with the world." (ibid. p. 75) Or in other words, I must be in agreement with God.

Wittgenstein wrote that it wasn't reasonable to be furious even at Hitler -- "much less so at God" (CV p. 46). -- Is there another way to account for this remark [-- the latter part, I mean. As to a human being, one might always say: Well, this man was in the grips of an evil ideology, but if he believed it to be a good ideology, then ...? For aren't we all in the grip of our ability to reason and of our [non-rational -- but is it non-rational?] conscience? God, on the other hand, is omniscient, not subject to our limitations --] if it is not a pantheistic statement?

Wittgenstein: The way the world is -- is God's will; and I should accept God's will. -- Question: [but] why should I accept God's will? Not: because "God's will is good"; because that is nonsense in Wittgenstein's view: God's will is not good or evil: God's will says what is good and evil ("Now that is all I want: if it should be God's will", Wittgenstein told Drury in 1949). Why should one accept God's will? That is, is this a question of reasons; is it rational to accept God's will [because otherwise there is no question of "why"]? Did Wittgenstein have some reason for saying this -- or is the acceptance of God's will itself the principle or axiom, the foundation of his thinking [for which, like all other foundations, there is no foundation]?

"The essence of the world"

Drury wrote to Rhees in May 1966 that "If philosophy is not an attempt to state the "Wesen der Welt", then I feel lost. And yet I also have the feeling that such as phrase as 'Wesen der Welt' would be foreign to the diction of the Investigations" ("Letters to a Student of Philosophy" [written in 1954], ed. Desmond Lee, in Philosophical Investigations, Volume 6 (1983), p. 174). (That was also Russell's view of Wittgenstein's later work.) Drury only became acquainted with the later work when it was published after Wittgenstein's death, and so in many respects Drury's "philosophy of Wittgenstein" was the philosophy of the Tractatus only.

According to the earlier work, to talk about the "essence of the world" is to utter "nonsense" -- but it is precisely the force of "Sraffa's criticism", which is actually Ramsey's, which is actually no one's (that could be summed up in Wittgenstein's remark "Language is not a cage" (LE/Notes p. 16)) that "nonsense" that can convey meaning is after all not nonsense.

[Unlike philosophy, according to Wittgenstein religion does not rest on opinions.]

The importance of Sraffa's criticism of his thinking is acknowledged by Wittgenstein as early as 1931 (CV p. 19) and much later in the 1945 Preface to the Philosophical Investigations.

[Aside. I often think: if only I had someone to forcefully criticise my thinking/writing, then I might get somewhere with it. A self-critic is a blind critic.]

About his Lecture on Ethics Wittgenstein remarked that he had ending by "speaking in the first person" (LE/Notes ibid.). -- But when we get to the axioms of logic, we don't speak in the first person e.g. about the principle of contradiction. Why are the principles/axioms of ethics any different: neither has foundations and, I think, in neither case need one proclaim that one is speaking for oneself alone.

When Schweitzer writes "If rational thought thinks itself out to a conclusion, it comes to something non-rational which, nevertheless, is a necessity of thought" -- that is how all first principles/axioms strike us in philosophy. (The rules of a game have the same role in the game as axioms have in philosophy. But should they be called "necessities of thought"? Because "without them I cannot think at all" (Gilson)? But Schweitzer was talking about the end of thought, not its beginning; and even if one said there, "I cannot see any other way to go; no other way carries conviction with me", we do not therefore say that one's conclusion anymore than one's starting point is logically necessary; -- and ought we to use the word 'necessary' any other way in philosophy? For what can only seem necessary is of course not necessary.)

There is e.g. Wittgenstein's distinction [in PG i § 81, p. 126-7] between sense and nonsense, his "necessary" first principle [the "necessary first principle" of his "logic of language"].)

The following is an Internet search query from my site's logs:

Query: foundations of logic, Wittgenstein.

In what I have called "Wittgenstein's logic of language", it has only one foundation: the distinction between sense and nonsense (PG i § 81, p. 126-7).

In the Tractatus Wittgenstein states that all philosophy is a critique of language. I am certain that the use of the word 'critique' here is a deliberate reference to Kant. (Wittgenstein spoke to me of the great depth to be found in Kant's writings.) ("Letters to a Student of Philosophy", p. 82)

That is what we are doing in "Wittgenstein's logic of language", a critique of language, because it is that particular logic's view that the first question in philosophy is the distinction between sense and nonsense.

"Lost in the Wilderness"

My way of thinking is all right and I thank God for having given it to me; a different question is whether I make use of what I got in the right way. (Letter to Sraffa, 17.3.1935, Wittgenstein in Cambridge (2008), Document 184, p. 238)

"... whether I make use of what I got in the right way." That is the question I am asking. (And of course if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But I don't believe I am.)

For I cannot but think that Wittgenstein was a lost soul when he spent those years writing the many volumes now collected as the Philosophy of Psychology. Ordinary students will not study those remarks, and it is they who should be the target of philosophy, rather than scholars who write little notes to one another. Philosophy -- including logic of language -- concerns "no small matter, but how to live" -- and Wittgenstein seemed turned away from that.

The trouble with "a method had been found" (PP iii, p. 322) or "my way of thinking" (as Wittgenstein called it to Sraffa) is that beyond a certain point of working through the method's implications, the method becomes a formula -- and you stagnate. A strange and singular man (Russell), Wittgenstein appears because he was unwilling to explain -- i.e. make explicit -- why he set the limits he set for philosophy, and what he thought would come of his philosophy of psychology investigations: Why were they worthwhile, the best use for him to make of his method? "... whether I make use of what I got in the right way": What is the answer? (The TLP becomes for us his last word -- but it was not his last word.)

As to how to make use of Wittgenstein's work, what is important is to grasp hold ["seize hold of" (CV p. 19)] for oneself Wittgenstein's method [which I have called "logic of language"] and use it in one's own work of clarification in philosophy, and that means in logic, ethics, and metaphysics: how to think, how to live, and what is real (not that those are separable parts of the whole: their interconnections cannot be broken), not to dwell on Wittgenstein's own investigations.

Wittgenstein seems never to have believed in philosophy. His outlook [world-view, world-picture] was religious, not philosophical: The problem of life is a religious, not a philosophical, problem (Indeed, there is no such philosophical problem, in his view). To Drury: "... I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view." -- Why did he not say: "I cannot help looking at every problem from a philosophical point of view"? Wittgenstein stumbled into philosophy because of Russell's recognition of his ability for mathematical logic; otherwise he might have gone in some other direction, taken up some other subject [occupation, airship pilot e.g.].

It is only briefly at the end of the Tractatus that Wittgenstein turns to life's questions ("the riddle of existence") although they are the consequence of the book's earlier part, not an afterthought, and he did not return in his philosophical writings to those questions after that period. Wittgenstein wrote in his Notebooks 1914-1916: "My work has extended from the foundations of logic to the nature of the world" (p. 79, quoted by Drury in "Letters to a Student of Philosophy", p. 174), but might it never have done that? I don't see how to know.

And so I am trying to give the most negative possible account of Wittgenstein's relation to philosophy, not because it is necessarily a true account, but in order to have an object of comparison. Since I awoke -- not from my dogmatic slumber (I did not have one of those, unless I am still having it now), but -- from the slumber of childhood, I have wanted to study (i.e. think about) philosophy, and I have never wavered in that wanting. But I must understand that it is not that way with everyone (as it was not for C.D. Broad).

It is rather the case that Wittgenstein's particular kind of religious world-view -- i.e. his irrationalism -- is the muddle to be cured of, not philosophy. The thoroughgoing critical-skeptical use of reason directed toward first and last, "elementary and final", questions is not madness in the mist of sanity. It is not 'God', a word of protean dimensions, but "belief in God" that is the most pernicious -- most primitive and prejudicial to the human understanding -- notion that man has invented, precisely because it is a rejection of the thorough-going use of reason as the path to find the meaning of our life. [Well, actually the concept 'abstract object' is at least as pernicious, and is as well the greatest conceptual muddle, the greatest self-mystification, man has invented.]

... reason has been given to man to be used consistently and in every department of life ... (Civilization and Ethics, Chapter 8, p. 97)

"... in every ..." That is what philosophers believed in ancient Greece and later in the Age of Reason ("Enlightenment"), and it is what I believe, contra Wittgenstein.


Ethics and Self-Control

I originally wrote: "Know this of a fact, that happiness consists in self-control." That, however, is incorrect, because self-control must be directed by knowledge of what is good if happiness is to be found in or through it. ["Virtue is knowledge" | Humiliation and humility | Socratic Ethics]

... in his conversation he exhorted his companions to cultivate self-control above all things. (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 5, 1)

The good is found through self-control -- and what else is it that we seek if not the good? [Note that the word 'found' was uttered ambiguously here, meaning both 'to seek' and 'to do' the good.] Socrates could say that "Everyday I find myself growing in goodness" -- because "he never chose the pleasanter rather than the better course" (ibid. i, 6, 9; iv, 8, 6; iv, 8, 11), and he avoided what was harmful to the soul (ibid. i, 2, 4).

The expression 'self-control' or 'temperance' contrasts with 'loss of temper' (impatience, kicking the donkey back) and 'self-indulgence' (gluttony, drunkenness, sloth). Self-restraint is only painful if one is ignorant of the good, for otherwise no one wills to do harm to himself or to others. If we apply thorough-going reason to ethics in the manner of Socrates (rather than regarding ethics as irrational in the manner of Kant and Wittgenstein), then living a good life not a question of forming good habits ("because what we do from habit is sweet to us" (Epictetus)) despite our baser inclinations -- but of seeking knowledge. If I know what is good, then I will choose what is good (unless it is a case of "I say I know, but I think I know better"). Why do you not drink poison, why do you not thrust your hand into the fire?

'If I understand, then I am able to explain what I understand to you' DEF.= 'Socratic understanding'. But if I cannot explain it [give an account of what I know] to you, then I do not understand it, and thus am myself misled and mislead others (Xenophon, Memories of Socrates iv, 6, 1).


Not what -- but whom you mean

"The way you use the word 'God' shows not whom but what you mean" (CV p. 50). -- But that ought to be reflected [must be embodied] in "grammar" [if it [if that claim is a true account of the grammar of the word 'God'] is true]. But Wittgenstein's [use of that word] is not; he continues to talk about God as if God were whom he meant, not what.

A whom can judge a man ("how God judges a man", ibid. p. 86), a what cannot. If 'God' is an anthropomorphic concept (picture), then that belongs to its essence [which belongs to grammar (sense and nonsense)]: God ass a super-man; the word 'God' is without meaning otherwise. (That is what was originally meant by our being made in "the image and likeness of God": the gods of man, whether Yahweh or Zeus, look like man. [Xenophanes' remark that if donkeys had a God, their God would look like a donkey.])

The concept 'God' of monotheism, that particular picture of God as simultaneously both a super-man and not a super-man -- i.e. that confused, self-contradictory, grammar -- has muddled all our thinking. And it must be overcome to "heal the wounded understanding" of man.

Because we cannot find a satisfying rational explanation for either the world's that-ness (i.e. existence per se) or its how-ness (from the ethical point of view), we introduce the concept 'God' as the explanation -- i.e. what Bonhoeffer called the notion of God as "a working hypothesis" (I think), one that explains whatever we cannot explain about existence. But as an explanation of Nature's purposivelessness, God is simply a safe-house for ignorance to hide out in, an explanation that explains nothing. When we accept that we cannot explain existence as such nor nature's ethical purposivelessness (its creating and destroying what it has created, bringing forth good and evil, function and dysfunction indifferently) -- only then can we dismiss that particular concept 'God'.

Yet it is very difficult for us to say that "the riddle does not exist" and that what happens happens for no reason beyond the laws of physics. That is not a picture that satisfies many people, although apparently it did satisfy Bertrand Russell (as did his account of 'good' and 'bad' in Ethics: those are simply words we use to say what we like and don't like). For most men, however, it is different.

"What is the meaning of it, Watson?... What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable." (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Wittgenstein: "the truth is graver than this fiction" (CV p. 71).

The problems of life are insoluble on the surface and can only be solved in depth. They are insoluble in surface dimensions. (ibid. p. 74 [MS 137 73b: 25.7.1948])

But Wittgenstein does not "give an account" of what he claims to know here or even an explanation of his meaning. But I don't think that Wittgenstein is talking here about a philosophical solution, but instead a religious one.

A Muddled Concept

From the Augsburg Confession by Philip Melanchthon (Article 1):

... there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible ... (tr. F. Bente and W.H.T. Dau)

"... without body, without parts", like the geometric point of Euclid. Is that not the same as saying that something does not exist -- like the word 'point' in geometry, which has a different use in our language than name-of-object. But on the other hand, what part of speech is the word 'ghost' if not name-of-an-invisible-object? Is that "picture" not the definition of 'ghost' (PI II, iv, p. 178)? And is not 'God' the name of a ghost, albeit with further grammar stripping ("invisible" was the first stripping), because a ghost has a body. Next Plato's idea is incorporated, for 'God' is defined not only as immortal, all-powerful and all-knowing -- but also as all-good. It is because of the incorporation of Plato's identification of God with the Good that philosophical theodicy becomes necessary; and at this point the concept 'God' becomes a muddle (I wonder if anyone would really argue that if only the child victim of rape could see things through God's eyes, it would know that what happened to it was not "really" evil but good, for if God is all-powerful and all-good, then so it must be). [No of course I am not saying that Judaism got the question of why evil things happen in our life from Plato, only that the statement "My ways are not your ways" is not the type of answer reason can accept, and we did get reason rather than "belief in" or "faith" from the Greeks as well as the idea that the the gods do not tell man what is good, but instead they acknowledge what is good because they themselves are good. (No Greek would ever have written "My ways are not your ways". Philosophy does not cover up problems, the method of obscurantism belongs to primitive religion.)]

If we can show the absurdity of the word 'mind' as name-of-object by using pictures of "the mind", why then why not 'God' as well. I can picture "the world" as a globe, and standing behind it is God, His face partially hidden by the globe. There He is, the Creator. But that resembles rather crude propaganda. Logic of language cannot show anything more than that the rules of the grammar of the word 'God' are self-contradictory if God is both all-powerful and all-good, which is something it cannot show because there is no logical impossibility about God being both. But if, based on our experience of the world, we cannot say that God is both all powerful and all good, then the concept 'God' loses its reason for being ... although for Wittgenstein it does not, because he shares the religion of Abraham -- i.e. of the man for whom whatever God commands is the good (even when it isn't).

I really want to say that: Many there are who prefer the products of their own imagination to the facts in plain view. But that again is merely crude propaganda. If someone as deep as Wittgenstein can write that "life can force this concept on us" (CV p. 86 [MS 174 1v: 1950 § 1b]), then religion is not to be ridiculed. On the other hand, its philosophical standing is not to be taken for granted either.

"Love to be thyself unknown and counted for nothing" (The Imitation of Christ) -- what kind of imperative is this? The cult of obscurity Wittgenstein fostered, the silence of his students and friends (Smythies, Rhees) who might have provided much useful biographical and philosophical material about Wittgenstein. How much poorer we would be if Drury and Malcolm had succumbed to this cult and had left us completely at the mercy of biographers, who have hardly served Wittgenstein well.

Not this picture nor an hypothesis

The following is an Internet search query from my site's logs:

Query: picture of the world without God.

That is precisely the picture that one cannot [logical possibility] have: we cannot describe what the world would be like if there were no God. Which is another way of saying that: God is not an hypothesis; -- i.e. nothing that exists, nothing that happens in the world, counts for or against the "existence of God": whether "God is" or "God is not" is consistent with any and all states of affairs.

Thus we see that the concept 'God' has no place in an hypothesis. "Does God exist?" is not a philosophical question; the "problem of God" (William James) is not a philosophical topic, although the grammar of 'God' is.


The Good and God

I think that the first conception ["the Good is good because God wills it"] is the deeper one: Good is what God orders. For this cuts off the path to any and every explanation "why" it is good, while the second conception ["God wills the Good because it is good"] is precisely the superficial, the rationalistic one, which proceeds as if what is good could still be given some foundation. (LE/Notes p. 15)

Wittgenstein said that his religion was "Hebraic", and in that religion good and evil are indeed whatever God says they are; God's will is the only yardstick by which, by definition ["Good is what God orders"], they can be measured. (Everything can be measured except the meter standard, and for measuring good and evil God is the meter standard).

W.K.C. Guthrie wrote, or according to my reading of Guthrie he wrote, that the notion "good and evil" belongs to the biblical point of view; "useful or beneficial and useless or harmful" belongs to the Socratic point of view. And my comment is that, for the Socratic point of view, the good is what it is; even a god cannot tell me anything [more] about it -- unless by means of reasoned argument. (If the gods engaged in dialectic, their words would carry no more (or less) weight than a man's words do.)

... Socrates's own conception of the knowledge which will ensure that we live well and happily: it is the knowledge by which we know good from evil, or in more Socratic and less biblical language, the truly beneficial from the useless or harmful. (Plato: the man and his dialogues: earlier period (1975), p. 173). [Charmides 174b-c]

From Wittgenstein's world-view is inseparable the concept 'moral good' ("absolute value"), which is absent in the Socrates' view. For Socrates the good = the useful (beneficial) above all for "the soul" (i.e. ethical mind or aspect of man) -- and therefore what is good is something that can be determined by reason. Ethics is not irrational -- i.e. not dependent on the will (caprice) of some god or other.

Wittgenstein speaks of being "redeemed" or "saved" -- but not by the use of his reason (as might Socrates, if he had "thought in those terms"). Wittgenstein's point of view was always fundamentally religious rather than philosophical (Philosophical: "Let me reason this out and redeem myself -- i.e. amend my life -- that way"). In my opinion, he was a logician rather than a philosopher (Well, this is certainly not correct, and yet there is a point to saying it). Because his fundamental point of view (its heart's core) was religious (biblical, actually).

Did Plato really invent (or distort) our concept 'God'? Antigone: "Thy writ, O King, hath not such potence as will overweigh the laws of God". Here there is God as lawgiver, also in Greece -- but the Lawgiver who "wills the Good because it is good, not merely because it is his will". So -- if there really is monotheism in Plato -- then, Yes, he did invent the 'God' of Medieval Christianity, the God who wills what is good both because it is good and because He is good ... and yet, as experience shows, that God does not always will what is good. The primitive biblical God [not Jesus' Father who loves his child, but God the father who demands his child's obedience to whatever the father may command], whatever one may think of that God [Monstrous Gods], "makes sense" -- i.e. is not absurd, foolish; Plato's rule of grammar, however, makes none (by the test of experience).

But we should not blame Plato for our muddled concept 'God' ("all-powerful and all-good", which experience belies), for how is anyone to fault Plato -- for how can it be correct that the poets ascribe to the gods acts which would be shameful if men did them, for the gods are not inferior to us; and therefore the poets must be mistaken, because how can the gods not love and therefore do the good? But the moment the good becomes independent of the gods then .... The trouble for religion is: if the good is independent of God, then what need is there for God -- I mean for the concept 'God'? (One might say: "We already have the great amoral legislator Physics, and thus if Ethics does not require God, then God is superfluous".) That is the death of God, the death of religion, not the insincerity of mankind as Nietzsche claimed. When the good becomes God, God is no longer God (for the Good is not all-powerful) -- i.e. the concept 'God' loses its reason for being; it becomes a tool for which there is no longer any work. (That of course is one possibility.)


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