Home - Wittgenstein's Logic of Language | Bibliography

Philosophy in contrast to Wittgenstein's Logic of Language

M. O'C. Drury's "Letters to a Student of Philosophy" contrast with the later ideas of his teacher Wittgenstein, which were at the time of "Letters" unknown to Drury. "If philosophy is not about the Wesen der Welt, then ..."

Topics on this page ...

Context: the following are more and less rough draft logic of language remarks, revised from time to time: Where is the distinction between meaning and nonsense in philosophical problems to be found? [There is a later discussion of Wittgenstein's claim that philosophy is nothing more than conceptual muddles. (Conceptual versus factual problems)]


"And we'll grant you all the rest"

Note: this continues the discussion Is there a Metaphysical Use of Language?.

When philosophers use a word ... one must always ask oneself: is the word ever used this way in the language-game that is its original home? What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. (PI § 116)

If that is true, then we'll grant Wittgenstein all the rest (OC § 1). Because if that is true -- i.e. if Wittgenstein's account of the logic of our language is correct, then all the rest he has to say about philosophy will follow from it. But can it be granted [because demonstrated, proved once and for all, or even once]?

Drury, "Letters to a Student of Philosophy"

Philosophy ... has to show how words have a meaning only in the context of the practical activities in which we daily use them.... That words and propositions are nothing at all if we try to make them into objects of contemplation.... Language belongs entirely to "knowing how to do", not at all to knowing the absolute [To comprehend the universe not simply piece meal or by fragments but somehow as a whole. To be able to say "This is the truth, this is how things really are".]. (M. O'C. Drury, "Letters to a Student of Philosophy" [written in 1954], ed. Desmond Lee, in the journal Philosophical Investigations, Volume 6 (1983), p. 86 [p. 85])

Drury quotes from Kant's Prolegomena: "Metaphysics is [rooted] in us ... by Nature herself.... has its source in our rational nature." (ibid. p. 83)

Rational nature [Rationalism] at work in Descartes: There are ideas in the mind waiting to be discovered, like mathematical truths are discovered [a priori]. Descartes claims to be deduce the existence of "the God of the philosophers" simply by examining his own ideas ... Well, can't one deduce "God exists" from "I exist"? "Any proposition can be deduced from other propositions" (OC § 1). Which shows what is mistaken in Descartes' method.

[For Kant does 'metaphysics' = 'Rationalism' (a priori knowledge)?]

Logic, not in "Wittgenstein's logic of language" sense of the word 'logic', will allow you to wander off into any fantasy land, deriving one proposition from another. (This shows the relationship between rationalism and empiricism -- i.e. why both are necessary to the truth, as we [commonly, i.e. not as a matter of some philosopher's jargon] define the word 'truth'.)]

... everything that we can express in words derives its meaning and its truth from the fact that it enables us to do something new, that it is a means of teaching someone else a new activity. ("Letters to a Student of Philosophy", p. 97)

How would Drury respond to the question "What is the meaning of a word?" Its meaning is what it allows us to do? Ask what the word enables us to teach someone else rather than for the word's "meaning" [essence]? Or does Drury have a thesis, a theory of meaning? Or a method of meaning? Or has Drury selected one meaning out of the many meanings of our word 'meaning'? What is "For a large class of cases ... the meaning of a word is its use in the language"?

A logic or a theory of meaning?

When he wrote his "Letters to a Student of Philosophy", did Drury have a "logic of language" [How did Drury distinguish sense from nonsense -- i.e. what was his "logic of language"?], e.g. an amalgam of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations? Or did Drury have a theory of meaning -- i.e. a theory about the essence of meaning [language]? I think the latter.

"... knowing the meaning of a proposition is the same as being able to make use of it." (p. 101) "Explanation comes to an end when action can begin.... To know means to be able to do." (p. 102)

... the nature and purpose of language; language has been developed ... to communicate to each other the technical achievements we have made.... The task of critical philosophy [is] to exhibit how we make use of [words] in everyday conversation, the real purpose for which they were coined.... They are words which we all use and use perfectly -- except when "language goes on holiday" [PI § 38]. (p. 159)

Why do people recite prayers [without any awareness of the meaning of the language of those prayers; "Hail Mary, full of grace" -- what does it mean? yes, we can say, but most people who recite that prayer cannot] -- what and to whom are they trying to communicate? Not all language was "coined" for the purposes of natural science. Drury here has not made "a radical break with the idea that language always functions in one way" (PI § 304).

Drury repeats the mistake of the TLP: language that can be used to "suggest [communicate, convey]" a meaning -- is after all not nonsense [meaningless]. (There are no meaningless meanings. To say something "indirectly" is still to say something. That is a criticism of the Tractatus: "If you cannot say it, you cannot whistle [i.e. use music to say] it either.") TLP 6.54 (tr. Ogden): "My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless ..." But a senseless [i.e. meaningless, nonsensical] combination of words ("my propositions") cannot elucidate: they are dead [bare] signs, and nothing more. ("When a sentence is called senseless, it is not as it were its sense that is senseless." (PI § 500)

... 'the absolute' ... 'to contemplate the world sub specie aeterni' -- are not these also words taken out of their context in ordinary use and given some special metaphysical meaning? Does not the critique of language apply to them too?

To these questions I could only reply "yes". Strictly speaking I should not use these words in this way. I should only say what can be said ... (Tractatus 6.53). ("Letters to a Student of Philosophy", p. 160)

Something can't both be said and not said, a word both used and not used. [The "principle of contradiction" does have its uses.] Drury seems to have a "theory of meaning" rather than a "logic of language", because, if, as Drury implies, there is a metaphysical use to contrast with an ordinary use, then what is the point of Wittgenstein's critique of language? If metaphysical language is not meaningless, then ... then I have suggested that its meaning simply is not what the metaphysician imagines it to be, but instead: idle pictures that are not insights into the really real. [A picture in philosophy [a philosophical picture -- i.e. metaphysics] is neither knowledge nor insight. But it is not nonsense either.] But Wittgenstein never said that, that I am aware of (although he did not say that in all cases a picture must be verifiable if it is to have a sense).

The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another pieces of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. PI § 119)

That sounds as if it had come directly from Wittgenstein's "Lecture on Ethics" or Tractatus. But "language is not a cage" (LE/Notes p. 16), and therefore what does 'limits of language' mean in the Philosophical Investigations? Does that remark also suggest that there are other kinds of "bumps" besides nonsense? And what then are "the limits of language"? if they are not sense and nonsense? And then the question for logic is: how do we distinguish between sense and nonsense?

Can "the riddle of existence" both exist and not exist?

Do not misunderstand me. There are not here three mysteries: Space, Time, and the Self ["The I occurs in philosophy through the fact that the world is my world. The philosophical I is ... the metaphysical subject, the limit -- not a part of the world" (TLP 5.641, as quoted by Drury)]. These are but different ways in which the one mystery tries to put itself in the form of a question. Philosophy has to show that none of these questions are real questions, all involve a wrong use of common words. ("Letters to a Student of Philosophy", p. 162)

That is a striking position to take. After all, if there is one mystery, why shouldn't there be three? -- Because there is no "one mystery" either; there is only the philosopher's longing for "the absolute", to use Drury's form of expression. And any giving of expression to "the mystery" [= "the mystical" (TLP 6.522), I think] is nonsense, as is all metaphysics -- i.e. every attempt to put into words "what cannot be put into words", "cannot" according to the logical possibilities of Wittgenstein's or Drury's definition of meaning [or "logic of language" in my jargon i.e. their way/s of distinguishing between sense and nonsense]. Can a mystery both exist and not exist -- in the same sense of the word 'exist'? "There is a mystery that cannot be put into words." Do I understand this? No.

We seek something we are unrelentingly convinced is there, although we do not find it, indeed do not even know how to look for it. ["... for we ourselves made it unverifiable" (Z § 259).] Kierkegaard, writing in a generally intelligible form [(The expression "generally intelligible form" is Schweitzer's characterization of Fichte's The Destiny of Man; cf. Malcolm's "readable sentences")], calls this "the paradoxical passion of the Reason" coming "repeatedly into collusion with the unknown" which "it correctly interprets ... as a limit" (Philosophical Fragments quoted by Drury, p. 163-164). Drury says this is what he means by 'the desire for the absolute' (That expression is not an allusion to Hegel [p. 169]). [Would it be clearer if Drury said: the desire for absolute knowledge or perspective (The form of expression 'the absolute' is awkward; it sounds strange in English, maybe in other languages as well, but is that it sounds strange important)?]

The hippopotamus that is not in the room

One might say: there is no problem, and that is the problem. Or again: the problem is that there is no problem. The absence of a riddle (of existence) it itself a riddle (an infinitely troubling riddle).

We want to understand -- this desire belongs to our very nature (I cannot think that any human being has never asked about life's meaning, nor that without the desire to know its meaning there would be countless religious believers, people who believe that the answer to that question is that what is visible to us must be explained by what is not visible to us [cf. Hebrews 11.3], and isn't that the viewpoint of the TLP: "The sense of the world must lie outside the world" (6.41); "God does not reveal himself in the world" (6.432)? I think only if that means: "in the world" = "in natural science"; the TLP doesn't say there is another world to the world of natural science, a world called "the mystical") -- but we have no idea what philosophical (non-religion) form this understanding would take [But on the other hand, you cannot say that this question would not exist without religion; on the contrary, what you can say is that religion exists because of this question.] [Kierkegaard: "But then what is the Unknown, since the designation of it as God merely signifies for us that it is unknown?" (p. 163)].

The questions "What is life's meaning? Why does anything exist -- Why do I exist? And why does the world exist as it does -- why is there evil?" cry out to us every waking moment. Wittgenstein wanted to cure mankind of this illness; but Drury wanted to make this "illness" more intense. The "nonexistent riddle" that every human being nonetheless acknowledges as a riddle -- and no one knows what to do with (and we all know -- i.e. are convinced, maybe a priori -- that no one knows). "Our hearts are not at rest ..." That belongs to our human essence, which doesn't mean that human beings without this sense of unrest don't exist, but only that I am calling this unrest wisdom, as when Plato's Socrates says, "I know many things but nothing of much importance", and Wittgenstein: "But don't we have the feeling that someone who sees no problem in life is blind to something important, even to the most important thing of all?". And I am calling this blindness a state unworthy of a human being, like "the unexamined life". (And here we speak of God and of "the higher", as Engelmann writes.)

The right method in philosophy would be this ... when someone wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. (TLP 6.53, tr. Ogden)

But Wittgenstein does not give examples of how to do that. But if all "language signs" are names of natural science objects, then a sign has no meaning if it is not the name of such an object. (That is a possible meaning of the word 'meaning' -- but is it one that belongs to our common language [to its held-in-common semantic grammar], or is it TLP jargon?) [But here enters the metaphysics of the Tractatus, because by 'object' Wittgenstein does not mean common objects such as trees and books, but rather "absolutely simple" [i.e. atomic] sense data. (It is almost as if by "natural science" Wittgenstein has meant particle physics.)]

Drury wrote: "a wrong use of common words"? What is that "wrong use"? I am not satisfied with the following account -- i.e. I don't know what a correct account of Drury's view [of definition] would be:

A word or sentence [i.e. language sign: marks on paper, spoken sounds] is a tool that has meaning only when it is used in its ordinary, everyday way, to do it normal work. And that way [work] is tied up with sense-perceptions: what is not in the senses is also not in language: language that doesn't have a practical application [i.e. one involving the use of our senses] is nonsense. A sign is senseless [without meaning] whenever it is divorced from doing [practical] things; speculation [language] that does not require action -- "In the beginning [and "in the end", for Drury] was the deed" -- is meaningless.

To determine whether a sign is meaningful or nonsense, ask: Is this the word's everyday use [its use in our lives of everyday]? If the answer is no, then it is nonsense. Language consists of tools -- and tools are always practical (which philosophical speculation is not): language saws a material object, e.g. a block of wood, in half; it does not contemplate the essence of a material objects as such: "What is matter in itself?"

The question is: can words "leave home" (PI § 116), "go on holiday" (ibid. § 38) -- i.e. if we divorce words from their everyday work, can they still have meaning -- without their being jargon -- i.e. words that have been divorced and redefined? The concept 'conceptual revision' is fluid: how much change is too much? For example, about his redefinition of the word 'grammar', Wittgenstein said "you would be using my jargon" (PP ii, p. 276), although that redefinition isn't an example of language "going on holiday" -- because isn't a sharpened knife still a knife? The word 'noun' defined as 'the name of a person, place, or thing' is a blunt instrument, one that with the inclusion of the word 'thing' makes it more a dangerous (to the understanding) than a helpful tool. So, then, how do we distinguish work from non-work -- how do we determine whether or not "the engine is idling" (ibid. § 132) -- i.e. is there a general rule?

The standard [touchstone] of everyday work, however, is only one method in Wittgenstein's "logic of language"; there are many others. Problems of philosophy may have their origin in our failure to understand the logic of our everyday ("ordinary") language; but one cannot solve philosophical problems merely by giving examples of everyday language: one has to show the grammatically misleading analogies that are followed to invent those problems (i.e. create the illusion that they are not nonsense).

Verification and Meaning

In his Introduction to Drury's "Letters to a Student of Philosophy", Desmond Lee quotes Wittgenstein's "Lecture on Ethics" (p. 80):

That is to say: I see now that these nonsensical expressions were not nonsensical because I had not yet found the significant explanation, but that their nonsensicality was their very essence; for all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond the world and that is to say beyond language. But this is just impossible.... [We] run against the boundaries of language. [cf. LE p. 11-12, which reads differently: "significant explanation" is there "correct expressions", "to go beyond the world" is "to go beyond the world", "beyond language" is "beyond significant language", and the sentence "But this is just impossible" is not found there.]

Lee then goes on to quote Drury's "Some Notes on Conversations with Wittgenstein" [Recollections p. 83-84]:

"There is a reality outside the world, that is to say outside of space and time ..." [Simone Weil] ... but suppose someone was to say to me, "what in the world do you mean, outside space and time? The word 'outside' only has a meaning within the categories of space and time." This is a perfectly logical objection: the words 'outside space and time' have no more meaning than Plato's beautiful expression 'the other side of the sky'.

From which I think we can deduce that Drury's "logic of language" is actually the "verification principle". Wittgenstein [in ca. 1929-1930]: "to go beyond the world and that is to say beyond language. But this is just impossible." -- What kind of impossibility is this? Is it logical impossibility -- or is this a claim about the limits of human imagination and imagination's relationship to sense and nonsense? Rather than "beyond the world", Wittgenstein might have said "beyond sense experience". Drury wrote:

Every scientific hypothesis, if it is to be meaningful, must be begotten of observation and give birth to verifiable predictions. And these initial observations and subsequent verifications must be capable of being described in terms of immediate sensory perceptions. ("Fact and Hypothesis" in the journal The Human World, Volumes 15-16 (1974), p. 136)

But that is incorrect: not if it is to be meaningful -- but only if it is to be a scientific hypothesis. Otherwise, we could not talk about elves and the other beings of fairy tales; that fairies have wings like butterflies -- and that butterfly wings are an "immediate sensory perception" -- is only the beginning of it: analogies, pictures, comparisons extend the boundaries of meaning far beyond the limits of "immediate sensory perceptions".

"... is only the beginning of it". -- Without examples to explain its meaning, my statement is so vague as to be without meaning; as also is needed a definition of 'immediate sensory perceptions'. It is the case that no proposition about elves is verifiable by sensory perception, even if the entire composition of the concept 'elf' [-- i.e. the set of rules governing our use of the word 'elf' --] is based on things we have "in some way or another" perceived with the senses, e.g. capriciousness -- if, that is, the concept 'sensory perception' includes all our experiences of life (because "play-acted definitions" are very far away in resemblance from comparatively simple pointing "ostensive definitions").

Is not the Last Judgment an event "outside time and space"? But is 'the Last Judgment' meaningless? (It is in fact a quite vivid picture, although not an hypothesis.)

But in the passage Drury quotes appear not only the words "a reality ... outside space and time", but also: "outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties." -- And this I want to connect to my Questions without Answers: is reality confined to what is perceptible to the senses? What if we had more than 5 senses, might we not then perceive a reality that is unknown (and perhaps unknowable) to us in our present condition? That is an analogy, a picture -- and it is not nonsense. And further someone might suggest that it is for that unperceived reality that our minds [hearts] long. That isn't an hypothesis -- but it isn't nonsense either. And indeed, in the context of that picture, the combination of words 'outside space and time' is not nonsense: perhaps it is the case that all perceptions of beings with 5 senses are space-time perceptions, but suppose we had more senses: mightn't we not then have non-space-time perceptions, perceptions "outside space and time"? Therefore I would say that Drury's "logic of language" is a false way to distinguish sense from nonsense -- because it is based on an untrue (because too narrow) account of the way we use language. Verification is the key to truth and falsity; it is not always [or necessarily], however, the key to sense and nonsense.

"Forms of life" is and is not a theory

... the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life. (PI § 23)

Does "form of life" looks like a theory? What kind of theory? -- i.e. is it a metaphysical theory of reality ("This is what is really real") or an organizing principle? The latter, I think. Because it is only a summary -- a way of looking at [characterizing] the facts in plain view --; it is not a theory about those facts. [It's not as if to say: human life, despite appearances to the contrary, really consists of forms of life, senseless ritual as it were.] (Cf. ibid. § 19: "to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life"; what we describe are the fictitious facts we have invented, but those "facts" are in plain view, e.g. that all human beings are sightless.)

Is there a "scientific table"?

Note: this continues the discussion Eddington's Philosophy of Science. Words that follow "Query" are Internet searches from the site's server logs.

Query: Arthur Eddington, the two tables.

Eddington talks of his "scientific table", but at the atomic level -- does the table exist -- i.e. what is the word 'table' to mean? (Eddington has stripped away many rules that belong to that word's "grammar", the quality of solidity being one of them.) The atomic level as "ultimate reality", the secret of the world hidden by the curtain of our senses-impressions.

Would the atomic level be "the [Idealist's] [Idealism's] thing in itself"? The thing in itself, as opposed to our perception of the thing, which [perception] being conditioned by our nature, does not show us [present us] with the thing as it really is, "in itself". [Is that nonsense? Is a frame of reference nonsense (i.e. talk about "relative to a frame of reference" and) talk about "outside any frame [all frames] of reference"? The thing in itself would be the thing as seen from the "absolute frame of reference", "the eye of God". That is a picture, but what is its relation to the grammar of 'the thing as it really is' and 'a mere appearance'? That picture does not show you how we use those expressions.]

If Eddington's "scientific table" does exist, it is unintelligible as existing [It is a "percept" that cannot be worked up into that concept, the concept 'table'] -- and therefore it does not exist, because the word 'table' has no meaning. We don't [do not] call a collection of atoms in the void a 'table' or 'solid object'; that is an entirely different picture. [Eddington's "table" has no edges, no surface ... it begins to look like an invisible hippopotamus. Eddington's "scientific table" is no table at all, not what anyone calls a 'table'.]

The source of our confusion is that on the one hand we have a definition of our everyday word 'table' [We point to a structure made e.g. of wood or metal with a particular shape and use] -- that is, we have a definition not a statement about the nature of tables --, and on the other hand we have Eddington's statement about what the table "really is". So the distinction between a factual and a conceptual investigation is obliterated (Z § 458). What Eddington wants to say is: his "scientific table" versus our "common sense table". But there is no "common sense" table; there is only the use of a word (ibid. § 223).

Query: conflicting knowledge, science, solid table filled with air.

Air is not void space; void space is not air. Eddington suggests a picture, and his readers' imaginations run wild with a picture that either has no relationship to reality or a very complicated one. It is certainly not an isomorphic one; it is instead a summary of selected data, not a photograph of the really real behind the phenomenon (i.e. the table).

... there is a picture in the foreground, but the sense lies far in the background; that is, the application of the picture is not easy to survey. (PI § 422)

["If an atom is mostly empty space, then why does matter seem so solid?"]

Relative and Absolute Perspectives

To the true philosopher water is still [i.e. after Lavoisier] that wonderful substance that quenches thirst and delights our eyes in rivers and lakes. ("Letters to a Student of Philosophy", p. 90)

But Drury does not mean by that that the water as we see, feel, hear, smell and taste is "what water really is in itself" either.

So if one asks "What is water?" this question might be answered from many perspectives -- But I would not say that. We define the word 'water' ostensively, because that is the way we learned to use that word when we acquired language as children: we point to something. But one can ask: what is water from the point of view of chemistry, from the point of view of physics, etc. What one cannot ask -- can never ask is: "What is water -- really?" The liquid we see is no more what water really is than the chemical formula H₂O is what water really is -- i.e. the word 'really' is undefined here. What we don't want to do is to deny any reality (perspective). The word 'water' may be defined from many points of view: from our everyday's, or e.g. from chemistry's. But those perspectives are not competing "theories of reality": they are instead like games played according to different rules.

If I take my glasses off the world looks quite different, objects are not clear and distinct, I have to look closely to read -- but supposing I had been born short-sighted and never had glasses; I would have constructed a different "absolute". Therefore these partial visual worlds are not the absolute. (p. 91)

Drury sums this up with a maxim derived from the TLP 4.115: "We show the unspeakable by clearly displaying the speakable." (The editor Desmond Lee changes 'show' to 'signify' to avoid any allusion to "saying and showing".) That might be restated as: We show what cannot be put into words but clearly showing what can be put into words. The "absolute" would be what cannot be put into words; well, one might also say "the Eye of God" (cf. "Letters to a Student of Philosophy", p. 92) rather than "absolute". -- The only question here is: what kind of possibility is this? Logical possibility belongs to "grammar". If it cannot be put into words, why can't it be put into words? I would not use that form of expression; I do not think that Drury used it in The Danger of Words (1973), but now I am not sure.

[Scientific theories] are but working models for co-ordinating all the immense number of facts discovered in the laboratory; for passing on these facts succinctly to others; and for suggesting future experiments. Molecules[,] atoms and electrons are the most wonderful discovery in notation. (p. 90)

"Reality is not hidden behind the phenomenon. The phenomenon is reality"

There is a saying of Goethe's ... "Do not I beg of you look for anything behind phenomena. They are themselves their own lesson." Ridiculous advice to a scientist learning what to do, wisdom to a philosopher learning to contemplate. (ibid.)

That is to clearly mark off the various relative perspectives we have from the absolute perspective we long for (and are in danger of mistaking one of those relative perspectives for).


Ethics and Aesthetics

Shaftesbury (1671-1713) locates the source of ethics in human feeling, relates this to aesthetic feeling; he finds harmony in a gentle pantheism (as in Late Stoicism). His ethical treatise is published in French by Diderot, and Goethe too falls under the influence of his ideas:

Aesthetic feeling and ethical thinking are for him forms of a growing union with the divine life, which struggles to find expression in the spiritual being of man as it does in nature. (Albert Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, 2nd ed. (London, 1929), tr. C.T. Campion, vii, p. 87)

That ethics and aesthetics spring [have their source] from feeling. -- Does that belong to a definition of 'ethics'? On thinks: A machine without feeling can follow rules, but it cannot be ethical; on the other hand, a dog has feelings, but it cannot be ethical either. It is of course not necessary to feel anything to do good, nor to feel anything to appreciate art -- That does belong to a definition of the word 'ethics'. Then is Shaftesbury offering a theory about the origins of ethics? Apparently. But it is not an hypothesis (There is no question of verification); it is simply a picture.

But if ethics and aesthetics both spring from feeling [and neither consists of statements of fact], they are nonetheless not the same thing (contrary to what the TLP claims: "Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same" 6.421), as is made clear by Dmitri in the Brothers Karamazov: "What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart" (I, iii, 3, tr. Garnett). Ethics allows one to say that, but aesthetics has no moral sense. [Differences between Aesthetics and Ethics.]

[That there are "two kinds of beauty -- two kinds of love" (The Idiot) is an ancient idea which can be found in Xenophon's Symposium, introduced by Socrates in argument with Antisthenes: the "Heavenly" and the "Vulgar", with separate temples and rituals, one chaste, the other loose, one spiritual, the other carnal (viii, 6-11, tr. O.J. Todd). Both may be beautiful, although only one is ethical.]

He even ventures to represent the Christian teaching about rewards and punishment as not consistent with pure ethical considerations. Morality, he says, is pure only when good has been done simply because it is good. (Civilization and Ethics vii, p. 88)

My immediate response would be to say that view is correct (although there is a contrary religious reply to it). But what would 'correct' mean here? Does Shaftesbury's proposition describe how we normally use the word 'ethical' -- i.e. is that what we mean by the word 'ethical': deeds done solely because they are good? Does Shaftesbury have a theory about what the ethical really is -- or has he only selected one out of many different possible definitions (as in Russell's "Theory of Descriptions") of the word 'ethical' (as Wittgenstein selected one sense of 'meaning' out of the many available and as Socrates did the same with 'know')?

It may be that there are facts that can explain this concept-formation, such facts as led Shaftesbury to define 'ethical' as he did, but those facts do not belong to "grammar" -- A definition states a rule for the use of language, nothing more -- and although we may refer to those facts in the effort to justify our choice of definition (our selection of one meaning rather than another), can those facts compel anyone to use our definition? (A definition is a point reference of our thinking, and points in reference involve discretion, choice.)

Shaftesbury does not have a "theory of ethics", but his definition of the word 'ethics' does have for its background a selection of facts, and those facts may in some sense explain Shaftesbury's concept-formation (i.e. selected definition).

Is the question of whether accounts of the good for man can or cannot be cross-questioned in dialectic to determine which if any is true -- or of selecting points of reference (e.g. propositions to dispute)? Wittgenstein: The philosopher says: Look at things this way!, but that doesn't mean that anyone will be willing to look at things that way (CV p. 61, a remark from 1947).

Are someone who asks "What must I do to be happy?" and someone who asks "What must I do to be good?" responding differently to Plato's "we are discussing no small matter, but how to live"? In Socratic ethics: to do what is good is to be happy, which is to define the word 'happy' without regard to contentment or pleasure, which hedonism will not do.

Query: what does it mean to live a good life? Philosophy.

To do what is good = to live a good life, Socrates says, but what is good for man to do? To live in accord with the specific excellence that is proper to man, the Greeks thought -- or what would it be, life in disaccord with that? By 'excellence' they meant 'virtue', but not only 'moral virtue' (Socrates added this) -- because the excellences both specific and unique to man are not only moral (in the narrow sense of 'moral', meaning e.g. 'brave', 'pious', 'just', 'temperate') -- but also by-nature-endowed excellences, as reason ("discourse of reason") especially is.

Man's morality is rational -- that is Socratic ethics: that to "Know thyself" by discovering the excellence that is proper to oneself (both as man and as an individual) and living in accord with that excellence is to live a good life. And how shall one discover what that excellence is? Socrates sets a criterion: If anyone knows a thing, he can explain and defend what he knows against refutation in discussion with himself and with others (Socratic dialectic: cross-questioning claims to know).


"Empirical Psychology"

Adam Smith (in his The Theory of Moral Sentiments (?) (1759)).

We feel ourselves directly attracted or repelled by the actions of others and the motives at the back of them. Our ethics are the product of these sympathetic experiences. We come in time to take care that an impartial third party can justify and sympathise with the mainspring and the tendency of our actions. (Civilization and Ethics viii, p. 82)

I will take these words from Schweitzer's account of Adam Smith's [and David Hume's] introduction of "empirical psychology" to ethics (ibid. p. 83) out of context, to focus only on the ideas that: (1) I believe this notion of "sympathetic experiences" is a true account of at least an important part of our individual ethics-formation; and (2) whatever one thinks of the "third person" notion, it is true that we as individuals want to feel that our behavior, our actions and our way of life, are morally justified [justifiable] at the very least before ourselves. "Sympathetic experiences" -- this is like Wittgenstein's remark:

God may say to me: "I am judging you out of your own mouth. Your own actions have made you shudder with disgust when you have seen other people do them." (CV p. 87 [MS 175 56r: 15.3.1951])

... Hume attributes great importance to the love of fame [i.e., apparently, good reputation]. This keeps us considering ourselves in the light in which we wish to appear in the eyes of others, for the effort to secure the respect of others is a potent educator in virtue. (Civilization and Ethics viii, p. 81)

These may be important observations about human psychology by Adam Smith and Hume, but what have they to do with ethics? For even if these experiences play a role in pointing out to us the kind of men we would want to be, that judgment must pass through the furnace of Socratic cross-questioning, for men mistakenly esteem many things (sport, pop, for examples). And being held in high regard by vicious (i.e. ignorant) men -- to be thought a good fellow by such -- is as Antisthenes says, "Many men speak well of me? -- Why, what wrong have I done?" (Diog. L. ii, 6, 8); Epictetus: "Never be ashamed to be seen doing what is right" (despite it appearing wrong or foolish in the eyes of others). Psychology is not and cannot be the foundation of ethics, for ethics is rational and psychology (instinct) is not.


Wisdom that is not Philosophy?

From the Analects [analect: a collection of teachings], selected and translated by Lin Yutang (The Wisdom of Confucius (1938)):

The common man his tends to his possessions. The superior man tends to his soul. [Which is my paraphrase from memory of "The superior man loves his soul; the inferior man loves his possessions." (p. 190)]

"Tending to one's soul" -- does this mean other than practicing the self-control of Socrates? One must know what is right and wrong, good and bad: when one chooses to do what is good, as did Socrates, one is tending to one's soul.

A gentleman has no worry and no fear.... If he looks within himself and is sure that he has done right, what does he have to fear or worry about? (p. 192)

This is of course said from the strictly ethical point of view. (What might be said from the point of view of "the flesh is weak" is an entirely different consideration. It is not morally wrong to be tortured, but there are few men do who not fear being tortured.)

Was that not what Socrates said, that a good man has nothing to fear, either in this world or any other (Apology 41c-d)? And, therefore, what is the difference between the philosopher Socrates and the non-philosopher ("wise man") Confucius? What am I asking for if not for a definition of the words 'philosophy', 'philosopher'. (And one may give reasons for that definition, but those reasons are not logically compelling; reasons for choosing another definition can also be given.)

The superior man ... is attentive to his duties and careful in his speech, and he finds a great man and follows him as his guide. Such a person may be called a lover of learning. (p. 192)

And such sayings can also be found in the Bible's Wisdom Books:

If you see a man of understanding,

visit him early,

let your feet wear out his doorstep. (Sirach 6.36)

But the understanding referred to is, I think, of sacred scripture. So that the subject matter the saying is directed towards does matter: It is not only a question of whether critical reason is the method or insight alone is relied on.

Below: From Chungyung: originally Liki, Chapter xxxi, tr. Ku Hungming as revised by Lin Yutang (ibid.)

[The moral man] knows the evidence and reality of what cannot be perceived by the senses. Thus he is enabled to enter into the world of ideas and morals. (p. 132)

There are problems with this form of expression (cf. 'tangible' and 'intangible', 'concrete' and 'abstract' -- i.e. "... there, we would like to say, is a spirit" [PI §36]), and yet we are talking about "realities" of which dogs are unaware.

... the moral man must examine into his own heart and see that he has no cause for self-reproach, that he has no evil thought in his mind. Wherein the moral man is superior to other men consists even in those things that people do not notice. (p. 132)

In the Book of Songs it is said:

"In your secret chamber even you are judged;
See you do nothing to blush for,
Though but the ceiling looks down upon you."

Therefore the moral man, even when he is not doing anything, is serious; and, even when he does not speak, is truthful. (p. 133)

Is this not part of why Socrates could say that he found himself "growing in goodness"? There is the good that others can see, and the good that others cannot see. One does not only exercise self-control in public. Or, Socrates, as it were, lived his whole life as if it were public: he did and thought nothing that he would have been ashamed to have others know of.

... the moral man, by living a life of simple truth and earnestness, alone can help to bring peace and order in the world. (p. 133)

Now, do I believe that? I think it is contrary to experience -- i.e. I don't believe that it's possible to bring peace and order to the world, because peace and order is only one aspect of human nature; the "seven deadly sins" are others. The best "the moral man" can hope for is to maintain his morality in the midst of people intent on viciousness (Plato, Republic 496c-d; cf. Aristippus of Cyrene's remark about the virtuous man's quietly going his own way in the midst of vice), and even at that he may fail -- because "if you live with a lame man, you will walk with a limp" (Plutarch), and thus even men of "simple truth and earnestness" are drawn into wars and war zones (where it is legally an act of war punishable by death for a civilian to come to the aid a wounded opposition soldier).


Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 20 August 2007 : 2007-08-20

The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/logwitt/logwit60.html

Back to top of page

Wittgenstein's Logic of Language - Introduction and Table of Contents | Bibliography | Site Search | Site Map