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The basic criticism of Wittgenstein's logic of language

Is philosophy really nothing but investigations of confused concepts that create the illusion that there are metaphysical problems? Is philosophy really just "bad grammar"?

Criticism of Wittgenstein's "language games"

How can we criticise a comparison or a method of comparison? By showing its limits. For example, Wittgenstein said that when we speak of "the eye of God", we don't speak of eyebrows in that connection (LC p. 71). That is, a comparison says that A is like B in such and such a way or ways, not that A is like B in all ways. A is like B does not mean A is identical to B. That is the logic of comparison.

And so what are the limits of Wittgenstein's comparison of using language to playing a game, where the rules of the game are the meaning the game? Questions like this are criticism if they point out where the metaphor (comparison) is invalid, i.e. where A is not like B, despite Wittgenstein's claim -- if he anywhere makes that claim -- that it is.

Related pages:

• Criticism of In most cases where we use the word 'meaning', the meaning of a word is its use in the language, although I discuss that as a selected definition of the word 'meaning', not as an hypothesis about how we normally use the word 'meaning' in our language (which the words 'In most cases' may suggest).

• Wittgenstein's first and last project in philosophy: to banish metaphysics or metaphysical-philosophy. That task rather than the logic of language, which was only a tool towards that end, was Wittgenstein's master project in philosophy. (The basic criticism of this project is that it commits the fallacy of Some therefore All, and that it first denies and later ignores that "the riddle", which is a source of philosophy, exists.)

Query: criticism of Wittgenstein's language theory.

• Well, but there were two "theories of language meaning": either (1) the meaning of a word is whatever thing the word names or (2) the meaning of a word is its use in the language. The first "theory" is criticized in remarks about Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which begins with a discussion of the meaning of the title of Wittgenstein's book.


Outline of this page ...


When Plato asks what the essence of man is, his question does not seem to be confusion about the use of the words of our language, a conceptual confusion masquerading as a question about facts (phenomena). But even before the question of whether Wittgenstein doesn't falsely derive an all from a some in his claim about what the common nature of philosophical problems is -- namely mystification by language -- arises, there is the question of whether the reason philosophy is in no case speculation about the nature of phenomena isn't simply that speculation about the nature of phenomena (metaphysics in contrast to logic of language) is not what interests Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein wrote in the margin of his remarks: "Only, it is possible to be interested in a phenomenon in various ways" (PI § 108), as e.g. psychology's interest in the phenomenon of thought is different from logic's interest in how we use the word 'thought'. What can philosophy be about? What does it mean to say that a word names a phenomenon?

Words and phenomena

["Why investigate words rather than the phenomena they name?" That reverses the order of the relationship between concepts and phenomena -- the concept says what the phenomenon is; that is all we know about it, not about the "phenomenon in itself" (if there is such a thing). "Percepts without concepts are blind," Kant said, and that means that we cannot explain concept-formation by "the percept in itself", to which we are blind.]

Fundamental Puzzlement

This topic continues the discussion of Plato's Phaedrus 263a: "There are words about whose meanings we are at variance." Why? Years ago I wrote --

From the earliest days of my philosophical development, "I have felt surrounded by vagueness and confusion", and although my puzzlement still goes down to the very foundations -- at least now my thinking has a few foundations in what I have called "logic of language", which is Wittgenstein's expression but as my jargon.

And so there is a fundamental question in logic (as Socrates and later Wittgenstein used the word 'logic') that remains unclear to me. I think it is clear that, if we define 'concept' as 'rules for using a word' and if we say that abstractions are concepts [What else might they be?], then there are no "real definitions" (to use Aristotelian jargon) of concepts.

Names of objects

And, with respect to objects ("physical objects") such as stones and cats and writing desks [although a desk is only a desk in human eyes, and possibly the same is true of cats and stones], in our "naive, normal way of expressing ourselves" there are no real definitions of objects. (Although chemistry since Lavoisier may have real definitions of substances -- They are named by the elements that compose them -- our natural language does not [thus water is not H₂O], as geology may have theories about the nature of stones, but in the language of everyday we define the word 'stone' by pointing at stones and that is as far as the "grammatical explanation" (in Wittgenstein's jargon) of the word 'stone' goes; in our language of everyday the word 'stone' is defined ostensively.) A name-of-object word "does not show us a theory but only a concept" (Zettel § 223); again, if 'concept' = 'rule for using a word'.

Names of phenomena

So far so good maybe. However, although the distinction between a name-of-object and a name-of-abstraction ("abstract object", e.g. 'justice', 'idea' and 'indifference') is clear -- the distinction between a name-of-abstraction and a name-of-phenomenon word (if e.g. 'thought' and 'love' are examples of such words) is very often cloudy [indistinct rather than sharp]. Why is that important? Because although there are no real definitions of concepts, there may well be real definitions (theories about the nature) of phenomena -- real definitions which in some cases are not the province of the sciences -- (Aristotle's real definition of thunder e.g. is within the scope of physics) -- but would instead belong to philosophy, as e.g. Plato's questions about the phenomenon of man.

Concepts define phenomena, not vice versa

The distinction between lassoing an object and lassoing a nebulosity. Phenomena without concepts are like percepts without concepts -- they are blind. A concept (i.e. rules for using words) says what the phenomenon is -- it is not the phenomenon in itself (which, if there is such a thing, is unknowable, because we would be blind to it) that says what the concept is. For example 'love' is a selection of the data; a concept is a selection, a conceived fact. (Cf. Concepts define phenomena, not phenomena concepts.

Definitions in philosophy -- are they always rules of grammar, or are some definitions propositions of experience?

One is often bewitched by a word. For example, by the word 'know'. (OC § 435)

And, for example, by the words 'meaning' and 'definition'. But what will 'bewitched' mean here if not 'unclear about the meaning, the use in the language'? But does it mean that in the case of "names of phenomena"? What isn't clear to me is the limit of philosophy. In Wittgenstein everything is neat and clean: metaphysics is nonsense. But if Plato and Aristotle, each in their own way, can offer an hypothesis about the phenomenon of man, to ask what man's essential nature is -- then metaphysics is -- or rather some metaphysics -- is not nonsense. And if that is true, then what becomes of Wittgenstein's later project in philosophy? (The critical skepticism of someone like Sraffa, who made notes criticising ideas in Wittgenstein's Blue Book, is needed.)

When Aristotle says, "Man is a rational animal", is that an hypothesis about man's essential nature, or is it merely a rule of grammar, a rule for using language. Wittgenstein: "essence belongs to grammar" (PI § 371). But Aristotle's "definition of man" is not a rule of grammar -- why? Because it might be false.

One replies, "But it is obviously true." But that is not the point: it's obviousness is not because it is a tautology, but because it is consistent with our experience of life: man is an animal endowed with discourse of reason. We confirm that every day in our own lives. And if someone from another world looked at man, he would see that we are neither fully animal nor fully rational -- but it might have been otherwise: man might have been a creature of pure instinct, as are many other animals.

On the other hand, is Aristotle's way the only way the essence of man might be defined, e.g. there is the point of view of chemistry: according to chemistry the essence of man is whatever. But that doesn't make Aristotle's definition any less a proposition of experience rather than of grammar.

As was noted in the Introduction, Wittgenstein's own theories about the essence of metaphysics, of which there are several, are not rules of grammar. They do not define the word 'metaphysics' but instead the phenomenon of metaphysics. And my criticism was that some does not prove all: Wittgenstein's criticism of philosophy is valid -- but its application is not unlimited.

But if Wittgenstein was mistaken, where does that leave philosophy?

When Aristotle says that "Man is a rational animal", is he confusing a conceptual with a factual investigation? If he is, I don't see how he is? But is it different with Plato, when Plato says that the essence of man is his soul, that the body is only the husk of the grain, the death encasing the life? Plato is not defining the word 'man', i.e. more or less arbitrarily setting the limits in some way of what he is willing to call by the common name 'man'. The proposition 'Man has a soul' is not a statement of fact, but 'Man has discourse of reason' is, and the question, answered in contradiction to one another by Plato and Aristotle, is whether that reasoning aspect of man, whatever it is, called the 'soul', can exist independently of the body.

If someone asks whether there is an afterlife -- is that person conceptually confused? Wittgenstein regards this as a religious question only rather than as a philosophical question, as he does ethics ("absolute value"), i.e. as something irrational.

That again is Greek to me. My normal technique of language leaves me. These controversies look quite different from any normal controversies. Reasons look entirely different from normal reasons. (LC i, p. 55)

By 'normal' here, does Wittgenstein mean the technique of everyday -- why, is there some other? -- i.e. verification, self-consistency, clarity? Can the notion "life after death" be questioned philosophically?

"... where does it leave me after all these years?" Saying that the proposition 'Metaphysics is essentially nonsense' is either a false philosophical thesis, or dogma. "[Only it is possible to be interested in a phenomenon in a variety of ways]" (PI § 108).

Is there a real definition of justice?

If the word 'justice', for example, is the name of a phenomenon (or phenomena), then should not philosophers, as Socrates and Plato did, seek a real definition of that word to use as a standard in ethics?

It may be true (and I believe it is true) that Plato often misunderstood the logic of our language as he tried to grasp the essence of "abstractions", i.e. nebulous notions, but if the word 'justice' is the name of a phenomenon, then the work that Socrates began in ethics both: (1) remains untouched by Wittgenstein's work, and (2) remains to be done.

The correct order of questioning

Well, then, is there a phenomenon named 'justice'? But that is not where Aristotle begins: before he offers a real definition of thunder, he first offers a verbal definition [although an ostensive one would serve as well in this particular case] of the word 'thunder': 'thunder' means 'noise in the clouds'. (Before we can say what the nature of a thing is, we must first identify what it is that we want to know the nature of (cf. Phaedrus 277b and Meno 80d-e. Ironically, I'd say, in the context of his discussion of justice, Plato identifies the correct order of questioning in Republic 339a-b: ask for the meaning first).

Anthropology will not answer this question of philosophy

If the imagination is allowed to speak it will say that it is characteristic of abstractions to shift themselves about like clouds in the breeze. They refuse to stand still and be identified. So if we take the method of Aristotle as our model and ask: What is the verbal definition of the word 'justice'? how far do we get? We may ask Wittgenstein's usual questions: how do we learn (LC p. 1-2) to use the word 'justice' and how would we teach someone else to use it? But trying to define 'justice' that way is no more simple than defining the word 'moral good': there are man-made laws, and there is equity (fairness), and some say divine law, and there is disagreement about all, and that disagreement cannot be resolved by describing customs (ways of life) or by taking a vote.

Is 'justice' the name of a phenomenon? The word 'phenomenon' is too vague by far (cf. RFM vii § 45, p. 412). Anything and everything might be called a phenomenon. The grammar of that word is as all-inclusive as the grammar of the word 'thing'.

Recall that, to begin at the beginning, the word 'justice' is in itself nothing more than spoken sounds or marks on paper, and therefore that the question is: what gives the word 'justice' meaning? If the word 'justice' is not the name of an object and therefore defined ostensively, is that word's meaning its use in the language?

"What work do we use the word 'justice' to do?" does not seem to be what we are talking about here, however, because it seems that we have a notion that the word 'justice' really is a name -- not of an object -- but of a phenomenon. And well, isn't there such a phenomenon in the life of man?

Thinking that way is the way into the completest darkness of conceptual confusion; it is the history of philosophy, of the endless afternoon of that kind of metaphysics (for there are others).

Defining phenomena (real definition)

Recalling again the condition of my own mind (Epictetus, Discourses i, 26) as it was forty years ago --

I was extremely puzzled in those days, and although I am puzzled now -- and my perplexity (Plato, Theaetetus 155c-d) still goes down to the foundations -- at least now my thinking has a few foundations, which I have called "Wittgenstein's logic of language".

[In later years, though, Socrates is no longer in the background but in the foreground. Socratic philosophy: God did not endow man with reason for man to put it under a basket but for it to guide his way, and it can, not only in logic (and metaphysics, which as I now see it, is a branch of logic, i.e. conceptual investigation, in which it is not at all idle) but in way of life or ethics.]

Nevertheless as is clear, I am not happy with my understanding of the notion "name of a phenomenon" -- is there a part of speech 'name-of-phenomenon word', and if so, how are such words defined? We often define name-of-object words by pointing to what they name (PI § 43) (although not always, e.g. we do not define 'Plato' that way (ibid. § 79)). But how do we explain the meaning of (by what method/s do we define) name-of-phenomenon words? Often, but apparently not always, by giving examples of the things named by the phenomenon's common name, e.g. 'love', 'thought'. [What is the meaning of a common name? There is no question more fundamental to the understanding of the logic of our concepts (BB p. 25) than that.] It is doubtful -- i.e. there isn't (cf. 'game') -- whether there is an essence of thinking or an essence of love -- and if there is not, then how can a real definition -- i.e. an hypothesis about what love in itself is, about what thought really is in itself -- be given when there is nothing to define 'love' and 'thought' by except various resemblances?

Does philosophy aim to define real essences? To what does essence belong?

Following Aristotle's distinction, I defined 'real definition', not simply as 'an hypothesis about something', but as 'an hypothesis about the essence of something'. (What is the essence of thunder? If essence always "belongs to grammar" (PI §§ 371, 373) -- but does it in this example? Defining the word 'thunder' versus defining the phenomenon of thunder. "Verbal essence belongs to grammar" (meaning what?) (Why in natural language there are so few common names that name essences, I don't know. Our natural history is the history of our adoption of tools: "everything arose naturally from our needs" and wants (PI § 570).)

We can talk about the phenomenon -- or, I suspect, the phenomena (because there is no apparent essence or common nature forcing us to place them all in the same category) -- of love or of thinking, but not of the phenomenon of fairies or of God. 'God' is not the name of a phenomenon, and as such it is [logically] impossible for there to be "a real definition of God" [logical possibility belongs to grammar] -- we may have theories about the causes of phenomena, but not about the cause of God. (Nor about the phenomenon of fairies [Note: I am making a grammatical comparison with that remark: in this particular way the grammars of those two words are similar, not in all ways]).

There are phenomena about which we have theories ... but if we are to have a theory about the nature of something, mustn't that something be uniquely identifiable -- i.e. mustn't there be a general [essential] definition such Plato seeks of the thing? Plato asks in Phaedrus 263d-e whether Lysias had so identified his subject-matter or not (cf. Republic 339a-b on the proper order of investigation: first meaning, second truth or falsity).

Query: family resemblance. Wittgenstein.

What Wittgenstein's "family" likenesses metaphor amounts to is this: that in most cases there is no general definition [or "common-nature definition"] but instead there are only similarities between applications of a word. It amounts to no more than that because Wittgenstein gives no criterion for distinguishing one family from another -- i.e. Wittgenstein's metaphor is vapor; and, worse yet, it is misleading, suggesting that we know more than we know, because the word 'family' suggests an essential [e.g. biological] relationship where there is in fact no such relationship -- "in fact" is what Wittgenstein would say, but Plato would say: "That is to judge by the appearances, and we must look behind the appearances if the answer to our question about reality is not answered by them".

Learning is based on its foundation (step-by-step)

I could have called my site Wittgenstein's Grammar of Language, because for Wittgenstein logic = grammar (the "grammar of meaning", not syntax), although only "grammar" in his jargon. And that particular jargon must be learned. In this respect philosophy is no different from maths: to understand algebra you must first understand arithmetic (addition and subtraction and multiplication and division); otherwise the most you might be told is that algebra is like a game with strict rules for finding the value of x the unknown. But here 'finding' means 'calculating', and if you know nothing about calculation you might imagine that algebra is like the game of hide and seek or that it made discoveries the way explorers of uncharted territories do -- that is, you might form a completely mistaken notion ("picture") of what algebra is.

Likewise in philosophy, you cannot "just cut to the chase". You have to learn the jargon, because that jargon represents the philosopher's revision of common concepts (e.g. of concepts that were the common currency of his day). In Wittgenstein's case you must also learn his metaphors, (basic similes or comparisons). There is no way to avoid the difficult work needed to learn a new way of thinking or a new way of looking at things. This is part of why philosophy cannot be easy.

Wittgenstein told Rush Rhees that in philosophy you must "go the bloody hard way" (Rhees, Without Answers (1969), p. 169). You only delude yourself that you are doing philosophy if you do not. Philosophical thinking is not like most discussions of politics, i.e. the expression of more or less persuasive opinions and "convictions". The latter type of thinking is indeed easy -- but in what way is philosophy different?

Why care what opinion this or that philosopher had? After all, everyone else has opinions too ("studying philosophy enables you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic" (cf. Malcolm, Memoir, Letter No. 9)), and ways of looking at things as well ("A philosopher says: Look at things my way!" (cf. CV p. 61)). The difference is that the first and last question in philosophy is whether a proposition stands up to the Socratic tests of reason and experience, to cross-questioning and refutation: If I know a thing, I can explain and defend what I know to others (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1)? Plato wrote, "If you take my advice you will care very little for the philosopher and much more for the truth of the arguments" (Phaedo 91b). There are no authorities in philosophy (There is only your individual conscience, the limit of your own honesty). To apply Newton's saying to philosophy: The true masters in philosophy are the arguments (cf. Newton's Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy). That is the spirit of philosophy.

Is philosophy nothing but grammatical investigations?

G.E. Moore records Wittgenstein saying that "it did not matter whether his results were true or not: what mattered was that a method had been found" (PP iii, p. 322). That discovery was why philosophy had "lost its aura" (H.D.P. Lee, "Wittgenstein 1929-1931", in the journal Philosophy 54 (1979) p. 218) -- What had appeared to be a palace with seven towers [Inferno iv, 106] was in fact shown to be nothing more than a "house of cards" (PI § 118).

And what was that method? Lee also records Wittgenstein as saying that "In philosophy all that is not gas is grammar" (op. cit.), the word 'gas' meaning 'hot air' as in, to mix metaphors, 'noise without meaning' -- i.e. nonsense. G.E. Moore records a similar statement: "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. the proposition 'Physical objects exist' (OC § 37). If that is correct, then there are no real definitions of phenomena in philosophy; philosophers can do no more than invent rules for using words -- although that is of course not what the metaphysician wants to do.

"To follow the argument wherever it leads"

I asked before if Wittgenstein, using his new method, had as it were replaced "alchemy" (metaphysical word magic) with "chemistry" (logic of language): the same problems (turning base metals into gold) but now with an effective (in contrast to an ineffectual) method for resolving them (cf. Lee op. cit.) -- or had Wittgenstein simply replaced one alchemy with another? Book title: "Wittgenstein: The New Alchemy". Only if he assumed that some proved all -- or that he had identified by insight the essence of metaphysics?

Replacing one mythology with another, one way of looking at things with another. Question: but is "false syntactic analogies" no more than a way of looking at things? Could someone rightly say that 'Where is the mind?' is only nonsense in Wittgenstein's own particular logic of language, his own particular way of defining 'meaning'?

But is it an adequate answer to the skepticism of the idealist, or the assurances of the realist, to say that 'There are physical objects' is nonsense? For them after all it is not nonsense. (OC § 37)

My original response was, "But, of course, if it is not nonsense for them, then it is also not nonsense for us" (and went on to say that it is either disguised or patent nonsense (PI § 464) for both of us; it is certainly not our normal use of language). But now I don't know about that "of course", about just what Wittgenstein meant by his remark (It has to be seen in the context of G.E. Moore's "proof of the existence of an external world", because normally idealism's "skepticism" is about the existence of any reality independent of the mind that conceives it), although I think my original response is correct.

Thesis (although I do not think it quite correct): "Wittgenstein invented methods to do away with metaphysics -- because he never wanted metaphysical speculation: what we cannot know, we mustn't speculate about either; speculation is irreverent. In other words, he was an enemy of philosophy."

Man is free to be stupid, but if he is rational his reason is like an Apollonian crow that follows the course of the river rather than its own disposition.

Two examples of that method, unresolved

Again, Are there real definitions of phenomena? (Phaedrus 263a-b)

Note: Words that follow "Query" are Internet searches that were directed, or as often misdirected, to my site.

Query: what does it mean to be able to see into someone else's mind?

Well, if you can see into a box or a basket, why not see into a mind? (But compare rather: seeing into a book.) It often happens that we make grammatical analogies between regions of language that have very different grammars. Our language's syntax is semantically dysfunctional. It is meaning-blind (or semantics-blind).

If 'thunder' is the name of a phenomenon and if 'justice' is also the name of a phenomenon, then it appears that it must be possible to have theories about the nature of both phenomena. If 'thunder' is a noun and 'justice' is a noun, then they must both be "names of persons, places or things", and a phenomenon is, like everything else, a "thing". (Of course there are sociological theories about justice -- i.e. about society's notions of law and fairness -- as a human phenomenon, but those are amoral accounts of the phenomenon, and that is not what interests philosophy.) Language and thought are also phenomena -- is there an essence of thought (what we know is that there are uses in the language for the word 'thought')?

Query: what are the first three definitions of holiness according to Euthyphro?

And so philosophy (titles come cheap in our day) at universities goes on as if Wittgenstein had never existed, as if there were real definitions of abstractions ("What is holiness?") as there are hypotheses about the nature of natural phenomena, and (2) as if "What is holiness?" were what is important philosophically about the Euthyphro. Socrates' method of induction asks what all the things we call 'holiness' have in common (This method may, although rarely does, lead to a common nature definition of a word) -- which is not the same as the metaphysical question "What is holiness in itself? What is piety's essential nature?" which suggests the picture that the word 'holiness' is the name of an abstract object (existing in itself as a Platonic Form (Pattern, Archetype, Absolute) "on the other side of the sky").

Plato does state a very general definition, i.e. description of how we use the word 'holiness' in Gorgias 507b, when he says that 'justice' is 'proper conduct toward men' and 'piety' is 'proper conduct towards God' both of which together are the sum of 'moral virtue'. But that is a very, very general definition; it doesn't say what the proper conduct towards God is, i.e. exactly what we must do in the particular case.

But if 'piety' ('holiness') DEF.= 'correct conduct towards God' is merely a sign-for-sign or equivalent word definition, a mere convention for using language signs, then of what use it is to philosophy? It explains the meaning (PG i § 32, p. 69) of the word 'piety' to anyone to whom it isn't clear what we are talking about, to anyone for whom 'What is piety?' is as opaque in meaning as is 'What is qazx?'

Horrific words: 'abstraction', 'abstract term', 'abstract object'

Examples of abstractions -- "abstracted essences" -- are the concepts 'color' (not any particular color, as green or blue), 'shape' (Plato, Meno 74d, 72c), and 'size' (Plato, Phaedo 65d). Plato asks, Have you ever seen these things with your eyes? No, and neither were you given when you learned them nor can you now put a general definition of them into words. All you learned and all you can give anyone else to explain the meaning of the words 'color', 'shape', and 'size' are examples of colors, shapes, and sizes (PI §§ 208, 69). And if the meaning of an abstract term is an Absolute that cannot be put into words, then the meaning of abstractions cannot be put to the tests of reason and experience in Socratic discussion, which is to say that then the meaning of language is not verifiable (There is no "logic of language" which is public and objective).

To begin at the very beginning. The word 'holiness' is no more than a language-sign (spoken sounds, ink marks, gestures) -- and the question is: What gives that sign meaning? But what -- then is 'holiness' not the name of a phenomenon; are there not various phenomena we call 'holy'? and can't we ask what they all have in common? And, indeed, according to Aristotle, Socrates' own method of definition was induction. Though note: that wasn't Plato's method of definition. Instead Plato makes countless stabs at the air, as if he might this time plunge his dagger into the heart [the essence] of the abstraction he is discussing (holiness, justice, courage, beauty, self-control, things like this), although he seems to miss it again and again. -- And there's the rub, the word 'abstraction', by which we mean 'abstract term' -- i.e. rules for using a word (which is what Socratic induction might discover) -- not "abstract object". That is what Plato seems not to see (and the understanding will remain muddled so long as we imagine that philosophy is about defining abstract objects and abstract phenomena rather than mere words).

[Our language suggests false grammatical pictures to us, pictures that seem to be pictures of the way our language works, but are not. What is the relationship between language and reality? Which came first -- the concept or the "phenomenon in itself"?]

The abstract objects of mathematics

"You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence.... Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions." (H.G. Wells, The Time Machine i)

We "abstract", i.e. we select some qualities (e.g. length for a mathematical line, length and breadth for a mathematical plane) and disregard others (thickness in both examples) -- an abstraction is a selection -- and then call that selection an "abstract object". But then we go on to ask if that object of our own creation has an independent existence (e.g. as an intangible object in a ghost reality), and that is how we create nonsense (idle pictures of reality) in philosophy. (Hypostatization)

The words 'selection' and 'abstraction' are synonymous. Selected qualities make up an "abstract object". | The words 'selection' and 'abstraction' are synonyms. An "abstract object" is a selection of qualities.

As we normally use the word 'object', an object occupies space (has dimensions, shape), has weight (mass), color (or transparency), is hard or soft, and the like. But an "abstract object" is said to have none of these qualities, and isn't that another way of saying that an "abstract object" or "abstraction" is not an object? (In this context, another word for 'abstraction' is 'grammar stripping'.)

Horrific words in a desert place

When shall we three meet again,
in thunder, lightening or in rain?
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air. (Macbeth i, 1)

The reason you cannot find your way out of the fly-bottle (PI § 309) is that you cannot see the bottle. In that metaphor the bottle is the real problem in contrast to the apparent one. Above, have I seen the real problem or only the apparent one?


Fundamental criticism of Wittgenstein's logic of language

Plato identifies words about whose meanings we disagree (Phaedrus 263a-b). In ethics those disagreements may make us become angry and fall out with one another (Euthyphro 7b-c). But Wittgenstein never deals with those words, and maybe his logic of language cannot deal with them.

If language is to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in definitions but also ... in judgments. This seems to abolish logic, but does not do so. (PI § 242)

What does Wittgenstein mean by 'judgments'? What does he mean by 'logic'? and What does he mean by 'abolish logic'? What does Wittgenstein mean by 'agreement'? In § 241 he says "agreement in way of life" -- that way of life being: the language we use. Would to 'abolish logic' mean 'to abolish definition' -- i.e. are all definitions statements of rules? But Wittgenstein says in § 242 that there is a distinction between stating a rule [e.g. "This is how to measure a length of cloth"] and actually following the rule ["Here are the results of a measurement"]; the first belongs to logic, the second to "judgment" -- i.e. agreement about whether the rule has been followed or not [about whether the measurement is correct or not].

What Plato points out, however, in his Euthyphro and Phaedrus, is that there are cases where, not only judgments, but the rules themselves are disputed: there are words about whose meanings we agree and there are words about whose meanings we "are at variance" [differ]. The words 'measurement' and 'mathematical calculation' are examples of the former, while 'holiness' and 'love' are examples of the latter.

The word 'agreement' and the word 'rule' are related to one another ... If I teach anyone to use the one word, he learns to use the other with it. (ibid. § 224)

If anyone learns to use the word 'rule' he also learns a sense of the word 'agreement' -- but not the sense -- i.e. there are senses [meanings] of the word 'agreement' that will not teach you how to use the word 'rule'. Or, in other words, there are many things we may agree about that have nothing to do with rules: e.g. agreement about what is beautiful or questions of preference ("Yes, I too prefer apples to oranges").

The distinction between rule and judgment is unclear in the case of the word 'beautiful' (our word, where 'beautiful' = 'handsomeness', not the Greek word). Our use of that word can be described (and a description of how we use a word is "grammar" in Wittgenstein's jargon) -- however, its use cannot be described in rules for using it.

Plato, of course, says that we disagree about (are at variance over) the meaning of some words because we are ignorant of the things those words name. "To know the meaning of a word is to know the [common nature of the] thing the word names" is Plato's picture of how language works. What does Wittgenstein says about Plato's picture? Only that not all nouns are names. But Wittgenstein nowhere says how the words Socrates and Plato were concerned with are to be defined -- i.e. how their use is to be described [although he does give an account of the grammar of the word 'love' when he classifies feeling words].

Wittgenstein only describes cases where we can state a definition -- i.e. describe how a word is used -- in rules. But that is precisely what we cannot do with Plato's words. "There is no essence of games" -- but we can define the word 'game' by enumerating and then pointing out "family likenesses" among the various games; -- i.e. about what is and what isn't to be called a game, we do not disagree. We are not at variance over the meaning of the word 'game'; cf. 'shape' -- all shapes do not have a common nature, but we can list the various shapes, and we do not disagree about what belongs on that list. Such are the easy cases; Wittgenstein never deals with the difficult concepts. "What is the meaning of the word 'beauty'? Describe that word's use in the language" [Think what beauty meant to Franz Schubert, and it wasn't "What a lovely painting!" "What a darling view!" as Wittgenstein treats the word 'beautiful' in his Lectures on Aesthetics (Those are my examples not his, but they are not too much of a caricature)] -- in Wittgenstein's logic of language (in Wittgenstein's sense of 'meaning') -- does it have a meaning? Why does Wittgenstein never investigate our difficult concepts -- Plato's "words about which we are at variance"?

I think this was because Wittgenstein reduced philosophy to logic -- "the philosophy of logic" in Anscombe's translation -- and the subject matter of logic is only: things that are subject to rules? And about what does not follow rules, it has practically nothing to say. Thus, by reducing philosophy to logic, Wittgenstein dismissed many philosophical problems -- but not by "dissolving" them (i.e. by showing them to be linguistic muddles), but instead by ignoring them (i.e. by not dealing with them at all).

It would have been clearer if Wittgenstein had titled his work Logical Investigations rather than Philosophical Investigations, because about logic of language is all Wittgenstein's remarks are. Comment: and that is the answer to Russell's objection, namely that the point of interest changes between the TLP, which is about natural logic of language ("concept-formation", which remained Russell's interest) and Wittgenstein's later work, which is about conventional logic of language (and should be seen that way) -- which is only a part of philosophy, despite Wittgenstein's appearing to say that it is the whole.

"Like a tea tray in the sky"

Bertrand Russell accused Wittgenstein of inventing a "lazy philosophy" for himself (My Philosophical Development, New York: 1959, p. 217). In a sense -- although not in Russell's sense (because the later Wittgenstein was just as "profoundly aware of difficult problems" and "addicted to passionately intense thinking" (ibid. p. 216) as the earlier Wittgenstein had been) -- Russell's statement seems to me to be true. Plato's question in Book One of the Republic [344e, 352d] of "no small matter, but our to live" our life [ethics] is -- if silence is evidence -- according to Wittgenstein not a philosophical question -- for why else would he never write about this surely most important of all questions. In his Lecture on Ethics Wittgenstein says that "absolute value", which is irrational, is the foundation of ethics (and so if philosophy is rational, as it is, it has nothing to say about that). But if ethics is not a philosophical question, then what kind of question is it? Wittgenstein in his later writings never says. Socrates "introduced ethics or moral philosophy" into philosophy (Diog. L. i, 14); in contrast, Wittgenstein appears to have unintroduced it.

As to Russell, the distinction he makes between talking, for example, about the word 'river' in contrast to talking about a river, as well as his "Theory of Descriptions", is all I think I have learned from him. (Many years ago I tried to read an English translation of Frege's "Sense and Reference", but I could not understand it; I don't know if its unreadable sentences were Frege's or his translator's. "Well, it looks English, but ..." I have the same difficulty with the standard English translation of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. And I am now too old to have patience with anything not written in readable sentences.)

Logical atoms, atoms and nonsense

Query: criticism of the picture theory of Wittgenstein.

'The elephant is in the library' as a picture with the words of the proposition corresponding to -- "standing for" -- objects in the world, e.g. the elephant and the library. But does Wittgenstein define the words 'the' and 'in the', words which designate (definite and indefinite articles: does the TLP say what the meaning of common names is) or which state a relationship (as e.g. being in someplace or other)?

"Words stand for the objects in the world they name"

(2.04) The totality of existent atomic facts [i.e. of objects and the relationships in which they stand (4.5, 2.14)] is the world. (2.1) We make [for] ourselves pictures of facts. (2.12) The picture is a model of reality. (2.13) To the objects correspond in the picture the elements of the picture. (2.131) The elements of the picture stand, in the picture, for the objects. (2.14) The picture consists in the fact that its elements are combined with one another in a definite way. (2.141) The picture is a [statement of] fact. (2.1512) It is like a scale [of measurement] applied to reality ["the world"]. (TLP, tr. Ogden)

That is the picture (2.13-2.131): Words are names and the meaning of a name is the object the name stands for. But all words aren't obviously names, as Wittgenstein will of course have seen, but he does he characterize those words? Does he regard them as belonging to logic, like the logical operators ('and', 'or', etc.), words which are "senseless" (because "apparently" they do not name objects), although clearly they have a use in the language ("meaning")?

The principal criticisms, I'd say, of Wittgenstein's theory are: (1) the theory doesn't define the word 'atomic', i.e. say what atoms are other than that they are absolutely simple ("logical atoms"), which a book certainly isn't, despite Wittgenstein using the word 'book' in his example to Franz Parak ("If a book is on the table ..."), and (2) the theory's definition of 'nonsense' is metaphysical (i.e. claim about what nonsense "really is"), because words that have a use in the language are not normally called nonsense (because they aren't meaningless).


Remarks for Nowhere or Somewhere Else

Why are we not analyzing a phenomenon rather than describing a concept, i.e. the use of a word (PI § 383)? Well, because in Wittgenstein's logic of language, the method of which is to describe concepts, that is what is done. But does logic = philosophy?

When I wrote about M. O'C. Drury's Philosophy of Science, I described our concept 'motion'. Note that what I wrote is not an "analysis" of that concept: the statements I make are not "analytic propositions", but rather they are rules of grammar (My account of those rules, of our public use of the word 'motion', may be true or false, but that is what it is). I did not screw up my eyes, make funny faces (I once saw a film where the Yale University professor Paul Weiss did just that, apropos of Aristotle, if I recall aright), and say, "Yes, I think I can see that this is the essence of motion". (Often 'to analyze' means 'to break down into parts', but not in the philosophy of Linguistic Analysis as far as I can see.)

But what would an "analysis of the phenomenon" (Wittgenstein) of motion look like? If Leibniz undertook that for the invention of his calculus -- and Leibniz did not concern himself with grammar and sense and nonsense -- how did he decide what the word 'motion' is the name of (if he presumed that the meaning of word is the thing it stands in for)? Will he not have to set the limits of his subject somewhere more or less arbitrarily (cf. the phenomenon of thunder versus how we learn to use the word 'thunder'). Well, actually I can't at all imagine what an analysis of the phenomenon would look like (cf. Hertz and the word 'force') -- I don't think the word 'motion' has any meaning apart from how motion is measured. Leibniz might find a new way to measure motion -- but wouldn't that be physics rather than metaphysics ("what motion really is")?

Suppose someone says that what he wants to know is "what motion really is" -- that is to say, to know about the phenomenon, not the mere use of a word? The word 'really' is a hallmark of metaphysics (cf. "thing in itself"), and Plato apropos of Heraclitus' all things are in motion (in a state of change: "you cannot step into the same river twice"), sought that "really", i.e. he sought absolute knowledge, which "must" be of what is unchanging (contrary to what all things in this world appear to be). The picture of absolutes is foreign to Wittgenstein's way of thinking or point of view -- but "it is possible to be interested in a phenomenon from a variety of points of view" (PI § 108), not only conceptual clarification (Wittgenstein's interest). Sometimes I have reasoned that Plato was conceptually confused -- but certainly not always.

What philosophy is?

... whereas I hold to the Greek view that you must be cured by philosophy, not Wittgenstein's view that you must be cured of it. In a word, you must use Wittgenstein's logic of language as an antidote to philosophy, and then philosophy as an antidote to Wittgenstein's setting of false limits to philosophy. "Know thyself" is a philosophical task: How to distinguish what is real from what is illusion (What is real?); how to live our life (What is the good for man as an individual and in society with others?); How to think (how to reason, how to learn (come to know)). Philosophy is not all conceptual confusion despite some of it being that. (Logic of Language, Introduction)

In sum, for me, that is, in my view, philosophy begins and ends with Socrates (with the Socrates of Plato's Apology and of Xenophon) -- or, Philosophy begins and ends with Socrates.

"Tell them it was wonderful." -- That's all very well for Wittgenstein. However on my death-bed I shall have nothing to say about life except, "It was incomprehensible" and that my ignorance has been a horrific experience, both shameful and humiliating. The form of expression 'It was perplexing' barely begins to express my view of things, my feelings about existence: confusion and incomprehension have forever reigned in my mind (with occasional "rests" (as in musical score) before it begins again). With "respect to wisdom" I am "truly worthless" -- because despite the years and years I still think myself wise although I am not: I still presume I know countless things that I don't know: I have not learned Apollo's lesson for man (Apology 23b).

Query: Wittgenstein. Logical investigations.

For Wittgenstein it seems correct to say: philosophical = logical = conceptual = grammatical investigations. I.e. in Wittgenstein's philosophy, rather than: the concept '[such-and-such word]' we could write: the logic '[such-and-such word]' (or indeed: the grammar '[such-and-such word]').

Philosophical investigations -- conceptual investigations, but only: (1) if all philosophy is conceptual muddle, and (2) and that is our particular interest in the phenomenon (PI § 108).

Query: a simple and clear definition of philosophy.

This presumes that such a description of philosophy is possible. When Wittgenstein says "Philosophy is ... bewitchment by language" (PI § 109), that is not a definition of the word 'philosophy' but a claim about the "thing" (phenomenon of?) philosophy. And so the query is asking for a definition of the word 'philosophy', a description of how we use that word, e.g. of the kinds we call by the name 'philosophy'. Even if Wittgenstein says "the essence of philosophy", that statement is not a definition of the word 'philosophy' -- it is instead metaphysics because it says what philosophy "really" is. On the other hand, if we define 'philosophy' as 'the search for knowledge or understanding by the natural light of reason in logic, ethics, or metaphysics' -- it seems the most Wittgenstein can say is that the hope of such a search is a delusion; but that philosophy is delusional would not belong to a definition of the word 'philosophy'.

What is the logic of our language?

Query: language is a tool, not a picture.

Well, yes, that is "the later" versus "the earlier" Wittgenstein, or WII's rejection of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. -- But a tremendous background and explanation are needed to make this query's notion clear [i.e. to explain this query's meaning]; in any case: the tool metaphor [comparison] is a way of looking at language -- not a matter of fact. It is a meaning of 'meaning', not a "theory of meaning".

Query: natural and logical possibility.

If we make the distinction using this language, the word 'natural' suggests that we should include Kant's categories -- i.e. the inherent limits of human concept-formation -- ... if there are such limits.

Suppose someone says, "That's not theoretically possible." -- Can you reply: "Then invent a new theory. The only limit of science is concept-formation. There are no laws of nature, only laws of physics." That is a project (It is not a statement of real possibility).

Query: did Albert Schweitzer believe in God and heaven?

I really don't know -- not without definitions of the words 'God' and 'heaven'. In God, doubtless in some sense -- however, I don't know in which sense -- yes. In "heaven"? What is being asked? In the sense of the "kingdom of God", in the sense of Jesus' ethic of love? -- however, for Schweitzer that is ideal to be realized in this world, in this life. As to "life after death" -- I have no idea what he "believed in" (in what source would this be found). To understand Schweitzer you must understand that Schweitzer rejected dogma ("Christianity cannot take the place of reason, but it must be founded on it"). I would not say that Schweitzer "believed in" anything -- in the sense of being a dogmatist (but 'believe in' has many other senses).

Query: is there any question without answer?

Well, this is it. Is there any question more fundamental to philosophy than "Are there questions without answers"? (From a purely grammatical-logical point of view: Do we use the word 'question' according to strict rules? No. However, what does usage alone prove ...)

Query: Wittgenstein on the Socratic method.

Wittgenstein's method appears to have been monologue (holding discourse with oneself alone), not dialog (holding discourse with one's companions): He did not practice dialectic but thought about things for himself in "pools of darkness" (isolated, primitive locations in Norway and Ireland). But, on the other hand, in his Philosophical Investigations he acknowledges Ramsey and Sraffa for their criticism of his thoughts; of course that does not imply that Wittgenstein's discussions with them took the form of question and answer; and he did not use the Socratic method when he lectured (taught his students). But maybe by "method" this query intends Platonic-Socratic definition versus "family" resemblance, Wittgenstein's game metaphor -- i.e. comparison of words to tools and their use therefore their meaning. Although it may also concern Wittgenstein's inability to see the importance of Socrates or of Plato's dialogs [at least at one time].

Unexamined life, Euthyphro

Query: I do not think I know what I do not know.

Socrates did not say that this is the best state (because of course the best state would be to know!), but only that it is better than its opposite -- i.e. thinking that you know what you don't know -- indeed, that it is better to be completely ignorant than to be a mix of knowledge and ignorance. (So says Socrates in Plato's Apology. And in Xenophon: "those who think they know what they do not know are misled themselves and mislead others.")

Query: explain the notion of definition that Socrates has in mind when he questions Euthyphro about the definition of holiness.

Note that in the Euthyphro Socrates does not ask for a Platonic-Socratic definition, but instead for a standard of comparison (paradigm [PI § 385]), but an absolute standard not an arbitrary one like the meter stick.

Query: did Euthyphro live an unexamined life?

Not in the sense that a donkey does, but perhaps in the sense that Euthyphro does not know what he believes himself to know, i.e. he cannot state for Socrates the standard in ethics Socrates asks him for. His inability is not, however, proof that Euthyphro does not "know what piety is" -- if to know "what piety is" is to know what that standard is, because there may be no such standard. What we can say is that Euthyphro accepts Socrates' notion that there is such a standard and that Euthyphro thinks himself to know what that standard is -- whereas, as the dialog shows, he does not. If that is what we mean by 'an unexamined life', then that is one answer to the query.

And so we see that Euthyphro is not wise (in Socrates's sense of 'wisdom'), because Euthyphro cannot explain to others ("render an account" of) what he claims to know. But what, as Wittgenstein asked, is "the point of these arguments that prove nothing and make nothing clearer" [CV [MS 111 55: 30.7.1931]]? Well, but doesn't this dialog make clear that there is a profound problem with our ethical terms -- i.e. what is the meaning of these terms, which Wittgenstein never tried and, apparently, never thought it necessary to try, to explain the use in our language of? What is the meaning of the word 'piety'? Wittgenstein's remarks as reported by Bouwsma show Wittgenstein's utter -- and inexplicable -- incomprehension of why Socrates asked these questions.

Query: does Socrates assume you have to be able to define holiness and moral virtue to know what these are?

Is it an assumption? Or a standard Socrates sets for 'knowing', for without such a standard how shall anyone (including you) know whether you know what you think you know, e.g. "what holiness is", or not, namely: "if you know something you can explain what you know to others, an explanation that can stand up to cross-questioning"? Or shall we know by seeing how you use the word 'holiness'? -- But how shall we know whether you are using that word correctly if even we ourselves don't know "what holiness is"?

Does Wittgenstein have a solution to this particular quandary? No, he doesn't even ask these questions. But surely we would not wish to offend the gods through unholy deeds due to our ignorance, and so "this is no small matter we are discussing, but how to live" [Plato's paraphrase of the word 'ethics'].

"How sour sweet music is when ..."

Query: criteria for meaningful and meaningless under philosophy of language.

That is what I think the question of logic (namely logic of language) is ... as I see things after a lifetime of thought (most of it stupid), and the starting-point question of all philosophy: Tell me how you make the distinction between sense and nonsense [meaning and meaningless], and I will know how you think in philosophy. However, the query poses a question, which for Wittgenstein, was one in logic, not Philosophy of Language.

Query: Socrates, logic is the knowledge [of definitions].

A definition does state something you know (and definitions do belong to logic); however, [but] what you know is only [may be no more than] how to describe the use of a word.

Query: man will not live without answers to his questions.

Quite the contrary, not only will he -- he does. And if his "eternal questions" are not nonsense, then he "has no choice" but to live with those questions without answers. (What answer is there to the question "Why do I consent to go on living?" except that because I am alive (inertia)? Well, there is also that there is much that is good and beautiful in this world; that is what Socrates lived for and if I see things aright it is also what I can live for. And -- because, apparently, not everyone asks such questions, pace Schweitzer but sleepwalk through their lives as the animals do.)

Ostensive definition also points (directs the attention) to what is not seen

Query: can someone born blind speak?

If it were the case that all words had to be defined visually -- i.e. by pointing and saying "Look!" ... which shows that ostensive definitions are not only visual, but also tactile, auditory, usw.

Query: philosophy, easy ways to learn it.

There cannot be an easy way to learn philosophy. Why? Philosophy is not like elementary maths ("Simply learn the rules and play the game"). It not a subject you can learn by simply memorizing what others have said -- as you may do in the sciences if you are happy not to ask questions (But philosophy, in contrast, is discontent). Because in philosophy you yourself are the only "marker": your teacher may say "excellent" or "failure", but you are the only judge and jury of your own honesty (conscientiousness) as a thinking human being.

Query: explanation vs description, Wittgenstein.

Here 'explanation' means 'theoretical explanation' (speculation in contrast to the facts in public view). There are many meanings of 'explanation'; e.g. sometimes a description is an explanation, e.g. "an explanation of meaning" = a description [maybe in the form of rules] of the use of a word in the language (PI § 560). The "theory of abstraction" is an example of a theoretical explanation; that type of explanation -- i.e. an "unverifiable hypothesis" about what is supposedly "behind" what is in plain view -- is not the type of explanation Wittgenstein is seeking in philosophy (his logic of language).

Query: every explanation is an hypothesis.

There is no essence of explanation. "Explain the rules of chess to me" e.g. has nothing to do with hypothesis.

Query: philosophy, what are grounds?

Our mistake, until we learn better [i.e. until we learn from Wittgenstein to think about language differently], is to assume that there must be something ("an essence") that all grounds have in common ("a common nature") -- or, in the words of Plato, that grounds are "always and everywhere one and the same thing". -- Whereas, if we try to give actual examples of how we use the word 'grounds', we find that there are a great variety of things we call 'grounds' (cf. all the different procedures we call 'verifications' and 'measurements'). We imagine there must be -- and we want there to be -- a simple formula, like a dictionary formula; but our language seldom works that way.


"The limits of my language ..."

Note: this continues the earlier discussion of the world-picture of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the context of which is propositions 5.6 to 5.641.

Query: the limits of my language are the limits of my world. Philosophy of language. Cage.

The difference between the TLP and the Philosophical Investigations is that in the TLP the cage [limit] is imposed by nature; whereas in the Investigations the cage [limit] is man-made. In the TLP the limits are natural limits; whereas in the Investigations they are conventional: in the Investigations if a sign hasn't meaning, it is only because we have not given it one.

[The TLP may belong to the Philosophy of Language if the subject of Philosophy of Language is the essential nature ["nature-imposed nature"] of language itself, because according to the TLP, language is and can only be a picture of perceptible facts; that is the essence of language according to the TLP (the "can" is of course metaphysical). But, note well, the Investigations is logic of language ("Logic-philosophy"), not Philosophy of Language.]

According to the TLP the essence of language, is to picture, which is what propositions do as mirrors of the facts. That is the logic of our language according to the TLP. And that is why language is not a cage, because an alternative language is not possible: A cage must have both an outside and an inside: a limit must have a this side and a that side.

But then how can the TLP speak of "the limit of language" if outside that limit "there isn't even a place for language to be"? The TLP doesn't provide for an outside and therefore the cage metaphor would be a false comparison in that respect.

Chess men on a chessboard is a perceptible fact that can be pictured, and the proposition that pictures that fact is not nonsense. But now, strangely, note that according to the TLP the rules of the game of chess, not being pictures, are nonsense, like the propositions of logic: no fact corresponds to a tautology ["raining or not raining" (4.461)] or to a contradiction ["raining and not raining"]; therefore they "cannot be put into words" -- cannot in the sense of: without being nonsense). That view is possible for Wittgenstein because in the TLP, 'nonsense' ≠ 'meaningless'. (Which maybe isn't so strange if the TLP's aim is to discover what the essence of language is and finds that everything but picturing is accidental rather than essential to language. What is accidental to language -- but not to reality -- although it cannot be pictured -- can show itself [as e.g. God or "absolute value" does] without our ever needing to try to put it into words.)

The limits of what exactly? (Earlier remarks)

Note: what follows continues the discussion "Remarks about Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus", a longer discussion which begins with an explanation of the book's title.

Recall that "the world" of the TLP is not the whole of reality: other things (e.g. the metaphysical-I, moral and aesthetic value, God) "show themselves" or "make themselves manifest" although they are not in the world. The limit of the world ≠ the limit of reality. And the limit of language ≠ the limit of meaning.

But in the TLP's eccentric, metaphysical ["the real meaning of sense and nonsense"] vocabulary, the only language that is not "nonsense" is language that makes pictures of the relationships of object in "the world". That is the limit of language. However, what "cannot be put into words" is nonetheless real -- it is part of reality and full of meaning and of higher importance than "the world".

And therefore the trouble with the cage metaphor applied to the TLP is that it suggests that the TLP had not identified the essence of language, and thus that we somehow could escape our cage and talk about "the mystical" without our talk being nonsense ... but here we are thwarted by Wittgenstein's eccentric definition of the word 'nonsense' in the TLP. And so, although the limit of language is the limit of sense and nonsense, Wittgenstein does not use the words 'sense' and 'nonsense' as we normally do.

Remember that we are doing no more, after all, than trying to decode young Wittgenstein's cryptogram (There are propositions in his "highly syncopated" text that Wittgenstein himself could not in later years remember what he had meant by). Our decoding is speculative: we are seeking to invent an "hypothesis" which can self-consistently account for all the raw data (which in this case is the text of the TLP): what meaning can we invent for the oracle's words? Just as Apollo set Socrates a riddle [a cryptogram to decode], Wittgenstein set his readers one as well.

Question: can Wittgenstein's proposition be reversed: Are the limits of my world the limits of my language? What does the TLP mean by the words 'world' and 'language' -- does it mean what we normally mean by those words? No, because the the TLP is a thoroughgoing work of metaphysics, "metaphysics" in the sense of a thoroughgoing abuse of language, imagining that real definitions can be given of abstractions. It aims to say what the true or real meanings of the things words name are (Is there such a meaning of 'meaning'?), not to describe how we normally use words. It assumes that words are names of things -- but concludes: of sense-perceptible things only, not of "imperceptible things". The TLP says: This is what the world really is; this is what language is really. (The contrast between Wittgenstein's early and later views of how language works could not be greater.)

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. (TLP 5.6, both Ogden Pears, McGuinness trs.)

What does it mean? If the limit of language is what the eyes can see (and what else is a picture), and if "the world" -- namely, structured sense data (of some as yet to be determined by natural science (Wittgenstein thought) kind) -- "is all that is the case", then language is limited to saying what the "how-ness" of the world -- namely, of how things stand in the world -- is. Nevertheless, Wittgenstein says that the "that-ness of the world" -- although according to the TLP that can't be said (When is the impossible possible? When nonsense has meaning) -- shows itself: "it is the mystical" (the metaphysical). And it is precisely the mystical that is of interest to Wittgenstein: the world is not the whole of my life or consciousness (for the world excludes ethics, aesthetics, God). "There are indeed things that cannot be put into words" -- and those things also belong to my life or consciousness, and in this sense, neither language nor the world is the limit of my life (consciousness), nor what is most important to it. (It's not really going too far to say that Wittgenstein was not interested in the world.)

On the other hand, the limits of my language are, according to the TLP, also the limits of my thought. So then when I listen to instrumental music (a string quintet), am I not thinking? I certainly can't put my thoughts into words; are they therefore not what we normally call thoughts? Of course the concept 'thought' is fluid, but Wittgenstein wants to say "what thought itself really is". The essence of 'thought' or 'thinking' Wittgenstein says is "operating with signs" (words, phrases, sentences) (BB p. 6) -- although not with just any signs, but only the signs of picturing-propositions. In this way, just as with so many other words in that book, the word 'thought' is assigned an eccentric meaning in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, for any rules that are contrary to normal use in the language are eccentric.

It strikes me that if value and God do not show themselves in the world, then they are not in the world. But then where are they? Are they in the same place as the metaphysical-I, "outside the world" (as the eye is outside the visual field) [TLP 5.633, 5.6331]? "Glory be to God, also in me." I have no idea.

Taken out of context, misunderstood

Query: the world we live in is the words we use. Wittgenstein says we can experience only those things we have language for.

And do we not experience music then (for 'music' doesn't mean a pressure against the eardrum)? But what is most important in our life is not what is in the world; and therefore it is not in language. Pressmen strip Wittgenstein's words of their TLP context, and then assign to them whatever meaning they fancy. But "when an ape looks in", it sees itself -- i.e. pressmen read their own thoughts into Wittgenstein's words, and then quote those words using Wittgenstein as an authority -- but of what kind? "A famous philosopher once said ..." as if that formula could lend weight to the ideas which the pressmen themselves had invented for the philosopher's words, as if Wittgenstein were a sophist ("wise man") rather than a philosopher. But -- "Authority in philosophy is contraband."

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. (TLP 5.6, tr. Ogden)

"Un-philosophical journalists" -- i.e. those who write for the press rather than for journals of philosophy (the "professional philosophers" Wittgenstein dismissed as "philosophical journalists") -- use this proposition to mean just the opposite of what Wittgenstein meant by it. The world ≠ reality: it is precisely what cannot be put into words -- i.e. what lies beyond the limits of my language -- that is what is important. Language talks about the world; but what is important about life lies outside the world.

Of the two parts of Wittgenstein's work, it is the second part -- the part than cannot be put into words that is the important part.

When he nevertheless takes immense pains to mark the limits of the unimportant, it is not the coastline of that island which he is bent on surveying with such meticulous accuracy, but the boundary of the ocean. (Paul Engelmann, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein, with a Memoir (1967), tr. Furtmüller, McGuinness)

The "world" = the island (of Engelmann's metaphor), whereas reality = (the island + the ocean). The island can be put into words, whereas the ocean cannot. The limits of the world = the limits of language, but the limits of language ≠ the limits of reality.

The "ocean" is "what cannot be put into words"; the ocean is what lies beyond the limits of language, which are the same as the limits of the "world" (the "island"). "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words" (TLP 6.522, tr. Ogden). Yet those who quote Wittgenstein out of context imagine that he means just the opposite, that there are no things that cannot be put into words -- Even if my language consisted of the entirety of possible language, the limits of my language would not mean the limits of my reality.

The mistake is to imagine that 'world' = 'reality' (because in Wittgenstein's jargon it does not) and that these limits are identical: that language = world = reality, or at least that part of reality which I know (or think I know, for language isn't transparent: the limits of syntax are not the limits of sense and nonsense, and no one can know nonsense). And the limits of what I know about the world are effectively the limits of reality -- if I don't have language for it, it doesn't exist. But that is just what Wittgenstein doesn't mean, because "what I (myself and everyone else) don't have language for" includes God, ethics, and everything irrational in reality, i.e. everything that cannot be stated in statements of fact about objects in spatial relationships (Wittgenstein's propositional kind that is not nonsense).

Pressmen quote the book's "The limits of my language mean ..." and then go on to speak about the very things Wittgenstein's text says can't be spoken about.

[Well, but if Wittgenstein can construct a ladder out of nonsense, why shouldn't others and then climb up onto whatever the ladder is a ladder to and speak about what they find there. Metaphors ought to be contraband in philosophy.]

There is an expression "sea-change" in the Tempest. And so like "savages, primitive people, [we] hear the expressions of civilized men [and] put a false interpretation on them ..." (PI § 194). (And don't I do this with Kant's words "Percepts without concepts are blind"? because I have never seen those words in the context in which they appear in the work the title of which I don't even know.

The world-picture of the TLP

Wittgenstein never treated ethics as one of philosophy's parts, not even after the TLP's justification for excluding it had expired. And this was because Wittgenstein was wedded to the concept "absolute value", and seemed unwilling to even see if there wasn't some other possibility (which there is) that could be rationally discussed.

So that if we are going to embrace the world-picture (and "wisdom") of the TLP, then ethics will not be in our "world" (or, according to the query's second sentence, in our "experience") and therefore neither will it be in our "what can be put into words" (i.e. language).

If a mechanical thinking machine could talk, it could truly say "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world". That is the difference between man and machine, that for the machine there is no "value", no "God", no "metaphysical-I". There is only the visual field.

Query: Wittgenstein's two senses of 'meaningless'.

What is the meaning of the word 'nonsense'? Something like 'what cannot be put into meaningful language, but can be put into meaningless language (that is not meaningless)'. Those are the two meanings of 'meaningless' in the TLP.

The TLP vs. WII (Russell's symbol for "the later Wittgenstein"), where the word 'meaningless' ('senseless' or 'nonsense') has different meanings. That is, 'meaningless' in the TLP means: 'not a proposition of the natural sciences' (and therefore even what is "meaningless" can carry meaning as we normally use the word 'meaning'). Whereas 'meaningless' in WII simply means 'undefined' [as in 'an undefined combination of words'] (PI § 500). But note that both those meanings are selected meanings of 'meaningless', because there are as many meanings of 'meaningless' in our language as there are of 'meaning' (i.e. countless).

Query: don't look for a meaning, look for a tool. Wittgenstein.

Sounds brill ('use in the language' versus 'meaning'), but what kind of tool would this be then: "I say that home is where there is a chair and a glass" (Graham Greene)? This is a curious use of language. It is not a definition of the word 'home', nor is it an extension of that word's acceptation (conceptual revision). Is it an "impression of meaning" (cf. "To me a gentleman is someone who avoids hurting the feelings of others; who behaves with self-respect, dignity and courtesy"; "To me a gentleman is someone with good manners who dresses well"; "To me home is ...")? I would not say it was a definition in any sense of the word 'definition'. -- But then what is logic-of-language to say about it? And so this is important: that there are many techniques in logic, many metaphors (similes, comparisons), not just one, not just "like a tool".

Query: criticisms of Wittgenstein's chesspiece analogy.

I don't think you can attack that part of the analogy, because obviously words, like chess pieces, have a physical aspect (sounds, ink marks e.g.), but you can, as Wittgenstein himself did, attack the notion that words must be used according to exact rules (PI § 81), which is the way chess men are indeed used.

Nutshells of Seven Towers

Query: Tractatus in a nutshell, theory of logic, meaning and life.

Do you think that Wittgenstein wasn't clever enough to state his ideas concisely [Yet he later said that the TLP was too "syncopated"], and that we are cleverer than he was and can therefore be briefer? Wittgenstein told the publisher Ficker: Read the Preface and the final proposition (no. 7); that is the TLP in a nutshell. But do you really think that the meaning of life can be "put in a nutshell" -- or that in the Tractatus life's meaning can be put into words at all (given that, according to that book, the riddle of life "doesn't exist" [6.521, 6.5])?

And for that reason, unless I am very much mistaken, the book will say a great deal that you yourself want to say. Only perhaps you won't see that it is said in the book. For now, I would recommend you to read the preface and the conclusion, because they contain the most direct expression of the point of the book. (Letter to Ludwig Ficker, circa September-October 1919, tr. McGuinness with Furtmüller, quoted in Engelmann, Memoir)

The TLP's point is an ethical one (The query's "meaning and life"), Wittgenstein wrote Ficker. But according to Wittgenstein, that book makes that point by drawing the limits of "what can be said" (which is the language of "the natural sciences") and thereby shows that ethics lies outside those limits -- and so it "must be passed over in silence", because anything we might say directly about ethics is "nonsense".

What Wittgenstein may have meant in the Preface by "This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it -- or similar thoughts" (tr. Ogden) is, I think, explained in the above letter to Ficker, namely, that the TLP may perhaps be understood only by those who share its view that "the ethical/mystical cannot be put into words", and consequently that philosophers should therefore stop talking "nonsense" about it. [Wittgenstein's friend Paul Engelmann's account.]

For me, the Tractatus is a very odd book. What I have to say about it is here: "Language is not a cage" and here: "The limits of language, the world, and reality", but others will have taken very different views, because the Tractatus is a book that has been interpreted in different ways (Wittgenstein said that Russell had not understood it, and Frege seems not to have gotten past its first page). It is a book people have "hypotheses" about its meaning: which interpretation can account for the most data -- i.e. the text of the book -- in a self-consistent way?

Query: Wittgenstein in a nutshell.

Contrast. "The New Way of Ideas", or Descartes in a nutshell: "The direct object of perception is an idea in the mind, and through an examination of one's clear and distinct ideas, one can attain certain knowledge of oneself and of the world." Is that the philosophy of Descartes in a nutshell? "Ask forgiveness for the wrongs you have done, and forgive those who have wronged you." Is that the teaching of Jesus in a nutshell? Something like that maybe. But that is religion (the Lord's commandments, the ethics of love, are not to questioned but accepted), not philosophy.

Objection. Philosophy cannot be put in a nutshell -- because philosophy is not simply a collection of theses (methods, assertions), but is also just as essentially -- the explanations of meaning and on-going questioning of the justifications for those theses.

On the other hand. If philosophy is, as Wittgenstein said in 1947 (CV p. 61), a way of looking at things ("The philosopher says: Look at things this way!"), then understanding the thought of a philosopher requires the adoption of an entirely new point of view ..... Maybe this is Wittgenstein in a nutshell: "Wittgenstein selected definitions, metaphors and methods which make the distinction between sense (language with meaning) and nonsense objective. And rather than syntax, he identified logic with meaning, and limited philosophy to clarifying concepts."

Now, are you any the wiser for that account? And that is only my own account, as is the account above of Descartes, and do you think that is the only account possible?

Language meaning in the absence of meaning

Query: how the mind sees words with no form?

If we picture thinking as a series of pictures, like frames of an animated cartoon, then how do we think if most of the words we use are not names of objects, i.e. if there are no pictures corresponding to "abstractions" such as are "named" by words like 'and' and 'God' and 'largeness' and 'importance'? Then maybe what the query suggests is a false picture of the meaning of words -- i.e. that the meaning of a word is an image of the thing the words names -- and also, then, at least in many cases, a false picture of thought.

Wittgenstein thought at one point that the essence of thinking is using language (BB p. 6), but that of course is not entirely correct. It is too narrow, like saying that the essence of language is propositions of the form: "This is how things stand", whereas that is only one out of many other uses of language (and that other language isn't, of course, meaningless). If I move my chair to have a better view through the window, I will certainly have thought but I needn't have thought in words; and what did I think in then? Nothing (cf. PI § 101), i.e. syntax allows that question but it does not give it a meaning.

Maybe the query is alluding to Plato's Forms and his thesis of recollection or remembrance, and that the mind or soul, while in the body, does not see the Forms [Common Natures, Essences or Absolutes] -- indeed, they cannot exist in our world (Parmenides 133c, 134b) -- and therefore how does one know the meanings of words if one cannot see the Forms they name -- if the Forms are the words' meanings? But if Forms are not words' meanings, then what is?

Query: dreaming without pictures. What is it called?

I don't know. What are dreams with pictures called? Can there be dreams without pictures (images)? Well, do born-blind people dream? And are their dreams terrifying (a nightmare of voices)? Well, are all picturing dreams terrifying? "But the dark can be extremely frightening!" But then, do you want to say that the blind know what the sighted mean by 'darkness' in contrast to 'light'? What sense (versus nonsense) would it make to say that the born-blind are afraid of the dark?

Well of course it makes no sense. A born-blind person may have all kinds of fears, but not that one.

The world of the born-blind is a distinct way of live (but not as if this were discretionary: someone does not choose to be born blind or born deaf), as is the world of the born-deaf. Fear of the dark -- There is no common ground of experience for the sighted and born-blind here. In a world where everyone was born-blind, the word 'dark' would not exist. As in a world of born-deaf there would be no word 'silence'.

Everything, you see, had been made to fit their needs ... arose naturally from their special needs ... (H.G. Wells, "The Country of the Blind")

And their language is part of that "everything", which is a collection of tools (PI § 421). A born-deaf person's dreams are not silent, and a born-blind person's dreams are not in the dark.

What meaning has the word 'blue' the born-blind? That word is of course recognizable to the born-blind as an English word -- but what would give color words more than that pro forma meaning for a born-blind person? There are words that only the sighted can use "meaningfully" -- and here by 'meaningful' we do not mean only 'rules of grammar' but "something deeper" (metaphysical).

Query: must a thing share a common nature with other things if we call it by a common name? Either absolutes exist or language is meaningless. Plato.

Metaphysically, according to Plato's preconception, it must share a common nature, even if none is found in our world. Grammatically, according to Wittgenstein's investigation, it doesn't, because none is found -- because, as the public evidence of our language use shows, there is none to be found, and it is nonsense to say that everyone might be mistaken about that evidence (as much as it would be nonsense to say that everyone were insane) (cf. OC § 55).

The word 'must' belongs to either grammar or metaphysics, if by 'metaphysics' we mean "the reality behind the appearances", i.e. reality in contrast to "the merely perceived".

[In physics the word 'must' may mean: "as demanded by the theory of ...", which is akin to a rule and yet which is, if physics is a science, an hypothesis that can be refuted by an anomaly if it is not revised.]

Necessity is either grammar or nonsense (or a metaphysical picture or fantasy, i.e. a thought-experiment with no practical correspondent, which is equivalent to a grammar, i.e. set of rules for using words, is it not? I don't know; I don't know what I am asking. In a case like this examples define the meaning or there isn't one).

Metaphysics belongs to Plato, not to Socrates: recall why Socrates was seeking common-nature definitions, not in metaphysics, but in ethics. And so, contra Russell, I don't for a moment regard logic-of-language as acrostic idleness -- logic is fundamental to the "examined life" and essential "to heal the wounded understanding". At the same time, contra Wittgenstein, logic is only part of philosophy, not the whole. Philosophy's most important question is how we should life our life, and as Plato says, "we are discussing no small matter" when we discuss that question (But logic of language is not less important, but quite the contrary, it is essential to that discussion, as indeed it is an essential part of all philosophy, which is rational investigation).

Plato says in the Parmenides that the meaning of a common name is the common nature it names, but if we cannot perceive those common natures in our world, then if they don't exist as imperceptible absolutes, common names are without meaning. But on the other hand, if the absolutes are imperceptible and therefore unknowable in our world, then how can they be used to define common names (a standard that cannot be referred to is as good as no standard)?

If there are no absolutes, then is knowledge possible? And if knowledge is not possible, then how can language be possible -- i.e. how would we know what we were saying when we used common names (Would our language not simply be noise)?

When Wittgenstein looked for the common nature of games and found none -- and accepted that there is none -- that was not an answer to Plato's question, but a turning away from Plato's question to ask a different one instead, not "What is the meaning the word?" (for 'meaning' suggests an essence), but "What is the word's use in the language?"

"Whatever can be put into words can be put clearly"

Query: Wittgenstein. What are the three words?

But according to Wittgenstein nothing of the greatest importance can be put into words -- or, rather, into words that are not "nonsense". The "three words" is a metaphor: there are no actual three words. (What would they be? For Socrates, I think they would be: 'I don't know' (Phaedrus 235c).) But for what Wittgenstein meant, see the TLP's Preface: "and how little is accomplished when these problems are solved". Thus the book's motto: "... and whatever a man knows, whatever is not mere rumbling and roaring that he has heard, can be said in three words" (tr. Pears, McGuinness).

Query: wisdom as knowing one's ignorance.

Knowing one's ignorance belongs to "Know thyself" -- i.e. to knowing your own limits both as man and as an individual. That is the aspect of Greek wisdom that Socrates made clear. Because no one "knows himself" who imagines he knows what he does not know.

Query: Socrates, Plato, objective truth.

Is there such a thing as subjective truth -- i.e. isn't all truth objective. The concept 'knowledge' -- can the concepts 'truth' and 'objective' be divorced from 'knowledge' or from each other; aren't their grammars fused? Nevertheless, this is correct: something objective is what both Socrates and Plato (Gorgias 454e) seek. (The expression 'objective knowledge' is a pleonasm, like 'objective standard'.)

Query: Euthyphro: what would an Athenian say holiness is?

That is precisely what Socrates does not want. Guthrie on universality: Socrates wants to know what everyone, everywhere (not merely in Athens) must say holiness is -- because holiness, in Socrates' view, belongs to objective reality not merely to custom, opinion or convention.

Absolute value versus absolute rationality

Query: ethics is not natural.

Is man not a part of nature then? Not in his own eyes. Yet, if we see him as a part of nature, then ethics, which is a product of his own reflections (thinking about the world) is also a product of nature. That ethics is natural and rational is Socrates' view. Wittgenstein's view was just the opposite, that ethics is supernatural and non-rational.

Ethics is not a product of non-human nature would be a neutral form for this query, and also a true proposition: human ethics versus nature's values. And what does that tell us about the world? (We know one ancient reaction: "You alone of all creation shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.")

"Nature's values are not our values." What does that tell us about the world -- why shouldn't nature produce a creature that is at war with it? (Fundamental to nature is dysfunctionality.)


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