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Did Socrates define words or things?

The question of definition arises in Plato's Phaedrus in the discussion of "words about whose meaning we are at variance". According to Aristotle, Socrates' method of definition in ethics is to seek the common nature named by common names, which he does by looking at examples to find what defining quality they have in common. The method of induction is also used when Wittgenstein looks to define the common name 'game'.

How is language-with-meaning (sense) distinguished from "mere sound without sense" (nonsense) in the discussion of philosophical problems? That is the question "logic of language" asks. [The expression 'logic of language' is Wittgenstein's, but it is used here as my jargon).

As I see it, the difference between Wittgenstein and Plato is the difference between a semi-serviceable and an unserviceable logic of language.

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Did Socrates have a logic of language?

Note: this continues the discussion of Socrates' logic of language in contrast to Wittgenstein's logic of language. But this discussion needs to be seen in the light of the principle that concepts define things, not vice versa ["percepts without concepts are blind"] to be seen aright.

Did Socrates have a "logic of language" -- i.e. did he have a method for making a distinction between language with meaning and nonsense in philosophy? Or should I say that Socrates was asking for real rather than verbal definitions? According to Aristotle, a 'real definition' states the essence of a thing, and the essence of a thing does not belong to grammar ["rules for the use of words in the language"] but to nature. [A "real definition" is an hypothesis, "a proposition, [1] by no means arbitrary, and [2] subject to contradiction" (Pascal).]

Thus was Socrates asking for the definition of a word (for its grammar, the convention for its use in the language), or was he asking for the essence of a thing, e.g. of a phenomenon (piety, courage, justice, and the other moral virtues)? If he was asking for the essence of the thing itself, wouldn't that be a real definition? And if he was asking for a real definition, then can we speak of Socrates' "logic of language"?

If the essence is the meaning, and the essence is, as it were, a quality of the thing itself rather than a convention for using a word [which in itself is merely spoken sounds, marks on paper, the physical part of language], then can we speak of a logic ["anything subject to rules"]? Rather it looks like a science of meaning. The verbal definition would be the "logical meaning" of the word, a verbal convention; the "scientific definition" would be the essence of the thing named by the word.

So did Socrates have a logic of language or did he have a science of meaning? Well, "Words are names and the meaning of a name is the (essence of) the thing the word names (and if a thing's essence cannot be identified, then either the word = name is meaningless [empty] or we don't know its meaning)" is a logic of language. Whether it is a serviceable logic of language is another question (see Plato's inconclusive Socratic dialogs). Socrates' logic contrasts with Wittgenstein's logic, according to which not all words [nouns] are names and meaning belongs to grammatical conventions (rules for using words) (PI § 371) rather than to a "thing named".

Why did Socrates look for what all applications of the word 'holiness', for example, have in common if what they have in common is simply a matter of convention [of more or less arbitrary choice]? Socrates was looking for "what holiness is", for the something real that is shared by all holy things, because if he knows what all holy things have in common then he will have a standard by which to judge whether any given thing is holy or not. That standard is the wisdom Socrates sought. (Euthyphro 6d-7d)

The something-in-common [essence] Socrates seeks must have an independent existence [not from its instantiation in particular things, but from the conventions of our language]. If what is virtuous were a mere matter of convention, what significance would it have for Socratic ethics?

"We are taught to imagine objects that we never see ..."

Note: this continues the discussion of imagination and the persistence of textbook-grammar.

Query: children, language, fantasy, origin of philosophy.

I certainly suspect -- but this is only conjecture (What would be necessary to make this a testable hypothesis rather than an unfalsifiable myth?) -- that children's imagination is one source or origin of philosophy. A natural tendency to superstition, to imagine the logically possible. Would not philosophy be very different if there were only "real possibility"?

When a child is told a fairy tale, the child does not object: it finds no trouble with a talking goose. The child accepts this, although it knows full well that geese don't talk. [A magical goose.]

Now that is very important: that children understand the concept 'magic' (that human beings have this concept) -- i.e. they can play "Let's pretend" using counter-factual statements. Can we imagine a tribe that did not use or understand counter-factual statements? a people who could not be taken beyond the objection "But geese do not talk"? -- "Yes, but if ..." -- "But geese do not talk." How would this people's thinking be different from ours with respect to philosophical problems? [Instinct, imagination and language.]

"Let's pretend" as imagination leading to grammatical confusion, metaphysics (Plato's Forms), and also to hypothesis formation in natural science. Man the myth-maker.

The relation between syntax and meaning

Wild conjecture about the origins of philosophy is very different, however, from the apparently demonstrable origins of philosophy in misleading grammatical analogies between different regions of language -- and in a misunderstanding of the relation between syntax and meaning, as found for example in the following query:

Query: is logic really a metaphysical language?

"Is language really a metaphysical logic?" There are syntactic formulas for posing questions, e.g. in this query: verb + noun + adverb + article + adjective + noun. And one has only to replace those variables {verb, noun, adverb, article, adjective} with values (e.g. The variable 'noun' is here replaced with 'logic', 'language'). And what one produces is formally correct; -- but that doesn't guarantee its meaning -- which is not a matter of form but of use on the language. And so rather than the query above, one can ask: "Is language really a metaphysical logic?"

The same formulas that are used to construct combinations of words with meaning can also be used to construct nonsense combinations, i.e. combinations of words for which there is no normal use in the language. On the one hand 'Send me flowers' and on the other 'Milk me sugar' (PI § 498). Normally the combination of words 'Milk me sugar' is nonsense (i.e. undefined language), although it is not a contradiction. And this shows that philosophers who use the principle of contradiction as their "logic of language" have selected a definition of 'nonsense' that classifies much of what we normally call nonsense as sense. I.e. if the only objective guide to meaning is the principle of contradiction, then 'Milk me sugar' is not nonsense (as they claim 'This is beautiful, and this is not beautiful' is, although it is not).

On the other hand it will be said: That principle's purpose is to exclude falsehoods, not to define 'sense' and 'nonsense'. But for that account to be correct, meaning would have to be a matter of form rather than use, because the principle of contradiction is about form and before language can be true or false it must first be meaningful. The proposition 'This is a chair, and this is not a chair' (pointing to different objects) is a contradiction, but it has a use [meaning] in our language -- and it would not be false if the word 'this' were used to point to the same object twice; it would instead be meaningless.

[To respond to the query as Plato's dialectician (Gorgias 457e-458b) would.... In the context of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: the propositions of logic are not propositions of natural science and therefore they are "nonsense" -- i.e. the particular type of "nonsense" Wittgenstein calls metaphysics. But since "nonsense" that conveys meaning is not nonsense, we see that calling logic a "metaphysical language" is to do nothing more than use Wittgenstein's TLP jargon, a system of classification that Wittgenstein invented, not an insight into the "really real".]

A Picture World of Reasoned Mythology

Metaphysics (First Philosophy or Natural Theology (Aristotle), speculative philosophy): conjecture that either floats either partially free or entirely free of experience (When Plato seeks but does not find an essence of virtue, that is both: for it is a fact that if we look (the "inductive method") we do not find "a one [defining] thing in common", but we also do not find Forms (Archetypes) anywhere in this world; Anselm's proof of God's existence, in contrast, floats entirely free of experience). Some seek this speculative picture-world from philosophy. Others find it pointless: they don't want what they see as fantasy from philosophy. There is more than one way to love the truth. [The endless afternoon of metaphysics, and the condition of "vagueness, pseudo-metaphor and confusion".]

Plotinus and "plain nonsense"

When, forty years ago, on my first assignment in Medieval Philosophy I wrote that I felt it was dishonest for me to write about Plotinus because the text seemed to me, not disguised, but "plain nonsense" (cf. PI § 464), our professor patiently wrote as a comment on my essay: "Since you have to be here, try to make the best not the worst of it."

How would you make the best not the worst of Plotinus? Perhaps you would regard his use of language as "picturing" rather than as "patent nonsense" (It had not even looked like "disguised nonsense" to me at first acquaintance), as poetry maybe, although 'a non-metaphorical metaphor' is nonsense. You are forced to play an "invent a sense for the text game", asking yourself, "What might this mean?" Or better: "What can I do with this text?" But we are not willing to do this with every text that is placed before us. Someone places a text before us and says, "This is important!" But I don't know; well, it is for history, but is it for philosophy?

An answer criterion: What are what are you looking for, what do you yourself want from philosophy? The student of philosophy is not an historian, I don't think. But then there is Schweitzer's use of the historical method of Aristotle. But surely that is not the method of youth, or rather, it wasn't of my youth. Maybe I am too impatient. And maybe I am wrong. My method has always been to read such works as have been agreeable to me -- i.e. I have never had patience with the unreadable sentences of "difficult texts"; if an author cannot express himself clearly, I have little time for him -- and I have taken hold of particular ideas to apply to my own thinking in philosophy (cf. CV p. 19: "I have simply straightaway seized on it with enthusiasm for my work .... This is how [list of names] have influenced me").

Thomas Hobbes on Metaphysics

"What might this mean?" Do you think every text must have a meaning? Someone has written a book -- now how do we decide whether the language in it is sense or nonsense? I think that at best Plotinus might encourage someone to have thoughts of his own (thoughts that they attribute to Plotinus although those thoughts may or may not -- how are we to decide? -- be there to be found). And, according to Gilson (God and Philosophy (1941), p. 48-49), this is what happened with Augustine: he found in the text what was not there to be found (according, of course, to Gilson's own reading of the text of Plotinus).

And indeed that which is there written is for the most part so far from the possibility of being understood, and so repugnant to natural reason that whosoever thinketh there is anything to be understood by it must needs think it supernatural. (Hobbes, Leviathan [1651] xlvi, writing about Aristotle's Metaphysics, quoted in Guthrie's Aristotle (1981), p. 49n1. Hobbes here contrasts things knowable to man by the natural light of reason with things requiring divine revelation to be known, or, in other words, he contrasts philosophy with sacred scripture.)

The light of faith guides and completes the natural light of reason, since grace perfects nature. (Thomas Aquinas, De Trinitate 2.3c)

But there are two things here: first, there is my lack of interest in speculative philosophy ("idle philosophy", C.D. Broad's "professional philosophy"), and second: my rejection of philosophy as monologue (in contrast to thesis and cross-question for clarity and truth), with its implicit assumption that what the lecturer is saying is clear, or that if it isn't clear then the difficulty is not in the speaker's language but in the subject matter itself: "Plotinus resorts to poetry to talk about what cannot be talked about in prose". -- In philosophy, that attitude is pure self-mystification by means of language (PI § 109). A "metaphor" that cannot be restated in prose is not a metaphor. If you cannot say it is prose, you cannot say it in poetry either. [Or do you want some other standard for philosophy?]

"We are going to talk about what N.N. has said, our assumption being that N.N. has actually spoken with meaning, that N.N. isn't misunderstanding the logic of our language and uttering nonsense. And we are going to assume that what I am going to say about N.N. is also language with meaning." Why should a listener make such assumptions? I never have.

"Try to make the best of it ..." I failed to do this: I did not try to learn what the lecturers had to teach me. Because they were not doing philosophy the way I wanted it done, and I made no real effort to understand them. (But how do you understand nonsense? I have ever held that philosophy can and must (and this "must" is Socratic) be done in "readable sentences"; Wittgenstein's Blue Book and Philosophical Investigations are models of such philosophy -- but so are Plato's and Xenophon's writings.

Causality and Time-Travel

Note: this continues the discussion of the Philosophy of Time.

The limit of the empirical -- is concept-formation. (RFM iv § 29, p. 237))

Concept-formation requires the imagination to reconceive, but also conceivable regularities of nature.

If we imagine time as a sequence of unrelated events, that is, of not casually determined events, that events are like frames of a cartoon with only apparent casual relationships between frames -- where there is causality only in appearance, e.g. in a cartoon a ball does not fly into the air because someone has kicked it -- then a time-traveler might well, as we say "go back in time", smother his mother in her cradle, and nonetheless still be born, because in the picture we have imagined there is no causality between events in the sequence of time. [The picture: Time as a collection of discrete packets, limitlessly reconfigurable.]

According to Gilson (maybe in Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages), in Medieval Islam there is no causality between events (This is the "occasionalism" of the philosopher-theologian Algazel). Every event occurs because it is freely willed by God; were there causality between events, God would be compelled rather than free, which is absurd.

You could not "go back in time" and murder your mother in her cradle, because at that time you did not exist: you weren't a player in the events. You can't suppose that you were born before your mother was born.

Can you travel in time to a time when you did not exist? Can you then witness your own death without yourself dying as you witness it, and then how will you come back to the present? (Perhaps time-travel is travel in an envelope: you cannot interact with events, but only witness them.)

All these propositions are conceptual, constructed by following grammatical analogies: they are entirely a matter of constructing pictures. They are not hypotheses, but pictures with no correspondent reality. The pictures of time travel are entirely arbitrary: you can make any rules of the game you like.

What is the difference between seeing future events -- or indeed past events -- and only imagining that you are seeing future events or past events: "The history books say, but I see that they are wrong ..." Well, how do you know?

What, then, is time not real?

It is important to [understand, realize] appreciate that we are not talking about anything other than [except, beyond] our own concepts, and not about anything else. We are not talking about any independent reality [There is no object or phenomenon named 'time'], but only about our own conceptions ... of reality, perhaps of reality. Is there any necessary relationship between reality and our concepts in the case of time: to what extent can our concepts float free of reality here?

"Our thinking changes us, but it doesn't change reality." Reality isn't changed by our conceptions of it. No, but we (our thinking, our way of life) are changed by our conceptions. It is possible to ask: (1) whether our perceptions are perceptions of a world outside the mind (metaphysical solipsism), (2) whether there is a reality independent of our conceptions, and (3), if there is, in what ways it is independent. It is possible to ask, but not possible to answer (for these are "eternal questions").

Suppose we want to give a essential definition of time -- or of 'time'? I.e. could our definition be a real or a verbal definition? What would a "real definition of time" (an hypothesis about the nature of time) look like?

The Socratic method of definition, according to Aristotle, is induction: we examine "instances" of time in order to discover what all "instances" of time have in common and what makes time different from everything else -- i.e. our aim is to mark off the limits of the concept [category, class] 'time'. What are the "instances" other than the use of the word 'time' in the language?

But what will we say if all we have in front of us is the kind of picture that Augustine had (BB p. 26)? He asks how time can be measured, because the past is no more, the future is yet to happen, and the present has no extension? (This is the picture of time as a length of ribbon.) Well, what exactly is being measured when time is measured if time is neither an object nor a phenomenon?

The word 'time' has no meaning apart from the way time is measured. "Let the method of measurement tell you what is being measured." If we look, we find that the method of measurement shows no thing ("What o'clock is it?"). The word 'time' is not used to name anything; its role in the language is different (as e.g. in 'space-time coordinate: {x,y,z,t}'. The space-coordinates are addresses; the time-co-ordinate is a number on a clock).

An Animal that uses Language

Is Aristotle's definition "Man is an animal that is rational" mistaken? What does it mean -- 'to be rational'? Principally, to use language as a tool for reasoning, I think; philosophy is discourse of reason. But if I am correct, then now man does not look so rational. Language both preserves our sanity, and fosters our insanity, or ignorance. Everything functional is also dysfunctional.

I think it might be regarded as a basic law of natural history that wherever something in nature "has a function", "serves a purpose", the same thing can also be found in circumstances where it serves no purpose and is even "dysfunctional". (CV p. 72).

But this is both an empirical and a category question if what I read many years ago is true, that crows are believed to have a vocabulary of twenty-four calls, among which are 'farmer' and 'farmer with a gun', which seems to make the crow an animal that uses language. Do crows use that language "rationally" -- i.e. as a tool for reasoning? I don't know. Not every use of language is an instance of using language to reason. The cry 'Danger!' is not, unless it is deduced from the farmer's having a gun: The farmer has a gun; therefore there is danger. Likewise, 'It's safe!' because the farmer has no gun.

Is the use of reason the specific excellence (areté) that is proper and unique to man? But if the use of reason is not unique to man, then is Aristotle's "definition of man" incorrect?

"Potential Energy"

Note: this continues the discussion Preface to my study of the Philosophy of Science.

When we were at school we were told that the cause of its being more difficult to keep your balance if you are walking across a narrow plank that connects the roofs of two tall buildings than it is to keep your balance on the same plank if it is set on the ground is the difference in your "potential energies". The expression 'potential energy' suggested Aristotelian metaphysics (which was the source of Ether), and I felt inclined to respond that I had never seen this potential energy and that I suspected that it was nonsense (foolishness). I do not believe that a bird, even a non-perching bird such as a gull or duck, has any more difficulty walking across even a very narrow plank that is set between two tall buildings than it has walking across a plank that is set on the ground. The bird, unlike the human being, has no need to fear falling.

When I was a boy I always tried to picture this "potential energy" as a shadow added to an object. But, of course, the expression 'potential energy' -- and indeed the word 'energy' -- has meaning only when the question of how energy is to be measured is answered. ['Energy' is defined as a measurement.] Without the method of verification, this language can only give rise to absurd pictures that do not explain the meaning of this language.

So then this is a case where the meaning really is determined by a method of verification -- or by one's absence. The absence of a method would not in this case make the expression meaningless: absurd pictures of shadow realities are nonetheless pictures, despite there being no way to compare these pictures with what they are thought to be pictures of. On the other hand, these pictures do not give a true idea of the use of the expression 'potential energy' in natural science. (PI §§ 305, 351)

The concept 'God' Wobbles

The concept wobbles. "We may say, following Russell: the word 'God' can be defined by means of various descriptions" -- e.g. 'the Creator of the world', 'the Judge of the world', 'Providence' -- "And according as we assume one definition or another, the proposition 'God does not exist' acquires a different sense, and so does every other proposition about God." (cf. PI § 79) But will everyone give the same descriptions? and indeed aren't I willing to adopt now this, now that description, based e.g. on the particular religion or religious believer I am talking about? and do I always know which descriptions I intend (i.e. where I do, or where I would, set the limits) when I talk about God? Wittgenstein compared a word like this, one without a strict meaning, to the type of table with four legs: sometimes it wobbles, which makes it less useful than a table with only three legs which does not. "Should it be said then that I am using a word whose meaning I don't know, and therefore am talking nonsense?" (ibid.)

But we don't want this concept [this grammar] to wobble. It is too important to us. Thus (or, maybe thus) many sects have collections of dogmas (doctrines) that all believers of the sect must accept ("community of ideas" versus "community of human beings"). Does it really matter if a concept wobbles, however? For example, Schweitzer wrote that in philosophy he did not use the word 'God' because he did not want to talk in philosophy about anything that was outside his experience, but that "When I must use the language of traditional religious idioms, however, then I employ the word 'God' in its historical definiteness and indefiniteness" (Letter of 2 January 1924). And what other account of the grammar of the word 'God' can be given, for as we normally use that word we do indeed use it in its "historical definiteness and indefiniteness". Our normal concept just does wobble (and in this case unclarity seems not to be a blunder). The descriptions we accept may vary from person to person and from time to time for individual persons; but none of those descriptions is defining. (Of course, one might say that any description of God is nonsense, because all descriptions of God are anthropological ("creator", "judge" e.g.); but they are not metaphorical, because they cannot be restated in prose.)

On the other hand, in the case of proper names Russell's "Theory of Descriptions" is mythology, because: that is not how we were taught [how we learned] to use [how we acquired] language, and it is not the explanation of meaning that would naturally occur to us were we asked to explain what we meant, unless we were specifically asked: Do you mean the one who e.g. did such-and-such? Normally only one description would be given to identify a person: "Christopher Columbus was the discoverer of America." And then everything else would be facts or falsehoods ("navigator born in Genoa", "captain of the Santa Maria", "departed Spain in 1492", "sailed west to go east") about the one who had already been identified -- i.e. these statements of fact would not belong to the grammar of the name 'Christopher Columbus'.

In contrast, in the case of mythological beings, e.g. Zeus, and [the example Wittgenstein actually gives] Moses (PI § 79), normally we would say: the character who is found in such-and-such book(s), and then the only questions of facts about this being would be questions about what the book(s) said or did not say about him. I.e. there are no statements of fact (hypotheses that can be put to the tests of experience) about Zeus and Yahweh and so on. How we should define Wittgenstein's term 'grammar' in the case of mythology (fairy tales), however, is not always easy to say.

Polytheism, monotheism, and evil

Neither polytheism nor monotheism makes sense. (But what do I mean by the word 'sense' here? I mean: stands up to the tests of reason and experience; by 'makes no sense' I do not mean here: 'is nonsense' -- i.e. undefined combinations of words.) Polytheism fails the test of reason, while monotheism fails the test of experience. Euripides: If gods do evil, then they are not gods is a first principle (what we mean by 'divinity': the gods are higher, not less noble than man). Thus belief in capricious gods, although consistent with experience, is superstition. But a single all-powerful, all-benevolent God makes no sense, because evil becomes inexplicable if there is only one god. The proposition 'God is goodness' is a rule of the game, because otherwise God -- i.e. the concept 'God' -- cannot function as the explanation we seek (because we know only too well that evil exists) or be turned to for help (because he is equally likely to do evil as good). Monotheism's God's thoroughgoing benevolence is conceptually necessary, but empirically impossible [inconsistent with all experience]. Why 'necessary'? Because what use would we have for a capricious God -- i.e. for that concept -- in our life?

[There is a much earlier discussion: Is the word 'God' a name? (Philosophy of Religion) And there is a much later discussion: Superstition and religion, a distinction (Bonhoeffer).]

Density in philosophy

Note: this continues the discussion in the Introduction to Wittgenstein's Logic of Language, namely am I too stupid for philosophical work? Well, what are we calling 'stupid' in philosophy, and does that contrast with 'not having many brains' or something else?

... my misfortune is that I have fallen into a magic circle from which there is no escape. (Chekhov, Ward No. 6, xvi)

Have I fallen into a magic circle, an illusion about myself, that I have the kind of intelligence needed for philosophical thinking? But shouldn't I be asking myself instead: Am I conscientious enough to do this work? And that is not an answer to but a rejection of a rather vague [bordering-on-undefined] question of fact, in favor of looking at my life [how I live] from the point of view of ethics.

Philosophy demands that we go over the same ground again and again, countless times. This is why Wittgenstein said "Take your time!" and "In philosophy the winner of the race is the one who comes in [finishes, quits] last" (CV p. 80, 34). Because philosophy is not like games that have an end: a winning score, a checkmate, a time limit. In philosophy we can always seek a new and deeper understanding, a new way of looking at things.

The thoughts that suggest themselves to you is not philosophy; criticism of those thoughts is.

Socrates did not abandon the post the god Apollo had set for him. And even bad soldiers are assigned posts. Philosophy has always been my life: I don't know any other.

When you philosophize you put yourself on trial, your integrity, your honesty. There is no authority in philosophy beyond your own individual understanding of right and wrong. This is a great burden. (Quotations from memory)

"Am I too dense?" Suppose someone said: "I can learn anything that can be learned?" Maybe this is a good motto, but I would be deeply skeptical about it as an assertion.

The most important thing is write with special attention to this: if you don't know something, make it clear that you don't know it (Plato, Apology 21d, 22e). And with attention to this as well: "I have not thought this all the way through." I have done that in some places, but in other places -- Philosophy of Mathematics e.g. -- maybe I have not done it enough. Wittgenstein told Malcolm that he would like to make mimeographs of his manuscript (later published as Part I of Philosophical Investigations) for his friends so that he could add in parentheses after some of the remarks: "This is not quite right" or "This is fishy" (Ludwig Wittgenstein: a Memoir, 2nd ed. (1984), p. 75-76).

You must be clear about the limits of what you know. "Confess thine ignorance." The importance of knowing what it is that you do not know. The importance of being clear about the limits of what you do know. If you do not actively question where the limits are, then you will not know them, and you will assume that they are much further away than they are.

If philosophy is a river, it is a river of cataracts

How often does my thinking naturally take the form of an essay, with a thesis, an argument, and a conclusion? A Socratic dialog is not an essay. [Wittgenstein doubted that it was of any value for him to try to force his thoughts into an "ordered sequence" (ibid. p. 28; a remark from 1937), which is what an essay is.] Philosophy is not musical composition, and even then: Bruckner's music, in contrast to Wagner's, is not characterized by transitions, but by blocks of sound (Schönzeler, Bruckner, rev. ed. 1978, p. 164; e.g., I'd say, most clearly in the Intermezzo of the original version of Bruckner's String Quintet), and that here I want to contrast remarks (blocks) with essays (a stream). [But even in music, transitions are not necessary: Robert Schumann wrote for the piano compositions without transitions.] Wittgenstein thought and wrote "remarks" -- but so did Pascal and Lichtenberg. My thinking comes naturally to me in remarks (blocks of ideas). That is part of why I created these pages of philosophical notes, the other being to have a place for topics of only a few paragraphs, because about some things I have very little to say, and yet I do think what I have to say about them is mostly worth saying.

If I argued about philosophy with someone, then my ideas might be much better than they are. As it is, the only criticism of my ideas is self-criticism.

Pretensions ("Know thyself!")

If you have grown old without growing wise (King Lear i, 5), you continue to think you know what you don't know. What does "Know thyself" mean in Socratic philosophy?

When you have studied, been to school, or when you have studied and learned a bit, especially if what you have learned has cost you a lot of effort, you easily fall into the pretension of now thinking that you know or understand far more than you do know, although this pretension may only be implicit.

[Pretensions are a mortgage which burdens a philosopher's capacity to think.] (OC § 549)

The pretension to know or to understand far more than you do. "Is my understanding only blindness to my own lack of understanding?" (ibid. § 418) It should more often seem so, but it does not.

Again, because you know some things from what you have studied with care, you also imagine that you know other things that you have not studied with care, and you regard yourself as knowing more than those who have not studied at all or who have not studied with seriousness. This unjustified extension is the very one Socrates spoke of in Plato's Apology as the fallacy of the artisans:

Socrates found that men -- artisans e.g. -- who indeed did understand things that Socrates did not understand, and who "to that extent were wiser than I was", also on that basis imagined that they understood things that they did not understand. (Apology 22d-e)

Examples of this presumption are the often absurd visits to philosophy of the physicist Arthur Eddington, and the presumption of the super-rich businessman who because of his knowledge of business regards himself as a social luminary, qualified to teach society wisdom and to play god in his selection of which social problems his "philanthropy" is directed toward. There is also the example of Albert Einstein and the Atom Bomb. And of Wittgenstein with regard to Bach. And of other physicists who think they have the necessary understanding of philosophy to make pronouncements about God.

[Too much praise is to a human being what too much water is to a potted plant. (Root rot = loss of knowledge of one's own limits)]

Query: why do men talk about things they know nothing about?

Because, like the artisans Socrates questioned, we think we do know something about them.

But that's the strange thing about you folk of the college learning: ye're ignorant, and ye cannae see't. Wae's me for my Greek and Hebrew; but, man, I ken that I dinnae ken them -- there's the differ of it. Now, here's you. Ye lie on your wame a bittie in the bield of this wood, and ye tell me that ye've cuist off these [Highlanders]. Why! Because I couldnae see them, says you. Ye blockhead, that's their livelihood. (R.L. Stevenson, David Balfour, Chapter 11, "The Wood by Silvermills")

Were it always easy to distinguish what you know from what you only fancy you know but do not, Socratic philosophy would not be so difficult ... and yes, it is difficult.

"Cobbler, stick to thy last"

Distinguish between what you know (how to do) and what you don't know (how to do). The shoe-maker knows how to make shoes, but it does not follow that he also knows how to mend kettles and pots, which is what a tinker knows how to do.

Just as a ploughman knows how to make the earth fruitful, a huntsman how to call a fox, a statesman how to govern men and an admiral how to wage war at sea, the doctor how to set broken bones, the scientist how to discover medicines and invent theories or bombs, and the businessman how to make money.

All these tradesmen or professionals are prey to the foolishness of the artisans Socrates questioned -- i.e. of presuming that because they know one thing, they also know other things that they don't know. And that's why ethics ("no small matter, but how to live one's life") is based on humility (or, self-knowledge) -- i.e. on knowing one's own limits.

"The Bird's-eye View"

A thinker is like a draughtsman who would like to represent all the interconnections among things. (CV p. 12 [MS 153a 90v: 1931]) [Perspicuous representation]

What the draughtsman (philosopher) really wants is not to present "a bird's-eye view" -- but the bird's-eye view. Plato reasoned that, "so long as we keep to the body", this truth ["absolute truth"] is denied us. But that picture seems to imply that seeing will take the place of saying [discursive language]. Well, that is the Socratic standard in philosophy. Do you want some other?

Note: I removed the following from the Introduction to the Synopsis, because I am in doubt about whether it applies:

The word 'synopsis' means 'overview' (as in "bird's-eye view"), a view that shows the relations among all the parts of something, as in the various ways that maps do. Here the word is an allusion to Wittgenstein's word Übersicht (overview, survey). This is the view from above, such as a bird might see. It tries to be a complete view.

I don't think that 'synopsis' is the best title word I could have used; I barely understood the idea and perhaps its choice was pretentious. What else might I have called the Synopsis: The Elements of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language, or, The Foundations of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language, or, The Tools of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language, or, The Background [but not historical] of [but not to] Wittgenstein's Logic of Language? But the best title for the Introduction and Synopsis would have simply been: Wittgenstein's Logic of Language.

Query: word meaning 'synopsis'.

Perhaps 'summary' or 'abstract' (or, obscurely, 'précis') or 'overview'? But what type of summary? "A Summary of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language"? Maybe. "A Summary of the Elements of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language"? An outline with short comments following each "heading" (I ..., II ..., A ..., B ..., etc.) might do, if the outline were short enough. Should the "synopsis" be called 'a synopsis' rather than 'a summary of the elements'?

The expression 'bird's-eye view' may suggest a map -- but what I present instead is an account of Wittgenstein's jargon-concepts. I begin with 'grammar', which is not an element among other elements ... indeed, are there elements, or aren't those so-called elements simply clarifications of the meaning of 'grammar'? ... No, rather say that 'grammar' is the name of the toolbox, and that in that toolbox are things like Wittgenstein's metaphors ('language game', 'family resemblance') and his definitions ('meaning', 'sign') ... Those are the tools in the logician's toolbox -- or, according to Wittgenstein, in the philosopher's toolbox -- the tools of "the art of reasoning", the tools Wittgenstein offered for use when we examine philosophical questions, problems, muddles.

Character or Intelligence

Which would you most want to have more of: ethical character or intellectual sharpness and quickness? The devil you would! How far would you go for real philosophical understanding? is there much limit to what you would sacrifice for it? (The devil has no need to visit you.)

But I don't have to philosophize. Rubbish. I do have to try to make sense of our existence and the difficulties with trying to make sense of it (reason, experience) on a philosophical level. I have never been drawn to metaphysical or scientific theories or collections of facts, nor to introspection either. That is, there are many "levels" and points of view from which to try to "make sense of things". But the logical-philosophical level is the only level I have ever been drawn to. That is what I do, what I have always done. Anything else is unworthy of a man (Apology 37e-38a).

And I think that is good. But I do not think that I am good, and I think I would prefer an increase in intelligence -- that is, in insight, in the power to focus [pay attention] -- to an increase in character, if I could choose only one. And I do not think that this preference is good.

On the one hand, if I had more character, wouldn't I be more conscientious and therefore my thoughts be more intelligent? But "character" is a characterization of behavior; it does not explain behavior. On the other hand, if virtue is knowledge, then shouldn't a more intelligent man be more virtuous ("have more character") -- than one who is not? Only if intelligence = knowledge of the good, of how to live our life (or in other words, virtue), which it does not.

It says in the Acts of the Apostles [17.21] that the Athenians and the foreigners living among them liked nothing better than to hear and to dispute new ideas. It seems that I like nothing better than to hear and dispute old ideas. But there is only the limit of imagination to new ways of responding to the old ideas.

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