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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'. Language-meaning -- Wittgenstein vs. Socrates, the contrast between a semi-serviceable and an unserviceable logic of language.)

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. Some of the following remarks are quite rough-draft, first blush.


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Did Socrates ask for real or verbal definitions?

Note: this continues the discussion of Socrates Logic of Language in contrast to Wittgenstein's Logic of Language. And it may need to be amended by the light of the conceptual and factual principle that concepts define things, not things concepts (Philosophers do not lasso nebulosities [clouds] with butterfly nets). Or it may not.

Did Socrates have "a logic of language" -- i.e. did he have a method for making a distinction between verbal sense and nonsense? Or should we say that Socrates was asking for real definitions rather than verbal ["nominal"] definitions? According to Aristotle, a real definition ["a proposition, by no means arbitrary, and subject to contradiction" (Pascal)] would state the essence of a thing, and the essence of a thing would not belong to "grammar" [convention]: according to Aristotle the essence of a thing belongs to the thing itself.

Thus was Socrates asking for "grammar", or was he asking for the essence of the thing -- 'thing' but not as if 'thing' meant here an object rather than a phenomenon ('love', for example, is not the name of an object) -- itself? 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 his "logic of language"?

If the meaning is the essence, and the essence is, as it were, a quality of the object itself, a property of the object itself, rather than a convention for using a word [sign: ink marks on paper, spoken sounds, the physical-only part of language], then can we speak of a "logic"? I don't think so. Rather it looks more like we would have a kind of science -- a science of meaning as it were; or you could say the "scientific meaning" of [the thing] a word [stands for], that is to say a real definition, not a verbal definition; the verbal definition would be the "logical meaning" of the word. The "scientific definition" would be the real definition [meaning] of the word -- or rather, No, not the real definition of the word: the real definition of the thing (versus the verbal definition of the word).

So did Socrates have a logic of language or did he have a science of meaning? But, according to Aristotle, Socrates did not hold that the essence had a separate existence from the thing -- i.e. from particular things. Yes, but how is that relevant to logic, that observation of Aristotle's? If the essence of what a common name stands for belongs [somehow, but I don't know how] to the thing itself rather than to grammar, it does not matter whether the essence has as it were a separate existence as a Platonic Form or not. Only if essence belongs to grammar is there a logic, as opposed to a science, of language.

Why look for what all applications of the word 'virtuous' 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 virtuousness is", for the something real that unites all the things that are said to be virtuous, because if I know what all virtuousness has in common then I shall know what virtue is and therefore how I must act in any and all cases: I shall have the key; this was the wisdom that Socrates sought. This something-in-common [shared essence] has an independent existence [not from its instantiation in particular things, but from the conventions of our language]: it is not a matter of convention. If the good were a matter of convention, what importance would it have for Socrates? It would have none: Socrates wanted to know what made a man good, whatever goodness may be in itself, not the arbitrary rules for applying the word 'good'. [Goodness is not arbitrary: a "value" which is a matter of convention (social, legal, e.g.) is not an ethical value.]

This is not clear. It is completely unclear. I can do nothing with language written in the old way of philosophizing.

Maybe the distinction between verbal and real definitions if applied to Socrates is anachronistic. Perhaps either he did not make that distinction at all, or, if he did, he regarded it as of no importance. "A distinction without a difference", as it were.


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))

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 ["the 'because' does not relate to a cause" (RPP i § 217)]], then a time-traveler might well, as we say "go back in time", smoother his own grandmother in her cradle, and yet this would have no effect upon whether or not he existed in a future time [and yet nonetheless still be born], because in the picture we have imagined there is no causality between events in the sequence of time [Time as a collection of discrete packets, limitlessly reconfigurable]. ["Belief in the causal nexus is superstition" as if this might be applied to every event (which would makes our word 'cause' meaningless).]

According to Gilson (somewhere, I believe, in his Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages), in some Medieval versions of Islam there is no causality between events, because if Event-B were caused by Event-A, this would be causal determinism -- i.e. if Event-B were determined by Event-A, then this determination would be independent of the will of God, and that would be contrary to that religion's doctrine. But if there is no causality between events, then a person might "travel back in time" ["visit another time"], strangle his own grandmother in her cradle and yet be born nonetheless. There simply is no relationship between the events.

You could not "go back in time" and murder your grandmother a century ago, before your own mother was born, because a century ago you did not exist: you weren't a player in the events. You can suppose: Suppose my grandmother had not married my grandfather; you cannot, however, suppose that you were born before your mother was born.

Can you travel in time to a time when you did not exist either in the past or in the future? 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 questions are conceptual, of course, about concepts constructed by following grammatical analogies: they are entirely a matter of constructing pictures. It is not hypothetical [i.e. answerable to any evidence]; it is purely conventional. It is essentially a picture with no correspondent reality. The pictures of time travel are entirely arbitrary: you can make any rules [of the game] you like. Entirely arbitrary because their axioms are entirely arbitrary, and they [the pictures] are answerable to nothing other than consistency with their axioms, like deductive geometry. It is idle speculation.

So make this rule -- or make its contrary or any variation: when the time traveler did not exist either in the past or the future [And 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?], the time traveler can only be an observer of events, not an actor in events, because the time traveler did not exist before his birth or after his death.

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 physical object 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?

"Reality isn't changed by our conceptions of it." No, but we are changed by our conceptions. ["Our thinking changes us, but it doesn't change reality."] It makes no sense to ask whether there is a reality independent of our conceptions of it, but only in what ways is it independent.

Suppose we wanted to give a definition in the manner of Socrates, according to Aristotle, of time [But is this a real or a verbal definition? what would a "real definition of time" even look like? I have no idea]: that is, we are to say what all instances of time have in common and what makes time different from everything else -- i.e. we are to mark off the limits of this category. Time is a ... that is ... What will we say if all we have in front of us is the type of pictures that Augustine had?

An Animal that uses Language

What is wrong with Aristotle's "Man is a rational animal" [categorical definition: "Man is an animal that is rational"]? Nothing perhaps, but what does it mean -- 'to be rational'? Principally, to use language as a tool for reasoning, I think. And now we do not look so rational. Language both preserves our sanity, and fosters our insanity, or ignorance ("Everything functional is also dysfunctional"; cf. CV p. 72).

But this is somewhat an empirical 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 'Watch out!' e.g. is not.

Need to say that the use of reason is the specific excellence (areté) that is proper to man also be to say that the use of reason is unique to man?

"Potential Energy"

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

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' sounds as if it had been taken over from Aristotle.) I feel inclined to respond that I have never seen this potential energy and that I suspect that it is 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. [It should be 'pictures' rather than 'metaphors', or: 'metaphors without application' -- i.e. only "apparent metaphors", rather than "metaphor, vagueness and confusion".]

So, then, this is a case where the meaning really is determined by the method of verification, although the absence of such a method in this case would not make the expression meaningless (Fairy tale expressions are not meaningless, but the pictures they suggest to us are not verifiable either; they do not state hypotheses).


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

Note: this continues the discussion Imagination and the Persistence of Textbook-Grammar.

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 people [tribe] who did not use or understand counter-factual statements? a people who could not be taken beyond their objection that "But geese do not talk"? "Yes, but if ..." -- "But geese do not talk." How would this people's life be different from ours with respect to philosophical problems (muddles arising from [caused by] a misunderstood logic of language)? [This wants thinking about, and it should begin with a story about their life.]

"Let's pretend" as a "form of life": imagination, grammatical confusion, metaphysics, but also hypothesis formation, myth-making.

Query: children language fantasy, origin philosophy.

I certainly think -- but this is only conjecture (What would be needed to make this an [scientific] hypothesis rather than an unfalsifiable myth?) -- that this is one source or origin of philosophy. Would not philosophy be very different if it were "nonsense" ["meaningless sounds" -- i.e. undefined language, but "in some way" [i.e. in some tribe's logic of language (perhaps: logical possibility would be identical with empirical possibility; or perhaps in this tribe's "form of life" logical possibility would not exist: the people simply would not have the imagination for it)] necessarily undefined --] to invent stories where dolls and coffee pots talked? And such fairy tales appeal to no-one so much as to small children, although those stories are written by adults.

The relation between syntax and meaning

Wild conjecture about the origins of philosophy is very different, however, from the 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. 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 for which we have uses are also used to construct combinations of words for which we have no use. 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). -- But it is not a contradiction. And this shows that philosophers (metaphysicians) 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 e.g. 'This is beautiful and this is not beautiful' is claimed to be).

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 of use, because the principle of contradiction is about form and before language can be true or false it must first be meaningful. 'This is a chair and this is not a chair' is a contradiction, but it has a use [meaning] and it would not be false if 'this' were used to point to the same object twice; it would instead be meaningless. [This needs further explication (i.e. more thought).]

[To respond to the query as Socrates' dialectician 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" we call 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".]


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. 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, 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 did such-and-such? Normally only one description would be given to identify a person: "George Washington was the first president of the United States of America." And then everything else would be facts or falsehoods about an object that has already been identified -- i.e. these statements of fact would not belong to the grammar of the name 'George Washington'. But:

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 accounting for evil

The Yahweh of the Old Testament as a tribal god among other tribal gods makes sense; but Yahweh as a monotheistic-God makes no 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.) Or again, polytheism makes sense, monotheism does not. Or again, a single all-powerful, all-knowing God makes no sense. While it makes sense to call a god or the gods good, but what might it mean to call God good? Evil becomes inexplicable if there is only one God, which is to say that 'God is good' makes no sense. But, on the other hand, 'God is good' is a rule of the game, because otherwise God -- i.e. the concept 'God' -- cannot function as the explanation we want (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). Greek or Hindu gods and demons may be capricious -- because there are many Greek and Hindu gods and demons -- and therefore one can believe that some gods can be looked toward for goodness and justice. Monotheism's God's goodness is conceptually necessary, but empirically impossible [inconsistent with all experience]. Why 'necessary'? Because what use would we have for a capricious monotheistic-God -- i.e. for that concept -- in our life.

[There is an earlier discussion: Is the word 'God' a name? (Philosophy of Religion)]


A Picture World of Reasoned Mythology

Metaphysics (Speculative philosophy as well as theoretical physics): conjecture that either floats entirely free or is allowed to float partially free of any evidence. Some people find this picture-world of reasoned mythology charming. Others find it intolerable: they hate it. Being now free of that academic oppression, I would simply call this picture-world idle [fantasy (escapism)] and leave it alone. [The endless afternoon of metaphysics.]

Plotinus and "plain nonsense"

When, thirty years ago, on my first assignment in Medieval Philosophy class 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 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 '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, is it?

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. But my method is similar to Wittgenstein's: I have read such works as have been agreeable to me (I myself 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 taken hold of particular ideas in them to apply to my own thinking 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." But in my own case, often not so straightaway).

Do you think the text must have 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, 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, 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 implicit assumption being that N.N. has actually said anything meaningful, 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 meaningful." Why should a listener make such assumptions? I never have.

"Try to make the best of it ..." I must confess that I failed to do this: I did not try to learn what my undergraduate 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 Philosophical Investigations is a model of such philosophy. [The importance of common ground ("vagueness, pseudo-metaphor and confusion")])


Density in philosophy

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

... 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? In a word, have the type of intelligence that philosophical thinking requires? Of whom am I asking this? I am not a schoolboy facing exams, nor a would-be academic. Shouldn't I be asking myself instead: Am I conscientious enough to do this work, and, related: is my heart in this work (because if it is not, then how will I be conscientious enough for this work? Philosophy is not done for the sake of something else: it is done for its own sake). 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 [philosophical thinking] demands that we go over the same ground again and again, countless times. This is why Wittgenstein said "Take your time!" (CV p. 80). Because philosophy is not like games that have an end: a winning score, a checkmate, a time limit. In philosophy we are always on the way to a new [better or deeper] understanding, a new way of looking at something; where we come to rest for the moment is not the final resting place. And so the longer we force ourselves to work before resting the better.

"My heart is in the Highlands. My heart is not here." If my heart is not here, oughtn't I to find out where it is and leave philosophy alone? (Socrates did not abandon the post the god Apollo had set for him. And philosophy has always been my life: I don't know any other. Enthusiasm makes the work lighter, but it can no more to be counted on than the weather.) Wittgenstein spoke of the pleasure he took in filling up his notebook with writing (CV p. 36). For me the danger is that filling up the notebook easily replaces thinking deeply about the philosophical question: once the words are written down, I come to a rest, which is far too soon. ["In philosophy, the winner of the race is the one who comes in [finishes, quits] last." (CV p. 34)] The thoughts that suggest themselves to you is not philosophy; criticism of those thoughts is.

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?" There are two questions here: how do I judge myself (my "work"), and, how do others judge me? Which question was I asking?

Suppose someone said: "Mastering a new mathematical calculus does not come easily to me, but I have always been able to do it, and I believe that if I dedicated the time to this work that I could understand even Newton's Principia." -- Suppose someone says: "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.

Just try to write your best, with special attention to this: if you don't know something, make it clear that you don't know it: "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).

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

Often in my writing there are too many smooth transitions which are only apparently smooth. I should indicate where my thoughts have jagged edges -- and leave them that way (CV p. 45, a remark from ca. 1944). Why do I force myself to write essays; how often does my thinking naturally take the form of an essay, with a thesis, an argument, and a conclusion all neatly packaged up? 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 limpid stream). [But even in music, transitions are not necessary: Schumann wrote for the piano compositions without transitions.] Then why don't I write remarks like Wittgenstein did? Partly from fear of imitating himself, although Pascal and Lichtenberg also wrote remarks. 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.

Wittgenstein's conversations with Ramsey and with Sraffa were very important to him, as he noted in the Preface to his Philosophical Investigations; I wish we knew something about the latter.

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 know, although this pretension may only be implicit. (This easily looks like arrogance -- and indeed it is, the arrogance that springs from unacknowledged ignorance.)

[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 unwarranted [unjustified] extension is the very one Socrates spoke of in Plato's Apology. 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.

[Too much praise is to a human being what too much water is to a potted plant. (Root rot = loss of self- knowledge)]

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")

But maybe that comparison isn't apt? Because even a man of "college learning" will readily recognize that he does not understand ancient Greek if he has not studied it. But to recognize that you haven't the knowledge to see, after keeping watch over a field for an hour, whether you have been followed or not, may be difficult -- for haven't you eyes to see and ears to hear!

On the other hand, maybe it is very apt: Compare the physicist who thinks he has the necessary understanding to make pronouncements about God -- isn't the discussion in everyday English, and doesn't he speak English! (The aptness of a comparison lies in showing in just which way B is like A.)

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; that 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. That is "The Fallacy of the Artisans", and 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]. -- And I don't know: is that what I really want? If I know something, but I cannot tell it to others, am I happy? And why not?

"Trees and open country will not teach me," Socrates said, "but men in the city will." Maybe I am drawn to other human beings and am not happy if it is not possible to share ideas with them. But, on the other hand, maybe it is only that I am like a weight-lifter who is not happy if he cannot show the world his muscles; maybe if they are hidden, he feels that he is without any worth. Or maybe I feel that there are certain moral and intellectual values that I must insist on -- and must know how to defend against attack (which I also perceive to be an attack on me). And I can imagine countless other possibilities as well. "Whatever seems right is going to be right, but that only means that we cannot talk about right here" (PI § 258); now, there's a language-game type to think about: introspection's endless night of seeming (i.e. where there is no possibility of verification). This you can only call a form of life, quite unjustifiable or explicable: the search for "motives" [in a psychological schema which we human beings have ourselves invented].

Note: I removed the following from the Introduction to my 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 not the best title word for me to have used; I barely understood the idea and perhaps its choice was pretentious. What else might I have called my Synopsis: The Elements of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language, or, The Foundations of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language? But any title might be misunderstood, especially perhaps the best: The Background [but not historical] of [but not to] Wittgenstein's Logic of Language.

Query: word meaning 'synopsis'.

Perhaps 'summary' (Obscure-in-meaning-synonyms are the words 'abstract' and 'précis'). But what type of summary? "A Summary of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language"? -- No, "A Summary of the Elements of Wittgenstein's Logic of Language"? No, but 'synopsis' suggests that the subject is, not only summarized, but also presented in a bird's-eye view. An outline with short comments following each "heading" (I ..., II ..., A ..., B ..., etc.) might do, if the outline were short enough. Should my "synopsis" be called 'a synopsis' rather than 'a summary of the elements' -- but 'elements' in which sense of that word? A bird's-eye view may suggest a map, and it would be useful if there were a diagram in this case (cf. the diagram suggested by family resemblances) -- but is there in this case? I don't think so ... I give 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 us to use when we examine philosophical questions, problems, muddles.

What was I doing when I wrote the paragraph above? What was I trying to explain? How could I have ever spoken -- i.e. written my "synopsis" -- without a clear notion of the context of my speech -- and yet believe that I was saying something both important and orderly? ... What kind of creature is a human being (Phaedrus 230a) that he must ask what he is and what he is about, if he is to understand -- i.e. come to an understanding -- of himself. Paul: "I am a mystery to myself!" I wrote in Questions without answers: the how-ness of existence is every bit as puzzling as its that-ness [Contra TLP 6.44]. But there are many different levels on which to try to resolve that mystery; knowing thyself philosophically is one of those.

Character or Intelligence

Which would you want more to have: more character or more intelligence? The devil you would! (Why does the devil bother with students of philosophy in Goethe's Faust, Part I? How far would you go for philosophical understanding? is there much limit to what you would sacrifice for it? The devil has no need to visit me.)

[Of course, if virtue is knowledge, then the discussion of character is ... and would be, were it not for base instincts and bad habits, both of which require "character", if by 'character' we mean 'self-control', to overcome.]

Pretensions in philosophy (OC § 549) ... pretensions in life. 'Humility' = 'self-knowledge'. The importance of being 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.

"Where your treasure is, your heart will also be." But I do not have to philosophize. Rubbish, I do have to try to make sense of life "and things" on a philosophical level. -- I have never been attracted to metaphysical or scientific theories or collections of facts, nor to introspection either. That is, there are many "levels", i.e. many points of view, from which to try to "make sense of things" --. But the philosophical level is the only level I have ever been drawn to. This is what I do, what I have always done. And I think it is [judge it to be] good.

But I do not think that I am good: I think I would prefer an increase in intelligence -- the intelligence that is shown in insight; the power to focus [pay attention], according to Wittgenstein (CV p. 35) -- to an increase in character, if I could choose only one. And I do not think that this preference is good. (On the other hand, if I had more character, would not I be more conscientious and therefore my thoughts be more intelligent? But "character" is a characterization of behavior; it does not explain behavior. And, further, if virtue is knowledge, then should not a more intelligent man -- granted, but only if, like Socrates, he directs his intelligence to a philosophical investigation of virtue -- be more virtuous ("have more character") -- than one who is not?)

"Philosophy is just opinions [and ways of looking at things], however reasoned opinions they may be. And everyone has opinions." It says in the Acts of the Apostles [Chapter 17] that the Athenians and the foreigners living among them liked nothing better than to hear and to dispute new ideas. For some this was idle, but for others it was not. Schweitzer spoke of human beings "who have no convictions, and who feel that every opinion is on an equal footing with all others ..." Now, those are human beings I do not understand.


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