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In the beginning ... there was no plan

In its place there is the non-rational deed. And so it continues to be, with creation followed by destruction: meaning and its negation is the deed of nature.

That is the natural world in contrast to the instinct of man that expects there to be an ethical plan in nature, which it does not find.

Topics on this page ...

Context: these are logic of language remarks (That expression comes from Wittgenstein's TLP, but in my jargon it means: how the distinction between sense, i.e. language with meaning, and nonsense in philosophy is made), but they are also, and just as importantly, general philosophy notes.


The Deed versus the Word

If we consider Goethe's "In the beginning was the deed", this is useful because as Schweitzer said we find no overall purposiveness in nature; and so, contra Lichtenberg -- ("So what can a man do where he sees so clearly that what lies in front of him is not the whole plan?" (Quoted in Drury's The Danger of Words (1973), p. 115)) -- we should say that there is no plan -- i.e. it is not a question of what you should do "if you clearly see that what you see is not the whole plan": it is, in this context, the question of whether there is any reason to think that there is a plan at all. The deed "is there" (OC § 559), but whether there is a plan ("the Word", the meaning) behind it is another question; and an affirmative answer would not be consistent with our experience of nature's lack of overall purposiveness; what we find instead is activity only.

[Of course the deed is unintelligible (without meaning) without the word, as a percept is without a concept. "In the beginning there was apparent only chaos, but the Lord said Let there be light! and thus the world was made intelligible to man." Well, but is that what happened? (Isaiah 55.8-9) Paul says "Now we see in part ..." What is the part that we do see? Only, according to Socrates, that what the good is for man can be seen and that good is the life of rational moral virtue. That is the part of "Know thyself" that is possible for man.]

The ethical riddle of the natural world

We cannot understand what happens in the universe. What is glorious in it is united with what is full of horror. What is full of meaning is united to what is senseless. The spirit of the universe is at once creative and destructive -- it creates while it destroys and destroys while it creates, and therefore it remains to us a riddle. And we must inevitably resign ourselves to this.

The earth existed long before man came upon it.... Who knows but that the earth will circle round the sun once more without man upon it?...

And our gaze must be fixed on the barred windows of a lunatic asylum, in order that we may remember the terrible fact that the mental and spiritual are also liable to destruction. (Schweitzer, "Religion in Modern Civilization", Gifford Lectures, October 1934, reprinted in Seaver (1947), p. 340-341)

Our sanity is at the mercy of a molecule. (DW p. 134)

That it makes no sense to us that the world (existence) is without meaning ("How can it possibly be that reality is without meaning!" we ask ourselves) tells us something about the human way of thinking, about how man looks at things (anthropologically).

But why must the world have a sense -- i.e. a reason and a plan for being? Only because the human mind demands that it have one. In other words, because it is a requirement not the result of an investigation (PI § 107). Instead of asking, "Has it a meaning?", we asked instead, "What is its meaning?" And finding none we were disillusioned. That is not the philosophical way of doing things.

Philosophy goes down to the foundations -- i.e. to what is "elementary" (or, "most basic"), in Schweitzer's phrase -- whereas our thoughts have been dwelling in a superstructure that we received in childhood. We thought that we were thinking for ourselves, but we were not. That the world "must" have a meaning -- that a word (i.e. plan) "must" precede the deed -- belongs to our inherited frame of reference (A frame of reference is a superstructure). We must remove the eyeglasses that are the source of that presumption from our noses (ibid. § 103) -- if we are to think philosophically. This was what Albert Schweitzer was able to do with respect to world-view ("Nature- and Life-Philosophy"), and Ludwig Wittgenstein with respect to "the logic of our language".

The religious view of this is that the world, the universe does have a meaning, but that its meaning is beyond man's ability to understand ("the thoughts of God"). This faith may fill a human heart with joy and peace -- or it may be unavailable to an individual. (This view also belongs to the human form of life.) "There are more things in heaven and earth", etc., it says in Hamlet, and presuming that there are not is mankind's original sin in philosophy -- namely, thinking he knows what he does not know.

Nature is sometimes cruel, sometimes kind, following laws of its own. But to man it all seems gratuitous. Why does it seem that way? "Because if a man acted thus capriciously, we would say of him ..."

And so it seems that from the ethical point of view, nature is meaningless, i.e. without meaning, incomprehensible. But by the word 'meaningless' we don't always mean 'incomprehensible'. If we say that from the ethical point of view nature is incomprehensible, we are not saying that a combination of words is "mere sound without sense" (i.e. nonsense in Wittgenstein's definition of 'nonsense'). We are saying that we have a picture of how nature should be, but we find that it is not that way.

Should we say that our finding is not the result of our investigation (PI § 107)? But our investigation does not require that nature be incomprehensible from the ethical point of view, but it reports what we find when we look at nature, and when we look we see no ethical pattern in natural events. All we can say is that the ethical point of view seeks an ethical pattern -- because ethics is about possibilities, i.e. choices a human being can make, although what would it mean to say that nature has choices it can make?

A point of view may be compared to a preconception [or it may be a preconception? But what distinction would I be making by saying that it might be either? None]. What do we mean by 'incomprehensible'? 'not able to be understood' from a particular point of view.

Asking versus telling. Telling only leads to asking. There is only an endless question-and-answer-and-cross-question in philosophy.

"There is no reason. Reasons are always found afterwards"

This is apropos of the answerless question I think Schweitzer asks, 'Why does man want to live? What is he aiming at?'

I did not know the reason why part of me wanted to live, nor the reason why part of me did not want to. I knew, rather, that there was no more reason for one than for the other, that there is no reason for anything, that reasons are always found afterwards. There is only the unreasoning, irrational will to do one thing or another; useful, useless, that's beside the point, what does it mean? Everything is necessary, everything is superfluous. I had to make a spontaneous choice, a spontaneous choice. (Ionesco, "The Slough" (1956), tr. Stewart (1967), p. 115)

"... that reasons are always found afterwards." On the one hand there is the question of whether there is reason (i.e. justification) to live rather than not to live, as such, for which there is none. But on the other hand there is the question of whether there is reason to live one way rather than another, for which there is or rather are reasons. And yet despair which cripples life over the first question is only too possible. For nothing matters and everything matters -- that is the paradox of our existence.

"So that the blind pangs even of beasts ..."

... that while Humanity-Religion endeavored to abolish suffering the Divine Religion embraced it, so that the blind pangs even of beasts were within the Father's Will and Scheme ... that while from one angle one color only of the web of life was visible -- material, or intellectual, or artistic -- from another the Supernatural was as eminently obvious. Humanity-Religion could only be true if at least half of man's nature, aspirations and sorrow were ignored. Christianity, on the other hand, at least included and accounted for these, even if it did not explain them. (Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World (1907), ii, 3, 2)

In Albert Schweitzer's view Christianity is an ethical, not an explanatory, religion. But Robert Hugh Benson says that Divine Religion "accounts" for the suffering of innocents by saying it is part of God's Scheme, a scheme which cannot be explained although it must be accepted [Isaiah 55.8-9] by Catholic Christians. In contrast, Schweitzer does not go so far as to presume that God would have such a scheme (What part of "not explanatory" don't you understand).

"... the suffering of animals is within the Father's Will and Scheme." A Christian like Thomas Arnold would seem forced to agree to that proposition, although Arnold found the mere existence of beasts too distressing a question to even think about.

Contrast the Catholic Christian view of "the Father" with Euripides' rational view that if gods do evil, then there are no gods. Because for the Greeks God commands that the good be done because it is good (quite independently of God), which is quite unlike the Old Testament doctrine that "the good is whatsoever God commands"; so that even if what God commands isn't good, man must accept that somehow it really is good (never mind that silencing reason that way is inconsistent with the rational knowing of good and evil [rational moral virtue] that is the specific and unique excellence proper to man's nature).

"Humanism", but not in the Classicist sense

By 'Humanity-Religion' the author seems to mean the worship of man as the World Spirit becoming conscious of itself; Hegel's idea. In Humanity-Religion death is simply the Spirit returning to itself, so that there is no personal immortality; there is no final judgment. There is nothing whatever higher than man, the highest expression of the World Spirit, himself and his collective happiness, which means the abolition of all suffering, including through involuntary euthanasia.


Schweitzer's demarcation of the philosopher's quest

Philosophy will never be complete and can never be complete, by the very nature of philosophy. The human mind is capable of infinite growth.... It is only when men bow low before great thinkers and proclaim them to have said the last word that philosophical growth become arrested. (Norman Cousins, Dr. Schweitzer of Lambaréné (1960), p. 117-118)

"The limit of philosophy -- is concept-formation." Which is another way of saying: imagination. Schweitzer speaks here of philosophy, but is the case any different with religion?

"Think for yourself! Think for yourself!" we say again and again. As if that were easy, for after all it is only a question of taking "the question marks deep enough" (CV p. 48, 62) ... But when an ungifted thinker, as I myself am, looks at his assumptions, the things he takes for granted, he sees finalities that he does not even see a way to doubt: no questions occur to him. For example, if he has been brought up with the concept 'faith', he may regard what is in fact no more than a conceptual tool belonging to a particular classification scheme as if it had been given to us by nature itself rather by the human beings we inherited the language we speak from.

The deeper we look into nature, the more we recognize that it is full of life, and the more profoundly we know that all life is a secret ... ("Religion in Modern Civilization", op. cit., p. 341)

It is not any kind of insight into the essential nature of the world [i.e. nature] which determines my relation to my own existence and to the existence which I encounter in the world, but rather only and solely my own will-to-live which has developed the power of reflection about itself and the world. (Author's Preface to the First Edition (February 1923) of The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization, 2nd. ed. (1932), tr. Campion, p. xii)

Thus the riddle of existence is not the riddle of "the world" (the objects in space of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus), but instead life. The riddle of existence is the riddle of life. And the solution of that riddle is not to be found in the world of objects in space, but instead in my relation with my own and other life. And thus, for Schweitzer, ethics is the important part of philosophy, not metaphysics.

Schweitzer's view of Late Stoicism

As for a school of philosophical thought, I acknowledge my great debt to the Stoics.

I have also found myself influenced by the early Chinese philosophers.... They never allow themselves to get too far away from their speculations about the nature of man or the purpose of man. (Cousins, p. 119)

Socrates made a great effort to represent the ethical as the reasonable and to understand the world and life affirmation as having some meaning. But by an inexorable logic this led to resignation. The ideal of Stoic philosophy is the wise man who retires from this world.

It is only in the later Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca, and others that a confident ethical concept develops that imposes on the individual the duty to work in the world to create better material and spiritual conditions and to cultivate humanitarian ideals. (Out of my Life and Thought, tr. Lemke (1990), Chapter 18, p. 202)

The height to which the spirit can ascend was revealed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries [the Enlightenment]. It led those peoples of Europe who possessed it out of the Middle Ages, putting an end to superstition, witch hunts, torture, and a multitude of other forms of cruelty or traditional folly. It replaced the old with the new in an evolutionary way that never ceases to astonish those who observe it. All that we have ever possessed of true civilization, and indeed all that we still possess, can be traced to a manifestation of this spirit. ("Nobel Lecture" (1954), tr. unnamed)

Man's philosophy must determine his way of life

Schweitzer saw in Goethe "a unity of thought and life". The purpose of philosophy, as Socrates saw it, is to examine and guide our life. As I wrote and believe: we must be cured by philosophy, not of it (as Wittgenstein believed). That is, thoroughgoing reason is the only guide in life, not unreason, not the silencing of thought (or tongue).

The ultimate vocation of philosophy is to be the guide and guardian of the general reason ... (The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization, op. cit., Chapter 1, p. 12)

That was what Socrates (in Plato's Apology) wanted, that philosophy shouldn't be only for philosophers and their students, but must stretch down to the "general public", as Socrates tried to do, by bringing all men to examine the state of their own mind, distinguishing between what one knows and what one does not know (although thinks one does). Schweitzer wanted more, namely, that philosophy should provide a thoughtful world-view that would direct mankind toward ethical and material progress. That was what he hoped Reverence for Life would be. (But will the powerful ever listen? I am inclined toward Jesus' view of that class of man, with our without eschatology.)

Schweitzer said that he wanted to allow his ideas to "redefine his life for him.... I wanted to make my life my argument. I didn't want my ideas to become an end in themselves." (Cousins, op. cit., p. 195, quoted in Marshall, Poling, Schweitzer (1971), p. 270)


Russell, Voltaire, Maths and Tautologies

Note: Words that follow "Query" were directed (or as often misdirected) by Internet searches to this site.

Does Bertrand Russell resemble Socrates?

Query: how does Bertrand Russell resemble Socrates?

That is not the philosophical form of the question, because the question Does? comes before the question How? (which may not come at all). The general form of the query: Is there a particular comparison between A and B that is important to us?

If we compare and contrast Russell with Socrates, which shall we emphasize: the similarities or the differences? Anything or anyone can be compared to anything else in some particular way or another [That is the logic of comparison], Russell to Socrates, for example. Two resemblances are: (1) they were both men, and (2) they were both born on the continent of Europe ... Well, but are those resemblances of importance to the one posing the query?

When a question is posed but no criterion is given for what is (and what is not) responsive to it, we are left to invent a meaning for the combination of words that make up the query.

Query: does Bertrand Russell resemble Socrates?

We could say that Russell, like Socrates, "questioned everything", although for Socrates this questioning did not extend beyond his investigations in ethics, in how we should live our life, whereas for Russell it extended to all three parts of philosophy, including to "metaphysics" or questions on the periphery, if indeed there is a shared periphery, of philosophy and contemporary science. However, that resemblance in itself is not remarkable, because -- after both the Sophists and Plato set the precedent of questioning all things -- that is what all philosophers have done, or have tried to do.

As another resemblance, there is taking a stand on principle, for Russell went to prison (albeit to a cell fit for a lord of the realm) to protest against the First World War; and Socrates went to his death for the freedom to "teach the art of words" (Xenophon, Memorabilia i, 2, 29-37). In Plato's Apology, Socrates does not stand down but "accepts guilt" for doing what ethics obliges him to do (ibid. 29c-30b).

Query: are Socrates and Wittgenstein similar?

Similar in what way? A question the answer to which is indeterminate unless we first answer the question "in what way?" may as well be called nonsense. Syntax allows the question "Are Socrates and Wittgenstein similar?", but logic of language does not. (Cf. are Russell and Socrates alike?)

"Communism means the end of all freedom" (Russell's judgment)

And both men loved freedom. Athens was in Socrates' time, in Plato's words, "the place where speech is most free" (Gorgias 461e), and this freedom made it possible for Socrates' to practice philosophical discussion (cross-questioning) in public places, questioning all men. And Russell, although himself a democratic socialist, denounced communism after visiting the U.S.S.R. (where he interviewed Vladimir Lenin for one hour in 1920) because its adoption meant and would mean the end to all freedom.

SOCRATES: It would indeed be hard on you ... if, on coming to Athens, the one spot in Greece where there is the utmost freedom of speech, you alone should be denied it. (Plato, Gorgias 461e, tr. Woodhead)

[The authoritarian regime of the years 1935-41] The Athenians disliked a censorship which affected not only the press but University studies and even the speeches of Pericles, or those of Antigone in the theatre ... (A Short History of Greece (Cambridge, 1965), p. 129)

[Following his visit to the Soviet Union in 1920, Russell wrote that under Bolshevism] no vestige of liberty remains, in thought or speech or action. (Clark, Bertrand Russell and His World (1981), p. 68-69); cf. Clark, The Life of Bertrand Russell (1975) xiv, p. 380)

Logic and Ethics

Further, both Socrates and Russell concerned themselves with logic and language, but Socrates only in order to clarify and investigate ethics, a subject even Russell did not claim could be reduced to "mathematical logic" (the calculus of the Principia Mathematica). Both philosophers invented conceptual tools that are important to logic-of-language: induction and definition (Socrates) and Russell's "Theory of Descriptions" are examples.

But Socrates believed that ethics has its foundation in the facts of our existence ("Know thyself") and in reasoning (which is the method by which to discover the excellence that is proper and unique to man), whereas Russell did not believe that ethics has any foundation at all ('x is good' simply means 'I like x', according to Russell's account). So, although there were resemblances, on perhaps the most important point of all (so far as Socrates was concerned), there was a sharp contrast, an un- or dis-resemblance, between Russell and Socrates.

Earlier remarks about this topic. If the query comes to me apropos of nothing, then the only notable similarity (or, resemblance) that strikes me is that both Russell and Socrates were philosophers, and that all philosophers resembles all others in this way -- that all philosophers question everything, or at least this is their aim: to put all things to the test of dialectic, to either refute or be forced to accept [agree to] any given thesis the mind suggests to them. And, well, both Russell and Socrates urged every individual to think for himself -- to put all things to the tests of reason and experience (or, in other words, to adapt the Apostle Paul's words to philosophy: "Test all things and keep only what is true"). Not all philosophers have done that; some have judged philosophy to be beyond the grasp of the mass of men (That was certainly the opinion Plato expressed in Republic 496a, which is very different from what he has Socrates say in Apology 37e-38a).

There are many comparisons (similarities) that we might point out, e.g. that both Socrates and Russell were accused of committing "crimes against religion" ... but the difference here (i.e. the contrast rather than the similarity) is telling: that Socrates regarded himself as innocent of that charge whereas Russell reveled in it ... as did Voltaire. Towards the end of his life Russell (1872-1970) said:

Russell's aristocratic ideal (Enlightenment France)

My ideal age was 18th-century France just before the Revolution. I should like to have been a French aristocrat ... Eighteenth-century rationalism was delightful and humane. (Interview published in December 1964, quoted in Clark, Life of Bertrand Russell (1976), p. 631 [p. 731])

Russell kept a bust of Voltaire on his mantel (On the walls of his study there were pictures of Frege and Leibniz). It is my impression (or, opinion) that these words of Wittgenstein's (which he wrote to G.E. Moore on 3 December 1946, after he had seen Russell at the Moral Science Club in Cambridge) apply to both Russell and Voltaire:

Glib and superficial, though, as always, astonishingly quick. (Letter M.51, quoted in Clark, p. 494 [p. 717])

Both Russell and Voltaire, if I am not mistaken, had wit (avoir l'esprit), but although I may think well of them both I would not say that either was deep [cf. Voltaire's Enlightenment versus Kant's Aufklärung]. Socrates saw everything from an ethical point of view: he never chose the easier (or, pleasanter) rather than the better way (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 8, 11). Russell, on the other hand, joked about his cleverness in writing fluff for his American audience, something Voltaire would also have done, but never Socrates.

Maybe we could say that Russell was a mathematician-logician who wanted to be a luminary ("philosophe") while Voltaire was a luminary who would like to have been a mathematician-scientist. (It is also important that Wittgenstein, like Russell, came to philosophy through maths -- with the difference that Wittgenstein perhaps was never really interested in philosophy as in Plato's words "no small matter, but how to live", but only in logic and metaphysics. [I, on the other hand, came to logic-of-language through philosophy, not vice versa -- although, on the other hand, even for Wittgenstein logic-of-language matters only because philosophy matters (PI § 109).]

I set out with a more or less religious belief in a Platonic eternal world in which mathematics shone with a beauty like that of the last Cantos of the Paradiso. I came to the conclusion that the eternal world is trivial, and that mathematics is only the art of saying the same thing in different words. ("Reflections on My Eightieth Birthday" in Russell's Portraits from Memory (1956), p. 56, quoted in Clark, p. 630-631 [p. 731])

I wrote apropos of "the philosophy of geometry is the view from outside [the calculus]" that Frege can speak of a "geometric heaven", "it makes no difference" to geometry. But apropos of Russell's assertion, Question: would that not be to say that mathematics consists entirely of tautologies [Mathematics as rules of grammar]? I would not say that. Is to say that everything in mathematics can be reduced to tautologies [Well, of course, it can: every axiomatic system can] the same as to say that mathematics consists of nothing more than tautologies [A mathematical equation does not need to be reduced to a tautology; it is a tautology]?

The point would be that tautologies "tell us nothing" [about what is or is not "the case": "Either it is raining or it is not" [TLP 4.461] e.g.]. [Contra that view of tautologies, however, there exists Plato's tautological method in ethics, where tautologies do tell us something.] If you said that a building can be reduced to bricks and beams of wood [planks] ... but a building is more than that [than its materials] -- i.e. it has structure, so mathematics is more than what it can be reduced to (namely, tautologies [No, it does not need to be reduced: every equation is a tautology]. -- That is not the point, however: whether from our axioms can be deduced equations that have application "in the world outside mathematics", in our life. E.g. do the theorems of geometry allow us to deduce the width of a river, the height of a tree, without our needing to determine those distances with a tape-measure? Yes, in our world of experience, it does. And yes, what we deduce using our formula is a reducible to a tautology, just as the formula itself is; -- yet our deduction is knowledge -- i.e. outside-the-world-of-geometry knowledge; it is knowledge of our world of experience.

Yes, but that is not what Russell is talking about: according to him Euclid can only be Blake's Urizen by definition (if maths "is only the art of saying the same thing in different words"), but is not Euclid = Urizen justified by our experience? (Well, but why is a circle round?, for need it be?) [Question: what connection has theoretical physics to our experience of the world -- e.g. does it affect civil engineering? What might be called "philosophical physics" has e.g. this connection: that the foundations of relativity theory are conceptual investigations.]

G.E. Moore's "non-natural qualities" -- i.e. imperceptible qualities which are somehow, I don't know how, nonetheless perceived. These are like Plato's Forms (if they are indeed anything but that).


There are many, many meanings of 'meaning'

The word 'meaning' is too vague by far (cf. RFM vii § 45, p. 412), made so by its countless meanings. We call many, many different things by the title 'meaning', but they haven't therefore have a common nature that is "the true meaning" of 'meaning'.

Query: meanings are not feelings. Wittgenstein.

No, Wittgenstein made no such assertion (Such an assertion would belong to metaphysics: it says "This is what meaning really is or is not"). What Wittgenstein did say (and this was a statement of his method in philosophy) was only that: if there is a meaning of the word 'meaning' where the meaning of a word is the feelings a word evokes [Think of how we use the word 'meaning' when we talk about poetry, for example], then that meaning of the word 'meaning' does not interest him (i.e. it is not the meaning of 'meaning' he uses in his logic of language investigations):

Now if for an expression to convey a meaning means for it to be accompanied by or to produce certain experiences, our expression may have all sorts of meanings, and I don't wish to say anything about them. (BB p. 65)

Remember that there are many meanings of 'meaning' and that Wittgenstein chose the one that best served his work of clarification. Remember that Wittgenstein's work is philosophy, not philosophy of language. What interests Wittgenstein is the objective meaning of words, not any subjective meanings that words or language may have.

The later Wittgenstein could not have said, could not have justified saying, the logic of our language is misunderstood. Because his later logic is comparative (He chose particular comparisons to make, some out of many others that might be made) rather than his earlier of view of logic, in which logic is regarded as if it were a law of nature.

Socrates, Protagoras, Opinion

Query: in the Euthyphro Socrates shows that what is pleasing to the gods is not the same thing as what is holy.

Wasn't all that Plato could say here is that sometimes it is, but also sometimes it is not, and therefore it is not a general definition (What is the quality in which they do not differ, but are all alike?)?

The Socratic interest in definition

Query: why is Socrates interested in definitions?
Query: what gives words meaning?

Because he believes that definitions are the answer to "what gives words meaning", despite words' being nothing but sounds or ink marks. If words are without meaning, then we do not know what we are talking about and are only making noise when we speak.

Query: knowledge is definition.

Yes, for Plato's Socrates (and also for Xenophon's Socrates, although in a distinct way [Memorabilia iv, 6, 1, iv, 6, 13]). But the search engine "god" [-- According to Gilson, in the Classical world the word 'god' should be defined as 'a power over our life', and the program controlling the engine is certainly that --] directed this query to Plato's Euthyphro, and Plato's notion of "Forms" ["Ideas", patterns, archetypes, essences, general definitions, common natures] may be present there (although this dialog is not the best place to look for an understanding of that notion), but what is valuable in this particular dialog is the notion of a "standard of judgment" in ethics (a standard, like measuring, weighing, calculating). Each of Plato's dialogs has something a bit or quite a bit different in it.

Query: why would Socrates not be satisfied with a verbal definition?
Query: what specifically is Socrates looking for in a definition?

In some cases he might be satisfied. Consider the definition: A 'simile' is 'a comparison using the words 'like' or 'as' '. Is that a verbal or a real definition? It is only by convention that we call a comparison using the words 'like' or 'as' a 'simile' (although it is a fact that there is such a convention in the English language). "Nonetheless, similes do exist" -- What can that mean except that there is a use for the word 'simile' in our language. Suppose we said, "A simile is really a comparison using the words 'like' or 'as'" -- Would that be an hypothesis [or, "real definition"]?

As it happens there is a general [or, essential] definition for the word 'simile'. But if we look at how we use our language -- a description of which is what is given by a "verbal definition" --, it seems that there is no general definition for 'courage', 'holiness', 'justice', the sort of "things" Plato's Socrates is asking about.

Therefore, to respond to the query: since there is no verbal definition stating what the common nature of all things holy (or, brave, or, just) is [cf. Wittgenstein's discussion of 'game'] -- and because a common nature [or essence or standard] is what Socrates wants, he would not -- in these particular cases -- be "satisfied with a verbal definition".

In Plato's Euthyphro, Euthyphro tries to tell Socrates what holiness is -- i.e. not how we use the word 'holy', which would be a verbal definition. And Socrates shows that Euthyphro's various suggestions cannot be correct, because in each case Socrates can point to counter-examples. It is as if we tried to define the word 'game' by pointing to rackets and nets, and Socrates replied that not all games use rackets and nets; and, therefore, by pointing only to games that use rackets and nets, we have not told him what games are [We have not given him a general definition of the word 'game']. According to Plato, I believe it safe to say, if a word has no general definition, then the word is meaningless ("an unmeaning sound like the noise of hammering at a brazen pot" (Cratylus 430a)) -- but yet the word 'holy' is not meaningless (and therefore Socrates and Euthyphro must be ignorant of its meaning). That is what Plato's Socrates is "specifically looking for in a definition".

It is said that Socrates wants a real definition: he wants to know, not how we use the word 'x', but what x is. "I want to know what courage is?" But why shouldn't a verbal definition of 'courage' be a formula of the type Socrates wants? E.g. the verbal definition of 'simile'.

Here you can go around in circles, saying to yourself again and again: Isn't 'courage' the name of something, because, well, doesn't courage exist? And wouldn't that "something that exists" be the meaning of the word 'courage' -- its real meaning [real definition]? But if we simply describe how we use the word 'courage', we do not find that the word 'courage' is the name of any one thing; rather, we call many different things 'courage' [or 'acts of bravery'], just as we call many different activities 'games'. (If you forget to ask for the use rather than the "meaning", then everything that was once clear to you will become cloudy again.)

Query: how do you think Socrates would define wisdom?

If anyone were wise, he would know, in Socrates' sense of the word 'know', how a human being should live his life. Socrates: if anyone knows, then he must be able to tell others what he knows (Plato, Laches 190b-c). But no one Socrates questioned showed himself able to say e.g. "what courage is", although a wise man should, we agree, be courageous. To be wise is to know how we should live our life (where 'know' = 'be able to give an account' [Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1]). But even the generals Socrates questions cannot tell him "what courage is" although they presume that they know despite their not knowing; and that is what Apollo's oracle meant when she said "Socrates most wise" (Plato, Apology 21a-d) or that "No man is wiser than Socrates".

Query: Socrates' philosophy is critical thinking about first and last questions.
Query: according to Socrates philosophy is the critical things of first and last.

Nay, but you have to pay attention: "critical" comes from Socrates, "first and last" from Schweitzer or rather my paraphrase of Schweitzer's "elemental/elementary and final", the most basic and the ultimate questions of thought and life, as maybe logic is most basic and the meaning of our life most final.

Query: Wittgenstein, grammar, rules, game.
Query: Wittgenstein's language-games principle.

Wittgenstein did not say that using language was really playing a game, but, rather, that comparing using words to playing a game is useful for understanding philosophical problems .... Well, is it? It is a definition of 'meaning' -- but is it the most useful one? "Language games" is not an idea that will tell you how to live your life. But Wittgenstein did not believe that philosophy could do so much ... or perhaps he simply did not want it to do so much [But whether his impoverishment of philosophy was intentional or not, I don't know. I would like to know what he would have said about Plato's Gorgias]. The most I would say is that "language games" is useful for understanding some philosophical problems; in any case, philosophy without a logic of language -- that is, that does not make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense -- is blind, and I know of no other logic of language that can stand up to Wittgenstein's criticism except his own.

As to "principle", I did write that Wittgenstein's principles were comparative, and thus this query is, according to my account, correct.

Query: Wittgenstein's definition of meaning as use.

Precisely: it is a definition of [the word] 'meaning', not a "theory of meaning"; it is one definition among many possible. Note that in philosophy we define words, not "things" because that is what we do in logic. Whatever applies in logic must apply in philosophy as well: because logic is our understanding of language (including of sense and nonsense or meaning), and philosophy must use language (That is its tool). Therefore, if it is correct that in logic we define words not things, then it must be also be correct that in philosophy we define words not things. [For Wittgenstein philosophy = logic. However, although he was later to refute the logic of language of the TLP, Wittgenstein offered no further justification for that equation. He never said why philosophy has to be silent about "the riddle" (ethics and God). But I have already written too much on this topic elsewhere.]

Query: definition of riddle of existence.

We might as well query for "definition of God". But it is not really like that, because we do not say: "I insist there really is a riddle, but I cannot tell you [put into words] what it is. I don't know what the riddle is, only what it is not."

It is characteristic of our "life form" for a reflective individual to be puzzled, even astonished, by the fact of his existence, indeed by the fact of the existence of anything at all ("the world"). This astonishment we call a "riddle", but one for which we conceive -- and feel that we can conceive -- no plausible answer. We feel existence to be the deepest of all mysteries. And that we call "the riddle of existence". (I have written about "the riddle" in Questions without Answers, but also in many other places.)

Socrates' response to Apollo's riddle

Query: do you think Socrates describes the oracle's words as a riddle?
Query: Socrates and the oracle's riddle.

Apollo's oracle at Delphi posed Socrates a riddle: it required thought to understand its meaning: "When I heard of the oracle I began to reflect: What can the god mean by this riddle?" (Plato, Apology 21b). It was a philosophical riddle, a riddle in the spirit of philosophy (Thinking is thinking -- it's hard work. But some thinking is necessary, sc. philosophical thinking, whereas other thinking is idle, as e.g. "analytical puzzles" about goldfish).

Query: what was Socrates' response to the oracle that he was the wisest man living?

Apollo's oracle said rather "that no man is wiser than Socrates", not that "Socrates is wise" (although in the sense of 'knowing oneself not to be wise', Socrates is wise). And Socrates' response to the god's words is: To put them to the test. That was the philosophical response: did the oracle's words stand up to the tests of experience and reason? But yet, if the god does not lie, and gods do not lie, least of all Apollo, then: how does it stand, because to Socrates it appears not to? In what sense was 'no man wiser than Socrates'?

Query: what does Socrates' response to the oracle's pronouncement that there is no man wiser than Socrates tell us about Socrates?

That he was modest [because he knew the state of his own mind, not fancying he knew what he did not know (This is 'meekness' DEF.= 'self-knowledge')], pious [in the way he conceived the gods to be: the gods do not tell lies], and a man of reason [a philosopher -- i.e. someone who puts all claims to knowledge and pronouncements of truth to the tests of experience and reason].

Query: according to philosophy God is said to be undefinable.
Query: power of the undefined.

The power of linguistic signs that have is no use in the language to nonetheless insinuate "meaning". That is the power of language-mystification, self-mystification. For example, "a real definition of God" versus a definition of the word 'God' (i.e. an explanation of the use that word in the language [as e.g. Russell's Theory of Descriptions]). The power of the imagination both to enlighten (concept-formation) and to blind (pictures with no verifiable application to reality; self-delusion: e.g. "prayer", i.e. entering into a personal or group relationship with an invention of the human mind, using words to conjure up ghosts [to summon, call forth]).

"There," John would add, "you can't touch pitch and not be mucked" (Treasure Island ii, 10), and you can't touch language and not be muddled. (And religion is in nowise so facile to understand as the strident Voltairean rationalism above would have it.)

Query: in what way is a point invisible? Geometry.

In no way, not even in the way that a fairy is invisible. That is of course a grammatical remark, or, in other words not using Wittgenstein's jargon: that is a remark about the definition of 'point' in geometry, about the connection of the concepts 'point', 'invisible', and 'fairy'. (According to Wittgenstein, God is also not invisible: the word 'God' is not a name of someone; we don't use the word 'God' the way we use the names of the gods of the Greek myths.) The grammar of 'point' is different from the grammar of 'fairy' in this way: that by definition, although the word 'fairy' names an object, fairies are not objects of sense perception ('verification' is undefined in the case of 'fairy' -- those two concepts do not as it were intersect) whereas in geometry points are not objects of any kind, either perceptible or imperceptible, real or fantasy.

Protagoras and geometry's tangent

Query: philosophy, how does geometry not apply to the world?

How does Protagoras know that a tangent doesn't touch a circle at only one point? If we draw a circle with a compass and pencil and then place a ruler beside it, how do we decide whether the circle and ruler have more than one point in common? The scale of our ruler can be divided indefinitely by 2 (as in 1-inch, 1/2 inch, 1/4, 1/8, etc.), and so by this means there are a logically possible unlimited number of points at which the ruler may touch the circle. And therefore what are we calling a 'point' here? Is it not ambiguous? If by 'point' we mean something with extension (i.e. length), then a tangent may intersect a circle at an infinite number of points. But according to the geometers "a point is that which is without extension"; in Euclid's geometry a circle and a line can have either one (as in the case of a tangent) or two points (as e.g. in the case of the diameter of a circle) in common. At how many points, according to Protagoras, does a tangent touch a circle? Is he not imagining the word 'point' to be the name of an object (An object must, by definition -- i.e. this belongs to the grammar of object-words -- be of some size or other)?

There are also related remarks" on Protagoras and this topic.

Query: thoughtless life, Socrates.

Yes, 'thoughtless' = 'unexamined' in this context, 'never asking questions, but always accepting whatever seems right to you'. The unexamined life is the thoughtless life. [The word 'thoughtless' here does not = 'inconsiderate to others', of course.]

Query: living an unexamined life is the life of an animal.

Yes, it is the life of "a beast that wants discourse of reason" (Hamlet i, 2), i.e. of an animal, which man, in this respect is not, because man has discourse of reason (That is one of the gifts of language: dialectic). [How might the unexamined life be worthy of a human being?]

Query: language limits what we can know.

But at the same time it unlimits our ability to think we know what we do not know ... just as grammatical analogies allow us to ask [i.e. utter] all manner of nonsense, e.g. 'Am i awake or am i dreaming?' [Narrowing the circle of thought (George Orwell). As to the TLP's "whatever can be put into words" versus "what cannot be put into words" (or the distinction between saying and showing), either it is a false account of the logic of our language or it is nonsense -- and/or I don't understand it.]

Verification and Euclid

Query: the method of geometry as a model for philosophy.

The notion of a priori knowledge: that from an axiom we can deduce what is real, what reality is. Both Plato and Descartes tried to treat philosophy on the model of mathematics. Spinoza used geometric proofs [deductions] as the model for his metaphysics. As to the proofs in Euclid's geometry, however -- must axiomatic geometry be applicable to reality outside the geometry textbook? Einstein's physics is based on the view that it is not necessarily applicable, but must be verified by experience of the world outside the textbook.


Is philosophy merely "a matter of opinion"?

When Wittgenstein wrote to Malcolm, he spoke of talking "with some plausibility" (Letter No. 9). But is that all philosophy amounts to -- to only a question of what I am inclined or disinclined to accept (PI § 258)? Is philosophy about opinions (plausibility) only? By 'opinion' we of then mean a proposition that is not demonstrated to be true but which may be true ('facts' and 'opinions'), although we may mean other things by that word as well, e.g. 'point of view'.

But there is not only agreement (acceptance of propositions) in Socratic dialectic; there is also refutation of unclarity and falsehood. ("Opinions are not demonstrated to be true, but they can be demonstrated to be false" -- is that a defining characteristic of opinions? Sometimes we us the word 'opinion' that way, but a point of reference cannot be demonstrated to be false (nor true of course).) Generally it seems true that a proposition agreed to in today's discussion may be refuted in tomorrow's ... but does that mean that the accepted proposition is merely an unrefuted assumption, as in Plato's words "our agreed assumptions" (Protagoras 360e)? Does it follow that because philosophical statements (with the exception sometimes of logic) are not propositions verifiable (and falsifiable) by sense perception, that no philosophical statement can be demonstrated to be true? It may not follow, but its contrary does not follow from it either. (These remarks are too vague: without examples, they make nothing clearer.)

Would an example of a philosophical opinion -- Wittgenstein used the expression "my considered opinions" (Recollections p. 141) -- be Wittgenstein's remark "for a blunder, that's too big"? Would it be an example of a verifiable philosophical opinion? Why don't I know? What would verification look like here? What Wittgenstein's "opinion" does is to offer a way of looking at particular religious statements, a way that we may or may not be inclined to regard as a satisfying way. But our inclinations do not verify or falsify propositions (PI § 258).

Plato and two myths of the absolute

Not here the myth of the Absolute Perspective, but of the absolute Forms (Archetypes), not relative tallness but absolute Tallness, not this or that good or beautiful thing but Goodness or Beauty itself. Although it seems -- indeed is -- equally nonsense to speak of absolute tallness (for 'tall' is a relational concept) as to speak of an absolute point of reference (for 'reference point' is also a relational (or relative) concept).

... the region of purity and eternity and unchangeableness, where when the spirit enters, it is not hampered or hindered, but ceases to wander in error, beholding the true and divine (which is not matter of opinion). (Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way (1942), "Preface")

That is how Plato speaks in the Phaedo [79d] of the realm of truth rather than of opinion, knowable by the soul disassociated from the body. (So it seems that 'opinion' will mean here relative concepts and relative perspectives, in contrast to 'opinion' meaning possibly true, possibly false, statements of fact.) If that language is not nonsense then it is a realm as far removed from human imagination as God himself is. The question is whether Plato is indeed talking nonsense and whether the concept 'God' isn't a conceptual muddle, in both cases "mere sound without sense". (If what a philosopher says is, "Look at things this way!" (CV p. 61, April 1947), then philosophy is indeed the discussion of plausible opinions, in this paragraph's first sense of 'opinions'.)

But when returning into herself she reflects, then she passes into the other world, the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not led or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom? (Phaedo 79d, tr. Jowett)

Then in Hamilton's rendering quoted above, 'opinion' = 'changing' or 'changeable', in contrast to 'unchangeable' or 'absolute'. And knowledge of the unchangeable (if indeed there is any other kind of knowledge) is what Plato means by 'wisdom'. And so that is metaphysics ... but that reality is that way and not some other is plausible-implausible opinion. Plato presents arguments for why he believes reality is that way, but those are, as he has Protagoras say, only "our agreed assumptions" subject to refutation in further argument.

The trouble with the form of expression 'philosophical opinion' is the notion mistakenly inferred from it

Query: what did Socrates say about ...?
Query: what did Wittgenstein believe?

What did A say [or believe] about it? What did B say [or believe] about it? When I see this I have the uneasy sense that someone is simply asking for a list of opinions from which he will choose the one that he likes best ("just a matter of opinion"). But that attitude does not recognize, or indeed expresses contempt for, philosophy's particular type of search for truth.

Query: is Wittgenstein really a Christian?

Yes, Wittgenstein was a Christian ... in some sense. But do you think that affects your own religious views or view of religion in any way? Would Wittgenstein have been "really a Christian" in the eyes of dogmatic Christianity? Even Albert Schweitzer himself would not have been.

The fact that there is no chapel at the Schweitzer hospital has -- as everything there has -- its reasons. Schweitzer does not believe in dogma; nor that it can bring religion automatically in its wake. He believes that there is one thing alone that does bring religion in its wake, and that is ethical living. (Urquhart, With Doctor Schweitzer in Lambaréné (1957), p. 62)

But it must also be remembered that the doctor did not want to be seen as competing with the nearby Protestant and Catholic missions, despite there being a Christian service held at the hospital every Sunday. Schweitzer wrote that for this reason he did not baptize Africans, although he did baptize European children born at his hospital. It might also be remembered that Jesus words were spoken outdoors, on mountains and plains. And also, animals are not allowed in chapels, but reverence for life included them as well. There are many possibilities.

There is Schweitzer's own definition of 'Christian' as 'one who has the spirit of Jesus'. But of whom should we say -- i.e. by what standard [or, criterion -- i.e. this asks for a definition] are we to judge -- that he shows or does not show that spirit? -- But Jesus has told us that when he answered the question "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10.29-37)

On the other hand, I don't know what Schweitzer means by the word 'spirit', if he means something mystical-metaphysical [for as Kraus pointed out, and Schweitzer himself confirmed, Schweitzer did not make a sharp distinction between his philosophical and religious thinking] -- i.e. the spirit of God, the as it were world-spirit that is Will-to-live, that was most present in Jesus, or even the "spirit" that Acts and the Apostle Paul speak of.

But to enter the Kingdom of God, the only requirement, Schweitzer wrote [The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity [1950-51] (1968), ed. Neuenschwander, tr. Garrard, p. 126], is to have forgiven those who have harmed one, as stated in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6.12). Having forgiven also shows -- i.e. is a criterion for calling [classifying] someone a Christian [i.e. it belongs to a definition of the word 'Christian'] -- that someone has the spirit of Jesus.

[There is the record of a sermon Schweitzer gave at his hospital in the chapter "The Feast of St. John" in The Africa of Albert Schweitzer by Joy and Arnold (1948). And transcripts of Schweitzer's African Sermons, 1913-1935 were published in English translation in 2003.]

Query: was Wittgenstein a Christian?

Yes, but not in any sense that will give comfort to you. And not in Schweitzer's particular sense of someone who through active love is working to build Jesus' Kingdom of God in this world. Because Wittgenstein was withdrawn and really concerned only with his own "redemption" (from judgment), with safeguarding his ethical seriousness or purity as it were (although he did enjoy jesting, and he did care deeply about his family and his few friends, although, especially in Wittgenstein's case, "friends will quarrel, friends will part"). He belonged more to the Middle Ages than the Enlightenment.


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