There are many more kinds of explanation of language meaning, i.e. definitions, than are commonly described in logic-philosophy.
Topics on this page ...
- Definition by Related Concepts and by Short Stories
- Definition in the Euthyphro ('piety', 'holiness')
- "God alone sees what is inward"
- Emotion and Ethics
- "Logic and the heart" (Schweitzer)
Definition by Related Concepts and by Short Stories
Plato's Euthyphro discusses the Greek cardinal virtue of piety or holiness. It asks for a general definition of piety, or, more clearly stated, of the word 'piety', as if that word could be defined in isolation from any related words. However:
Is not 'piety' a concept of the kind whose meaning is only made clear when its connection to other concepts -- e.g. 'reverence', 'awe', 'interiority', 'worship' -- is pointed to? It is not identical with any of those, but its connection to them is essential -- i.e. defining?
If we wanted to define the word 'sorrow', we might point to a cluster of related concepts (cf. Wittgenstein's remarks about "a definition of good") such as 'sadness', 'unhappiness', 'distress', 'despair', all of which are concepts that have a place within the human way of life. And thus:
Another way [method] to define the word 'piety' would be by means of a short-story or a stage play that showed [depicted] a pious way of life -- i.e. the way of life (the thought and work, the attitudes and deeds) of a pious person.
Plato asks for a definition of the form: 'a simile' is 'a comparison using the words 'as' or 'like''. That type of definition sets a clear standard: a single criterion has to be met in each and every case. But 'a pious man is one who ...'? Is there a one-thing-in-common in every case [or in other words, an essence] of 'piety', or are there instead only family resemblances to point to?
Which part-of-speech does the word 'piety' belong to? (Clearly not e.g. name-of-object.) Is it a psychological-word -- i.e. is 'piety' a sensation-, emotion- or disposition-word? Is piety a state of mind? Anything "inner" requires an outward criterion, if it is to have a place in our language (PI § 580). That is a requirement made by logic -- i.e. it is needed to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense, which is what Wittgenstein wants [or I want] in philosophy. This belongs to what we choose to call [classify as, accept as] a definition.
'Piety' in Protestantism
What counts is true piety. Jesus taught it to us in pure, simple, and moving words in the Sermon on the Mount in the Beatitudes, where He teaches us to become God's children and to live and strive as God's children. (Albert Schweitzer, Letters 1905-1965, tr. Neugroschel (1992), Lambaréné, 30 November 1964, p. 349)
Piety means being inspired by and remaining true to the spirit of Jesus, as expressed in His words and deeds. (Letter from Lambaréné, 10 April 1962, p. 318)
Schweitzer often speaks of "piety" -- as above with respect to the Gospel ("Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy", "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God"), elsewhere with respect to the music of J.S. Bach. What exactly he means, however, is not clear to me. Has the word 'piety' had a special meaning in Protestantism?
As always with regard to history, I am very ignorant and do not know what I am talking about. Thus the following is useful background to Schweitzer's view of Bach:
Philipp Jakob Spener (Pietism)
Pietism, a religious movement in the Lutheran churches of Germany, which had its rise toward the end of the 17th century. 'Pietism' and 'Pietist' were originally terms of contempt. The author of the movement was Philipp Jakob Spener, who began in 1670 to hold private conferences in his own home with devoutly inclined people, in which the Scriptures were explained with a view solely to the promotion of inward piety instead of the inculcation of dogmatic beliefs.
[Spener] sought to bring the Lutheran Church back to its original principles. That church, the foundational principle of which was, for Luther, Christian faith in the heart and acceptance of the Scriptures as the supreme rule of life and belief, had become a creed-bound institution with an inflexible system. In the pulpits the dogmas of the creeds were continually expounded and defended, while the Bible was made of no account by preachers and pastors, in the theological schools or in the family. The true pastoral work of the Christian ministry, that of forwarding the moral and spiritual welfare of the people, was in desuetude.
Spener proposed ... recognition of the Christian priesthood of all the faithful ... insistence, in the pulpit discourse, upon the necessity of vital personal piety ... [In the pulpit he advocated] heart-to-heart hortation to Christian faith and love.... Pietism as an organized movement subsisted until the middle of the 18th century; its monument was a state church reformed in nearly every particular in accordance with Spener's program. (Encyclopedia Americana (1954), vol. 22, p. 78)
"Christianity is both introspective and active"
The following statements are from Schweitzer's Letters 1905-1965 (op. cit.).
You are right in viewing Christianity as an introspective rapport with our Lord Jesus and with God. Christianity is introspectiveness. It is damaged by any exteriorization. And all introspective Christianity is active. This is what wins people's hearts. (Letter, Lambaréné, 9 February 1963, p. 330)
Do I understand what Schweitzer means by "introspective rapport" -- does the expression 'introspective rapport' have the same meaning as the word 'piety'? They appear to be related concepts. But what exactly do I need to know [or, learn] in order to know what Schweitzer means by this language?
Do not quarrel with God, do not quarrel with man; leave all incomprehensible things alone, seek only one thing: the growth of the spiritual person, so that you may achieve peace of mind ... and so that you may give people something of the spirit of peace.... I have experience in struggling for stillness in God. That is why I can talk to you about it.
Believing in God means wanting to live in the spirit of God [the spirit of God was in Jesus] ... (Letter, Lambaréné [undated], p. 254)
Albert Schweitzer's view of J.S. Bach
There are the external requirements for the rendering of Bach's music. But above and beyond them, that music demands of us men and women that we attain a composure and an inwardness ... (From My Life and Thought, quoted by George Seaver in his Albert Schweitzer: the man and his mind (1947), p. 251)
The more I immerse myself in Bach's works, the more I realize that he wrote them with his heart. Bach left us an inexhaustible wealth of profound religious music. We cannot make those who do not feel this understand, nor do we need to make them understand.... I know the passages that are cited to demonstrate Bach's worldliness. If the occasion demanded it, he would add new text to the music, and whatnot. But this cannot persuade us to understand the depth and spirit of his music in any way.... you should not try to prove Bach's piety by quoting his statements, for that would be a difficult task.... his piety has to be proved on the basis of the works themselves and the impression they make on us.... He who has ears to hear with understands Bach. (Letters, Lambaréné , p. 338-339)
The following is from J.S. Bach. Le Musicien-Poète , selected and translated by Charles R. Joy, in Music in the Life of Albert Schweitzer (1951), p. 117-121.
Bach was a pious man. It was his piety that sustained him and kept him serene in his laborious existence. His scores, without any other document, would suffice to show us this; almost all of them carry at the head: "S.D.G.", Soli Deo Gloria. On the cover of the Orgelbüchlein the following verse may be read:
For the honor of the most high God alone
And for the instruction of my neighbor.
This deeply religious spirit is disclosed even in Friedemann's Klavierbüchlein; at the top of the page where the first little pieces to play begin are the words, "In Nomine Jesu". With anyone else these declarations of piety, scattered at every turn, and under the most insignificant circumstances, would appear exaggerated, if not affected. With Bach one feels that there is nothing there unnatural.... There was something frank about his piety. He did not withdraw from it; it constituted an integral part of his artistic nature. If he embellished all his scores with his "S.D.G." it was because music was something essentially religious to him. It was after all the most powerful means of glorifying God; music as a secular accomplishment occupied only the second place. This fundamentally religious conception of art is completely expressed in his definition of harmony. "The figured bass," he says in his course, "is the most perfect foundation of music. It is executed with two hands; the left hand plays the prescribed notes, and the right hand adds consonances and dissonances in order that the whole shall produce an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and for the proper delight of the soul. Like all music, the figured bass has no other purpose than the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit; otherwise it is not true music ..." But this did not prevent him from writing secular music and even burlesque cantatas! In the last analysis this activity was less a work of art for him than a pastime and a recreation for his spirit.
This pious artist had a remarkable theological knowledge. The theological works mentioned in the inventory certainly enabled him to have opinions on the numerous dogmatic questions which were then agitating Protestantism. Did he not live in that troubled epoch which followed the Reformation, in the time of that second Reformation which arose, we know, at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and in time was to produce a transformation in the spirit of Protestantism? The subjectivism in religion which had been restricted within definite limits by Luther reappeared at that time in all its strength in Spener, the leader of pietism.... Without desiring to work an injury to the fundamental dogmas of his church, the leader of the pietists insisted however on the importance of individual piety; and by that very insistence put in doubt (without wanting to) the normative worth of formulated dogma. In any case Lutheran orthodoxy, which after the death of Luther had inaugurated a kind of new scholasticism, felt itself attacked. The struggle was engaged on all fronts. To speak the truth, it was never to end; the same strained relations still exist at this very moment between Protestant subjectivism and the dogma adopted by the Reformation, between pietism and orthodoxy.
This struggle between the orthodox and the pietists had at the time of Bach reached its climax. One might believe that the individual piety of the master had carried him to the new tendency. Numerous indeed in his works are the traces of pietism. The theological reflections, the turn of his sentences, and especially his use of diminutives -- in short, his sentimentalism -- all these are so many indications of the influence of pietism. His Passions can not disavow the date of their birth; one feels that they were born at a time when pietism begins to take root in the spiritual poetry of Protestantism. And still Bach was a member of the orthodox clan.... How can we explain this dual religious attitude of Bach? At bottom he was a conservative spirit; quite naturally, therefore, he took his place with the orthodox, and saw in the pietists only inopportune innovators. Pietism, moreover, was antiartistic, in that it extolled the greatest simplicity in the service, was suspicious of art, and saw in its introduction in the church only a dangerous invasion of mundane pomp. The cantata and everything that closely or remotely resembled concert music was suspected by the pietists, who spared the chorale only because of its simplicity....
At heart Bach was neither pietistic nor orthodox: he was a mystic thinker. Mysticism was the living spring from which sprang his piety. There are certain chorales and certain cantatas which make us feel more than elsewhere that the master has poured into them his soul. These are precisely the mystical chorales and cantatas. Like all the mystics, Bach, one may say, was obsessed by religious pessimism. This robust and healthy man, who lived surrounded by the affection of a great family, this man who was embodied energy and activity, who even had a pronounced taste for the frankly burlesque, felt at the bottom of his soul an intense desire, a Sehnsucht, for eternal rest. He knew, if any mortal ever did, what nostalgia for death was. Never elsewhere had this nostalgia for death been translated into music in a more impressive way. Many are the cantatas he wrote to describe the weariness of life. The moment the Gospels touch on the cherished idea, Bach seizes it and devotes to it a long description. All the cantatas for bass alone are in this sense mystical cantatas. They begin with the idea of weariness of life; then, little by little, the expectation of death quiets and illumines; in death Bach celebrates the supreme liberation, and describes in lovely spiritual lullabies the peace that at this thought invades his soul; or again, his happiness is translated into joyous and exuberant themes of a supernatural gaiety. We feel that his whole soul sings in this music, and that the believer has written it in a sort of exaltation. How powerful, moreover, is the impression! What a penetrating charm is in the admirable cradle song, "Schlummert ein ihr müden Augen" [Fall asleep, you weary eyes], in the cantata "Ich habe genug" [I have had enough] (No. 82), or again in the simple melody "Komm, süsser Tod!" [Come, sweet death!].
And now, having studied the above, am I any closer to understanding what Schweitzer means by the word 'piety' than I was before? By which standard shall I answer that question? For we may use the word 'understanding' in at least two different ways here: (1) being able to describe, by whichever means of definition -- e.g. by equivalent words or concepts, ostensively, by examples, through stories -- how we use the word 'piety', or (2) having a shared life experience. The second is not a necessary condition for the first, for if it were we would not e.g. be able to understand a mother who told us that her child had died unless we were also a mother whose child had died. (The second meaning of 'understand' is the sense in which "if a lion could talk, we would not understand him" (PI II, xi, p. 223e-g).)
When he speaks of Bach's mysticism, I think that by 'mysticism' Schweitzer means 'belief in a reality that is not part of the world of our experience'. Something like this. And now I want to speak of nebulousness, nebulous concepts or conceptions: in a sense we know what we are talking about, but in another sense we don't.
Maybe the following is unrelated, but it seems to me that it is related to the concept 'piety', if a fugue can be an expression of piety. Seaver (op. cit. p. 249) writes, taking two quotations from the English version of Schweitzer's book J.S. Bach:
Bach is as a rule played much too fast. "Music which presupposes a visual comprehension of lines of sound advancing side by side becomes for the listener a chaos, if a too rapid tempo makes this comprehension impossible." ... "The more we play Bach's organ works, the slower we take the tempi. Every organist has this experience."
Protestant sacred music - the chorale
Writing for the church, he felt himself compelled to attach his work to the chorale, the sole principle in the sacred music of Protestantism.... Bach's work is based on the chorale ... The most beautiful and the most profound of Bach's works, those where the deepest aspect of his philosophic thinking is expressed in the form of music, are his organ fantasies on the chorale melodies.... The chorale not only puts in his possession the treasury of Protestant music, but also opens to him the riches of the Middle Ages, and of the sacred Latin music from which the chorale itself came. [In Bach's art] live again the aspirations, the strivings, even the soul of former generations. (From J.S. Bach. Le Musicien-Poète, in Joy's Music in the Life of Albert Schweitzer, p. 68)
Piety without an explicit religious connection
An example of filial piety: When Beethoven died, if I recall aright, his brother cut one of Beethoven's music manuscripts into strips and gave one strip to each of the composer's friends. Wittgenstein said that some people would understand this as an act of piety, whereas others would see it as an act of impiety. (Another example, from a village in Italy, now long in the past: when his father died he took his father's hat and coat with him and put them by the doorway.) Maybe the isolated deed is not what shows whether something is 'pious' or 'impious' but the deed's surroundings, that is, its place in the way of life and thought of the person doing the deed. Or, piety is found in the interpretation of the facts, not in the facts themselves.
Plato calls right conduct toward man 'justice' rather than 'piety' (Gorgias 507b), but this example is more akin to the concepts 'piety', 'reverence', 'religion'.
About 'Piety' and 'Reverence', the concepts
The word 'piety' belongs to the question of man's proper relationship to the gods or to God or to whatever is higher ("the higher"). And that relationship is characterized by the word 'reverence', and the things that it is proper to man to revere are what we call 'holy'. This shows the, or one, relationship among these concepts. (Schweitzer's "Reverence for Life" or "Awe before Life" (Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben) may also be related here, although I do not see how.)
Query: "the starry sky above and the moral law within."
But according to Kant, wonder at those phenomena is non-rational (irrational). And therefore what have they to do with philosophy? In this context, they both belong to the category "the higher". Is everything that demands reverence from man irrational? As to "the starry sky above", that is irrational (if man's eternal Questions without answers are irrational), whereas, according to Socrates "the moral law" is not (Ethics belongs in the realm of reason).
Definition in the Euthyphro
Note: this supplements the earlier discussion of Plato's Euthyphro, but something does not seem right about it.
Thought and Reply. Thought: there is a fundamental problem of clarity because Plato's Socrates asks, not for a definition of the word 'piety', but for a "definition of the thing piety" or "what piety is". He says, Tell me, how can I recognize piety wherever I see it? Reply: but is that not the same as to ask for a set of rules [criteria] for correctly applying the word 'piety' -- i.e. for a definition of the word 'piety'? That is, is our investigation here not an entirely grammatical one -- whichever form of expression we use? The standard of judgment Socrates seeks is a grammatical one.
Thought but no Reply. There is a fundamental problem of clarity because translators choose different English words in order to make their translations from the Greek -- namely, 'piety' and 'holiness'. Those English words, however, do not appear to be synonyms. "Holy is whatever is pleasing to God" or "By 'holy' we mean 'whatever pleases God'" -- sounds English. But is it equivalent to saying "Piety is whatever is pleasing to God" or "By 'piety' we mean 'whatever pleases God'"?
We may imagine that religious feeling such as Bach's music may inspire in us, is, as an act of worship, pleasing to God. But it would not be nonsense to say that such feeling is not pleasing to God. Nonetheless, whether pleasing to God or not, feelings of piety are correctly called 'feelings of piety'. Whether Bach's music is holy, however, is a very different question. It would not be a contradiction to say that what we call 'sacred music' is not pleasing to God -- i.e. not sacred, if 'sacred' = 'holy' (rather than simply 'written for the church').
Is there a general rule -- i.e. a general definition -- to tell us what is holy and what is not, what is pious and what is not? Or can we only explain the differences in the meanings of the words 'piety' and 'holiness' by pointing to various examples of how we use those words? "I do not know what piety is." cf. "I do not know what a game is." What then is the difference between 'piety' and 'games'? Is it not that 'piety' is a category of ethics, but 'games' is not? How do we define 'game' -- is it not by giving a list of games and then adding the phrase "and similar things"? Then why do we demand a general definition of 'piety' rather than simply accept a list of things that are called 'pious'?
"Do these things and you will be pious." A list of things you must do and things you must not do. But a list does not justify itself: good is just whatever the list commands. But that is not philosophy. Maybe Wittgenstein denies that there is any such philosophical topic as ethics -- i.e. he would say -- for he never later does say -- that "philosophical ethics" is a misunderstanding of the logic of our language.
Question. In order for ethics to be rational must there be general definitions to serve as objective standards of judgment? And would those definitions be real or verbal definitions?
Note that in the Euthyphro the question asked is what piety (or, holiness) is -- not whether piety belongs to the good for man. Socrates: Ethics is rational, for does not reason tell us that these are not the good for man -- cowardice [i.e. the opposite of courage], impiety [which would include e.g. superstition], unjustness [which would include selfishness], indiscipline [i.e. the opposite of self-control], and thinking one knows what one does not know ("un-Socratic ignorance", as it were) [i.e. the opposite of wisdom]? How does Wittgenstein reply to this? Does he say, as I am inclined to say, that the combination of words 'reason tells us' has no clear meaning here? But if not reason, then what does tell us?
Definition in Xenophon
General definition of 'piety' in Xenophon: "he who worships as he ought is pious". And how does he know how he ought to worship: "a man [cannot] worship the gods according to his own will and pleasure", but instead, "there are laws to be observed in worshipping the gods". Conclusion: "we therefore rightly define the pious man as one who knows what is lawful concerning the gods". (Xenophon, Memorabilia (tr. Marchant), iv, 6, 2-4)
But, of course, how does anyone know what those laws are? And so the definition in Xenophon does not provide the universal standard of judgment Plato's Socrates seeks in the Euthyphro.
"God alone sees what is inward"
Query: inward piety. What is it?
We say things like, "You can fool other people, but not God; God sees whether you are shamming or not with you claim inwardness (inner piety)." -- Does this show that the picture of a god who sees what we cannot see belongs essentially to the grammar of this language, i.e. to the definition of 'inner piety'?
Need this be a religious picture? No, not everything "inner" (state of mind) is religious, as e.g. sensations and emotions (But 'piety', Plato defines (Gorgias 507b) as 'correct conduct towards God'). "God sees the truth that is hidden from others" is not a rule of grammar: a picture that explains the meaning of words is a rule of grammar, but this picture does not do that. ('God is all-seeing' is a rule of grammar; it belongs to a definition of 'God'; it enables that picture.)
Does the picture "a god who sees what we cannot see" define the word 'inner' in the expression 'inner piety'? But we introduced that picture in the context of the "questions without answers" (e.g. 'Is the whole of reality perceptible to the senses?'), and the question of the meaning of 'inner piety' is not one of those questions. It is not a metaphysical question, but instead a question about the meaning of an expression with a normal use in our language (cf. 'reverence' and 'inward reverence').
Does the expression 'inner piety' name an "inward process" that needs an "outward criterion" if it is not to be an undefined combination of words? The word 'shamming' names behavior: suppose someone kneels to pray: "God alone sees if he is really praying or not". But what has the picture to do with grammar (meaning of language)? "God must see or verification is not possible" -- is this only grammatical impossibility, i.e. undefined language, or does it also state a fact about the nature of man (e.g. that man has an inner life, in contrast to a cow or a dandelion, for example)?
An "inner process" stands in need of outward criteria. (PI § 580)
Which comes first logically -- the outer expression of piety or inner piety? Would it be possible for there to never have been outward piety, but only ever inner piety? (The word 'piety' is not the name of an inner object hidden from the view of all but God. What is its meaning then? The word is a tool: what work do we use it to do in our lives. Logic doesn't investigate phenomena other than the use of words (PI § 383), because the question here is not about facts other than facts about our concept 'piety'. That is what can be hard to see. And so we are back in the original chaos (CV p. 65).)
Emotion and Ethics
Ethics is compassion.... How concerned are Kant, Hegel and others to deprive direct compassion of its rightful place in ethics ... [Man] is always supposed to sit down and first figure out what is ethical. Schopenhauer tells him to heed his own heart -- something unheard of in philosophical ethics. The others ... anxiously teach that pity for animals is not ethical in itself, but gets its meaning only by reference to the kindly disposition which be preserved among men. Schopenhauer ... teaches love for the most miserable creature. (Civilization and Ethics [(2e, 1929) p. 169-170], quoted in The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer (1951), tr. Joy, p. 163)
"Philosophy must never do violence to the human heart; an ethics that denies our natural impulse to compassion must be mistaken." Except that we know that some human beings are by nature cruel, both to other human beings and to all other life. Hume tries to dodge this objection by calling such people "monsters", as if they were a dysfunction of nature -- i.e. as if they or their impulses were unnatural. But that distinction is itself unnatural. It is simply a general fact of nature that there are many other human impulses besides compassion. There is e.g. thoughtlessness and selfishness in most human hearts. Ethics, far from obeying nature, very often must demand that natural impulses be disobeyed.
But does it follow from this that ethics must be rational, founded in the intellect rather than based on the heart? For has anyone ever been stopped by his world-picture from being kind (or cruel, for that matter)? About that, the evidence of life and of history is overwhelming: human beings are creatures more of ideology than of instinct, and many of our ideologies have been and are unworthy of us. [It is the task of philosophy to question-criticise every world-picture. To ask, is it true, logical, serviceable?]
The notion that ethics has its roots in emotion does not stand the test of reason. Why? Because one cannot not say that emotions are the foundation of ethics -- because pointing to an emotion is not a philosophical justification: an emotion is not a reason. Nonetheless, an emotional response may suggest a topic for reflection; but before reflection there is no philosophy, and therefore no ethics (pace Wittgenstein).
But does not the requirement that ethics be rational (the work of reason alone) go back to Socrates -- that is to the very origin of ethics and the meaning of the expression 'ethics' [The expression 'philosophical ethics' would be a pleonasm]?
But what then would be the place of the emotion of pity or compassion in ethics? Does reason justify acting on that emotion? And if not, then what becomes of Socrates' project? For we would regard life without compassion as inhuman -- Is that a rejection of ethics, then? Here I can only think that one must return to the notion of "care of the soul", of what is beneficial and what is harmful to the soul, and of the consequences of doing violence to one's soul. Of course if I am kind to another life, I do so for the benefit of that life, not for my own benefit; but nonetheless my failure to be kind would also have grave consequences for me, for what kind of human being I am.
By 'soul' here I must mean the whole man -- both intellect and heart -- for to deny that this is the nature of man would not be reasonable. (That concept is quite distinct from the Orphic-Platonic picture of 'soul' as the name of a ghost distinct and perhaps even separable from the body. But in our everyday language we distinguish between 'thought and feeling' -- which we sometimes call 'the soul' -- and the "physical object" -- i.e. the object -- (whether it be alive or dead) that we call 'the body'.)
"Logic and the heart" (Schweitzer)
I was always, even as a boy, engrossed in the philosophical problem of the relation between emotion and reason. Certain truths originate in feeling, others in the mind. Those truths that we derive from our emotions are of a moral kind -- compassion, kindness, forgiveness, love for our neighbor. Reason, on the other hand, teaches us the truths that come from reflection.
The problem presented itself to me in these terms: must we really be condemned to live in this dualism of emotional and rational truths? (The Schweitzer Album (1965), tr. Anderson, p. 153)
What is an "emotional truth" when it's at home? A "subjective truth" or a "truth that is not justified by reason" is not what we mean the word 'truth'. What Schweitzer is talking about is covered by our concept 'conviction'; there are emotional convictions. On the other hand there are no "rational convictions" (i.e. that expression is nonsense). Simply misapplying the word [i.e. misappropriating the sign] 'truth' to convictions cannot make convictions truths.
That truth is objective simply belongs to the grammar of the word 'truth'. By 'truth' we do not mean a proposition that I or anyone else as an individual must be convinced of. And so, what does Schweitzer mean by the word 'truth' here? Should he not say instead, 'emotional conviction' versus 'truth' [The expression 'rational truth' would be a pleonasm]? And then we must ask: is there any way to make an emotion rational? Is not that very language nonsense? But then, is the "truth" Schweitzer seeks not to be found -- because it is simply a conceptual confusion? But, on the other hand, do I think that Schweitzer was confused? Not at all. Nonetheless, I do not know how his thoughts should be re-conceptualized -- i.e. put into a form that is not nonsense, unless it is as part of what someone might seek in ethics.
Since my particular preoccupation was with problems of morality, I have always been struck by finding myself forced to recognize that the morality elaborated by philosophy, both ancient and modern, has been meager indeed when compared to the morality of the great religions and ethical geniuses [in whom feeling is always paramount] who have taught us that the supreme and only truth capable of satisfying man's spirit is love.
This led me to devote myself entirely to the search for a fundamental principle of morality.... In doing so, I was brought to the point where I had to consider the question of what the fundamental idea of existence is. What is the mind's point of departure when it sets itself to the task of reflecting on humanity and on the world in which we live? This point of departure, I said to myself, is not any knowledge of the world that we have acquired. We do not have -- and we will never have -- true knowledge of the world; such knowledge will always be a mystery to us.
True knowledge of the world consists in our being penetrated by a sense of the mystery of existence and of life. (The Schweitzer Album, op. cit.)
That sounds like what Schweitzer called "learned ignorance". But that is very different from what I have called "Socratic ignorance" and the "rational ethics" of Socrates, of which there are two parts -- both of which are "true knowledge of the world that we have acquired". Schweitzer speaks of love as the "only truth capable of satisfying man's spirit" -- but religion is not knowledge [truth]; it is conviction. And, if we judge by the way the species has lived its life, there is little evidence that mankind shares Jesus' conviction. There is another conviction, however, that expresses the life of mankind well; it was pronounced by a Chinese thinker: "Morality comes from the barrel of a gun". So much for convictions.
That is what logic and the heart say. (Letters 1905-1965, Lambaréné, 4 May 1964, p. 339)
This is a notion you might do something with, if e.g. you said: In ethics we are looking for a principle that is not only rational but is also emotionally compelling.
"From bad companions you learn bad habits"
We must not allow our ethical failures to make us despair of philosophical argument, but rather should regard ourselves as ill but able to reason our way to health. (cf. Plato, Phaedo 90e)
There are two elements to this failure, (1) imagining that my wrong-doing is justified (especially my lack of forbearance), and (2) the power of bad habits formed in the time of ignorance. Are thoughtlessness (bad habits) and willfulness (imagining wrong-doing to be justified) types of ignorance? What we call "willfulness" clearly is. (And there is a further ignorance that belongs to the human condition, namely, the limits of Know thyself -- the lack of a universal criterion for the particular case. Compare, although this may not concern moral virtue: "Will the loss of an hour's sleep harm me (and therefore be wrong-doing towards myself)?" Well, it may or it may not; it is not always possible to know which.)
Under the influence of Wittgenstein's Medieval religious views and his satanically vain anti-vanity, I did much violence to my heart years ago by throwing away a few small things I had saved from my childhood and youth (This now strikes me as horrendous ingratitude to all that was given me). Wittgenstein, with his anti-rationality that encourages "faith" in both ethics and metaphysics, reinforced in me Kant's claim that ethics is not rational (the "categorical imperative" cannot be justified, nor can Wittgenstein's notion "absolute value") -- and consequently the continuance of my many years in darkness. I retired into the shadows, never putting myself forward, even when it was not recognition of my own limitations that directed me to do this, for there was "Love to be thyself unknown and counted for nothing" (What a strange motto for a man to have). I did so much violence both to reason and my heart that I feel outraged innocence that -- other than in logic of language -- I was ever influenced by this "very singular man" (Bertrand Russell), whom I mistook for a philosopher and not merely a logician, who I imagine really should have been a desert monk of the early years of Catholic Christianity. I have learned much from him about our only tool in philosophy (sc. language) which I could not part with without ceasing to be who I am -- but I have paid a very high price for it! [Contrast the healthy "life affirmation" of Socrates and Albert Schweitzer with the Medieval illness that is Wittgenstein's view of life.]
Wittgenstein came to philosophy from an interest in the foundations of mathematics and later, through Russell, in mathematical logic. Wittgenstein did not come to philosophy because he was seeking answers to what we call "the eternal questions". If the TLP "broadened out" to include those questions, it does not seem to have begun that way: Wittgenstein's project began simply as an attempt to answer some questions in [mathematical] logic. Why did he choose to narrow his later work to exclude those questions? That is a question I don't know the answer to.
It is remarkable that Russell's criticism in My Philosophical Development and elsewhere is not of "linguistic philosophy" nor of "the Christian religion" in their most vibrant forms, but logic-philosophy in the hands of commonplace professors of philosophy ("philosophical journalists") and Christianity in its most senile, Church of England form. Russell doesn't tilt at windmills, but only at pinwheels.
Those who harm us put us in their debt, because the more wrong-doing we must forgive, the more wrong-doing we can ask God to forgive us. (When we fail to forgive those who have wronged us, we continue to allow them to wrong us, which means that we wrong them. Forgiveness (mercy) is at the heart of Christianity. There is no place to run away from it.)
Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 30 November 2009 : 2009-11-30 (Original revision 10 April 2009)
The URL of this Web page: