Home - Wittgenstein's Logic of Language | Bibliography

The Indefiniteness of God

When writing in the context of religion, Albert Schweitzer used of the word 'God', as he said, "in its historical definiteness and indefiniteness". But is a Protean concept ("indefiniteness") a serviceable tool, i.e. is there a "logic of language" for such a word? And what is my own thought now that I am far closer to the end of my life on earth than to its beginning: has the riddle of existence become clearer to me?

Topics on this page ...

Context: these are logic of language (Wittgenstein's expression as defined in my jargon) remarks, i.e. they ask how an objective distinction can be made, if it can be made, between sense and nonsense in the language used in philosophical problems. (There are responses to a few philosophical queries that were directed and misdirected to this site as well.)

Note: some remarks on this page try to understand religion as if religion were philosophy. But that is to misunderstand religion, because religion is not philosophy -- and, because of that, many of my remarks here are preliminary thoughts, useful to me at one time, but not remarks I would make now. (Note written 20 May 2012)

"Wittgenstein was a very singular man ..." (Russell)

A brilliant logician and the enemy of philosophy. A curious combination. Indeed, "a very singular man".

When is philosophy not philosophy?

Wittgenstein. A brilliant logician and an enemy of philosophy. Indeed "a very singular man, and I doubt whether his disciples knew what manner of man he was." -- I certainly don't think his casual disciples know what manner of philosopher he was. Wittgenstein's "philosophy" offers no answer to the questions -- indeed, it does not even raise the ethical and metaphysical questions -- of "how we should live our life" (Socrates), nor what we should make of "the starry sky above and the moral law within" (Kant); about these questions Wittgenstein is utterly silent -- indeed, he claims that there are no such philosophical questions. I value dearly Wittgenstein's "logic of language"; but his work after returning to Cambridge should be classified as logic, not philosophy.

Wittgenstein stood philosophy on its head. Socrates had said that man must be cured by philosophy of thinking he knows what he doesn't know, through the thoroughgoing use of reason in ethics, so that he may learn how to live his life (Socratic logic is for the sake of ethics). But Wittgenstein says, rather, that man must be cured of philosophy by philosophy, which has no other task than to put an end to itself (That is what Wittgenstein's "logic of language" is for), because, Wittgenstein says, philosophical problems are an illness of the intellect -- They are nothing more than conceptual muddledness, the product of bewitchment by language. Although he had earlier claimed that even "The riddle of existence does not exist", nonetheless, in his later remarks (and even in an early remark) he had to admit that the riddle does exist. -- Nonetheless he still saw no need to include that riddle or the subject of ethics (there was reason for excluding ethics from philosophy, but it needn't have been a full stop) in his mature philosophy: The answer to the riddle and how man should live his life is still something "shown" rather than reasoned to. And that surely, to use Schweitzer's words above, "turns its back on thinking" (When Schweitzer wrote about "the problem of a world-view", he was not uttering philosophical nonsense).

With the spirit of the age I am in complete disagreement, because it is filled with disdain for thinking.... the spirit of the age rejoices, instead of lamenting, that thinking seems to be unequal to its task ... It refuses to admit, what is nevertheless the fact, that all spiritual progress up to today has come about through the achievement of thought ... (Out of my Life and Thought, tr. Campion (1949 [orig. 1931]), Chapter 21 (Epilogue), p. 219-220)

Wittgenstein cannot escape this charge, because he disdains thinking about the spirit. He draws a sharp line between logic [of language] and "mysticism" (value, riddle of existence). He thinks that nothing can be said about the latter. Whereas Schweitzer, indeed, said much that was important about "mysticism"; he took thought as far as it would take him. (And how could it be doubted that if mankind had taken the path of "we must pass over in silence", that we would still be primitive beings haunted by nature spirits.)

"Nothing is too absurd ..." (Cicero)

Query: there is no philosophy, only language problems.
Query: there are no philosophical problems, Wittgenstein.
Query: Frank Ramsey: the conclusion of the greatest modern philosopher is that there is no such subject as philosophy [TLP 4.003, 6.54].

"There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has not said it" (Cicero, De divinatione ii, 58, in Pascal's Pensées vi, 363). As the Greek Stoics conceived (saw, but also defined) philosophy, the three parts of philosophy are: logic, ethics, metaphysics.

Ramsey was talking about the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. But did Wittgenstein hold that view to the end of his life, that metaphysics is language-muddle, that logic is "grammar", and that ethics, being concerned with "absolute value" about which nothing rational can be said, is not part of philosophy? It seems so. (A Socratic recovery of philosophy.)

What you cannot say, that the absurd things philosophers say, in contrast to the absurd things politicians say, are always absurdities of genius.

Query: philosophy is but a by-product of misunderstood language.

And is this a preconception or a conclusion, demonstrated by Wittgenstein or a limited insight? According to Wittgenstein that is what philosophy is ("houses of cards" (PI § 118)) -- more or less (i.e. he did not deprecate the work of the philosophers of the past; cf. remark to Drury of 1930: "Don't think I despise metaphysics. I regard some of the great philosophical systems of the past as among the noblest productions of the human mind." (Recollections p. 105)) -- what metaphysics is, not logic (of language), which for Wittgenstein is the whole of philosophy, nor ethics (which he does not classify as a subject of philosophy at all).

The query seems devoid of the seriousness of Wittgenstein. It is as well presumptuous. Whatever Wittgenstein's insights cost him -- they will cost you to understand, too. Otherwise you will be merely skimming across the surface of thought (and of life).

Senses of 'to understand' (language and human experience)

There is a sense of the word 'understand' that is: I understand the language you are using.

There is another sense of 'understand' that is: I have shared this experience. (The "deeper" sense of 'understand'.)

If we say, "Only a father who has himself lost a child can understand a father who has lost a child," we mean 'understand' in the second sense. At the extreme words are without value, like air one cannot breathe.

But if I say 'I understand' to someone who is unhappy, I may simply mean the first sense, that if someone speaks of his sorrow I understand the language he speaks -- and that is all language has to offer us: if I say 'I understand' I needn't mean 'Ah yes, I have had the same experiences as you'.

And we could say, if someone demands more of his listener than an understanding of the language he speaks, then he should not talk to him. It is not only "If a lion could talk we would not understand it" (PI II, xi, p. 223), but also "the inner life of Englishwomen" (which Wittgenstein said a European could not understand)). Obviously how much one human being can "understand" (in the second sense) another is ... doubtful.

But there are many other senses of [ways we use the word] 'to understand'. What do we mean by "understanding a classical symphony" e.g. -- only recognizing the musical forms ("first movement in sonata form")? In fact we call many different things 'understanding music'. What do we mean by "understanding literature" -- only being able to give an account of the plot? Do we say that someone understands Fellini's La Strada if he cannot say what the stone "the Fool" hands to Gelsomina symbolizes? We call countless things 'understanding', and although there are resemblances among uses of that word, there is no general definition of 'understanding'. Faced with a difficulty in mathematics 'Now I understand' may mean 'Now I can go on' (PI §§ 151, 123), but what has that in common with 'understanding' = 'being penetrated by a thought':

No one can honestly say of himself that he is filth. Or while I can say it, it is not a thought by which I myself can be penetrated. Otherwise I should have to change myself or go mad. (CV p. 32, a remark from 1937)

"... penetrated by a thought." Cf. cases where "I say I know one thing, but I think I know its contrary" and the case of putting one's hand in a fire. Maybe that is an apt comparison: fear of fire and being penetrated by a thought.

When you look at an ant or a spider, and you think "This creature is afraid" or "in distress", and then you think ... Our vocabulary only has clear application to human life and to life forms that resemble ours, such as other mammals. Is it terribly clear what it means to say of an ant that it is distressed? But if an insect appears to run away or to be disoriented or injured, it is natural to say that it is afraid or distressed. What might we mean by 'understand an ant'? e.g. do you think an ant has thoughts? language? that it has an "inner life"?

Note: this continues the discussion "Can there be a real definition of God?"

Defining God: saying "what God is" versus describing our use of the word 'God'

No one can explain this [why Jesus had to die for sins to be forgiven; Paul says that God did not need to have Jesus die in order for God to forgive men their sins], because it is a thought of God.... Because you are men you have other, far higher thoughts than a goat. Isn't that true? As with men, so with God. We cannot understand all the thoughts of God. (The African Sermons [1913-1935], 20 April 1930 "Easter Sunday", (2003) tr. Melamed, p. 63-64; the allusion here is to Isaiah 55.9)

To believe that God is the father is not easy

He [Jesus] says to every poor man, "You can pray to God as if you are speaking to your father." It was the first time that a man said this. It it not altogether easy to believe that God is a father to us.

When we see a man who is very sick, who cannot speak, who cannot walk, who suffers and cries out ... Then we can ask, "But if God is the father, why does he send such sad things to men?" We must say that we do not understand it.... So we see much sadness, much difficulty, much injustice in the world, and many people who can say, "It is clear that God is not a father to men." Jesus, who was far more intelligent than all men, knew this. Nevertheless, he said, "God our Father," because he knew as well as we poor folks that we cannot know the thoughts of God.

Look at this little sheep over there! Can this little sheep understand the thoughts in a man's head? No! Isn't this true? Well, then! The difference between a sheep and a man is not as big as the difference between a man and God. So it is clear that a poor man cannot understand God. This is why Jesus says, "Believe that God is our Father, even if you do not understand it, and that everything that God wants for men, and has done for men, is good, even if you do not understand it." So it is that we Christians believe that God has spoken by the mouth of Jesus. [Those who can say "God our Father" have] tranquil hearts, because the only real good in the world for a man is to have a tranquil heart. No one can be happy or have a tranquil heart except those who believe that God is our father. That is why Jesus taught men to say, "Our Father who art in heaven." (ibid. 20 July 1930 "Our Father", p. 94-95)

What is logically possible (Describable) to understand?

A false analogy: I am unable to understand the thoughts of the physicist because, as I believe, I am unable understand the mathematics he thinks in. The picture: God as mathematician (Urizen). But that picture is misapplied here: because we do believe that, if we have the native intelligence, we can learn mathematics; and then we can understand the physicist (God in the picture). But we do not believe that "if we have the native intelligence, we can understand the God of our religion" (in contrast to "the God of the philosophers"). How high are the heavens above the earth? for that is how high God's thoughts are above ours (Isaiah 55.9).

To begin at the beginning, then, there is a "linguistic-sign" (a spoken sound, ink marks on paper), namely the word 'God', and the question for logic of language is: what if anything gives that word meaning? 'God', like all concepts, is a human invention, a system of rules (a grammar) created as a tool to be of some service to man (although when it is not thoughtfully taken in hand, it does a disservice).

"What God is" may be a mystery of some kind (if only of self-mystification), but if the meaning of the word 'God' is a mystery -- then isn't that simply a way of saying that the word 'God' is nonsense ("mere sound without sense" -- i.e. an undefined sign)?

'God' and Russell's Theory of Descriptions

Maybe the word 'God' can be defined using the idea of Bertrand Russell's "Theory of Descriptions" (cf. PI § 79), but what would that definition look like? If we imagine a class {descriptions of God}, then what any individual means by 'God' would be a subclass of that class (a subclass including some descriptions and excluding others). And then will any two individuals mean the same thing by the word 'God'? So if we talk among ourselves, do we know what we are talking about (even if we belong to a particular religion's community of ideas)? And if not, then that is "the indefiniteness of God", that is to say, of the concept 'God' ('concept' = 'rules for using a word') ... But is that the only "indefiniteness of God"? For can the concept 'God' be disentangled from the eternal questions (Is that tangle not essential?) -- if by 'God' we mean the unknowable meaning of our life and existence (which we may or may not)? Just as there is an "indefiniteness" (more vague than clear) to the eternal questions, so too is there an indefiniteness to the concept 'God'.

I want to say -- but perhaps I am wrong -- that Schweitzer's remarks presume the picture of a God of Nature -- as if God were just there (like our life is "just there" (OC § 559)), a given to be taken as granted: and now we can ask about His nature, and we can ask: How can man understand the mind of God?

There are thoughts I can't seem to get past. For example, if God -- i.e. the concept 'God' -- does not have to do with the existence of someone (cf. Wittgenstein's remark that "the way you use the word 'God' shows what, not whom, you mean") and is of use only as a metaphor (for example, as I myself would say: for all that is good, true, and beautiful, for kindness and peace, things like this) -- then I do not know what use to make of it: you can pray to a someone, but not to a something. (What's "God" when it's at home?)

Schweitzer tells his hearers that when Jesus says, "You can pray to God as if you are speaking to your father," Jesus means a father who loves his children. And that picture of God contrasts with their primitive picture of constant fear, for they believe their lives are ruled over by malevolent nature spirits, and by the angry dead, and by taboos and fetishes. But Jesus' says, "Don't be afraid. God is the father who loves his children." And Schweitzer says that although it is not easy to believe Jesus' words, nonetheless they are true. And in them there is peace.

The Golden Calf

In the traditional, received religious world-picture, God is not the conclusion of an investigation or line of thought, but God is taken for granted or is said to have revealed His existence to certain persons in the distant past. [Atheism is a reaction against a pre-existent picture: the picture must first be posited before it can be rejected or doubted. In this the grammar of the word 'God' resembles the grammar of the word 'fairy' (Z § 413).] As with the people who worshipped the golden calf in the desert, a god which they themselves had created [manufactured], so people create a concept or picture to which they give the name 'God'; then they down and worship an invention of their own imagination. And instead of drawing conclusions from their experience of the world, they begin with their concept-picture 'God' and draw conclusions from it about the nature of the world: they deduce what reality is from their own concept, that is to say, from their own imagination.

According to Schweitzer, religion should come as the conclusion to thought, not as its beginning (It is not a premise; "Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it" (Out of My Life and Thought, tr. Lemke (1990), p. 240). If is were used as the beginning of thought, it could be only dogma, self-delusion. "Question authority!" Kant might have said rather than "Dare to doubt!" because "revelation" is authority, the authority of the ancient -- never mind whether or not this ancient is wisdom or merely the childhood of mankind speaking. By putting it at its beginning, you have replaced experience with a picture of your own creation (M. O'C. Drury), with dogma. You have begun with [assumed] a received world-picture ("a picture held us captive"), rather than yourself constructing one that is consistent with experience [which is what philosophical thought must do].

This is the view that "honestly disgusts me" (LC iii, 37, p. 28): that we define things ("in some sense" of thing, I don't know in which sense) rather than define words -- and that "there are some things that although we cannot define [those things] it makes sense to talk about [them]".

Our concept 'truth'. Can the search for truth choose take an anti-rational direction? The willingness to accept dogma -- to claim to go beyond when we reach the point beyond which we have not defined how to go beyond -- is a curious feature of the human life. But on the other hand, does 'non-rational' [always] = 'anti-rational'?

Hume's assertion that passion directs reason: "It is impossible to derive an ought from an is" -- i.e. the facts cannot teach us [logically determine] morality; and if anyone denies that, let him prove its contrary! But it seems to me, however, that anyone who rejected the considerations of Plato's Socrates in the Gorgias would have to put forward something utterly perverse in those considerations' place. Suppose someone said: "Well, why shouldn't I be irrational? Why should I want to be reasonable? Why shouldn't I do what is harmful to my body and to my soul?" That is like asking: "Why should I want to be happy? Why shouldn't I want to be ignoble?" I would say that someone who said such things was doing so for the sake of argument alone -- i.e for perverse eristic: "It doesn't follow as a matter of logical necessity [this "ought" from this "is"]. And therefore ..." Precisely, and therefore what? [The question-sign 'Why should I want to be happy?' is nonsense (an undefined combination of words). "I don't need to bow down to [obey] what I admit is "reasonable", because, not being logically necessary, it is merely reasonable."

"But surely the goodness of the soul is pleasant" (506c). At this point the word 'pleasant' is a tool with which one can do no work. Because at this point 'the better course' does not contrast with but instead is identical with 'the pleasanter course'. (cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 8, 11)

Preconceptions and Misperceptions (and Puzzlement)

The God who is known through philosophy and the God whom I experience as ethical Will do not coincide. They are one; but how they are one, I do not understand. (Christianity and the Religions of the World, p. 74)

Again. When grammatical rules cannot be reconciled, we speak of something's being "beyond our understanding". And that is self-mystification. Schweitzer asks the Africans: can a goat think the thoughts of a man, and thus by analogy, a man cannot think the thoughts of God. But an analogy goes from A to B -- but here there is no B. No, B cannot stand for an "abstraction", an "abstract term", "abstract object" -- i.e. a non-name-of-object-word -- because with an "abstraction" everything about it is by definition. So that all one can say is, Well, yes, there is such a picture (although you cannot even illustrate it in line-drawings because "God is"-- by definition --"formless"), such a "concept" -- but it is a "picture" to which there is nothing to compare.

Note: later thoughts have tempered my view of Schweitzer's analogy, but the above remarks seem to me nonetheless correct (and possibly my later view is quite mistaken): Goats, man, and God.

The Protean grammar of the word 'God'

But then why do I speak of my being liberated by Schweitzer? For this one idea: "[The clergyman who prepared us for confirmation] wanted to make us understand that in submission to faith all reasoning must be silenced. But I was convinced -- and I am so still -- that the fundamental principles of Christianity have to be proved true by reasoning, and by no other method. Reason, I said to myself, is given us that we may bring everything within the range of its action, even the most exalted ideas of religion. And this certainty filled me with joy" (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, tr. Campion, Chapter 3), and its demonstration in Schweitzer's work. My only criticism of Schweitzer is that he does not go far enough along the road to thoroughgoing reason-alone. See the letter to Oskar Kraus, which I find impossibly confusing: "I employ the word 'God' in its historical definiteness and indefiniteness", whereas Kraus had wanted Schweitzer to grab hold of this grammatical Proteus and say exactly what Schweitzer himself meant by the word 'God'.

This continues the discussion Schweitzer: The spirit of philosophy must also be the spirit of religion. What manner of Christian was Albert Schweitzer -- i.e. what did he "believe in"? He believed in this: that the God of Nature and the God of Ethics are the same, although that is impossible to show by reason. [Comment: But what kind of impossibility is this? It is contradictory-grammatical-rules impossibility.]

Earlier I wrote, because I deduced this from Schweitzer's autobiography Out of My Life and Thought and his Christianity and the Religions of the World lectures:

Schweitzer was not a renewer of received Christianity -- i.e. of an ancient, medieval world-picture expressed in Christian dogmas about the supernatural ... (Philosophy of Religion)

But that is not quite correct, or not entirely correct. Because Schweitzer was in his preaching to the Africans of the Ogowe in some respects preaching a dogmatic Christianity. On the one hand, he speaks to educated Europeans about the "mysterious contrast between God and the world", that God as Nature is simply a mystery to us; but on the other hand, he tells the primitive Africans that whatever happens, happens because it is the will of God, and that God's will is good, although to understand why God does what he does is beyond the capacity of a human being to understand.

Is this not the usual clergyman's cant? "My ways are not your ways," says the Lord God, and we cannot [Comment: "cannot" by rule of this game] understand His ways; but if we could understand, then we would understand that God is good. Why did Schweitzer tell the Africans this? But he told the Europeans that same thing. Schweitzer did not teach a different religion to the Africans than he taught to the Europeans.

In Africa Schweitzer was trying to replace one world-picture [Wittgenstein: "superstition ... results from fear and is a sort of false science. [But religious faith] is a trusting" (CV p. 72)] with another. It may not have been a perfect picture, but it was infinitely better than what it was intended to replace. [The primitive people lived in fear of malevolent spirits, taboos and sorcerers.]

He says there are people who do not believe in missionary work among primitives, on the ground that they are far happier left alone. But are they happy, he asks? No, for they are the slaves of terrible superstitions. They have become the children of Fear. They live in constant fear of spirits, departed spirits, evil spirits; and in fear, too, of the fetich-men who are supposed to control the supernatural powers and perform all kinds of ceremonies to keep them away.... "Now will you understand what the Gospel means," says the Doctor. It means release to the people from the fear which cripples them and shackles their lives. Henceforth they know that the destiny of all of us is in the hands of the same loving Father. (Emil Mettler, quoted in Seaver, op. cit. p. 130)

Schweitzer ended one of his sermons with the words: "And I want all of you to be happy and for you to have peace in your hearts." (The African Sermons, 7 December 1930 "The Second Sunday of Advent", p. 129)

The faith Schweitzer taught to both Africans and Europeans

Before I had misgivings about whether Schweitzer told the Europeans one thing and the Africans another. However, no, it was the same religion he taught both.

[Unlike earlier generations which might believe that steady progress was being made toward the Kingdom of God, we] having lived through, and still living in, a time of appalling and meaningless events, feel as if a terrible tidal wave had flung us back, far away from the harbor of the Kingdom of God, towards which we now have to start out afresh, rowing hard against the storm and tide, without being certain of really making headway.

The "Are-you-saved?" Christians denounce liberal Christianity for "preaching a social gospel", which is puzzling, for isn't that what John is preaching (Luke 3.11)? The question isn't whether the kingdom of God must be created by God, but of what while working or waiting (for a Christian might believe either) for that kingdom to come men must do. And we know what must be done, because Jesus has told us (Matthew 25.34-36; cf. Luke 6.46) (the mark of belonging to the kingdom"). "Love thy neighbor as thyself" is a social gospel, regardless of anyone's belief about the coming or creation of the kingdom of God.

Thus we, too, like the early Christians [who had expected the perfected world of God's Kingdom to come speedily (p. 76, 79)], are taught by God the awful discipline of the word: "My thoughts are not your thoughts." He sets before us the difficult task of being faithful to the Kingdom of God as those who do not see and yet believe. (Christianity and the Religions of the World, tr. Johanna Powers (1923; repr. New York: 1939, p. 80)

When Schweitzer speaks of God as found within oneself (i.e. as ethical Will, as opposed to mere creative Force), he is not using the word 'God' equivocally, nor is he speaking figuratively. This is extremely important to see:

All problems of religion, ultimately, go back to this one -- the experience I have of God within myself differs from knowledge concerning Him which I derive from the world. (ibid. p. 74)

Remember, for Schweitzer there is only one God, not as it were two. The God who is Ethical Personality must somehow (we don't see how) also be the God of Nature. Philosophically this appears to me to be irrational -- indeed, like all faith, it is irrational.

So, yes, Schweitzer was telling the Africans the same thing that he was telling the Europeans when he spoke of goats not understanding the thoughts of a man. But I cannot explain why he is saying these things. And it puzzles me that he is saying them. I don't see what this picture has to do with the thoroughgoing application of reason [unless it be rationalist analogy run wild; the analogy can be made -- except that one analogue does not exist, except as a conceptual invention-postulate (the concept 'God')]. Because recall:

All thinking must renounce the attempt to explain the universe.... What is full of meaning [in it] is united to what is senseless. The spirit of the universe is at once creative and destructive ... and therefore it remains to us a riddle. And we must inevitably resign ourselves to this. (Schweitzer, "Religion in Modern Civilization", October 1934, reprinted in Seaver (1947), p. 340-341.)

Does Schweitzer say one thing in philosophy and another thing in religion? I do not see how he can get the two things together ... because, of course, I am looking for a rational union, whereas faith is irrational. And the identification Schweitzer makes of the Ethical God with the God of Nature is faith, not philosophy. "We must renounce the attempt to explain" -- i.e. then philosophy [reason and the evidence] explains [when it can], whereas faith does not (and if it did, it would not be what we call 'faith'). Can there nonetheless be in Schweitzer a "unity of thought and deed"? What I would say is that one cannot be both a philosopher and a religious man -- unless one sets strict limits to the domain of both disciplines, as Wittgenstein did, but I don't believe Schweitzer did. That is, I think we must call Schweitzer a religious thinker rather than a philosopher. And if we do, then we find the unity of thought and deed.

On the other hand, there may be another way to look at this, a way that finds what is rational here. Because Schweitzer was a philosopher, and original thinker in philosophy, but his thinking did not end with philosophy but continued on into religion (But religion or "mysticism" came at the conclusion, not at the beginning of his thinking). Schweitzer's thought is in a way more difficult to understand than Wittgenstein's. Because that Wittgenstein's way of looking at things is radically different from what we are used to is obvious. But Schweitzer's looks at ideas that are familiar to us (for all of us have thought about God, ethics, life's meaning) -- although in fact his work is infinitely deeper than any thinking about those ideas that we ourselves have ever done. That apparent familiarity is what takes us in, what leads us to believe that we are talking about things that are easier to understand than they are. Schweitzer was a deep and thoroughgoing thinker, whereas very few of us are.

Schweitzer - a Religious Thinker

Was Schweitzer in some ways a deeply perplexing thinker? "Thank the Lord for his is kind, and his goodness is everlasting" -- so Schweitzer prayed before the evening meal in Lambaréné -- and so, apparently, he believed ... but this was belief-in (We also call this 'faith', but not in the sense of 'trust'). Is his identification of the God of Nature philosophies with the God who is Ethical Will an example of "mystical thinking"?

Schweitzer's use of the term "mystical thinking" suggests that to him das Denken [thought] is something more comprehensive than the thought whose essence is the marshaling of clearly defined concepts according to the rules of logic. (L. Ostergaard-Christensen, At Work with Albert Schweitzer, tr. F.H. Lyon (1962), p. 90)

There is, Schweitzer said: "No doubt something subjective clings to the knowledge that results from the creative act of the mind." (Out of my Life and Thought, p. 103) But we do not call the results of that "creative act" -- 'knowledge', but instead belief or, in some cases, belief-in (as in "holding-fast to a picture").

Schweitzer wrote in letters to Oskar Kraus (This was between 1925 and 1928 in response to the first edition of Kraus' study, to which Kraus added an "Epilogue" for the second edition):

To your assertion that I do not make a sufficiently sharp distinction between religious and philosophic thinking I can only reply that this has, I think, always been characteristic of me. (p. 71)

For me the certainty of the existence of an ethical world-will is an absolute and indubitable fact based on my experience of its workings in my own soul. In my opinion my philosophy has developed into an ethical pantheism, the inevitable synthesis of theism and pantheism. (Oskar Kraus, Albert Schweitzer: His work and his philosophy, tr. E.G. McCalman (1944), p. 72-73)

Well, that is what I long suspected [Today is 9 November 2009]. But again: that is religious thinking (thought) not philosophy. For philosophically, of course, what Schweitzer is certain of cannot be a "fact": he knows only of the existence of an ethical will working within himself -- i.e. his own. And yes, we are a creation of nature and thus what exists in us is also the creation of nature. But to, therefore, speak of "Nature" or "God" is to say more than we know (as, indeed, Schweitzer himself wrote to Kraus).

Kraus says that he looks upon Schweitzer "as a representative of philosophic mysticism, the characteristic of which consists in admitting sources of knowledge which claim to transcend logic, and is consequently of an irrational nature" (ibid. p. 72). But logic, being a human invention -- i.e. the rules of logic are our rules, not as it were Nature's [and even logic were "by nature", nature is as often dysfunctional as functional -- i.e. being "natural" does not in itself make a thing sound or good (madness e.g.)] -- cannot be "transcended" ("gone beyond" -- whatever that is when it's at home): you either follow the rules, or you break the rules; you either play the game or "you play it wrong or not at all". There is no such thing as "philosophic mysticism": just as not every application of reason is philosophy (e.g. theology: "any proposition can [logical possibility] be derived from other propositions"), so too not every conviction is objective rather than subjective. (Those are of course grammatical remarks about the words 'reason' and 'conviction'.)

... philosophic mysticism, the characteristic of which consists in admitting sources of knowledge which claim to transcend logic, and is consequently of an irrational nature.

But what does 'transcend logic' mean except to be illogical or simply to make statements that are unsupported by other statements (and are, as it were, "conclusions without premises"). You don't "go beyond" logic; you just go someplace else. And we do not call "irrational" thought 'philosophy' of any kind. (If we mean by 'know' to 'have objective and compelling grounds', and if by 'mysticism' is meant 'knowledge of what cannot be known', then mysticism is not only irrational but 'mysticism' is nonsensical.) Schweitzer wrote:

I desire to stand before the world as one who has thought out rationalism to its logical conclusion. (ibid.)

But this "logical conclusion" would be Schweitzer's mysticism, and mysticism is not rational. Even if me meant no more by 'mysticism' than "an undefined wonder at it all" -- that "wonder" does comes at the end of any rational argument. One either has a sense of wonder, or may be brought to have one, or does not have it. Its absence may be called "concept-blindness" or "common sense". But in either or any case it is not logical. [Has a dog this sense of wonder? (There is canine behavior that we would call 'being perplexed', but not about "existence in general". cf. "Forms of life".])

Note: the following remarks are for the most part first blush responses to Oscar Kraus' book.

"The Indefiniteness of God"

Because I express no more than I have experienced, I never speak in philosophy of "God" but only of "the universal will-to-live", which comes to consciousness in me in a twofold way: first, as creative will perceived as manifestations in observable phenomena external to me; and secondly, as ethical will experienced within me.

I prefer therefore to stop with a description of the experience of thinking, leaving pantheism and theism as an indecisive mystery within me. I am always thrown back to the reality of my experience.

I am not able to get around [i.e. go beyond] the renunciation of all metaphysical knowledge of the world nor beyond the conflict: pantheism-theism. I say this in the philosophical as well the traditional religious sense.

It is my fate and my destiny to think out while living how much ethical content and religiosity can be realized by reason in a Weltanschauung which dares to be incomplete. (Oskar Kraus, Albert Schweitzer: His work and his philosophy, tr. E.G. McCalman (1944) [p. 42-43], letter to Kraus of 2 January 1924; quoted in Brabazon's biography (2000), p. 328-9)

What does Schweitzer mean by 'thought'? He means "far more" than simply logic, but somehow (I sense that this is the correct account, but I don't know what exactly this "somehow" is) logic which incorporates feeling. So that, when he thinks about ethics, he does not stop with "reason" [What exactly do I mean by the word 'reason' here?], but demands that our "feeling" [or, moral sense of] compassion not be ... i.e. that ethics has its source -- and rightfully has its source -- not only in "reason" but also in "feeling". [What would the expression 'experienced-thought' be used to mean?]

But that is not the only difficulty with understanding Schweitzer's use of the word 'thought'. Another is:

When I must use the language of traditional religious idioms, however, then I employ the word "God" in its historical definiteness and indefiniteness. (ibid. p. 328)

This perplexes me endlessly; I don't know what to do with it. "... indefiniteness"? How can using -- i.e. uttering -- such language be tolerable to reason. cf. Wittgenstein's:

What must the man be called, who cannot understand the concept 'God', cannot see how a reasonable man may use this word seriously? Are we to say he suffers from some blindness? (RPP i § 213)

Yes, but what concept is that -- Wittgenstein's concept 'God'? (We can allude to Russell's Theory of Descriptions, but which of those descriptions did Wittgenstein mean by 'God'?) What is to be done with a word whose grammar is so fluid -- that you can't give even a general definition or say with certainly -- even in the case of particular individuals -- what its rules are? What is to be done with the word 'beauty', then, eh, stupid? But are the grammars of 'beauty' and 'God' similar? No, the grammar of 'beauty' is without rules, whereas for the grammar of 'God' there are as it were too many rules. "... shows not whom you mean -- but instead what you mean" (CV p. 50) -- But Wittgenstein nowhere says what he means by that word.

"What must the man be called ...?" Would I myself, after futilely trying in many ways to derive a sense for the word 'God' from all that Wittgenstein has written, say that such a man should be called rational and not self-mystified? Well, whatever is happening with language here: "for a blunder that is too big". There is also a much later, although not necessarily better -- i.e. not necessarily correct and the account given here wrong -- and very different account of the grammar of the word 'God', q. v. Also see:

Bertrand Russell's Theory of Descriptions: "We may say, following Russell: [that the word 'God'] can be defined by means of various descriptions" (cf. PI § 79).

[Another meaning [i.e. use for]. The word 'God' as have used that word at times, to mean 'faith that life has a meaning, a meaning which is of course good, although unknown to us'. This view of our life requires a lot of humility/modesty: "Confess thine ignorance."]

"My ways are not your ways"

... as if human beings had not invented God, I mean the concept 'God', and what do we mean by the word 'God' if not a concept -- i.e. a way to organize our thinking -- for the word 'God' is certainly neither the name of an object nor of a phenomenon [The word's use is very queer to describe; a 'concept' means 'rules for using signs' (marks on paper, spoken sounds), but the concept 'God' consists of rules that it is unclear how to follow]. Schweitzer: a goat cannot think a man's thoughts, and by analogy, a man cannot think God's thoughts, which is a notion that can, of course, be used to silence the question of why evil things happen. A concept is invented, we ourselves invent a picture, and then we use it to mystify ourselves.

Can we say that "Just as a goat cannot think man's thoughts man cannot think God's thoughts" is an analogy only if the word 'God' is someone's name? as if to say that 'only a person can think thoughts' is a rule of grammar, so that to say that 'a non-person thinks' is nonsense (an undefined combination of words)? But well, why shouldn't 'God' be a proper name? Don't we normally use the word just that way? Wittgenstein says only that 'God' is not the name of an Olympian-type being (which may be a religious, rather than a grammatical, statement). But can you say that 'If you pray, you must pray to someone' is a rule of grammar? No, we call things 'prayer' that are not so-directed. (I am asking about our concepts, not telling, because I don't know.)

"My ways are not your ways" (Isaiah 55.8). -- No, they most certainly are not. Because by us kindness is not capriciously bestowed but instead commanded by our sense of "Blessed are the merciful". Could not the Stoics have used the idea "God's ways are not man's ways" if asked to characterize events as the will of God? and so that idea is pantheistic? Schweitzer thought it is, but need what is "beyondness in the midst" itself be that midst? Isn't what we mean by 'God' precisely not the world?

God as "love in the midst" of love's absence, e.g. forgiveness among the merciless, welcome when "homeless near a thousand homes I stood". Things like this. For what else would God's "beyondness in our midst" be if not love, especially where there is no other? ["For which is easier, to say "Your sins are forgiven" or to say "Rise and walk"?" (Matthew 9.5)]

Suffering and Providence (levels of religious understanding)

"My ways are not your ways," Isaiah has God say. But God's "ways" cannot be less ethical than man's ideals -- (for contrariwise would be offensive to religion, rendering 'God' an unserviceable concept) -- which they would be shown by our experience of the world to be were it the case that God plays god. God does not create evil -- nor is he served by it, nor does he use it to achieve his own ends. This seems A, B, C, and it seems a cheap rationalism that tries to explain (i.e. justify) what it supposes to be God's "ways".

On the other hand, in Paul Glynn's A Song for Nagasaki (1988), xxvi, are reproduced side by side two most remarkable drawings by Takashi Nagai, the first based on Murillo's Assumption of Mary, the second depicting Nagai's "wife taken to heaven on the atomic cloud" (xxvii). Nagai -- who was a medical doctor and far more intelligent than I am, lived and worked during and after the bombing of Nagasaki (9 August 1945), which killed his wife instantly (Nagai was at the hospital, while his wife was at their house) -- could see God's providence of love even in the atomic bombing of the city.

No, I don't think that faith in Providence comes cheap, but I myself am not willing to use reason to find a place for evil in God's "ways"; to me the very idea is offensive to religion.

On the other hand ... Glynn uses the expression "the redemptive dimension of suffering" (xxiv), and Nagai -- in the words he spoke at a Requiem Mass held outdoors beside the ruins of Urakami's Catholic cathedral in November 1945 for the 8,000 Christians of Nagasaki who had been killed by the atomic bomb -- made a connection between Calvary and Nagasaki, both as having the "redemptive dimension of suffering and death".

[The bombing of Nagasaki's cathedral was not dictated by accidental circumstances; rather, the Urakami district was chosen by God so that its Christian community could atone] for the sins of all the nations during World War II.... The Christian flock of Nagasaki was true to the Faith through three centuries of persecution. During the recent war, it prayed ceaselessly for a lasting peace. Here was the one pure lamb that had to be sacrificed [1 Peter 1.19] ... so that many millions of lives might be saved.

Nagai connected Jesus' suffering at Calvary -- "We must walk the way of reparation [with our eyes turned towards] Jesus' carrying his Cross up the hill of Calvary" -- with the suffering of the Nagasaki Christians: that both were acts of suffering evil that brought redemption to the descendants of Adam's original sin and of Cain who killed his brother. "We have turned to idols and forgotten love. Hating one another, killing one another, joyfully killing one another! ... Let us be thankful that through this sacrifice, peace has come to the world [on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, by the emperor's declaration of surrender] and religious freedom to Japan."

Nagai suggested [to a friend in the community whose entire family was killed by the bombing] that the only way open to anyone who believed the Gospel was to see the A-bomb as part of ["the mysterious Providence of God"], which always brings good from evil. (ibid.)

Many scholars and saints have spoken this way about "the redemptive dimension of suffering and death", if suffering is offered to God as an act of love or atonement for mankind's sins; Mother Teresa of Calcutta thought this way. It is a religious view of suffering, Nagai in cosmic ways, Mother Teresa in smaller personal ways, the suffering of the sick and the dying.

Possible only in the first person

Soon you will be orphans and, willy-nilly, must climb a steep, rugged and lonely path. Your Christian faith will be no drug that anesthetizes pain. But I can assure you of this: your lonely path is precisely what God in his Providence has chosen, especially for you! Accept it as such and often ask: How can I use this for [Y]our glory?

Some get themselves into a knot over the "unfairness" of God's Providence. (Nagai wrote this for his children, quoted ibid. xxix )

For one man the notion "Providence" belongs to his religious understanding of life, to another it is an offense against religion: one sees benevolence behind suffering, the other (if he even believes in Providence sees God's acts as) mere cruelty. The deeper man understands both views; the shallower man only one, and I am the shallower man. (How can God have "specially chosen" the rape and murder of a child for that child ... There is not even need for a question mark. That is not simply an apparent "unfairness" of Providence, surely. Of course "no one knows how". But one man can believe that God has chosen that for the child, another cannot.)

On my level, to accept the picture that "God plays god", that God is the puppet-master who pulls the strings of the world, i.e. the picture of Providence, is superstition, an "ugly, irreligious" doctrine (cf. CV p. 32 [MS 120 8: 20.11.1937], Wittgenstein about the "doctrine of election"). On my religious level it is impossible to believe in Providence. But there are other levels than mine.

At my level of understanding, belief in Providence is an extraordinary way of thinking, quite beyond a person at my level of religious understanding, for whom "Providence" would mean God the doer of countless acts of petty sadism (a knocked over glass of water -- events cruel in their pointlessness), even if I thought of those events as an unwelcome consequence of God's gift of freedom to man. I cannot connect those petty indignities to the Lord at Calvary. I imagine it is easy to forget Jesus' words that "A disciple is not greater than his master" and that if the Lord suffered indignities, his disciples can expect to suffer them as well (Jesus was -- and still is -- spat on and mocked, but the Lord bore and forbore all). But does that thought help?

If I myself thought of God as playing god, I would have no more use for God, that is, for the concept 'God', than I have for "Nature". That is the way I am (but not as if I myself chose to be this way, I think).

[At the end of Takashi Nagai's book The Bells of Nagasaki] he kneels with his children to say the Angelus. Despite their poverty and loss, they know that God is love, that suffering and the effort to keep on loving are worthwhile. (Glynn, xxiv)

And Fr. Glynn quotes Psalm 36 ("In your light we see light") as the understanding of prayer of both Blaise Pascal and Nagai. (ibid.) But participation in a religious practice must be a genuine expression of religion for the particular individual, I think. I myself have never understood praying the rosary or special devotion to Mary, the Mother of God and to us (the Fourth Gospel says), yet I know that many I feel a deep respect for do understand. (Participation in a form of life)

The only prayer I myself can say, and that only once in a while, at funerals or at the cemetery, is the Lord's Prayer. Silent prayer, prayer without thought in words at all, as when in church or in the cemetery looking up at the cross, at the figure of the crucified Christ -- this I can understand. It says more to me as an act of prayer than any words, other than the Lord's Prayer, can do.

So I think there are limits, unchosen, to religion which vary from individual by individual.. But the spirit of Christianity, which is to practice Jesus' ethics of love even in small acts of patience -- is usually very hard for me, although maybe I have learned more and more often to say, "Why should I do this thing? Because love -- sometimes mercy, sometimes pity -- tells me I should." This thought helps me, like Augustine's "Whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done" and Tolstoy's "When people think there is something more important [cf. the "idols" Nagai speaks of above] than loving one another, that is when every cruelty becomes possible." And so it seems to me that one can only speak in the first person in religion, although one may speak in the third person about it.

Those are all grammatical remarks about which picture of God -- i.e. use of the word 'God' (that tool of our language) -- is serviceable to an individual, which not. My own thought remains this, that by 'God' I mean 'the source of meaning to existence', of unknown meaning, unknowable, apparently, as well.

[Other remarks, about "My thoughts are as high above yours as the heavens are above the earth" (Isaiah 55.9) are found in the page "Goats, man, and God", and a bit older thoughts about "what is serviceable in Christianity" in the page "Tolstoy and Death".]

The God of Stoicism

Stoicism's picture of God, (I think). If the human body is the best picture of the human soul [PI II, iv, p. 178; I don't think we would talk that way about a dog, but rather that if you see the behavior of a living thing you see its soul (ibid. § 357)], then is the universe the best picture of God? Because as the soul permeates the body without being identical to it, so God permeates the universe without being identical to it (or does 'pantheism' say that God is identical with the world, Nature?). (If 'permeate' is the word I want; 'pervade' is obscure? I wrote that: "Why say that an emotion is only diffused throughout the body? If we are drawn to speak of sadness as a "cloud descending" (Z § 517),) why say only that it descends on the body -- rather than say that it descends on the whole world, that it pervades the world without being identical to it?"

Religion is turned aside from the world

In recent times a tendency has appeared in dogmatic religion which completely turns its back on thinking [-- i.e. the independent use of critical reason (which does not silence itself even when confronted with so-called revelation) --] and at the same time declares that religion has nothing to do with the world and civilization. It is not its business to realize the kingdom of God on earth. This extreme tendency is mainly represented by Karl Barth.... He dares to say that religion has nothing to do with thinking [but only with obedience to revealed truth]. He wants to give religion nothing to do with anything but God and man, the great antithesis. He says a religious person does not concern himself with what happens to the world. The idea of the kingdom of God plays no part with him.... The church must leave the world to itself. All that concerns the church is the preaching of revealed truth. Religion is turned aside from the world.

Yet Karl Barth ... came to the point when he had to concern himself with the world, which in theory he did not want to do. He had to defend the freedom of religion against the state. And he did it with courage [//Barth was dismissed (c. January 1934) from his teaching position at the university in Bonn after he refused to swear the unconditional oath of allegiance to the state that all civil servants were required to do, but only to take that oath with the added rider "in so far as I can responsibly do so as a Christian", which was not acceptable to the Nazi government [which, in my view, wanted even what belonged to God to be rendered to Caesar] (p. 353, 332); Barth had rejected the position that the Church could recognize anything as being higher than divine revelation or allow itself to be organized by any political authority (p. 297; cf. also p. 124, 205. Source: Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1970); in 1938 Barth was to tell Czecho-Slovakians that every "soldier who fights and suffers [against the Nazi invasion of their country] will be doing so ... for the Church of Jesus" which under Nazi rule "must become the victim of either ridicule or extermination", p. 510)//]. But it shows that his theory is false! It is something terrible to say that religion is not ethical [which, to Schweitzer here means: concerned with civilization, with the building of Jesus' kingdom of God in so far as we can].

Source: Albert Schweitzer, "Religion in Modern Civilization" [translator not named], Gifford Lectures, October 1934, reprinted as an appendix to George Seaver's Albert Schweitzer: the man and his mind (1947), p. 338 [Joy says these were, instead, the Hibbert Lectures, Manchester; but Seaver says that "these two courses of lectures overlap each other to some extent" (p. 144).]

Schweitzer did, however, also say that "Karl Barth is a truly religious personality, and in his sermons there is much profound religion" (ibid. p. 338).

As to Karl Barth. I can see that this way of thinking appeals to many people [that this way of thinking will always appeal to a certain type of thinker (one who is willing to submit himself to an authority rather than demand that any and all authority be put to the tests of reason and experience. Bonhoeffer: Jesus' call to follow him is not a request to reflect; it is a command to obey without question or reflection: "The Church must ... abandon all attempts to justify God's commandment. It delivers it, and that is all." (quoted by Bethge, p. 184))], but it is thinking entirely within the tradition of the fathers and doctors of the church when they spoke of theology as "faith seeking understanding": "If you do not believe, you will not understand". But to me it is thinking according to [dictated by] a thesis; it is dogmatic rather than philosophical; it is in a word divine theology, and it is the opposite of anything I would want from religion (for there is no place in my life where I would want to say that "Here I do not use reason" and there is no proposition about which I would want to say that I "believe in" its truth).

Wittgenstein praised Barth to Drury (Recollections, p. 146 [from January 1941]; although he also accused Barth of "gesticulating [i.e. throwing his arms awkwardly about (as opposed to gesturing)] in words" with respect to the Trinitarian formula: "A theology which insists on the use of certain particular words and phrases, and outlaws others, does not make anything clearer (Karl Barth)." (CV p. 85 [from 1950])).

But in my view, religion according to Wittgenstein, "turns its back on thinking". Because I think it might be said that Wittgenstein's own religion was a "Judeo-Christian pantheism" (where "The good is anything whatsoever that God commands" and Abraham obeys without questioning ("thinking"). That is, I doubt that Jesus could have said that "God alone is good", because that is a Greek way of thinking (Wittgenstein: "My religious ideas are one hundred percent Hebraic"); in biblical Judaism the Divine Legislator cannot be good or evil; He is the standard of judgment (cf. "metre stick") -- and there is no standard to appeal to above Him (to appeal to in order to say that He is good or bad); and that is what makes Judeo-Christian pantheism a possible world-view for Wittgenstein to have held. (Obviously, these are only my speculations.)

Your religious ideas have always seemed to me more Greek than biblical. Whereas my thoughts are one hundred percent Hebraic." (Recollections p. 161)

"100% Hebraic" means: with God as a law-giver and judge (the metre standard in Paris, the only standard of right and wrong), not Jesus' father who loves his son; nor the Greek rational gods (the gods of thoughtful reflection rather than of gods of "revealed" by the poets) who love the good because it is good (for what is good is not dependent on the will of any god; reason is the standard in ethics, not a divine will; that is the 100% Greek idea).

Oskar Kraus' view of Albert Schweitzer's ethical mysticism

His [Schweitzer's] mysticism is wholly ethical (even though to Kraus [in his Albert Schweitzer: His work and his philosophy, tr. McCalman (1944)] it appears as "a peculiar mixture of agnosticism and animistic pantheism"!), and is the outcome of "a special type of soul, whose will reacts with exceptional intensity to feelings of compassion and is unusually alive to the impression which the personality of Jesus evokes". (Seaver, op. cit. p. 82-83)

Seaver may add an exclamation mark after Kraus's characterization, but I don't know that Kraus is entirely, or in any way, mistaken, because that is the impression one gets -- that one seems to perceive in Schweitzer. (Or at least: that "animistic pantheism" is what Schweitzer's thought is striving for ("animistic pantheism" = a world that has as its essence life). He does not claim, however, to be able to think his way there; it is a longing-for or belief-in, I think. I think "agnosticism" here refers to: we cannot know God through knowing the world (Christianity and the Religions of the World, tr. Powers (1923; repr. New York: 1939), p. 54), nor know the ultimate fate of mankind.)

Loss of common ground

I wrote, now a few years ago, to my old teacher, now eighty, who had first made me aware of "linguistic analysis". (Writing and answering letters stimulates one to think.)

I don't think that we could readily understand each other now due to loss of common ground. After years of studying Wittgenstein my understanding of the way language works has changed so fundamentally that I can no longer philosophize in the old way of linguistic analysis. In philosophy I now think that we define words (the ink marks, spoken sound), e.g. 'knowledge', that we describe, just as we describe the use of a tool, how we use (or might choose to use) that word; we don't "define the thing" knowledge -- as if the word 'knowledge' were the name of an independently existing concept that we could somehow make clear to ourselves by "thinking about it". As if our concepts were Platonic Ideas about which we devise a "definition" (i.e. theory) by insight into what a "thing" is or really or truly is in itself. Kant's notion of "analytic propositions" is likewise simply another false account of how our language works, of its meaning, and I think Kant's notion is at the root of "linguistic analysis".

I never before made explicit to myself that connection between Plato and Kant. However, they really can both be looked at that way, as providing false accounts (regardless of what they regarded themselves as doing) of language meaning. It might seem that Kant with his notion clears away the Platonic fog, but the fog remains.

I recall J.J.C. Smart writing apropos of Wittgenstein's "A smile is only a smile in a human face" (apropos of the Cheshire cat; PI § 583), that proposition might simply state "a high level truth about smiles" (He did not say what he meant by 'high level truth') rather than -- and now, this is in my words -- a grammatical remark or observation about the grammar [i.e. our common definition, which is, like all linguistic definitions, a convention] of the word 'smile' -- i.e. that we would not know what anyone meant if he said that he had seen a cat smile. (The Cheshire cat, of course, not only smiles, but also speaks, and therefore much more resembles a human being than an actual cat.)

A cat can laugh in a fairy tale, because [?] it can also talk (ibid. § 282) -- indeed, a cat in a fairy tale is often in many respects a human being in a cat's body, although still with many of the sensibilities of a cat as well: "What if a human being had the sensibilities of a cat?" the fairy tale seems to ask and answer. But what would it "mean" [Which meaning of the word 'mean' is this?] if a real cat made laughing-sounds? -- The answer is that the combination of words 'The cat is laughing' doesn't so far mean anything. cf. the mouth of country rats resembles a human grin -- but what would it mean to say that a rat was grinning? "A smile is a smile only in a human face" means that same as "If a lion could talk we would not understand it" (ibid. PI II, xi, p. 223).

I have for many years now been far away from finding the notion of "analytic propositions" useful. That notion still "lets the words speak to" the individual philosopher; whether a proposition is analytic or not is governed by what the words suggest to an individual, and therefore is partly subjective and arbitrary, as in "The meaning of this word is really ..." and that determines whether the analytic propositions is true or false. "Concepts" continue to have an existence independent of the conventions for using words; and the philosopher continues to "somehow ponder" them. ("The predicate is contained in the subject" -- but how do we know that?) Or so I recall, if I remember aright. I suspect that Smart's "a high level truth" is Kantian in outlook.

Query: is being nonsensical important?

Must someone who asks this question be asking for a definition of either 'nonsensical' or 'important' -- i.e. if you ask this question mustn't it be that the meaning of one or both of those words is unclear to you? But what is the context? Through the Looking-glass (from memory): "I saw nobody on the road," replied the king's messenger. -- "Quite right," said the king; "this young lady saw him too." Suppose this were a question a teacher asked her rather literal-minded (i.e. rather humorless) students.

There are many senses/meanings of the word 'nonsense' (PI §§ 282, 13). Wittgenstein chose one for his "logic of language" -- or, in any case, in my account of his work, I chose one for him (But see ibid. § 500, so it seems it is not my choice but himself's).

More from that philosophical letter

I myself can't imagine regarding the Phaedo as historicity rather than Platonicity or supposing that vulgar painting by David to have anything to do with satyr-faced, pot-bellied Socrates. Where is the logician-ethicist who "always chose the better rather than the pleasanter way", and compared Critias to a pig, the Socrates of Xenophon. As to Plato per se, I value him only for the Apology and the questions he raises (as in the Euthyphro where he asks for an objective standard (like measurement is in the natural sciences, as e.g. weight, length, calculation) in moral virtue as there often is in natural virtue), not for the "oriental bombast" [in Zeller's view of the Greeks, if that's what it is, which I don't think it is, but instead: Knowledge of the Forms ("the meaning of a common name is the common nature that common name names"), hence Recollection, hence Existing-independently-of-the-body Soul] and conceptual confusions (e.g. "justified true belief") he and his followers have bewitched the human mind with.

When I finished the Bachelor of Arts I was "honestly disgusted" (LC iii, 37, p. 28) and since then I say to anyone who will listen, "If you want an education in the humanities go to the public library and study whatever it is that you want to learn about from the teachers -- i.e. books -- you are able to learn from, rather than be subjected to commonplace professors (Sophists)." But if I had taken my advice, then I would never have met my teacher and discovered that there were scholarly men in this world! So maybe it is good that no one listens to me, which is also why I talk to myself, because I'm the only one who listens, and even I don't listen.

Now that I have found in Aristotle ways to clearly distinguish Plato from Socrates (1) through Plato's relation to Heraclitus, and (2) through Plato's interest in metaphysics, which Socrates did not share, I would no longer say such immoderate things about Plato, whom I have come to appreciate. But I might well still say all the rest.

Note: This continues the discussion "Virtue is Knowledge".

Putting one's hand in the fire ...

There is one view of mine that I earlier mentioned that I would like to make clearer.

First, I use the word 'soul' below, not because I believe Socrates imagined that word to be the name of an object ("of some sort", I don't know what sort) as Plato did, but because the word 'intellect' (like the word 'feeling' alone) is too limited in its extension. Now then, as to "virtue is knowledge".

No one says to me "Why do you thrust your hand in the fire?", only to have me reply, "Ah I know it's harmful to me, but my will is weak." No one says that, because I never do thrust my hand in the fire, because I know that fire will burn me (Even money-mad Rogozin in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot won't put his hands in the fire for it). And if I am concerned about the care of my body, how much greater must not my concern for my soul (ethical personality), which is the essence of me, be. It amounts to this: We say, "I know I should not lose my temper/patience with that fellow", but we think, "Damned if I'm not justified in losing my temper/patience with him!" And so it goes again and again: I say I know, but I think I know better. But Socrates did not do this: he did not imagine himself to know what he did not know.

I think talk about "weakness of the will" is mistaken. No one would knowingly harm his soul. Refusal to think things through has its source in ignorance of the benefit/usefulness of thinking things through -- i.e. of philosophy.

Well, so I am still developing this idea. (And, of course, there is the danger of tautology ... were it not that "Virtue is knowledge" is not a theory, not a philosophical thesis, not a doctrine, but a way of looking at things. Which, despite all these many years of thinking about logic of language, I had overlooked, and by which I fell into metaphysics: "Virtue is really knowledge; that is its essence.")

Perhaps by the words 'care of the soul' I should say I mean: care for the integrity of the soul, as in "philosophical integrity", as in "intellectual integrity" or perhaps even "self-respect" (of an ethical kind, of course, not of vanity or pride in one's body); care as in demanding of oneself a harmony between thought and deed. [And how is it that I am not clear about my own meaning when I utter the words 'the soul'? Am I talking nonsense, then? But not every idea is born clear; some are born unclear and, under the light of thought, may grow up into clarity.]

Earlier I wrote: I do believe that "virtue is knowledge", that if I do things that are harmful to my soul it is only because I am too lazy to think things through. But how can that be? Is it not that if I am too lazy to think things through -- it is because I think [imagine, fancy] I know that thinking things through won't be useful -- i.e. that it won't make me change the way I live. Is that not what I think, although is not what I say. I say "I know that it is harmful to my soul", but I think "I know it's not really harmful to my soul".

If I drink too much, it is because I think, regardless of what I say, that I know that it does not matter -- i.e. that it will not really harm either my mind or my body or affect my discretion. If I lose my temper, it is because, regardless of what I say, I think I know that I am justified and will not harm my soul by being intemperate. "I say I know, but in my heart of hearts I think I know something better."

But is that not a tautology? Even if it were, or, indeed, even if it is, no more than one way of looking at things -- Looking at things any other way will do you no good in ethics. You must have faith in philosophy -- i.e. in thinking things all the way through --, have faith that if you think things all the way through, then, like Socrates, you will find your way to the way of life that is the good for man. (But know this as a fact, Self-control in ethics is happiness, incontinence (i.e. loss of self-control) misery.)

Yes, I am still developing this idea.

Anger and the Philosophical way of life

Isn't there both good, healthy, constructive anger, and bad, unhealthy, destructive anger? (Jenco, Bound to Forgive (1995), Epilog, p. 134)

I cannot agree with Fr. Jenco that the answer to that question is yes. Human beings cannot control anger (it is a wild beast), knowing when it is or is not just to be angry; there is always an element of self-righteousness in anger ("Damned if my impatience with that fellow is not justified!"), an element of "I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like other men" (Luke 18.10-14).

The good man is always temperate, and that means that he is never angry, for anger is an irrational reaction to ignorance (unless one's anger is directed towards God, but that is a primitive picture of God: of God playing god; but if by 'God' we mean what is true and what is good, then there is nothing to be angry with. For the religious man, anger towards God is an instance of thinking oneself wise when one is not, as if one understood the thoughts and ways of God.) How can you be angry with your brother, regardless of whether you think his wrong-doing is ignorance (philosophy's view) or malevolence (religion's view), for "Do you think that you are more worthy that Jesus should die for you than for other men?" (cf. Greene, The Power and the Glory ii, 1)

The "good man" ('The good man is always temperate' would be a Platonic ethical tautology / rule of grammar) is an ideal, the target, like one's image of Socrates' self-control. (That is another aspect of Plato's tautological method in ethics.)

(To decry one's fate is human, but Epictetus: "Remember, the door is always open, so that if you stay ..." (Discourses i, 24) What right have we to expectations?)

Alcohol and philosophy (the life of thought)

The student of philosophy will not drink at all; he will be, as were Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein, teetotal. After working all day on the Principia Mathematica, Russell wrote, I would go to bed with a problem and when I woke up the next morning the solution would be clear to me. The human brain seems to works that way, if alcohol, or lack of restful sleep, does not cloud it. (Alcohol seems to erase memory, so that not only does one not awake with the solution, one cannot even remember what the problem was.) Plato took very little wine (and that always well-diluted with water); one of his guests remarked about Plato's symposia that guests felt as good the day after as they had during the banquet. And then there is this too, that if one is not so thoroughgoing in the life of reason as Socrates was, alcohol diminishes one's good judgment (discretion), making one do foolish and regrettable, sometimes utterly regrettable, things.

Beyond these general considerations? For that you must look at the internal evidence: how does this person write? Does it show care; does it show critical thought? The spirit in which the work is done must show itself in the work itself. (About roangelo.net)

The answer to those questions with respect to very many of the Philosophical Notes pages I wrote when I was drinking (both for the ten months when I was ill, which may have been justified as I waited many months to see a doctor, and after I was well again, which was entirely unjustified, a bad habit needing to be revised) is decidedly No! The pages I wrote need to be drastically weeded (See "diminished discretion" above). I only clearly see that now that I am teetotal again, as I had been for most of my life -- but the why of my no longer drinking, I believe, lies in one way of looking at Socrates' idea about the power of a thoroughgoing use of reason in Ethics to change our life (as well as love for studying philosophy -- reverence for the truth (which is what conscientiousness in our work shows) -- above all else).

Query: Albert Schweitzer, what does the word 'soul' mean?

Schweitzer is the last one to ask for a definition of a word. Because Schweitzer "defines things" [which is very different from Wittgenstein's way of thinking in philosophy, with its focus on concepts (rules for using words) rather than on phenomena]: What is the soul, according to Schweitzer? That question is metaphysics.

In my writings I sometimes use the word 'soul' rather than the word 'mind' because 'mind' suggests only the rational aspect of man and the word 'heart' is also too limited in extension. So by 'soul' I sometimes mean both the mind and heart [i.e. intellect and emotion], the whole inner life of man. What I never mean by that word is the picture of a spirit (or, ghost) which belongs to theology and/or metaphysics, which is what the word 'soul' may suggest and, therefore, because of such associations, it is not the ideal word to use here.

The word 'soul' is not the name of an object -- i.e. that is not that word's grammar (cf. 'God', 'gods', 'fairy', 'concept'; these words all have their uses in our language, but their part of speech is not name-of-object). If it were that word would be defined ostensively, which it is not, for we cannot point to an object to teach anyone to use the word 'soul'. (To speak here of "phenomena" is as hopelessly vague as to speak of "things" -- for anything and everything can be fitted into those two categories. I think that in Wittgenstein's view philosophy is only concerned with concepts, never with phenomena (although, again, the word 'phenomena' might mean anything at all).)

Rather than (what has through abuse become) the slogan "Don't ask for the meaning ...", Wittgenstein could have said "Don't ask for the referent!", as if all words necessarily referred (as in "the meaning of a word is the thing ["sensible or insensible"] the word stands for").

Mysticism and Ethics

Ethics must make up its mind to base itself in mysticism [life looked at from the point of view of eternity]. But mysticism, on its side, must never suppose that it exists for its own sake. (Civilization and Ethics, Chapter 20, in Charles R. Joy's Albert Schweitzer: An Anthology (1956), p. 235 [apparently Joy's own translation])

Logic has that same relationship to ethics, according to the Socrates of Xenophon, and according to Epictetus. "Ethics must resolve to originate in mysticism" (Campion's translation). Do I understand this first sentence? No, I don't. I do not see how ethics can be deduced from "the starry sky above" (which is what I take 'mysticism' to mean). But one might say that: when one reflects about how we should live our life, one may come to judge it best that we live our life in this world with an eye on "eternity", that is, from a perspective that is wider than the practical task in front of us; we human beings should not live as if our life consisted of nothing more than thoughtlessly playing games, thinking only of strategies -- without a thought to what should be the foundations of all our objectives. (How such reflection might be carried out in the context of Wittgenstein, however, is not at all clear. You cannot simply dismiss it by saying: Ah well, it rests on a judgment -- i.e. it is ultimately subjective. And why shouldn't the foundation of our life be subjective -- and does that put the matter outside philosophical reflection; does that make reason inapplicable? What are we calling 'philosophy' -- what do we want philosophy to be?)

["What philosophy is?" -- "We are talking about no small matter, but about how we should live our life" (Plato, Republic Book I, Gorgias) | Kant versus Socrates. | The good for man according to the Greeks.]

Query: "family resemblance", Wittgenstein, critique.

"What is the essence of the good?" -- Why do you want to know that? -- "Because I want a guide to how to live our life. And if I can discover the defining common nature of all good things, then I shall have a universal standard by which to judge how I should and should not live." To reply that there is no essence of the good but "only family resemblances" is hardly a useful response to how we should live our life. (It is, indeed, a rejection of the question ... but for the human being to be is to act.) We need a different response, a different approach. (From Plato's Euthyphro to Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations is not an advance in ethics. Of course it is not a step backward either.) "The logic of our language is misunderstood." But in what way shall we understand it? [Wittgenstein on defining the word 'good']

Query: what gives language its meaning?

That is the master question in logic, and our first in philosophy. When we ask "What is the good [for man]?" what are we asking? What is the difference between language and sounds without sense or meaningless ink marks, because that is all language is in itself? Begin at the beginning.

Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 22 December 2009 : 2009-12-22

The URL of this Web page:

Back to top of page

Wittgenstein's Logic of Language - Introduction and Table of Contents | Bibliography | Site Search | Site Map