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Philosophy in the Sleep-deprived Mind

Context: as I have used Wittgenstein's expression "logic of language" for my own thinking in philosophy, by 'logic of language' I mean how the distinction is made between language with meaning and nonsense in philosophical discussions (or Socratic dialectic).

[One who writes] with serious intent [writes words that can] speak in their own defense [and] present the truth adequately.

[When he writes he collects] a store of refreshment both for his own memory, against the day "when age oblivious comes", and for all such as tread in his footsteps ... And when other men resort to other pastimes, regaling themselves with drinking parties and suchlike, he will doubtless prefer to indulge in the recreation I refer to. (Plato, Phaedrus 276c-d, tr. Hackforth)

I am looking forward to [visiting] you as a rational creature that has had enough sleep. (Albert Schweitzer, Letter of 23 December 1953, tr. Neugroschel)

And so I have tried to go on thinking during the years of my tiredness, forcing myself to focus ever more thoughtfully on what I want to say in philosophy, but I have at last made a habit of that, and can at least revise what I have written in happier days.

Another year and I am older and tireder, but not better or wiser. What follows is "Philosophy within the Limits of Unrestful Sleep".


Topics on this page ...


Notes for the Desk Drawer

Where else would they be for?

Induction in definition and ethics (Socrates and Plato)

Query: how did Socrates use inductive argument to provide general definitions?

Socrates did use the method of induction: he took examples from our life and made comparisons to them. Argument by analogy. "Analogies persuade to a point of view; they do not prove propositions of fact." What are we calling a proof -- what is our model?

The good shoemaker makes the shoes brought to him for repair better, not worse. The good tinker mends pots (He makes them better not worse). The good horse-trainer makes horses better not worse. And so in each of these cases, the good man benefits rather than does harms. [The general principle: In all arts, the good practitioner is the one who makes better rather than worse (benefits rather than harms).] And, therefore, in the art of living (Ethics: "we are discussing no small matter, but how to live"), the good man will also benefit rather than do harm, including to wrong-doers and enemies -- he will make all men better rather than worse (to harm is to make worse). (Cf. Plato, Republic 335b-e)

"But you see, Socrates," explained Critias, "you will have to avoid your favourite topic, -- the cobblers, builders and metal workers; for it is already worn to rags by you in my opinion." -- "Then must I keep off the subjects of which these supply illustrations, Justice, Holiness, and so forth?" (Xenophon, Memorabilia i, 2, 37, tr. Marchant)

And so earlier I wrote about Plato's ethics of tautologies ("If the good man does harm, then what does the bad man do?"), but a comparison -- a proposition that A is like B in such-and-such-a-way -- is not a tautology, but a true or false statement. But is that an example of "inductive argument"? When Plato offers an Socratic definition of 'clay', he lists different types of clay to find what their common nature (or, essence) is. Would that be an example of inductive argument? According to Aristotle it is.

When Critias forbade Socrates to teach "the art of words", Socrates says that he uses these illustrations to discuss Justice and Holiness -- that is, to discuss moral virtue. What I wrote above about shoemakers and tinkers would be a very pale example of this.

What do we normally call an argument? "If we look, we find that we call circles and squares and triangles all by the common name 'shape'." -- That is an example of induction; but it is not an argument. Whereas "If we look at examples of games, we can deduce that games do not have a defining thing in common" (PI § 66) is. An argument must include a "therefore".

[Note: did I not respond to the query as written? Aristotle's general response credits Socrates with two contributions to logic: induction and general definition. Maybe that response is what is wanted.]


Descartes and Socrates, their different Methods and Enquiries

Query: Descartes, suspect everything.

Descartes took as the model for his philosophy -- mathematical certainty, that is, the type of certainty [PI ii, xi, p. 224] that comes from rules (although he thought those rules to be laws of nature). He found those rules by examining the ideas ("concepts" -- i.e. rules for using words) in his own mind, treating (regarding) them as if they were innate rather than acquired (learned).

If I wrote a book named "The world as I found it" ... (TLP 5.631)

But is that what Descartes in fact does? As above "... treating them as if they were innate". But are they?

The query may be an allusion to Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward: "There was this philosopher Descartes. He said, Suspect everything." And there is a related story in the Gulag Archipelago.

... which I had forgotten writing about. That is the world seen through unrestful sleep, through spider webs, through a white mist: that I cannot remember what I wrote yesterday.

Query: compare Descartes' method of self-doubt to Socrates' manner of questioning people.

Beyond that, the query's comparison is clever -- but what is its point, because it does not tell you why anyone should do this kind of thing (doubt or compare)? Socrates' search was for knowledge in Ethics and he shared his search with his companions, but Descartes' sought knowledge in Metaphysics (or, what the Stoics called "physics") by a lonely method. Compare (method) and contrast (purpose).

Query: the function of ignorance.

It may teach humility = self-knowledge. Part of "Know thyself" is to recognize your limits, and so not to overreach yourself -- which, in Socratic philosophy, means above all: not to think you know what you don't know.

Ethics and self-control

Know you not that a good man does nothing for appearance' sake, but for the sake of having done right?

"Is there no reward then?"

Seems it to you so small a thing and worthless, to be a good man ...? (Epictetus, Discourses iii, 24, tr. Crossley)

If the good is what is useful, what reward -- i.e. benefit or use -- is there in "Bear and forbear"? What kind of human being do you want to be, then, a good man or a bad? (The question is rhetorical. It is a grammatical reminder that the combination of words 'Why should you want what is good for you?', like 'Why should you want to be happy?', is nonsense. 'All things seek the good, unless ignorance diverts them' is a tautology.) Epictetus' motto is an expression of Socrates' identification of temperance (self-control) as belonging to the excellence (moral virtue) that is proper to (and therefore the good for) man.

But why, if Virtue is knowledge?

We don't always succeed in ethics -- but we don't always fail either. But how can it be that we sometimes fail, if, as we say, we know what we should do, and if virtue is indeed knowledge? I said before that one does wrong (1) because one does not keep watch over oneself to forestall being ruled by beastly instincts and the bad habits one formed in the time of ignorance of the good, and (2) because of insincerity (and I think that is correct): "It is wrong," one says, but one thinks, "It is not wrong, but on the contrary quite justified that I do this." It is that or that one does not keep watch over oneself, and then the sweetness of habit is the impulse behind wrong-doing.

But this is also correct: That ethics ("being ethical") is not a state but an act ("being ethical"). And one begins afresh (the counter is reset) with every act: the present act is not negated by past acts. To be "every day growing in goodness" means to every day be working to be less imperfect in ethics -- i.e. to be acting in ethical ways, not to be attaining a metaphysical state named "goodness". (To fall into despair over one's past wrong-doing is vanity. The important thing is to go forward from now.)

The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of one's own mind ... (ibid. i, 26)

Philosophically the question is: is rational moral virtue (areté) the good for man? The condition of the ignorant mind is not knowing the answer. Question: Do you want self-control to make yourself a good human being -- or to make a display -- i.e. in order not to lower yourself in the eyes of others? If you were quite alone in the universe would you want self-control (temperance), e.g. in order not to lower yourself in your own eyes?

"What the others may think ..." Vanity may sometimes be a useful tool (e.g. it may prompt you to take exercise; it is not always practically dysfunctional) -- and shouldn't shame be a useful tool as well? If the result we have in mind is only this: to become a good human being -- i.e. if ethics truly is practical -- then does the "why" (in the sense of 'motive') matter? (Motives belong to the realm of "whatever seems correct is going to be correct", and therefore they are irrational and of no interest to the rational mind.)

Now, reconcile that with the following, if it can be reconciled -- i.e. shown to be consistent:

Socrates: If you do not know what is good, you cannot do what is good (because you will always aim for what you believe is good), and if you know what is good, you cannot fail to do what is good (because you will always aim for what you believe is good) -- i.e. moral virtue is knowledge (Xenophon, Memorabilia iii, 9, 5).

My earlier solution to this puzzle was to say that the proposition 'Virtue is knowledge' states a way of looking at ethics, not a metaphysical theory about what virtue really is (whatever that would be when it's at home, as e.g. -- what?) (It is a help to the life that is the good for man, but there are others as well.) But I don't know if that solution is the solution, and I don't now think it is; Socrates offers a line of reasoning to be agreed to or refuted in discussion.


Miscellaneous Interlude

Query: what do you call a word that can be substituted for a person, place or thing?

A queer fish indeed. Are there any such words -- 'nothing' e.g.? I would not say that a word could be substituted for my wife, if I happened to have a wife.

Query: Wittgenstein, philosophers clarify language.

It is not easy to know quite what 'clarify' means when Wittgenstein says that philosophy is the clarification of propositions (TLP 4.112), but maybe it is to sort the goats from the sheep: propositions of natural science to one side, nonsense to the other. But later, I don't think it is "clarify language" so much as "use language to clarify philosophical problems" (PI § 109).

Query: the ethical mysticism of Reverence for Life meaning.

The "mysticism" is, I think, the notion of the unity of all life that somehow binds all living things in solidarity, at least in the understanding of man, the ethical being (To 'revere life' is to protect and enhance life). It is 'mysticism' because it goes beyond what is knowable naturally; because all we/I know is (1) of the existence of individual wills-to-live, and (2) of the ethical personality that is me [or, "that I find within myself" -- but not as if it were a thing apart from me: it is me, my very nature as man to be an ethical will-to-live]. What does 'the unity of all life' mean? Is there a shared essence -- Well, what is "will to live" to mean if not "the essence of life" (What all life has in common is its will-to-live)?

"Reverence for Life"

The important thing is for all of us to properly mull over the question of when damaging and killing are permissible.... Much will be achieved once people become reflective and wisely realize that they should damage and kill only when necessary. That is the essence. The rationalization of individual cases is a different matter.... I do not know whether I am doing the right thing in deciding one way instead of the other. (Albert Schweitzer, Letters 1905-1965, tr. Neugroschel (1992), Lambaréné, [1951], p. 218)

That I think is the essence of the practice of reverence for life, quite apart from its foundation in Schweitzer's thinking. As Schweitzer saw ("I do not know whether I am doing the right thing in deciding one way instead of the other"), in his ethics there is the absence of the universal (foolproof) standard Socrates sought for any and every particular circumstance.

Query: Wittgenstein, color of the number 3.

This query came from far away Finland. But that is not L.W., but R.W.A. And so the Internet, as it was in its early years, when it still held promise.


Relations between the Earlier and Later Wittgenstein

Query: meaning is picture, Wittgenstein.

Is the essence of language -- i.e. of its meaning (because that is the aspect of language that is important in philosophy) -- picture-making ("We make for ourselves pictures of the facts")? That is the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus's account of meaning; however, "This is how things stand" = "statement of fact" = "picture" -- seems to be founded on the TLP's strange notion of fact.

Does Wittgenstein give examples of the pictures which he says are the meaning of language? Are 'It is raining' (TLP 4.461) and 'A book is on the table' (to Parak) examples of propositions of fact [factual propositions] according to the TLP's account of language meaning? Are those "propositions of natural science"? They are both pictures.

Note that 'meaningless' in the TLP means no more than: 'cannot be put into words that form [make up, compose] a statement of fact'. And that "what we must pass over in silence" (because we cannot put it into words that state facts) is neither non-existent nor "meaningless" -- as we normally use the word 'meaning' -- according to the TLP.

Is the word 'picture' to be taken in a simple-minded way (i.e. in the most obvious of all the various ways we use the word 'picture') in Wittgenstein's context?

When many years later [1949] he told his friend "It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life" -- what kind of impossibility was this? Was it a logical impossibility? Would it have been meaningless talk -- or would it merely have been off-topic, a wrong-headed attempt to make the spirit of his work explicit (CV p. 7-8 [MS 109 204: 6-7.11.1930])? That is the question.

(Earlier Wittgenstein had said [1929]: But the tendency to thrust against the limits -- e.g. to try to talk about absolute value in ethics or aesthetics -- points to something. But I asked: when is nonsense not nonsense, i.e. how can you so much as even point to the meaning of what is without meaning? This shows that the TLP uses the word 'sense' and 'nonsense' in an eccentric way, redefining them as if their meaning were a metaphysical question.)

Query: running full tilt against the limits of language? Language is not a cage.

That was my own old translation of Wittgenstein's remark, which is here quoted back at me. But I don't know how apt it is. Wittgenstein later also talked about bumping into the wall (PI § 464), the limit of language still being sense and nonsense, but not necessarily because one has the mistaken view, if it is mistaken, that there is no wall there.

The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps which the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. (PI § 464)

And yet Wittgenstein also said that there is no wall ["Language is not a cage"] ... but once we recognize that there is no wall (other than what is, and what is not, defined language -- i.e. the sense and nonsense that we ourselves create [cf. Z § 259]), that's when the problems in trying to understand Wittgenstein's later thinking begin, not end. Because if there is no wall (no cage), then why is it impossible "to say one word about all that music has meant in my life"? That is the question.

What can be described can happen too ... (TLP 6.362)

But that is false (a false account of the grammar of our language). Rather, "what can be described can be described". A thought experiment is not an experiment. And what can be thought need not be a real possibility -- "Thought can be" not only "of what is not the case" (PI § 95), but also of what cannot (as a real possibility) be the case. A proposition need not express a real possibility but only a logical possibility in order for it not to be nonsense.

Query: Wittgenstein and Rationalism.

Is the TLP a work of Rationalism (according to Wittgenstein)? Does it not claim to be a Rationalistic ladder with which to climb out of [the hole of] Rationalism? Rationalism = "metaphysics", Wittgenstein's eternally targeted enemy of trying to express by means of language what can only belong to its grammar (PP iii, p. 312).

Query: why are beliefs statements of fact about the way things are?

Is that what we mean by the word 'belief'? But not all assertions are of the import: Such-and-such is the case, or This is how things stand (TLP 4.5; cf. Antisthenes' definition of logos), if only because there are also statements of belief about how things stood at one time (i.e. in the past, but not now).

All expressions of beliefs are expressions of uncertainty, for where there is no uncertainty there is either utter ignorance or there is knowledge. (These are of course grammatical remarks.) Beliefs may state "how things are", but not all statements of "how things are" are statements of fact.

Belief in the biblical miracles e.g. is not belief that an hypothesis is true. As hypotheses such statements of belief are absurd: because they do not express real possibilities. ["My normal technique of language leaves me" (LC p. 55). I have to try to give a different account of the grammar of 'belief' here.]

We use the word 'belief' in various ways. The meaning of the common name 'belief' is not a common nature. There is no essence of belief.


'A riddle without an answer'

"I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."

The Hatter's remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. (Alice in Wonderland vii; cf. BB p. 56: "it sounds English")

The form of expression or "sign" (In Wittgenstein's jargon the word 'sign' means the purely physical aspect of language, e.g. marks on paper, spoken sounds, hand gestures) 'Is reality confined to what is in principle perceptible to the senses?' is "certainly English", and it does not seem to be nonsense, although a Yes or No answer is not a logical possibility (not unless we introduce the picture of a god who sees what we do not see), and treated as a "real possibility" both its affirmation and negation are nonsense.

This is indeed "a riddle without an answer", and the question may be compared to a picture or pictures. It suggests pictures to us, and it seems that those pictures must teach us its meaning (PI II, iv, p. 178), but do they?

Is Alice right when she says that we are "wasting the time" (in this instance, with idle pictures)? For that was once also Wittgenstein's response: "Reading the Socratic dialogues one has the feeling: what a terrible waste of time!" (CV p. 14). In those early dialogs doesn't Plato pose riddles without solutions?

Belief that there is a reality that cannot be known by sense perception

Quite apart from the question whether or not the existence of God can be proved, belief in God implies, for example, that reality is not confined to what is in principle perceptible by the senses. (Frederick C. Copleston, SJ, Religion and Philosophy (1974), "Introduction", p. ix)

Though they would be unlikely to express themselves in this abstract way, a good many people believe implicitly that to be or to exist is to be a possible (in principle) object of sense-perception, and logical positivism can be seen as attempting to justify theoretically this widespread implicit belief. (Copleston, Memoirs (1993), xi, p. 139)

The first quotation is not found in the context in which I remembered (or "thought I remembered"?) it, nor is it posed as a question in its actual context. Neither is the second quotation posed as a question, but nevertheless the question I ask was sparked by Father Copleston. (Related, or perhaps it is the same belief, is the materialism "a good many people believe in" apropos of the soul and whether there is an afterlife.)

Query: riddles with no real answer that mean something.

Well, after all, this is it: do they mean something or are they merely "words whereby we conceive nothing but the sound" (Hobbes)? What we can't say is that the word 'riddle' is meaningless without its antithesis 'solution' -- unless we say that all riddles are without solution. But here all we are saying is that these riddles are without solution. (We can say that they only have the form of riddles, that they aren't "really" riddles -- but it does not make their meaning clearer if we simply remove them from one category without placing them in another.) We point: Here are examples of riddles with solutions, but by contrast here are riddles which are essentially without solutions.

"Why is a raven like a writing-desk?" The question is a well-formed English question; there does exist an institution of language use, namely riddles and solutions, that uses this form. However, Lewis Carroll did not invent a riddle-and-solution in this case. -- Indeed, he intended for there to be no solution; that is the point of the incident in the story.

For example, the solution "Poe wrote on them" has been offered. And it is a clever solution -- but, on the other hand, to offer any solution is to not to see the point of the story -- namely that it is a mad tea party.

Query: requires no answer questions.

Should our "Questions without answers" be regarded [treated] as rhetorical questions? For do we really expect [solicit] an answer to them? I don't know -- why shouldn't we? For we did not ask them to be idle, after all. (In the beginning was the question; the grammatical investigation of its meaning came later.)

Wittgenstein: People say that philosophy hasn't progressed since Plato, "that we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks" (CV p. 15). Wittgenstein attributes this to conceptual confusion, to following false grammatical analogies between different regions of language, which amounts to an inability to see the deeper grammar beneath the surface.

Comment. Conceptual confusion certainly there is. But maybe it isn't the nature of philosophy to progress. (With respect to the "eternal questions", maybe the aim is simply to be aware. Maybe they are rhetorical.) Besides, if philosophy really is rational ways of looking at things in logic, ethics, and/or metaphysics, how can it progress? An hypothesis in natural science, one subject to verification or falsification -- here you can talk about progress (e.g. in learning about the world). But philosophy doesn't consist of hypotheses subject to verification or falsification (except e.g. with respect to analogies: A may or may not be like B in such and such way). So what would the word 'progress' mean in the context of talking about philosophy? Philosophy doesn't progress; it just goes elsewhere, from one frame of reference to another (and sometimes back again).


More notes unintendedly only for myself

Query: what did philosophy mean to Socrates?

There are at least three meanings that might be given this query: (1) How did Socrates define the word 'philosophy' (that is logic); in the Phaedrus Plato suggested 'lover of learning'; (2) what did the word (the sound, marks on paper, lines in the sand) 'philosophy' suggest to Socrates' imagination (that is an "impression of meaning"); this may be the same as (1) in this particular case, because the word 'philosophy' did not have a fixed meaning even at the time Plato was writing (the historical Socrates may never have used that word); (3) what importance did philosophy have to the life of Socrates? For Socrates, philosophy was both his method and his way of life.

Query: there is no absolute definition of holiness, Plato.

Does 'absolute' contrast with 'relative'? If there is no "absolute definition", then are there "relative definitions"? What does a "relative definition" look like? Is it a definition where we say, "In this context 'A' means ..."? 'Absolute' = 'The same in any context' (This is what Socrates looks for in Plato's Euthyphro). But 'Relative' = ? 'Different in every (or many) context(s)'? But what would a relative definition look like (an absolute definition would e.g. point to a defining common nature as the meaning of a common name)?

"What is or is not holy [pious] is relative to context rather than independent [absolute] of context"? Would it be natural to use that form of expression? And is that assertion true -- i.e. a description of the grammar of the English word 'holiness' ['piety']?

Do relative definitions consist of what Wittgenstein called family resemblances [or likenesses. "There is no absolute definition of the word 'game', but there are relative definitions." It's not clear what that statement might mean. What does a "relative definition" look like?

Socrates, was he "weird"?

A professional philosopher, professor of philosophy (Plato, Euthydemus 307a-c), a university, establishment figure, wrote:

The biographical tradition reinforces our unease [with Socrates' rationalism] by depicting Socrates as in many ways a weird and inhuman person making excessive demands on human nature in both himself and others. (The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World (1986 [reissued 2001, p. 283]), Chapter 10 "Classical Greek Philosophy" by Julia Annas)

Now to make "a reactionary remark which does no credit to my development and is conditioned by lack of phosphorus in my brain" (Dostoyevsky, The Crocodile), and which I shall counter in a moment, I must say that given that the author is female I'm surprised that she didn't use the word 'creepy' rather than the word 'weird'. Was Wittgenstein also "a weird and inhuman person making excessive demands on human nature" in the eyes of Professor Annas?

The economist Alfred Marshall came to the conclusion that "there was nothing useful to be made of women's intellects". And I have never been able to figure out what women, creatures fitted by nature to the seraglio, the zoologist's harem, have to do with philosophy. (I earlier wrote that there is something feminine about Voltaire's thinking both in style and even in substance, and I did not mean that as a compliment. Self-obsessed creatures all.)

Women do well in school because they like to follow rules; it makes them feel both clever and safe; it is a form of "playing house" and punishing their errant dolls. They will always choose security over freedom. Women do not really want equality with men, but instead all the rights of men with all the privileges of women.

If you try to understand women by analogy to men, you will misunderstand them. Women are best regarded not as the female of the human species but rather as a distinct species in themselves. We don't observe butterflies in order to understand the behavior of donkeys.

Now, do I really believe anything that I have just written? In general, maybe only the part about "different species".

Hipparchia of Maroneia (ca. 300 B.C.)

On the other hand, there is Hipparchia who because a Cynic philosopher.

She fell in love with the discourses and the life of Crates [who] was implored by her parents to dissuade the girl, and did all he could, and at last, failing to persuade her, got up, took off his clothes before her face [Note that Crates was not a handsome man: "He was ugly to look at, and when performing his gymnastic exercises [for which Greek men stripped naked] used to be laughed at" (vi, 91)] and said, "This is the bridegroom, here are his [only] possessions; make your choice accordingly [i.e. is this what you really want?]; for you will be no helpmeet of mine, unless you share my pursuits." The girl chose, and adopting the same dress, went about with her husband and lived with him in public and went out to dinners with him. (Diog. L. vi, 96-97, tr. Hicks)

At one such symposium (dinner, banquet), being teased by a man, she responded, "... do you suppose that I have been ill advised about myself, if instead of wasting further time upon the loom [-- Weaving cloth was part of caring for the household, which, tradition said, was the excellence proper to woman --] I spent it in education?" (ibid. vi, 98) What kind of education is Cynicism?

[Is Cynicism] really a philosophy, and not, as some maintain, just a way of life [?] (ibid. vi, 103)

I wouldn't like to set the limits of our concept 'philosophy' too narrowly. One might call the teaching of Socrates "just a way of life", for there is only logic and ethics (Plato's "we are discussing no small matter, but how to live") (and logic only for the sake of ethics) -- and no metaphysics in it. The important point for me, however, is that both Socrates and the Cynics are guided by thoroughgoing natural reason (rather than e.g. tradition or religious revelation).


Metaphysics and "wonder"

Query: philosophy had its origin in man's sense of wonder. "Philosophy begins in wonder." Metaphysics.

And so there are man's eternal questions or "questions without answer" (metaphysics). And so we bump our head with a thud against the riddle of existence, unable to either deny the riddle or see a way forward towards solving it.

Query: the question asked is nonsense, philosophy.

That is the question: it seems it is, and yet it seems it isn't nonsense. But silent wonder at existence is not what Plato is talking about in Theaetetus 155c-d, although it is true that there also where 'wonder' = 'perplexity' or 'puzzlement'.

Query: philosophy begins with wonder, Wittgenstein.

Philosophy begins with being perplexed by certain forms of language, that is. And that is also what Plato is noticing, although he does not see/look at things that way: in his view/from his point of view, philosophical problems are questions about reality to solve, not conceptual muddles to be dissolved -- i.e. shown to be nonsense (Wittgenstein's factual versus conceptual investigations distinction).

Query: according to Plato philosophy begins with wonder? why do you think he said this?

But you should not think = guess, but look at Plato's words in context. Because most any meaning might be assigned to words taken out of context, just as to an aphorism. ["What gives a sign meaning?"] If you ask, "Why do you think ...?" of an aphorism, then you must be ready to accept the answer that suggests itself to the student, mustn't you? (But your professor will not mark you by that standard.)


Grammar and Language Queries (More)

Query: when grammar is not logical.

By 'illogical' here we mean either (1) without rules or (2) with too many exceptions to the general rule. The past tense of 'send' for example is not 'sended', and where there are many such cases we may say that the language's grammar is "not logical". By 'illogical' I think -- [i.e. this is an hypothesis about the grammar of the English language] -- we normally mean such forms of expression as 'contrary to the rules', or, 'breaking the rules', or, 'not following [or, not deducible] from a general rule'?

At school we were told that English is 60% irregular. The word 'irregular' could be synonymous with 'exceptional' or 'not logical'.

Query: meaning of the term 'grammar' that has nothing with rules.

If 'grammar' = 'any description of the use of language', then if we describe cases where there is no general rule (or where there are too many exceptions to the general rule for our liking), maybe those cases would be the query's ruleless grammar.

Just how many exceptions is a rule allowed to have before we must give up calling it a 'rule'? Of course there is no "must"; the concept 'rule' is fluid. However, a "language-game also has a point", and if there are "too many" exceptions, there is no point calling something a 'rule' -- (although you still could if you wanted to, but to what end -- in order to claim that there really is a rule, that English is regular, albeit in an irregular sort of way?)

["We never have to surrender a theory. We can make unlimited accommodations to reality."]

Why is there no plural form of the word 'information' [no 'informations'] in English, as there is in Italian [informazioni]? The past tense of 'sneak' is 'sneaked' (There isn't a word 'snuck' in school-standard English) -- Why? There is no rule; if you are learning English, you just have to memorize this "non-rule" -- or "the rule in this particular case"?

Would a rule that only applied to one case be a rule -- i.e. what we call a 'rule'? If so, then would there be no "grammar that has nothing with rules"? (But there is an exception: the grammar of the word 'beauty' has "nothing with rules".)

"It is a rule of English grammar that the past tense of 'sneak' is 'sneaked'." -- Well, don't we say that -- i.e. isn't that a way we normally use the word 'rule'? Then what do we mean by the word 'rule' in this type of case? Maybe 'regulation' or 'command'?

In Wittgenstein's jargon, "any description of the use of language is 'grammar'" (Is that only in Wittgenstein's jargon? -- To the extent [i.e. extension of our concept 'grammar'] that he applied it, yes). But about a style of drawing which he called "metaphysical" (i.e. "seen against the background of the eternal" [cf. "art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis"]), Wittgenstein wrote, "it is a language without grammar; you couldn't say what its rules are" (CV p. 75 [Notebooks 1914-1916, 2nd ed., tr. Anscombe, 7 October 1916]). But if it doesn't have a grammar, then according to Wittgenstein's jargon is it a language at all? If there are no rules of sense and nonsense (i.e. no grammar), then meaning becomes a question of "whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we can't talk about 'right'" (PI § 258). And then "what are you going to do about philosophy" (Parmenides 135b) if we cannot make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense?

If the use of a language cannot be described at all, then it isn't what we call a 'language' -- but that is different from saying that if the description does not consist of rules, then it is not what we call 'grammar'. But, according to my account of Wittgenstein's work, he equated logic with grammar ('grammar' = 'logic'), and a logic that does not consist of rules is not what we call 'logic'! Are there "rules of sense and nonsense" (and is there sense and nonsense without rules)? As exemplified by what? Well, it makes sense -- i.e. this language is defined [it belongs to our common usage] -- to say that starlings flock together but not that stones flock together.

Query: imponderable questions that can't be answered.
Query: riddles I don't understand, puzzlements.

But I think that is a definition of 'imponderable question', not a statement about a more or less accidental characteristic of imponderable questions, as if there were imponderable questions that could be answered. By contrast, it is characteristic of "word problems" in maths to confuse children; that is not essential to such problems, however, but only an accident produced by wretched teaching.

Symptoms versus criteria, causes and grammar

Query: why in depression we find doubts in everything.

Is that a symptom of depression, or a criterion for 'depression' (i.e. a defining characteristic for the application of that word)? [Actually, I don't know; those words are not defined absolutely but relatively (Z § 438) in Wittgenstein's jargon: "finding doubts in everything" or "being dissatisfied with seemingly every aspect of one's life" might be either a criterion (logic of language) or a symptom (natural science) depending on context.]

Is someone depressed because he "finds doubts in everything", or is finding doubts in everything one of the things we call 'depression'?

Cf. crying and sadness: does sadness cause crying? Here it is not clear what 'cause' would mean, because is it clear what the proposition 'The word 'sadness' is the name of an agent' might mean? We conjure up the picture of a nebulous "something" and say that is the meaning of 'sadness' or "what sadness is when it's at home". But it is not be means of that picture that we learned or would teach others to use that word (acquire that concept): the picture comes later as a false explanation fostered by a false analogy. (We acquire the concept, learn to use the word, 'sadness' in the flow of everyday life, not in the classroom.)

"Do rotting teeth cause pain?" versus "Do gray clouds cause gloomy weather?" The first is a question of natural psychology; the second is a grammatical joke. But 'Sadness causes crying' may be either an empirical (symptom) or a grammatical (criterion) proposition.

Query: will there be any more numerals invented in the world?

What are we calling numerals, 'numerals'? Anyone may use his imagination to invent new characters (a new notation) to replace the Arabic or Roman numerals. Compare these two queries: (1) Has all the mathematics that it is possible to invent already been invented? and (2) Have all the ways in which checkmate is possible in chess been identified? This shows that mathematics is not a completed system like chess. A calculus is only a game played according to strict rules -- after its creation (if Wittgenstein's account, or rather my understanding of it, is correct).

Query: how would you explain the word 'grammar' to children?

Why was Socrates able to use the method of question and answer? Because before Socrates questioned others, Socrates questioned himself to see what he knew and what he only thought he knew but did not know (That was why he was confused by the oracle's words, because Socrates knew nothing important to know). And so before you ask how to teach the use of a word to a child, ask how you would teach the use of that word to yourself, because every explanation you can give yourself, you can give the child too (PI § 210).

You might speak of grammar as being like the traffic laws of language: without those laws there would be chaos on the roadways. We use analogies, make comparisons. A general definition of the word 'grammar' is 'a set of rules'. In the grammar of our language, there are rules of syntax, and there are also rules of sense and nonsense. And you might compare speaking language to playing a game: the 'rules of the game' are the 'grammar' of the language. That is Wittgenstein's metaphor [simile, comparison]. But the good teacher will also invent other ways of explaining things to students (cf. Confucius on teaching: the good teacher is good at drawing ingenious examples to make people understand him).

If you are unwilling to think about things for yourself, then how will you teach children to think about things?

Query: What does the oracle of Apollo say about Socrates, and how does Socrates go about trying to find the truth of the message?

Socrates does not try to find the truth of Apollo's message, but to find its meaning. Because gods do not tell lies, the message is true. But its meaning is not clear to Socrates (Plato, Apology 21a-d)? (More writing than can possibly be supported by time and thought is required at school, and it is damaging to the student's intellectual integrity. If there is any condition that is necessary to the study of philosophy it is total honesty, ingenuousness, humility. [But there is allusion enough to all this elsewhere.])

Query: what did the oracle at Delphi say that inspired Socrates to devote his life to inquiry?
Query: Socrates, classical riddle.

The riddle: "No man is wiser than Socrates. Of all men living, Socrates most wise." These words puzzled Socrates, for he asked himself: How can it be that no man is wiser than I am, when I have no wisdom at all? And he decided that the solution to the riddle must be that Socrates is wise because he knows that he is not wise, and to know that one is not wise is to be as wise as any human being can be (He thought, Plato says, that Apollo had referred to him as if to everyman who does not think he knows what he does not know).

That is according to Plato's Apology, that Socrates was moved to a "life devoted to inquiry" by Socrates' effort to solve the riddle posed by Apollo's oracle at Delphi: if he could find someone wiser than Socrates, this would show that Socrates' solution to Apollo's riddle was incorrect, that there was instead another solution (as I myself think there was, because I think that second version "Of all men, Socrates most wise" is the truth, that Socrates was indeed most wise -- because he knew how man should live his life ... unless to think that is to think that I am wise when I am not).


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