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The Crucible of Doubt

Dostoyevsky: I do not believe as a child does; my Hosanna has passed through the crucible of doubt.

Paul: When I was a child I thought as a child, I spoke as a child, I reasoned as a child, but when I became a man I set aside the things of childhood.

[There are notes about Wittgenstein's view of Dostoyevsky in Franz Parak's Wittgenstein at Cassino.]

Outline of this page ...

Dostoyevsky and the Question of the existence of God

Note that for Dostoyevsky this is not a philosophical question (in the sense of metaphysical proofs for the existence of the God of the philosophers). Instead for him it is above all the question of "theodicy" or the existence of evil. Can God exist if evil also exists?

Apropos of the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor Dostoevsky wrote in his notebook [for The Brothers Karamazov]:

Even in Europe there are not and have not been atheistic expressions of such force; consequently, it is not as a boy that I believe in Christ and confess Him, but my hosanna has passed through a great furnace of doubts....

In 1870 he wrote to Maikov:

The main question, which has tormented me consciously or unconsciously throughout my entire life -- the existence of God.

"God torments" all of Dostoevsky's heroes; all of them decide the question of God's existence; their fate is wholly determined by the religious consciousness. (Konstantin Mochulsky, Dostoevsky: His Life and Work [1947], tr. Minihan (1967), p. 650)

Dostoyevsky: My affirmation of faith in the existence of God "has passed through a great furnace of doubts". (This may be an allusion to the story of "the fiery furnace" in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3.) By which he means that his faith has faced the test of reason. Well we have covered this ground more than once, and for me also, apart from any conceptual-grammatical questions, is above all the question: "If God is all powerful and yet evil exists, then can -- although this is empirical question (i.e. one answered by our experience of the world, not by reason alone) -- God be all-good?" If God is not all-powerful, then is that what we mean by the word 'God' as we normally use that word (Must that be our starting point -- a requirement we bring to our investigation (PI § 107) rather than the conclusion of one, as if to say that if God were less than all-powerful, then God would be merely a god) -- but if God is not all-good then although God can be feared, he cannot be loved. Father Copleston says it would be absurd to treat this as an empirical proposition:

To treat a theological proposition, such as 'God loves all men' as though it were a hypothesis of physical science would be absurd. (Frederick C. Copleston, Religion and Philosophy (1974), p. 51)

But he does not say how that proposition should be treated. "But of course it is not verifiable." On the contrary, yes it is verifiable by our experience of the world; it just happens not to be true. It does not pass the test of experience -- and, just as is the case with an hypothesis of physics, failing that tests falsifies the hypothesis.

This is not like the Last Judgment [unless grammatically it is], an event in the future, nor like Jesus' Resurrection, an event in the past that cannot be an hypothesis because it is not a real possibility (That is not what Wittgenstein meant by believing in this).... "It would be absurd to treat it as an empirical proposition." -- Why, is there some other way to treat this particular proposition? If it were a metaphor -- i.e. what we call a 'metaphor', it could be restated in prose.

Jesus taught us to call God the Father, and therefore is Jesus' picture of the world a false picture, the delusion of a fantasist? [Schweitzer called it "a thought of God's" [cf. Isaiah 55.9], i.e. incomprehensible to man.]

Query: hippopotamus, Russell, God.

Dostoyevsky: "a material proof for the existence of the spirit!" (But if you know that "God is immaterial", you do know something important about the grammar of the word 'God', e.g. that it is not the same as the grammar of 'hippopotamus'.)

Query: death and realities about it in different philosophies.

Is death real? Who knows. Materialists will say that question is foolishness, but can they say it is nonsense (i.e. an undefined combination of words)? They can say that anyone who asks it cannot expect an empirically verifiable answer. And indeed Dostoyevsky scoffed at the notion of a material proof of the spiritual.

And so on Good Friday I was thinking of J.S. Bach's Mein Jesu, was für Seelenweh befällt dich in Gethsemane ("My Jesus, what did you in Gethsemane suffer", 1725, Schemelli's Musical Song Book). And in this context also of Wittgenstein's "For if someone feels himself lost, that is the ultimate distress". This is not merely to "feel sick at heart, disillusioned, downhearted", but something infinitely deeper, something about our life in this world as such. And apropos of this despair at the existence of absolute evil, Dostoyevsky asks the question: who can forgive, i.e. whose forgiveness can justify ('justify' in the sense of make this suffering in principle forgivable) the sufferings Ivan describes of these children; who can forgive on their behalf?

And Dostoyevsky's answer is: the one who was himself crucified although he was as wholly innocent of our wrong-doing as children are. Christ Himself (because Dostoyevsky believed in the Incarnation) could forgive the Creator of this world's wrong-doing to children. This is, I think, for Dostoyevsky the answer to his question of the existence of evil: the One who was himself without sin could forgive for those who were also without sin.

When we passed the lorry I saw that there were cattle tethered in it and among them a calf. The calf was tugging at its halter. I was sorry for the calf because I knew that it was being taken to the abattoir and I thought of all the cruelties in the world invisibility anæsthetised for us. The calf hadn't asked to be born a calf. I tried to be brave about what was going to happen to the calf but I could only feel frightened and ashamed. I wanted to make it up to the calf by becoming a calf and being shackled and hoisted having my throat cut too and I felt that I was beginning to understand about the Incarnation and the Atonement at last. (Bruce Marshall, A Girl from Lübeck (1962), iii, 4, p. 167)

The whole glory of the atonement was that it had been carried out in creation gone wrong .... in a bad world. (Marshall, To Every Man a Penny (1949), xxiv

The crucifixion, not as an atonement to God for man's sins, but as an atonement to man for the evil in the world [This is my idea, not Marshall's]. That is not the Church's view, but it would give meaning to Dostoyevsky's picture, if it were the Church's view, which it isn't, that God could be forgiven for the world's evil because He Himself had suffered it (the Incarnation). But Dostoyevsky's idea is not about the existence of evil as such, but about the suffering of innocents: who can forgive in their name, he asks? Only One who was as innocent of evil as they are, only One who willingly suffered evil as they suffer it. The nails being hammered into the Lord's hands blow by merciless blow, the sickening thud of the raised cross being dropped into hole prepared for it: there is horror enough in the crucifixion. Marshall's idea is that God Himself, moved by the suffering of our world, "wanted to make it up to the calf by becoming a calf" Himself, suffering that evil in His own flesh. And that explains the Incarnation. But the Atonement -- is it an atonement made for the existence of evil as such -- and to whom is it made? It's a strange idea, the idea that God Himself should atone to Himself for the evil-doing of mankind.

Further, how could the Lord's suffering erase history, wash away absolute evil (for what else is the rape and murder of a child)? And if 'forgiveness' does not mean that here, then for me ... as if the facts could be rewritten, but even God cannot rewrite history: what has happened, has happened: the suffering was real, not illusion, not a dream. Even God cannot undo that fact, I want to say, citing "the materialist view of history". From which it might be deduced that God cannot be all-good and all-powerful -- and if it is true that "... and that is what everyone calls 'God'" (Thomas Aquinas), then God does not exist.

And why not a dream? That picture requires a god who can see what we cannot see, but it is not nonsense. What if the only evil that were real were the evil that I myself do (which would be the view of solipsism). Very well, the picture is there; but now try to believe in it. And is that all we are doing -- playing with alternative pictures? Wittgenstein's life-directing pictures. To 'believe in God' means to look at your life in one way rather than another. (Atheism also is simply a way of looking at things, which is what 'belief in' means in metaphysics [in contrast to its meaning of 'advocate' in ethics].)

Schweitzer wrote that he had never believed in divine providence; since his childhood the existence of evil, of suffering, of pain, was indeed for him "a question without an answer". But is not to disbelieve that whatever happens is the will of God to believe that God is not all-powerful -- if, that is, playing god is what an all-powerful God would do? (Belief or disbelief in providence. There is no essence of Christianity.)

"... in a bad world"

But not all bad, because "All over the world ... in places high and low, God has His secret saints", Marshall also wrote (A Thread of Scarlet (1959), xxv, 2), or silent saints, men and women whose names you will never know and whose photographs you will never see in the newspapers, but who self-sacrificingly but quietly do likewise as the merciful Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke 10.27-35, and this every day of their lives. And so, maybe there all others who can forgive in the name of the innocents, although they would never imagine that they could.

The proof of God's omnipotence [lies] in the silent eloquence of the Blessed Sacrament in empty churches. (Marshall, Marx the First (1975), xiv)

Yet not quite empty, after all.

Logic of language, Religion in contrast to Metaphysics

The grammar of the word 'God' is this: that any anthropomorphic statement about God, e.g. 'God is all-powerful', makes nonsense of the concept 'God', because the word 'God' is not a name. The only limit here is the limit we set by grammar, the limit of having self-consistency between rules: we are not arguing about the true nature of God, but only about what we want to do with the word 'God', which is a tool of our language, a tool man has himself fashioned, as is any other word.

... Hegel ... insisted that in the sphere of religion the truth is expressed in the form of pictorial thought, in the form adapted to the religious consciousness. Philosophy, however, thinks the same truth in purely conceptual form. (Copleston, op. cit. p. 33)

Hegel is metaphysics. But Dostoyevsky is not. Dostoyevsky's thought is religious.

"Autonomous Language-games"

... the theologian can meet the objection that the statement that God loves all men asserts nothing because it excludes nothing. It may not exclude the statement that there will be wars. But ... it does exclude something ... (ibid. p. 52)

... the theologian can --

Comment: But what kind of possibility is this? Is it logical possibility -- i.e. the test of sense and nonsense: Is the theologian's saying this a move in a language-game?

-- meet the objection that the statement that God loves all men asserts nothing because it excludes nothing. --

Comment: A proposition that is true in any and all circumstances -- i.e. that cannot come into conflict with experience -- is called a 'tautology' (cf. TLP 4.461: The rule "Either p or not-p" is a grammatical formula; it is a convention of language, and like all rules, neither true nor false).

-- It may not exclude the statement that there will --

Comment: Or "shall"? But if that can be the will of a loving Father, then what is the will of an unloving or hating Father?

-- be wars. But ... it does --

Comment: i.e. must if it is not to be nonsense.

-- exclude something ... --

But Fr. Copleston does not say what this "something" it excludes is. If even he, a learned Jesuit, does not know, then there is an old word for the theologian's propositions, namely, "priestcraft" = "mumbo jumbo". (ibid. p. 52)

It is probably true to say that most people who have been brought up in a definite historic religion in which the concept of God plays a central role fail to see anything odd or peculiar, as far as meaning is concerned, in statements about God to which they are accustomed. They may come to doubt the truth of such statements. To take an obvious example, advertence to the sufferings of children ... and so on may lead people to doubt whether it is true to say that there is an all-knowing and all-powerful God who loves all men as a Father. But it does not normally occur to Christians to doubt whether this statement is meaningful. The ordinary Christian understands the statement that God loves us in a quite straight-forward way. (ibid. p. 54)

But understood in a straight-forward way, it is false, and, therefore, according to the theologian, it must be the case that the proposition is not to be understood in the straight-forward way.

With respect to meaning, elsewhere I have written of "grammar stripping" and the concept 'God', and therefore questioned the coherence -- of the grammar [e.g. 'God is a person, but not an Olympian'] and therefore the meaningfulness -- of the concept rather than the truth or falsity of statements [propositions] such as 'God is both all-powerful and all-good'.

Do we also "understand the statement 'There are fairies in the forest' in a quite straight-forward way"? And why don't I know how to answer that question? Wittgenstein: "In one sense, I understand all he says -- the English words ..." (LC i, p. 55 [from about 1938]). So it seems. On the other hand, "The absurdity is, I've never taught him the technique of using this picture." (ibid. p. 63)

To simply say what an "ordinary Christian" does -- namely, that he believes he understands the proposition, and conclude therefore that, "This language-game is played; it is a form life takes" as if that were all that needed to be said -- won't do in philosophy. For doubtless many students of geometry believe that they understand the proposition 'A point is an object with no dimensions'. It does not follow that they do. (Certainly not if they are held to the Socratic standard, which is both a standard of meaning and nonsense as well as of truth and falsity: to 'know' means to 'be able to explain what you know to others' -- i.e. knowing is a public event, not an event "in the darkness of the soul".)

Query: How do you compare language games to religion?

(The comparison that might be made is from the language of religion to "language-games", and not vice versa.) Copleston speaks of "autonomous language games" ... But where does Wittgenstein ever use that expression or speak in that way about language?

For one thing, the idea of autonomous language-games, each of which can be understood only from within, by those who actually play the game in question, and which is therefore immune from all external criticism, seems to me open to objection. (p. viii)

"Where does Wittgenstein ever ...?" Here is one possibility: a primitive language-game can be regarded as a complete language; in that sense of the word 'autonomous', a primitive language-game might be called autonomous. But that does not seem to be the meaning of 'language-game' that Fr. Copleston is discussing here: rather, it seems to be Wittgenstein's sense of 'proposition types as language games', as e.g. the type of proposition proper to religion differs both from the type of proposition proper to philosophical ethics and to the type of proposition proper to natural science. But regardless, the meaning of a word still remains its use in the language -- the use than can be described in a way "open to the public": a hidden "mysterious meaning" (a meaning that cannot be put into words and tested by cross-questioning) is -- neither for Socrates nor for Wittgenstein a meaning at all; it is nonsense. There may be mysteries of faith, -- but there are no mysteries about the use of a word in the language in philosophy -- or anywhere else (there is an objective distinction made between sense and nonsense).

Wittgenstein did say that "If I lion could talk we would not understand it" -- but forms of life in that context -- e.g. "if the expression of sorrow and joy alternated like the ticking of a clock" (i.e. the language of emotion) -- is very different from Copleston's context. Although, further, even if we apply Wittgenstein's words to percepts and concepts, claiming (1) that concept formation is limited by percepts, and (2) that man and lion have different percepts and therefore must have different concepts -- that comparison is between lion and man, not between man and man. When Wittgenstein asks "What must the man be called, who cannot understand the concept 'God', cannot see how a reasonable man may use this word seriously?" (RPP i § 213), again the question is: what does he mean by 'understand' here? Is he talking about sense and nonsense ("grammar" or "logic") or is he talking about understanding "at a deeper level"? Because those are two very different meanings of the word 'understand'. If he is talking about sense and nonsense (and I don't think he is, although I don't know whether he is), then I would say that Wittgenstein is talking nonsense (noise without meaning) here.

This seems equivalent to a repetition of the claim that language-games are autonomous and self-justifying. (p. 51) The point of these remarks is that if the theologian is asked for the meaning of a theological assertion, it is not sufficient to reply that it belongs to the language of Christian faith and must be understood in this context. The reply is true enough; but it is not sufficient if, that is to say, an assertion, to be a genuine assertion, must satisfy some basic requirements of intelligible discourse which are not confined to the language of faith. And in this case the autonomy of the religious language-game is limited. (p. 52)

I do not know that source of that puzzling, unclear notion -- "autonomous and self-justifying". Fr. Copleston, however, does not say what these "basic requirements of intelligible discourse" are, as if that would be encroaching on theologian's territory (in the manner of Galileo). [I ask about these requirements apropos of Gilson's metaphysics. This is not a theological question.]

"... the idea of autonomous language-games, each of which can be understood only from within, by those who actually play the game in question ..." If theologians say that the combination of words 'God loves all men' is not nonsense, because "for them after all it is not nonsense" (OC § 37) --. No, if it is not nonsense for them, then it is also not nonsense for us, for otherwise we lose the objective distinction between sense and nonsense that makes philosophy possible. For, if the theologians claim, as W.E. Johnson did, that "If I say that a sentence has meaning for me, no one has the right to say it is senseless", which amounts to saying that there is no objective distinction between sense and nonsense -- i.e. that a proposition can have and essentially secret meaning for me -- for secret it must be: otherwise I could give an account of its meaning to others, a public accounting that could stand up against refutal [refutation] in Socratic dialectic.

Not all tautologies are idle, however, for some show the interconnection of grammatical rules, i.e. of concepts, and these tautologies may be useful for pointing out connections that we might overlook; e.g. Plato's 'If the good man does harm, then what does the bad man do?' -- i.e. there are interconnections among the concepts 'good man', 'bad man', and 'do harm', such that it is nonsense to say 'The good man does harm', e.g. to his enemies. And that same is the case with the concepts 'sense', 'nonsense', and 'proposition': a proposition that "excludes nothing because it asserts nothing" is not a proposition: because 'proposition' means 'assertion'; a proposition that asserts nothing is not a proposition, but merely a combination of words -- in this case, an undefined combination of words -- that has the form of a proposition, although it does not have the use of proposition. (That is merely a reminder of the distinction between a 'sign' and 'meaning of a sign'.)

If I do not know how to put the proposition 'God loves all men' to the test, then do I even know what that combination of words means? Jesus gives us a picture of a loving father; when asked for bread the father does not give his son a stone (Matthew 7.9) e.g., but how am I to apply that picture to the world of our experience? ..... Or is this something that must be taken on faith = trust: "Despite appearances to the contrary ..." Is that the theologian's language-game -- to call everything "apparently" counter-factual a "mystery of faith"? Can that be acceptable to a rational human being? Even when a child Albert Schweitzer recalls believing: "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."

But, on the other hand, Schweitzer was willing to employ this analogy, that "Man can no more understand the thought of God than a sheep or a goat can understand a man's thoughts", and "God is the Father" is a "thought of God's" [cf. Isaiah 55.9]. For all p, if p is a thought of God's, then man cannot understand p. But if that is the rule, then why is p stated in man's language, for p must have some meaning for man if it can be stated in man's language at all. If you say that the proposition 'God is the Father' cannot be understood by man, then what do you mean by 'understand' here? Jesus tells us what he means by calling God the Father; he gives examples which explain his meaning. The problem is not that we do not understand 'God is the Father', it is rather that we cannot apply it to "this world", the world of our experience. (Is Jesus talking about the kingdom of God where God will be the Father, or is he talking about "this world", the world that seems to be passing away even as Jesus speaks? What is the meaning of Jesus' words if they are placed in the context of his escathological world-picture? Is not the problem that Catholic Christianity tries to apply Jesus' words to "this world" rather than to the kingdom of God? If you can accept that Jesus' escathological expectation was mistaken, then you can accept that his words are not false. Otherwise, as in Catholic Christianity, the Son of the Trinity cannot be mistaken -- even when He is. For God is not the Father in "this world", our world.)

[Thoughts about the comparison of goats, man, and God written many years later.]

Augustine about the language of the Trinity

Is there not a language-game peculiar to divine theology (as contrasted to natural theology, i.e. metaphysics)? Yes, in my opinion, for example when Augustine gives an account of the formula "We believe in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" in his The Trinity (tr. McKenna):

... we say three persons, one essence ... What remains then but to admit that these words were born out of necessity ... when human feebleness sought to express in words the doctrine about that Lord God its Creator ... it feared to say three essences, lest a diversity of any kind should be understood ... But on the other hand it could not say that they were not three somethings ... From the Scriptures we learn with absolute certainty ... that there is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that the Son is not the same as the Father, and that the Holy Spirit is not the same as the Father and the Son. When asked to explain what these three were, it answered ... persons. It did not want these words to be understood in the sense of diversity; it merely wanted to reject any singularity ... (vii, 4 (8-9))

That is a formula for talking about God -- i.e. those are Catholic Christianity's rules for using the word 'God' (i.e. the formula is grammar). And that is a language-game peculiar to divine theology. It is a game that tells you what to say and what not to say, but it does not tell you the meaning of what you are to say, only the form that what you say -- i.e. utter -- is required to take; it does not state definitions in the sense of 'definition' = 'an explanation of meaning'; it is a grammar of the type: rules for how to manipulate signs. If mathematics were religion -- if that were the only use human beings made of it, then mathematics would be divine theology, producing nothing but tautologies. But a system of tautologies, e.g. axiomatic plane geometry, in itself proves nothing to us about reality external to that system, not without verification by experience of external reality, that is; otherwise it is akin to a game like chess, a fantasy world.

And if this cannot be grasped by our reason, let it be held fast by our faith, until He shall shine in our hearts who said through the Prophet: "Unless you believe, you shall not understand" [Cf. Isa. 7.9]. (ibid. 7, 6 (12), [p. 241n8])

I wouldn't like to belittle that way of life. But, on the other hand, it is not the way of life of philosophy, of thoroughgoing reason evaluating our experience.

The image of the Trinity

"God presents himself to us in three persons. God anthropomorphizes himself for our sake, so that we can understand in some way who he is." Of course it is just the reverse: we present God to ourselves in three persons. We anthropomorphize God, etc. And yet there is something correct about that statement.

... shows himself to us in three faces, i.e. in three ways. So the faces of a cube, well, of a three-sided solid ("a cube with three sides only"), and God. This picture, where the three faces of the block are the three persons of the one God: one block, three faces; one God, three faces? Then mightn't it be clearer, rather than to speak of three persons, to speak of three personalities?

"The three personalities of God" -- I don't think we would say that, i.e. what would we mean if we said that? Then the three aspects of God? The bread and wine at Communion: God is fully in each; it is not necessary to receive both. And God is fully in each of the three Persons? Would we say that? (Metaphors cannot be "pushed too far" -- i.e. remember the logic of comparison: A is like B, not A is identical to B; A is like B in some ways and unlike B in others.)

How can one be many and yet still be one?

Augustine on the Trinity: "We read that there is one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost is not the Father", and so we say, "One essence, three persons". But that won't work, because surely it would mean that the distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are "accidental" rather than essential; but surely it belongs to the essence of the Son that he died crucified on the cross, but the Father was not crucified, nor was the Holy Ghost ("Does it belong to their individual essences that they were not?" I don't know what to reply).

For the formula "one essence, three persons" to work the child's block of my metaphor, would have to be possible to collapse the cube into a single face, as if onto a Euclidean plane? If we collapsed a regular pyramid rather than a cube onto the plane, we could say that the three persons of God are like the sides of the equilateral triangle: the sides are distinct, but they are congruent, but they are not identical, or maybe they are identical (I seem lost in this metaphor. I am lost in this metaphor).

But then, the faces of a child's wooden block are no less perplexing than the three faces of the one God. How can one be many and yet still be one? And even if we sanded smooth the faces of the block of wood so that they were identical in appearance, they could still be distinguished by location relative to one another -- but only if we are able to assign a point of reference (as we could not if the block were spinning simultaneously north-south and east-west).

How can one be many -- i.e. more than one -- and yet still be one? We state a rule, "one essence, three persons", but it is not a satisfying rule. There is something puzzling about it, but it's puzzling to say just what it is ... if there really is anything puzzling about it.

What does the existence of the view sub specie aeterni prove?

The following remarks I remembered perhaps in the wrong context. Copleston speaks of "finite object". I do not know what he means by that expression. As I recalled his remarks they were apropos of "the world" [Maybe the world is a collection of "finite things"? -- but on the other hand the world or universe has structure: "reality is facts -- i.e. things standing in relationship to one another; it is not merely a collection of things" [cf. TLP 1.1, 3.141] as it were] -- Why is there anything rather than nothing?

For example, I have maintained that the completely isolated finite thing is unintelligible, in the sense that reason cannot rest in this idea but strives to overcome [this] isolation. And I am convinced that this is the case. I am also convinced that some of those who speak of things as being "gratuitous", de trop or "just there" [cf. OC § 559] betray by the very phrases which they use the fact that their reason is not satisfied with the idea of a finite thing as "just there". (Copleston, op. cit. p. 177)

That it is "unintelligible" and that "reason cannot rest" shows us the human mind (the human way of thinking, the human way of reasoning), but that is all it does [Why, what else might it do?]. Etienne Gilson's "There are principles without which I cannot even so much as think" is likewise a statement about man, not about what is independent of man [What would it look like if it were?]. And after all, why should reality be intelligible in human terms (as if God had human thoughts), just because man expects it to be?

"Let's not talk about that"

"But what happens when you come to the beginning again?" Alice asked. Is to say that existence is "just there" or de trop like the March Hare's reply to Alice, "Suppose we change the subject ..."? [In what way like? That neither question has an answer and both are therefore not dealt with. Like the March Hare's "I'm getting tired of this." (Alice in Wonderland vii)]

Now suppose there is no God, and no personal immortality (personal immortality and God are one and the same -- an identical idea). Tell me then: Why am I to live decently and do good, if I die irrevocably here below? If there is no immortality, I need but live out my appointed day, and let the rest go hang.... And then reflect on the "I" which can grasp all this. If the "I" can grasp the idea of the universe and its laws, then that "I" stands above all other things, stands aside from all other things, judges them, fathoms them. In that case, the "I" is not only liberated from the earthly axioms, the earthly laws, but has its own law, which transcends the earthly. Now, whence comes that law? Certainly not from earth, where all reaches its issue, and vanishes beyond recall. Is that no indication of personal immortality? If there were no personal immortality, would you ... be worrying yourself about it, be searching for an answer ...? (Letters of Fyodor Michailovitch Dostoevsky (1961), tr. Mayne, Letter to N.L. Osmidov, February 1878 [three years before D.'s death (1821-1881)] (p. 234))

Comments: (1) "Why am I to live decently ...?" When you read all this it is as if Socrates had never existed, as if the good were not really the good (!), as if the good were not what should be done regardless of whether death is nothing more than an endless sleep without dreams: Epictetus: "Seems it to you so small a thing and worthless, to be a good human being"(!). (2) But is that the only possible explanation for this questioning? Dysfunction is not an accidental feature of nature but belongs to its essence: it might well create a mortal creature "worrying itself about personal immortality". (Is that a condition of mind is an illness anything more than a human perception of that condition -- i.e. way of looking at it?)

Compare Dostoyevsky's view here to that of Protagoras: If the individual man, if the individual human being, is the measure of all things, that is to say if there is no true or false as we normally use those words (for 'truth' and 'falsity' are objective concepts, independent of the individual subject), then, in Dmitri's words "Everything is permissible" -- because the individual is also the only measure of good and evil (which therefore like truth and falsity do not exist).... However, for isn't there a "however"? "But you know that's only words." -- "All my life I wanted it not to be "only words"."

But is it "only words"? For haven't we a fundamental sense of fairness that Dmitri's words do violence to ["Forgive us our wrong-doing as we forgive those who do wrong to us"]; doesn't his contention do violence to our human nature -- for no one with this moral sense says "I can do it" = "It is good"? No one (except the ones Hume called "monsters") says, if there is no punishment for wrong-doing, then I shall be cruel and selfish ... again, as if the good were not really good and so worth doing for itself, but that one had to be threatened with punishment in order to do what one recognizes to be good. There is a fundamental flaw in Dostoyevsky's account; I would say, he is being perverse (false to his own feelings) when he says "All things are permissible", as if he himself would ever have permitted himself all things! "If all laws were to disappear tomorrow, all public order, the philosopher would go on living as he had always done." That is the difference between Greek philosophy and Dostoyevsky's religious (if, that is, religion must be about reward and punishment) account.

When the Africans said to Schweitzer, "That man is not my brother", they were thinking as the ancient Greeks had thought (Republic 332a). Neither's thinking was Christian, thinking which even Westerners without religious faith take for granted as if the notion of common humanity were innate to human nature, which it is not, neither as we have it from Stoicism nor from Christianity. But ethics does not follow from nature. From reason [from reasoning about things] we learn ethics. [To reject ethics is to reject reason as the guide to life, which one might do -- however, one could not say that reason justified his decision, as Dostoyevsky would like to do ("If ... then everything is permissible").]

  1. The allusion is to The Brothers Karamazov, to Dmitri's words, which Ivan later takes up, "If there is no God, no immortality, then everything is permissible".
  2. So I have said that ethics is rational, that Virtue is knowledge of the excellence that is proper to man, which is also the good for man. And to do harm is not such an excellence (Republic 332a-335e). But now, question. According to the Africans of the Ogowe district in those days, helping one's brother is an excellence proper to man, whereas helping men who are not one's brothers is not (because they are rivals and potential enemies). Does 'harm no one' = 'benefit everyone'? The African view was that of Simonides and Polemarchus.

The world-pictures of Jesus and Epictetus. Obviously these are not based on our experience of life; both pictures are patently false. Epictetus pantheism is absurd, and even within the context of Jesus' eschatological expectation of the imminent end of this world, unless the world is ending tomorrow we still need to eat, and the one who makes no provision to eat will certainly go hungry, in our world, the actual world. And so why were the words of Epictetus and Jesus taken, and why are they still -- if they ever were and are -- taken seriously? That is a question I cannot answer. They belong to a fantasy picture of reality, which has however great appeal, because not everyone but many are, if they are not to do violence to their own natures, irresistibly drawn to love.

The Lord's Prayer

Never could 'to-day' stand for 'daily'. Luke, by giving 'daily' ... instead of 'to-day', shows that he no longer understands the sense of the phrase (Luke 11.3). (Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, tr. Montgomery, ed. Burkitt (1931), p. 240)

The word 'today', according to Schweitzer, refers to the bread of the kingdom, the bread of the Messianic Feast. The verse should be rendered "Our bread, the Coming bread, give us to-day" (ibid.), he writes.

But the kingdom of God ... never came. And so for us 'daily' has a helpful sense -- to petition God to see to our necessities so that we like Mary may choose the better part (Luke 10.38). Besides which, we have already asked that "Thy kingdom come", and so there is no need to ask for that again.

I prefer the Lord's Prayer as it is in Luke's Gospel. It is straight-forward -- neither repetitious nor adorned by rhetoric, in contrast to the version in Matthew's Gospel. Jesus begins by calling God our Father, and because God is our Father, we cannot separate our filial love for Him from our fraternal love for our neighbor (ibid. 10.30-37). Then he says "Hallowed by thy name" (And what do those words mean for us? That some things are holy, that not everything stands on the same level -- that there is a higher and lower). Next the prayer asks that God's kingdom, Jesus' ethical kingdom of love, come soon, and for our earthly needs ("our daily bread") to be given us in the intervening time. Then we ask for the forgiveness of our wrong-doing, because we have answered the call to repentance by forgiving those who have wronged us. And finally we ask not to be put to the test (The trials of "the last days" never came, and so for us this verse may ask that we not be pushed beyond the limits of our self-control -- or more so: that we suffer no wrong-doing which we cannot find it in ourselves to forgive). Everything has now been said.

Both versions of the Lord's Prayer concern the kingdom of God, and how we can belong to it even while in this world. Although we can no longer share Jesus' expectation of its imminent coming -- not if the word 'imminent' is to keep its plain meaning -- if our longing for the kingdom Jesus describes, a kingdom ruled by love rather than by power, belonging to all who do God's will as Jesus has told it to us, is not diminished, we can still pray the words he taught us.

Schweitzer and "Redemption through Jesus Christ"

If someone does not believe in the Heaven and hell of Catholic Christianity or in eschatology's transformation of this world into the supernatural kingdom of God (much less in a the predestined elect and damned), then what is redemption -- i.e. what is the word 'redemption' -- now to mean? Is not salvation traditionally either the soul being accepted into Heaven or man's resurrection into God's kingdom?

It is only by way of Christ-mysticism that we can have the experience of belief in the Kingdom of God and in redemption through Jesus Christ as a living possession. (Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, p. 395)

To believe in the Gospel of Jesus means for us to let the belief in the Kingdom of God which He preached become a living reality within the belief in Him and in the redemption experienced in Him. (ibid. p. 394)

This is what I do not understand about Schweitzer's own Christianity -- what does he mean by 'being redeemed through union with Christ' -- what does he mean by 'redemption'? He does not believe that it was necessary for Jesus to die in order for sins to be forgiven (the doctrine of atonement).

"Glory to God also in me"

And often he quoted, full of enthusiasm, the words spoken by the convicted officer and libertine Dmitri Karamazov in full awareness of his guilt: "Hail to the Highest -- also within me!" (Paul Engelmann, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein, with a Memoir (1967), ed. McGuinness, tr. Furtmüller, 80)

Note 2: The Brothers Karamazov, Book III, Ch. iii (actually long before Dmitri's supposed crime). (ibid.)

Comment: However, as I wrote in a note to McGuinness (through the book's publisher, without reply) many years ago, Dmitri repeats this in Book VIII, Chapter v, at which point the murder has already occurred. As to the "supposed crime", it is not important; what is important is that Dmitri knows fully well that he is a sinful man when he speaks these words. He knows that he lives a dissipated and immoral life. And he acknowledges as much when he says these words.

What Dmitri knows is that he is guilty of wanting to do the murder, and having been fully capable of doing the murder, and for a Christian, this is enough. Does Dmitri not, if I recall aright (from more than thirty years ago) cry out the question, "Why is such a man alive!" He asks this about his father, and when he does so he knows that he is fully capable of murdering him.

Glory be to God in Heaven,
Glory be to God in me (tr. Garnett)

... "That verse came from my heart once, it's not a verse but a tear.... I made it myself ..."

"The importance of the philosophical act"

A contradiction prevents me from getting to act in the language-game. Why is a contradiction more to be feared than a tautology? (Z §§ 685, 689)

If I know that either it is raining OR it is not raining, I know nothing about the weather [TLP 4.461]; but If I know that it is raining AND it is not raining, then I also know nothing about the weather. In either case, the first remark from Zettel applies.

"And then what?" Emma Bovary asks rhetorically. Wittgenstein did indeed make philosophy trivial, but his philosophy is not trivial for the reason Russell thought, but rather for a reason Graham Greene speaks of in a different context:

... the religious sense was lost to the English novel, and with the religious sense went the sense of the importance of the human act. (Greene, "François Mauriac")

Wittgenstein's work in "philosophy" -- i.e. logic alone -- does not show the spirit in which, according to him, the work was done. It shows only cleverness. And this is the problem: "according to him". For if Wittgenstein had not told us, we would not have known. In just how many different ways a poem may be read! If you do not make the spirit of the work explicit (CV p. 7-8) the spirit can only be guessed at, conjectured about.

(Of course I don't think Wittgenstein's work in philosophy is trivial. Logic -- "we are discussing no small matter, but how to reason" (how to think soundly) -- is not trivial; logic of language is certainly not trivial -- it is the basis of all our philosophical thinking -- not unless 'trivial' contrasts with 'profound' rather than 'unimportant', which when philosophy excludes ethics it does.)

Appendix: How do we compare the picture with the thing pictured?

If we ever saw this [i.e. Michelangelo's "picture of the Deity creating Adam"], we certainly wouldn't think this the Deity. The picture has to be used in an entirely different way if we are to call the man in that queer blanket 'God', and so on. You could imagine that religion was taught by means of these pictures. "Of course, we can only express ourselves by means of picture." This is rather queer ... I could show Moore the pictures of a tropical plant. There is a technique of comparison between picture and plant. If I showed him the picture of Michelangelo and said: "Of course, I can't show you the real thing, only the picture" .... The absurdity is, I've never taught him the technique of using this picture. (LC ii, p. 63)

The Cerberus at my threshold

Maybe I should put over the entrance to my school: Let no one who is not perplexed by the logic of language enter here.

Wittgenstein does not -- nor could he (for what would that mean) -- "undermine reason" (LC p. 64). He can only go someplace else: "Here I do not use reason" (but not as if Wittgenstein were talking here about foundational reasons which themselves have no foundation, because these do not "undermine" reason unless they are immune from criticism -- which they are not! No, they too are subject to critical reason). For example, don't people believe in astrology (which is a doctrine accepted on superstition)? But does that make it good -- i.e. part of the life of wisdom (which, pace Wittgenstein or no pace Wittgenstein,) is the life of reason (philosophy).

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