More Old than New
The background of this page is (in my jargon) "logic of language" or how language with sense (meaning) is distinguished from nonsense (sound without meaning); and my view of Socrates in Plato's Apology and in Xenophon.
Topics on this page ...
- Metaphysical versus Everyday use of language (First define the question)
- What gives language meaning?
- Query: etymology foundation of philosophy (Modesty, the origin of the name)
- To keep hearing the same answers to the same questions, with variations
- "What's that when it's at home?" (Strange idioms)
First define the question
Query: Wittgenstein distinguishes between the "metaphysical" and the "everyday" use of words. Which does he think is more important?
One cannot be more important than the other if the other is nonsense (i.e. a string of words with no use in the language). And indeed for Wittgenstein II, it's not a question of which is more important -- but of which has meaning -- i.e. of whether there is such a thing as a "metaphysical use" of language.
After the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Wittgenstein I), for Wittgenstein there is no "metaphysical use" of language, that is, if we want to call the TLP's language, which Wittgenstein in his jargon calls "nonsense", a metaphysical use of language. But in that book, the propositions of metaphysics = "the mystical" (transcendent) are more important than propositions with "sense" (again, in Wittgenstein's jargon, 'propositions with sense' = 'statements portraying the relations of objects in space'), and the propositions of metaphysics cannot be restated on the model of propositions with "sense" and therefore they are nonsense, although of course the "non-sense" propositions of Wittgenstein's TLP are not meaningless as we normally use the word 'meaningless'. (Note: to be clear about which language is more important, in the TLP it is specifically metaphysical language about God and "value", i.e. ethics and aesthetics, that would be more important than propositions with "sense".)
What gives language meaning?
Wittgenstein II. The question is: are there metaphysical problems that can be expressed in the words of our everyday language as those words are normally used in our language? Because that is what Wittgenstein in his later work denies, because he says that what gives meaning to our everyday language is not a context-independent essence named by a word, but the word's use in our life of everyday -- (A word is in itself just a sound or a mark on paper; what gives that sound or mark meaning?) -- and if our words of everyday are divorced from our life, they lose their meaning: "When philosophers try to grasp the essence of the thing [some word is presumed to name], one must always ask oneself: is the word ever used this way in the language-game that is its original home?" (PI § 116), because that "original home" is the use of the word in our everyday language, i.e. its meaning (as Wittgenstein defined the word 'meaning' by using the facts in plain view to make an objective distinction between language with meaning and nonsense in philosophy).
Would "the metaphysical use" contrast to "the everyday use" of a word = the abnormal use in contrast to the normal use in the language? No, the "abnormal" (out of the ordinary, not everyday) use of a word means an ad hoc use assigned to the word (i.e. jargon by any other name). And that's not what metaphysics is, namely a new language; it is instead the old language in a context that is foreign to it, and the question is if the old language in a foreign context is language with meaning or meaningless.
What do we want to do with the word 'metaphysics'? (Marks on paper, spoken sounds are tools: the work they are used to do is their meaning, in Wittgenstein's sense of the word 'meaning')
I want, and we may, call man's eternal questions without answers metaphysics -- but that is very different from the question of whether Wittgenstein wasn't in some instances mistaken (i.e. did he commit the Fallacy of Some therefore All)? Because it seems that Plato and Aristotle asked at least one answerable metaphysical question that is expressed using the words of our everyday language as those words are normally used.
[There is an earlier discussion of whether there is such a thing as a metaphysical use of language, and I also wrote the various about kinds of metaphysical propositions, as e.g. 'Time is not real'. Is that proposition to be understood on the grammatical model of 'The word 'elf' is not the name of an object, and therefore elves are not real' as also 'The word 'time' is not the name of an object'? But that is a rather trivial rule of grammar. I don't think that is what the metaphysician means -- but what, if anything (because the proposition may be nonsense, i.e. an undefined combination of words), does the metaphysician mean by 'Time is not real'?]
Query: the questions without answers.
The addition of the word "the" is an allusion I'd say to the Eternal Questions, for there may be many other questions that are without answer, e.g. I asked about the origin of natural language -- but is an answer to that question a curiosity (Phaedrus 230a) of nonessential importance to the precept "Know thyself"? What is essentially important for man to know about himself? That is the question that occupied Socrates.
Query: etymology foundation of philosophy.
In this way you could say what the query suggests is true: that modesty invented the word 'philosopher'; the word's combined roots (namely philo and sophia) are the subject (namely, philosophy) it names foundation. In a way, too, you can say that if philosophy forgets or philosophers forget the etymology of 'philosophy' then ... as I say and have always thought: every step away from Socrates that philosophy has taken has been a false step; every step away from Socratic ignorance philosophers have taken has led them astray. Pythagoras in the earliest days of it all: "He did not call himself a wise man -- sophist -- but a friend of wisdom -- philosopher" (Diog. L. viii, 1).
In the end as in the beginning
Query: claim to know more than he does.
That is what Socrates does not do, and that is what Socratic ignorance = Socratic wisdom = Socratic ignorance is.
Query: Socrates in his ignorance.
... in his ignorance that he is wise.
Query: Socrates' conception of philosophy. What do we mean by Socratic ignorance?
There is an interactive relationship between Socratic philosophy and Socratic ignorance, as shown by Socrates' method for distinguishing what one knows from what one only thinks one knows but does not. Discovering that you don't know what you thought you knew (that your thinking was unclear or contradicted itself) is the result of Socrates' method of discussion, and indeed recognizing that you don't know anything of much importance -- which is what philosophy, in Socrates' conception of philosophy, seeks to know -- is Socratic ignorance.
Query: Greek term for ignorance under philosophy.
Can we imagine -- i.e. describe -- a language that had no word or equivalent phrase to the absolute English antitheses 'know' and 'not know' [or 'be ignorant of']? a language used by a people who had only a concept 'belief', who always answered what they did not know with more or less plausible guesses, such that 'not-know' = 'guess'. Many people -- often but not always uneducated people -- already do this; but suppose now that this were the language that everyone acquired in childhood and were taught at school. Suppose that Socrates had invented our absolute 'know' and 'not-know' distinction; imagine this distinction as something new, a radically fundamental change in way of thinking ... If you cannot describe the opposite, do you understand the "posit"?
Foundationally new ways of philosophical thinking. Russell's Theory of Descriptions, according to G.E. Moore (the distinction between a sign and its meaning and between the form of language and the meaning of language). Wittgenstein's later method of setting aside the question of truth and falsity to look at meaning ('meaning' defined as 'use in the language'). Kant's innate categories that predetermine perception. Descartes "New Way of Ideas". Thales' seeking to understand by the natural light of reason alone.
[Is this counterfactual idea (picture) of Socrates' distinction between 'know' and 'not know' going to quietly develop in my mind or will it only develop if I force myself to think about it?]
More or less clear, or Absolutely clear or unclear?
How can it be what we mean if you must ask? Can you mean something without knowing what you mean? Is there a scale in language-meaning from less clear to more clear -- or is whatever is not clear in meaning nonsense?
It's a nice question. When he was a student M. O'C. Drury thought -- although G.E. Moore disagreed -- that whatever is not clear in meaning is nonsense (Recollections p. 115), that an "obscure in meaning" is no meaning. (What might be said, that sometimes language is suggestive nonsense, i.e. a combination of words which suggests various meanings it might -- not "have", because it hasn't any meaning as such -- but might be given.)
Meaning - criteria of clarity
What do we mean when we call language 'clear in meaning' -- Wittgenstein's "Now I can go on by myself" (PI § 151)? Does 'The meaning is clear to me' = 'Now I see what I must do; I see what the next move is (or possible next moves are) in the game-like activity done with this language (cf. "how this language-game is played")?
Query: when do we know the meaning of words? Some criteria.
When Socrates set a criterion for knowing in philosophy: one who knows can explain what he knows to others -- in Wittgenstein's context that would mean being able to describe the use of the word in the language (its place in a language-game e.g., but in any case its place in our way of life), because Wittgenstein had set a criterion to publicly distinguish sense from nonsense. That answers "how we determine whether or not we know the meaning of words". (Or that is one possible answer, although the criterion set by Plato is different: if we can state what the common nature named by the common name is, then we know that word's meaning. Is that a different meaning of the word 'meaning'? Well, if it makes use of a different criterion from Wittgenstein's (where the meaning of common name need not be -- indeed, usually isn't -- a common nature it names), it seems so.)
"For the gods see everywhere"
Query: did Socrates believe that the gods were wiser than him?
Of course the gods, being wholly rational, are wiser than man. The question is: what Apollo's wisdom is when his oracle says "Of all men living, Socrates most wise", that there is no one wiser than Socrates. Socrates asks, What do the gods' words mean? because Socrates is not at all wise, or so it seems to Socrates, until he discovers what his wisdom is, the only wisdom that man is able to have.
Query: Apollo's emissary to Socrates. The wisest man as confirmed by the oracle of Apollo.
But it was just the reverse. It was Socrates' "emissary" (although Socrates did not send his friend to question the oracle), namely Chaerephon, who went to see Apollo's oracle at Delphi. Because it was the god Apollo who was wisest of all, not Socrates (Socrates being merely the wisest of men).
Query: fifty wise philosophers.
Since the wisest of them is Socrates, and he hasn't any positive wisdom (knowledge), but only negative wisdom (namely, that he knows that he doesn't know anything of metaphysical importance), there aren't any wise philosophers, not five, not fifty, none.
Query: a hundred donkeys are not to a one Socrates.
Donkeys are ignorant of metaphysics (What would it mean to say that they are not?), but they are not ignorant in the anti-Socratic way. Donkeys do not even question whether the specific excellence proper to donkeys is to eat straw, drink water and procreate (Epictetus, Discourses ii, 14; cf. Plato, Apology 37e-38a); unlike mankind, donkeys haven't discourse of reason. To slightly adapt the following story about Aristippus of Cyrene --
When some one brought his son as a pupil, he asked a fee of 500 drachmae. The father objected, "For that sum I can buy a donkey." "Then do so," was the reply, "and you will have two." (Diog. L. ii, 72, tr. Hicks)
Donkeys do not "reason out the How and Why" (Euripides in Aristophanes' The Frogs, l. 971). And that is why -- if I understand the query -- even among a hundred donkeys, there is not even one with the wisdom of Socrates, not one who questions whether he is wise or not.
Queries: Socrates on humility. (Self-knowledge.)
The wise man and his ignorance.
What did Apollo's oracle say about Socrates? Why did Socrates doubt the oracle? Who does Socrates in Plato's Apology 23a-b find to be the wisest?
It's the same query three ways, abbreviated by the words: "Socrates ignorance wisdom". Socratic ignorance is the wisdom of every man (Apology 23a-b) who doesn't think he knows what he doesn't know. But it's hard to never presume you know what you don't know, to never take for granted that you are wise when you are not; and so the next query.
Query: examples of people philosophy put to death.
Philosophy does not put people to death, but all who fail to wake up, who live unexamined lives (Apology 30e-31a, 37e-38a) -- or worse, whose thinking is philosophically stupid, as those who presume that there is nothing whatever worth knowing about existence that they are able to know, indifferent (donkeys like me) who stop thinking while waiting to die -- put themselves to death.
Query: philosophy is asking questions to which there are no answers.
No, to which there is either no answer ("Why is there anything rather than nothing?") -- or to which different answers may correctly be given ("How should man live his life?") in contrast to a well-established -- (as a "custom, institution, usage" (PI § 199) in a community's life) -- question-and-answer pattern (language-game), as e.g. "What time is it?" which asks for the time on the clock not metaphysics.
What do I believe my nature to be?
Query: who am I questions with answers.
Inscribed in Apollo's temple at Delphi were the words "Know thyself", but can I know anything worth knowing about my existence itself, metaphysically, that is? Metaphysically, there is no answer (although physics does tell us something about our condition -- namely what about it is incomprehensible to man) to the question of who or what I am. (By the natural light of reason and experience, our existence itself is "sound without sense": the question "Why all this; what is it for?" is either nonsense or the only answer is there is no answer from a human point of view: if God has "thoughts", those thoughts seemly cannot be understood by man (as Isaiah saw millennia ago).
I study not these things but myself, to know what manner of being I am. (Plato, Phaedrus 230a)
What can I know about myself then? I can know the specific excellence that is proper to man as such and to myself as an individual man. Is that the answer to what or who I am? Or is this the answer I am looking for, that it is easier to say who I am not, as e.g. not Socrates: the only thing I have in common with him is my old-age paunch; I wanted to be a philosopher too, but I didn't make it. That is, is the question, not do I know what an ethical human being does -- but do I live as an ethical human being does?
But what should I say, because it seems impossible to see oneself from outside oneself (i.e. without a plethora of falsity of mitigations or falsity of accusations). To know oneself as an ethical being, is it enough look at what one does and judge oneself that way? What are we calling self-knowledge?
If you are unsure even where to begin in answering a question, it is because the question (i.e. string of words that has the form of a question) is unclear in meaning to you -- i.e. is waiting for you to assign it a meaning. In other words, first define the question, because otherwise you are letting "the words speak to you", and what they suggest to you is vague, nebulous, fog.
"Why does anything at all exist?"
Query: why are there questions without answer?
Is the reply: "Why is there anything? why does anything at all exist? What does it exist for? And now how can it be that we do not know even that about our existence ..."? Because if such questions are without meaning, as Wittgenstein says all questions there is no defined way to answer [TLP 6.5] are, then what I wrote, namely "Metaphysically, there is no answer" is nonsense, because there are no questions more nebulous with respect to how they are to be answered than the eternal questions without answers, e.g. "Why does anything at all exist?" (Why isn't there, instead, nothing?), "Why is what exists as it is?" (the questions of providence, theodicy), and "Does man "know good and evil"?" (Are good and evil real, not as qualities may be real, but judged against a universally objective standard?) These are questions from the human point of view of rational moral virtue (What is rational is that these questions are asked at all; they are not questions that belong to the animal part of the rational animal, the part which does not question).
Not all unanswerable questions are philosophical-metaphysical questions, but only the eternal questions are. Maybe there are natural science questions that natural science is not able to answer, as e.g. "What is the origin of natural language?" When is an explanation satisfying -- is that the purpose of explanation, to put wonder (perplexity) to rest?
"Care of the soul" (Socrates and Plato)
Query: philosophy about life. Why does Socrates think the soul needs to be taken care of?
What is the good for man? That is the only question of philosophy and the only question of "philosophy about life" for Socrates. The good for a thing according to the Greek way of thinking about this question, is the excellence that is proper and unique to that thing. Socrates identifies this excellence in the case of man as rational moral virtue (the rational mind applied to moral questions). He does not claim to know any more about our life than that. By 'caring for the soul' Socrates means the practice of rational moral virtue.
"The question of life's meaning (the meaning of life)" is answered very differently by Plato, because unlike Socrates, Plato believes he knows what the metaphysical nature of the soul is, namely that unlike the mortal body, the soul is immortal. And if the soul is immortal, as Plato believes, it demands care not only for the sake of this short life but for the sake of all time. Further, Plato believes that the soul comes to moral judgment once the body has perished: and the evil the soul has done in this world is punished and good is rewarded. Therefore, Plato says, the meaning of man's life is to come to that judgment in the most morally virtuous state possible, though a life of good-doing rather than evil-doing. That is what Plato means by "caring of the soul": preparing for life after death, for the judgment that follows the death of the body. (This was a belief medieval Christianity shared with Plato.)
Query: the soul continuing on after physical death is what gives life meaning.
Plato does not make that claim in the Gorgias [526d-e]: he says that he himself believes that philosophical thesis to be true, but he does not in that dialog claim to prove it to be true. In Phaedo 102a ff, however, Plato does offer proof for the thesis that the nature of the soul is what "gives life [its] meaning" [107c], i.e. tells man what the purpose of or wisdom for this life is -- namely to live a life of moral virtue and philosophy ["caring for the soul"] because the soul is immortal (imperishable), not a thing that is discarded as the body is and therefore care for the soul is for all time, not only for our life in this world (Phaedo 107c).
To keep hearing the same answers to the same questions. With variations
Query: which division of philosophy looks to define words?
If we start with Socrates rather than with formalism (although note that Aristotle too included conventional definition in his logic), the history of the word 'logic' shows that logic is the "division of philosophy that looks to define words". Certainly Wittgenstein's "logic of language" tries to define words -- i.e. to describe their use in the language (or to imagine ways they might be used were very general facts of nature different from what they are); that is one meaning of the word 'to define words'.
Query: the word 'rational' is the best synonym for which branch of philosophy?
By definition (of the word 'philosophy' as the Greek philosophers used that word), everything philosophical is rational, but metaphysics is strictly so, because it asks: "What can be known by the natural light of reason alone, i.e. independently of experience of the world by sense perception (as well as independently of divine revelation)?"
Whereas logic, when it describes the actual use of language and the art of reasoning, and ethics (Plato's "no small matter, but how to live") when we try to respond to the Delphic precept "Know thyself", are both philosophy by the natural light of reason and by the light of our experience of the world in plain view, which is the philosophy of Socrates (albeit "the conceived facts" in plain view and concepts of our community of ideas).
On the other hand, Plato's method of tautologies in ethics is a strange case: is it metaphysics or ethics? Would there be a point to calling a grammatical investigation by the title "metaphysical ethics"? No, but there might be to calling an a priori investigation in ethics that. Plato's method in this case is both: rules of grammar that are also rules of ethics or how to live our life.
Can natural reason working independently of experience determine whether "time is real"? How? "They let the words speak to them", setting aside the words' original homes (Wittgenstein about the Rationalists; cf. "Analytic propositions").
"What's that when it's at home?"
[Stephen speaking to the anti-Popess] "It's about Sean Finnegan, Your Sanctity."
"Who's Sean Finnegan when he's at home?"
If Her Sanctity's theology was invariably post-post conciliar, her slang was sometimes almost Tridentine.
"... and the trouble about him is that he is not at home ... The Holy Father would be grateful if Your Sanctity could see her way to issuing a warrant for his extradition."
"What does 'extradition' mean when it's at home? Why can't Your Eminence speak English?" (Bruce Marshall, Peter the Second (Constable, 1976), xiv, p. 84-85)
"... is likely to impair the defense of the Realm ..."
"What's that when it's at 'ome, 'Arry?"
"You 'aven't answered my question yet, 'Arry. Wot's that word you was using mean?" (Marshall, Flutter in the Dovecote (Robert Hale, 1986), xxii, p. 141)
And that's the only explanation of meaning of the phrase (cf. PI § 116) you are going to get, I'm afraid, namely such examples. ("Who's he?" "What's that?")
I replied & tried to tell him "where he gets off". (Malcolm, Memoir 2e, p. 61)
Cf. "I told him off." "I saw him off."
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