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Philosophy old and older

It seems a long time since I had anything new to say. I grow old saying the same old things about older things, talking to myself so as not to fall asleep, an old man telling the same stories over and over again.

Preface: all philosophy is a critique of the logic of language, that is, an answer or a silence to the question: How is language-with-meaning distinguished from language-without-meaning in philosophy? (The words 'the logic of language' are from Wittgenstein's book, but this is my jargon.)

Although its foundation (i.e. methods, as e.g. definition and contradiction), logic is only one part of philosophy, of course. Other parts are ethics or how we should live our life, "no small matter", as Plato says, and metaphysics: what is real(ity)? But all parts of philosophy are done by the light of natural reason and experience only.

The Month of the Falling Leaves

"Wittgenstein says that there can be no valid system of philosophy which is not based on mathematics and science." I don't think Wittgenstein would have said that, not even at the time of the TLP ("Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences. (The word 'philosophy' must mean something which stands above or below, but not beside the natural sciences. [Metaphysics is neither complementary to nor a rival science to natural science.]) (4.111) "The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts" (4.112), tr. Ogden), although maybe the Vienna Circle would have (Logical Positivism: "The meaning is the method of verification": if it ain't empirical, it ain't at all). "Philosophers must no longer have their heads in the air. Philosophers must have their foots on the ground." I think Wittgenstein would have said that. The reason they should not "have their heads in the air" is because all they will find there are Luftgebäude ("constructions of air", "houses of cards") (PI § 118): because the meaning of language is found on the ground, if there is to be an objective distinction made between sense and nonsense. (Marshall, The Month of the Falling Leaves (1963), i, p. 6; according to the author, the Polish word for November is Listopad)

"... before Linguistic Analysis had been invented" (ibid. p. 7). But I would think that "Linguistic Analysis" -- if that means Russell's "logical grammar" in contrast the Wittgenstein's "surface grammar" -- is at least as old as Russell's "On Denoting", a work which was written in 1905, years before the character of the story was born (if he was 50 years old in 1963) -- if not far, far older (Plato, Sophist 257b-c). Or if "linguistic analysis" means the distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions, that distinction is as least as old as Immanuel Kant.

Philosophy very old

Query: does wisdom begin in wonder?

I would say that is where it ends -- but only if it begins there as well (Plato, Apology 21d).

Query: is questioning everything critically the final end of philosophy?

By 'end' meaning: the purpose of philosophy? As to the query: Why -- what other end could philosophy have, if as Socrates says, man is without wisdom, i.e. knowledge as e.g. of what death is and of why anything at all exists and if reality is no more than what he can perceive or deduce from what he perceives with his five senses?

Query: was Socrates really wise? A man that knows he is not wise is wise. Socrates, philosophy.

As wise as man can be (Apology 23a-b) ... for what that's worth, and it's not worth nothing, for to know that you are not wise is to know something. But knowing that you don't know how to ski is not knowing how to ski.

Query: who was told by the Delphic oracle that they were smarter than Socrates?

"If Nobody is wiser than Socrates," said the White King, "then Nobody must replace Socrates as the court philosopher."

Query: was Socrates right, that the wisest person is the one who knows that in the end he knows nothing? Plato, double ignorance.

The words "in the end" would mean: after, and only after examining all one thinks one knows that it is important to know about our existence. And there is the ignorance before and the ignorance afterwards: conceited ignorance versus Socratic ignorance; that is one meaning of Plato's "double ignorance".

[Aside. Question: is the Holy Ghost the wisdom of God shared with man? It is not philosophical wisdom, but insight, and so it can only seem or not seem to be true (PI § 258): is the voice of conscience the Holy Ghost or Satan (the deceiver) speaking? (The Catholic word 'discernment', like the word 'insight', is not another word for 'knowledge'.)]

Rational Wonder

Query: 'philosophy' Greek meaning. Socrates' rules for logic.

The love of rational wisdom. There are two parts to rationality: (1) that wisdom must be sought by the natural light of reason alone, and (2) that its propositions not be in contradiction to one another. Rules of logic = rules for reasoning (and these are not simply deductive, because meaning is not a determined by syntax but of use in the language). Socrates' logic is his method of seeking wisdom, namely that what one knows can be stated in propositions (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1; Plato, Laches 190c), and that those propositions must stand to the rational tests of reason and experience which is public, or be refuted for being not what one knows but only what one thought one knew but did not.

The meaning of 'natural' in philosophy

Query: Socrates' method of the inquisition of knowledge.

Inquiry made by the natural light of reason alone, into what one knows or thinks one knows, based on the two Socratic tests which are its standards of clarity and truth or falsity -- namely contradiction in logic (but also unclarity in definition, because 'logical' has two meanings in philosophy, one of which is language meaning and the other of which is "contradiction in sense" in contrast to "contradiction in form"). Philosophy inquires into ordinary, natural (i.e. perceptible to the senses, not supernatural) experience: it results in what man can know alone, independently of divine revelation.

(Metaphysics is about what philosophers imagine can be deduced about reality from the examination of natural experience, but Socrates did not concern himself with metaphysics.)

The meaning of Apollo's words

Query: the real meaning of the Delphic oracle's pronouncement that "no man is wiser than Socrates".

"Who can read the mind of God?" The pronouncement has no "true" or "real" meaning until a test is set to identify that meaning. How, then, is the oracle's (apparent) riddle -- at least Plato's version of it -- to be solved: "How can no man be wiser than Socrates if Socrates (apparently) is not wise?" It is not the case that any answer is arbitrary; it is not that "whatever seems right is going to be right" (PI § 258), because even if there are an indefinite number of possible "true" or "real" meanings or answers, all must pass the two tests Socrates will subject it to: logic and experience, or stand refuted as a false meaning.

Plato derives from Socrates' experience -- again, at least as Socrates' experience is described by Plato -- that "No man is wiser than Socrates" because "No man can be wiser than Socrates", because the only wisdom man can have is to know that he is not wise, which is the wisdom Socrates has -- and that proposition stands up to the tests of reason and experience. But there is another possible meaning for the oracle's words that appears to pass those tests as well.

Query: stupidity for Socrates.

To think you know what you don't know (Xenophon, Memorabilia iii, 9, 6; Plato, Sophist 229c) and not wonder (in Plato's sense of 'wonder' = 'to be perplexed' or 'puzzled') at your own ignorance. That is "stupidity" in the Socratic world-picture. It is "conceited ignorance", the unexamined life of presumption (fatuity).

Query: the Greek word 'phylos' shows that philosophy took its origin from the city in ancient Greece.

I'm thinking that this query about "the etymological definition of philosophy" is a true/false question on a school assignment. (There was an ancient harbor city in the far southwest Peloponnese named 'Pylos', which word would be pronounced differently from 'phylos', but that city does not seem to have had anything to do with philosophers.)

Query: explain why philosophy begins in wonders.

That, I'd say, is precisely how it doesn't begin, i.e. with prodigies: the philosopher is not perplexed by the extraordinary, but by the ordinary.

Query: in philosophy what is a man who acts before he thinks called?

What such a man is called, I don't know -- but his patron is Epimetheus, the one who "gave no thought" before he acted, the one who in his creation left man naked and defenseless -- a condition in which man would have perished if Prometheus, who "gave thought" before he acted, had not given man fire ("fire" both actual, and symbolic = discourse of reason). And it was Epimetheus who accepted Pandora from a vengeful Zeus to be man's wife, destroying man's peace, Hesiod says.

Query: philosophy began when human beings began to wonder.

That is not historically true: one may be perplexed ("wonder") without seeking the solution to one's perplexity (i.e. an end to one's ignorance) by the natural light of reason alone; mythology exists before -- or simultaneously with -- philosophy. (Although mythology is not always serious explanation: the story of Persephone and the seasons was always a fairy tale, not to be taken any more seriously an explanation than the Greek myth of origin of the spider as natural history.)

Query: man shouldn't wander in perplexity.

At my age, I don't know. But to want not wander in perplexity -- for the young who passionately seek the truth [-- to overcome "the vagueness and confusion", and metaphors that are not metaphors (because they cannot be restated non-metaphorically, i.e. in prose, and therefore are nonsense), that envelopes our life like a cloud --] not yet disillusioned by our apparent (or demonstrable?) inability to know/understand the most basic "whys" of our existence.

"Was the answer to the mystery that there was no mystery?"

Wittgenstein in the TLP said that was indeed the answer: "The riddle does not exist." But he had later to contradict himself. And indeed the non-existence of "the riddle" would itself be a riddle. If there no mystery, the absence of a mystery is itself a mystery. If there were no mystery, that in itself would be a mystery.

After many years of philosophy one may accept that we are bound to wander around in perplexity about the eternal questions, and that the most one can do is escape from the perplexities one has self-created, as e.g. through ignorance of the logic of our language, and through ignorance of fallacies in reasoning (as e.g. when an insight mistakes Some for All).

Query: modern wonders in philosophy.

Do the wonders ever change? Isn't philosophy today as it was yesterday? Modern wonders of natural science there are, as there is no limit to discovery of new phenomena, but are there new "philosophical phenomena" to discover and be perplexed by? Are the eternal questions the phenomena of philosophy -- and is their number ever reduced or increased? What there are in philosophy are new ways of looking at things (new metaphysical "theories" = new organizations of selected data), revised concepts.

The following query, which is the question of metaphysics, has not changed.

Metaphysical Wonder

Query: first philosopher to question reality.

Is that what Thales did? What would contrast with 'reality' in Thales' case? Not 'illusion' -- I don't think, but instead something like 'a state of reality' (as ice is a state of water) -- i.e. something changeable (and so liquid, solid, vapor would be changeable states of the one unchanging thing, namely water, and so water would be the reality that answer's Thales' question)? But I am only speculating (as did Aristotle, only differently) as to what Thales meant by his answer: Reality is water.

Query: philosophy is essentially divided into which two branches?

According to Wittgenstein: into logic and metaphysics, but the Stoics, and other Greeks who came after Socrates, would not say that the subject 'Ethics' is not part of philosophy (although Descartes in effect did). Could we say the two branches are e.g. realism (the direct object of perception is "the thing in itself") and idealism (the direct object of perception is "an idea in the mind" of "the thing in itself" -- whatever "things in themselves" and "ideas in the mind" are when they're at home?

Query: geo metric philosophy.

The form of this query is very good, because it shows the root words of 'geometry': earth-measuring. Descartes is an example of a geometric philosophy -- i.e. one modeled on the deductive method of mathematics. [Aside: could Euclidean geometry be used to reconstruct our world, not its matter of course, but its form?]

Query: the way things appear is not the way they really are.

That is not as yet metaphysics, but rather "Nothing is really as it appears to be" is metaphysics. Metaphysics always (wildly) generalizes from an insight into a few cases to a claim about all cases.

Existential Wonder

Query: what is ontological wonder and does metaphysics arise out of it?

But ontology = the metaphysics of being ("Being"); the one does not arise out of the other. What would have sense would be to ask what existential wonder (i.e. puzzlement) is, and to answer that it is the wonder evoked by the existence of anything at all (which is distinct from wondering at the how-ness of existence). Existential wonder is the wonder expressed by the first of the eternal questions.

Query: why do we need answers?

Most obviously we don't, because we haven't any answers and yet -- here we are.

Query: man, know thyself, and the immorality of the soul. By Socrates.

Well, this is a good example of what man does not (indeed, cannot) know about himself: namely the metaphysical nature of his soul's existence; which is why his wisdom -- i.e. his knowledge of the answer to this, as to the other eternal questions, -- is worthless (Plato, Apology 23a-b). About the metaphysical nature of the soul, Plato and the materialists -- speculate (although the historical Socrates did not), but speculation, even when it results in conviction (Plato, Gorgias 526d), is not knowledge. Speculation is not "thyself known".

"Man, know the limits of thy self-knowledge."

Plato and Language-meaning

Query: what is logic in philosophy according to Plato?

How did Plato use the Greek word logos? If Plato did as Guthrie says Socrates did, then for Plato, logic = definition, but real (nature-assigned), not conventional (language-assigned), definition: the meaning of a word is the essence of the thing the word names, e.g. the meaning of a common name is the common nature it names.

Words and Things

For him words were things, not merely labels upon ideas. (Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World (1907), iii, 2, 1)

Is it a closer picture to the truth to say that words are "labels upon ideas" -- "ideas" because "in general we don't use language according to strict rules, and its use isn't taught that way either" (cf. BB p. 25) -- and 'idea' is the word that suggests this? "The meaning of a word is normally an indefinite idea (other words are 'concept', 'notion'), although it can be or can be made definite in the particular case."

Only in very special cases (as e.g. when subject jargon is defined in a school classroom), explanations of meaning are given afterwards if at all rather than before the use of a word. And these explanations of meaning = "definitions" normally only sign posts, not strict rules.

"The meaning of a word is an idea, not a grammar (set of rules)." Vagueness isn't made clearer by further vagueness.

Question: if we don't normally use language by following strict, or even explicit, rules, then what is the point of Wittgenstein's language-game metaphor? ("Objects of comparison")

"The meaning of a word is the essence the word names"

For remember that in general we don't use language according to strict rules -- it hasn't been taught us by means of strict rules, either. We [i.e. Wittgenstein], in our discussions on the other hand, constantly compare language with a calculus proceeding according to exact rules.

This is a very one-sided way of looking at language. In practice we very rarely use language as such a calculus. For not only do we not think of the rules of usage -- of definitions, etc. -- while using language, but when we are asked to give such rules, in most cases we aren't able to do so. We are unable clearly to circumscribe the concepts we use; not because we don't know their real definition, but because there is no real "definition" to them. (BB p. 25)

A definition sets definite limits, as a wall marks off the limits of a field.

Why then do we in philosophizing constantly compare our use of words with one following exact rules?

The answer is that the puzzles which we try to remove always spring from just this attitude towards language.

The man who is philosophically puzzled sees a law in the way a word is used, and, trying to apply this law consistently, comes up against cases where it leads to paradoxical results. (ibid. p. 25-26)

This is similar to the picture that The meaning of a word is the essence the word names, for an essence cannot be altered; it cannot be augmented or reduced: it is like railroad tracks that grounded in bedrock. For example, the essence of 'to measure': it has to be always the same thing, the same procedure, and yet what could be more different than the examples given in Plato's Euthyphro (7b-c), calculating, weighing, using a yard stick (All invoke a standard, but the standard and procedures are different).

"The essence of measuring is that it invokes a standard" -- "The essence of a standard is that it invokes a rule the following of which leads to an objective result" -- but those are very general definitions, and without examples to explain their meaning, they are so general as to be without meaning.

Words and Reality

... For others this had been the supreme struggle -- the difficulty of decision between the facts that words were not things and yet that the things they represented were in themselves objective. (Benson, op. cit.)

And it is precisely because there are so many abstract terms" in our language that the question of what those terms "represent" is a perennial perplexity in philosophy, the project of which is to make sense of abstract terms.

Query: Plato on the relation between language and the world.

We could answer this query the same way as the query "What is logic in philosophy according to Plato?", namely that: Words are names, and the meaning of a name is the thing the name stands for, whether physical or abstract. [Although maybe the query concerns Plato's Cratylus, but I don't imagine I'll return to that dialog in this life.]

Query: techniques of definition of language in logic.

The query suggests that it is clear (obvious) which meaning of the word 'meaning' we are to use, whereas there are many meanings of 'meaning'. After adopting Wittgenstein's choice, I give various kinds of definition: sign-for-sign (A DEF.B), ostensive (pointing at things and at phenomena), play-acted ('to sit down in a chair', but also 'hope'), picture of a way of life ('beauty' and the Romantic Movement in art), by related concepts and short stories, for example. But there will be, I imagine, many more kinds of explanation of the use of words in the language, as well as variations of those I have listed.

Another kind of explanation of meaning (i.e. definition) might be called General definition clarified by enumeration (i.e. made clear by examples), as in the next query:

Query: define philosophy and illustrate its major branches.

If we define 'philosophy' as "the love of wisdom in metaphysics, logic, and ethics", then the illustrations -- i.e. list -- of the "major branches" will belong to an essential definition of 'philosophy'. In contrast, if "the eternal questions" are an illustration of metaphysics, does that belong to the definition of 'philosophy' or only to a definition of 'metaphysics'? At what level is a definition specific enough?

Well, a definition is a tool, namely an explanation of meaning, and it is specific enough when the explanation is clear to the person the explanation is being given to. Wittgenstein used the formula "Now I can go on" (PI § 151), and if we watch what the person who says this does, and if he indeed goes on to use the word 'philosophy' correctly, then we say that he has understood the explanation of meaning we have given him.

[Examples and meaning, their relationship in logic of language.]

Know thyself. Logic. And madness

Query: fear of knowing oneself.

In philosophy -- in this context -- it is fear of the words 'I don't know'; of breaking down your vanity, admitting your helplessness, i.e. fundamental, most fundamental, gravest ignorance of our existence. Those Socrates questioned were unwilling to accept that they did not know what they thought they knew. Theirs was conceited ignorance.

"No one knows the answers to those questions" -- well, I don't know that; I only know that if anyone knows, they haven't told me or I haven't understood what they have told me. (Of course if the questions are essentially without answer, then no one knows because no one can know.)

Query: logical questions without answers.

The word 'logical' might mean various things, too many things. Can a logical question be without an answer -- or is any "question essentially without an answer" illogical? (One cannot be ignorant the answers to questions that don't exist, and therefore is to ask the eternal questions madness?)

Query: Socratic irony in the Apology. When Socrates claims to be ignorant about a subject ...

By "claims" does the query mean that Socrates is being ironic -- i.e. dishonest, deceitful, lying to his companion -- when he says that he doesn't know? When Socrates says he doesn't know, he means that he has questioned himself enough to know that he himself does not know the answer to the question; and although he may have seen by means of this self-questioning what the answer is not, he must also make his companion see (Sophist 229c-230d).

Nowhere that I can see in the Apology does Socrates claim not to know what he does know. If one regards Socrates in the Euthyphro as only pretending not to know -- why, in order to make a fool of Euthyphro by showing that Euthyphro does not know what he thinks he does? Doing that would itself be foolish because Socrates, like any reader of the dialog, can see that Euthyphro is never going to admit his own ignorance.

Irony in discussion is an attitude of superiority, not of companionship, for one does not make one's companion better, but on the contrary harms him with that attitude: the only humiliation sought for one's companion is the self knowledge that he does not know what he thought he did, but must, as Socrates does, continue to seek to know.

Again, it is not possible to know the historical Socrates: we make for ourselves, or let someone else to make for us, an image -- Proper names as defined in Russell's Theory of Descriptions -- of him, of who we think he was. The irony found in Plato's Euthyphro is Platonic; the Socrates of Xenophon is guileless (without being naive or ill-prepared for discussion).

Query: what did Socrates want to do with the oracle's words, and what did he actually do?

In Plato's Apology, at first Socrates had thought to tell Apollo's oracle that the statement "No one is wiser than Socrates" had to be false because, Socrates thought, he knew that he himself had no wisdom [21b], and he set out to prove that they were false (by finding someone who was wiser than Socrates) [21c], but when he discovered that he could find no wise man, he saw in what way the oracle's words were true [21d, 23a-b].

They had at any rate -- philosophy

Query: what do you think will happen to you after you die?
A philosopher knows that he knows nothing.

Certainly nothing about what death is.

What is important in life or about your life to you -- is that independent of your circumstances, e.g. suppose you were alone, set apart, never to see other human beings again -- would what is important to you about your life change for you?

There would still be philosophy. But you would not write to be read, or maybe all writing is that way whether you expect anyone will read it or not, e.g. my pages about philosophy that no one sees?

But wouldn't your life be pointless? But we spoke about this before: Many things in life are pointless -- Beethoven's instrumental music is pointless -- but that does not make them uninteresting or not worthwhile, worth living for.

Tolstoy on life and death

Query: why does Tolstoy think death robs life of its meaning?

Does he think that? or does he think death reveals life's true meaning, which is not "this world and all that this world loves"? but instead to love one's neighbor as one loves oneself (That is Ivan Ilych's thought as he lies dying), and when one makes anything more important than loving one's neighbor every false way of life becomes possible. Death robs life, not of meaning, but of its worldliness meaning.

As to this world, if all is to be lost, all forgotten, what are you planing to do at the end of your life, tie a pretty ribbon round it -- and throw it in the trash?

The door is always open

Brave lad. A moment's courage and it is done.

Why must we stay at our posts, as Plato says (Phaedo 62b), the posts God has assigned us (Well, are they that?) But there is no "must" about it: the door is always open (Epictetus) if one has the courage to walk oneself through it. Which is more courage than I have, because killing oneself isn't an easy business. There is a lot of fear involved in the act, not only of pain, but of failure, of waking up blind or paralyzed (Compared to that, maybe this life doesn't seem so bad. And so, would it be the end of life or only of my life as it is now?) The door seems open -- but the door to what? Not only the way out of this life, but into an eternal sleep (Well, but is it?)

Query: Socrates' question, who am I?

What am I ("Know thyself" = seek to know what manner of being you are)? would be clearer, I'd say. The word 'who' suggests Socrates' social identity: "Who am I? Socrates, an Athenian citizen of the deme of Alopece in Attica, whose father was Sophroniscus, an Athenian stonecutter, whose wife is Xanthippe," etc.

Because they don't think they will ever become philosophers

"You see now how many readers you have in Poland ... Polish people are very deeply interested in philosophy."

"So it would seem." Who, [Professor] Hilliard thought, could imagine one of Her Majesty's Nosey Parkers at Dover producing a copy of Language, Truth and Logic for A.J. Ayer to sign? (Month of the Falling Leaves iv, p. 22)

And yet that was a very "popular" book (Bertrand Russell took credit for the ideas in it). The closest people in the English-speaking world come to philosophy is in things like the popular biographies of Wittgenstein. (It is never in that world a happy thing for philosophy to have "lots of friends".)

That is the reason, according to Diogenes the Cynic, "why people give to beggars but not philosophers, because they can imagine themselves one day becoming lame and blind -- but not one day becoming philosophers" (Diog. L. vi, 56).

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