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Making proper use and the abuse of theories, an example. Questions about the nature of philosophy itself, which are themselves philosophical questions. Outline of this page.

A Theory is not an insight into reality itself

Neither in metaphysics nor in natural science. How could it be if there is no knowledge independent of concepts. To know the cause of concept-formation would ultimately be to know percepts without concepts, which is not possible if there is no knowledge independent of concepts.

Which in Socratic philosophy there is not, because what cannot be put into words cannot be put in discussion to the tests both of reason and experience. What cannot be put into words is irrational, but philosophy is rational.

Note: here 'concept' DEF.= 'rules for using words'; if by 'concepts' were meant nebulous pictures, that "definition" would be of no use to philosophy.

To 'know' DEF.= to 'be able to explain and defend in discussion what one knows'. That is the Socratic standard in philosophy. "And that which we know we must surely be able to tell?" (Plato, Laches 190c, tr. Jowett; cf. PI §§ 210, 208), which is the definition of 'know' Socrates chose for philosophy.

A theory is a presentation of reality intelligible to the human mind (Lichtenberg). That is all even the most useful of theories is. A theory is not an insight into reality in itself: it does not allow anyone to "hear God thinking" (Bronowski). To imagine otherwise is mysticism, not philosophy.

What M. O'C. Drury does not mean by the word 'theory' is 'a statement of what something really is'. But, rather, a theory is an organizing principle, a reference point, one way of looking at things, not the only way: All theory is a selection of the conceived facts plus imagination. And that "plus" is the reason a theory itself is not and can never become a fact. A theory is not a verifiable and falsifiable hypothesis.

The expression "logic of language" comes from Wittgenstein, but in my jargon 'logic of language' DEF.= 'a method for making a distinction between sense and nonsense (in the context of philosophy)'.

Question: to know reality in itself -- i.e. independent of the limit of human perception, a limit which may or may not be the limit of reality -- what would we need to know? Would our knowledge be a concept? In which sense of 'concept'? For example, the heliocentric system is a concept (or maybe the word 'conception' is clearer since that word suggests a picture or plan), but a 'concept' as 'one possible summary of a selection of conceived facts' with a 'conceived fact' being a 'concept with a percept or a selection of concepts with percepts', in Kant's jargon.

The natural sciences have collected many facts and summarized them in theories. But a theory is not knowledge of reality itself. Imagination (cf. "thought experiments") is not knowledge.

We have an expression "the eye of God", but man cannot see as God would see, i.e. the expression 'absolute point of reference' is nonsense (undefined language) as we normally use the expression 'point of reference' (and how else shall we use it? for it was that form of expression that suggested the word combination 'absolute point of reference' to us). For man to know reality in itself, indeed for there to be a reality in itself, must there be an absolute point of reference?

What would we need to know for us to know reality as God knows it? That is a question without an answer, presuming that we are not mistaken in presuming that there is such a thing as reality in itself? After all, if "reality in itself" cannot even be described (put into words), then it is not even logically possible for it to exist; to speak of the existence of what is named by an undefined combination of words is to talk nonsense.

A theory is not a description of how things "really" are

At the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena. (TLP 6.371, tr. Ogden)

In what sense does Wittgenstein mean the word 'explanation' here? He meant in the sense in which Newtonian physics held that If event A happens then event B must necessarily happen as well ("strict causality"); whereas, Wittgenstein says, the only necessity is logical necessity (ibid. 6.37). (Quantum physicists, who speak of only of probability, would agree, but I don't think Wittgenstein is at all alluding to that here.)

But that is not what I would mean by saying "Scientific theories are not the explanations of natural phenomena". Rather, I would mean that a theory is not a description of how things "really are". It does not say what "the reality hidden behind the appearances" is. But instead, a 'theory' is 'a way of organizing a selection of the conceived facts into a pattern that makes their relationships clearer in our eyes' (For 'pattern', Drury uses the expression "models, pictures, maps"). The concepts, the selection and their organization are products of the human mind and should not be projected onto a presumed "reality in itself".

[A portrait is a portrait, not an insight into reality itself.]


Outline of this page ...


Making proper use of the theory of evolution. An example.

But I don't say this ("When may becomes must: a universalized dogma") to deprecate the theory of evolution, which when it is not abused can be an interesting way of looking at things, of giving a meaning to a selection of facts. (In which sense of 'meaning'? I think the following example shows that. Cf. "to make sense of something" that just doesn't make sense.)

Instinct and Concept-blindness

Those animals that seem to be primarily creatures of instinct seem to have a very limited ability to deal with comparatively new phenomena. For example, the railroads and the automobile -- these have been in existence for a very short time. And if we imagine evolution to be a process of millions of years, then for creatures of instinct, as e.g. the goose and the cow, there is no place for the automobile in the goose's world-picture (in the picture generated for the goose by instinct) as there is no place in the cow's world-picture for the railroad train.

The automobile, or railroad, is like the piece of a jigsaw puzzle picture for which there is no place for it to even be. In a certain sense of the word 'see', geese do not see automobiles, just as cows do not see railroad trains. ("Percepts without concepts are blind.")

If you walk up to a goose, the goose will run away, but if you drive up to a goose, the goose will just stand there and stare at the automobile, just as a cow will just stand on a railroad track and stare at an oncoming train. This is concept blindness inducing phenomenon blindness.

I think that is an interesting way of "organizing" the selected data, of "understanding" the selected data, i.e. it is an organization, an understanding, as all theories are, not the only way and not the way. That is to say, if we divide animals into various classes based on the extent to which they are creatures of instinct and the extent to which they are creatures of learning, geese are towards the one extreme and the human being towards the other.

Now tell me: is that theory an example of natural science or of metaphysics? And what is the distinction? That a scientific theory sometimes has practical applications? But that cannot be the absolute criterion, because "sometimes" ≠ "always".

The Task of a theory, and the Abuse of a theory

The theory accounts for the selected facts (Imagination, of course, adds the millions of years of evolution and the distinction between creatures of instinct and of learning) in a non-self-contradictory way. And in that way the theory is satisfying. Fine so far. The danger, however, is the that theory may be so satisfying to someone that they become convinced that the theory isn't a mere theory, that it isn't merely one way of organizing the selected facts rather than another (one way of looking at things rather than another) -- but that instead "The theory is the true explanation of the facts; the theory is reality itself."

Mistaking a theory for reality is the danger of theorizing.

A comparison, not "really is"

Using language isn't really playing a game. It is only a comparison, a new point of view, Wittgenstein introduced. But it is merely one comparison that may be made (A is like B in this way, that both are (more or less) governed by public rules). A word isn't really a tool, but it may be compared to one in this way, that both can be used to do some work in our life. (The logic of comparison.) Wittgenstein made comparisons. "What I invent are new similes" (CV p. 19, a remark from 1931).

But do you want to call comparisons 'theories'? Are they, then, not conceptions, not ways of looking at things (making this comparison rather than that comparison or none at all). We call many different kinds of propositions 'theories' -- too many if the purpose of distinguishing between and between (making distinctions) is clarity.

Philosophy is conception. A conception gives meaning, as a definition does.

Query: Socrates' perception of death.

Perception or conception? But what would 'perception' mean here if not 'conception'? because by 'perception' here is meant 'meaning': "How does Socrates see death?" = "What does Socrates think death is?" = "What does Socrates conceive death to be?" (Apology 40c-41c)

Unconceptualized phenomena are "blind"

Nebulous, indistinct, unintelligible, without meaning. Percepts without concepts are blind. But what do we mean by 'percept' and 'concept'?

Query: everything is what it is only by contrast.

If two or more percepts are in all respects identical, can there be more than one corresponding concept? This needs thought, because how will you know they are identical if percepts without concepts are blind? How do you know that today's percept A is the same as yesterday's percept A? "What you do is to repeat an expression. Do I know anything more about it myself? Is it only other people I cannot tell?" (PI §§ 290, 210, 69)

Question: mustn't we distinguish {simple percepts and fundamental concepts} from complex concepts composed of fundamental concepts? Fundamental concepts would be 'color', 'shape', 'size', 'loudness', things like this, and a simple conceived-percept might be 'This is green', 'This is curved'. A complex concept would be e.g. 'tree', even more so 'maple tree', more so 'sugar maple tree', 'sugar maple tree in fall', and so on. (This is related to the building up of Wittgenstein's "primitive language-games".)

We shouldn't confuse ourselves with our own vocabulary. A misused tool will further wound rather than "heal the wounded understanding".

Classes and sub-classes: what is needed for there to be sub-classes? If one member of a class is not conceived as in some way significantly different from another, then there will be no sub-classes. A difference is a contrast.

But the query's proposition is not absolute. For example, the members of different classes may be the same height, but height needn't be a defining characteristic of either class -- i.e. classes needn't be unlike (and therefore contrast) in all respects, only in the defining one. (According to Aristotle, a Socratic definition must identify the common quality all members of a class have that differentiates that class from all other classes.)

[What is the source of the fundamental concepts? That is a question for metaphysics. For logic of language it is enough that those concepts are there, "like our life" (OC § 559).]

How does Socrates know what he knows?

But is philosophy knowledge or theory? More like: Philosophy is not-know and theory.

There is no more important question in philosophy than that. What Socrates does is to invent a meaning for the word 'know' to have in philosophy, and with that definition he tests whether one knows what one thinks one knows or not. And so what Socrates can explain to others and defend against refutation in dialog, he knows, and otherwise he does not know.

Query: do you think that wisdom and knowledge are made by the philosopher?

A theory is not a statement of what one knows. All that can be asked of a theory is whether it is consistent with a particular selection of data or not. And is philosophy concerned with knowledge or with theory? as Drury defines the word 'theory', namely as 'a way of organizing a selection of conceived facts', i.e. a theory is imagination (which is what the selection and organization are) plus conceived facts (percepts with concepts). (That a particular organization is possible is a fact -- but the philosophical question then is: a fact about what, about reality itself or about one possible human way of conceiving-organizing reality? Is a "territory" only a territory in human eyes?)

For example, when Wittgenstein chooses one meaning out of countless meanings of the word 'meaning' to use in philosophy, and when Socrates chooses one meaning of the word 'know' out of countless other possibilities, do we want to call that 'theorizing'? Is choosing a standard of measurement theory-making? Well, 'theory-making' in contrast to what? There is the standard and then the measurement made using it. One is a way of looking at things (a selected point of view, frame of reference), whereas the other is not: within a point of view, there are the tests of logic and experience, and those are questions of fact, i.e. knowledge.

What justifies calling someone a philosopher is his new point of view, but it does not follow that therefore points of view is all that philosophy is.

Is a point of view to be called a theory? Is anything made clearer by calling it that?

As to the query's "wisdom", what are we calling 'wisdom'? Is what Socrates discovers about human wisdom from Apollo's words "no man is wiser" what we mean by 'wisdom' -- or by 'wisdom' do we mean 'knowing the answers to the eternal questions'?

"That there is no truth in philosophy" (Phaedo 90b-c)

Query: reality, truth of philosophy.

That is the question of this page. There is truth -- i.e. true statements are made and distinguished from false statements, which are refuted by Socratic cross-questioning -- in philosophy, but is there knowledge of reality itself, that kind of truth?

A related question: can a philosophical theory give a false picture of reality (Can it distort reality; can any concept that gives meaning to a percept distort reality)? If the theory is abused (by being regarded as a fact rather than a theory), that is an example of a false picture; but can a theory properly understood (and presuming that it organizes all the selected facts in a self-consistent way) give a false picture of reality?

These remarks are unclear in meaning? Of course they are. All investigations are unclear in the beginning. That is why they are undertaken.

Is Descartes's New Way of Ideas ("The direct object of perception is an idea in the mind") a false picture of reality? It gives a false picture of the logic of our language, if sense is to be distinguished objectively from nonsense. But need it be? Most philosophers seem to have thought not. Certainly elements of Descartes' philosophy can be used properly (e.g. its method of doubt, its geometry), but can the whole of it be?


Of first and last questions. First questions.

Apollo and Reason

Query: if Apollo is the god of reason, give an example of Apollo using reasoning to solve a problem. Why did the oracle at Delphi declare that no one was wiser than Socrates.

Reason itself does not use reason. A standard is not used to test itself. Apollo is the standard of reason, its symbol. 'Apollo' = 'Reason' = 'Logic', as it were. The questions are: which examples serve as the standard models, and why those models? What is the origin of logic, nature or convention (Wittgenstein's earlier and later views)?

But maybe the following serves as an example of Apollo's way of thinking, or in other words, of what we mean by the words 'reason' and 'reasoning', namely: If Socrates knows that Socrates is not wise, and if knowing that one is not wise is the greatest wisdom man can have, then no one is wiser than Socrates and those who like him do not think they know what they do not know. (That is a syllogism.)

Is that an example of "Apollo using reasoning to solve a problem"? or is it a model/standard of reasoning? A use or a standard -- how to decide? What is the model on which to base that decision?

Has Aristotle a logic of language -- i.e. does he set a standard to distinguish between sense and nonsense?

Query: Aristotle on language-games. Wittgenstein, understanding his word game

What is Aristotle's "logic of language" -- is it what I quoted from Aristotle when making a distinction between verbal from real definitions? But how do you know if a nominal definition is sense or nonsense? How does Aristotle distinguish between language with meaning and language without meaning?

How does Aristotle distinguish sound with sense from "mere sound without sense" (i.e. nonsense)? Did he regard that question as one that is answered by the consensus of human beings (as revised by Aristotle): "If it is commonly held that a combination of words is not nonsense, then it is not nonsense"? What else would someone who says "We maintain that what everyone believes is true. Whoever destroys this faith will hardly find a more credible one" -- say about sense and nonsense?

And so, if the consensus of mankind says that the word 'point' in geometry is the name of an invisible object without extension but having location only, then that is the meaning of the word 'point' in geometry, and anyone, e.g. me, who says that is nonsense "will hardly find a more credible" definition. Well, but, as Plato said, we don't determine the truth by taking a vote; that is not our concept 'truth'; it simply is irrelevant what "everyone believes is true".

Aristotle's "common sense" is not the Socratic standard of judgment in philosophy, but only natural reason and the facts in plain view alone (regardless of whether those facts, metaphysically speaking, are mere appearances masking the reality behind them). And who decides what is and what isn't reasonable/logical? Aristotle's "everyone"? or Apollo?

As to the query's "Understanding Wittgenstein's word game", the first thing to understand is that the form of expression "word game" shows a misunderstanding. There is a reason Wittgenstein uses the form 'language game' rather than 'word game'.

Query: common questions without answers.

Well, the eternal questions are common in the sense that they belong to all mankind ("held in common"), but I don't know how many of mankind ask them and thus whether they are "common" in that sense of the word 'common' ("commonly asked").


"What philosophy is?"

It's a nice question. And the second question is, Who shall answer it -- the individual or an institution? What is philosophy?

Query: what are two tools of philosophy?

Once again, "There are many ways to slice a pie." Two might be definition (e.g. grammatical, Platonic) and method (e.g. Socratic, Cartesian). But those both belong to logic, philosophy's only tool, unless another is the light of natural reason -- as "natural" here means working on verifiable experience, which is what Socratic philosophy is, whereas logic alone isn't limited to natural reason (e.g. divine theology is logical).

Skepticism, not indifference but active doubt

Query: in philosophy everything is questionable.

That's what philosophy is about: There is no other authority in philosophy than an individual's open mind that puts all things to the tests of reason and the facts in plain view to all (i.e. the conceived facts by common consent of one's companions in discussion).

But opening one's mind is not easy, partly because of pride (humility is a life-long task of learning to know oneself, to not think oneself wise when one is not) and partly because of preconceptions ("But what did that mean, Question everything? Surely not everything"), and sustaining the conscientiousness in work that thinks questions all the way through is also not easy.

'Philosopher' and 'Philosophy'

Query: who first time used the word philosopher?

I'd say the query is quite right: the word 'philosopher': man who loves wisdom, in contrast to a wise man ("sophist"), comes before the word 'philosophy': what a lover of wisdom does (which is a difficult question to answer: what philosophical wisdom is).

The ancient story says that Pythagoras of Croton was the first to call himself a philosopher. But although the name philosopher was originally a title of modesty ('twas modesty invented the word), now it would be presumptuous to call oneself a philosopher, as if one belonged in the same category as the great thinkers in the history of philosophy; the word 'philosopher' no longer means 'lover of wisdom', but someone with an original philosophical insight, a new point of view.

Query: his wisdom consists only in knowing that he is ignorant and should therefore not be called wise but a lover of wisdom. Who made this statement?

No one made that statement. It is a conflation of the story about Pythagoras (in Diog. L. i, 12) and the story about Socrates (in Plato's Apology).

Where are the limits of philosophy? (PI § 68)

Query: what is the origin of the philosophy of human existence? In the beginning philosophers discussed what?

Human existence itself? Was there ever a time when human beings did not wonder about this -- indeed, does it not mark the dividing line between man and beast (animal)? Has he not always wanted "to reason out the how and why" (Aristophanes, The Frogs) of his existence, even when his answers to the how and why were mythical (as were the early Greek) or irrational (as is superstition)?

I speculated about the origin of philosophy in Greek geography and that the first philosophical discussions were about self-rule (democracy).

But that is not what Thales discussed, although Thales is called "the first philosopher", although not "the father of philosophy", which Socrates who did discuss ethics is called.

But to answer that question, we would need to set the limits of philosophy, because they are not set now, not as we normally use the word 'philosophy'.

The wisdom loved in "love of wisdom"

Query: explain wisdom that philosopher seeks. Deprivation of the word 'philosophy'.

To 'explain' here means to 'give an explanation of meaning' or 'state a definition'. We might try to answer the first query by looking at the second query. And what word would we use then, if there were no word 'philosophy'? None that exists now; there is no equivalent word, no synonym for 'philosophy'.

As to equivalent expressions for 'philosophy', we can't say "love of wisdom" as if the holy man were not seeking that as well as the philosopher.

What we might think to say is that 'philosophy' = 'the love of rationally acquired wisdom' or 'the love of wisdom acquired by the natural light of reason alone' -- although, again that is too broad (for natural science also seeks to understand by the natural light of reason alone), unless by 'wisdom' we mean something like 'things that are important to know if we are to know how to live our life'.

But by 'philosophy' we mean more than ethics ("no small matter, but how to live", in Plato's words), and so while the first thought is too broad, the second is too limited. And so I think this the best: 'philosophy' = 'the love of rationally (and by the natural light of reason alone) acquired wisdom in logic, metaphysics and ethics'. But there is no other word for that love than the word 'philosophy.


"What Socratic philosophy is?"

Query: who is Socrates and why is he important?

The philosophical question is rather: Is Socrates important?

Philosophy is not adduction (seeking support for an assumed proposition), which is what the query's second question asks for. No, not why, but is. The conclusion comes at the end, not at the beginning of the investigation.

To whom and for what may Socrates be important? That is one subject of this page, but it's also the background of everything I have written about philosophy for this site.

About Socrates, Schweitzer asked, "What would that ancient world have become without him?", because at that moment in history when the Sophists, with their persuasive method of making the weaker argument appear to be the stronger, had used skepticism to make ethics appear irrational (good and evil, right and wrong, unknowable by the natural light of reason), Socrates made the subject of Ethics (or, in Plato's words, "no small matter, but how to live") part of Philosophy with his stand that ethics is rational, that what the good is for man can be known and from that how man should live his life can be known.

What was the answer to the Delphic precept "Know thyself" for Socrates? The ancient view was that what defines man is (1) that, unlike the other animals, man has knowledge of good and evil (The Jew's myth of the Garden of Eden), or (2) that man, unlike the other animals, is endowed with discourse of reason (The Greek's myth of Prometheus). Socrates brought these two ancient views together: the excellence that is proper and unique to man is rational moral virtue, and the good for man is to live in accord with that excellence.

About Socrates I ask this: what would I have become without him, thinking myself wise when I am not? living my life by Kant's doctrine, shared by Wittgenstein (for his notion of "absolute value" is akin to it), that what is good and right is irrational, determined only by the demands made by the perceptions of the individual conscience.

Category Mistake

Query: the virtuous man does what his conscience says even at the cost of death. Socrates' belief about virtue.

But 'conscience' is not a Socratic category, whereas 'knowledge of the good' is. The query is trying to use tools (categories -- i.e. ways of classifying -- are tools) that belong to a way of thinking the author is familiar with (Kant's ethics) to understand a very different way of thinking, a way of thinking (world-picture, thought world) that is concept-blind to the Socratic world-picture, a frame of reference that casts a net (TLP 6.341) that does not catch Socratic ethics.

Different categories belong to different ways of thought. The Kant-Wittgenstein concept 'conscience' belongs to the category 'irrational', whereas the Socratic concept 'knowledge of the good' belongs to the category 'rational'.

To understand the work of a philosopher, you must set aside all preconceptions, everything you think you know and the frame of reference in which you know it -- to try to learn to see in a new way. (What a philosopher has seen is not easy to see, and whatever thought it cost the philosopher to think the thing through, it will cost you too -- or you will never see the philosopher's thought aright.)

What is important to know?

Query: if Socrates knows nothing, then how can he tell that politicians, poets and craftsmen don't know anything important either?

But Plato does not say that Socrates knows nothing, but only that Socrates does not know anything of much importance, although Plato makes an overstatement here. Because Socrates has set a standard for knowing and a method for testing the truth of propositions against that standard, and thus logic, as an instrument for seeking knowledge of the truth, is itself something important to know, even if logic is only of a tool in the service of seeking to know something far more important than logic.

Is the query asking how Socrates knows what it is that is important to know? Will anyone refute the proposition that it is important to know what the good is for man, to know how we should live our life? With what questions and cross-questions will someone refute that proposition?

If knowing how to live our life is not important, then what is important? Which proposition to the contrary will you defend against refutation?

What, then, is wisdom?

Query: did Socrates act wisely in pursing his philosophical belief and defending it? Advantages and disadvantages of living an examined life.

Is it wise to be ethical = good, i.e. to live in accord with the specific excellence that is unique and proper to man, namely rational moral virtue? And is not philosophy a moral virtue, i.e. seeking to know what the good is for man (the "examined life" of Plato's Apology)? And if not, what standard of measurement is the query using to define 'wise'?

Somewhere, as I clearly recall or mis-recall, Plato has Socrates say that if the decision were up to his body Socrates would have long ago fled into exile rather than stay to face the Athenian jury's sentence of death. Was then Socrates' body wiser than Socrates ethical self (soul), according to the query?

"Just so long as it keeps me safe from bodily harm, I am willing to bow to any conditions." Is that wisdom -- is that a life worthy of an ethical being? Note that a morally virtuous life is not lived for the sake of gaining some advantage, namely prosperity for the body and all the soul when under its influence loves. Quite the contrary, doing what is morally good rather than evil is itself the good for man, even if the consequence for the body is its death.

But if being good is not being wise, then I don't know what wisdom is and the query will have to offer an alternative proposition to be tested in cross-questioning to see if that proposition is true, false, or nonsense ("sound without sense").

[The wisdom of Socrates, that man is not wise (although man thinks he is).]

Vice is ignorance (of the good)

Query: for Socrates, why does man do wrong doings?

Man does wrong-doing when, in ignorance of the good, he aims for the wrong target, falsely believing that target to be the good. This is why Plato has Socrates say that "wisdom is the only good, ignorance the only evil" (Euthydemus 281e), because for Socrates the most important knowledge to have is knowledge of what the good is for man.

Standard for 'knowing': Socrates' method

What Socrates has is a method that lets him test claims to knowledge or wisdom; that is how he knows that the statesmen, poets and artisans do not know, because he has set a standard for knowing (or being wise in philosophy): If anyone knows a thing, he can explain what he knows and defend his explanation against refutation in cross-questioning by his companions in discussion ("Socratic dialectic" uses a selected definition of 'know', one chosen by Socrates: "That which we know we must be able to tell"; cf. Plato, Laches 190c. The Socratic standard is a definition.).

[Socrates said, "I don't know", and that's what philosophy is.]

When ignorance is preferable to knowledge

Query: is Socrates okay with being ignorant?

No, Socrates is not willingly ignorant, not unless "being wise" (or not ignorant) would include thinking you know what you don't know, as the artisans Socrates questioned thought, because the best condition for man is not to think he knows what he doesn't know -- even if that is the only thing of importance he knows, because not thinking yourself wise when you are not is the greatest wisdom man can have. That is the meaning of Apollo's oracle's words in Plato's Apology 23a-b and it may (and so also may not) have been the historical Socrates' view.

He used to say ... that he knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance. (Diog. L. ii, 32, tr. Hicks)

And I think that is why he used to say that.

A man of moral virtue

Query: Socrates a man of virtue.

"Socrates, a man of virtue" (rather than "According to Socrates, what is a man of virtue?") -- the historical Socrates would have valued the title "man of virtue" higher than "philosopher", except that in both Xenophon and Plato, for Socrates philosophizing is an act of moral virtue.

Query: according to Socrates what mistake is made in the fearing of death?

The mistake cited in Plato's Apology 29a is the most basic of all mistakes in philosophy: thinking you know what you don't know, namely whether death is to be feared or not (because man does not know what death is). In Saint Augustine of Hippo's words: "He only errs who thinks he knows what he does not know."

hubris = conceit

Query: Socratic wisdom about Oedipus's hubris.

As to Oedipus, I don't know (beyond a thought). As to hubris (the arrogant pride that is presumption), the source would be thinking you are wise when you are not. By thinking you know what you don't know, you are both "misled yourself and mislead others" (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1).

To "Know thyself", as the precept inscribed in Apollo's temple at Delphi directs, for Socrates means (1) to distinguish with the greatest care what you know from what you don't know, and thus not to think yourself wise when you are not, and (2) to recognize your limits, both upper and lower, neither thinking too well nor too poorly of yourself. This self-knowledge is Socratic wisdom (humility, meekness), in contrast to hubris = conceited ignorance: presuming you know what you don't know.

Socrates and knowledge

Query: what is not knowledge according to Socrates?

Any claim to knowledge that cannot be put into words and (have its meaning) explained and (its truth) defended against refutation is a false claim to knowledge. In Plato's Gorgias [454e], what one has been persuaded to believe, but has not had proved to one, is not knowledge: such a belief has not been put to the tests of cross-questioning.

Socrates standard of knowing does not deny that knowledge is possible. Whereas, according to Plato, knowledge isn't possible. And this shows a deep divide between the historical Socrates, the logician (although logic was only a tool to be used for his inquiries in ethics for Socrates), and Plato, the metaphysician.

The ambiguous oracles

Query: who translated the oracle at Delphi's babblings? Why did Socrates think that Apollo's oracle at Delphi had stated a riddle?

According to Grene's note to Herodotus' History 8.135, it isn't clear. But once interpreted the oracle's words were not nonsense ("babbling"); what they were instead was ambiguous in meaning.

And this is why Socrates had to ask himself what Apollo had meant when through his oracle the god had said, "Of all men, Socrates is wisest", because in one sense, it simply wasn't true: Socrates knew that he had no wisdom -- (no knowledge of what it is important for man to know, because if he had, he could have told others what it was that he knew, defended what he claimed to know when cross-questioned, and taught rational moral virtue to others) -- and so how could he be the wisest? The oracle's words appeared to be false, but Apollo was the god of truth; he did not tell lies. And so what was the meaning of the oracle's words? (Socrates' answer is the "Socratic paradox".)

"If Croesus goes to war, he will destroy a mighty empire" (Herodotus 1.53) -- what did the oracle's words mean? Croesus, King of Lydia, took the oracle's words to mean that he should go to war. And by going to war he did destroy a mighty empire -- his own.

In Shakespeare's Macbeth the apparitions summoned by the three sisters act as an oracle. To Macbeth question they answer that he need fear no harm until the woods move against him and he is killed by a man who was not born of woman.

... laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth ... Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him. (Macbeth iv, 1)

But as Croesus had done before him, Macbeth mistakes the oracle's meaning.

Too much when wisdom is Nothing too much

Query: what role does the oracle at Delphi play in Oedipus Rex and Socrates?

The oracle sets a riddle that must be solved, in Socrates' case happily, in Oedipus' case most unhappily, for Oedipus does not solve the riddle, the answer to which is to know the meaning of the proverb "Nothing too much", originally an exhortation to self-control, and so in his passion Oedipus kills his own father. Because whereas Socrates in his self-knowledge of his limits (humility), questions the oracle as to the oracle's meaning (Because Socrates seems to know only that Socrates is not wise, and so how can there be no one wiser than Socrates?), Oedipus does not. Oedipus thinks himself wise when he is not and this ignorance is the cause of his ruin.


And Wittgenstein's Philosophy

Query: what is changing, the rabbit, the duck, both, neither, or you?

You see either a rabbit or a duck when the aspects switch, and that's all I'm going to say, because it's all we know: that what changes is the aspects of the image, not the image itself.

The difficulty in philosophy is to say no more than we know. (BB p. 45)

In Kant's language (terms), the percept does not change but the concept does ("percepts without concepts are blind"), the rabbit and the duck being different concepts. This contrasts to where the percept itself changes, as the image might in a slide show.

As phrased, I think the query suggests metaphysical speculation -- i.e. saying more than we know.

Wittgenstein, the limitations of his world-picture (axioms)

Query: Delphi and Wittgenstein.

There is no evidence Wittgenstein ever read Plato's Apology, nor Xenophon's Memorabilia, nor that he in the least appreciated the "greatness" (Recollections p. 115) of Socrates. Philosophy as a way of life was foreign to Wittgenstein, whose fundamental view of life was religious rather than philosophical, indeed, it was irrational rather than rational. He seems to have had only a natural, not a Socratic understanding of the words inscribed in the Apollo's temple, "Know thyself". Wittgenstein was only concerned with marking off the limits of the rational, always against metaphysical speculation, holding its very language to be "sound without sense" (Aristotle), i.e. nonsense.

Query: critique of Wittgenstein's language-game theory.

The concept 'language-games' is instead based on a selected meaning of the many meanings of the word 'meaning' that there are in our language, a selection that makes the distinction between sense and nonsense objective (public, determinable).

Wittgenstein's method of language-games is a project in logic-philosophy, to compare the use of language to the playing of games where what defines a game is its rules, in order that by studying the meaning of the language in which the presumed-to-be-a philosophical problem is expressed, the way to solve, resolve, or dissolve the problem will become clear.

Rules are rational. Philosophy is rational. The notion of language-meaning as "something hidden in the mind" is not.

And what meaning might we assign to the combination of words 'language-game theory'. If we define 'theory' as above, namely as an imaginative organization of a selection of conceived facts, then is that what Wittgenstein's method of language to games comparison a "theory"? It's a nice question.

Query: grammatical conception of philosophy.

You could characterize Wittgenstein's later work in philosophy that way. Looking for the grammatical meaning, or rules for the use of signs (words, sentences), which is the conventional meaning of language (The TLP had sought the natural logic of language). That was part of Wittgenstein's later project in philosophy. (But note that language is not always the key to understanding philosophical questions; it is not, according to Wittgenstein, in either aesthetics or religion.)


And Platonic Philosophy

Query: is temperance a kind of knowledge? (Charmides)

Is self-control a kind of knowledge? What is the expression "a kind of" to mean here -- that self-control is one kind (among other kinds) of knowledge, or that self-control isn't really knowledge at all? For as it is, the words "a kind of" add only obscurity to the question.

Socrates held that all moral virtue is knowledge, and would say that if self-control is in all cases a moral virtue rather than only a natural virtue, then self-control is knowledge.

But in the Charmides, Plato wants to say further that knowledge is self-control: he has Charmides say that he thinks self-control and knowledge are the same thing, that self-control is knowledge and knowledge is self-control.

But although the proposition that self-control cannot be exercised in a morally virtuous way without knowledge of what it is worthy of man to know -- because moral virtue is knowledge -- is a proposition the historical Socrates agreed with, I don't think that he could agree that knowledge is moral virtue without testing that proposition through cross-questioning, because as it stands I don't think the proposition 'Knowledge is self-control' or 'Knowledge is moral virtue' has any meaning.

Knowledge is of course a natural virtue: man is a creature of learning rather than of instinct; rational knowledge belongs to the natural excellence that is unique and proper to man. "But is knowledge a moral virtue?" I don't think Plato in the Charmides has given that combination of words a meaning, and I don't see a way to do that either.

Plato's early view about the meaning of common names

Query: can one have one moral virtue and not another?

About Plato and moral virtue, to restate the query's question: Can someone be wise -- because (Plato, following Socrates, holds that) moral virtue is wisdom -- in one moral virtue without being wise in another -- i.e. in all others? Plato thinks not, but can his view be defended against refutation by cross-questioning?

If someone knows what the good is for man with respect to piety, must he also know what the good is for man with respect to courage and justness and self-control? If by 'piety' we mean 'right conduct towards God' (Gorgias 507a-b), can one know what is right conduct towards God without also knowing what is correct conduct towards man (justice, equity, fairness), courage in the face of danger, and self-control in the face of instinct?

Can that question be answered except by examining examples of piety, courage, justice and self-control to see if there are cases of one being wise in one moral virtue without being wise in the others? Plato does not use that method, which is long-winded and while its negative can be proved, its positive will always be logically inconclusive because an over-looked anomaly will always be a possibility.

That is also why Plato does not use Socrates' method of induction to seek the essence of moral virtue. (Plato uses the negative part of that method only, when he refutes guesses as to what the essence of something is by citing counter-examples and self-contradiction (he does this e.g. in the Euthyphro) and it is also Wittgenstein's principal method in the Philosophical Investigations. But if someone is convinced that the meaning of a common name is an essence and induction does not find one, then he may well discard the method of induction in favor of his preconception. This is what Plato does.

Philosophers following Plato try to grasp (i.e. guess) the essence without examining particular examples, whereas, Wittgenstein says, the common nature -- in those cases where a common name names a common nature -- can only be found by examining particulars. About the Platonic quest, Wittgenstein says that it has "not only led to no result, but also made the philosopher dismiss as irrelevant the concrete cases, which alone could have helped him to understand" (BB p. 19-20).

One cannot guess how a word functions. One has to look at its use and learn from that. But the difficulty is to remove the prejudice [i.e. judgment made with indifference to the facts of the particular case] that stands in the way of doing this. It is not a stupid prejudice. (PI § 340)

If the meaning of a common name is an essence then its meaning is unchanging, and therefore its meaning must be knowable without knowing anything of the particular context in which the common name is used.

Query: according to Plato, when we hear the word 'tree' we think of what?

Maybe of tree-ness (tree-hood), that is, of the Form (Absolute Archetype) 'tree'? That may have been Plato's view. What does the query mean by 'think'? Certainly not picture: no one can picture tree-ness while his soul is in the body, Plato says in Parmenides 133c.

[Discussions: Archetype of a chair or "chair-ness" ("chair-hood"). The Archetype of a bed in Plato's Republic 596a-597b.]

If someone asks me, what do you think when you hear the word 'tree', I do not know what to answer -- do I understand the question? If someone says the word 'tree' suggests a picture of a forest of trees, is that picture the meaning of the word 'tree'? If the meaning of a word is its use in the language (which, if language meaning is to be objective, it is), then someone's mental pictures, variable from one person to another and from one time to another, have no role to play in word meaning (BB p. 65).

I'd say, just hearing the sound 'tree' out of any context, I don't think anything; of course I recognize the word 'tree' as an English language noun, but nothing more. I can't "think" anything about the meaning of the word 'tree' because so far 'tree' is just a sound without context -- i.e. nonsense. (The Stoic "lekton": what the Greek hears but the foreigner does not when Greek is spoken.)

"The meaning of a common name is the Form (Absolute Model) it names" seems to have been Plato's earlier view of the meaning of common names, but in Philebus 12e-13a he asks: If the meaning of a common name, e.g. 'geometric figure', is its Form (essence, common nature), then how is it that so many unalike things -- indeed, sometimes one is just the opposite of another -- are called by the same common name? If 'moral virtue' is a common name, then everything called a moral virtue must share a common nature = The meaning of a common name the common nature it names. Plato seems to have had second thoughts about that proposition not only in the Philebus but also in the Sophist where he introduces the method of definition by division.

Query: philosophy begins in the end.

In Plato's Phaedo "the end" is death. In that dialog wisdom only begins when our life in the body ends. In contrast, philosophy is the art of dying while our life is still in the body by disassociating our thinking from all sense-perception, because sense-perception stands in the way of "wisdom". By 'wisdom' Plato means 'knowledge of reality, which is knowledge of what is unchanging', which Plato, following Parmenides, says is not perceptible to the senses.

Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Plato

Query: Parmenides, common sense.

Rather than "common sense" it would be "the conceived facts by common consent"; that standard was what Parmenides rejected: sense-perception is not the guide to truth but only to falsehood.

The proposition that knowledge is and can only be of what is unchanging, Plato derived from Heraclitus, who with Parmenides, was Plato's primary teacher. From Parmenides, Plato derived that what is unchanging is imperceptible to the senses; the Forms cannot be perceived in our world (Parmenides 132a, 133c); the absolute cannot be perceived in our world (Phaedo 65a-d).

Socrates was only a secondary teacher to Plato and indeed his character is absent from Plato's later dialogs, whereas Heraclitus and Parmenides remain always as their background.

Plato and knowledge

As Plato's own thinking later moves further and further away from Socrates, becoming more and more metaphysical, another reason that Plato, following his teachers Parmenides and Heraclitus, thinks that the particular -- since it is given by sense-perception -- is reality only in appearance since it is constantly in flux, and so Plato thinks that in trying to grasp the absolute (the unchanging) sense perception is nothing more than a hindrance, because if the essence (the Form) of moral virtue (moral-virtue-ness) cannot exist in our world, then it is impossible to know what the essence of moral virtue if the soul mingles with the body.

Query: if virtue is knowledge, it can be recollected.

According to Plato, it can only be recollected -- i.e. recollected from the time before the soul was entombed in the body, as can all other knowledge: knowledge of reality (e.g. of the Form 'moral virtue') is impossible while the soul is in the body.

Where indeed?

Query: Phaedo oracle.

This is it: where is the Socrates of Plato's Apology in Plato's Phaedo, the Socrates who does not think he knows what he doesn't know, who does not think he is wise when he isn't wise, the Socrates who questions, not opines? Plato has left him behind: "Care more about the truth than about Socrates," Plato says (Phaedo 91b) -- but then why abuse Socrates' name by making him voice your own doctrines? -- That is not "caring for the truth".

... presuming that the Socrates of Plato's Apology is the historical Socrates -- which is a huge presumption -- and not simply another version of Plato's literary character "Socrates". But if we don't make that presumption, then we are left knowing nothing about Socrates from Plato, and having only Xenophon's portrait, which is also literary. But there is agreement between the early Plato and Xenophon on the most fundamental point, namely Socrates' standard for knowing and method for testing against that standard. (Support for the Socratic ignorance of Plato's Apology is found in Aristotle's On Sophistical Refutations 183b6-8, and also in Diogenes Laertius ii, 32, although the latter was written six hundred years after Socrates' death.)


"Natural Philosophy"

Query: nature is a common language.

Maybe "the conceived facts" (by common consent) are, but is there such a thing as "nature in itself", and then is there a nature known to all men (how would we verify or falsify that proposition)?

Query: the first natural philosopher who claimed that there was a reality behind appearances.

Is that what we want to call the Pre-Socratics -- by the title Isaac Newton gave his work? I think, rather, that the title "metaphysician" is apt. Newton did not speculate about "a reality behind appearances" -- that is what his statement "I don't make hypotheses" means -- but the Pre-Socratics did.

But the proposition that the Pre-Socratics were not philosophers -- is false. Because all philosophers want to know what is real, what illusion (mere appearance), whether they seek that knowledge through metaphysical speculation, as the Pre-Socratics did, or not.


"So long as it's not stupid"

Wittgenstein told Piero Sraffa that "every way of thinking is all right, so long as it isn't stupid." Why? Is it because there are countless ways of looking at things? and a way of thinking is a way of looking at things -- a way, not the only way?

Why is every way of thinking all right? What did Wittgenstein mean? For example, does this include Plato's theory of Forms [That the meaning of a common name is the common nature it names "is not a stupid prejudice" (PI § 340). Why is it not stupid]? Philosophy is like chess, to adapt Rob. Schumann: words that suggest ideas (the queen) have the most power, but context (the king) decides the game.

Query: old philosophy questions and what they mean.

But the old questions are still the new questions: the questions of philosophy don't change, only the proposed answers to them. A philosophy is a way of looking at things by the natural light of reason alone, but the ways that can be done is limited only by the creative imagination.


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