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Philosophical Scribbling

What is the difference between the discourse of philosophers and the babbling of small children? This is the question of logic of language, of how language with meaning is distinguished from meaningless (because undefined) marks on paper and spoken sounds.

What is philosophy to a child's education? What is the relationship between the natural virtue (areté, excellence) of something and its essence?

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Philosophers - like children scribbling

Query: what does this mean, 'in the metaphysical realm of 4th dimension', physics?

"Philosophers are often like small children: they scribble some marks on paper and then ask the adult: What does this mean?" (CV p. 17). Well, the adult's writing means something, and therefore why doesn't the child's writing as well?

Do you think every combination of words must "mean" something, because how can spoken sounds, ink marks on paper -- mere signs (i.e. the purely physical aspect of words and sentences in contrast to their use in the language to convey meaning -- "mean" anything? It is only human beings who can mean something by signs -- and we do this through the use in the language we make of them (as we use tools to do work)?

The notion that every combination of signs must have a meaning is superstition. Syntax isn't a standard of sense and nonsense: the rules for combining words into phrases and questions and sentences permit the creation of all kinds of nonsense (i.e. undefined language) by analogy. 'Time is the fourth dimension, but only measurements of space have dimensions, and therefore time is a measurement of space, like width, length and height.' (How time is measured does define the word 'time', but how space is measured does not define the word 'time'.) 'At night I put my mind in the teapot' and 'What is the mind of the essence?' We can invent a meaning for any combination of words if it has no normal use in our language, but otherwise it is mere sound without sense. [cf. 'There is a square circle.']

In fact, someone who puts these words together and asks "what does it mean" is behaving rather like small children who cover a paper with random scribblings, show it to grown-ups, and ask "what is that?" (PG vii § 43, p. 483)

In response to 'in the metaphysical realm of 4th dimension', we could ask, "Is there a science of time, in contrast to a metaphysics of time (a metaphysics invented by physicists)?" And it isn't invented (and therefore eccentric) definitions of the word 'time' we are asking about, but our normal concept -- i.e. rules for using the word -- 'time'.

When in order to go on, we must make a rule

Is the class of all classes that are not members of themselves a member of itself? (Russell)

That is what philosophers often really do: they string words together and then act as if those strings of words had to have a meaning. As if what they were doing was struggling to discover a pre-existent meaning (the "true meaning") -- rather than to invent a new system of rules of grammar (Wittgenstein's revised concept 'grammar' includes all semantic rules as well as syntactic). And so we are often in philosophy like children at play with language.

... a word hasn't got a meaning given to it, as it were, by a power independent of us, so that there could be a kind of scientific investigation into what the word really means. A word has the meaning someone has given to it. (BB p. 28; cf. Z § 467)

If w = the class of all classes that are not members of themselves, then if w is not a member of itself, w is not the class of all classes that are not members of themselves; and if w is a member of itself, then w is not the class of all classes that are not members of themselves.

If ab = cb, then a = c

"Is not anything that is not a member of a class -- a member of the class of all things that are not members of a class?" It seems that you follow the rules but that following the rules lands you in irresolvable contradictions. So what is to be done? Compare this case in algebra: ab = cb, then a = c, but suppose b = 0? And so mathematicians make the rule that b ≠ 0. And shouldn't philosophers-logicians do the same with talk about classes? But what rule is to be made?

'All Cretans are liars, the Cretan said'

Russell, if I understand aright, used his "Theory of Types" to solve the riddle of the paradoxes, e.g. of "the saying by Epimenides the Cretan that all Cretans are liars" (Ronald W. Clark, The Life of Bertrand Russell (1976), p. 114; Diog. L. ii, 108). But was there a riddle to be solved? or was there a rule to be made (RFM vii § 34, p. 400), a rule like the algebraic rule above? Wittgenstein's criticism "that when language is looked at, what is looked at is the form of words and not the use made of the form of words". When Epimenides calls all Cretans liars, he is either not including himself in the class of all Cretans (or he is making a joke) -- or he is talking "nonsense" (in Lewis Carroll's way).

We often think of language as having a life of its own (BB p. 28) independent of our life, as if it were not a tool that is given meaning by the work it is normally used to do in our life: "philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday" (PI § 38). Of course it is not language that "goes on holiday" -- but the philosopher who take language away from its ordinary, everyday life (ibid. § 116), imagining that it carries its meaning away with it (as if the meaning of a word were the essence of the thing the word names).

'All liars are liars, the liar said.' Propositions like that are idle, the conjurings of syntax. [A Socratic paradox | Logic Circles]

... the king who made the law that all who came to his city must state their business and be hanged if they lied. A sophist said he came to be hanged under that law. (RFM vii § 34, p. 400n2)

Wittgenstein asks what the king can do about the "awkward position" the law and the sophist have placed him in, and says the question the king must ask himself: "how must I change the rules of this game, so that such-and-such a situation cannot occur?" (ibid. p. 400) (Why Wittgenstein calls this "a mathematical problem", I don't know, although it can be compared to the maths' ruling '... b ≠ 0'.)

[A distinct type of case where what is needed when we don't know how to go on is concept indefiniteness.]

The origin of unreadable sentences - is it "unreadable" thought?

Philosophical texts often appear to have been written using the words of our everyday language. The language "looks English" (PI § 348) -- but what is its meaning? Where are we to look for this if not in the conventions of the language we already know -- i.e. in our normal language (ibid. § 246)? In another context, although the words nonetheless apply here, Wittgenstein wrote:

When I talk about language I (words, sentences, etc.) I must speak the language of every day.... your very questions were framed in this language; they had to be expressed in this language, if there was anything to ask! (ibid. § 120)

But it's not so straightforward. Why? Because the grammar, the logic of our language, is unclear to us. We are misled by false grammatical analogies between different regions of language [as when we try to apply the grammar of name-of-object-words to psychological-words, e.g. the grammar of the word 'book' to the word 'mind'] (ibid. § 90), and by absurd pictures of "abstractions" as the names of imperceptible (intangible) objects. Wittgenstein's "primitive language games" are played according to strict rules -- and in this way they may be misleading, because in most cases we don't use language according to strict rules (ibid. § 81).

In general we don't use language according to strict rules -- it hasn't be taught to us by means of strict rules either. (BB p. 25)

The consequence is that we do not (and indeed cannot) discover the meaning of a metaphysical text, for it is not this way: It is not as if we knew the meaning the individual words of the text -- as if the meaning of a word were the essence of the thing the word names, and therefore its meaning were something unchanging (which would indeed make the rules for using the word strict). So quite the contrary, rather than discover its "true meaning", we must invent a meaning for the text to have -- or it will have none.

[The background of these remarks is the question of the meaning of a common name, which Plato showed that, with respect to our world (Parmenides 133c), is not the common nature (essence of the things) named by the common name. Wittgenstein's insight, or mistake, was to set aside that picture of how our language works, to say that if that is the "meaning" of a common name, then most common names have no meaning -- but look instead to the use we make of those words in the language. And then you will see that our concepts -- in this case, common names -- are not bound by strict rules.]

We form interpretive hypotheses about the meaning of the text, as e.g. "Does this meaning account for the particular text in a way that is consistent with my view of the rest of text?" Look at the many years I have been inventing hypotheses about the meaning of Wittgenstein's TLP, of which the latest are the meaning of the title of Wittgenstein's book and must philosophy be put into words? (Compare the standard by which, Schweitzer says, critical-historical theology invents hypotheses: "Which account will explain the meaning of the text in such as way that does not create more difficulties than it resolves?")

We make for ourselves explanations of the text's meaning. We hold its author (as well as ourselves) to the Socratic standard: If a man knows anything, he can explain what he knows to others, an explanation that can be tested in Socratic cross-questioning. Simply that someone claims to know -- or is acclaimed to know (Plato, Apology 21c) -- what he means by what he says does not prove that he knows what he means -- i.e. that what he says even has any meaning at all: it is not as W.E. Johnson thought -- nor does it prove whether or not what he claims to know is true.

Sometimes the student has to learn some jargon, because philosophers sometimes invent conceptual tools to help them in their work ("Philosophy is conceptual revision," Kierkegaard said). But the invention of jargon is not the normal intention of philosophers. For example, the word 'ideas' in Descartes' expression "clear and distinct ideas" is intended to be "understood in its ordinary sense". But what sense is that? In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke takes it for granted that "everyone has ideas", but then why does Locke think it necessary to offer a decidedly strange explanation of what he means by 'idea': "Whatsoever the mind perceives inside itself ... that I call idea"?

It may be possible to invent a plausible restatement of a philosopher's text in clear language -- but do you imagine that you can have a better understanding of the philosopher's notions than he himself had, that he could not express his own notions in "readable sentences", but that you can? (Translator-traitor.) Again, the reason we cannot discover the meaning of the text -- is because the only place we could discover that meaning would be in the conventions of the language that we already know. But then the text would not need to be restated in readable sentences.

Metaphysical investigations - Conceptual investigations?

For someone who thirsts for fundamental clarity, the kind of metaphysics that is unreadable sentences is a most bitter drink. But that is not the only kind of thing we call "metaphysics". Although maybe it is the only thing Wittgenstein calls 'philosophy', as if conceptual investigations, if that's what they are, could not also be metaphysics. Could Wittgenstein have called his book "Metaphysical Investigations" rather than "Philosophical Investigations"? No, not given the problems it explores (although maybe its discussion of "seeing as" could be called metaphysics), but I think a book could be written by that title using Wittgenstein's conceptual tool 'grammar'.

The branches of philosophy and the primary school teacher

Query: relate the branches of philosophy to early childhood education, their importance to teaching and learning, how they help develop a teacher.

As a teacher one must ask oneself: From the point of view of the child: What is real? What do words mean? What is fair and unfair? And those are the very questions of metaphysics, logic, and ethics, the three branches of philosophy, according to the Stoics. Seeking to answer those questions is what the child does, and asking them helps the teacher see things as the child sees them.

These questions are asked by [suggest themselves to] the emerging [awakening] mind of the child as soon as language becomes a creative tool for the child. And so, I think, philosophy as conceived by Socrates and the Stoics doesn't contradict Wittgenstein's claim that "a trained child [e.g. one trained to correlate the notes on a musical score with the keys on a piano, which makes the child akin to a "playing-machine"] or animal is not acquainted with any problems of philosophy" (PG i § 138, p. 191).

According to Wittgenstein that is because neither child nor animal can fall into the traps that language sets for us until the child begins to use language to reason. Where Socrates and the Stoics do contradict Wittgenstein is in his claim that those traps are all that philosophy is, that metaphysics and philosophical [i.e. rational = by the natural light of reason alone] ethics are mere will-o'-the-wisps.

Hansel and Gretel

Query: education and wonder.

When a dog does not understand what is wanted of it, it acts like a child who has not learned the rules, and we say this because we make an analogy from the child to the dog (PI §§ 357, 360). Both act puzzled when they don't know their way about (ibid. § 123). In Plato's dialog, 'wonder' = 'perplexity' or 'puzzlement' = 'not knowing one's way about'.

Query: explain the uses of metaphysics to the primary school teacher.

Metaphysics: "we are discussing no small matter, but what is real" -- What has this to do with the teacher's understanding of the child? "What is real according to the child's view of things?" Reality and illusion. In a court of law, a small child is not a reliable witness.

Query: solution of education and philosophy.

Maybe we could say that the questions of education and philosophy are the same, or better: the questions of the educator and the philosopher are the same. The philosopher asks the questions for their own sake, the educator for the sake of the child.

Query: how does philosophy help one understand one's faith based on the branches of philosophy?

The answer seems to be the same as the usefulness of the branches of philosophy to the primary school teacher: what is real, what is good, what is sound reasoning? What is different is that religion has something to say about each of those foundational questions, and yet its answers may be very different from philosophy's.

The metaphysical question is not answered by describing the use of language, if there is a metaphysical question to ask --

What is the meaning ('meaning' in the sense of 'use in our language') of the word 'reality'? That word contrasts with its antithesis, namely 'illusion'. But that contrast is not always measured absolutely, but often on a scale of more or less certain ('I know' versus 'I believe'). Then is 'reality' a scalar-concept, e.g. as 'motion' is a relational-concept? [The concept 'certainty of belief about what is real' is scalar.] Does the question 'What is real?' amount to "What is the cash value of a given statement of fact?" in Frank Ramsey's probability sense: what will someone risk money on?

Two Metaphysical-conceptual Questions

The practical consequences of belief, of course, is not what metaphysics seeks to know when it asks "What is real, what illusion?" The metaphysical question is not answered by observing human behavior ("anthropology"), namely by describing how our language works, what gives it meaning. According to Wittgenstein, however, that is the only answer metaphysics can be given ("Philosophy does not investigate phenomena but concepts and therefore the use of words" (PI § 383)) ... but I think other answers can be given, that Wittgenstein's limit of philosophy isn't correct, as apropos of reality, metaphysics can ask if reality is confined to what is in principle perceptible to the senses and whether there is a single reality or only relative points of reference (and whether that limitation, if it is a limitation, belongs to the nature of the human understanding or somehow, I don't know how, to the nature of reality itself). Those questions are both metaphysical questions, and even if all they show is that there is no absolute reality -- i.e. that the combination of words 'absolute reality' is undefined -- that is an answer which shows that metaphysics is not "nothing more than houses of cards" (PI § 118, lexically "buildings of air") waiting for Wittgenstein's point of view to destroy. Not all metaphysics is conceptual confusion.

[The logic of language question is whether the practical consequences of belief belong to the grammar -- i.e. to the essential meaning -- of 'belief'. Does 'I believe there is a lion outside the door' have as part of its meaning 'and therefore I won't open the door'? If someone says 'I believe there is a lion outside the door' but opens the door anyway, is he talking nonsense?

["It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use" (PI § 241). Question: does "whatever seems right is going to be right" (ibid. § 258) -- i.e. groundless belief -- apply to the community as well as to the individual, or was what I wrote before grammatically correct, that knowledge belongs to the community, belief to the individual?

Metaphysics not only stresses language -- but, according to Wittgenstein, it breaks language, causing it to collapse: Metaphysics doesn't play the game correctly -- i.e. according to the rules (OC § 446); thus it is nonsense, having as its only foundation hot air. That may sometimes be true, but always does not as a matter of course follow from sometimes.

Query: how does the branch of philosophy epistemology relate to education?

Metaphysics asks what is real: How does the child distinguish fantasy from reality? And logic asks what is sound reasoning: How does the child think? Then maybe epistemology will ask: How does the child learn? Because to learn is to come to know.

Query: give an educational explanation of philosophy defined as the love of wisdom.

I have long thought that a teacher must share two things with his students: his humanity and his love of learning -- but not as if those were separate qualities in the best of teachers or as if humanity alone were enough. That is what I learned from my teacher, not to love wisdom, i.e. philosophy, but to understand what depth of learning is, and to understand that learning is deep (because my studies to that point had been very, very shallow and never regarded as anything more than a half-way house to what really matters. -- And what had I thought really matters? What indeed? It's a nice question). And so you could say that I learned to love learning from my teacher.

Philosophy and the Awakening Mind

What is life's meaning? Shouldn't the awakening mind turn to philosophy with that nebulous question?

A fundamental impulse ... stirs us during those years in which we begin to think independently, when the man awakes from childhood. (A. Schweitzer, World-view)

And if the awakening mind shouldn't turn to philosophy with that question, then to what should it turn? Imagine telling a young person, as Wittgenstein does, the question of life's meaning is nonsense: there is no question: "The riddle does not exist" (TLP 6.5b). Wittgenstein: if the question "shows" itself (and it does), we must be silent about it, and about ethics because its subject "absolute value" is also nonsense.

[I've often thought that Wittgenstein's worldview was religious rather than philosophical: "I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view" (Recollections p. 79), that it was to religion rather than philosophy he turned for answers to our life's questions.]

What is life's meaning? I must confess I know no more about that -- riddle of existence, riddle of human life -- we may call it either -- than I knew when I began thinking about philosophy. Of course the question's language is quite undefined: "a cold dense fog in which men can neither walk nor sail" (The Arctic of Pytheas): it's hardly clear what's being asked.

And doesn't that response ("The question is meaningless, a contentless combination of words") -- or the response that the only answer is "No one knows" -- make philosophy look ultimately pointless? For surely that is ultimate question of philosophy. The ultimate question dismissed.

[Unlike most post-classical philosophers, Schweitzer did write about this question, but again his reply, that I must be content to live in the midst of mystery, is not an answer but simply another way of saying "No one knows"?]

The expression 'meaning of life' is decidedly vague, but then is the expression 'the riddle of existence' any clearer in meaning, because what would a solution to the riddle even look like?

The topic of the page "Philosophy and Death" is life's meaning if our life is looked at from the perspective of death -- and so it seems that we might ask about life's meaning from various points of view (PI § 108). But someone who asks doesn't want an answer from a mere point of view -- but only from "the point of view" (Metaphysics and words without antitheses). Which is impossible because in this context the antithesis of 'relative' is not 'absolute' (otherwise the word 'relative' would be without meaning), but this point as opposed to that point or set of points.

You at least know that "There are more things in heaven and earth" etc., (Wittgenstein said to Drury, Recollections p. 152)

The elders, the authorities, those who think they are wise when they are not (Plato, Gorgias 484c-486c), tell you to "grow up" and "get on with life". Well, I've always refused to "get on" -- without considering Where to? and Why there? I hope I will never "grow up", but think that I am better off to stay as I am (Apology 22e).

If anyone had asked me at the age of seventeen, What is the meaning of life? I could only have answered, I don't know, but I intend to find out. But if anyone asked me fifty years later, What is the meaning of life? I could only answer, I don't know and I don't expect I ever shall. I can't even imagine what an answer would look like.

Then has my study of philosophy been lost time never found?

What? he said, it be of no use? (Plato, Charmides 174d, quoted in Z § 454)

The Noblest Conception of Philosophy

In Sasetta's painting St. Francis marries poverty, as most certainly Socrates was married to philosophy. Which is a reminder that the noblest conception of philosophy is -- not of "skillful" thinkers (Wittgenstein) -- but of philosophy as a way of life, the way of life of thoroughgoing natural reason, both under the starry sky above, but also below in the midst of human life (Xanthippe as Socrates' teacher).

Three notes. Wittgenstein claimed that following the death of philosophy as it had been in the past, which he claimed to have brought about as chemistry had, through the discovery of a method of investigation, brought about the death of alchemy (H.D.P. Lee, "Wittgenstein 1929-1931", in the journal Philosophy 54 (1979) p. 218) -- as he said to G.E. Moore, that with Wittgenstein's philosophy "a method had been found" (Philosophical Papers iii, p. 322) -- rather than creators of new philosophical systems, there would be only "skillful" thinkers, doing the kind of work of clarification Wittgenstein had done. The method was to base hypotheses on known facts about the elements rather than on wild speculation (The notion "base metals" belonged to a fanciful metaphysics, as if there were a hierarchy in nature as between commoner and king) (Z § 447).

Not C.E.M. Joad, but was Plato a "slum landlord"? And what has changed since Plato? Even if everyone -- and everyone certainly does not -- learns from Wittgenstein's work to avoid some conceptual confusions, philosophy's three questions (for the question of what can be known is asked in all parts of philosophy, not independently) remain, and with these the possibility of new philosophical systems as Plato and Kant created.

The Gospel according to Matthew's words are "to love God with your whole heart, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself" (22.37-39), and the first part is "under the starry sky", the second is "in the midst of human life". It is most remarkable how that compares with Plato, that the philosopher, who is also the good man, loves the truth above all things and does harm to no one, not even to his enemies.

Adapting Schweitzer's words, because I'm not sure what he meant by "one cannot explain life", Schweitzer wrote --

Regardless of how we look at it, life will remain an enigma to us. (Out of my Life and Thought, xviii)

"The attitude of philosophy." But someone may respond, "Exactly what enigma (i.e. unanswerable question)? I see no enigma, but only questions about the universe that physics has yet to answer," as materialist-minded scientists say. Wittgenstein speaks of concept-blindness apropos of a serious use of the word 'God' in anyone's life -- but would there not also be a concept-blindness apropos of the enigma (the riddle: "But don't we have the feeling that someone who sees no problem in life is blind to something important, even to the most important thing of all? Isn't a man like that just living blindly?" (CV p. 27))? unless 'God' and 'the riddle' and 'life's meaning' are the same concept.

Schweitzer says "whatever our point of view" -- but is that really the case? Because what is the enigma if one does not have a philosophical point of view, for the physicist would say that Schweitzer suggests that there is a question where there simply is none (TLP 6.52).

Is "the riddle" like Wittgenstein's category "the higher", a way of organizing things, a point of view -- not the only possible point of view? That is to say, this concept-blindness, just as "the unexamined life", is a possible as a way of human life. One doesn't even think to ask certain questions, and any talk of them passes by one like the air's soft breath unnoticed.

Wittgenstein as Logic without Philosophy

On the other hand. "The riddle doesn't exist" -- no, it does not exist for physics, but I am a man and I need to know how I should live my life, what is the good for man, and if I cannot turn to philosophy for the answer to that question, to what should I turn? And I will not find an answer to that question in the "philosophy" of Wittgenstein, and so I'd say that Wittgenstein selected an ignoble meaning of for word 'philosophy' -- he chose to set the limits of philosophy in an intolerable way. "Skillful philosophers" replacing "great philosophers" (PP iii (H), p. 322) -- this was an extremely pretentious assertion to have made, as if Wittgenstein were a worthy successor -- other than in logic of language -- to Socrates or Plato. Compare their conceptions of philosophy with Wittgenstein's. Are Plato's Apology, Gorgias and the argument at the beginning of the Republic not philosophy then? In so far as they are concerned with ethics -- No, they are not, according to Wittgenstein.

"What metaphysics is?" (Wittgenstein, Plato, alchemy)

Plato was not an alchemist then? By what criterion? When he spoke of "partaking or participating in the Forms", that may have been nonsense, as Aristotle says ("empty words and poetical metaphors") -- in other words, an undefined combination of words (PI § 500). But I don't think mere nonsense was what Wittgenstein meant by "alchemy".

We want to replace wild conjectures ... by the quiet weighing of linguistic facts. (Z § 447)

What are Wittgenstein's "linguistic facts"? They are our use of language in public, and thus objective, view; they are what "everyone knows and must admit" about our normal use of language ("nothing is hidden"). Wittgenstein's method is to describe that use in order to resolve philosophical problems by showing the conceptual (i.e. grammatical) confusion (i.e. confusion about the rules of the game, as in "language game") which arises from trying to use words in ways that are contrary to their normal ("at home") use. (PI §§ 125e, 599, 126, 435, 116, Z § 211)

[And without examples, that paragraph's meaning is not clear. General remarks are contraband in philosophy. ("So you keep saying!")]

From that point of view -- i.e. the facts in plain view versus speculation about what isn't -- by that criterion Plato's metaphysics is "alchemy", because he does not distinguish between real and verbal definitions. Plato asks, not What do we mean by the word 'self-control'? but instead What is self-control? and suggests -- that is, I think he suggests -- that self-control is really the same thing as wisdom and self-knowledge (Plato, Charmides 167a) -- i.e. he answers his question with a metaphysical theory about what "the meaning of a thing" -- 'meaning' in the sense of 'the essence of the thing the word names' (e.g. 'the common nature named by a common name' (Meno 74d, 72c)) -- really must be rather than with a description of the word's "civil status" (PI § 125), i.e. its public use, in plain sight. Of course Plato does not find the answer in plain sight that he thinks must be there, and therefore concludes that the answer must be hidden from sight, and knowable to reason only.

Setting aside the contrary evidence of the "appearances", Plato decides that the real meaning of a common name must be the common nature the name names, and, according to Aristotle (Metaphysics 1078a), Plato separates that common nature from the individual things named by the common name (cups vs. cuphood), and calls these separated common natures "Forms" ("Archetypes", "Absolutes", "Ideals").

Plato's thesis (both that there are real meanings of common names and that those meanings are separable from individual things) is based on what for Plato were two axioms: (1) Heraclitus' notion that all things visible are in flux, and (2) Parmenides' notion that reality is unchanging (The contrast is between the really real perceived by the soul and the mere fluctuating appearances perceived with "an aimless eye, an echoing ear").

The forms of expression "cuphood" and "cup-ness". I think Plato's meaning is made clearer if we understand that he is asking about: pious-ness, just-ness, courageous-ness, self-controlled-ness, sagacious-ness (wisdom-hood).

Plato considers wisdom to be the science of those things which are objects of thought and really existent ... (Diog. L. iii, 63)

And those things are Plato's Forms, the true meaning of names (which is not the particular things named but an Absolute, not cups but cuphood). From this can be derived Plato's picture of how language works: Words are names and the meaning of a name is the thing the name stands for, regardless of whether that thing is visible to the senses or not. Thus the common name 'self-control' is the name of such an thing, and the task of the philosopher, according to Plato, is to discover what that thing really is -- i.e. "what self-controlledness is". Of course, then the question arises of how we can know the meaning of words, since, Plato says, the Forms cannot exist in our world (Parmenides 133c), and so we cannot in our world have learned the meaning of common names (Phaedo 65d). And thus the auxiliary, if 'auxiliary' is the word I want, thesis of recollection or remembrance from a time when the soul was free of the limit of bodily sense perception and learned the meaning of common names. (Plato's early method of seeking is Socratic definition, but later he sets that aside for his own (or the Ionian) method of "definition by division".)

Plato's heirs, whether accepting his thesis or revising it in their own ways, share his assumption that there are real definitions of abstract objects -- "abstractions" -- e.g. justness, rather than only definitions of words, e.g. 'justness'. That is the notion of language-meaning underlying all their thinking, and because it presumes that abstract terms are the names of abstract objects, it does not make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense in the discussion of philosophical problems -- which is what the meaning of 'meaning' Wittgenstein chose does do. And in this way Wittgenstein's method of seeing language-meaning is the "chemistry" of logic-philosophy that "replaces the alchemy" of metaphysics.

Yet in its own way, Wittgenstein's philosophy, because of its universal theories about the origins of philosophy and its claim that all philosophical problems are nothing more than conceptual muddles, is simply another kind of alchemy.

I have learned "logic of language" from Wittgenstein, but I have not accepted his philosophy. If he really believed that philosophers should pass over in silence the riddles of our existence, namely ethics and God, then I must think that it was because Wittgenstein had a religious view of life and therefore saw no need for a philosophical view ("absolute value" is a religious notion). Plato's Gorgias, not to mention Plato's Apology and Xenophon's Memorabilia, seems to have made no impression on Wittgenstein; otherwise how could he have told Drury that it puzzled him "why Socrates is regarded as a great philosopher" (Recollections p. 115). Contrast that with Schweitzer's rhetorical question of what would have become of the ancient world had it not been for the philosophical seriousness of Socrates, who believed that reason can discover the truth of what the good is for man and how we should live our life? "Wittgenstein was a very singular man," Bertrand Russell said.

Query: the meaning behind names is metaphysical.

The subject of metaphysics: we are discussing no small matter, but what is real -- although not in the sense that physics does that. Because the presumption of metaphysics is that what we perceive with the senses is not reality (which is imperceptible to the senses) but only appearance -- not in this or that particular case (as in physics), but in all cases. And in Plato's thinking, the meaning of a word is "metaphysical". Plato's Forms are metaphysical, i.e. they are not among the facts that can be perceived with the senses.

Plato does not use the words 'appearances' and 'reality' the way we normally use those words, because if we follow normal use, then what we perceive with our senses is reality, in contrast to what we conjure into existence through speculation, which is fantasy: 'theory of reality' ≠ 'reality'. And 'appearances' ≠ 'everything we perceive with our senses'. Plato's notion that reality can only be perceived by reason, not the senses -- is either eccentric definitions of words, or it is nonsense. If no evidence of the senses is reality, then the word 'appearances' is being used without its normal antithesis (metaphysics and antitheses), namely 'reality', because according to Plato's notion, the word 'reality' is without application -- unless 'reality' = 'fantasy'.

Metaphysical theories are a child of the imagination, not of "the reality beyond reality".

[What is metaphysics according to Kant? | "The meaning of the word 'reality' in a deeper sense, at a deeper level", but is there such a level, such a sense?]

Geometry and reality, Plato and geometry

Query: does a philosopher need geometry?

Plato wanted no one to enter his school who hadn't first studied geometry. But, reading Guthrie's History of Greek Philosophy, it seems this wasn't, as I had first thought, as preparation for Plato's method of preconceptions in philosophy, which he describes in the Phaedo [99d-100a]. The following remarks are apropos of my mistaken thought, but remarks about the importance of geometry as a metaphor to Plato follow these.

Even without the body to call us back to reality -- i.e. even if our mind floated free of our body -- nevertheless, we say, we would still have mathematics. The "hardness of the logical must" (PI § 437), which is the "must" of mathematics -- is even more compulsive than the inescapable demands of the body.

Plato thought geometry able to discover the truth -- a truth as general and non-corporeal as Plato's Forms or Ideals (the notion of which may and therefore also may not have been suggested to Plato by the example of geometry) -- without any need for subsequent verification by experience. Over the entrance to Plato's Academy was written (or may have been written) --

"Let no one enter here who has not studied geometry."

Can it be demonstrated that geometry does not yield propositions about the world knowable as true independently of experience of the world (synthetic a priori knowledge)? I don't know. Geometry is composed of definitions, axioms (postulates), theorems, that is, tautologies. Can they be judged by experience as Protagoras thought, for he said against the applicability of geometry to reality, that no empirical line -- i.e. no line in our experience of nature -- touches an empirical circle at one point only, which is the definition of the geometry term 'tangent'.

Albert Einstein held that geometry must be verified by experience, that Euclid without verification is not knowledge of reality. Non-Euclidean geometry does not include Euclid's parallel postulate (Euclid postulated this because it cannot be proved that parallel lines do not intersect), and Einstein said that if he had not held that view, his own work in physics would not have been possible.

And so, it seems, there is geometry as a game, and geometry as a tool. In this respect geometry differs from chess, which is only a game. Plato seems to say, or it is implicit in Phaedo 99d-100a, that in philosophy the game and the tool are identical.

Is it a rule of language-use (grammatical convention) that: If it is necessary, it is not empirical, and if it is empirical, it is not necessary, that "the only necessity is logical necessity" (TLP 6.37)? About the inescapable-by-the-mind categories 'time' and 'space' that Kant postulates, does Kant think those inescapable-categories-of-thought-and-perception can be known or discovered a priori -- i.e. "before (independently of) experience of the world" -- or that they can be known only a posteriori -- i.e. "after experience of the world"? Can Kant know anything about categories of perception other than by reasoning about his experience -- or apparent experience -- of the world? (Because all perception is of things in space and time, space and time do not belong to the world but only to the mind that perceives it. Isn't that what Kant says, which is just the opposite of what others say about space and time?)

Can it be demonstrated that the proposition 'If it is necessary, it is not empirical, and if it is empirical, it is not necessary' is true? I think it can be shown only that the combination of words 'empirical and necessary' is nonsense -- i.e. undefined language ... if that is what it is, for philosophers have been wondering about this question since the beginning of philosophy.

Philosophy is not only description, but also imagination

What is the difference between a principle (standard) of investigation and a rule of grammar (rule for using language) -- is the difference no more than a name? In this particular instance they are alike in that both state strict guides (guidelines) and that in both the contrary of the proposition, namely 'What is empirical may be necessary', is not false but instead an undefined combination of words (nonsense). Nonetheless, the different names indicate different categories of interest: {rules of grammar} in contrast to {rules of method}.

The principle is an assumption that directs our investigations, telling us what to accept and what to reject -- but we could say that it closes the mind as well. Because the principle 'If it is necessary, it is not empirical, and ...' is a instance of being unable to imagine an alternative (cf. "finite but unbounded").

The contrary of a rule of grammar may be wrong (You play the game wrong if you break this rule (OC § 446)), but it also may belong to a different game, as e.g. in the children's game of dodgeball, the thrower's objective is to hit the opponent, whereas in baseball the thrower's objective is to not hit the opponent.

What is philosophically not good is if we can't describe (imagine) an opposite or contrary game (as, for example, in "under-volleyball" the objective would be to return the ball under rather than over the net), regardless of whether we are talking about games or about "language games".

Visions of metaphysics and reality

The vision of axiomatic geometry or axiomatic philosophy as the path to truth, a path independent of experience, exists. As does James Jeans' vision of mathematics as the language of God the designer, the only language in which "the ultimate [conceived] reality" can be known (or does Jean's picture of "what reality really is" belong to science rather than metaphysics?)

The picture is there ... But what is its application? (PI § 424)

Meaning: How does this picture correspond to an at least logically possible reality, because that correspondence will be the picture's meaning?

And it has to be logical, not real possibility, because when metaphysics asks about no small matter, but what is real, it answers that reality is unknowable via sense perception, that what we perceive with the senses is mere appearances only, and therefore that sense experience cannot be used to judge metaphysics' pictures of reality, but that only reason alone can. Thus metaphysics, rather than describe reality -- replaces reality with creations of the metaphysician's own mind (which is what Euclid and Plato's Forms are, after all). And that kind of metaphysics, for there are others, does seem to me worthy of the title "barbarous metaphysics".

Which is reality?

The children of conceptualized sense perception -- the "conceived facts" -- are, if we use the word 'know' as we normally use it (and how else shall we use it? (PI § 246)), the only reality we know, because every theory includes imagination: a theory is the organization of a selection of facts (DEF.) -- a selection and an organization, not the only possible selection and not the only organization possible. Now, are the children of imagination the populace of reality?

In contrast to metaphysics, Socratic philosophy has two tests of reality.

Words, the conceived phenomena, and different interests

Have I defined the word 'theory' above or have I defined the phenomenon of theory-making? The word 'definition' may mean 'definition of a word', but it also mean 'description of a phenomenon' (one possible description, not the only one possible). In the case of 'definition of theory', it may not be clear which is being asked for, a description of the human phenomenon or the definition of a word (Is there a strict border -- must there be a strict border -- between these two kinds of definition? The examples I gave are much too simple, the merest overview). The first sense of 'definition' = "real definition" -- but only if that refers to phenomena? An idea too is a phenomenon (And now are you saying that there are real definitions of concepts! Nay, slow down: by 'concept' I normally mean 'rules for using a word' e.g. the word 'idea'; but a specific idea -- i.e. a plan for layout of a book -- may be described, and if we liked we could call that description a 'definition' in one sense of that word).

Only it is possible to be interested in a phenomenon in a variety of ways. (PI § 108)

And so when I said, "Philosophy defines words, not things", was I talking only about logic-philosophy? (Further remarks about this distinction.) And so, in which way am I interested? In some cases the distinction between kinds of definition may not be clear -- but it may not be what interests me in the particular case. It is not in the discussion of "sense perception versus theory" above.

The same problem may be approached with different presumptions -- a presumption is a requirement not the result of an investigation (PI § 107) -- and what is a solution for one may be irrelevant to another: if sense perception can yield knowledge of reality versus if sense perception can know only appearances: physics versus metaphysics.

Plato and geometry as metaphor

Query: does Plato agree with Parmenides following reason alone?

The question, I'd say, is: does Plato always agree, for he sometimes does (Phaedo 99d-100a)? In Plato's eyes, geometry is a proof that order underlies the apparent disorder of things (geometry is proof that reality is not a chaos), and this is why only those who have studied geometry are welcome in his school. (Well, that may be why.) (Plato and the Academy)

What was the meaning of the inscription at Plato's Academy that only geometers may enter? Even if the above were correct, it is not the only meaning of "Let no one who has not studied geometry ..." Because from Greek geometry (rather than arithmetic) the student learned "geometric equality" or proportion (Gorgias 465b-c).

Equity (geometrical proportion) vs. Equality (mathematical proportion)

... the heavens and the earth, gods and men, are bound together by fellowship and friendship, and order and temperance and justice, and for this reason they call the sum of things the "ordered" universe [cosmos] ... not the world of disorder and riot.

But it seems to me that ... you are unaware that geometric equality is of great importance among gods and men alike, and you think we should practice over-reaching others, for you neglect geometry. (Gorgias 507e-508a)

Equality of quality vs. Equality of quantity

The commendation of "geometrical equality" is a clue to Plato's political ideas. It relates things by equality of proportion, whereas "arithmetical equality" relates them by equality of amount.

At Republic 558c democracy is described as "distributing equality to equals and unequals alike". (W.K.C. Guthrie, Plato: the man and his dialogues: earlier period (1975), p. 301, 301n1)


Philosophers say that this principle of order (kosmos), association, discipline and mathematical proportion sustains not only humanity but the whole Cosmos (whence its name). (ibid. p. 292)

... order in the soul is achieved through self-control and obedience to law.... This emphasis on kosmos, bound up with the cosmic significance of mathematical laws, was undoubtedly Pythagorean, but by the fifth century the wide application of kosmos was generally known and used. (ibid. p. 300)

Congruence vs. Equality in Euclid

Maybe geometric proportion could be contrasted to geometrical congruence. If we look at congruent triangles drawn in the sand with compass and straightedge, all congruent triangles are "equal" to one another regardless of the "lengths" of their sides. So that whereas their angles have equality of amount, their sides have equality or inequality of proportion. Maybe according to Plato democracy resembles the angles, whereas a scale of individual wisdom and ability would resemble the sides.

In democratic Athens voters and jurors were arithmetically equal -- i.e. each citizen had one vote, and any citizen was eligible to be assigned a public office (other than military leader) when it was his group in Attica's turn, as was Socrates (Plato, Apology 32b-e). But didn't their arithmetical equality begin and end there? Not all voters and jurors as equally wise, and not all office holders are equally competent or morally virtuous.

Query: what Plato means by saying that democracy cannot make a man either wiser or foolish.

Plato's view (Crito 44d) of the mass of men, of the "demos" of democracy: Democracy views men, and makes them through the vote, equals -- but it can only do that mathematically, not geometrically.

When Plato relates geometrical equality to justice, to not "over-reaching others" (Gorgias 508a), maybe he means that by presuming to claim equality with those who are superior in moral virtue or ability to oneself, one is guilty of injustice, i.e. wrongful conduct towards men (ibid. 507b).

In contrast Socrates

Unlike Plato, Socrates was not an enemy of the Athenian democracy, as his courage in standing for the rule of law both against tyrants and anarchy shows (Diog. L. ii, 24; Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 4, 2-4; Plato, Apology 32b-e). What he did not believe, however, is that everyone is able be a statesman, just as not everyone is able to train horses, because not everyone can, in the words of Plato, "make the people better" (Gorgias 517b). And whether an individual can or cannot is the second part of "Know thyself" (according to my account, in any case). And that can be compared to geometrical disproportionality.

[Aristotle makes a distinction between "distributive justice"] whereby the State divides goods among its citizens according to geometrical proportion, i.e. according to merit [, and "remedial justice" which] proceeds according to arithmetical proportion [i.e. whereby equal shares are given to citizens regardless of individual merit]. (Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome (1947), II, xxxi, 7, p. 342)

Although it is not what the good man does, "rendering to each his due" or "just deserts" (Republic 331e) would be geometrical, whereas following Hamlet's precept -- "use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty" (ii, 2), which is what the good man does (for he does not return bad for bad) -- would be arithmetical.

Query: forms of ignoring philosophy. Laws create false equality.

Will 'false' mean 'unjust' -- i.e. 'wrongful conduct towards men' (as 'impiety' is 'wrongful conduct towards God') (Gorgias 507b)? Plato: "... you are unaware that geometric equality is of great importance among gods and men alike, and you think we should practice over-reaching others, for you neglect geometry" (ibid. 507e-508a). Plato is talking about proportion, that not all men are equally wise or morally virtuous [although wisdom, according to the Greeks, is -- although why, I don't know -- moral virtue], but some men, not knowing themselves, do not know their own position on that scale, but imagining themselves wise when they are not presume themselves wiser than other men and even equal to the gods.

[When our Father in Heaven sends rain to the fields of both good and evil doers, that is arithmetical proportion. But although according to the Gospels God's love is distributed "arithmetically", it seems that according to the notion of "the elect", belonging to the kingdom of God (i.e. moral virtue measured proportionally) is given by a standard known only to God (Luke 8.13-15).]

Existentialism versus Essentialism

Note: many, many years ago I became acquainted, mostly through French and Russian literature (Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Dostoyevsky), with French Existentialism, which was at that time popular, always an unhappy thing for philosophy to have "lots of friends" (Wittgenstein wrote to Drury, who had made the suggestion, in 1941: "It is obvious to me that you are becoming thoughtless and stupid. How could you imagine I would every have "lots of friends"?" (Recollections p. 147)). The following remarks are my criticism of what I remember, as I remember and I may not remember aright, from many years ago.

According to Sartre, and contrary to the Greeks, man has no essence, only an existence; and therefore he must "construct" himself for himself. (Does Sartre go so far as to say that there is no such things as human nature -- well, wouldn't human nature be the God-given essence of man?)

Sartre compares-contrasts man to a knife. The knife has been designed by man to do specific work: it has a purpose [function], which according to the Greeks belongs to it essence. Certainly what work we use knives for (namely, cutting things) belongs to a definition of our word 'knife', but Sartre seems to have imagined that it belonged to "the real definition, i.e. essence, of knives", i.e. to the common nature of things named by the word 'knife' -- but does that make sense, i.e. is it sense or nonsense? (Compare the distinction between an event and an event-meaning: events haven't meaning in themselves, and an object is akin to an event: man gives events their meanings.)

What meaning ("essence") has an object man calls 'knife' for a dog?

According to Sartre, a knife is an instrument, but man is not. Mankind was not designed by a god [creator, maker] to fulfill a purpose [function]. Man is not an instrument, and in this sense he has no essence. Rather, it is left to the individual man to create his own essence. Human nature would dictate the specific excellence unique and proper to man, his essence, but human nature does not exist.

Is there confusion (equivocation) here over the word 'essence': it is being used to mean both 'nature' and 'purpose', saying the a thing's purpose belongs to its nature? But the two concepts are not identical, and a thing may be assigned a purpose that is contrary to its nature (a chair used as a step ladder).

Pagan Existentialism

"There are two kinds of existentialism: Christian and pagan ... Of the latter, Jean-Paul Sartre, blasphemously asserts that he has "suppressed God the Father", is the chief exponent. The essence of the pencil, Sartre says, precedes its existence, because prior to it manufacture its qualities have been conceived in the mind of its inventor; whereas the existence of man, he states, precedes man's essence, which man himself creates by the choice of conduct he makes after he has begun to exist." (Marshall, A Thread of Scarlet (Satan and Cardinal Campbell) (1959), xix, 1)

Do I understand these words? Even if God the Father had invented man after first conceiving man's qualities, man is nonetheless free to live in the manner he sees fit regardless (It seems strange to characterize this as "man himself creates [his essence] by the choice of conduct he makes after he has begun to exist". I would say that was a strange use of the words 'creates his essence'. Maybe this could be called "Ethical Essentialism" in contrast to "Natural Essentialism". But if so, then Sartre's view really doesn't seem to amount to saying anything that is not commonplace; it just uses "big words", namely 'existence' and 'essence', to say it). Neither a pencil nor any other thing, regardless of whether animate or inanimate, besides man has this choice.

"[It is] left to the individual man to create his own essence." If 'essence' = 'nature', then obviously that is not quite true: Leonardo da Vinci could not fly in the way birds can fly by flapping wings, which Jacob Bronowski said was what Leonardo really wanted to do. There are limitations which belong to human nature -- i.e. to the essence of man. (Compare Heraclitus' a man's character is his fate: an acorn may grow differently in different soils, but the tree remains an oak.) In contrast man can create a purpose for himself -- "A man can do all things if he wills" (Leon Battista Alberti, the Renaissance Man) -- regardless of whether he is well-matched to it or not.

The idea may be that "Know thyself!" -- i.e. know your essential nature (and therefore what the specific excellence that is proper to your nature is) -- is replaced by "Create thyself!" But if we say this is Existentialism versus Essentialism, we make ourselves a bit ridiculous: man is not a blank slate (tabula rasa (Cf. Locke's "white paper" in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding ii, 1, 2, which is against Descartes' innate ideas, later Kant's categories): he can only create, or recreate, himself within strict limits.

"Man was not designed by a god to fulfill a purpose." That view contrasts with the catechism of the Catholic Christianity: "Man was made to love and serve God." It is related to the shift from god-centeredness to man-centeredness -- where, adapting Protagoras' thesis, rather than God, "mankind is the measure of all things" -- and further, adapting Alberti's words: the individual can by himself alone, not needing God's grace, change the nature of his own character if he but wills to do it. "A leopard cannot change its spots", but man is not a leopard.

There is a rather doctrinaire atheism to Sartre's view: if God exists, then man is not free (i.e. free to create his own essence; he is like the knife created by man, if God exists), and therefore God does not exist. [Question: But why "must" God create with a purpose? Do human beings always create with a purpose -- what is the meaning of instrumental music, for example?]

According to Sartre, man must create a real meaning ("essence") for himself. No god has done this for him, and therefore he must do it for himself. If it is to exist at all in a human life, meaning must come from within.

What is the source of life's meaning? Two contrary answers.

Either as Sartre says, the meaning of existence comes from within, as self-assigned by the individual himself. Or, contra Satre, the meaning of existence comes from without, i.e. from outside the individual; and therefore if man in the universe was not made with a purpose, then human life is meaningless. And if life is meaningless, then the question is, Albert Camus says: Should I kill myself? What do we do with something purposeless [without a function, useless] -- do we not dispose [discard, get rid] of it? And is not man himself like this, then?

On the other hand, we do not discard all purposeless [pointless] things. Many things [including many that we most value] are pointless. Music is pointless. That does not stop it from interesting us [from being important to us]. [See E.T.A. Hoffmann's essay Beethoven's Instrumental Music, and Engelmann apropos of Wittgenstein's all that music has meant in my life".]

The Essence of Man and Aristotle

Does the excellence that is proper to something = the essence of that thing? If as Socrates believed, discourse of reason (rational moral virtue) is the excellence proper to man, is reason therefore also the essence -- the "that without which not" -- of man? It is part of man's essence, if as Aristotle says, "man is a rational animal". [The Essence of Man (Plato and Aristotle)]

As I recall -- but my "recollections" tend to be revisions of what I have read -- according to Aristotle: man's essence and end -- i.e. the thing he is, as he were, designed for (i.e. the specific function or excellence that is proper to him) -- is the use [and development] of his intellect: Intelligence is the specific excellence that is proper to man [If man seeks to "know himself" -- i.e. what kind of being he is -- he discovers this]. Which could be the source of Dr. Sloper's reply to his sister Lavinia:

"Isn't it enough that your daughter is good?"

"Good? Good for what? If you're not clever, you're good for nothing." (Henry James, Washington Square)

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