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Philosophy Epigones

The Socratic philosophy of Plato's Apology and Xenophon, and the question of the standard is by which language-with-meaning is distinguished from language-without-meaning in philosophy (logic of language) is the background of the remarks that follow.

Outline of this page ...

We are the heirs of a culture we are barely able to appreciate, far less keep alive.

"One of the heirs of philosophy"

By following some analogies, disregarding others, Wittgenstein gives his work the title 'philosophy'. In the early 1930s in The Blue Book he said:

If we call our investigations 'philosophy', this title, on the one hand, seems appropriate, on the other hand it certainly has misled people. One might say that the subject we are dealing with is one of the heirs of the subject which used to be called 'philosophy'.  (BB p. 28)

[That is the logic of comparison: (a) is like (b) with respect to (c), not with respect to every aspect of (b).]

But, as I asked before: "Why is Wittgenstein's philosophy -- this philosophy which solves not a single philosophical problem, and does not even address the problems of Ethics ("no small matter, but how to live") and of mankind's eternal questions -- why is this philosophy attractive to anyone?"

Contra Wittgenstein. There is no inherent reason why ethics and the eternal questions should not be the subject matter of philosophy. Someone might argue that would make philosophy nonexistent -- (which it would if those questions could not be discussed rationally, which they can, I think, be) -- that its subject is nonsense (mere undefined combinations of words). Their exclusion is arbitrary, not only because it is ahistorical but because Wittgenstein does not prove that those topics cannot be philosophically discussed as anything more than conceptual muddles ("houses of cards" (PI § 118)).

And so, because his work is no more than logic (logic of language), it is pure arrogance for him to call his work an heir to "the subject which used to be called 'philosophy'" -- why "used to be"? what has changed? anything? Nothing has changed. Maybe some false paths have been marked off (or maybe they haven't been, because philosophy is never settled), but that's all. Man hasn't changed, and man's life hasn't changed: he still experiences his existence as a mystery.

"Philosophy is dead. We the After-Borns have killed it and claim the spoils." And that is what we are, epigoni, the inheritors of a great culture we not able to make use of, barely managing to conserve it against currents of thought that would discard it altogether. In Berlin in 1899, Albert Schweitzer considered writing a book to be titled Wir Epigonen, meaning "We Inheritors of a Past", for it seemed to him "that not a little of this heritage was beginning to melt away in our hands" (Out of my Life and Thought, tr. Lemke, xiii, p. 144-146).

With respect to philosophy, there was to come both Bertrand Russell -- ("Logical Positivism" derives from Russell, although according to Frederick Copleston Russell did not share its materialism ("empirically unverifiable = meaningless")) -- and Wittgenstein's "The riddle doesn't exist" (There is no such thing as metaphysics or theology). And the rejection of philosophical ethics (For Wittgenstein ethics concerns the irrational "absolute value", and for Russell statements in ethics express nothing more than our likes and dislikes). Russell rejected religion, and Wittgenstein's religion was austere, mostly silence. Our age embraces either non-rational religion ("faith") or simple-minded atheism (scientism), with "human rights" pulled out of a hat.

And so is this the "spiritual degeneration" of our time Wittgenstein spoke to Drury of? Or does every generation think this way about itself? As Schweitzer describes that time, the thoroughgoing rationalism of the Enlightenment -- "thoroughgoing" because it attempted to apply reason to every aspect of life -- was not a time when men thought their civilization was in decline, but quite the contrary.

Presumption, not conclusion

Natural science presumes materialism, and therefore it does not [indeed, cannot (because its argument would be circular, assuming the very thing it concludes)] prove it. What it can show is that many, many questions can be answered on the foundation of that presumption, that a material explanation of many phenomena is sufficient to explain them [What can be said is that natural science proves the proposition that its method yields many practical results]. The danger, however, is to drift over into metaphysics, to imagine that because it is possible to explain so many things materialistically, materialism must therefore be reality, i.e. that reality itself is in every respect, in principle, perceptible to the senses. Related to this is the danger of imagining a theory to be the explanation of a phenomenon, to forget that a scientific theory is a selection of data plus an imaginative organization (Drury's models, pictures, maps) of that selected data, because to imagine that is, again, to drift over into metaphysics.

Plato's Absolute Language

The meaning of language is the Absolutes the language stands for. That is, Plato treats the word 'tall' or 'tallness' as the name of -- (of course, because all words are names of things (of "something or others" even) and those "things" are the words' meaning) -- or the name of a quality things have or share (a common quality that is the meaning of the common name), and this allows him to ask about "absolute tallness" (about that "thing" in itself) -- what is it? As if 'tall' were the name of a quality and a quality divorced from its instances (carnations) were an object of some kind (an absolute, archetype). As if 'tall' were like -- what for example -- 'roundness'?

Why does Plato not ask about absolute color: What is absolute red? because there are many shades of red and many "appearances" -- ('appearances' in contrast to what? In contrast to other appearances, i.e. shades of color) -- at various times of day? Color is a most perplexing phenomenon: in this light or another, in darkness: what is the true color of that object (and the answer is that 'true color' is undefined language: any standard is more or less arbitrarily chosen)? But we don't define the word 'color' verbally but only ostensively, and maybe that is why the concept 'color' is hardly [Meno 76a-d], so far as I know, discussed by Plato (He does discuss the concept 'shape', but that can be defined verbally and ostensively, whether visually or tactilely).

Are all qualities relational concepts? Are none absolute? "There is no absolute hardness, no absolute roundness," it is said. But is that how we normally use those words? "Not really round, not perfectly round"; Wittgenstein's remark about Eddington's "mind-spun" table. Well, then show us something "perfectly round" -- is that not the proper grammatical-question reply?

Would Plato say that an approximation to an ideal is the meaning of a word (which is the picture behind the statement "Nothing is perfectly round")? No. Would he say that an approximation to an ideal is what the objects we see are? If Ideal = Absolute it seems so.

Socratic Variations

Query: how true is the statement that a man without philosophy is a dead man?

If sleep is akin to death, then the man who sleepwalks (Plato, Apology 30e-31a) -- that is, anyone who does not ask philosophical questions about our life -- is akin to a dead man: "First came the Chasm (chaos). Out of the Chasm came dark Night. Night bore Death; she bore Sleep; she bore the tribe of Dreams." (Theogony, tr. West, c. lines 116, 123, 210)

Query: I think therefore I am, the Greek translation by Socrates.

"I think about philosophical questions, therefore I am living the life that is worthy of man" (Plato, Apology 37e-38a). Maybe that is "the Greek translation by Socrates".

Query: Socrates encourages to ask.

That is half the idea. But you must also "tell", i.e. state what you think you know, so that your statement can be put to the test in discussion to see whether or not you know what you think you know (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1; iv, 5, 12). But asking is the other half, for listening is not only hearing but asking questions to test whether you understand what you are hearing and whether what you are hearing is true. (Socrates' method's of ask and tell.)

Philosophy not Formulas

Query: briefly explain the relation between language and logic.

Maybe: the relation between logic and grammar ("rules for using signs") is the relation between language and logic, if 'logic' is defined as 'formula' (formulas are independent of the possible values of their variables) is the query's answer. But what is the relation between logic and meaning if the meaning of language is not a function of its form?

Query: philosophy, rising questions branch.

All branches raise questions: if they did not they would not be branches of philosophy; rote-learned logic formulas are not philosophy. The query's form of expression: 'rising' = 'uprising', a revolt against a particular community of ideas (thought-world).

Comparison, Methods, Rules (of the Game)

If we define a game by its rules, then many things can be compared to games, as e.g. our use of language. That is not the only way to define a game, but it is a way that is useful to Wittgenstein's logic-philosophy.

That is a curious use of the word 'define': to choose one quality of a thing as its essence ("defining characteristic"), despite that not being the only choice that might be made; in some contexts it might be useful to "define a game" by the equipment used in the game, setting its rules aside as inessential.

To give a Socratic definition of a common name, according to Aristotle, we must identify the quality that is (1) common to all things of that name, and (2) that separates the things of that name from all other things. And so of course there are many things besides games that are ruled by rules, e.g. law courts follow rules of evidence, and traffic must obey the rules of the road. And so when I wrote, "where what defines a game is its rules", I was not giving a Socratic definition of all things named 'games'.

"A making of things plain"

In a few seconds it would all be over, and he would know all or nothing ... (Marshall, Yellow Tapers for Paris (1943), xii)

That presumes that the afterlife won't be just as, or even more confusing than, this life is. Plato's Apology only says "a transfer from this place to some other", not what that some other is. But the quotation above is a statement made within the Christian thought-world: If what men say about God is true, then "he would know all"; if false, then he would know "nothing", falling instead into a dreamless sleep.

Which men say about which god? the old communists would mockingly ask. "An ugly rub, that," they would say. But in this context that is "to play the game wrong, or not at all" (OC § 446).

Query: the philosophy of questioning.

The Socratic philosophy, its method (to question one's own beliefs and the beliefs of one's companions, to see who is wise and who merely thinks he knows what he does not know). In contrast e.g. to doubting: the Cartesian philosophy, its method (to doubt every one of one's own beliefs in order to find if there are any that cannot be doubted).

These methods can be likened to the rules of the game: they say what you may and what you may not do, that you not permitted to presume that you are wise (Socrates), that you not permitted to presume that your unexamined beliefs cannot be doubted (Descartes). Philosophy's universal standard of falsehood, namely contradiction in meaning, is the foundation of both methods (For were it rejected there could be no philosophy, rather as Polyphemus could not count sheep if '4 ≠ 5' were not the rule in maths).

"What part of undefined don't you understand?"

Query: why is logic classified as practical philosophy?

If we call logic practical, are we defining 'logic' or 'practical'?

What do we mean by 'practical' -- 'useful', as in: something to be put to use, a tool? (Well, but what does the query mean by it? An unverifiable guess cannot answer that question.)

If we define the word 'logic' as 'rules for reasoning', then which is reason -- practical or speculative? Practical rules (logic) are used for speculative reasoning, but that does not contrast with impractical rules (illogic).

Analogs. Practical is to speculative as x is to y. As applicable to inapplicable. Inapplicable: metaphysical pictures cannot be compared with the reality they are said to be pictures of (Plato's Forms are an example). Applicable: although there can be "thought experiments" in logic of language, as when very general facts of nature are imagined (described) to be other than they actually are, normally logic describes the actual use of words in the language (a comparison between description and facts can be made).

If we say that metaphysical speculation is not practical, do we mean that we equate metaphysics with mysticism -- i.e. speculation based on the desire to know the reality, if there is such a reality, which cannot be perceived by the senses and which therefore we cannot know? That is one equation we make.

But when a physicist invents an hypothesis that it is empirically but not technically possible to now verify (and therefore is now speculative = metaphysical) but may be some day, as Albert Einstein is said to have done -- is that to be called "practical metaphysics"?

Does the question of what kind of thing logic is (conventional versus natural law) belong to logic or to metaphysics? And to practical or speculative metaphysics, if we want to call anything practical metaphysics? And if we ask what the good is for man -- e.g. which specific excellence is most proper to man -- does the question belong to ethics or to speculative or practical metaphysics?

Titles and Classes

With a multitude of words transgressions are increased. (Proverbs 10.19, quoted by Drury, DW p. 1)

Certainly crimes against the human understanding often are. "What's inside the box?" A label may make clear or obscure what's inside.

Why are classes (classification schemes, categories) invented? To make the nature of a subject clearer? But when classes are named by rather vague-in-meaning words like 'practical' -- they add confusion rather than bring clarity. What can the query be asking for if not an explanation of meaning (definition) of the word 'practical' in a particular classification scheme?

Titles are often shorthand for a full description. Kenneth Clark titled his program Civilisation (1969), but said that was only an abbreviation for Speculations on the Nature of Civilisation as illustrated by the Changing Phases of Civilised Life in Western Europe from the Dark Ages to the Present Day. But it's hardly possible to deduce that from the single-word title alone. What's "civilisation" when it's at home?

That is my condition with the word 'practical' as a label applied to philosophy -- namely that I don't know how the author of that particular classification scheme defined 'practical'. And so its not simply that I don't know the answer to the query, but that I can't know it.

And so I have could have called this section "Guessing Game" -- or indeed "stuff and nonsense", because it is foolishness to speculate about the answer to a question that can only be answered by an authority -- namely the inventor of "practical" as a category of philosophy.

"Breadless arts"

Novalis ... had asserted the philosophy baked no bread. (Marshall, Girl in May (1956), iii)

So, as I shall read those words, music isn't the only "breadless art" (Robert Schumann's youth, and Socrates' myriad poverty (Plato, Apology 23b)). Metaphysics earns no bread; it is in this sense "impractical". Whereas logic is used in reasoning everywhere, thus "baking bread" in many possible places, and so logic is "practical" in that sense.

The word 'practical' has many meanings in the language. And in that way, calling logic "practical", however suggestive that word may be, makes nothing clearer.

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