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Invisible objects - thrice told philosophy

These are thoughts about Plato, Socrates, and philosophy itself. Their background is "logic of language" (which expression may be my jargon). How is language with meaning distinguished from language without meaning in philosophy?

Is Plato's the Good an object of pure thought (as in prayer without words) or merely a mistaken grammatical analogy, a model of language use that applies to some, but not to all words?

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Unanswered unanswerable questions

Query: can you call riddles a philosophy?

Riddles are philosophy, not a particular philosophy. That is what the eternal questions are -- riddles. And they seem to be the essence of philosophy, as logic is merely a tool of understanding -- or rather, of trying to understand -- ineptly wielded.

Query: no one appears to know the answers to such questions.

With respect to "such questions", how do we distinguish between "no one appears to know" and "no one knows"? There is no defined way to answer the eternal questions (In Wittgenstein's terms, that move is absent from this "language game"; in other words, this is not a question-and-answer game). Answers would be "unformulated definitions" that we imagine we would recognize as correct if we saw them (PI § 75). Of course, this is not a case of recognition: "Yes, that's what I was looking for." Any answer could only seem correct or incorrect (ibid. § 258). It's not simply that no one knows, or no one appears to know, the answers -- but that no one can know -- i.e. it is logically impossible to know the answers if there are no answers.

Query: "What do I have to answer? There are no questions."

According to Wittgenstein's TLP, that itself is the answer: there are no questions, and therefore there are no questions to answer: "If a question can be put into words, then it can also be answered in words: The riddle doesn't exist" [6.5].

Would I say that? Even Wittgenstein would not later say that.

Query: list of silly questions without answer?

"How many birds are there in a lemon leaf?" "Which month of the year is Sunday?" (Why do I find it so difficult to think of examples?)

That kind of question is nonsense because it consists of undefined combinations of words: rules of syntax allow their creation ("grammatical analogies"), whereas rules of logic (in Wittgenstein's sense) would not.

And now the important question: how and why is the kind of question "silly question" different from the "eternal questions" kind of question since both are without answers -- if there is a "how and why"?

Is an "invisible object" a theoretical construct or only misunderstood grammar?

Is an "invisible object", i.e. a metaphysical object ("abstract object") like an electron, i.e. a theoretical construct, or only a fantasy picture conjured up by misunderstood grammar?

Which are Plato's Forms? Are they an attempt to account for the facts (e.g. the absence of visible common natures which would explain concept-formation? It is not simply that Plato has a preconception he tries to force reality to conform to, but rather that reality fails to explain itself in the case of common names. In some few cases common names do have describable (i.e. that "can be put into words") common natures, but in most -- particularly with respect to the names that interest philosophy -- "apparently" ("Have you ever seen any of these things with your eyes?" -- "Certainly not!" (Phaedo 65d; cf. Parmenides 132a, 133c)) do not have describable common natures ... But then why do these common names exist -- how is concept-formation to be explained for them? Are the Forms (Archetypes, Patterns) Plato's theoretical-metaphysical constructs -- are they different from electrons (no one has ever seen an electron either)? (Of course, Plato would not have called the Forms mere "useful fictions" or "organizing principles".)

But Plato may have extended his model of Forms (Patterns, Archetypes) beyond what experience might justify, as when he speaks of the Form 'the Good' which has no sense-perception counterparts at all (in contrast to e.g. the Form 'chair').

Plato and the Good

Query: the form of the good..

It seems remarkable that I have only the most nebulous idea of Plato's notion "form of the good" -- i.e. Absolute Good in contrast to useful goods and moral goods (agathos, kalos, aretê), despite having studied so many of Plato's dialogs (Well, but I have not studied past Book I of the Republic). In the Statesman 285d-286b, Plato says that -- (Note that according to Aristotle, unlike Plato, Socrates did not "reify invisible things" (Metaphysics 1078a), which of course is what Absolute Good would be) -- "the greatest and highest truths have no outward image of themselves visible to man" (cf. Phaedo 65d and Parmenides 132a, 133c): no one has ever seen the Forms with the eyes of their body nor can anyone see the Forms while the soul is trapped in the body. "Therefore we must train ourselves to give and understand a rational account of every existent thing. For the existents which have no visible embodiment ... are demonstrable only by reason and not to be apprehended by any other means" (Statesman 285d-286b). But to say that, although it says something vital about the grammar of 'the Good', is not a definition of the Good. In Republic 505e, Plato says, as Aristotle says, that the good is that which all things desire and are unwilling to accept a mere appearance of (but does it follow, in Plato's thinking, that therefore the Good itself is what they ultimately desire?) But likewise, that is not a definition of the Good.

The idea of Republic 532a-b is, I think, that seeing figures of triangles draws one towards a conception of the essence of the triangle as an invisible to the body, visible to the soul, Form. But that in the case of the good, there are no corresponding phenomena to draw one's thinking towards a conception of the good -- that one must arrive at the conception by pure thought alone (whatever "pure thought" is when it's at home). And yet there are good acts -- moral goods -- and good qualities -- natural goods -- and how else is anyone to know what we mean by the word 'good' without acquaintance with those. Why does Plato not say that those goods draw one towards a concept 'the Good'? Indeed, without those phenomena, what meaning would the word 'good' have? Does Plato mean that the Form of the Good is not visible to the eye of the soul, in contrast to the Form of the Triangle which is imagined to be? (Misunderstanding the grammar of our language -- Plato's thinking is held captive by his universal application of this picture: that words are names and the meaning of a name is the thing the name stands for; cf. defining the word 'love'.)

Where our language suggests a body and there is none: there, we would like to say, is a spirit. (PI § 36)

But here our language does not suggest a body. The word 'good', unlike the word 'triangle' is not the name an object -- of any kind, visible or invisible, tangible or intangible. That is not that word's use in our language.

[Here I'm reminded of Wittgenstein's remarks to Rhees about Freud and to Bouwsma about Wittgenstein's own work: now any silly ass can use this method, as if it were a formula. That is what I see myself doing here, although learning Wittgenstein's method -- or the method I've attributed to him -- cost me many, many years of thinking.]

When Plato speaks of "the Good", this is word magic. Contra Aristotle (maybe), I don't think that we can say here that Plato reifies an essences -- because Plato has nothing more than a general rule for his belief that the meaning of this particular common name is an essence it names.

Etienne Gilson said (in his lectures titled God and Philosophy (1941)) that Plato did not identify the Good with God. But Guthrie said (but I don't remember where he says) that is not true ... although he does not cite anything in Plato to refute Gilson's claim; indeed, he cites nothing contra it at all; instead he is dismissive as if to say "No one can take that claim seriously". That Augustine calls God the greatest good (summun bonum), that indeed God is goodness in itself, does not show that Plato thought that way. (How we may define the word 'God'.)

Ideal versus idealized

The expression 'geometric object' -- not this or that triangle, but the triangle as such. The picture (that is not a picture of anything) of a geometric object as invisible, absolute -- (An essence is not subject to change; it is the only knowable reality, Plato says) -- ideal figure that does not exist in our world, not only misleads but it also misrepresents.

Whereas 'idealized' maybe does not mislead, because 'ideal figure' may suggest an independently existing "something", whereas 'idealized figure' suggests the contrast between an imperfect reality and that reality without its imperfections -- i.e. idealization as a process of abstracting away (i.e. subtracting) undesired qualities, as e.g. width of a line in the sand).

But the expression 'ideal geometric figure', rather than making anything clearer, may block the way to clarity, suggesting airy pictures that have nothing to do with a description of the actual use of language in geometry -- i.e. pictures that present a false relationship between language and reality. Plane geometry is not a speculative science.

To explain metaphysically or not

Wittgenstein: philosophy only describes -- it does not explain (PI § 109). This was Russell's criticism: that explaining has always been what philosophers have sought to do (My Philosophical Development (1959), p. 217), or in other words, the aim of philosophy is a "theoretical understanding of the world" (Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World (1914)), metaphysics by any other name. (Of course, Socrates took no interest in metaphysics in Russell's sense of "understanding the world"; he was concerned only to understand man as an ethical being and the method (logic) by which to do that.)

In the Apology [21a-d] Socrates only describes the facts as his cross-questioning reveals them to be; but here there is the ambiguity (or concept border-vagueness?) of 'explain', because Socrates' descriptions may be correctly said to explain the meaning of the oracle's words.

What would Russell mean by 'explanation' -- a "theoretical understanding" on the model of Drury's "Scientific theories are models, pictures, maps", with the distinction that philosophy's theories can only be disproved by facts, never proved by them -- but then a scientific theory isn't verifiable either (because it is a selection of data plus an imaginative organization of it)?

To say that speculation is not knowledge (although it is important to understand) is not to "say a new word" (Fichte already said this). And to rule out even the possibility of speculation with an eccentric definition of 'nonsense' is itself eccentric, as is to generalize from a quite limited selection of cases to a general statement about all cases. About the claim that all philosophy = metaphysics is nothing more than a misunderstanding of the logic (i.e. the semantic grammar) of our language ("Metaphysics is mystification by language" (PI § 109)) -- about the Philosophical Investigations Russell said, "Its positive doctrines seem to me trivial and its negative doctrines unfounded." (I'd certainly never say that its "positive doctrines" were "trivial". Some is not worthless for not being all.)

Is this speculative or clarifying?

Query: relationship between death and metaphysics.

The question of death and materialism, I'd say, of whether materialism is metaphysics or not.

A meaning that has no meaning

Further, Wittgenstein wanted an end to speculating about ethics, God, death ("The riddle" [6.5]) and fall silent before this mystery (what else is "the mystical"). These questions will disappear if you do.

TLP 6.521: The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem. (Is not this the reason why men to whom after long doubting the sense of life became clear, could not then say wherein this sense consisted?)

6.522: There is indeed the inexpressible ["things that cannot be put into words"]. This shows itself; it is the mystical ["They are what is mystical"]. (tr. Ogden; [tr. Pears & McGuinness])

"When the meaning of life has become clear to men, they have been unable to say what that meaning is." Such a "meaning" would be meaningless as Socrates defined 'meaning': a meaning that cannot be put into words is no meaning, certainly not in philosophy it isn't. Otherwise there can be no philosophy (which, if philosophy = metaphysics, would be good in Wittgenstein's view) because philosophy -- and not only Socratic philosophy -- is discourse of reason -- and that means: not irrational.

Figurative language and the limit of prose restatement

Another limit of language is the "limit of prose" in explaining the meaning of figurative language. The limit seems to be "forms of life", that which "must be accepted, the given" (PI II, xi, p. 226), Wittgenstein says. (This is of course no more an answer than Wittgenstein's "most words have no meaning" is an answer to Plato's question about the meaning of common names. It is instead a rejection of the question. "Forms of life" is not an explanation but a description of the facts in plain view; as an explanation, it would be "an asylum of ignorance".)

And how about such an expression as: "In my heart I understood when you said that", pointing to one's heart? Does one, perhaps, not mean this gesture? Of course one means it. Or is one conscious of using a mere figure? Indeed not. -- It is not a figure that we choose, not a simile, yet it is a figurative expression. (PI II, iv, p. 178)

"... yet it is a figurative expression." Why "figurative"? Because we don't mean we felt e.g. a tendon twitch, a muscle contract, in our chest. We don't mean "in one's heart" that way here (In this context, to use our community's common currency, the word 'figurative' contrasts with 'literal'). Yes, but then what do we mean -- because the category 'figurative' here looks like a hiding place for ignorance: a word that makes it look like we know what we don't know -- like a Potemkin facade: it creates the illusion that we know (understand), but there is nothing behind that facade.

Is 'God is the father' a simile (The Lord did not mean it that way, as a mere comparison to a human father)? Is it "figurative"? No, if you say it is figurative, you are saying the Lord didn't really mean that but something else. But no, the Lord did really mean that (difficult as it may be to believe that God is the father who loves his children, which all of us are).

Die Reden der Religion sind auch kein Gleichnis; denn sonst müßte man es auch in Prosa sagen können. ("Religious speech is not figurative, because if it were it could be restated in prose.") (LE/Notes, 17 December 1930, p. 14)

Figurative language can be restated in prose, as Wittgenstein's example above: "It was something I felt deeply." But isn't that also figurative? Yes, because 'deeply' is being used metaphorically. As to the meaning of 'feeling something without physically feeling something' -- maybe that is a question of "forms of life" -- if it makes anything clearer to say that. Can a mouse feel anything deeply? How do you explain the use in our language of the words 'my sincere condolences at your loss', their meaning?

Wittgenstein, inner processes and language meaning

We distinguish between acting and play-acting (cf. PI § 304) -- but how? "Emotions must also be internal if they are not false." Someone says, 'I'm not just saying this' -- but then, I ask, what are you doing?

All I know about you is what I see. I may make analogies to myself -- i.e. we do make comparisons (cf. ibid. § 360). Often, although not always, one uses oneself as the standard of measurement: this behavior matches this feeling (ibid. § 580). That's what we want to say: that the presence or absence of that feeling is the difference between sincerity and play-acted sincerity -- and therefore that is the meaning of the word 'sincerity'.

But, on the contrary, "the picture of [an] inner process [does not give] us the correct idea of the use of the word"; indeed, the picture "stands in the way of our seeing the use of the word as it is" (ibid. § 305). This is because the picture assumes a verification that cannot be made. As to myself I have no way of knowing if what I am calling a "feeling of sincerity" is the same today as it was yesterday (ibid. §§ 293, 258), and as to others, I only know what I see: and what I see is not something ("a feeling") internal to them.

The only way to understand the grammar of the word 'sincerity' is to remember that our natural language belongs to the community not to the individual: the question is: How do we learn to use the word 'sincere' in childhood (ibid. § 316)? That shows "how we play the language-game with this word" (ibid. § 71).

And so we come back to "forms of life", some of which are chosen, but others not.

Asylums of ignorance

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) called the concept 'God' an "asylum of ignorance" -- i.e. people invoke it as an explanation when they have no other to offer. But it explains nothing: it simply hides [covers up] our ignorance. Worse yet, it makes us think we know something where we know nothing. All it tells us is that we have no explanation: we have reached the limit of our imagination [logical possibility].

There are at least two of such refuges in Wittgenstein's work: (1) "family resemblance" -- he sets no criterion for distinguishing one "family" from another, and therefore his notion is like Plato's "partaking in the forms" -- a notion Aristotle dismissed as "empty words and poetical metaphors"; and (2) "forms of life". Many think that Wittgenstein has solved Plato's riddles about concept-formation, whereas he has simply side-stepped them [gone around, avoided them]. Wittgenstein can offer no grammatical explanation: he can only note that the riddles are there only if we conceive them to be; but if we redefine the word 'meaning' ... the riddles disappear. But sometimes that's because they never existed in the first place.

... that we always eventually have to reach some firm ground, either a picture or something else. (CV p. 83, a remark from 1949)

Is ignorance bedrock? Paradoxically stated. It is the unreserved, and only the unreserved, recognition of ignorance that is bedrock. Asylums of ignorance are not unreserved recognition.

The Limit of Wittgenstein

And it's true, there are many meanings of the word 'meaning'. Wittgenstein chose one. And this I have called Wittgenstein's logic of language, and it is in my view, an extremely useful logic of language -- but we have to recognize its limits. It is a way of looking at things -- not the answer to philosophy's questions. There are no answers to philosophy's questions.

Query: make it clear. Grammar is the difference between sense and nonsense.

Only in Wittgenstein's (and/or my) jargon: his point is that grammar -- what we normally call 'grammar', namely syntax -- is not that difference: because syntax allows all manner of nonsense (syntactically correct but without meaning) combinations of words to be created.

This is why "all philosophy is a critique of language" (TLP 4.0031) -- because without that critique one wanders about not knowing nonsense from sense. (Wittgenstein was mistaken in thinking that Russell was the first to show "shown that the apparent logical form of the proposition need not be its real form" (tr. Ogden); the first to show this was Plato in Sophist 257b-c. (But "logical form" -- i.e. meaning -- is only one way of critiquing language.)


Because I like talking about these things, maybe more than most

What difference does this make in their lives? Isn't it just that they talk rather more about some things than the rest of us? (OC § 338)

In reply I earlier scribbled, most philosophical discussions appear to be "talking rather more about some things than" Nietzsche's good people do. But I like talking about these things, even if over and over again (Apology 37e-38a). The truth is like a pretty girl (in many, many ways).

Philosophy is and is not

Query: is methodology a branch of philosophy?

I don't know. Is it subsumed under the rubric 'Logic' as in Diogenes Laertius' category "dialectic or logic" (i, 13), because dialectic (cross-question and answer) is methodology, or rather, one methodology; it is not the only method in philosophy. Branches of philosophy: metaphysics, ethics, logic -- and methodology?

A synonym for 'branch' is 'arm', and in another sense of the word 'arm', a methodology may be compared to an arm = weapon, a tool of war .... But so as not to drown in a sea of metaphors (because there is no limit to comparisons that might be made) -- go back to first principles. Why are categories created? To be tools to serve some purpose. What purpose would the scheme "metaphysics, ethics, logic, methodology" serve, e.g. what would it make clearer? The Stoics' system of classification presents the three kinds of questions that, in its view, philosophy asks, namely What is real, How to live, and How to think. Methodology would in their scheme [i.e. way of classifying things] belong in the category "How to think" or "logic".

A category = {class} is a tool created by and used for thinking. And a classification system is a methodology (tool) in Aristotle's philosophy and natural science, as well as in Lavoisier's chemistry and Linnaeus' botany.

Query: how do the branches of philosophy work hand in hand with each other?

Well, I don't see that they do, at least not as I describe things here. Because logic is a tool ["works hand in hand"] in both ethics and metaphysics, but where is ethics in metaphysics? (If a philosopher gives a metaphysical base [foundation] to ethics, that is not ethics-as-a-tool in metaphysics.) And I don't see that either ethics or metaphysics is a tool in logic.

Query: why do we call the wisdom of the ancients pre-philosophical?

Perhaps because the propositions of ancient wisdom are only stated rather than put to the Socratic tests, i.e. cross-questioned for and against their clarity (meaning) and truth or falsity. The proposition "It is wise to know thyself" does not say what it means to "know thyself" nor why it is true that it is wise to know oneself. If we contrast ancient expressions of wisdom with the method of Socrates, then we may want to say that Socratic dialectic is the beginning of philosophy (This is not to say that philosophy began with Socrates -- too little is known about the pre-Socratics to say that -- but that philosophy begins with his method of testing).

About what the query calls "pre-philosophical", Plato calls it instead "the style of primitive philosophy" (Protagoras 343b, tr. Jowett).

Query: how does Socrates define and seek wisdom?

Wisdom seems to be received from Delphi by Socrates (as by all Greeks): it is the answer to the Delphi precept "Know thyself". Socrates' method, on the other hand -- the Socratic method -- is his own. (The pronouncements of the oracle can be called "pre-philosophical", to use the expression of the last query.)

Query: Plato's view of ignorance in the Apology.

Well, that's what it appears to be, because Xenophon does not portray Socrates as "knowing nothing but his own ignorance" (Plato, Phaedrus 235c). On the other hand, we don't have the writings of others who knew Socrates, and so we don't know if the Apology's understanding of Apollo's oracle is Socratic or Platonic. But on the other hand, we have this from Diogenes Laertius: "There is, he said, only one [natural] good, that is, knowledge, and only one [natural] evil, that is ignorance", and Socrates said of himself that "he knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance." (Diog. L. ii, 31-32). But according to Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics 1145b21-29), Socrates held that [moral] virtue is knowledge of [moral] good and evil, which suggests that if Socrates knew how man should live his life (which is the subject of ethics), then he could not have known nothing but "just the fact of his own ignorance". [The two kinds of virtue: natural, moral.]

My own thought is this, that given the differences between Plato's Apology and the dialogs he wrote after it, I incline -- incline (i.e. I don't know) -- to call the Apology's understanding of Apollo's words (i.e. Socratic ignorance) Socratic. And if Aristotle is silent about this, I think it is because this is not the kind of thing Aristotle much cared about including in his review of the history of philosophy, namely philosophy as a way of life, of modesty-meekness (i.e. self-knowledge) due to one's confession of ignorance. (Aristotle as "man the knower" (homo sapiens) -- the metaphysician and naturalist -- the scientist rather than philosopher.)

Virtue is and is not

Query: what are the two kinds of virtue or good according to Socrates?

I don't know what is sought here. In the context of "Virtue is knowledge", I contrasted moral virtue with natural virtue. But, as always, there are many ways to slice a pie (i.e. categories that might be used), and I don't know which way the query seeks.

Query: state the meaning of the proposition, Virtue is one.

If I understand, Plato's idea is that a person does not do one moral virtue without at the same time doing all of them. Thus if my conduct towards the gods is correct ("pious"), then I must also be acting correctly towards other men ("justly"), bravely, and with self-discipline ("temperance").

[Is it just and brave and self-controlled to light a votive candle in church, even if there is religious freedom? In what way?]

The question in the Protagoras is about bravery [courage]: Protagoras at first thinks that it is fundamentally different from the other virtues (Protagoras 349a-c), but later changes his mind. What Plato shows is that courage is knowledge, just as the other virtues are: no one can be brave without knowing what is and what isn't brave (distinguishing between cowardice, bravery, and fool-hardiness, for example).

[A picture of how the individual virtues can be at the same time one and many. [ibid. 329d])

Self-control as a moral virtue

Query: combining sophrosyne and wisdom.

Self-control ('sophrosyne') is wisdom -- as are all the other moral virtues, according to Socrates' view that virtue is knowledge. And so this has to be specifically the moral virtue of self-control (e.g. someone might be unable to stop himself from jumping at loud noises or shivering when he is cold -- but those inabilities are not moral faults). But what is the "moral virtue of self-control"? -- is it "bear and forbear", as was Epictetus' motto? If moral self-control is knowledge, then is it the wisdom of knowing how and when to bear and forbear? I don't know (I feel as if I were staring at something opaque).

Same old. Same new

Query: critical examination of Wittgenstein's statement that every language is like a game and every one has its own reality.

That is one possible reading of the query: 'every one' rather than 'everyone'. The other reading follows below.

"Autonomous language-games"

First, Wittgenstein did not say that all language is like a game played with words according to rules (What defines a game is its rules, in Wittgenstein's simile) -- i.e. he did not say that comparison to a game is helpful towards making the meaning of language -- i.e. its use in our life -- clear. He said that neither about art (aesthetics) nor about religion. Second, a language-game belongs to a community, not to the individual; it is a public event, not private: it does not inhabit its own exclusive reality "because each individual inhabits his own exclusive reality" (see the alternative reading of the query below). It does not follow simply from saying that there are many grammatical models of language use -- that not all words are names of things -- that language-game types -- i.e. proposition types as language-games (Wittgenstein meant several things by his expression 'language-game') -- each occupies its own independent reality, as if it were a bubble surrounded by a vacuum or a Venn category that does not intersect with any other. (Of course, maybe you could say I am referring here to possible comparisons, similarities, nothing more.)

Is to say e.g. that all propositions are not hypotheses, that propositions have various uses in our language, to say that our language consists of "autonomous language-games"? When we construct primitive language-games and say that each might stand alone as a complete language -- we are not describing our actual language. Of course, if you think it makes something clearer to say that a proposition-type is an independent reality, you can -- so long as you explain what you mean by that. The other reading of the above query follows:

Query: critical examination of Wittgenstein's statement ... that everyone has his own reality.

The limits of my knowledge are the limits of my world

That every individual "has his own reality" would belong to the TLP, not to the later Wittgenstein (to whose thinking "language-games" belong). "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" [5.62] appears to mean that the world -- or its limits (if there is a distinction to be made here) -- is relative to the individual (rather than belonging to the community): The individual "man is the measure of all things" (Protagoras in Theaetetus 160c-d): "my world" is belongs to me alone, unshared with others (Solipsism [ibid]).

But then its seems we could further say, "The limits of my knowledge are the limits of my language" -- and then each person's limits will of course be different, and so each person's language will be different, and since language treats only of "the world" (which is only a small subset of reality), each person's world will be different. And if you put it that way, it maybe doesn't sound like you are saying anything too radical, except that in the TLP, Wittgenstein seems to regard language about one's inner life as a private language. And the view that the meaning of language belongs to the individual rather than to the community is not compatible with Wittgenstein's later comparison of language with games that are played according to public rules.

To get the worst in everything, but be indifferent to fortune

Query: according to Plato, how is a good man invulnerable to evil or harm?

In Plato's Apology, as in Plato's Gorgias 527a-e, the good man is not harmed by the wrong that is done to him. Further, with respect to death, the good man has nothing to fear in death because no punishment for evil-doing awaits him there, because he has done no evil in life (Gorgias 522d-e; cf. Phaedo 107c).

But, contra the query, the good man is hardly "invulnerable to evil or harm" (Gorgias 508d-e) -- except in Stoicism's sense that attitude is everything: the victim of evil or harm has done nothing wrong or evil and therefore, if he is able to see things aright (wisdom is understanding, not habit), nothing evil has befallen him -- because he himself has stayed true to the good.

The only evil that can befall man is the damage he does to his own soul -- through his own wrong-doing. Plato doesn't say that the good man will not suffer in this life -- indeed, in Callicles' words (486b-c), the philosopher is bound to suffer and meet with disaster. That the good man will be indifferent to that outcome, is an example of Plato's indifference to experience in the face of reason.

The philosopher's path

Query: wisdom in philosophy. Socrates, virtuous life.

Describe the life guided by rational moral virtue, as a blind man with a dog. According to Plato, and in this (according to Aristotle) Plato is faithful to the historical Socrates: the virtuous life is the "examined life" (Apology 37e-38a), the life that seeks to know what the good for man is. In Xenophon (e.g. Memorabilia iv, 6, 1) Socrates spends all his time seeking to help his companions, as well as himself, to "grow daily in goodness" by seeking to know more and more what the good is, because moral virtue is rational -- i.e. knowable). In Plato this occupation extends to the whole of Athens' population (Apology 30a-b, 36c). That is the pattern of a virtuous life: the seeking to make oneself a thoroughgoingly ethical human being, and to help one's companions towards that end for themselves, even if only as a quiet example.

[But in his later writing, after the Apology (as well as after the Euthyphro and the first part of Book One of the Republic, I'd say), Plato seems to think that Socrates was wrong, that the ordinary philosopher will "mind his own business" (Gorgias 526c), not engaging in politics, because in any case the vast majority of men are dedicated to vice rather than virtue and will only destroy the virtuous man if he stands in opposition to their vice, and so the philosopher will seeking shelter in the private life away from the political storm (Republic 496d-e), holding himself apart as a monk with the aim of keeping his soul from vice in our life of exile from the True and the Good (Phaedo 67a-68a). That seems to be the sum of Plato's, in contrast to Socrates', practice of rational moral virtue.]

Philosophical Wisdom

In philosophy, wisdom comes at the end of the discussion and cross-questioning, if it comes at all (agreement or refutation). Philosophy is an act of reasoning, not of irrational (because not put to the Socratic tests of reason and experience) insights. Philosophical wisdom is the goal of the examined life, which is the life of rational moral virtue, for the examination leads to knowledge of the good and thereby a virtuous, because virtue is knowledge for the one who does not give way to base instincts and bad habits.


Aristotle on Life and Death

Query: Aristotle. Death is most frightening as it is a boundary.

Many men fear the unknown unknowable, the beyond knowable, although that fear itself is thinking you know what you don't know (Plato, Apology 29a). But I don't know if that was Aristotle's thought here.

I am going to speculate -- ignorance, like incompleteness, engenders speculation (and misconception) -- about Aristotle's view of death, namely that: the soul is form to the body's matter; form cannot actually exist independently of matter; therefore when the body dies, the soul does also, because otherwise it would then be form without matter. This is what W.K.C. Guthrie writes --

[De anima] brings [Aristotle's] psychology [-- By pscyhē Aristotle means "the life-giving principle, or life itself"; Guthrie says there is no safe distinction to be made in Aristotle's thinking between "life" and "soul" --] into line with the universal principles of Aristotle's philosophy by teaching that body and soul together form a unity, one living being which like everything else in the natural world must be compounded (syntheton) of form and matter. Of this single being soul is just the form or actuality, body the matter. (Guthrie, Aristotle: an encounter (1981), xiv, p. 277-279, 277n3)

That is the view of F. Nuyens (1948), that De anima is the final stage of Aristotle's three "theories of the psychē and its relation to the body". (The first stage was as in Plato's Phaedo; the second was biological "functionalism", which Guthrie says is "pure Socraticism": although distinct substances, the soul is like a blacksmith, the body its well-adapted tools.) But Guthrie says that "at present [there is] no settled consensus of opinion", and there have been rejections of Nuyens' scheme..

The human body is the best picture of the human soul. (PI II, iv, p. 178)

That was not what Aristotle meant by the word 'soul', although, man's soul = "life" is located in man's heart, Aristotle says in his biological works. (Guthrie, Aristotle, xiv, p. 278, 278n3). Would Aristotle have said that the heart is the best picture of the human soul? -- he would not have said that about plants, of course (ibid. p. 283n3). (It's hardly clear what Wittgenstein meant by his simile, except maybe that if your shoulder hurts, we might say that your soul is located in your shoulder; but that doesn't tell you "where your thinking is located" -- i.e. that combination of words is nonsense, and so it's not clear what Wittgenstein meant. Maybe this statement is clearer: "The human being is the best picture of the human soul" (CV p. 49), but the relationship of those two metaphors isn't clear; when we think of another human being, we picture their body; but we don't picture ourselves that way: "My soul isn't my body, nor at all like it," we say.)

The development of the Greek concept 'soul'

[Before Aristotle,] the study of the pscyhē, the life-giving principle, or life itself ... had undergone many changes in the minds of religious teachers or philosophers since its appearance in Homer as a ghostly double of the man himself (Iliad 23.65-67), banished at death from the body and its joys to a feeble miserable existence in the underworld. There followed its immortality, transmigration and ultimate divinity, impressed on Plato by the Orphics and Pythagoreans, and its identification with the mind in the Phaedo, Theaetetus and elsewhere. (Guthrie, Aristotle, xiv, p. 277)

"Death is one of two things. Either it is a sleep without dreams, or it is as some say, a transfer from this place to some other. But which it is, God alone knows." (Plato, Apology 40c-e) What this doesn't say is what life is.


Apollo's paradox. And philosophers' paradoxes

Query: what does God mean when, through his prophet, he claims that no man is wiser? Socrates: The only true wisdom ... is knowing one's own ignorance.

The only wisdom is to know that you are not wise. But then we should be able to imagine (i.e. describe, put into words) two categories of wise men, (1) those who are wise in Socrates' way; and (2) those who are wise in some other way (regardless whether there are any such men, because the question is about logical possibility, i.e. what can be described, not about what is real [actual] and what is not). As to the second category, what would the second kind of wisdom be -- what would the second kind of wise man know that men without that kind of wisdom do not know?

With respect to Socratic wisdom [ignorance], we would call someone who knew the answers to the eternal questions wise. We would not, pace the young Wittgenstein, call someone who denied that those are questions wise (We would say he thinks he knows what he does not know, e.g. what death is or whether reality is confined to what is in principle perceptible to the senses).

The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Games

Query: Wittgenstein. Do questions need answers? What kind of questions does philosophy ask?

If we look at the TLP in the context of the Philosophical Investigations, I think we find that in the TLP Wittgenstein was comparing language to a game played according to strict rules, a game like chess. In such a game, questions must have answers -- otherwise there would be unclarity in the rules of the game. In a game played according to strict rules, there can be no ill-defined conceptual borders.

[Meaning in the TLP in contrast to the Philosophical Investigations]

Any wise man would have to know how to live our life, Plato's "no small matter". His rational moral virtue certainly would not have the form: "If I am not mistaken about what the good is, then ..." as Socrates' has.

Query: how will you characterize wisdom if from God's point of view, Socrates is the wisest and yet Socrates says, "I have no wisdom, small or great." What is wisdom?

That was of course -- or, rather, it should have been "of course" although it wasn't -- the first question to ask, before we asked anything else: When Apollo's oracle says of Socrates that "of all men living, Socrates most wise", what is God calling wisdom? And what is Socrates calling wisdom when he says that he has no wisdom?

Wisdom, and on the other hand, wisdom

We don't use the English word 'wisdom' much, I think because it sounds presumptuous, pretentious to us. Mr. Sleary, the circus master, says to Mr. Gradgrind --

People can't always be working. They can't always be learning. People need to be amused ... Face it, squire, you need us ... So do the kind, and the wise thing, and make the best, not the worst of us. (Hard Times viii

I think we would say that Mr. Sleary's statement is wise, because he has understood human nature ("People can't always be working; they can't always be learning. They're not made for it") whereas Mr. Gradgrind, ruled by ideology rather than (ironically for a "hard-fact man") the facts of life, has not.

But is it philosophy?

But if Mr. Sleary's observation is wise -- is it also philosophy? Or, rather, is it the kind of thing Socrates was calling wisdom, the love of which is called "philosophy"?

Query: conceptual definition of philosophy of life.

Most simply, in Plato's words, "for we are discussing no small matter, but how to live" (Republic 344e). That is the "Philosophy of Life" (Lebensphilosophie) as Plato defines it, namely by what he identifies as its subject-matter.

Query: "for you see what our discussion is all about, and is there any subject about which even a man of small intelligence should be more serious than about this, namely What is the way we should live our life?"

That is from Gorgias 500b-c, and it is Plato's "definition of philosophy of life", based on its subject. If you know what the subject-matter of a subject is, you can define that subject -- i.e. say what the subject-matter of that subject is (Otherwise, judged by the standard Socrates set for philosophy, you do not know).

Wittgenstein's paradox of meaning in the TLP

In the TLP, the language that defines 'sense' is senseless. (When does 'senseless' ≠ 'meaningless'? When it's the TLP's senselessness.)

Query: Wittgenstein's views on the meanings of language.

In the TLP, language only has sense if it has the form: "This is how things stand", i.e. if it is a declarative statement of the relationships between objects in space; all other language, i.e. utterance, is nonsense. I would call that metaphysics, because it tries to say what the meaning of language really is, what the limit imposed by the natural logic of language is.

The paradox is that Wittgenstein does not use propositions with sense, but instead senseless propositions ("nonsense") to make that assertion. "... only that cannot be said," he says; "but that can't be put into words," he says.

In contrast, later Wittgenstein's meaning of language is a selected meaning of 'meaning' -- it is not an imposition of an imagined natural law. Wittgenstein makes a comparison: Let's compare using language to playing games where what defines a game is its rules, because if we do, we can (in many although not in all cases) make a public and thereby objective distinction between sense and nonsense. That, in contrast to the TLP is not metaphysics: it is not an insight into the reality behind the appearances, i.e. the reality behind reality. And it does not require the use of "nonsense" language to make that comparison: it can be said; indeed, it is put into words.

Query: in logical terms what is fact?

We call many different kinds of things statements of fact. Is there an essence, a common nature, a "factness"? -- one should not assume that there is. "For to define true factness, what is it but to be nothing else but fact." According to the TLP's definition, fact DEF.= a proposition (declarative sentence) that says: "This is how things stand, if the proposition is true" [4.5; note: "general form" = essence], and it's sense perception that says how things stand (as the example Wittgenstein used as a model shows). But that is a "real definition", a metaphysical theory about "facts", not a report about how we normally use the word 'fact'.

(According to the TLP, statements of fact alone have sense: all other language is nonsense, but in the TLP 'nonsense' ≠ 'meaningless', and thus 'sense' ≠ 'meaning'. It's a very eccentric book.)


The End of August

Query: which undefined geometric term is described as a two-dimensional set of points that has no beginning or end?

Doesn't 'described' = 'defined' in this case? "Which geometric term is defined as ...?" Words are defined, whereas things are described; the term 'line' may be described as having four letters, but we are talking not about the sign, but about the sign's meaning, its use in the language, here.

If we are going to define the word 'line' as the query does, then how can that definition never have a role in the refutation of a proof, e.g. of a proof dependent on a line having a limit at one or both ends a line (DEF.) hasn't got ends?

That is more like the definition of 'circle' than it is like the definition: "A point is that which has no parts", and even that definition of 'point' might be used in the refutation of a theorem that required a point to have two parts so that two lines could travel through the point without intersecting.

When is a definition not a definition? The query is a mindless repetition of nonsense, of rote learners swallowing the slogans of authority or tradition.

Query: meaning of fool in philosophy.

Well, the above is one of the things the word 'fool' may be used to mean. It certainly is an example of being "philosophically stupid", swallowing the slogans of authority and tradition. Philosophy is a riddle that can only be solved by thinking think about things for oneself. But not only "have we no time to give to philosophy" (Plato, Phaedo 66c-d), it appears that most would not give philosophy that time even if they could.

Query: the father of philosophy defines philosophy as an inquiry into the ultimate cause by the natural light of reason alone.

The ultimate cause of what? Must there be a single cause? "The ultimate cause of everything (Plato, Sophist 233e-234a)" -- (Aristotle says that to know a thing's essence is to know its cause (Anal. Post. 93a), and Thales, the first philosopher, asked for the essence of all things). -- That is Wittgenstein's "seeing the world as a limited whole" [TLP 6.45] and presuming there is an ultimate cause of its existence, or of what sets everything in motion or sustains it, whether divine or natural, or what all things are essentially despite their appearance of change.


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