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Logic of language, topics at random

The expression 'logic of language' is from Wittgenstein's TLP, but here it is used as my jargon to mean: How is the distinction made between language-with-meaning and nonsense in the discussion of philosophical problems? And that is the background question of this page.

And so I again find myself overwhelmed by queries -- i.e. Internet searches that directed (or misdirected) visitors to this site -- that I want to respond to. And if I don't respond now I shall simply lose the thoughts on this page, which I hope may be useful to others, but are in any case useful to me.

Topics: "The good is the "beautiful", i.e. excellent" (Socrates in Xenophon). Fairy tale geometry. What are we calling, what do we mean by, 'belief in God'? Xenophon's account versus Plato's account of Socrates. And various other philosophical remarks, queries and responses.

Philosophy can be studied, at some level or other, by anyone who wants to learn. But it cannot be taught to someone who doesn't have a soul, and by 'soul' I don't mean the Orphic-Platonic-Catholic soul, nor simply 'the rational mind' either, but "a sense of the higher" and a serious attitude towards life. Queries such as "I am the wisest man alive because I know nothing", for example, are not only juvenile; they are soulless.

Query: what is the meaning of Greek word 'philo' in 'psychology'?

This is why you go to school: precisely not to think. (The word 'sign' in Wittgenstein's jargon.)

Porridgetown University sent me a travel brochure: "Delos is the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis." -- Where were they really born then?


Topics on this page ...


Query: meaning of the riddle of existence.

How do you explain the meaning of 'the riddle of existence' or 'the riddle of man's life' to someone who, despite English being their native language, needs an explanation. (How do you explain Kant's "starry sky above" to anyone who needs an explanation. [Awe and "concept blindness"])

The good = the useful? But what is useful for man?

The ideas below are the roots of important revisions to the Socrates of Xenophon notes.

The case of the man who hid his sister's body for three weeks until he could be cleared of his debts and so not have all his possessions seized by his creditors (Conan Doyle, The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place). What would "the good is the useful" or "the useful is the good" mean in this context -- How would that (principle or, really, way of looking at things) be applied? And if it is not applicable in this case, then is there another meaning of the word 'good' that would apply here? Holmes says that it is not for him to "judge the morality" of what the man has done (That means the right or wrong of it from "a moral point of view"). This was completely unclear to me ...

Whatever is useful is useful in relation to something else, to some end e.g. (Xenophon, Mem. iii, 8, 2-3). If we are going to talk about "moral standards", we are going to be referring to something that, because it is not based on reason or some clear criterion or standard other than authority (e.g. conscience), is arbitrary: a statement of arbitrary principles, of "categorical imperatives".

Was hiding the body useful to the man? Yes, it was. Did it involve deceiving his creditors (not to mention violation of the law), however? Yes, it did. Did that therefore make it "wrong"?

Earlier I wrote that I can only refer to the notion of "care of the soul", that is, care of man's ethical personality, and the effect dishonesty has on a human being, upon a person's "soul" or ethical personality. Is what the man did beneficial or harmful to his "soul"?

From a practical point of view, it is difficult to say, if we consider that being left destitute by his creditors and the compromises perhaps necessitated by his being destitute might have resulted in a drastic deterioration of the man's ethical personality, whereas finding means to survive those three weeks, even though it did involve a deception about his sister's date of death, was the wiser choice because the damage to his "soul" would be less that way than if he were left destitute. His creditors would not in the end suffer a loss if the point of their extending credit was to receive interest on their loans and repayment of their loans to him rather than simply to seize all the man's possessions.

There may be many practical questions that Ethics does not provide the answers to. The subject matter of Ethics may be the general principles by which we should organize our thinking about how we should live our life. (Cf. the practical problems faced by Schweitzer's Reverence for Life; Oskar Kraus' criticism, which, however, I tried to show is wrong.)

(I think we can call these principles "organizing principles", although that notion needs more thought -- i.e. needs to be made clearer; at this point it is rather vague. What would 'organizing' contrast with? E.g. "comparative principles" and "factual principles" -- i.e. in the case of organizing and comparative principles there is the element of discretion that characterizes the adoption of any way of looking a things. The "factual principle" that liquids cannot be compressed, on the other hand, involves no discretion; it is a fact of experience -- but need that experience be conceived that way, in terms of compression e.g.?)

I don't know if the principle "the good is the useful" or "the useful is the good" is going to be clear in cases like this, unless we are going to talk about what we are calling a "good man" as opposed e.g. to a good knife, a shield or a good chamberpot or dung basket. I don't see how we can get away, whenever we are talking about a human being and what is good (beneficial) or what is not good (harmful), what is useful or not useful to him, without reference to the effect on his soul or ethical personality or, in other words, his philosophical integrity, and what the consequences are for a human being of compromising that integrity, and if there are any occasions when it is good (beneficial) to compromise that integrity in order not to do greater harm to one's soul through the further compromises that may be unwillingly imposed on one by one's circumstances ... unless one takes the path Epictetus pointed to: "the door is always open". It is hard to say, however, that prudence, prudent behavior, is suicidal behavior. On the other hand ...

A man is not an object like a chamberpot that has a clear function so that it is easy to say what is and what is not a good or "beautiful" or useful dung basket (Mem. iii, 8, 4-7). What is man's function? The introduction of "beautiful" (in the limited sense of 'what is excellent' or 'excellent') is also important here, however, 'beautiful' meaning 'excellent' (either 'best suited to purpose' or, in the case of living things, 'most in accordance with the thing's nature', the excellence that is proper to a thing, which in the case of man is rationality, the use of reason). The good is the excellent, not only the useful, not only the beneficial, but also the excellent/"beautiful". And so that is very important: -- that it is not just the good = the useful but also the good = the excellent. To care for one's soul is to live according to the excellence that is proper to one, is it not?

The good = the useful and/or the excellent

The last remarks are important, an essential clarification. And it is important to amend those pages where I say that the good is the useful, by saying that the good is the useful and/or the "beautiful" (in the sense of 'excellent'). In which case, the good man is also the "excellent" man -- i.e. the good equals the proper excellence of a thing, 'excellent' in the sense that he is the man who is an instantiation in his own particular life of the excellence or virtue that is proper to man.

And this is the vital importance of the Delphic command "Know Thyself", because the man who does not know himself does not know what the good or excellent is either for man or for himself as an individual man.

When we speak about man it is difficult (impossible) to speak about the good being the useful, because man does not have a use -- he is not an instrument (or, tool). Although of course a man may be useful to someone else as an instrument towards some end, a man can hardly find himself useful (although it is of course possible to invent a sense for any combination of words).

One "cares for the soul" -- i.e. for one's ethical personality -- by living in accordance with excellence or virtue that is proper to man, that is to say, the good = the excellent. But what is useful may or may not be excellent (for a less than excellent tool may get the job done), but not everything that is excellent is useful, unless you are willing to say that a man is per se (in himself, in his simply existing) somehow (I don't know how) useful to himself, which is a combination of words I can think of no sense for.

[I have written about the rediscovery of rational Socratic ethics, contra the irrational ethics of both Wittgenstein ("absolute value") and Hume ("no ought from is", as if the type of verification were not the type of language-game).]


The concept 'ought' in Ethics (Quite rough)

Query: David Hume says you cannot derive an "ought" from an "is". How is this a critique of Aristotle's natural law?

As to "Aristotle and natural law", I can't recall what I read now many years ago at school and may well not have understood, or may not have read at all. As to my topic, however, there are important questions to ask: To assert what Hume does, if he does -- (and I don't know that he does, nor if he does where he does, nor the meaning he gave to that proposition if it is indeed his proposition -- i.e. in sum, I am responding to Hume's words without regard to Hume's context, which I either cannot remember or never knew) --, mustn't he defend the position that it is not the excellence that is proper to man in ethics to be rational (i.e. to be guided by thoroughgoing reason working on our experience of life)? Of course, Hume may simply choose not to use the concept 'excellence proper to man' (which is what denying that there is an excellence that is proper to man amounts to) -- but if he takes the position that the excellence proper to man in ethics is to be irrational -- For what is to be "a slave of the passions", or to have one's life guided by an inherent "moral sense" not found in "monsters", if not irrational -- then why does he want to think philosophically about ethics, for philosophy is an act of rationality (or, reason)? (There is something inherently strange about claiming to use reason as a tool to undermine reason, for that turns it into a tool that undoes its own work: Here is a rational proof, but never mind because such proofs prove nothing.) Why should I prefer to light a lamp when it is dark so that I may see, or prefer to open an umbrella when it rains so that I may stay dry -- i.e. why should I make the rational rather than the irrational choice -- and if I "cannot derive an ought from an is" then there is no reason why I should ['should' = 'ought'] light the lamp or open the umbrella.

If "virtue is knowledge", then is the concept 'an irrational ought' foreign to Ethics, which is a branch of philosophy, which is a use of reason? Does it not belong e.g. to a religion where a god commands what you must do and punishes you if you do not do it? Or to a "conscience" or "passion" that is not answerable to reason?

Hume may as well ask "Why should I prefer sense to nonsense in the language I speak, in the language I reason with? Why not use sophistry in my book?" Why should I prefer -- etc., etc.? Because it is rational (or, reasonable) -- why else. Is not the basis of rationality doing precisely what Hume says is impossible -- namely, "deriving an ought from an is". Is not asking why a man should behave in the way that is in accordance with the excellence that is proper to man like asking why man should wish to be happy [i.e. to live the life that is good for man]? That is, it is an example of a question where it is difficult to know what if anything is being asked. Does not Hume contradict his own thesis when he states that "Reason is and only ought to be the slave of the passions" -- or what does he mean by 'ought' here, or is this particular "ought" not derived from an "is"?

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions ... and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. 'Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. (A Treatise of Human Nature Book 2, Part 3, Section 3)

Contra Hume's "Reason is an only ought to be the slave of the passions" (Even rougher)

Note. In the following remarks, as in the previous ones, I am only responding to Hume's words out of context (In the context of Hume's notion of "ideas" and what he calls "reason, in a strict and philosophical sense" [Book 3, Part 1, Section 3], they may have a quite different meaning).

Billiards and Causality

To say that when you see one billiard ball strike another, you do not see any third thing, namely causality, is (grammatically) correct enough. But that only means that 'causality' is an organizing -- not a metaphysical -- principle. It is not a statement about what "really happens" (A is the real cause of B), but a definition of the word 'causality' -- i.e. a description of how we use that word.

The billiards case is the very model (paradigm) of causality -- and if we say that this is not "really" a case of causality, then it is impossible to say what a real case of causality would be. (Cf. Eddington's "two tables", where he says that the solidity of the familiar table is the work of the imagination, because the table is not "really" solid, never mind that the table was used to define the word 'solidity' in the first place, and now what it that word to mean? Grammar stripping produces nonsense: if 'solid' has no meaning, then neither has its antithesis, 'unsolid'.)

An organizing principle is not an expression of irrationality -- i.e. of "passions" rather than of reason [unless "the passions" = "the imagination", because imagination is indeed what organizes a selection of data into a coherent pattern], but one technique of reasoning: "This is an example of what we call 'the use of reason'."

At most maybe Hume could say that he chooses not to use our concept 'causality' .... that is, unless he is talking about metaphysics' "really real", saying that causality doesn't belong to "reality in itself", but is a creation of the imagination only. (Of course, this is not how we normally use the expression 'creation of the imagination only'). As in one Medieval picture: the only cause of events is God's will: God wills -- discrete moment by discrete moment -- that event x shall follow event y; that is the only causal relationship between any two events x and y. (Compare the frames of a cartoon: when advanced frame by frame it becomes evident that there is no causal relationship between frames. Thus every attribution of causality commits the post hoc fallacy.)

Laws, like the law of causation, etc., treat of the network and not what the network describes. (TLP 6.35 tr. Ogden)

What belongs to the frame of reference (the grid, net, or "network", man lays over the world) cannot also belong to the picture framed. If the lenses of my eyeglasses (frame of reference) are blue, the world I see through them cannot be blue.

Logic of language notes. Hume and "the imagination". How do we normally use the word 'imagination'? Normally we say, 'It didn't really happen; you only imagined it. (It was a dream.)' Works of imagination are fantasy; they are not reality, but its opposite. If causality is a product of the imagination, then causality is a fantasy.

Man's reality is a fantasy (for causality is certainly the reality of man's experience of the world; we couldn't navigate a step without the concept 'causality')?

The way we normally use the words 'imagination', 'fantasy', 'illusion': these words contrast with 'reality'. To say that causality is a fantasy (an illusion, imagination) is to say that causality isn't real. The word 'imagination' is an antithesis of 'reality'.

Language (semantics) matters: when Hume uses expressions like "the imagination" and "the passions", it's not clear what he might mean by these expressions; it's not clear that they are not simply nonsense.

Reason lost is reason found

"We have no reason to believe that fire will burn rather than cool" (Hume). On the contrary, we have every reason to believe that it will, because past experience is what we normally call the reason here.

If anyone said that information about the past could not convince him that something would happen in the future, I would not understand him. One might ask him ... What sort of information do you call a ground for such a belief? ... If these are not grounds, then what are grounds? ... you must surely be able to state what must be the case for us to have the right to say that there are grounds for our assumption.

For note: here grounds are not propositions which logically imply what is believed. (PI § 481)

Compare Wittgenstein's remark about the explanation of solidity: The table is used to explain the concept 'solidity' (That is not what Wittgenstein says, but what I will say here). Hume: there is no reason to believe ... But setting fire to hay or making billiard balls collide would be methods used to explain the concept 'cause and effect'.

To describe fire cooling rather than burning is to do no more than state a logical possibility. It is not an argument against the general real proposition that fire will burn rather than cool.

Hume says that "the imagination" (whatever that is, because here it is not at home) takes the place of reason: There is no reason to believe -- because there is no logical necessity here -- but imagination says that A has always been observed to follow B and therefore that B causes A. My imagination induces that belief, as shown by this: that nothing would induce me to put my hand in the fire or between the colliding billiard balls. But my conviction is irrational; reason does not justify it, Hume says. ("The imagination plays the role of savior rather than deceiver," I was told at school.)

Hume demands a super-mechanism, something undescribable: not only are these no grounds, but nothing can be described that would be grounds. Hume wants to apply the model of deductive logic to every question of truth and falsity, as Descartes had tried to apply the model of mathematics -- as if they were discussing our knowledge of reality, whereas the question here is about our use of language in different grammatical regions.

And so "reason lost is reason found" means that we call various things 'reason'. Giving reasons when discussing the natural world is different from giving reasons when deriving one proposition from other propositions ("deductive logic"). These are of course grammatical remarks or reminders.

Cause, correlation, concomitance

Hume's claim is metaphysical (in Wittgenstein's sense of 'metaphysical', i.e. it is a misunderstanding of the logic of our language) -- but what it suggests is the question of whether there is any necessity about our having a concept 'causality' or 'cause and effect'. I would answer that it hardly matters what name we give the constancy of nature we experience.

The proposition "Causality is really only constant concomitance" is contrary to normal language use where we do distinguish between correlation and causality -- i.e. it is metaphysics to say that only correlation is real ... or maybe that is also the view of quantum physics according to Eddington, for is not an "unstrict causality" no causality?

"I see A and B but not a third thing, namely causality, or love, or oughtness

The word 'love' is also not the name of an independent something, although I don't think I would call that word "an organizing principle" or "a way to conceive the phenomenon". Yet I suppose it clearly is the latter.

Is 'oughtness' also not a third fact existing independently of the sensible facts? ("He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise" (Luke 3.10). I see coats and nakedness, and bread and hunger, but I do not see a third thing named 'ought'.) It is on different level -- i.e. different grammatical, not ontological, level. (Proposition Types)

Hume and Kant's awakening

How did Hume wake Kant from his "dogmatic slumber"? One logical possibility (wondered out of whole cloth, because I don't know what I am talking about): by showing that causality is a category of perception rather than of independent reality itself? which Kant had earlier assumed it to be.

Then Kant's notion of innate categories ("concepts") of perception was suggested to him by Hume's discussion of causality. If causality is not in the object (independent reality), then mustn't it be in the subject -- namely within the subject's mind as a "concept" the subject (i.e. man) brings to reality -- (our concepts are like a network stretched over a frame: they both organize what we can and allow what we can perceive when we perceive; these concepts are eyeglasses [PI § 103] that we cannot [This is metaphysical possibility] take off) -- not something that would be present in reality otherwise (i.e. apart from mankind, for mankind is himself part of reality).

The question is whether the concept 'causality' is a "necessity of thought" (Gilson: "I can't so much as think without using these principles"), as e.g. apparently the concept 'object' is. What kind of "necessity" then? Logical or real? Well, what would an empirical hypothesis look like here? If we say it is only logical necessity, that means only that we don't imagine an alternative. But Kant means real possibility -- or rather (non-empirical) metaphysical possibility.

Then there are two postulated classes, and every phenomenon belongs either to one or the other: either to the class of {the categories (innate concepts of man)} or to the class of {reality in itself (independent of man)}. And Kant says that causality (cause and effect) belongs to the class {categories} rather than to the class {reality in itself}.


Involuntary Categories versus Voluntary Theories (Two imaginations)

"... an organizing principle." If that picture is correct, then we can compare causality to a scientific theory in this respect -- namely, to a selection of facts plus imagination. It is voluntary imagination that provides the organizing principles, "the models, pictures, maps" that are scientific theories (Drury, The Danger of Words, p. 99-100). But it is not as if mankind chose -- in the case of Kant's innate categories -- to add imagination to the facts: it is instead man's nature itself that involuntarily makes the addition for him.

Wittgenstein in contrast to Goethe (and Kant)

The innate concepts-that-make-percepts-not-blind are metaphysical postulates, and they belong to an entirely different way of thinking from Wittgenstein's later work. When Wittgenstein speaks of "very general facts of nature" (PI II, xii, p. 230), he takes as granted that Goethe's "the conceived facts" are the facts (This may or may not be akin to what Kant calls "dogmatic slumber"). Wittgenstein does not ask the metaphysical question of just why these facts and not some others are mankind's "conceived facts" -- (if those are indeed mankind's conceived facts from forever to everlasting -- and not simply the artifacts of a particular culture). Wittgenstein treats "the conceived facts" -- as the not merely so-called facts in plain view, but as the actual facts -- as we normally use the word 'fact', not metaphysically (if that is how Goethe is using the word 'fact', which I am unclear about) -- in plain view. (And, for example, in those facts there is no defining common nature of games (ibid. § 66); Wittgenstein bases his account of language meaning on such facts.)

If the formation of concepts can be explained by facts of nature, should we not be interested, not in grammar, but rather in that in nature which is the basis of grammar? -- Our interest certainly includes the correspondence between concepts and very general facts of nature. (Such facts as mostly do not strike us because of their generality.)(PI II, xii, p. 230)

Which does not question that there are such facts.

"Truth lies in minds and all women have to offer is the friendship of thighs." (Marshall, The Fair Bride (1943), v)

But after Kant's "innate concepts" and Goethe's "the conceived facts", where does truth lie?

Suppose it were said that the mind itself is the absolute frame of reference, that within its frame there is absolute truth? But what idle game is being played with the word 'absolute' here? The mind's innate categories as a frame of reference ... That picture assumes that (1) there are such categories and that they are both (a) necessary and (b) knowable -- as if there were particular concepts that unblinded percepts that had no alternatives, as if there were particular concepts with which man must perceive, if he is to perceive at all. But are there such concepts -- and how are they to be identified ("Is that really the only possibility?")? The mind seems not to have one-frame-of-reference-only but a multiplicity, none more absolute than any other. Are there no alternative concepts that can be used to make percepts "unblind"?

Hume's vocabulary

Questions: Does Hume mean the same thing by the words 'the imagination' and 'the passions'? And by 'reason' does Hume mean, as Voltaire did, strict empiricism? And "the imagination" supplies "the theory of causality", as if our way of thinking were akin to scientific theories: facts plus imagination? But Wittgenstein: "our naive, normal way of expressing ourselves" does not show you not a theory -- but a concept (Z § 223) -- wasn't he correct in this? If we are looking at language from the point of view of logic of language, yes. But Hume's philosophy is metaphysics: he is seeking the facts of nature that explain concept formation? And he finds "the imagination" as the source necessary to explain the existence of these concepts?

Is it as if Hume were saying, There is no causality, only strong or very strong positive correlation? According to Eddington, the water in our teapot may freeze when it is put over a fire rather than boil: "There is nothing more here than a positive correlation, a statistical correlation, but actually anything at all can happen to the water". But it does not happen, not ever, never; cf. "if God does not play god". But "constant concomitance" is not mere correlation -- because 'constant' = 'always'. Does not saying what Hume says amount to refusing to use our concept 'causality', as if one had a picture of super causality ("strict causality") -- but one has no such picture, for physicists (in quantum mechanics) who talk this way cannot even describe "what it would be like if there were strict causality".

Note that behind every event that is caused, there is an event/s that is not caused; "justification comes to an end ... otherwise it would not be justification" (PI § 485) -- i.e. what we mean by the word 'justification' by which we mean 'arriving at bedrock' (and, no, there is no bedrock under the bedrock).

If causality is not "strict" causality, is it what we call 'causality' at all? (But whyever not, because if A only sometimes causes B, nonetheless, A does sometimes cause B.) Has Eddington done any more than simply stopped using our concept 'causality'? And the same for Hume. The distinction between a correlation and tracing a mechanism of the two billiard balls, this is a defining example (model) of what we call 'tracing a mechanism'. This and the like are what we call 'tracing a mechanism'.

Otherwise with Isaac Newton we must say "I make no hypotheses": the correlation is observable; the cause is not. But that is not the way we use the word 'cause', is it? 'Causality' is not a metaphysical concept; it is not an occult "force" (a picture of what is "really", although unverifiably, happening) as it were. There is no object or "thing" named 'causality'. Can we explain the concept 'causality' in any way except by pointing to examples of what we call 'causality'? It does not seem at all easy to say what we mean by the word 'causality' or 'cause'. (But there is no reason to assume that there is a general definition of 'causality', an essence of causality.)

Can we explain the concept 'causality' unless we introduce as well the concept 'effect' (as in 'cause and effect'); This [pointing to various examples] is what we call a 'cause', the collision of the billiard balls, and the immediate movement thereafter of the billiard balls is what we call an 'effect'. Hume's remark (which, when placed in this context, which is not necessarily Hume's own, is thoroughly metaphysical) tries to push us in the direction of metaphysics, of a metaphysical account of causality. But we must resist this push because it is a false path -- i.e. it is not a true account of how we use the word 'causality' (or, of our concept 'causality') -- an obstacle to understanding the logic of our language in the case of our concept 'causality'.

Can you say that the meaning of the word 'causality' is determined by how we measure causality; because otherwise doesn't the picture of an inscrutable "force", what Newton called an hypothesis; doesn't the shadow of such an hypothesis hover over the word 'causality' (and the phenomena we call caused), unless its meaning is given by measurement, i.e. by how it is measured (as the meaning of the word 'gravity' is determined by how gravity is measured)? "Ah, now I understand what you mean by the word 'gravity', by the word 'causality'." But how [by what technique] do we measure causality in the case of the collision of two billiard balls? Well, neither primitive people nor ordinary users of the language measure it (although physicists talk about "momentum", which is defined by measurement, and "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction"). "Fire burns your hand" -- how do we measure that? We don't; we simply observe that it is so. Can you say its meaning is given when we give what we are calling 'tracing a mechanism' in this particular instance?

But is causality always a matter of tracing a mechanism (Fire burns the child's hand, but the child does not see why)? Is there a general definition of 'causality'? The example of billiard balls is a paradigm (a defining example) of what we normally mean by the word 'causality'. We don't prove it, although we do learn it as children when we place our hand between two objects that are about to collide, just as we learn that fire burns us -- or is that what we are calling 'proof'? If you throw some straw on a fire, the straw burns up and we say that the fire was the cause of the straw burning up; but we do not trace a mechanism. We say A happened because B happened; we say that B is the effect of A, that A caused B. It seems to me that the word 'causality' is (as we ordinarily/normally use that word) defined by giving examples (i.e. is defined in a variety of ways; there is no general definition of 'causality', it seems). But there are grammatically defined techniques/methods for testing an hypothesis in causality: how do we verify whether or not A is the cause of B? The concept 'causality' is tied up with the concept 'regularity'. But we also have tests: if we can account for B happening without appealing/resorting to A, for example.

Can you say: "At two points on earth, there is no time -- namely, the North and South Poles, for at those points all the meridians meet"? In this case it seems clear that the meaning of the word 'time' is given when the method of measuring time is given; and if no such method is given, then there is no time -- i.e. the word 'time' is undefined (meaningless) in that case.


Various remarks, queries and responses

So I begin again by returning to the perennial topics "Know thyself" and "What are geometric points?"

(But sometimes I cannot remember whether I am returning to a topic or not. I find in my notes: "I did elsewhere say that geometric objects were fairy tale objects." But I did not say that elsewhere, but only lower on this very page.)

Query: what does it mean that human excellence is knowledge?

You cannot blithely replace 'virtue' with 'excellence' in this context. Otherwise you misrepresent Socrates, and you make a false statement: athletic ability, e.g. speed in running, is not simply knowledge. Rather: excellence in ethics (ethical behavior) is knowledge according to Socrates (or, according to me, "Virtue is knowledge" is the most useful way of looking at ethics -- if one wishes to amend one's life for the better).

Query: explanation of human excellence is knowledge.

But a dog knows many things; what it does not do is reason. If man were "wise", then wisdom [knowledge of that type] would be the excellence proper to man (Human excellence is wisdom); but man is not wise (Questions without answer); thus human excellence is reason. For the dog and cat can do things too ...

The title homo sapiens -- i.e. "man the knower" or worse "man the wise", as if man were a sophist rather than a philosopher -- is not merely pretentious; it is also inapt.

Query: Socrates considers himself a philosopher; what does that mean?
Query: which god thought Socrates was the wisest of all?

The word 'philosopher' (i.e. one who has a thirst for [philosophical] wisdom [i.e. for knowledge in logic, ethics, and metaphysics], because he knows that he is not wise) contrasts with 'sophist' (i.e. one who is wise [i.e. one who knows what he thinks he knows]), a title worthy of a god only (Phaedrus 278c-d). And this is why Plato writes against the Sophists ("wise men") -- i.e. men who claim to be wise [e.g. to be able to teach moral excellence to youth] but, as Plato's dialogs show, are not.

Apollo was the patron of Philosophy, and it was Apollo's oracle who answered that no man is wiser than Socrates. But if the oracle did instead say "Of all men living Socrates [is the] most wise", was it not enough that Socrates did not think he knew what he did not know -- i.e. was there no other man who did not think he knew what he did not know? There may not have been -- and indeed there may never have been another (It is not so easy as the words suggest it to be, to never presume you know what you do not know). But can a man be wise because of what he does not know? (Not if wisdom is knowledge?) On the other hand, in Xenophon's account Socrates is wise because of the way he lives his life, indeed that there could by no way of life that is wiser -- i.e. that more embodies the excellence that is proper to man -- than Socrates' way of life. And maybe Xenophon's account is closer to the historical Socrates on this point, or not.

It is only possible now for one to make for oneself an image of Socrates, and by the word 'Socrates' to mean that image, if one is going to use the name 'Socrates' in a consistent way. Because it is no longer possible to know the historical Socrates: we have instead only the literary creations of Plato and Xenophon, and a much later account in Diogenes Laertius, from which to construct that image. (Various descriptions of Socrates, however, are in practice our common usage of the word 'Socrates', although those are not consistent with one another; cf. PI § 79.)

Does Socrates know what the excellence proper to man is?

Query: Socrates' definitional ignorance.

In Plato that is what Socrates claims to be ignorant of, namely "common nature definitions". But whether that is the historical Socrates or only Plato's literary character Socrates, is hard to decide (The authority of Aristotle may be invoked to support Plato, but Socrates never knew Socrates, whereas at the very least Xenophon's source, Socrates' companion Hermogenes, (cf. Phaedo 59b) did). Whether Socrates in Xenophon can be said to know how a man should live seems to me clear: he does know; it is the way he shows his companions. It is only in Plato, after the Apology (for he does know in that dialog that the unexamined life is not worthy of man, and that care of one's ethical self ("soul") is the first concern of man), maybe Socrates does not claim to know even that (Phaedrus 229e-230a). Socrates' assumes that moral virtue (which includes "wisdom" = the use of reason) is the specific excellence and function proper to man, and that the good for man is, therefore, a life of moral virtue -- but Plato's Socrates does not know e.g. what "the essence of piety" is (or in other words, "what piety is") -- and how (if moral virtue is knowledge) can man be pious if he doesn't even know which conduct is right conduct towards the gods (God)?

Can we reconcile Plato and Xenophon on this fundamental point, given that in Xenophon's account Socrates finds himself "daily growing in goodness", which he cannot do that if he doesn't know what the good for man is and if he doesn't know his own individual limits (which are the two parts of "Know thyself")? And if we cannot reconcile them (without distortion), which of these authors is correct? Or is it a the question of how they define the word 'know', for it is different in Plato, where 'to know' means 'to be able to state the essence of a thing', from the way Xenophon means, namely "to be able to give an account of what you know to others"? Well you know I don't know.

Query: Xenophon, philosophy without the Forms.

The Forms were Plato's attempt to answer Plato's own question. Xenophon himself had no reason to invent Forms. Socrates did seek common nature definition, and maybe Xenophon's Socrates would find them -- although wouldn't a general definition in ethics be too general, if it were not a guide in the particular case (although, of course, the particular case can be discussed in Socratic "dialectic" or question-answer-and-cross-question)? "If Socrates were wise, then he would know how man should live his life, not only in general but also in particular" -- Is that Plato's definition of '[philosophical] wisdom'? Partly it seems.

Xenophon's Socrates wants an account of what you claim to know, for if a man knows anything he can defend his claim against refutation in dialectic. That is the Socratic method, both in Xenophon and Plato.

That Socrates concern was ethics ("we are discussing no small matter, but how to live" in response the Delphic command: "Man, know thyself") and that he sought to define words or "things" (both according to Aristotle and according to Xenophon) -- (Is there a difference in the case of investigations in ethics between defining words and "defining things"? e.g. 'piety' versus piety) -- we know, or believe we know. And if the historical record does not allow us to know at least this about Socrates' concern and method, then it seems that we don't know anything at all about the historical Socratic philosophy.

"Partly." Because there is a further test of wisdom in Plato, namely that if anyone is wise -- i.e. morally virtuous and not over-reaching himself -- he can make others wise as well. And by that test it seems that no man is wise, because no man can teach others to live a morally virtuous life. Plato says that the supposedly great statesmen of Athens were not wise for they did not make the Athenians better human beings (Gorgias 517b): If Pericles had been wise, he would have known how to do make men good and he would have done so, as would Socrates if he had known how to make Alcibiades good.

Remark: But if the particular type of excellence that is proper to man, namely moral virtue is knowledge (and the notion "weakness of the will" unserviceable), then why is self-control needed? Both because of man's base instincts (for his nature is not only noble) and because of the bad habits we formed in the time of ignorance of the good, especially in childhood and youth. For habit is not only sweet to us but also, as it were, a learned instinct (reflex), and for those two reasons, self-discipline is needed to keep watch over our instinct (impulses) and to transform our bad habits into a way of life that is consonant with reason, which is the only way of life whose sweetness does not soon show itself to be bitter. In this way we may become faithful disciples of our image of Socrates, who applied thorough-going reason in ethics, i.e. to his investigations of how we should live our life.

Query: Socrates lived the proper life.

The life proper to man -- that is, the life lived (1) in accord with the specific excellence proper to man as such, and (2) within the limits of the abilities of Socrates himself (for recognizing one's limits as a particular individual is the second part of "Know thyself"), neither over- nor under-reaching.

Query: the use of language like games has its own rules.

The key [or, operative] word here is: "like". Wittgenstein compared language to games, where what characterizes a game is its rules. He did not say, as metaphysics might, that using language "really" is playing games. (B is like A, not B is A.)

Geometric Object, Fairy Tale Object

Query: point, line, plane, children's book.

It would be a book of fairy tales or of what is called "nonsense verse" in Lewis Carroll and in other writers of children's books (not in the logic of language sense of the word 'nonsense'). And such a book might wound children's understanding (to use Kant's expression) if it presented children with pictures of points, lines, and planes that have no relation to the "grammar" (in Wittgenstein's jargon) of those words as those words are used in geometry.

Query: why do children not understand lines in geometry?

Why do adults not understand a game if they are given incorrect rules for playing it? (Children are without understanding in geometry because the adults who teach them are also without understanding.)

Query: the undefined story about maths.

What happens here? A word conjures up an object and then our daydream begins. We imagine the word 'point' to be the name of an object -- despite all evidence to the contrary ("an invisible object of no dimensions") -- and then we conjecture about what the word 'point' must be the name of -- as if first there were geometric points and only afterwards a concept [i.e. rules for using the words] 'geometric point'. Whereas here just the opposite is the case: first there is a concept 'geometric point' and only then an conjured up geometric "object". It is only our misunderstanding of the logic of our language that leads us to posit the existence of an object to correspond to every name, and in this particular case quite mistakenly.

In other words, "geometric object" is an object in a fairy tale, in a metaphysical fantasy, but not in a story that has any application to the actual world. (The absurd use of the word 'undefined' in geometry is a story about a different type of confusion, however, namely an unsuitable, because fundamentally misleading, form of expression. [Cf. PI § 339]

Query: does Newton believe in God based on the mathematical principles of natural philosophy?

Not if he "believed in" God, yes? Because 'belief in' something does not come at the end of an argument or demonstration; it comes at the beginning; it is not based on proof. That is, we thoughtlessly adopt forms of expression, and so e.g. wherever the word 'God' appears we say 'believe in God', whether that form of expression is appropriate or not. Someone who "demonstrates the existence of the God of the philosophers" does not thereby believe in God, because in this case -- not belief in, nor even belief, but knowledge [i.e. sufficient reason to believe that one knows] -- comes at the end, not at the beginning of an investigation [if it comes at all].

The most important thing to remember about theology -- it comes after the fact [of religious belief]. Theology is founded on religion, not religion on theology. Thomas Aquinas' "Five Ways of Knowing" are theology -- i.e. faith [religious belief-in] seeking understanding [of what is believed-in]. The religious man does not believe in God because of theological proofs -- nor because of "the mathematical principles of natural philosophy". And divorced from theology, "the God of the philosophers" is a creature of metaphysics (and as much a phantasm as any other such creature).

The God of deism, God the watch-maker e.g., is a metaphysical picture, and like all such pictures is "a map without a corresponding territory" -- i.e. it is in every way unverifiable and unfalsifiable by experience (and as "natural philosophy" has evolved since Isaac Newton, it therefore has no role to play in physics). Regardless of any appeal that picture may have to someone's imagination, it will remain eternally a creation of the imagination.

Query: is philosophy necessary for religious faith?

The only role of philosophy in religious faith comes after religious faith and is called 'theology' or 'faith seeking understanding': to Scholasticism "philosophy is the handmaid of theology" (which is its mistress), and therefore also of religion or religious faith. But when critical thinking accepts dogma for its premises, that is theology, not philosophy; but faith is not founded on either, and neither theology nor philosophy is "necessary" for religious faith.

By 'faith' we mean 'trust', 'acceptance on trust -- i.e. without proof'. What we might do is, as Albert Schweitzer did, distinguish between religious faith and religion -- if we are willing to call a non-dogmatic view of existence 'religion'; this is what Schweitzer wrote: "Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it." (Many deny that Schweitzer was a Christian. For me, Schweitzer's view of Christianity is the only one compatible with the life of a philosopher = there is no place in my life where I would wish to say: Here I do not use reason.)

Query: dimension is really the undefinable quantity in.

But, you see, you can't begin there (You are uttering language you do not understand: you are trying to build the upper floors before you lay the foundation, the foundation of understanding the logic of language). If "dimension is undefined" in Euclidean geometry, that means: the word 'dimension' is undefined in Euclidean geometry. What dimension "really" is belongs to metaphysics, not to logic. Wittgenstein: nowhere has conceptual confusion done more mischief than it has in mathematics.

Query: how can we define a physical dimension in mathematics and philosophy?

Not how can we, but how do we -- i.e. think of how we learn to use the word 'dimension': by learning how to measure lengths when we are children at school, e.g. figures drawn on blackboards, using rulers. Cf. how do we learn to use the word 'extension'? How do we learn to use the word 'space'?

But there is even in axiomatic geometry a way to define 'length', namely, by designating a particular line segment in the plane as our unit of length; and then of every line segment that is congruent to our unit line segment we can say that it has 'the same length' as our unit line segment. (This also allows us to define 'addition'. For example, if A,B,C are three points on a line in the plane, and AB = 1 [i.e. if AB either is, or is congruent to, our unit line segment in the plane], and BC is congruent to AB, then AC = 2.) Of course, what we cannot define is what length our unit line segment is; for it is like the metre-standard in Paris, which itself is of no length.

Query: why is one point not enough to name a line?

Because through any one point in the plane pass an unlimited number of lines [or, because on any one point in the plane lie an unlimited number of lines]. But which type of "because" is that reply to the query? It is a "because" that states a rule (axiom, definition) of Euclidean geometry; it is not a "because" that states a fact about anything other than the rules of geometry. It is nonsense -- i.e. an undefined combination of words -- to say that 'One point is enough to name a line'. But it is not a false statement of fact (about anything other than the rules of Euclid's geometry, about which it is a false report of what the rules are), because a statement of fact cannot have less than two values, namely, true and false, and thus a statement that cannot be true is not statement of fact (but instead a rule of grammar; the contradiction of a rule is simply nonsense, not a falsehood).

The distinction between statements of grammar (the propositions of logic) and statements of fact (propositions about our experience of the world) belongs to the very foundations of "logic of language" -- for there is no defined way [that I am aware of] to objectively distinguish between language sense and language nonsense without it.

Are there "stop words" in geometry?

Stop words in geometry. Would the "undefined terms" be stop words in geometry, 'point' e.g.? [In a search, the word 'the' e.g. is a stop word for a search engine; that word is treated as irrelevant and simply dropped from the search string.] Is the word 'point' dropped from the vocabulary of geometry? The answer is, "No, it isn't", obviously; otherwise we would have no idea what we were talking about. "Through any two points in the plane, there is one and only one line" -- which is used as a justification for a step in a geometry proof -- rewritten as "Through any two in the plane, there is one and only one line" is nonsense.

The following is not a question about "geometric objects", however.

Do unreal objects have unreal meanings?

Query: do words have meaning if they are not real objects?

I take the query to mean: Do words have meaning if they are not the names of real objects? And, well, this is it: Is the meaning of a word the real object the word stands for? and therefore if a word stands for no real object, is it without meaning (meaningless)?

Of course, one never has words like 'the' and 'hello' in mind when one asks such questions; and yet one should: it reminds us that a word's meaning cannot be, or at least cannot always be (if it ever is), the object for which it stands. "The word 'the' has a use in our language, but it has no meaning" -- (or, maybe, as the query suggests: "no real meaning"? but then has it an "unreal meaning"?) -- isn't that a strange, contrary-to-normal usage definition of the word 'meaning'?

Is the word 'gryphon' meaningless because it does not name a real object? That word's meaning is not the drawing in a book, although a drawing is a real object. If the word 'gryphon' had meaning, then it would name composites of real objects, namely eagles and lions. (But as 'gryphon' names only imaginary objects, has it an imaginary meaning?)

Are words "words" if they do not have meaning? The word 'word' is ambiguous, meaning both 'sign' and 'symbol'.

What makes an object real? Do words have meaning if they do not name physical objects? Is that what the query has in mind? Do common names name a physical object? Not if the meaning of a common name is the common nature it names (The concepts 'common nature' and 'cause': organizing principles, not names of things). Can you point to the common nature of cups, "cupness", or to the common nature of triangles, "triangleness"? (The word 'cup' is not defined with words, but by ostensive definition. But we don't define the word 'triangle' in geometry that way, but instead with rules and drawings that illustrate the rules, although drawings are not essential to geometry's definition of 'triangle'.)

Are concepts not real? For example, the words 'mind', 'time', 'here' and 'Wednesday' name concepts (if they name anything) -- are they therefore not the names of "real objects" -- and therefore meaningless?


Why study philosophy?

If for no other reason than this -- that those who have been through the hard school of philosophical humility ("Confess thine ignorance") do not become angry and fall out with one another when they disagree. Indeed, they like to disagree, because that way they learn, for what do I learn from someone who agrees with me? Plato: it is beneficial to be refuted (Gorgias 457e-458b).

Query: is division by zero really impossible?

The distinction between metaphysics and grammar in mathematics. The benefit of studying philosophy: Maybe to be a little less confused about these questions than if you had not studied ... and, this is the hope, to have one's ignorance transformed from conceited to Socratic ignorance.


What do we mean by 'someone's philosophy'?

Query: there is no difference between one's life and one's philosophy; discuss.

I might say that, but only: (1) if a man has thought his philosophy through, for many men have little or no philosophy, because they have lived unexamined lives -- and (2) if a man's thought and deeds form a unity, for most men uphold ideals in thought that they do not uphold in deed. And so, for these and possibly many other reasons, I would say that the query's thesis is, in most cases (well-known exceptions: Goethe, according to Schweitzer, Schweitzer himself, and obviously: Socrates), false.

Étienne Gilson of course would reject the query's thesis because for him it is only if a man's religion is at stake that his whole life is at stake -- i.e. it is only here where one may find a unity of thought and deed -- which was not true in the case of a man's philosophy, according to Gilson. Of course that is not the place of philosophy in my life, and further the relationship between my philosophy and my religion is essentially interconnected, as I believe it was for Albert Schweitzer. There is no place in my thought-world where I would wish to say: "Here I do not use reason".

I wrote: there is no place in my life where I would want to say: "Here I do not use reason." Yes, but what about music (the appreciation of music) and religion (the practice of religion)? But what has either of those to do with belief? Nothing whatever for me. (For example, the way I use the word 'God' has nothing to do with belief or "belief in", except maybe in this way.)

Of course, if you say that a man's philosophy is displayed by his life, then the query's thesis is a tautology and what it entails is that a man may not know, or that he may be mistaken about, what his philosophy is. Yes, in this case "the meaning is determined by the method of measurement". Remember that principle of definition which is so often, although not always, applicable. An equivalent expression for 'the method of measurement' is 'the criteria for applying a word'. Another example:

Query: chronological time vs psychological time vs real time.

The distinction of philosophical interest is that "real time" is a dream of metaphysics: it is an undefined combination of words as we actually use the word 'time'; it makes sense [i.e. this language is defined] to ask how we measure time (chronological) and how we experience time (psychological) [definition of the word 'time' via clocks versus via e.g. duration], but not "What is time itself?" and that is presumably what "real time" would be a measurement of.

Query: differentiate between motto & philosophy.

One might say that in this case a 'motto' states a policy for living one's life. However, note: "Reverence for Life" is a motto, but it is also a summation of philosophical reasoning. So that a motto may have a philosophical basis, or it may be no more than: Life seems to have taught me that such-and-such is the way I should live my life (and here there are many possibilities, e.g. "the Golden Rule": Treat others with the same consideration you yourself want to be treated with: "What you shun to suffer, do not make others suffer" (Epictetus), and "It is just to help your friends and harm your enemies" (see Thrasymachus 332a-d), which is a common enough notion, but one which Plato's examination shows must be rejected).


If by the word 'Providence' we do not mean 'God playing god', then what might we mean?

Note: these remarks are comments on the Question without answer: Is there Providence? And they are made in the context of my last investigation of the concept 'God' (But there are riper thoughts on that topic).

"What is the meaning of it, Watson?" said Holmes solemnly ... "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever." (The Adventure of the Cardboard Box)

Our universe is not ruled by chance -- there are laws of nature, regularities in any case. But this question is not about that. It is the question of providence: do the things that happen to us happen for the reasons, the purpose, the designs, the plan (Lichtenberg) of some god or gods or of God, or not? But if God does not play god and if nothing anthropological can be said about God and therefore nothing can be said about God, what are we asking?

The natural world is morally incomprehensible. And if one is a disciple of Socrates, or a disciple of Jesus, one does this without any more thought of a providential reward -- i.e. of things happening for a reason -- than simply for why Epictetus says: "Does it seem to you so small a thing, and worthless, to be a good human being." The life that is good for man, or belonging to the ethical kingdom of God, i.e. the proper excellence for man, is the life of thoroughgoing reason, or of reverence for what is holy, that is, love of God and of one's neighbor as oneself.


Remark: I wonder if this doesn't apply to "God, all-powerful, all-good" and the laws of physics. I wonder if it isn't the case that "When once your point of view is changed, the very thing which was so damning becomes a clue to the truth." Because, you see, once 'God' doesn't = 'God playing god with man's life', then the question of how, based on the test of experience, God can be both all-good and all-powerful, like all such pictures when once exposed for what it is, simply dissolves.

Well, we shall see about explaining it. When once your point of view is changed, the very thing which was so damning becomes a clue to the truth. (Conan Doyle, The Problem of Thor Bridge)

... has learned something in that schoolroom of sorrow where our earthly lessons are taught. (ibid.)

The schoolroom of sorrow and the schoolroom of I don't know what "can force this concept 'God' on us" (CV p. 86). But what is the second schoolroom? It does seem to me the schoolroom of reflection, and it is not so much that a path, well, a path is found, but the difficulty of finding the path is simply removing the obstacles that appear to block it. And that means the schoolroom of reflection, but it may be a schoolroom of reflection in which one sits a very long time.

'Faith in God' - What does it mean?

There are remarks about religious statements (Philosophy of Religion), and there are remarks that are religious statements (Norman Malcolm made this distinction). Which are these? And yet, all I am talking about are useful ways of looking at things, nothing more?

I often think: "Man must have faith in God, childlike faith." But that has nothing to do with believing that the outcome will be good, for the outcome very often is just the opposite of good. By 'faith in God' I do not mean belief in a God who plays god, for that is a very primitive picture of God. 'Faith in God' means that, although it is "outside our understanding" -- i.e. although we cannot even describe what it might be -- existence has a sense, which if we could but understand it we would be understanding of. Faith in God is not belief that the world has a sense that we understand, for it has no such sense. Faith in God, childlike faith, of the type I have described is irrational, or non-rational (if the word 'non-rational' has a different meaning from 'irrational' -- i.e. if there is any distinction to be made here); but it is not unreasonable, nor yet of course reasonable; it has nothing to do with reason: it is faith, and it is childlike. (Hope vs. nihilism.)

Faith in God, faith that existence has a sense, is the only way to be at peace with existence. It is the only path to the "peace that surpasses all understanding", and the quiet confidence needed to face and accept any situation, even when the situation has arisen out of one's poor judgment, out of one's own pretensions, out of one's own flaws of character, out of one's own delusions, self-deceptions, even then, to be at peace with existence.

"Belief in God" means living as if life has sense, that it is not all futile affliction of spirit, with the only reality being death, our constant companion through life, our shadow, the one which is always just over our shoulder, just one step behind us. It is faith -- not that one knows what the sense of life is -- but that life has sense. And that that sense is good, although one does not know in what way it is good.

"Language only has sense when it depicts"

Following my nose lead me to that thought. But I also find the following apropos of the TLP (According to Engelmann [v, 1], although the "mystical conclusions" of that work may appear to follow from its view of the logic of our language [Language only has sense when it depicts: "We make for ourselves pictures of the facts" (TLP 2.1, Engelmann p. 100) or we talk nonsense], the opposite might be said with more justification: that Wittgenstein's logic followed from his "fundamental mystical view of life and the world". If that is a correct account, then the following remark is a testament to "life can educate one to belief in God", just as my own is).

Now his "mystical conclusions" are these: "The sense of the world must lie outside the world" (6.41) (yet he does not doubt that there is such a sense...). (Engelmann, Memoir, v, 1, tr. Furtmüller)

Then belief that things will come right, no, not in the short term, not even in one's lifetime, nor need there be an afterlife, and not even in the long term? No, it cannot be that. It it trust that existence has a sense, that it is somehow good (although taken as a whole it is impossible to say how it might be good), and without this trust (Wittgenstein's remark: faith is trusting, superstition more akin to fear (CV p. 72) [A 'remark' is an 'observation'; but is Wittgenstein's remark here a grammatical remark or "an observation about the nature of things"? No, that question, for which I have set no criteria for an answer, is not clear to me either]) I know of no other way one can be at peace with existence.

On the other hand, maybe that is just the weariness of age speaking; toward the end of one's life one wants to be at peace with oneself, the world and reconciled with one's fellow man. And, no, I don't mean accept what is evil as if it were good, which one cannot do, but to accept that it does indeed "take many kinds to make a world". We are each the prisoner of his own thought-world, his limited understanding, and of all that is irrational in human psychology. Who but a fool would presume to judge another? (Here a remark by Franz Schubert which, I think, is apropos.)

It was Jesus who told us to call God "our Father". Even in the Synoptic Gospels, of course, the picture of God is sometimes quite primitive, a God of punishments and rewards, although not in "this world", subject to no natural law or man's laws of physics. The faith, childlike but not naive, the childlike faith and confidence of which I spoke is indeed faith in Jesus' God our Father. Jesus' picture, and not the primitive God, seems to me an apt picture what I am speaking of here.

Religious Counter-balance

Rewards and punishments. But at the Last Judgment one might be happy if God were to remember the few good things one has done, a character in Marshall reflects (Vespers in Vienna, or, The Red Danube, (1947), xii), to counter-balance all one's wrong-doing, on the scale of justice. But even in this world, there is the reward of belonging more and more to the kingdom of God if one lives according to Jesus' ethics of love, and contrariwise the punishment of belonging less to that kingdom when failing to love.

And was eternal punishment so much more incomprehensible than eternal scot free? (Bruce Marshall, The Divided Lady (1960), i, 17)

Which is easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven you", or to say, "Arise and walk"? (Luke 5.23)

The question here isn't so much why God would create men only to eternally damn them, but why God would create men at all. As I wrote before: "The that-ness of the world is no less perplexing than the how-ness of it."

Perhaps only incomprehensibility was comprehensible ... (Marshall, ibid. i, 23)

'God' and 'the sense of the world'

For me it seems that the word 'God' and the expression 'the sense of the world [existence]' are synonyms, but yet those words are not interchangeable: their grammars are distinct, because 'God' will have for many a more definite meaning than that, which is rather indefinite. (Is an unknown sense also an unknown God?)

Augustine: "Whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done." And that means that the answer to the question of why you did what you did should always be the same, namely: "Because that is what love told me to do."

[It is not enough to forgive others the harm they have done to you; you must also forgive yourself, both for the harm you have done to others and for the harm you have done to yourself. Refusing to forgive is a rejection of the spirit of Christ, a negation of the Lord's Prayer's "Thy kingdom come". The gospel of our Lord seems to say that you must love yourself, because you cannot love your neighbor as you love yourself if you do not love yourself. But on the other hand, if you forgive your neighbor, that is an act of love, of love according to Jesus' ethics of love, regardless of whether you forgive yourself or not.]

The frame around the story

"For me, the Incarnation, the Annunciation, the appearances after the Resurrection -- these are the frame around the Gospel story. And one might well reject the frame without rejecting the picture it frames. I don't mean "reject", but rather that one can find meaning in the picture without the frame that has been placed around it. As to the infancy and childhood pericopes, these too belong to the frame. But I keep Luke's stories about Bethlehem, because those speak to me, whereas the stories in Matthew do not." That is an example of a religious statement.

Three possible meanings of 'Christianity': (1) the frame around the picture, (2) the picture without the frame, (3) the picture held within the frame. (Meaning of the word 'Christianity')

"... the frame around the story": Certainly the Incarnation, Annunciation, Resurrection, are not events in natural history (but then neither are the miracles, and those belong to the story rather than the frame), and Schweitzer is looking for the historical Jesus -- i.e. the Jesus of natural history (Schweitzer "naturalizes" the miracles, casting them as psychological events, although that is only a way of looking at them, albeit a rational one [Comparison between a theory and a way of looking at things, in this case a thesis in historical research: An historical (i.e. historian's) hypothesis (thesis, explanation of events or ideas) must not create more problems than it solves; it must not raise more questions than it answers]) -- not the supernatural Jesus who is the object of worship of Catholic Christianity.

Religious statements (Further examples)

Query: it as though God judged me through my own mouth - Wittgenstein.

[A very strange remark that is [MS 175 56r: 15.3.1951]. For] I have never thought that my [own] voice was the voice of God. What did Wittgenstein mean by it, then? In his Notebooks 1914-1916, tr. Anscombe, for 8 July 1916 he wrote, "Certainly it is correct to say: Conscience is the voice of God."

Now, which is Wittgenstein's remark -- is it a statement about the interrelationship of the concepts 'conscience' and 'voice of God'? (That would not be the TLP's understanding of his remark) or is it a religious statement? Maybe what we could say is that even using the concept 'voice of God' in the way Wittgenstein does (RPP i § 213) is in itself a religious statement?

The following remarks are clear examples of religious statements, in contrast to e.g. remarks about Philosophy of Religion or hypotheses (suggested explanations of historical texts and events) in Critical Theology.

"The "war against Christmas", and indeed there is such a war, has, so far as I can see, been going on for two thousand years (an aspect of the war against Christianity), and yet here we are (and in any case, war or not, nothing that is said or done can diminish Jesus in the eyes of those whose lives he has touched, nor the insight into who Jesus is for us shown by the nativity story of Luke 2.1-20). And for some Christmas is a holy day, while for others merely a holiday. But which is better, that Christmas be celebrated even in a debased form -- or that it not be celebrated at all? Schweitzer wrote in a letter from Lambaréné in 1926 that "Something of the spirit of Jesus is always to be found in any true work of love ..." And I think that is what matters, that the spirit of Jesus, which is the ethic of love, remains with us. If Christmas can bring families together beside a Christmas tree, then Jesus' love continues to shine in the darkness. And the Lord's work is done.

"Whatever is not done as an act of love is not done as it should be done," Augustine wrote. Whether the spirit of love is there -- that is the only measure of the thing's importance.

The relationship between God and the Good

But if God does not play god (i.e. if we reject that primitive picture belonging, I would say, to the childhood of man, as much or more instinct than reflection, which asks who rather than what causes events), if the gods are not mindful of us (in any knowable way, and Xenophon does not claim that it is knowable), then what does it all mean? What does human suffering and human foolishness (ignorance), what does it mean? "For the truth is graver than this fiction" (CV p. 71), the fiction of Providence, I would say. Why do human beings believe in God? Because they long to believe that existence has meaning. And that is faith. (And this has death as its background -- as if death were the goal of life, or maybe rather, an essential part of life's sense.)

All that is indeed a "a dubious [murky] background". But it does not touch ethics. The good, which is knowable by the tests of reason and experience (as in the life of Socrates), remains, regardless of God or gods. The good remains and directs the way we live. Regardless of the "background", regardless of whether this fundamental mystery in which we exist is a source of joy or of despair. (Is the Good "the sense of life"? That I would not say, for I cannot imagine what we might mean by it. The good belongs to life's sense, but it is not life's sense.)

As far as one's attitude to life (Stoicism) what remains except to be happy if things go well and simply to accept it when things don't go well. Augustine may well call that the counsel of despair, but it's what remains to us. In any case, the good man lives to do what is good -- that is, the good man lives for the Good, and despite "the riddle of existence", despite that mystery, it is enough for him.

Theological Fragments

Note: the following discussion is in part only preliminary to the later discussion "Can a goat understand man's thoughts, or a man the ways of God?". I may well have reached the limit of my own religious depth by now.

And so I think that according to the three synoptic Gospels, the only quasi-historical source, I read, we have for Jesus' life and ministry, "you cannot be a Christian by halves" -- i.e. You cannot have one foot in this world and the other in the kingdom of God. You must choose one or the other, and to choose the vices of this world is to choose against the kingdom of God. That is the meaning of much of Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" (The other great theme is God's forgiveness of our sins or wrong-doing, for which, according to the Lord's Prayer, there is only one condition, namely, that we have forgiven those who have wronged us).

What I believe

The kingdom of God does not belong to a race or nation or to a religion but to those, and only to those, who do God's will, which is to love God, who is all that is good and true, with your whole heart, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. That is the great religious insight of Jesus, all the greater for being a break with tradition. That is Christ's wisdom, as I understand it (All the rest is theological speculation).

That is what I believe, when I believe anything.

Difficult as it is not to love the vices of this world if the end of "this world and all it loves" is fast approaching -- but if the coming of God's kingdom lies in the future indefinite or not at all, then Tolstoy saw many questions about which way of life leads man, not into greater virtue -- but instead into lesser sinfulness.

I have not read any of Bertrand Russell's "shilling shockers". I know only the title of one essay, namely Why I am not a Christian. Why am I not a Christian? Is it because I don't believe "the things Catholics believe" (Malcolm, Memoir p. 60), the things are obligated to believe because Catholicism is a community of beliefs rather than a community of people? Don't -- or can't? Is it my choice to say that "I am not a religious man" (Recollections p. 79)? Wittgenstein: "Life can educate one to belief in God" (CV p. 86), but that doesn't mean that it necessarily will. Nevertheless, that is not why.

"Why I am not a Christian" (Other thoughts)

One can be Christian at times without being a Christian. And this is not nothing, but it is not enough.

"... it takes more courage to preach Christianity to Christians than to the heathen." (Marshall, Girl in May (1956), ii)

I am not a Christian, because although I desire the kingdom of God to come (and sometimes help it along), I still stand with one foot firmly in "this world and all its loves" (Of course that expression means "all that worldliness loves", not things that are good, beautiful and true in this world, for there are such things here too), chaste in body but not in mind, ascetic in act but greedy in heart, preferring repose to setting selfishness aside to love my neighbor as myself (as the Lord tells us to do in the Gospel), abstaining from alcohol but only for the sake of studying philosophy, but wishing to drink heavily if thinking becomes impossible.

My heart is divided, and the kingdom of God belongs to those whose hearts are not divided but belong entirely to the kingdom of God. And it is because of this that I am not a Christian, and it is because of this that the disciples said to Jesus, "But if this so, who can be saved?" and Jesus answered, "For man alone it is impossible, but for God all things are possible." God's mercy is infinite; when Jesus taught us to call God the father who loves us, he taught us not to be afraid of God but to trust in the father's mercy, Pope Francis has said.

The brutality of indifference

"Of course, it's silly to feel lonely. But when you see all the crowd that pass you in the streets and look through you as though you were a bit of air ... And when you think of all the crowds that have died and all the crowds that have yet to live. It makes you feel lonely, doesn't it, and it makes you wonder that the few people you know aren't kinder and more sympathetic to you." (Marshall, The Little Friend (1928), xvii, 5)

And that you aren't kinder and more sympathetic to them. The brutality of the indifference of strangers to one another, the absence of sympathetic interest, the fear of showing sympathetic interest. The brutality of our life. A French saint told her sister, "In Heaven we shall not meet with indifferent glances."

Because one doesn't love. Because one doesn't want to love. And that is why one is not a Christian.

Is it a choice one makes?

It may be that I am a student of philosophy, but is that because I simply choose to be -- or because I have never been able to say that I do not feel "surrounded by vagueness and confusion"? If I hold fast to reason, and say that there is no place in my life where I am willing to say: Here I do not use reason -- is it not through hope that things will become clearer to me? And with respect to Logic (of language) and Metaphysics, many things have -- but with respect to Ethics (the third part of Philosophy, according to Stoicism's categories), I continue in so many ways to live without thinking things all the way through -- that is, in a way that is contrary to the excellence that is proper to man, because it is contrary to the use of thoroughgoing reason as the guide to how man should live his life. Socratic ethics has made some particulars clear to me; it has changed the way I live in many respects ... But there is so much about my life that is directed by inertia rather than by anything much in the way of thought.

"A map to which no territory corresponds" as a travel guide -- is that how it is with me? Because I do not seem to be the microcosm -- not at all: my experience of life has shown me countless times that any "cultural map" (or, rules for navigating one's way through the community one lives in) based on myself alone is fatally flawed. And so, "It is not enough to Know thyself -- One must also know the world of worldly men." So I thought to myself last evening, but then I had another thought: I am now an old man, and maybe it is wiser for me remain as I am, one who "shelters behind a wall like a traveler in a storm" (Republic 6.496c-d), and not fash myself about a world I neither want nor seem able to live in.

The difficulty is that one cannot serve both those masters, both losing one's life and saving one's life in this world (Matthew 16.25-26), because one cannot walk in contrary directions at the same time. It is only when the two paths that one must walk to serve these masters coincide that one can be a good servant to both.

But then I have another thought: is it only possible for a poor man to be a good man, as in "Blessed are the poor" (Luke 6.20)?

Tolstoy's What Men Live By. The cobbler Simon in that story is a poor man, as Socrates was a poor man. When you are poor you may be one or the other of two types: (1) you may fear that even the little you have will be taken away from you, and therefore be unwilling to share what you have with those in even greater need than yourself, or, (2) you may be as Simon was: having little to lose, he did not fear sharing that little with the man whose poverty was even greater than his own. The first type serves the master money, the second the master God. And indeed Socrates was a poor man, but nonetheless, the story is told that he accepted a wife without a dowry [Diog. L. ii, 26], and my view is that in doing this he did not hesitate to share even the little he had with another in need. The good man is the good man wherever he is found, for various thought-worlds lead to the good. (Socrates said to Aeschines that the most valuable possession a man has is his own soul (ibid. ii, 34). And being a servant to Caesar does harm to that soul, which must be a servant of God alone. Riches draw one away from God -- indeed, cut one off from God.)

Am I wrong to say that Christianity, that being a disciple of Jesus, requires taking a vowel of poverty, indeed of making yourself poor, because whatever you have that you do not need belongs to those who are poorer than you are. What does the John the Baptizer say about cloaks and food (Luke 3.10-11).

And homeless near a thousand homes I stood, And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food. (Wordsworth, from his poem "Guilt and Sorrow", a poem I do not know, but I do think that is the condition of the poor)

Being a disciple of Jesus, as I understand it, has nothing to do with mythology, with a world-picture we neither share nor can share (not if the word 'imminent' is to have any meaning in our language), with "belief in" the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption and so on. It is not dogma; it is the ethic of love that wants to live as if it were building the kingdom of God; it is a way of life guided by that picture. (I wonder if the reason Wittgenstein liked Tolstoy's story The Three Hermits, who could only pray "You are three, we are three, have mercy on us", best is that it seems to say that saintliness is not about doctrine.) Question, however: But is the way of love the excellence proper to man? What does love require? What is it to "love God with one's whole soul and one's neighbor as oneself"? Is that different from the way of life of Plato's good man, who harms neither his friends nor his enemies, but does good to both? (Is Schweitzer's Reverence for Life only a restatement of this? Like the ethic of love and of the good man, it is only a general principle; the particulars are something you have to work out for yourself, case by case, in the unhappy context of "life at war with itself", and in that war are included human vice and virtue.)

But is the way of the Christian to be a "man for others", because, surely, that way of life would be a case of "For man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible"! For who then would not be too selfish, too self-centered, to be an outpost of the kingdom of God. That is the path to Calvary, a path that cannot be taken by halves, going forward but simultaneously drawing back, the path that Jesus took. How many others have taken it (Even Schweitzer did not go that far)? Surely only a handful. If that is what a Christian must be, then someone would indeed have to change his entire way of life to become one.

And what I have just said is a frightening thing to say, if, that is, that is what a good man is. It is disturbing, but it does force you to see yourself as you are, force me to see myself as I am. But that is not a sustainable thought. It is like being astonished that anything exists. Only under quite rare circumstances is one penetrated by this thought, and to speak about such things from the surface of one's life is a form of giving mouth honor that is worse than worthless, i.e. it does actual harmful.

And when we think about life, it is indeed in "Temples dedicated to Truth, which no man knows ..." (Chateaubriand's words about what the French Republic constructed). What is to be said then but that of course Apollo's oracle was correct: no man is wiser than Socrates (because no man is wise) -- but that is not the end of it, for the philosopher. "As for me, I will never give up until I find it" (Euthyphro 15c).


The soulless and the quick

... didn't like meeting strangers, because it always seemed to take a long time to get to know them and then there was generally nothing to know. (Bruce Marshall, Vespers in Vienna (1947), ii)

What are we looking for? What do we mean by "there is nothing to know"? This is different from the question of why we like or dislike someone, which may be for reasons or it may be irrational.

Are we talking about the absence of depth -- as when we read a story, waiting for it to go somewhere only to finally realize that it isn't going anywhere: that the story, such as it is, was told in the first few pages? We wait for some development, some depth to be revealed, until we realize that there is nothing to develop: This is what this person is, and that is all they ever will be. This person is "very limited", a very limited creature.

What do we mean by "deep"? Quick to the "eternal questions" (Wittgenstein: the eternal muddles)? appreciative of "a true adagio"? How do we distinguish between the "the quick and the dead"? if that's the distinction we are making.

"There is no depth to that person; that person hasn't a thought in his head that wasn't put there by someone else, and he hasn't even many of those. That person is fully developed: he will never develop any further than he already has. He really is what he appears to be."

Is it difficult to imagine such people -- (of course "such people" is other people, certainly never oneself) -- as having immortal souls? Not in the least difficult. But it can be hard to see those souls in their mortal bodies.

Nature or circumstances of life?

Can anyone be shallow by choice? or is everyone who is shallow, shallow by choice? "I'm not good with difficult ideas." Depth of intellect in contrast to depth of feeling. Shallowness of life (thoughtless conformity, acting and thinking as everyone else does) may be engendered by a "community of ideas" and outward conformity can be forced on a community --

-- but can it also be forced on someone's inner life, or will it always be a case of "false heart must hide what the false heart doth know"? That is the question George Orwell asked: whether shallowness can be forced on someone by the absence of language with which to think ideas contrary to the community's. For, but on the other had, is a propositional language in which there is no negation sign possible (possible = described)?


Random Grammar Remarks

Query: what does knowledge is a virtue mean?

If 'knowledge' = 'wisdom', then yes, knowledge is a virtue, one of the five cardinal virtues of Greece (according to Guthrie). But the list is strange: {courage, temperance, justice, piety, wisdom}, is it not? But I think this is because of the unclear meaning of the word 'virtue' here; because if 'virtue' = 'excellence proper to [e.g.] man', then the list does not strike us as strange ... unless by 'virtue' is here is meant 'moral virtue'?

Is what makes the concept 'wisdom' different from the other four concepts that the other four involve doing (or forbearing to do) something whereas 'wisdom' does not (as opposed e.g. to the concept 'seeking wisdom')? But what do we normally mean by the word 'virtue'? We don't normally mean anything -- because 'virtue' is not a word we normally use nowadays.

"Quote question everything"

Query: the fallacy of the artisans.
Query: conceited ignorance.

Would the motto "Question everything!" be any more wise or more foolish if you yourself rather than Socrates [Plato, Apology 37e-38a] had said it? And if some otherwise foolish fellow had once upon a time commanded "Question everything!" would that in itself make questioning everything something foolish to do? The command has to stand or fall on its own (for there is no authority in philosophy).

"What is the source of the quotation?" -- Why? Is it that you are you seeking -- an authorization to question all authority? "Question everything? -- But what if that's not allowed and you get in trouble for doing it"? No, that surely would not be the reason. Then is it to lend the weight of authority to the motto -- as if putting words into a philosopher's mouth could make those words any wiser or foolish than they would be if a philosopher had not said them? -- But that cannot be done in philosophy.

I sometimes come across propositions from the TLP quoted in the press, e.g. "What can be put into words can be put clearly" and "The limits of my language are the limits of my world". But given that those propositions are invariably divorced from the context in which Wittgenstein wrote them, why prefix them with "As Wittgenstein said ..."? Because, no, that is not what he said; you have merely invented your own meanings for his propositions -- meanings that for him they did not have. ("Same sign, different grammars")

If I, Robert, invented the expression "the Fallacy of the Artisans" (Apology 22d-e) -- i.e. presuming that because you know one thing, you also know other things that you do not know -- or contrasted "Socratic ignorance" (i.e. knowing the difference between what you know and what you don't know [ibid. 21d]) with "conceited ignorance" (i.e. thinking you know what you do not know [Sophist 229c]), does my not being an authority, a professor, or far better: a scholar, make those titles any less apt as a warning or a characterization?

"And so Socrates was a little better off than the men he questioned, because although he was not wise, he also did not think that he was wise" (that is, he did not think he knew what he did not know); whereas the men he questioned, although they were not wise, thought that they were wise (i.e. they thought they knew what they did not know). Socrates only suffered from ignorance; they suffered from presumption. And so a synonym for "conceited ignorance" would be "presumptuous ignorance", because it is presumptuous to think you know what you do not know; it is to presume upon the truth. (Socrates, from the point of view of Logic of Language, was very modest in saying only "a little better off", because distinguishing what one knows from what one does not know is the beginning of philosophy. Presumption (conceit) is its opposite.)

Query: fallacy of ignorance; Socrates.

For clarity, I would make these three distinctions: "Fallacy of the Artisans", "Fallacy of the Politicians [Statesmen]" (who claim to know, but don't), and "Fallacy of the Poets" (who by their words appear to know, but don't). But these collectively might be called "The" -- or at least three of the -- "Fallacies of Ignorance". (The Fallacy of the Poets is not clear to me. I believe Plato means that although the poets' words often appear to be wise -- and after being put the tests of reason and experience, often may be shown to be wise -- the poets themselves are unable to defend their own words against refutation. But of course I may well be wrong.)

Query: Socrates thought it was better to possess some knowledge with some ignorance than to possess no knowledge yet possess no ignorance.

What the artisans thought they knew (but did not) was how man should live his life -- and Socrates thought it better to be ignorant about the arts than to know a trade but also think one knows what is most important (namely, how to live) when one does not -- i.e. it was a particular kind of ignorance that Socrates thought it best not to have: the ignorance of fancying you know how to live even though you do not. ("For no one seeks to find what he believes he already has" (Meno 84c); the artisans Socrates questioned thought they were already wise and, therefore, they did not seek wisdom.)

Query: is it natural to start questioning everything in life?

And what would you mean by the word 'unnatural'? "The philosopher is not a member of any community of ideas. That is what makes him into a philosopher" (Z § 455). Once you dare to step away from that community to seriously ask yourself what the good is for man, you become ... a man rather than a child.

Beginning to ask fundamental questions about life often, but not always, happens when a human being emerges from childhood: According to Albert Schweitzer it belongs to man's very nature to create each for himself a world-view. Or is the nature of man (the way of life proper to the human being) to remain an eternal child? Is obedience a manly virtue? Is it part of the excellence that is proper to man? (When is obeying authority not a vice?)

According to Socrates in Plato's Apology (37e-38a), we should be constantly questioning whether we are living in the way that is the good for man and for ourselves as individual human beings -- or, as the query has it, "questioning everything in life".

Knowledge is not Plausibility

Remarks: Plausibility should not be confused with knowledge. An analogy which we find plausible, e.g. at Schweitzer's hospital the young goats (kids) used to slide down a corrugated tin roof to the ground over and over again, as if they were young children sliding down a sliding board over and over again; and if a child did this, we would not say it did this for any benefit to itself, but simply because it enjoyed doing it; and we may find it plausible to say the same about the goats, that they enjoyed sliding down the roof: Why did the goats slide down the roof again and again? We say: because they enjoyed doing it, "just like" a small child enjoys sliding down a sliding board again and again.

But that is no more than an analogy; it is not knowledge; it is an account that we find plausible, one that we are inclined to make. Whatever we say about the motivation of animals is made by comparison of animal behavior to human behavior; but a comparison is an analogy, and an analogy is not knowledge.

For what do we know about a goat's soul, or can you say: if you see the goat's behavior you see its soul (cf. PI § 357)? What are we calling a goat's 'soul' -- i.e. don't we use that form of expression by analogy to man (ibid. § 360), using our human life form's concept 'thinking'? But then we are noting no more than resemblances.

We do not say that possibly a dog talks to itself. Is that because we are so minutely acquainted with its soul?

Well, one might say this: If one sees the behavior of a living thing, one sees its soul. (PI § 357; cf. ibid. II, iv, p. 178: "The human body is the best picture of the human soul.")

But that is a grammatical remark. It is Wittgenstein's decision about how to apply the word 'soul' to non-human life (because we do not normally use the word 'soul' when talking about animals and plants).

Remarks: If there ever was a word that is opaque, it is the word 'intuitive'. If there ever was a word that is noise, pure noise, it is the word 'intuitive'. (Philosophy wants clarity of language, not opacity of language, for the latter is mere self-mystification, the very thing that philosophy wants to be rid of.)


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