Home - Wittgenstein's Logic of Language | Bibliography | Site Search | Site Map

How is language with meaning distinguished from language without meaning? That subject is called logic of language' in my jargon, and it is the foundation of all my thinking in philosophy, that and the Socratic standard for knowing in philosophy.

Passeri ("sparrows")

What is civilisation? I don't know. I can't define it in abstract terms ... But I think I can recognize it when I see it ... (Kenneth Clark, Civilisation: a personal view (1969), p. 1)

"Trying to say what we mean"

Note, however, that we are defining the word 'civilization' not the phenomenon civilization ("what civilization is") when we say or try to say "what we mean by civilization". As with other words that are not names of objects, we are not trying to lasso a nebulosity ("abstract object"), but to clarify our own thinking = clarify our concepts. Concepts define phenomena, not phenomena concepts.

Outline of this page ...


Head of the statue of the Apollo of the Belvedere, Vatican, in Clarke, 'Civilisation', page 2, 50 KB
The head of the statue of the Apollo of the Belvedere, Vatican

The Classical Greek imagination

... for four hundred years after it was discovered the Apollo was the most admired piece of sculpture in the world.

To the Hellenistic imagination [the god Apollo represents a world] of light and confidence, in which the gods are like ourselves, only more beautiful, and descend to earth in order to teach men reason and the laws of harmony. (Clark, p. 2)

An Ideal of Perfection

... the contrast between the images [of Apollo and the African mask Clark contrasts with the Apollo] means something. (Clark, p. 2-3)

It means that at certain epochs man has felt conscious of something about himself -- body and spirit -- which was outside the day-to-day struggle for existence and the night-to-night struggle with fear; and he has felt the need to develop these qualities of thought and feeling so that they might approach as nearly as possible to an ideal of perfection -- reason, justice, physical beauty, all of them in equilibrium.

He has managed to satisfy this need in various ways -- through myths, through dance and song, through the systems of philosophy and through the order that he has imposed on the visible world. The children of his imagination are also the expressions of an ideal. (Clark, p. 3)

Pont du Gard, Provence, France, in Clark, 'Civilisation', page 5, 30 KB

The way in which the stones of the Pont du Gard [the aqueduct not far from Nimes] are laid is not only a triumph of technical skill, but shows a vigorous belief in law and discipline. (Clark, p. 3-4)

Europe's Classical inheritance

Western Europe inherited such an ideal. It had been invented by Greece in the fifth century before Christ and was without doubt the most extraordinary creation in the whole of history, so complete, so convincing, so satisfying to the mind and eye, that it lasted practically unchanged for over six hundred years. (Clark, p. 3)

The Primitive imagination

... I don't think that there is any doubt that the [statue of the Greek god] Apollo embodies a higher state of civilisation than
Mask, Sang tribe, Gabon, West Africa, in Clarke, 'Civilisation', page 2, 10 KB
the mask [made by the Sang tribe, Gabon, West Equatorial Africa]. They both represent spirits, messengers from another world -- that is to say, from a world of our own imagining. To the Negro imagination it is the world of fear and darkness, ready to inflict horrible punishment for the smallest infringement of a taboo. [Clark is contrasting the primitive African imagination as represented by the Gabonese mask with the Classical Greek imagination as represented by the Apollo of the Belvedere.] (Clark, p. 2)

The collapse of civilization

So if one asks why the civilisation of Greece and Rome collapsed, the real answer is that it was exhausted. It shows that however complex and solid it seems, [civilization] is actually quite fragile. It can be destroyed. [Civilization] requires confidence -- confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one's own mental powers. (Clark, p. 3-4)


The kind of definition is the kind of language game

What is civilisation? I don't know. I can't define it in abstract terms -- yet. But I think I can recognize it when I see it.

But there is no "yet" about this. Not all words are defined by verbal formulas, much less by statements of what the essence of something is. For example, the word 'cat' is not. Rather, the kind of definition is the kind of "language game" -- i.e. word kind -- which here are 'common-name of object' ('cat') and 'name of phenomenon' ('civilization').

Cf. "For the question here is not one of an approximation to logical inference. The kind of certainty is the kind of language game." (PI § 481, II, xi, p. 224)

If you can point to examples of civilization and some of the qualities of civilization found in those examples (as e.g. order, harmony, permanence, confidence in a way of thinking and of life) and contrast civilization with examples of barbarism -- as e.g. what the iconoclasts [image-breakers] did to the Lady Chapel at Ely, smashing everything from stained glass windows to wood carvings -- then you are able to define the word 'civilization' as we normally use that word. And then you do "know what civilization is", because that is what we call 'definition' in the grammar of words of the kind 'name of phenomena'.

"I can't define the word 'cat', but I know a cat when I see one." Are people talking nonsense when they say that?

Cf. "And do I know any more about it myself -- is it only other people I cannot tell [what a cat is]?" (PI § 69)


Site copyright © September 1998. Please send corrections and criticism of this page to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 22 July 2020 : 2020-07-22

The URL of this Web page:
https://www.roangelo.net/logwitt/sparrows.html

Back to top of page

Wittgenstein's Logic of Language - Introduction and Table of Contents | Bibliography | Site Search | Site Map