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Strange Grammars

Plato's dialog the Statesman and the definitions of "things that have an outward image of themselves visible to man" versus the definitions of "the greatest and highest truths", which have none.

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Context: the notes on this page are set against the background of the philosophy of logic of language (Subject: the distinction between meaning and nonsense in the discussion of philosophical problems), and they may not be understood without first understanding that background.


The excellence that is proper to man (Goodness, Beauty)

Where I use the expression "the excellence that is (1) proper and (2) unique to man", a synonym for 'excellence' might be 'outstandingness', because it suggests both excellence and uniqueness, I think.

The word 'outstanding' suggests something that stands out or above other things in its excellence -- or infamy? I don't think we call instances of extreme viciousness ('vice' being the antithesis, i.e. grammatical opposite, of 'virtue') outstanding, do we? Thus the form of expression: 'outstanding (most excellent)'.

But should "and (2) unique to man" be part of the standard -- i.e. does the good way of life for man not include many of the qualities he shares with animals, e.g. sight and hearing, alertness, and so on? But are any of those qualities essential to the good way of life for man? What is unique to man is (a) reason, and (b) ethics -- i.e. the moral excellences (virtues). Without those qualities, of which (b, ethics) is a consequence of (a, reason), man would not be man. But does it follow that those qualities are the good for man?

If the good for man is to live in accord with the excellence that is proper to man, and if what defines man as man is what is proper to him, then are not reason and ethics and creativity the excellences that are proper to him -- or shall we say that reason and ethics are vices rather than virtues? (This may be all grammar, all tautological, but that does not mean that it easy to see what needs to be said here.)

Of course, some religious thinkers have said just that, that reason and ethics are vices, that the good for man is to silence reason, to obediently (i.e. unquestioningly) obey God's laws (legislation). And if irrationality is the good for man, then they may be right -- but only if they can rationally -- i.e. in philosophical dialectic which is thoroughgoing reasoning -- demonstrate that the good for man is irrationality. But if the good for man is to silence reason, that project is not possible for them.

(Note that a rejection may be either rational (with reasons) or irrational (i.e. without reasons), but only the first kind is philosophical.)

Although we can dispute philosophically (i.e. question and cross-question) what the excellence that is proper to man is, can we dispute that the good for man is the excellence that is proper to him? Well, why not. But saying that it is possible to dispute that is not the same as saying that I see a way to dispute it, only that I do not see a way to show that it cannot (logically -- i.e. that ~p is nonsense rather than true or false) be disputed; and therefore I presume it to be possible rather than impossible.

What we cannot dispute is the truth or falsity of a "rule of grammar", because a rule is neither true nor false -- but is the proposition 'The good for man is the excellence that is proper to man' a rule of grammar? 'The ethical excellence that is proper to man is the good way of life for man' is however a rule of grammar, because: 'ethical' = 'good way of life'. What can be disputed is whether ethics or something else is the excellence that is proper to man.

It is not necessary, however, to deny that "The good for man is the excellence that is proper to man, whatever that excellence may be" -- rather than simply reject (ignore) the way of looking at things of Socratic ethics -- of that one particular rational exploration of good and evil, of right and wrong conduct -- if, that is, Socratic ethics is merely a way of looking at things. -- Is it?

Is Socratic ethics a way of looking at things? What am I asking? In other contexts where I have used the expression 'ways of looking at things', I have contrasted systems of thought that can equally well account for all the facts at hand, as e.g. different models of the events in the night sky can reportedly account for everything observed, or different ways of "interpretation of dreams" that can be applied to any and all dreams, if one sets the criteria broadly enough. But in the case of Socratic ethics, first, can you say that it is a philosophical way of looking at how man should live every aspect of his life -- and therefore that is not falsifiable (and therefore not verifiable either)? It seems so. But if that is so, then mustn't there be alternative philosophical ways of looking at how man should live -- that is, ways that are also a thoroughgoing use of reason (If they were not, then they would not be philosophical)?

If I point and say, "Ah, look, a sparrow" -- is that a way of looking at things? That is, can we say in this context that someone might or might not use the concept 'sparrow' -- and that not to use that concept is an alternative way of looking that things? (Someone who does not use concepts such as 'sparrow', 'mockingbird', 'barn swallow', and so on, lives in a different world from someone who does. Concepts and percepts in the context of Gestalt shift.)

I want to say, "Either you do or do not use a particular concept. There needn't be another possibility."

Comparably, could you say that there is no philosophical alternative -- you either use Socratic ethics as the guide to how man should live or you don't? But not as if a philosophical alternative were logically impossible. As to what reason shows to be the way we should live our life, perhaps in that context you can say that there would be various ways of looking at things, not all of which, if any of which, would be philosophy, that is, a use of thoroughgoing reason.

The concept 'value' is foreign to Socrates' way of thinking -- and so if a project, say "the reevaluation of all values", can be rationally undertaken, then that might be a philosophical alternative to Socratic ethics.

The concept 'value' was indeed the foundation of Wittgenstein's ethics, but according to himself that project will not identify what the good is for man. It can only say, "If such-and-such thing or outcome is the good for man, then such-and-such deeds should be done to obtain it", but whether that such-and-such is the good for man, it cannot determine. Which is a trouble with that way of looking at ethics, that it ends in skepticism and men becoming angry and falling out with one another, to conflict and war. And I do not think that is an alternative ethics, not if ethics' task is to discover how man should live his life. (I don't know if this is why Wittgenstein did not classify ethics as part of philosophy. Wittgenstein's account of ethics is no more useful than Aristotle's account, however, not if ethics is in any way a practical guide to how to amend one's life to become a better human being.)

To ask what "a beautiful way of life" (Hipp. maj. 304d) is for man is the same as to ask what the good way of life is for man. But Plato argues (ibid. 303e-304a) that the beautiful cannot be the good (beauty ≠ goodness) unless it is identical to the good (beauty = goodness). Yet in so many ways the Greek concepts kalon ("beauty") and agathon ("goodness") overlap (as in a Venn diagram) that they are, if not identical in all ways, identical in many ways, that in many cases the Greek words kalos and agathos could be used interchangeably.

If the good for man is not the excellence that is proper to him, then what would it be -- the life that is not in accord with that excellence? ("If the reasonable man says that, what does the unreasonable man say!" etc.)

"How can a rule of grammar tell man how to live his life?"

In this respect Plato's tautologies in ethics seem to be in a singular position, because if the propositions of ethics are like the rules for the movement of chess pieces in chess -- i.e. if they are rules of grammar -- then it appears that the wisdom of today is eternal, i.e. not subject to refutation. (Which is contrary to the characterization of the conclusions of dialectic as "assumptions" in Plato's Protagoras 360e).

But at the same time, those propositions of ethics tell us how man should live his life -- which seems to suggest that they can be mistaken (for perhaps man should live some other way), but how can the proposition 'The good man harms no one; doing harm, e.g. to one's enemies, is what the evil man does' be falsified, when its contradiction destroys the antithetical relation of 'good' and 'evil', rendering both words meaningless?

What is the "grammar" of the proposition 'The good for man is to live in accord with the excellence that is proper to man'? Surely that proposition is not a rule of grammar, for what would it be a definition -- i.e. an explanation of the meaning -- of? But if that is not its grammar (or, use in our language), then what is its use? If by 'moral precept' is meant a command, then it is not a moral precept. The inscription "Know thyself!" inside Apollo's temple at Delphi is an example of a precept, as is Epictetus' proposition "What you shun enduring yourself, attempt not to impose on others" (tr. Crossley).

"If man realizes in himself the excellence that is proper to man, then he lives the life that is the good for man." How do you know (verify or falsify that proposition)? Is this proposition false: "The good for man is to act contrarily to the standard set by the excellence that is proper to man"? That must be put to the test of dialectic, to be agreed to or refuted. (Philosophy is a "discourse of reason".) Although, if by 'excellence' we mean solely 'moral virtue', then the contrary proposition is a self-contradiction, because moral virtue = good, i.e. "The good for man is the good for man".

Ramsey: "... then we must pay attention to our nonsense, and not pretend ..." Here: Then we must pay attention to our language, and not pretend that these particular questions about ethics are simply silly logic questions. There is nothing silly about the distinction between sense and nonsense -- a distinction without which discourse of reason is impossible, and that is why that distinction is philosophy's first question.

For me this is a very perplexing topic. For another example: 'The wise man is the man who knows how man should live his life' -- is that a definition of the words 'wise man'? or is it a true or false proposition? Can we define the word 'wise man' without saying what the wise man does or does not do or think, etc.? (What is the grammar of 'wise'? Has it a general definition?) Cf. also 'the good man'. And so this is perplexing grammatically, if our concern is to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense in philosophy. Before I said that a proposition cannot have less than three values, namely, true, false, or nonsense. But there are more possibilities: a proposition may be a tautology, self-contradiction, or a definition (rule of grammar).

The Wise and the Foolish Man tautologies

Query: a man who knows what he knows and what he doesn't know is a wise man; a man who does not know what he knows and what he doesn't know is a foolish man.

Is that a definition of the words 'wise' and 'foolish'? That those words are antitheses belongs to grammar; but does the query's proposition belong to grammar -- i.e. to an explanation of meaning (i.e. a description of use, or, a definition)? Compare Xenophon's 'are misled themselves and mislead others' -- Is that a definition of 'those who think they know what they don't know' or a true/false proposition about those who think they know what they do not know?

But can Xenophon's proposition be false? That is, is the negation of that proposition foolishness -- or is it nonsense? 'Those who think they know what they do not know are not themselves misled and do not mislead those who follow them' -- as e.g.? Here "I can't imagine the opposite" -- i.e. give examples of ignorance not misleading ≠ "I can't imagine the thing itself", because we can give countless examples of ignorance misleading.

But are you are going to say that 'Ignorance misleads' is a proposition that cannot be significantly negated (i.e. that its negation 'Ignorance does not mislead' is an undefined combination of words)? If it is a tautology, though, it has to be one "by definition", and is the grammar of the word 'mislead' essentially connected to the grammar of 'ignorance'? It doesn't seem that it is; certainly you would not find the word 'ignorance' being used to define 'mislead' in a general definition of that word.

On the other hand, what else causes someone to be misled if not "conceited ignorance" -- i.e. thinking one knows what one does not know -- often ignorance of the artisans' kind (Apology 22d-e)? But there does seem to be a difference in the meaning of the words 'mislead' and 'things that mislead'. But what other than ignorance misleads? Well, nothing. All examples of "things that mislead" are examples of ignorance; the proposition 'If man is misled he is misled by ignorance' and 'Man is not misled by knowledge, but by ignorance' are rules of grammar.

We can describe circumstances where the presumption that one knows what one does not know does not lead to misadventure -- however, is that because ignorance does not mislead or is the avoidance of misadventure an accident, a gift of nature, so to speak? That is a grammatical question. And the answer seems to be that 'Ignorance does not mislead' is nonsense. 'The man was misled, but he did not come to harm through it' and 'The man did not know what he thought he knew, but he did not come to harm through it' -- neither of those propositions implies that the man was not misled. There is no grammatical rule 'If you are misled, you come to harm', only that 'If you presume to know what you don't know, then you are misled' -- not as a matter of fact, but as a matter of grammar.

Is there is some equivocation with the word 'mislead' that I am not seeing here? 'Ignorance does not not-mislead, but not everyone who is misled comes to harm.' On the one hand, 'misled' = 'being ignorant', and on the other hand, 'misled' = 'coming to harm'.

Statements of fact versus statements of, maybe, advice. What is the grammar of 'If you think you know what you do not know, you will be misled -- because it is either knowledge or the false belief that one knows that leads man'? Is that proposition a precept? Does it state an hypothesis? The reason this is not clear -- equivocation with the word 'mislead': rule of grammar versus statement of fact.

"... themselves misled" -- how misled? "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?" (Luke 6.39) "If a man thinks he knows what he does not know, is he not himself misled and does he not mislead others?" Both questions are rhetorical. But how? "Yes, life is that way" or "Yes, that is true" or "Yes, that much is obvious"? (But if it's obvious -- then why do we fall again and again into the pit of doing just that -- i.e. of thinking we know what we don't know, and thus being misled ourselves and misleading others!)


Plato and Definition

PLATO [ghost]: Nouns are names, and the meaning of a name is the thing the name stands for.

THEAETETUS [ghost]: What is this thing, then?

PLATO [ghost]: An object or phenomenon, whether visible or invisible.

That is Plato's picture of how language works, that even what are called "abstract ideas" -- [Note that Plato does not "think in those terms" (that vocabulary is not his): for him there are only visible and invisible things, the existence of which is not dependent on their being thought by man, as "abstract ideas" -- i.e. non-name nouns -- certainly seem to be] -- are entities or existents or realities -- i.e. things (objects or phenomena) that have a real, although invisible, existence (See e.g. Plato's Protagoras 330b-e and Greater Hippias 287c-d). The "things" justice and holiness, for example, would exist even if man had never existed.

But Plato was not our earliest explorer in logic of language. If we look earlier, to the "logic" of Socrates (his definitions are logoi), then according to Aristotle (Metaphysics 1078a), we do not find Plato's reification of invisible things. And therefore other possible accounts of the logic of our language were and are possible -- but only if the need for such accounts strikes us!

But that most men (Statesman 285e) have so little awareness of the logic of language shows the depth of human presumption -- namely, the presumption that we know how to distinguish sense from nonsense in the language we speak. How? By a mysterious something, "intuition" ... But how to make an objective distinction between sense and nonsense in philosophy is never asked. Yet that is philosophy's first question: nothing is possible prior to that.

What the first philosophical question is, you say, is of course a philosophical question. -- However, how shall we ask that question except in language? "And that language has meaning?" Apparently. "And how is it that it has meaning and is not sound without sense?"

Statesman 285d-286b

In the Statesman -- or, Politicus, a "logical dialog" (in contrast to e.g. "an ethical dialog" such as the Apology or Crito; this classification scheme uses the word 'logic' as Socrates used it) also known as "On Monarchy" (Diog. L. iii, 58) -- Plato uses the method of "definition by division" introduced in the Sophist by the stranger (or, visitor) from Elea. And he considers at length the "definition of weaving" according to this technique (279a-b ff). But then he goes on to say.

STRANGER: And now that this definition is completed, let us go on to consider another question, which concerns not this argument only but the conduct of such arguments in general ... is our enquiry about the Statesman intended to only improved our knowledge of politics, or our power of reasoning generally?

Still less would any rational man seek to analyze the notion of weaving for its own sake. But people seem to forget that some things have sensible images, which are readily known, and can be easily pointed out when anyone desires to answer an enquirer without any trouble or argument;

whereas the greatest and highest truths have no outward image of themselves visible to man, which he who wishes to satisfy the soul of the enquirer can adapt to the eye of sense,

and therefore we ought to train ourselves to give and accept a rational account of them;

for the immaterial things, which are the noblest and greatest, are shown only in thought and idea, and in no other way,

and all we are now saying is said for the sake of them.

Moreover, there is always less difficulty in fixing the mind on small matters [e.g. "the notion of weaving" (285d)] than on great. (Plato, Statesman 285d-286b, tr. Jowett)

Plato's notion in Phaedrus 250 (a comparison to which is suggested by Jowett or his editors at Statesman 286a) is that we are acquainted with these "noblest and greatest" things (e.g. justice), that is, we saw them before we came to be in the prison house of the body, but that we can no longer see them now, except beauty (250c). (He asks in Phaedo 65d, "Have you ever seen any of these things with your eyes?")

STRANGER: Why did we set ourselves the problem? Is our chief purpose to find the statesman, or have we the larger aim of becoming better philosophers, more able to tackle all questions?

I cannot think that any reasonable person would want to trace down the definition of the art of weaving just for its own sake.

But there is a paradox here which, it seems to me, most thinkers have failed to notice. Likenesses which the senses can grasp are available in nature to those real existents which are in themselves easy to understand, so that when someone asks for an account of these existents one has no trouble at all -- one can simply indicate the sensible likeness and dispense with any account in words.

But to the highest and most important class of existents there are no corresponding visible resemblances, no work of nature clear for all to look upon. In these cases nothing visible can be pointed out to satisfy the inquiring mind;

the instructor cannot cause the inquirer to perceive something with one or other of his senses and so make him really satisfied that he understands the thing under discussion.

Therefore we must train ourselves to give and understand a rational account of every existent thing.

For the existents which have no visible embodiment, existents which are of highest value and chief importance, are demonstrable only by reason and not to be apprehended by any other means.

All our present discussions have the aim of training us to apprehend this highest class of existents.

For purposes of practice, however, it is easier in every case to work on lesser objects rather than on greater ones. (Statesman 285d-286b, tr. J.B. Skemp, with slight changes made by editors)

Plato: "to the highest and most important class of existents there are no corresponding visible resemblances" (286a). Although in the cases where there are "likenesses which the senses can grasp" (285e) we find "ostensive definition" (Plato: in these cases we can "dispense with any account in words"). But as for the "highest class of existents", we could not be further away from the "Meaning is use" (PI § 43) account of the logic of language.

Plato is convinced -- i.e. presumes to know what he does not know -- that the "noblest and greatest" things are existents -- i.e. objects or phenomena of some type (God alone knows what type) -- and having that picture and speaking a language that suggests that "All nouns are names, and the meaning of a name is the thing the name stands for", does what he says follow -- specifically the notion that by working on "for the purposes of practice" verbally defining -- i.e. giving an "account in words" -- visible ("sensible") things we can learn to define invisible ("insensible") things?

Republic 532a-b (Guthrie's account)

Though the objects of the other philosophical sciences ["arithmetic (numbers), geometry (regular figures), harmonics (mathematical relations embodied in the notes of a scale), and astronomy (the ideal motions of which the revolutions of the heavenly bodies are the physical counterpart)" (p. 231)] are also fully real and changeless their practitioners differ from the dialectician in that they do not use pure thought alone, but are still dependent on objects of sense (visible figures, stars and the like) to set them on their way. (p. 231n3) [All these philosophical sciences] are propaedeutic [preparatory training]] to dialectic, the study whose final aim is nothing less than a grasp of the Form of the Good through pure thought (Republic 532a-b) (p. 231). (W.K.C. Guthrie, The Later Plato and the Academy (1978))

I have written my own comments about Plato and the Good. That Aristotle also found Plato's idea absurd (i.e. so unclear in meaning as to be meaningless, I think) does not reassure me.

Guthrie says that in Republic 505d "the good [is] described as "what every soul pursues, for the sake of which all its actions are performed"" (ibid. p. 201). Why Guthrie has written 'good' here rather than 'Good', I don't know.

It seems that it should be 'Good' as I read Republic 505d-e, if there is a distinction made with the words 'the good' and 'Good'.

We speak of "the good for something", but not of "the Goodness for something". Which is Plato speaking of here? It seems that the philosopher would, in Plato's view, see that all seeking of the "good for something" is really seeking for goodness itself, the Good rather than this or that particular good? (Like Augustine's "We are made for You, and our heart is not at rest until it rests in You", in God, i.e. in goodness, good in itself.)

I would say that is the only way to explain what might be meant by "the Good" or "Goodness", that we ascend to that notion by way of particular goods -- but Plato says this is not the case, that the Good must be apprehended by "pure thought alone" ... by which I haven't any idea what he means.

Does Plato, as Socrates does, want to put all definitions into words?

Query: define chair in philosophy.

For Plato the definition would be of chairhood (chairness), the common nature of chairs. It seems that Plato would try to put into words the definition of a word that in our everyday language we define ostensively by "pointing at sample bearers of the common name", going no further than that in our definition? (Cf. the word 'clay' in Theaetetus 147a-c.) In the following remarks I presume that Plato does, although if language concerns the things of this world, then the Forms cannot be defined in our language (cf. Diogenes and "cuphood") -- because they cannot exist in our world (Parmenides 132a, 133c). But Plato in the Statesman wants to practice definition by division of "lesser objects" (or "small matters") for the sake of later defining "greater ones" -- although must not the technique of definition be different if in the lesser cases definitions can be put into words (because they concern sense perception; cf. 'quickness' in Laches 192a), but in the greater cases (Forms which can only be known as pure -- i.e. pictureless (unpicturable) -- thought) they cannot be?

With reference to "people seem to forget" (or, "most thinkers have failed to notice"), Plato makes for us -- although not for himself -- the distinction between words that are names of things (either of objects or phenomena) and words that are not names -- i.e. non-name-words.

Plato may want to put all definitions into words. But the type of definitions he seeks are "real definitions" -- i.e. hypotheses about what the nature of the things named by words are. And he seeks these hypotheses about "greater objects" as well as about "lesser objects". But the "greater objects" are what are commonly called "abstract ideas".

And there are no "real definitions" of non-name-words. It is a category mistake, a part of speech mistake, to suppose that there are. And this is it, that Plato's picture is that all words (or nouns) are names -- but if some words are not names, then his project cannot go forward. It's impossible.

The difference between the question "How do we use the word 'weaving'?" and "What is the art of weaving?" -- But 'weaving' is the name of an object or phenomenon. Not all words (i.e. nouns) are.

Syntax, far from being the bedrock of language, is the source of countless misunderstandings of the logic -- i.e. the meaning -- of the very language it gives structure to.


"What counts as sufficient evidence is forms of life" ("In the beginning was the fact")

Is it possible to prove that an empirical counter-factual antecedent (~p) "must be false" -- i.e. that ~p somehow "really is" false (because p "must be true")? No, that question really isn't clear, is it (although what is clear is that if it is a question at all, then it is about logical possibility).

Proposition: 'We don't have to call our investigation to a close here, but we will.' (It has to belong to grammar that it is not nonsense to say that.) "But we will ..." And so our life goes on, despite the logical possibility of there being further evidence -- but it would be a misunderstanding to want therefore to make a distinction between "logical grammar" and "practical grammar", for recall that by 'grammar' Wittgenstein meant "any explanation of the use of language", particularly with respect to its meaning. Both what we might do (i.e. seek further evidence) and what we can do (i.e. close our investigation) belong to grammar.

To 'know' means to 'have sufficient grounds' -- and what those grounds are is agreed to in the language's grammar: "That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life" (PI § 241). Grammar belongs to a way of life. Grammar describes an actual way (or sometimes in philosophical-grammatical investigations a possible way) of life. Grammar is a description after the fact -- (i.e. done, made, or formulated after something has occurred) -- of a way of life.

The Latin word from which the English word 'fact' is derived (sc. factum), means "deed", "something done" -- as in "... and write with confidence, In the beginning was the factum" (cf. Goethe, Faust Part 1, "In the Study", and CV p. 31). The word 'practice' is from the Greek equivalent of "to do". Etymology can, sometimes, maybe, teach you things. But, then, what does it teach you here?

Query: why is it that Socrates always questions before accepting?

Because he is seeking knowledge, not mere untested opinions, and questioning is Socrates' method of seeking: cross-questioning opinions.

Query: knowing is one thing, but proving is another.

No, quite the contrary, because 'know' = 'be able to prove', in Socratic philosophy. Corrected query: suspecting is one thing; knowing another. Augustine: "He only errs who thinks he know what he does not know" -- and if you cannot prove (defend against refutation in dialectic) that you know, then you do not know). In other words, subjective certainty ≠ knowledge.

Conceptual Tools versus Reality

Query: can man understand God's ways?

On the one hand, God -- i.e. the concept 'God' -- was invented by man. However, that concept -- i.e. rules for using a word -- is now a tool, a conceptual tool, we use for our thinking: and so someone can ask: "Can man understand God's ways?" But what is that someone asking about: reality or only about one way of looking at it? (On the other hand, is anything other than the latter possible? The factual is already theory (Goethe), or, in other words, all points of reference are relational to a more or less arbitrarily assigned absolute point. Do we always say that? "The limit of reality -- is concept-formation." But we are not very often aware of that limit, because normally we take as granted the concepts that are current currency, e.g. 'object' and 'space'.)

Is a concept, then, a way of looking at things? It is a way of thinking about them -- i.e. a concept is our tool, to put to some use -- or not. In other words, the concept 'God' was made for man, not man for the concept 'God'.

Of course the concept 'reality' was also invented by man. And, for those who understand the logic of our language, it was also invented for man to use -- or not. Unless our life forces the use of particular concepts on us -- as, according to Wittgenstein (CV p. 86), life forces the concept 'object' on us? But which concepts?

Is there a difference between reality, as in "naked reality" (This is the picture: of a percept that is independent of any individual's perception/conception), and ways of looking at reality? Only this: precisely that there is more than one way (and this is why that "picture" is not nonsense).

If we look at how we actually use the word 'reality': what is its antithesis? Is it not 'fantasy' as in fairy tales and delusions. But then that normal usage gets overtaken by metaphysics and talk about "the world" -- but what is the antithesis of 'the world'? -- begins.

Schweitzer's two kinds of naïveté: "The highest knowledge is to know that we are surrounded by mystery." -- Is that knowledge of reality, or is it only our way of looking at reality?

What a curious attitude scientists have--: "We still don't know that, but it is knowable & it is only a question of time till we know it"! As if that went without saying.-- (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 124 49: 16.6.1941])

Here, in my context, the question is not of attitudes, but of interests: the scientist wants to know -- and therefore believes that he can (and will) know. Of course, "is" doesn't follow from "want to be" -- but if the scientist lays out/sets up his questions in such a way that they can be answered (i.e. by setting practicable criteria) -- then he has a sound project in philosophy. Unlike the metaphysician. And yet, I am more in sympathy with the latter: the questions I want answered can no more be answered by science than by metaphysics, precisely because they cannot be answered by anyone -- but it is only metaphysics that asks those questions.

The natural sciences are in their way maybe fascinating, but for me they are only curiosities along the way to the cemetery, because they cannot tell man how to live his life. (If they could I don't think physics would have blown itself up over Hiroshima.)

More strange grammar?

The pleasant which comes through sight would not be pleasant if it came through both sight and hearing. (Hipp. maj. 299b-c)

Begin with an example of a visual pleasure to which there is no corresponding aural pleasure. A counter-example -- i.e. a pleasant-to-sight that has a corresponding pleasant-to-hearing -- would be seeing the leaves of a tree moved by a breeze and hearing the rustling leaves.

Note that "a pleasant through sight that comes solely through sight" cannot -- by definition of 'solely' -- come through hearing at all, and therefore cannot be pleasant (or unpleasant) to hearing either. If that is what Plato is talking about, then the combination of words 'the pleasant through sight that is also pleasant through hearing' is without meaning; it is a proposition that Plato himself made logically impossible (cf. Z § 259).

But suppose there were nothing about which we said that it was both pleasant through sight and pleasant through hearing -- not, of course, "in the same way" -- but in a corresponding way? Would then the expression 'corresponding pleasures' be without meaning? -- i.e. is an example needed to give meaning to that expression? (To be 'logically possible' means to be describable -- "describable" because a description has been given, as e.g. by an example; the description gives the expression a sense, i.e. a grammar; it serves as a definition.) Note that an undefined combination of words expresses nothing at all, neither a possibility nor an impossibility. (The conjuring trick played by familiar words.)

But suppose someone said that the combination of words 'There are pleasures through sight that have corresponding pleasures through hearing' is only as yet without meaning? Yes, but of course it is as yet without meaning -- as is any and all other undefined combinations of words -- by definition of 'undefined'. But that is not because "we haven't yet discovered their meaning". It is not a question of discovering but instead of inventing a meaning -- i.e. a use for a combination of words -- which is what an example would invent.

But suppose someone said, "Well, I can't think of an example of that phenomenon at the moment -- but you can't prove it's impossible for there to be one"? No, to speak of "an example of that phenomenon" -- as if there might, prior to a definition of that combination of words, be such a phenomenon -- is nonsense. (What part of 'undefined' don't you understand?)

But this is the question I wanted to ask: Is this correct -- that if you describe an example in a case like this, the example you describe both gives a meaning, a sense to the combination of words, and also serves as a proposition to be tested for truth or falsity?

But you have to distinguish between logical and real possibility here. If by 'a proposition to be tested' you mean a proposition to be tested to see whether or not it states a real possibility, then yes. Note that the example that defines a proposition states only logical possibility. Of course, to test the proposition you must first set -- i.e. define -- the criterion for its being true or false. Note that a criterion belongs to logical, not real, possibility.

The conjuring trick

What takes us in is the components of the undefined combination of words -- namely, its familiar words. We are familiar with 'round' and with 'circle', but suppose that the combination of signs were 'pieped quazil' -- no one would be tempted to say that such a phenomenon might exist "although one can't think of an example at the moment".

"What takes us in ..." -- i.e. what deceives us, as if it were a "conjuring trick" (cf. PI § 308), although nothing is hidden from us here except the relation between a sign (i.e. the physical property of language, e.g. sounds, ink marks) and the sign's use or meaning: it is our presuming that we know how our language works, i.e. our "conceited ignorance" (as opposed to Socratic ignorance) that we understand the logic of our language, that makes the deception possible -- right in front of our eyes.


Common Ground (The limits of shared philosophical discussion)

Apropos of "All nouns are names, and the meaning of a name is the object the name stands for." But that is a false account of the "grammar" of our language, because many nouns are not names -- and the word 'point' in geometry is an example of one of those words. We don't use the word '[geometric] point' the same way we use words such as 'book', 'pencil', 'elephant'. (Do you think the word 'elf' is meaningless because there is no object of any kind that corresponds to it?)

I emphasize word -- i.e. not the "idea" or the "thing", but the word -- which before we designate some use for it is merely a sound or ink marks on paper or a gesture made with the head or hands, things like this: and the question is: what gives those things meaning? Or, in other words, how do we distinguish sense from nonsense in philosophy?

Unless you and I agree about that fundamental point, then I think we will simply be talking within different frames of reference, or, within different systems of thought or ways of thinking. That is, so long as you and I have different notions about the way our language works -- i.e. about what gives (the sounds, ink marks, etc.) our language meaning -- we are, it seems to me, never going -- because it will be impossible given our conflicting premisses -- to come to an agreement on this topic.

Again, as I said, I think that you and I are without common ground to discuss this topic -- if indeed we are even discussing the same topic!

Also a common interest in projects in philosophy

But there is also commonality of interests. For example, metaphysical speculation is not what I want from philosophy; just as scientific theories are not what I want when I ask about the natural world.

If I describe the use of a word, which is logic (of language), and someone tells me that the word may be used that way -- but that is not the way it ought to be used, e.g. that 'geometric point' ought to be the name of an object of some kind (I think, because otherwise how can it serve as the foundation of reality, as in the Pythagorean picture of numbers), then maybe I see what they are talking about, but I think that their project is precisely that -- their project, not mine, in philosophy. If someone tells me that they believe there must be one particular sub-atomic particle from which the whole of reality is constructed (i.e. a 'atom' as the early Greeks defined that word, I think), then I could only say: good luck in your quest, but it is not a quest that I feel drawn to accompany you on. Logic (of language) and ethics are "where my treasure is", where my heart is; metaphysics is not.

You could say: we are trying to answer different questions, even though we use the same language (form/s of expression) in our question, e.g. "What is a point in geometry?" One asks for "the definition of a thing or idea", another for a definition of a word. I want the latter -- I don't want speculation -- I don't want metaphysics. Something like this maybe.

So I am aiming at something different than are the scientists & my thoughts move differently than do theirs. (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 109 204: 6-7.11.1930])

For a long time the site received a lot of queries asking about geometric points, about what they are, and about "undefined terms". But then suddenly that stopped. Entirely. My wild conjecture is: that the children's instructors did not want my answer: The word 'point' just has to be the name of some object. Why? Because mankind has always thought it to be so. (In some contexts we might be tempted to say that the word 'philosophy' is the antithesis -- i.e. the opposite -- of 'tradition', that philosophical questioning is antithetical to tradition, which might be called a form of not-questioning but accepting.)

Query: ethics is divided into how many parts? name them.
Query: what are the branches of philosophy?

Always the passive voice -- "is divided" -- by whom is it divided? The branches according to whom? The voice of God? Query category: assignments that make people stupid (cf. "What is a point?" and "geometry's undefined terms"). Don't think -- just conform (to "what all right thinking people think", whether they are right or not). The fallacy of confusing classification schemes with [mistaking classification schemes for] reality, as if there were only one such scheme possible, the "real scheme of things". Dogma, tradition -- everything inimical to philosophy is here.

I thought but then did not, regarding it as pretentious, to preface the page about "the origins and branches of philosophy" with the following paragraph.

The question of what philosophy is, is itself a philosophical question. As is the question of what a philosopher is. And so, in sum, if you don't want to think for yourself about this question, then you should not cross philosophy's threshold, because you won't like life there among the philosophers in Dante's city of righteous pagans.

If I recall aright, and evidently I do, Dante does not name Aristotle among those in the first circle of his Inferno, as if saying that if the reader doesn't know who is being alluded to, he doesn't belong to the class {color che sanno} or {cognoscenti}.

[Preface to my History Outline: a distinction must be made between "historical facts" and their "significance" ("Historical Periods").]


What is "the bedrock of language"?

Query: explain grammar is the bedrock of language.

If in the query 'grammar' = 'syntax', then its presumption is wrong, because meaning rather than form is language's foundation (i.e. what is essential to it). Wittgenstein's builders (PI § 2): their language has no syntax. Note that grammar simply describes the actual use of language, the rules, which may or may not be strict, of any particular game (as in "language game"). But bedrock is unshifting, and language is not so strict -- and so the metaphor of "bedrock" may reflect a mistaken presumption about the way our language is used.

Cf. Stalin's view, if I recall aright and understand, was that grammar is not a superstructure on the base -- i.e. that economic relationships do not determine the syntax of a language .... What would it look like if they did? Maybe you could say that economic relationships may sometimes determine the meaning of a language: e.g. maybe we could describe a society of masters and slaves in which language was used differently than in our society -- but what would it look like if syntax itself were affected? Something like the German Sie (formal) versus du (familiar)?


Can non-existent things be defined into existence?

Query: what is the significance of adding the word 'all' to the definition that piety is what the gods love?

That Socrates seeks a standard in ethics (Euthyphro 6d-7d), and "what ALL the gods love" sets a universal standard whereas "what SOME of the gods love" does not. (And that too is a grammatical remark.)

Query: express the word 'philosophy' as a undefined term.

What do you mean by 'express'? As in "abstract art"? If by 'express' you mean 'put into words', then the rest is silence. Because an undefined term is just that -- an undefined term -- what part of 'not defined' don't you understand?

If the word 'philosophy' were undefined, then we would have no idea what we were talking about; we would be uttering sounds without sense (cf. the signs 'pieped' and 'quazil'), not knowing even which neighborhood of our life -- e.g. which area of learning -- we were talking about, i.e. we would be without an orientation, which is one purpose of definition (PI § 87).

It's very important not to abuse language that way, deafening the ear to nonsense by inventing expressions such as 'undefined term'.

Query: why does the meaning of a thing come before the meaning of words; philosophy of language?

Does the meaning of a thing come before ...? Because how do we know whether or not it does? Before the query's question can be answered, the question of what you mean by the proposition 'A meaning of a thing comes before the meaning of words' has to be answered (because otherwise there is no criterion for answering it correctly), thus: What do you mean by 'meaning' in "meaning of a thing"? and what do you mean by 'thing' (a tangible or "intangible object" or both)? and by 'comes before' (Do you think we must have clear notion (a "meaning") of something before a name can be given to it?)?

"You can't define a thing that doesn't exist into existence." Really? Don't we do -- hasn't mankind done -- just that with many of our so-called abstractions ("abstract terms")? Where in earth or in heaven do you find a "thing" to attach the name 'beauty' to?

"Deductive logic allows any proposition to deduced if the right premisses are chosen" (cf. OC § 1). A derived proposition isn't necessarily true, but that a conclusion deduced from premisses that are counter-factual statements of fact is false is indifferent to deductive logic.

Query: logic is classified under philosophy; why?
Query: logic is a branch of philosophy invented by Pythagoras.

Why indeed? Is the "art of sound reasoning" in philosophy different from that art elsewhere? Look at Newton's rules for reasoning in natural philosophy -- those are not the rules for sound reasoning in philosophy, but only in Newtonian science. For all I know -- i.e. I don't know -- each subject has its own rules for sound reasoning. But philosophy's logical art is used in all subjects -- as the base of all rationality? That I don't know.

Who invented logic? What are you asking exactly? I.e. to respond to these queries -- I would net to invent a meaning for them. I don't understand -- i.e. don't know -- what the queries are asking for. They are patterns of words -- i.e. Because they have the same grammatical form (cf. "false grammatical analogies"), they are "suggestive of something" -- but nonetheless I would need to invent what that something is, i.e. define the queries' combinations of words.

If by the word 'logic' we mean, not necessarily a formal study such as Aristotle and the Greek Stoics were to make, nor even the method of definition that Socrates invented, nor Plato's invention of "logical form", but simply an awareness that there is an art of reasoning, this is evident during the time of the Sophists -- Protagoras' claim to "make the worse appear the better" reason shows this awareness. But now, as to Pythagoras (or the Pythagoreans), I don't know. And if I don't know, then why am I talking about this? Because it had never occurred to me to ask this question about logic. Metaphysics was the earliest of the three parts of philosophy to be invented (by Thales of Miletus, the earliest philosopher there is evidence for). Ethics by Socrates. But who invented logic?

Query: what logic is all about -- meaning nominal, etymological, real.

Etymology of 'logic': from the Greek word logos. Nominal definition of 'logic': 'the art of sound reasoning' (specifically in philosophy: 'the art of sound reasoning in philosophy'). But "a real definition of logic" -- i.e. an hypothesis about what this "thing" logic really is -- what would that look like? Questions I understand: How do we use the word 'logic'? how have people historically used that word? Question I don't understand: "What is logic?" As to the question-sign 'What is logic?', again, I would have to invent a meaning for it before I could respond to it.

Query: what do we call a statement which is not real?

Maybe 'fantasy', maybe 'disingenuous'? But this question is quite correctly stated: "what do we call", because what else would 'as we normally use' mean?

We say "which for some reason". But shouldn't that be: "which for some reason, or perhaps for none" -- i.e. do you think there must be a reason for everything?

Query: difference between wisdom and knowledge in philosophy.

Always "things" rather than words are asked about. -- And there seems to be no rebellion against this, no torment suffered by being surrounded by vagueness and confusion ... why? I do not understand this. How can human beings live in this state of mind (Disc. i, 26)? I never could. In those days I wandered about in a daze, so absorbed by my confused state of mind that I would lock myself out of the house. Language is quite good at causing that sort of thing.

We must be just in our judgments. (Ward No. 6 xii)

The old doctor in Chekhov's story: Of other human beings, we must always ask: is that the only possibility, the only possible explanation, and give the benefit of the doubt to the best possibility.

Humanity is a stick with two ends. (Two Tragedies)


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