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Are all Tautologies idle?

How can a proposition be at once both (1) a rule of semantic grammar, and (2) a guide to how man should live his life? (Plato's Method of Tautologies in Ethics, in sum.)

Any statement that cannot be logically contradicted (because its contradiction is nonsense, i.e. an undefined combination of words) -- can be called a tautology (tautological). But a statement that cannot be false also cannot be true, and so tautologies are neither true nor false.

The only kind of tautology is logical tautology. A tautology is not tested by both Socratic tests, but only by the test of reason (for contradiction or nonsense) and not by the test of public experience (empirical verification). Logic, in Wittgenstein's later work, is equivalent to "grammar" (in Wittgenstein's jargon), and so: The only kind of tautology is grammatical tautology: any argument of the kind 'The book is on the table, and therefore it is not on the floor' is tautological (and circular).

[Supplement: in contrast to his later views are Wittgenstein's earlier views about tautology in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.]

Grammar, in Wittgenstein's jargon

Now, this is very important. In the discussion on this page, the word 'grammar' is used as Wittgenstein used that word. By 'grammar' -- or 'logic', because he later, for philosophical reasons, not arbitrarily, used those words synonymously -- Wittgenstein means not 'syntax' alone but 'any explanation of the meaning of language -- i.e. any description of the use of words in the language' (PI § 560. Logic was originally about word definitions as it was to become for Wittgenstein). In other words, Wittgenstein's "grammar" is the study of rules of sense and nonsense and not only the study of rules of syntax.

And so this site is named Wittgenstein's Logic of Language and the expression 'logic of language' is my jargon for how a distinction is made between language-with-meaning (sense) and language-without-meaning (nonsense) in philosophical problems, and of course that the expression "logic of language" is taken from Wittgenstein's work is not an accident. Note, however, that the meaning of that expression changes as its author's philosophical thinking changes, as logic becomes recognized as being not a matter of form, but of use in the language, i.e. about meaning rather than about syntax.

Something else that is very important: When a new philosophical idea occurs to me, I often don't understand that idea, and because of this I often give a mistaken account of my idea. And I may have done this -- and may still be doing this -- with what I have written here about Plato's method of using tautologies in ethics.

But maybe philosophy is that way, and it's not just that I am philosophically stupid.

"But see, I write one thing, then another just the opposite. And which shall stand?" (Wittgenstein, about his present thinking, in 1951, a few months before his death)

Or maybe philosophy just is this way, acceptance today, refutation tomorrow. You mustn't underestimate just how perplexed someone who thinks about philosophical questions is. Or how often nonplussed.

The Method of Tautologies

The method of tautologies in ethics serves to make disguised folly obvious folly (cf. PI § 464: disguised nonsense and obvious nonsense) by contrasting the concepts 'good' and 'bad' = 'evil', when talking about moral virtue (ethics). In other words, Plato's method is to look at the grammars of the antithetical words 'good' and 'bad' in the context of ethics, by asking "If the good man does that, then what does the bad man do?", as e.g. "If the good man harms his enemies (Republic 332a-d), then what does the bad man do -- help them?" To claim that would be absurd because it reverses what we mean by the words 'good' and 'bad' in ethics where 'bad' DEF.= 'not good', and 'good' DEF.= 'not evil', because to do harm is to do evil.

But is the proposition 'The bad man helps his enemies', which contradicts the grammatical rule 'The bad man does harm rather than good', nonsense? Or is the word 'good' like the word 'excellent' in grammar?

Were the grammar of 'good' not of the same kind as the grammar of 'excellent' -- meaning that, If various theses about "what the good is for man" and "which quality is the excellence both proper and unique to man" were not logically/grammatically possible, then the thesis discussed by Polemarchus and Socrates (in Plato's Republic 332d) -- namely, that "It is good to benefit one's friends and harm one's enemies" -- would be unintelligible (because nonsense). Which it seems not to be -- and indeed isn't. But the thesis is false because it fails to see that the grammars of 'good' and 'does harm' are not consistent, but rather, as Plato argues, contradictory (ibid. 335d).

[The antitheses 'virtue' and 'vice', 'virtuousness' and 'viciousness' -- if, as in Socratic view, moral virtue is knowledge, then vice is ignorance. Note that 'knowledge' and 'ignorance', or 'know', 'not-know' are also antitheses. And the grammars of antithetical terms are inseparable: if divorced from one another they are (or may be) without meaning.)

[Note that Socrates' argument in Xenophon that moral virtue is knowledge uses a method of tautologies, as one rule of grammar is derived from other rules of grammar: none of the three propositions ('All living things aim for their perceived good', 'If someone does not know what is good, he cannot do what is good -- because he will always aim for a mistaken target believing that target to be the good', 'If anyone knows what is good, he will do what is good, because he will aim for what is truly good') is an empirical proposition.

[There is something akin to the tautological method in Aristotle's ethics and logic, for it is also description of the grammar (in Wittgenstein's jargon) of our language.]

Folly, absurdity, ignorance

But what am I calling "folly" or "absurdity" here? -- Is this a question of (1) unsound judgment (foolishness or, in Socrates' view, ignorance), or of (2) "mere sound without sense"? It is necessary to ask this question because the word 'nonsense' is commonly used to indicate either.

[Or is there another possibility, namely that a proposition may be both "mere sound without sense" (i.e. an undefined combination of words -- in Wittgenstein's later logic of language's sense of the word 'nonsense': "When a sentence is called meaningless, it is not as it were its meaning that is meaningless") and unsound judgment? No, because any linguistic sound that conveys what can be called "grammatical" meaning is not "sound without sense", but quite the contrary.]

[The word 'meaning' is used in countless ways. But those other meanings are of no use to logic's task of objectively distinguishing sense from nonsense in language in philosophy, because philosophy is discourse of reason and nothing else. And so no, this is not a "small matter" we are discussing -- it is not a mere "matter of words" we are discussing, because if we make no distinction between sense and nonsense, if we lose that foundation of philosophy, we leave philosophy, i.e. philosophical discourse, without any foundation whatever: If meaning and meaningless is always a matter of "It seems to be" (PI § 258) rather than "It is", then philosophical discourse is indistinguishable objectively from mere babble of words.]

Subtle or very simple?

Here it may seem as if this question were so subtle that I could not grasp it (cf. PI § 106), as if I no longer knew how to use tools that I have used everyday for many years now. But what if the difficulty here is not subtlety, but simplicity: the difficulty of accepting what is in plain view (Z § 314).

In every serious philosophical problem uncertainty extends to the very roots of the problem.... We must always be prepared to learn something entirely new. (Remarks on Color, tr. McAlister, Schättle (1977), i, 15)

From the point of view of the distinction between sense and nonsense, this is a "serious philosophical problem", because a thorough revision of the concept 'tautology' seems to be needed.

What is in Plain View can be Perplexing

What is puzzling here is this, that we are talking about tautologies = rules of grammar that nonetheless are used in ethics to guide man's way of life. And that they do this seems very odd, because the common (generally accepted) view is that tautologies are idle -- i.e. that they tell us nothing. But the rules of grammar here are also rules of ethics, and ethical rules ("how to live our life") are not idle but instead tell us how to live.

"The difficulty is not of explaining something complex but of explaining something very simple."

Plato's Method is especially Important in Ethics

In the following discussions, the word 'tautology' may often be defined as: a rule of grammar that is derived from another rule of grammar (which can, conversely, also be derived from that rule). (Whether all tautologies are rules of grammar, however, is not discussed.) Wittgenstein: a 'tautology' is: a proposition the negation of which is an undefined combination of words -- i.e. a proposition that "cannot be significantly negated": '~p' is not false but nonsense. (All possibility here is logical possibility.)

The thesis of the discussion is this, that the method of tautologies is very useful for finding grammatical interrelationships among concepts and especially important in ethics.

If through ignorance of grammar, someone thinks he is good-doing when he is evil-doing, this is very grave, and not only because it is another instance of thinking one knows what one does not know, which is the original sin in philosophy (Plato, Apology 21c-d). What the method of tautologies in ethics makes clear is the distinction between good and evil, and the relationship between the concepts 'good' and 'evil'. In what follows I have collected (and very often rethought) the scattered remarks I have written elsewhere apropos of the subject of tautology.

  1. None of that is what the good man does; it is what the bad man does. (Plato, Republic 335e: this version of Plato's ethics derives valid rules of ethics using tautologies alone; it is purely a conceptual investigation.)
    (Source: If vice is ignorance of the good, then why is vice punished?)
  2. The method of tautologies in ethics serves to make disguised foolishness obvious foolishness by asking: "If the good man does that, then what does the bad man do?" (Note that 'good' and 'bad' are antithetical: if 'good' = 'bad', then both words are nonsense -- i.e. "words whereby we conceive nothing but the sound" or "mere sound without sense".)
    Of the notion that God demands genocide (Dt. 7.1-6) or creates some creatures simply to condemn them (Mark 14.24: "for many") -- it can be said: "If that is what God does, then what does the devil do?" ["If that is good, then what is evil?"] That question is (1) rhetorical, but belongs to both (2) grammar, and (3) ethics. Which is quite puzzling, for how can that one proposition play those three roles at the same time! And yet it does. So we have Plato's tautological method (or, "method of tautologies": Plato's method of using tautologies in argument or as arguments), e.g. of contrasting 'the good' with 'the bad' (or, 'evil').
    "My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are as high above yours as the heavens are above the earth" is contrary to the Socratic view of the gods as rational and therefore doers only of good (and the good is knowable by man) -- virtue is knowledge -- (the ancient myths notwithstanding). Opposed to that is the view Wittgenstein expressed to Drury when he said that his own religion was "one-hundred percent Hebraic" -- i.e. the good is what[ever] God commands, and neither God himself nor his deeds are either good or evil.
    For the Greek philosophers, just as it is above man's will, good and evil is also above the will of the gods (although, because the gods are thoroughly rational, they are not ignorant of the good and therefore unerringly do what is good). Thus we are talking about two different concepts 'God', although they are both called by the same name for good reason: the concepts overlap -- but not completely. This relates to Russell's "Theory of Descriptions" and "The way you use the word 'God' shows what you mean by that word" (cf. CV p. 50 [MS 132 8: 11.9.1946]). There are various possibilities.
    (Source: "And if anyone takes your coat ..." Schweitzer's view of how a "too historical Jesus" may possibly be "offensive in the moral and religious sense" to the Christian religion)
  3. Let the proposition's truth conditions show you what is known, what we are calling 'know' here.
    "And we do not call tautologies knowledge." Or so I wrote earlier, but then I asked if this proposition (thesis) is correct: "The type of verification is the type of language-game."
    Knowing good from bad -- i.e. knowing the rules for contrasting the words 'good' and 'bad' is knowledge of grammar; it is a conceptual investigation. And yet, knowledge of grammar seems to be -- in fact, is -- also knowledge in ethics. Is this a question of how we are using the word 'know' here? Why, isn't that clear? Knowledge in ethics is knowledge of what the good man does and does not do.
    Is there knowledge acquired without experience of the world that is nonetheless knowledge of the world (presuming, as we do in our logic of language (or, philosophical) work (pace the eternal, or at least confounding, "questions without answers"), that 'the world of experience' = 'reality')? Well, are the principles of ethics knowledge of the world or not -- i.e. If you know what the good man does, then don't you have knowledge of the world? Maybe that is the answer: that "the principles of ethics" have their foundation in nothing else but grammar alone. But what is the relation of grammar to the world of our experience?
    At first blush, this is what I want to reply, that grammar and the world are not that independent of one another in the case of ethics, that ethics is not like mathematics (Try to apply arithmetic to adding water drops: 1 + 1 = 1, which is not the rule of maths). But, then again, it does not appear to be knowledge of the world, as least in this way, that even if there were no man to whom it could be unreservedly applied, the concept -- i.e. the grammar of -- 'good man' would nonetheless guide how man should live his life. (Compare the way the word 'Christian' is applied to our life.)
    Wittgenstein spoke of "concepts that pinch your feet" [although maybe he did use that metaphor as I am using it here; see his Notebooks 1914-1916, 15 June 1915; here I mean the comparison this way: to shoes that are too tight and therefore need to be stretched -- or discarded], but I don't know if that is the trouble here. In On Certainty Wittgenstein speaks of: "a gap in my thinking" (OC between § 470 and § 471, from 4 May 1951).
    Why is not this the answer, if I can absorb it: The type of knowledge is the type of language-game? Maybe it is Kant's concepts that "pinch" here: maybe you should set aside his a priori versus synthetic propositions distinction? Pascal's distinction is grammar (like Wittgenstein's), but Kant's is a conceptual tool that may or may not be useful to the philosophical understanding. The gap in Wittgenstein's thinking in On Certainty may be caused by his not setting that tool aside (Note that 'may' doesn't mean 'is')-- but that is a raw thesis, untested in dialectic.
    (Source: "What we call grounds", and 'having sufficient grounds to assert that a proposition is true' is what we mean by 'knowledge'.)
  4. If by 'tautology' we mean a statement that cannot be false because it cannot come into conflict with the facts (and we leave out the additional criterion that a tautology cannot be significantly negated), then ...
    It is not nonsense (as in "cannot be significantly negated") to say that 'The good man harms his enemies'; indeed, Polemarchus says just that (Plato, Republic 335b), until he is refuted (ibid. 335d-e). And yet the refutation is simply a grammatical investigation (But it is not "simply" -- for Plato shows great insight here). If the refutation concerns facts, it concerns only facts of our language -- i.e. facts about the interrelatedness of our concepts. (But they are facts, because Plato does not redefine 'good' and 'evil', but simply points out what is and what is not grammatically self-consistent.) That is what I have called "Plato's Tautological Ethics". And, if we follow Wittgenstein's way of looking at language -- i.e. his "logic of language" -- then (maybe!) it is perplexing.
    (Source: "Contradiction of a tautology is not necessarily nonsense")
  5. Not all tautologies are idle, however, for some show the interconnection of grammatical rules, i.e. of concepts, and these tautologies may be useful for pointing out connections that we might overlook; e.g. Plato's 'If the good man does harm, then what does the bad man do?' -- i.e. there are interconnections among the concepts 'good man', 'bad man', and 'do harm', such that it is nonsense to say 'The good man does harm', e.g. to his enemies.
    So I wrote earlier. But is the proposition 'The good man does harm' nonsense (i.e. an undefined combination of words)? Well, we know things to do with the phrases 'does harm' and 'the good man', but we don't normally do anything with the combination of words 'The good man does harm' -- i.e. as we normally use our language that is an undefined combination of words.
    (Source: Theology as a formula for talking about God)
  6. Again, is this a question of tautologies, of definitions ("definitions" = "grammar", i.e. "any explanation of the use of language" (cf. PI § 560))? Are investigations in ethics conceptual or "factual" (i.e. concerned with things other than logic-grammar) investigations?
    The question again: are these tautologies mere statements of grammar? Statements of grammatical rules they may well be, but "mere" many certainly are not, for we often have not thought out the interconnections of our concepts; e.g. Plato's "The good man does harm to no one, not even to those who do harm to him, because if the good man does harm to others, then what does the bad man do to them?" is rhetorical; it is simply a grammatical reminder, but it is not a trivial one.
    (Source: Plato's Gorgias - Selections - Comments)
  7. There are tautologies that point out the interconnection [intersection] of grammatical rules. For example, to say that everything man says is nonsense -- i.e. to try to use the word 'nonsense' without its antithesis (namely, 'sense') -- is nonsense. (If a word is divorced from its antithesis ...). But that is a grammatical, not a metaphysical (ontological) remark; it states a fact about our language, nothing more, certainly not a claim (thesis) about what the eye of God sees when it looks at man.
    (Source: "Is it an illusion that man is endowed with reason?" [Compare the picture of an evil deceiver who subverts the veridicality of Descartes' "clear and distinct" ideas versus a Benevolent God who guarantees it])
  8. And so you can see that we are talking in grammatical tautologies.
    (Source: And that is what happens when a concept is allowed to be infinitely plastic: the application of a thesis can be extended to cover any and every imaginable case.)
  9. And so I read Plato for his many insights, for example, (1) his tautologies about the good man: "If the good man harms his enemies, then what does the bad man do to them", or (2) that "written words can't defend themselves" (Phaedrus 275c-e), or (3) for the method of Socratic dialectic, as in Xenophon: agree or refute. (For the purpose of Socratic dialectic, any agreement is for the discussion at hand, and in that discussion an objection for which one can state no reasons, a doubt for which one can give no grounds -- is no objection at all. Of course one may think of reasons to object later, but those also would have to be put to the test in the thesis and cross-questioning of dialectic.)
    (Source: "Speculation is not what I want from philosophy")
  10. How to replace the reality before one's eyes with "an abstract picture which we have ourselves created" (DW p. 100)? Thus: by saying that "If only we knew all the facts surrounding an apparently anomalous phenomenon, then our theory could account for that phenomenon". Because that presumes the abstract picture presented by the theory of evolution to be the "reality behind the phenomena", rather than what it is: a model used to organize a selection of facts -- i.e. a theory is facts plus imagination: it is imagination that makes the "selection of facts" and the "model based on that selection".
    Neither the selection nor the model belongs to the facts; both belong to the theory; they are not as it were naturally given -- i.e. they are not themselves additional facts. (Although that human beings have created just this selection and just this model is, of course, a fact.)
    The presumption would be a tautology -- i.e. a proposition that cannot be falsified; If p, then '~p' is nonsense. But tautologies such as that tell us nothing about reality, only about the way we look at it. ('If we could' means that we don't know whether or not we could.) [Review: the distinction between a sign and its meaning: the difference between 'x' and x.]
    "... only about the way we look at it." Is a grammar a way of looking at things? Any "part of speech" is a classification scheme; and, thus, so it appears, at least some rules of grammar are ways of looking at things. But that does not answer the question of whether the following proposition is true or not, that: 'Nothing is in itself good or bad, but grammar makes it so' -- i.e. that proposition intended not in Stoicism's sense, but in which sense, then -- ontology? Of course not. But as a fact about the relation of ethics to grammar, at least in Plato's "tautological ethics".
    No object bears a name unless man gives it one; no object belongs to a class of objects unless man classifies it so -- i.e. creates that class? It would be all too easy to presume here that "very general facts of nature" are compelling, that those "facts" (Goethe: "There are no facts independent of theory; all fact is already theory") create the class: But how does one demonstrate that those facts are the explanation of any particular concept formation (PI II, xii, p. 230a)? The temptation to Circular Argument is what is compelling here, and such argument is an example of tautology.
    One wants to say: there would be good and evil even without language (i.e. that the concepts 'good' and 'evil' would still somehow, I don't know how, exist). Is that an enigma (as in "questions without answers"), one which may or may not have a solution -- or just another conceptual muddle?
    (Source: A scientific theory is not "the reality behind" observable phenomena)
  11. Socrates and Polemarchus have had a long discussion to conclude with a tautology; what they have made is a conceptual investigation, but Plato does not think that what he is doing is conceptual investigation, but instead that he has demonstrated a fact about the just man (justice). And yet, Plato's conceptual investigation that draws rules of ethics from tautologies is not at all idle -- rather, very useful to ethics is "Plato's tautological ethics" (I will call it that, because it is not the only account of ethics Plato gives). For if e.g. we say, "If the good man does harm, then what does the bad man do?" this bit of rhetoric (or, "grammatical remark" in Wittgenstein's jargon) shows us what we mean by the words 'good man'. And so this is a very important insight of Plato's. (These remarks are also contra Philebus 49d.)
    If the good man harms no one, then one must never return wrong for wrong, bad for bad (Socrates says in Plato's Crito 49b-d, and in Republic 335d-e), and so then how can Plato say that to delight in one's enemies' misfortunes is not harmful to one's soul? (Philebus 49d: "Is it wrongful to delight in our enemies' misfortunes?") The good man does not hate ('to hate' = 'to wish harm to come to another'); to hate is what the bad man does. (Yes, the last proposition is a tautology: it only shows a way our concepts are "grammatically" inter-related. But to point out that inter-relationship is important, and, further, it shows that tautologies are not all necessarily idle.)
    (Sources: Plato's Tautological Ethics)
  12. ... a way of looking at things, a "theory", may indeed affect the way man thinks about and therefore lives his life ("we are discussing no small matter, but how to live" (Republic 352d)) -- even if the "theory" (i.e. account of what you believe you know) consists of nothing but tautologies showing the inter-relationships of rules of grammar.
    In philosophy it seems that the word 'theory' = 'thesis' or 'account', (or sometimes 'classification scheme' or sometimes 'way of looking at things'). I don't know what else the word 'theory' would be used to mean there.
    I am alluding here to Plato's argument about what the good man does, and does not do, in Republic 335e. And about that the propositions of that argument (which we would call a tautological argument) we would say that they are obviously "rules of grammar" (or, verbal definitions of words). And so why was this not obvious -- if it is obvious -- to Plato; why does he treat these statements as if they concerned non-linguistic facts?
    I think because in some cases things are obvious only after someone has shown them to us (what now seems obvious was once genius), because the understanding of language that we now have -- if we have such an understanding and not simply another misunderstanding of the logic of our language -- is not of our own making but of a philosopher's (sc. Wittgenstein), who, on my account, pointed out to us an objective way to make a distinction between sense and nonsense in philosophy (which, according to me, is philosophy's very first task), a particular way of making that distinction without which philosophy would (or maybe would not be, because there may be other ways to make an objective distinction besides Wittgenstein's) sound without sense -- but sound without sense will serve just as well as sound with sense if there is no way to tell them apart. And the questions of philosophy are too important to our life to be answered with mere hot air ("houses of cards" (PI § 118)).
    (Source: Plato and the immortality of the soul, or, passing from a hidden grammatical rule to one in plain view)
  13. The distinction Kant makes with the words 'percept' and 'concept': he says that percepts without concepts are blind. His statement is a rule of grammar, because: is there anything we would call a "bare percept" -- i.e. a percept for which there is no concept but which is not without meaning? (The question is rhetorical; rules of grammar are tautologies: they are "true" "by definition".) For man, the only creature whose soul we are intimate with (cf. PI § 357), 'sound' (with meaning) versus 'noise' (without meaning) are inseparable concepts (antitheses). But would we say that sounds are "without meaning" for animals (creatures without language)? Of course this asks for a definition of 'meaning' in such cases (for in this case it is not Wittgenstein's meaning of 'meaning' or "grammar").
    (Source: "Is sense perception the same as knowledge?")
  14. Query: "the word 'rational' is the best synonym for which branch of philosophy?" If it isn't rational -- is it philosophy at all? Guided by experience and reason (i.e. logic) -- but judged by reason alone; that is philosophy as we have it from Socrates. Contrast 'rational' with 'Rationalism', however ... Before I might have said in answer to the query: Metaphysics. However, is not "Plato's tautological ethics" an example of Rationalism? By the word 'Rationalism' we mean 'guided by reason alone -- i.e. not put (or, rather, not even grammatically possible to put) to the test of experience'. Socratic dialectic is not an example of Rationalism, although it is an example of rationalism.
    (Source: Rationalism versus rationalism: the words 'Rationalism' and 'rationalism' are similar signs but have different grammars)
  15. After the TLP, Wittgenstein came to regard philosophy as being no more than logic of language (or, grammatical) investigations, its aim being nothing more than to make hidden nonsense evident nonsense by describing how we actually use or might use our language -- and thus to Russell the project in philosophy of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, as well as the remarks written in the book itself, might well seem "trivial" -- i.e. of little or no importance.
    But Wittgenstein's aim in philosophy had already been stated in his first book (see TLP 4.112), and so Russell should -- which does not mean that he was -- have already been familiar with it, because he did after all write the Introduction to that book.
    Of Wittgenstein's later work Russell wrote that its "positive doctrines seem to me trivial and its negative doctrines unfounded". As examples of its "positive doctrines", I don't know, unless those would be its descriptions of language use ("grammatical remarks") themselves? As to its "negative doctrines", I think PI § 109's "struggle against the bewitchment of the intellect by means of language" is an example (see also ibid. §§ 123-128).
    As I wrote elsewhere, I believe that Wittgenstein commits the "Fallacy of SOME, therefore ALL", because from some philosophical problems are language muddles it does not follow that all philosophical problems are language muddles. And I do not believe that Ethics and the "Questions without Answers" are simply conceptual muddles; they are problems man must face if he is to live an examined life. Wittgenstein might assign those to religion rather than to philosophy = logic, but I would not follow him in this.
    I don't believe that Wittgenstein was trying to state what the essence of Philosophy is -- which would be either a definition of the word 'philosophy' (cf. ibid. § 373), which it is not, or Metaphysics: a philosophical claim about reality, a "real definition" of Philosophy.
    Hence Russell's characterization of Wittgenstein's "negative doctrines" as "unfounded". Well, but they are not at all completely unfounded.
    Because as to Wittgenstein's logic of language investigations, for those who like me are seeking to make our thinking in philosophy sense rather than nonsense, those investigations and grammatical remarks most certainly are important. Setting aside the limits Wittgenstein set for his work in philosophy (or rather for Philosophy itself), there is nothing trivial about what I have called "Plato's tautological ethics", or, "conceptual tautologies in ethics" (as found in Republic 335e). It's true that Plato's "theses" are nothing more than remarks that make the interconnections of our concepts (or, grammatical intersections) clear, but seeing those interconnections is vital to Socratic ethics (hence the importance, rightly understood, of definitions in philosophy, i.e. in philosophy 'definition' = 'rule of grammar', not 'real definition' as Socrates and Plato believed).
    (Source: "Either Unfounded or Trivial")
  16. Socrates' rational search for the good for man ("What is the excellence proper to man?") -- as e.g. in Plato's "The good man harms no one, and makes even his enemies better" (Republic 335b-e) -- is life affirmation (whereas the withdraw of Republic 496c-d seems not). Plato's tautological ethics is a method of philosophical reflection (By 'Socratic ethics' we mean, not merely standards of good and evil as "known" by instinct, but philosophically questioning what the good for man is and therefore way of life man should follow).
    And so I have been trying to relate Albert Schweitzer's standard of judgment -- of asking of any given thought-world (i.e. way of thinking) whether it is "world and life affirmation" or "world and life negation" -- to Plato's tautological ethics, i.e. to Plato's system of tautologies, a system created by seeking to uncover the interconnections of our concepts (i.e. the grammars of our ethical terms).
    And I think that because the good man seeks to benefit (rather than) harm both his friends and his enemies (It is the bad man who does harm) -- i.e. because the good man's goodness is active goodness (and not merely the possibly passive "do no harm" of Plato's Republic 496c-d) -- Plato's tautological ethics is life-affirming. And because the good man seeks to improve (benefit) both the ethical and the material conditions of others, it seems to me world-affirming.
    (It is unclear to me whether, as Schweitzer defines his idea, it is possible for a thought-world to be "world affirmation" or "life affirmation" and not both, i.e. to be one without being the other.)
    Plato's conceptual tautologies in ethics are certainly not an instance of "world-and-life negation" -- because Schweitzer defines one aspect of that negation as the rejection of all activity directed toward the ethical and material perfecting of mankind, even if it is only directed at one's own companions. Rather, "world-and-life negation" regards this world as "meaningless and sorrowful" and anyone holding that view "resolves to mortify his will-to-live" and to renounce "all activity which aims at improvement of the conditions of life in this world".
    (Source: "World and Life Affirmation")
  17. Tautologies are important because (1) they are very often mistaken for statements of fact ("Conceptual versus factual investigations" (Z § 458) -- i.e. "grammatical" versus non-grammatical investigations, or, extra-grammatical investigations, 'extra' in the sense of 'extraterritorial'), but also because (2) they may point out grammatical-conceptual connections we have overlooked.
    By identifying logic with grammar -- i.e. as being concerned with meaning rather than with form -- Wittgenstein broke with mathematical logic. That was very Socratic. (It was the Stoics who invented propositional logic, although Aristotle seems to have invented formal logic. A brief historical review: What are we calling 'logic'?)
    There are propositions that are not merely tautologies -- but that are also useful tautologies, such e.g. as the rhetorical question: "If it is good to do x, then what is it evil to do!" -- which is simply a grammatical question, but one that may be life or death to knowing what the ethical excellence proper to man is.
    Rather than 'It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger' Hume could say 'It is not unreasonable to prefer ...' And if the reasonable man -- i.e. the man who is guided by reason -- says that, then what does the unreasonable man say?
      And if the unreasonable man -- the man who is not guided by reason -- says the same thing as the reasonable man, then there is no distinction made here between reason and unreason, and therefore the words 'reasonable' and 'unreasonable' are nonsense, undefined words, sounds without meaning.
      But on the other hand, if it is the unreasonable man who says "It is contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world", then everything is turned back-to-front. (Fair is foul, and foul is fair.) And so we can see that Hume is not using the word 'reason' as we normally use that word.
    (Source: Plato's Tautologies: If the wise man says that the foundation of reason is unreason, or, as Hume calls it "the passions", then what does his antithesis, the fool, say? (The foundations of our life do not themselves have foundations; there is no bedrock (PI § 217) beneath the bedrock -- which is the position Hume wishes to place "the passions": as the bedrock beneath the bedrock, a place that does not exist. What has no foundation has no foundation; which part of 'no' don't you understand.) If the good man enslaves other men, as Aristotle says he does, then what does the evil man do to others?)
  18. To the later Greek mind/way of thinking, a god who demanded the sacrifice of a child's life (as of Iphigenia at Aulis by the goddess Artemis) was "thereby proved to be evil". Euripides said, "If gods do evil then they are not gods." (E. Hamilton, Mythology (1942), v, i, p. 363) But Artemis is a god and therefore she did not and would not demand that Agamemnon kill his daughter. "If good demands that evil be done, then what does evil demand -- that good be done?" is rhetorical-tautological, as is "If a god would demand that, then what would a demon demand?" (Abraham and Socrates contrasted)
    (Source: The Greek gods are fully rational, unlike man who is both a rational and an irrational animal, and therefore knowing the good the gods do only good.)

In Sum: Plato's Method of Tautologies in Ethics

What Plato reasoned his way to, although it is not what he mistook it to be, is a brilliant insight in my view, because it shows that simply through conceptual investigation -- i.e. examination of the grammar of antithetical terms -- it is possible to uncover ethical truths, e.g. to refute the proposition (i.e. thesis) that "The good man helps his friends and harms his enemies". And this is rightfully titled in my view "Plato's Method of Tautologies in Ethics". (But tautologies are not the only proposition type in ethics, e.g. propositions that are proposed answers to the question 'What is the good for man?' can be put to the test of truth and falsity in Socratic question and answer, although those propositions belong to ethics.)

[Is the end of a tautology also its beginning?]


'Tautology' in Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Query: Wittgenstein. Tautologies are circular.

A sea of vagueness: what are we calling 'tautology', what 'circular'? If 'circular' means that an argument explicitly assumes to be true what it says it proves to be true, then I don't see it, as e.g. Tautology: (either p or ~p) -- is that circular?

By 'tautology' the TLP appears to mean: 'any complex proposition [i.e. connection of two elementary propositions] that is "unconditionally true"' (4.461, tr. Ogden). At its simplest, a 'tautology' is 'the logical connection [Logical connectors: 'either or', 'and', 'if then'] of two elementary propositions [an 'elementary proposition states an atomic fact: it is the names of objects in a defined relationship to one another', as e.g. 'The book is on the table', but not 'Book is table on the' (cf. 3.21)] which is true independently of anything else, as e.g. 'Either (The book is on the table) or (The book is not on the table)''.

The simplest proposition, the elementary proposition, asserts the existence of an atomic fact. (4.21) An atomic fact is a combination of objects (entities, things). (2.01) The simple signs employed in propositions are called names. (3.202) The name means the object. The object is its meaning. (3.203)

A 'tautology' can have only the truth value of true, never false: when "the proposition is true for all the truth-possibilities of the elementary propositions. We say that the truth-conditions are tautological." (TLP 4.46)

The tautology has no truth-conditions, for it is unconditionally true. (4.461) Tautology and contradiction are not pictures of the reality ["A Proposition is a Picture of a Fact"]. [Tautology and contradiction] present no possible state of affairs. For the one allows every possible state of affairs, the other none. (4.462) A tautology follows from all propositions: it says ["puts into words that are not nonsense"] nothing. (5.142)

The propositions of logic are tautologies. (6.1) The propositions of logic therefore say nothing. (They are the analytical propositions.) (6.11) That e.g. the propositions 'p' and '~ p' in the connection '~ ( p . ~ p )' give a tautology shows that they contradict one another. (6.1201) The logical propositions describe the scaffolding of the world, or rather they present ["show" = "do not put into words that are not nonsense"] it. They "treat" of nothing. They presuppose that names have meaning, and that elementary propositions have sense. And this is their connection with the world. (6.124)

A presupposition is not a connection. Now, as to circular: "the propositions, from which the proof starts, must show without proof that they are tautologies." (6.126) "Proof in logic is only a mechanical expedient to facilitate the recognition of tautology, where it is complicated." (6.1262)

Any statement that cannot contradict reality, i.e. cannot be false, can be called 'tautological' ('tautology'). And if that statement purports to prove something other than its own truth, as e.g. "The book is on the table (and, therefore, it is not on the floor)", then it is circular. [I wonder what I meant by the second sentence.]

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