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The game is played. Ways of life are defined by rules

These are logic of language (Wittgenstein's expression as my jargon asks: How is language with meaning distinguished from language without meaning in philosophy) remarks and questions, mostly questions.

Is there a place where we ought to say "This language-game is played" (PI § 654), i.e. that a particular phenomenon (in this case, a way of human life) is a given to be accepted rather than seek a justification for ("Forms of life"), that there are ways of life for which there is no explanation? Possibly, but the conclusion always comes at the end of the investigation.

If we have doubts about God, it is about the God of our own religion that we have doubts about, not about the Gods of other religions.

Topics on this page ...

Words that follow "Query:" are Internet searches that directed (and misdirected) visitors to this site, and to which I have responded here.

"Why is there anything at all rather than nothing at all?"

Note: this continues the discussion of some eternal questions without answers.

The absurdity of existence -- both its that-ness and how-ness -- and of our being "thrust" or "hurled" into it at birth (Heidegger). Would Wittgenstein have said, "That is nonsense, for if everything, namely existence itself, were absurd, then nothing would be -- i.e. the word 'absurd' would be meaningless if it were without an antithesis"? No, instead Wittgenstein said "What men mean when they say, The world is there, lies close to my heart" (LE/Notes p. 16). -- But is it enough -- from a grammatical point of view [grammar and sense and nonsense] -- to say that? If the meaning of this combination of words cannot be explained, then it has no meaning. And if it has no meaning, then why should Wittgenstein call it "close to his heart"?

Query: who said "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

According to Gilson it was Leibniz and it was a Christian question, which presupposed the picture of creation out of nothing, which picture Leibniz replaced with his "pre-existent monads" out of which God fashioned "the best possible world", given the pre-existent possibilities (cf. Plato's Demiurge). The Greeks thought of the world as eternal and necessary (otherwise it would never have been) ... or so I have read; however I think it would be strange if Leibniz really had been the first to ever pose this question.

Should I write then, in Questions without Answers: "... that leads us to ask Leibniz's question?" But I don't know if Leibniz saw this question in the way my page does. There may be many ways of understanding it, not just mine.

What is the significance of this fact -- and it is a fact -- that we are not inclined to take existence for granted, but instead question it? It may not have any more significance than any other delusory picture that we have has. There exists a creature with many confused conceptions [concepts]. -- And that is something else that may strike us as absurd, like anything else we are inclined to regard as dysfunctionality in the natural world.

The Capriciousness of Nature

Note: this continues the discussion Ethics versus Values.

See how the Fates their gifts allot,
For A is happy -- B is not.
Yet B is worthy, I dare say,
of more prosperity than A!

Wittgenstein's response was that "the truth is much graver than this fiction" (CV p. 71). But whether we think of the Fates or of physics, it strikes us that there is something not quite right about this world (like a man not quite right in the head): it just doesn't make sense to us. And that we, who are of course ourselves a product of nature, regard nature this way is remarkable. (Granted that, as the Mikado says, the human sense of justice is not perfect: "And I agree, if I am B", nonetheless we do have what the natural world does not appear to have: a sense of appropriateness or balance, a sense of fairness.)

No, the moral capriciousness of nature (nature creates and it destroys and does this for no discernible ethical reason). And yet that is not what Wittgenstein's remark is about but about "things break, slide about, cause every possible mischief". But why is that "grave" (dire)? Because it is what makes man free, the regularity of nature: predictability = freedom. (We would not want God to play god.)

"Thales was wrong: it isn't gods that are in all things, but demons!" (Actually, it is both: things are both benevolent and malevolent in effects.) By 'gods', did Thales mean 'souls': all things have souls in them (Was his view "primitive animism" -- why, is there a non-primitive animism?) Or did he mean something akin to Heraclitus' fire metaphor: there is logos in all things? Is that what he meant by 'god'?

Schweitzer wrote that when after Socrates, the Stoics tried to discover in the world purposive activity, all they were able to discover was "activity pure and simple". (Civilization and Ethics, Part II of The Philosophy of Civilization (The Dale Memorial Lectures, Oxford University, 1922), tr. C.T. Campion, 2nd ed., Chapter 5 (A.&C. Black, 1929, p. 37) -- But what would the world have to look like in order for us to say that "the whole thing" had a purpose to which all the activity within it contributed [a purpose in relationship to which even activities that (looked at in isolation) appeared pointless could be shown to have a point]? Do we have a clear idea of that? If we look at the individual activities within a beehive, we can ask: what is the purpose of this or that? But is the word 'purpose' defined with respect to the beehive as such? If the world were a beehive, we would still be left with the question: why is there a beehive rather than nothing at all? But our world is not, as it were, a beehive: yes, there is purposive activity within the hive; but then a violent rainstorm destroys it all. (The peasant cultivates wheat, and a hailstorm destroys the crop.)

If a man looks at the sky and asks, "Why -- why did this happen?" he will get no answer. "We try to discern meaning ..." Perhaps you could say: we try to remake the world in our own image. Nature creates and destroys, not in the least the way a human being does, unless we imagine a self-destructive adolescent ... What we want to do is to imagine a picture, a mythology, that will put the world to rights for us. But this eludes us.

Do you think there must be a reason why?

"The cussedness of things .... The truth is graver than this fiction." (CV p. 71; RPP i § 139) That is, the "graver view" is that what happens to us is not a manifestation, or, the result, of malignance or capriciousness; it is not the act of an ill-willed god; it is not the product of design, intention, purpose. Why did this happen (e.g. a fall down the stairs)? If one is not asking about physics, then the answer is: not for any reason.

Frederick Copleston rejected the view that one might simply say that things were "de trop" (The world is "just there", things "just happen"). -- What Copleston could do here was to draw attention to forms of life, to those who do and those who do not continue the game (as in "language-game") here. If someone says "no reason", another "God", here there is a profound difference in "forms of life". (-- To what extent is this for the individual a matter of choice? because to that extent it is not a matter of forms of life.)

What Copleston could not do was to justify or condemn continuing or not continuing.

And the truth? The question is: what do we want to do with the word 'truth' here? Wittgenstein says, "The truth is graver than this fiction." But is his way of dividing into fact and fiction anything more than a point of view [a picture, of which there are many]? Is it not arbitrary?

When we think about God we think about "our" God, the familiar concept of our own religion, not foreign ones

We are always pre-occupied with the God of our own religion (or of the religion of our youth), never about the gods of other religions. What Christian ever has troubling thoughts about the Hindu gods? Why do we never ask ourselves about the Existence of God in the context of religions other than our own? or about Providence? We no more do this than we ask these questions about the Greek gods, who, from a religious point of view, we dismiss simply as mythology. And of course Hindus do not take the Christian God seriously either.

Someone raised as a Christian does not worry over the existence of Vishnu (or Iswara, who, I think, Aristotle's God resembles). If he says "Help, Thou, my unbelief" (Mark 9.24), he does not have Vishnu in mind.

If you are brought up as a child to believe in elves (Z § 413) not as a fairy tale (or mythology) but as real, then maybe you are going to have life-long doubts or questions about elves. The impossibility (by definition, ibid. § 259) of verification plays a role in this, but more so the concept's service as an explanation (Bonhoeffer's "God as working-hypothesis"), i.e. its service as answer to a question which ironically it may itself make the asking of possible.

Also, we tend to see other religions on the model of our own religion (the religion we have been brought up in). So that if our religion is a nationalism (e.g. Judaism), we may assume that all religions are nationalisms. Or we may simply think our religion to be a nationalism regardless of whether or not it is, e.g. "the Muslim nation" (although, just as with Christianity, a Muslim may be of any race or nationality), and thus speak of our opponents as "the servants of the cross" regardless of whether those opponents are in the least Christian or not (as if there were a Christian nation or nations to be at war with other nations).

The very word 'religion'

Here the word 'religion' itself is responsible for confusion: one assumes that this is a class with an essence (a common name whose meaning is the common-nature it names), that if something is called 'religion' we knows what that means, as if we had abstracted an essence (but try to say what that essence is, and it become clear that we have abstracted nothing). Whereas one cannot assume any such thing, e.g. that there is an essence of religion.

["There is no essence." How do you know? I have used the formula: We define words, not "things". It reverses the logical order to imagine that there are independently existing phenomena -- "independent" of what? Independent of concepts. Phenomena without concepts are blind, Kant could have said.]

The "Word of God" is always within some frame of reference

The irony of the notion of "sacred scripture" [Surely the "word of God" ought to come through very loud and very clear, although, as is said in the Parables, it doesn't] is that even if one accepts that the god has spoken through his prophets, there is the question of the meaning of what he has said through them. Norman Malcolm quoted Lichtenberg (in German, of which the following is my translation):

A book is a mirror: when an ape looks in, no apostle can look out.

An intolerant man will find in the Gospels an intolerant Jesus; an angry man, an angry Jesus; and so on. [On the other hand, an angry man may find a Lord who is just the opposite of himself in the Gospels, a Lord who is what the angry man wishes that he himself were. It is possible to read many things into a text (and since the written word cannot defend itself, none or all may really be there).]

[Apropos of Xenophanes. It's not only different species that make God in their own image. It's also individual men. And so the God Wittgenstein made in his own image is a different God from the God I make in my own image.]

We try to make ourselves aware of our preconceptions, to set our prejudices to one side. But what we cannot rid ourselves of is conceptions (frames of reference). Every investigation must begin by choosing one frame of reference out of many. There is no absolute objectivity because there is no absolute frame of reference [i.e. the word 'absolute' is undefined here]; it is only within a frame of reference that there is objectivity [i.e. that the word 'objective' is defined]. In philosophy we want to be rid of our subjectivity, of everything arbitrary. But just as important is to recognize the limits of objectivity.

Different cultures may make or remake the divinity or holy man in their own image of happiness. Thus in China, where people have suffered centuries of hunger, the Buddha may have a big round stomach and a big round, laughing face: he is not hungry and struggling, but happy and mild.

Maybe only those who have known hunger (Helmut Kohl after the war when there was so little food, Schweitzer during his student days when he often went hungry) can understand this representation of the Buddha. Maybe only those who have never known such hunger wish thinness on themselves.

Contrasting views of Augustine: Schweitzer and Wittgenstein (A very, very early draft)

There is a later, related discussion, titled "Wittgenstein and Schweitzer as Christians in some sense ... but in which sense?" (Schweitzer, the Enlightenment, and Dogma), about this contrast in world-pictures.

Augustine is rather the villain in Schweitzer's view, for being the author of the Middle Ages: the principal force behind the enduring Medieval world-picture's otherworldliness -- i.e. its rejection of this life and of this world (which Schweitzer called "life-and-world-negation"). In that view man cannot and should not strive to create the Kingdom of God on this fallen earth, but should instead seek only the redemption of his soul and its ascent to Heaven at death. Jesus' Kingdom of God, on the other hand, is delayed sine die.

That is an eschatological view. Schweitzer, however, rejected the understanding of the Kingdom of God found in the Medieval view -- i.e. the picture of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place in the sky so to speak where blessed "souls" go after the death of the body; he contrasted it to the view of Liberal Christianity, which was also Schweitzer's own view: that we must work to bring about the Kingdom of God in this life and in this world. (Schweizerische Theologische Umschau. 1953, quoted in Pilgrimage to Humanity (1961), tr. Walter E. Stuermann, p. 75-76). That is what Schweitzer called "world-and-life-affirmation": the view that this world is not "fallen" but is instead of inherent worth.

Jesus said of those disciples that they wanted to take the kingdom of God by storm. And why shouldn't people if they live Christian lives and therefore belong to the kingdom of God, why shouldn't they force God to bring about the kingdom of God? So it isn't true that man cannot create the kingdom of God on earth, although by himself alone he cannot, because he can force God to create it. All that is necessary is for man to obey the will of Jesus' father in heaven, which is to love God with one's whole heart and in the same breath to love one's neighbor as oneself. (Dostoyevsky's "Ridiculous Man" says something like this, although, if I recall aright, he doesn't believe man will live a godly life for anything. It seems to be true that few men are saintly, and even fewer desire to be saints.)

But with Schweitzer's view of Christianity -- as with Wittgenstein's own religion -- why would we expect there to be a simple summary of a lifetime of thought ["Philosophy in a nutshell"]? There are two elements to Schweitzer's religion that many religious thinkers have defined in such a way as to be irreconcilable -- namely, faith and reason -- but which Schweitzer did not regard as being in need of reconciliation [There was here for Schweitzer no "On the one hand, but on the other hand"]: there is reason ("Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it") -- but there is also devoutness (religious piety).

A general contrast between northern Protestant and Catholic Christian ways of thinking, feeling, worshipping, has been made by historians; and it would apply to Schweitzer -- were it not for the essential role of reason (rationality) rejecting all dogma, which derives from die Aufklärung. About Schweitzer, and maybe as well about Wittgenstein, it may be correct to say that: he was a northern Protestant: "intellectual" (the written word), "mystical" (in the sense of worship being an interior activity), and "musical" (especially Bach, in contrast to the visual arts).

Wittgenstein revered Augustine; he told Drury that he regarded the Confessions as possibly "the most serious book ever written" (Recollections p. 90), which is not to say that Wittgenstein necessarily shared Augustine's religious views (ibid. p. 148). But Schweitzer's attitude was profoundly different: Schweitzer refers simply to "the Church father, Augustine" (Civilization and Ethics, Chapter 5, p. 58) the one most responsible for the world-and-life negation of the Middle Ages (ibid. Chapter 6, p. 63 [cf. Chapter 11, p. 143]).

By beginning the Philosophical Investigations with a quotation from Augustine's Confessions, Wittgenstein was not only honoring Augustine, he was also saying: my book is a serious book too, even if I do not "call on God on every page", even if it says nothing about "all that music has meant in my life" (Recollections p. 160). My book was written with the same religious seriousness.

Wittgenstein told Norman Malcolm (Memoir p. 59-60) that he had chosen to quote St. Augustine at the beginning of his Philosophical Investigations, not because Augustine's view [picture] of language was unique (It might be found in many writers), but out of his deep respect for Augustine.

Enlightenment versus Medieval View

According to Schweitzer "the decisive spiritual event of the modern age" (Civilization and Ethics, Chapter 6, p. 63) occurred during the 15th-18th centuries when Christianity turned away from life-and-world-negation (that is, from regarding "this world" as without inherent worth, which was the view of the historical Jesus and of the Medieval Church) to life-and-world-affirmation (Because of Jesus' ethic of love, there had always been in Christianity an affirmation of the worth of ethical progress, despite its lack of an affirmation of the worth of material progress: Schweitzer's metaphor was that one does seek to make improvements to a house that is being torn down). But Wittgenstein's world-view was medieval rather than modern: it consisted of life-and-world-negation (He did not regard man's material progress as being of inherent worth), at least to the extent that it was Christian, which I think it largely was.

Therefore, brethren, be ye patient, till to the coming of the Lord. (Wycliffe Bible, Jas. 5.7)

The Apostle James, however, says in the next verse that "the coming of the Lord is at hand". Can, by definition, one say "at hand" 2000 years later -- i.e. is that what we mean by the expression 'at hand'?

In those days came John the Baptizer, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3.1-2)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of [the kingdom of (many copies add)] God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Mark 1.14-15)

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4.17; these words are not found, however, as far as I know, in The Gospel according to Luke)

The plain reading of the text, the plain reading of 'at hand', cannot be 'in the millennia to come'.

The word 'heaven', as the note says, was used as a way to avoid using the word 'God', out of reverence. Thus 'kingdom of heaven' = 'kingdom of God' (It does not mean 'kingdom beyond the sky'). To 'repent' means: to ask forgiveness for one's wrong-doing and to forgive others any wrong they have done to one, but also: to change one's way of life in order to cease wrong-doing.

Those theologians who say that for God a millennium is no more than a moment [cf. Psalm 90.4] ("time in the eyes of God" [who -- muddled concept that 'God' is -- "exists outside time"]) are playing with words ["sophistry"], evading [dodging] the problem rather than facing it; neither John nor Jesus adds "in the eyes of God". One can always find some way of looking at a problem that makes the problem appear to disappear.

... the main problem of primitive dogmatics [according to Reimarus] was the delay of the Parousia. (Quest of the Historical Jesus, tr. Montgomery (1910), p. 21)

How many generations of injustice has humanity suffered in these years of waiting for Christ's return? For Schweitzer that ancient and Medieval world-picture is not "true and serviceable". But, therefore, what can be done with it -- i.e. what meaning can we give to [invent for] Jesus's teaching of the ethical Kingdom of God if we separate it from the world-picture of late Jewish Messianic mythology that he shared?

If, as Schweitzer did, "we let the text say what it says" and not try to force a strange or eccentric reading ("interpretation") of it, then what it says is -- that Jesus apocolyptic-eschatological expectation was mistaken: his death and resurrection did not bring about the Kingdom of God; he did not return "on the clouds" as the supernatural Son of Man. By the word 'imminent' no one means 'millennia in God's eyes'.

On the other hand, can anyone believe that the Kingdom of God can be created by us in this world ["My Kingdom is not of this world": my kingdom is not this world, but the supernatural Messianic kingdom that God will shortly transform this world into], so long as the seven deadly sins remain. Is it not, as Voltaire said, that the best we can do is to work in our garden, knowing full well that the weeds (i.e. the unwanted native plants) will always return, because their seeds are generated by human nature, knowing full well that the revolution we so earnestly desire, the revolution in man's heart [mind], is never going to happen, that man will never accept Augustine's words that "whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done"? ("Voltaire's garden" -- but small outposts [villages] of the Kingdom of God can be established, however briefly, even there ("you can have your Lambaréné anywhere") -- i.e. even here in this world: if the Kingdom of God lives within you, you can bring that which is in you into this world, even if only in the smallest of ways. [Schweitzer's view is not far from the Socratic-Stoic view, although Schweitzer speaks, not of ignorance as the source of our wrong-doing, but instead of "the stubborn man within" who sees what he must do but refuses to do it ... although maybe the truth is that he thinks he sees something better than what he says he sees, deceiving himself by his own words.])

And, so, is that "on the other hand" the reason for the persistence of belief in an apparently, if not obviously, canceled kingdom? Obviously, there are many reasons (two of which are the willingness of some human beings to embrace dogma and superstition, and the ability of many human beings to avoid thinking about disturbing doctrines, pushing them as it were to the periphery of their visual field, focusing on Jesus's ethic of love, while silencing doubts about other things). But one reason, and a very powerful reason at that, may indeed be that "My sins have gone over my head" and that I am in need of redemption ("Life can educate one to belief in God ...").

Any man who is half-way decent will think himself extremely imperfect, but a religious man thinks himself wretched. (CV p. 45)

So we have two points of view, one "Medieval" and pessimistic -- i.e. it is not that improvements cannot be made in the conditions of men's lives, but that these improvements cannot be made permanent: "My kingdom is not of this world": it cannot be brought into existence by men, but requires a supernatural agent. And one "Enlightened" and optimistic.

The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It is not absurd e.g. to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion ... (ibid. p. 56)

On the one hand, this view may be "Medieval": that the condition of humanity is hopeless. But we must distinguish between and between: because it is not necessary to be religious in order to believe that; it may be a question of practical doubts, both: mankind is going in a self-destructive direction, and, it is his own nature that is sending him there. But on the other hand, the religious view would be that, because of God, salvation (versus self-destruction) is nonetheless possible, even if not necessarily in this world [this life]. That would be part of what we mean by 'religious faith'. But one might also believe that science (the growth of knowledge) and technology (leading to control over nature) will save humanity; that would be a faith, but not a religious one.

Can someone just choose one point of view or the other -- or does life force one view or the other on each individual? (ibid. p. 86). Or is this a matter of forms of life.

Where we ought instead to say "This game is played"

I wonder if you can ever speak about religion except in the first person, i.e. at your own level, or at the stage in your understanding where you stand when you speak. -- In the sense that: can you avoid seeing it through your own techniques of understanding? It's not as if I could suspend my critical reason, philosophical skepticism: that would be like saying "Think, but not really", and I don't know how to do that. Should we distinguish between forms of life here on the basis of techniques of understanding?

When I think about my life, I often in my thoughts ask people I have known to forgive me. But I cannot imagine ever asking God to forgive me. God starts life as a superman (He walks in the Garden, Moses sees His back) (anthropomorphic polytheism), but then ceases to be a man of any type, super or not (monotheism). And at that point (monotheism) I no longer understand this idea, which appears to me to be no more that an incoherent picture, a grammatical editing of the concept 'God' that results in nonsense [like Russell's hippopotamus, an object without dimensions or mass -- but then what does it mean to call "it" an 'object'?].

Does anyone really believe that "God is known by the things he has made", by all the things he has made? I think it was Schweitzer's faith that God is not so known. (Who is the Father of Jesus' religion?) But if someone does believe that, then mustn't he ask himself: If this world is not just, then why believe that its Creator is? God may be love, but one cannot deduce that from the forces of nature [although the human heart, i.e. the human will to love, is also a force of nature, it is far from the only one]. Nothing about dogmatic Christianity makes sense, and believers know that it doesn't, yet they continue to believe. But if religious belief is indeed non-rational ("Here I do not use reason") -- then how is one to come to a rational understanding of it? Clearly one cannot [Certainly one cannot if one follows the path I have taken with these remarks].

"Language-games as the original phenomena"

Our mistake is to look for an explanation where we ought to look at what happens as a "proto-phenomenon"; that is, where we ought to have said: this language-game is played.

The question is not one of explaining a language-game ... but of noting a language-game. (PI §§ 654-655 [cf. Z § 541-542])

Am I looking for an explanation where I ought instead to be saying: This game is played; -- not this language-game, because the specific language used in the case of religion is apparently secondary; and because nonsense is nonsense for everyone if sense and nonsense are objective, as they are in Wittgenstein's logic of language. (That is, religious behavior may be compared to games -- i.e. activities done more or less according to rules -- and we might speak of the "religious game", but the comparison of religious behavior to primitive language-games would need to be defined, because it has no obvious meaning -- i.e. there is no natural extension of a concept -- here.)

'Proto-phenomenon' means: there is no basis for this; it is bedrock: it is the basis of other things. What you must remember about a language-game:

it is not based on grounds. It is not reasonable (or unreasonable). It is there -- like our life. (OC § 559)

Nothing comes before this: "In the beginning ..." There is no bedrock beneath the bedrock.

["Grammar tells what kind of object anything is. (Theology as grammar.)" (PI § 373) But is faith following reflection ["faith seeking understanding"] what we find puzzling about religious belief? because theological reflections are subject to criticism (the critical use of reason); whereas according to Gilson: "faith is not found at the conclusion of any philosophical reasoning." And it is the dogmatic faith of Gilson's type -- that "proto-phenomenon", that world-picture -- that we want to understand in the Philosophy of Religion. (Why would Wittgenstein have reproached Drury, saying: "You mustn't pick and choose just what you want in that way"? It wasn't out of his acceptance of dogma. Things are not so simple as I have described them here.]

Can Philosophy be Taught?

"Almost always, what I write is only me talking to myself" (CV p. 77). I am trying to get a clear view of something -- for my own sake; not for anyone else's: countless other people have as much or far more talent for thinking as I have: what can I give such people? At most a glossary of Wittgenstein's jargon.

I don't think that you can teach anyone else philosophy, because you cannot ask their questions or do their thinking for them: maybe you can help them to have thoughts of their own (although you may as easily stop them from having thoughts of their own); maybe you can introduce them to metaphors and methods (which you hope they will not turn into mechanical formulas); maybe you can present them with examples of critical thinking, of critical thinking as a way of life (Socrates). But we are all far better off going to the original sources. So why? Before the Internet I wrote in notebooks, but what I wrote in notebooks was never rewritten. Now, because what I write here is public, it gets rewritten, and each rewriting is more critical thought applied to the questions. So this is useful to me.

My thoughts probably move in a far narrower circle than I suspect. (CV p. 63)

The circle of my own thoughts is indeed very narrow. The logic of language, the justification for belief, and the nobler life (the good man of the Greeks), is about the limit. What else do I think about?

Philosophical Integrity (Ethics)

I am wary of myself when stating facts. (And I don't know how many texts on a topic one has to read in order to be justified in believing that one knows the facts. But more than one, I think. And then one has to remember exactly what one has read, and I am not good at that.) I am indeed irresponsible, because if a proposed fact seems plausible to me -- because it is either consistent with what I believe I already know or undermines what I believed I knew -- I don't investigate further; instead I immediately turn to the ideas it suggests to me. Is this an example being without "philosophical integrity" -- i.e. ethical character of my lack of character: aren't facts as important as ideas? In many cases in our lives, because of the practical-ethical consequences of ideas, facts are far more important than ideas: ideas based on false statements of fact can be very harmful to human life. (What is the application of "For the gods see everywhere" to philosophy? "With the idea, now is always", Drury wrote.)

Seeking authority in philosophy

I received the following note asking, I think, for my qualifications to write about Wittgenstein's philosophy. The short answer is that I have none. But I wrote a slightly longer one too. An Internet mail I was sent and my response to it:


"I was searching for some overviews on Wittgenstein's thinking and came to your extensive site. I am only beginning to read the contributions, but can you tell me your background -- student, professor....?"

My response:

I am neither, and as the Introduction to my pages states, "This is not a work of history or of scholarship" (A work of scholarship would for example include a review of the literature on the subject, as in Aristotle). I don't anywhere claim to speak with authority.

About me there is this page, and more specifically about philosophy and me there is this note.

To use what I have written as an overview, please see the Introduction and then the Synopsis. But on the other hand, books in the library are, from the school point of view, maybe far safer guides.

My reply was rough (irascible), and perhaps unreasonable. Because it is of course quite natural not to want to waste your time with harebrained stuff ... but oughtn't you to be able to judge that for yourself, and indeed in philosophy, mustn't you? What am I being asked: Do I say the same things that the "academic authorities" say? I don't know: I haven't read them in thirty years, and those I read at that time left a very bad impression: philosophy done in the old way: vague (with few definitions of words or examples to make their meaning clear), mixing verbal and real definitions up all over the place, being oblivious to that distinction, classifying Wittgenstein's work as belonging to this or that ill-defined category, (Russell's "a linguistic philosophy", as if J.L. Austin's conception of philosophy weren't very different from Wittgenstein's), etc., the traditional "fog and filthy air" of the professional philosophers.

I might have added to my reply that, so far am I from being a professor or student, if anything new is happening in philosophy, I would have no way of knowing about it. I live quite alone with only old books for company.

"Harebrained stuff." But I am reminded of an old movie about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec where he says: "Some people go to the gallery to look at the name plates under the paintings." The worth of what is written in philosophy is something you must judge with your own critical reason.

What the "Introduction" should say is: This is a work of philosophy, not of scholarship or of history, and that is how it should be judged. What I have written must in history stand to the evidence (and therefore I must cite my sources), and in philosophy stand to reason.

When someone speaks as an historian, we can question with what authority he speaks, what his qualifications are [If someone speaks about the meaning of historical events, we should ask him how well acquainted he is with those events (the evidence)]. However, when someone speak as a philosopher, we cannot demand to know with what authority he speaks, because in philosophy he does not speak with authority; no philosopher does. A philosopher speaks with reasons or describes a point of view, a way of looking at things.

Query: how to understand Wittgenstein.

This was sent to the correct page -- namely my homepage where it says "Introduction (Please begin here)", because this is "how to understand Wittgenstein": begin by understanding the nature of his principles, which are comparisons rather than ontological. But I think it is impossible to get anyone to begin by reading my Introduction.

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