Home - Wittgenstein's Logic of Language | Bibliography (abbreviations)

Thought-Worlds

How shall Plato reduce an essence? The basic trouble with Plato's Forms is that they cannot be identified, and as such cannot be the meaning of the language we speak. And yet language is their origin and the basis of Plato's claim for their reality.

Prisoners of thought-worlds

Everyman is a prisoner of his own thought-world. Our thoughts are the world we live in. That is the place concepts hold in our life, to give meaning to our perceptions (Kant), to express and direct our interests (PI § 570), to form our world-pictures. (This is not quite right.)

A philosophy is a rational way of looking at things in logic, ethics, and/or metaphysics. A philosophy is not the truth. A philosophy is a way of looking at things, nothing more. It is an organizing principle, a "making sense of things", an "interpretation", one way out of countless possible ways. (In this one respect it is comparable to a theory, in that neither a theory nor a conception is true, only more or less serviceable.)

We human beings are prisoners of our own thought-worlds. A world-picture is a thought-world. A philosophy is thought-world. Or can one be cured by philosophy, i.e. freed from one's captivity? Only when it is criticism of "stupid ways of thinking", or always?

Site background: These are history of philosophy and "logic of language" studies. The expression 'the logic of our language' is Wittgenstein's, but in my jargon it means: any way of making an objective distinction between sense (i.e. meaning in language) and nonsense, which is the first question or problem in philosophy. What I have called "Wittgenstein's logic of language" is one way, but not necessarily the only one.


Topics on this page ...


"Defining Qualities"

Query: what do all games have in common?

It is not enough that they all have something in common; that something must also be defining. E.g. you could point out that all games have this in common: that they are all human activities. However, there are many human activities that are not games, and therefore being human activities is not (at least, not by itself) defining of games -- i.e. of the word 'game'. (Socrates' requirement for definitions of common names, according to Aristotle. | Wittgenstein about the "grammar" of 'game'.)

"Either Unfounded or Trivial"

Note: this continues the earlier discussion in Wittgenstein's Limited Aim in Philosophy, which I do not now believe was a correct account. For according to Wittgenstein, at least at the time of the Philosophical Investigations (and of the TLP), this, his aim was the only one possible in philosophy: clarification of the limits of language.

As to On Certainty, was that still the aim? Its investigations are still conceptual only, but I don't remember whether everything discussed there is treated as a language muddle, although it may well be.

For even in the Philosophical Investigations many remarks serve not to dissolve problems so much as to describe Wittgenstein's methods and his view of how language works, its "logic" as in "logic of language": man can -- i.e. there are limits -- do only so much with language, according to Wittgenstein (for some philosophers have assumed that language can be used to ascend to God). Whether he was correct in where he identified those limits, however, is another set of questions, both about particular cases and in all cases.

[Of the Philosophical Investigations, Bertrand Russell wrote,] Its positive doctrines seem to me trivial and its negative doctrines unfounded. (My Philosophical Development (1959))

"... bewitchment by means of language" (PI § 109) -- is it a doctrine or is it [only] a summing up of earlier remarks: "In these examples and those which follow, we see again and again that what appeared to be philosophical problems were instead merely conceptual [language] muddles", and possibly a statement of Wittgenstein's method (of distinguishing a conceptual from a factual investigation, of examining the meaning of propositions rather than their [supposed] truth or falsity)?

Because I don't think that Wittgenstein would have said that Plato's "we are discussing no small matter, but how to live" is a discussion that only arises because those who are discussing it have been mystified by language. As a doctrine, of course, it ("Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of the intellect by means of language") would fail by committing "The Fallacy of SOME, therefore ALL" (Unless Wittgenstein is claiming that discussing ethics isn't philosophy at all [Note.--Wittgenstein was wedded to the notion of an "absolute value", which is a Kantian view of ethics, a view which is perhaps -- I'm not sure -- religious rather than ethical (for ethics, if it is possible at all in the Socratic way, is philosophy, which is a thoroughgoing application of reason. Note: That any particular philosophy is only a -- i.e. one way, not the only way -- rational way of looking at things does not exclude [does not justify excluding] ethics from philosophy -- for all philosophy is nothing more than rational ways of looking at things; that is all "Wittgenstein's logic of language" e.g. is, nothing more than one possible project in philosophy)]). But I don't know whether it is a doctrine [thesis] or not: if it is claimed to be a universal insight, however, then it is a thesis. But to those cases to which it applies, it is certainly not trivial, as Russell thought it to be. (Socrates in Xenophon: those who believe they know what they don't know are misled themselves and mislead others. And to believe that an investigation is factual when it is not, is to think you know what you do not know. And being disabused of that delusion is not trivial, not at all trivial.)

Russell on Wittgenstein's "doctrines", saying that they are either trivial or unfounded. As to "trivial", they are not trivial to those who recognize that language entraps them as a fly in a fly-bottle (PI § 309) -- for to the fly, as to Russell, the bottle is invisible (language being merely "the transparent clothing of thought") -- and grateful to find a route out of the vagueness and confusion which a failure to understand the logic of our language has created. But as to "unfounded"? -- Question: is "Philosophy is a struggle against bewitchment by language" a doctrine? Wittgenstein's statement does say "Philosophy is ..." (Although it does not say that this is all philosophy is, the statement about "destroying houses of cards" (ibid. § 118) certainly does seem to amount to saying that) -- does seem to be a doctrine -- a theory, thesis, or model of the limits language imposes -- about the nature of philosophy. Is it unfounded? Is it the conclusion of induction [i.e. an investigation of many cases -- but factual induction cannot yield logical necessity: it cannot raise SOME to ALL] or merely a "requirement" (ibid. § 107) imposed by Wittgenstein on his investigations? The latter I don't think. (Note: his "insight" into our language's logic here yields no more than one way of looking at things; it cannot [by means of logic] force anyone to look at things that way. But, yet, Wittgenstein does treat his insight as an insight into the facts, not simply as a way of looking at things.)

Of course, if Wittgenstein regarded philosophy as being no more than logic (of language) studies, its theses (ibid. § 128) (Russell's "doctrines". -- No, that is wrong; I don't think they are what what Russell means by the word 'doctrine'), being nothing more than descriptions of how we use or might use our language ("grammatical remarks") -- those descriptions might appear to be trivial (although there is nothing trivial about what I have called "Plato's tautological ethics" ["conceptual tautologies in ethics"] (e.g. Republic 335e): it's true that Plato's "theses" are nothing more than remarks that make the interconnections of our concepts clear, but seeing those interconnections is vital to Socratic ethics, hence the importance, rightly understood, of definitions in the philosophy). But "houses of cards", "bewitchment by means of language" -- those are not mere descriptions of our language's logic: they are instead statements (claims) about the very nature (essence) of philosophy [but "essence belongs to grammar"?]. And, so, are they "unfounded"? (Here we owe ourselves a definition of 'unfounded'.) But one thing we can say is that if Wittgenstein's thesis about the nature of philosophy is "founded", then it is not in the least trivial. (Note that his thesis is not merely a simile, a comparison (CV p. 19) that one might adopt or not adopt as one's way of looking at things.)

Although Wittgenstein had doubts about some of his ideas -- he told Malcolm that he would like to have had the Philosophical Investigations mimeographed for his friends with notes next to some of his remarks such as "This is not quite right", "This is fishy" (Memoir 2e, p. 75) -- he did not have doubts about its point of view, about its assessment of the nature of philosophy, for that stretches back to his beginnings, to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (See TLP 4.112), and the "bewitchment" thesis belongs to that [point of view and assessment].

Question: was it Wittgenstein's project in philosophy to show that all philosophical problems -- including the riddle of our life -- are no more than conceptual muddles? Queer sort of project that, though, to show that philosophy is like "scratching an itch", as if philosophical problems were "an irritation" for which philosophers were searching for a "cure" (CV p. 86-87, a remark from 1950, near the very end of Wittgenstein's life); cf. PI § 119: philosophy as a guard against pointless bumps to the head: "These bumps make us see the value of the discovery" of the "plain nonsense" that has caused them). Compare that to the noble project of the philosophy of Socrates' -- i.e. thoroughgoing reason as the guide how man should live his life -- and that is an example of cultural decline that Wittgenstein alluded to (in my opinion, of course). When Wittgenstein talks about logic of language, I listen, but when he talks about the essence of ethics, I don't take him too seriously.

Getting hold of the difficulty deep down is what is hard.... Because if it is grasped near the surface it simply remains the difficulty it was. [Cf. removing the top of a dandelion without removing its root: it simply grows back. If gardening is the metaphor Wittgenstein had in mind here.] It has to be pulled out by the roots; and that involves our beginning to think about these things in a new way.... The new way of thinking is what is so hard to establish. Once the new way has been established, the old problems vanish; and indeed they become hard to capture.... For they go with our way of expressing ourselves and, if we clothe ourselves in a new form of expression, the old problems are discarded along with the old garment. (CV p. 48)

And so that remark is really apropos of "bewitchment by means of language", as if changing a form of expression ("As long as there is a verb 'to be' that looks as if it functioned the way the verb 'to eat' does ..." (CV p. 15; cf. PI II, x, p. 190, para. 11) were enough to remove a difficulty ("An unsuitable type of expression is a sure means of remaining in a state of confusion" (ibid. § 339)), because at first it looks as if Wittgenstein is talking about a new way of looking at things, but instead he is talking about forms of expression (although a new form of expression may be part of a new way of looking at things). As if the riddle of our life could be removed by new forms of expression (cf. CV p. 61). (Maybe it could be, but our humanity would be removed with it: without the "eternal questions", man would not be man. An operation to the brain could also accomplish that, but it would be a "crime against humanity").

I said that, a philosophy is a rational way of looking at things. "... but in that case we never get to the end of our work" (Z § 447, but taken out of context). And I want to reply: Of course not, because everything in philosophy is in question and always will be, and that includes the selection of a point of view, Wittgenstein's or anyone else's. There is no absolute point of reference in philosophy, but only more or less arbitrary relative points (Indeed, the combination of words 'absolute point of reference' is undefined in philosophy. That combination of words is defined -- if it is defined even there -- only in religion, where, for example, God is the absolute point of reference, the eye of God the absolute viewpoint.)

Query: philosophy is difficult to understand because of language.

Well, this is it: is it because of language or because of the inherent difficulty of the topics of philosophy (or both -- but we should be able to resolve the language difficulties, for those are difficulties of our own creation)? Wittgenstein believed it was the first, but Aristotle the second.

Is the difficulty in the problems or in the language? Why is philosophy hard to understand (both in the cases of the writings of others and one's own thinking)?

At another level, the response to the query might be to describe the reasons for philosophical jargon. The only difficulty with philosophical jargon arises if a thorough explanation of its meaning not been given.

As to writers of "unreadable sentences", you must decide whether it is worth your while to invent a meaning to assign to their language -- or the language of their translators. I'm not often willing to undertake that invention (Kant would be an exception). For if a man cannot express himself clearly, then I question whether his own thinking is clear, and if he understands what he himself has written (By Socratic standards, if he understands what he has written then he can give an account, under dialectical (question, cross-question) examination, of what he understands to others).


Inscribed over Plato's doorway: "Only geometers may enter"

Geometric equality ("Proportionate [Proportional] equality" -- i.e. equality of worth -- versus "Mathematical equality" -- i.e. equality of numbers, as in aristocracy versus democracy) as a standard of measurement, was at least part of the importance geometry had for Plato. But, for the following discussion, consider the method of geometry -- not its method of straightedge and compass (which tries to mingle soul [mind] with body [sense perception]) -- but its method of deduction ... what place did that have in Plato's thinking?

Someone looks at axiomatic-proofs-geometry and thinks: This might be done with philosophy, too, if only one could identify the correct axioms to begin with, and on these found philosophy. (That was indeed what Descartes was to try to do many centuries later.)

"The moderns have turned philosophy into mathematics, though they pretend that one should study them for further ends" (Metaphysics 992a32, quoted in Guthrie, Aristotle, p. 22). What does Aristotle mean by the word 'mathematics' here? By 'mathematics' the Stoics meant what we call 'physics' (or at least they included what we call 'physics' in mathematics), but clearly that isn't what Aristotle is talking about, for Aristotle himself included natural philosophy as a category of Philosophy.

The inscription over Plato's door was: "Only geometers may enter" (Guthrie is skeptical about this story, characterizing the superscription as merely "alleged", ibid. p. 23n1). Question: is the "mathematics" that Aristotle is talking about -- does he mean the model of geometry (i.e. of thinking, reasoning, the model of the method of geometry), that is of postulates as in Plato and theorems derived from them? (Plato's almighty and over-riding axiom, which is Archimedes' fulcrum to him [Plato], derived from Heraclitus: either knowledge is of what is not subject to change or there can be no knowledge.). Or does Aristotle mean what apparently Plato meant, namely, geometrical (in contrast to arithmetic) equality or proportion, which in effect amounts to: The truth is not decided by taking a vote? Maybe Aristotle simply means the study of what we call 'mathematics' for its own sake (but that possibility is not philosophically interesting. By "moderns" Aristotle seems to mean Plato's successor as head of his school, the Academy, Speusippus).

Maybe we can well imagine a Greek thinker, after his being astonished by the existence and the beauty of axiomatic proofs in geometry (Euclidean-type geometry), thinking to himself that this might also be done with philosophy -- i.e. that knowledge of the reality behind the mere appearances of things (as given by sense perception) -- might be deduced from philosophical axioms just as well-founded as those of geometry. But whether what we imagine is a picture of any event in history, I don't know. How far Plato went in believing that he had found those axioms, I also don't know; he certainly thought that he had found some of them. Descartes, on the other hand (and Spinoza even more so), thought that he had found those axioms and that he could build a system as profound and certain, as objective and reliable, as axiomatic geometry is (or was thought to be).

Query: why is geometry good for philosophy?

For deductive philosophy in the manner of the Rationalists, geometry (or mathematics) is sometimes used as the model for a priori reasoning (from which reasoning the Rationalists claim to establish synthetic a priori propositions, that is, true statements knowable independently of sense experience). As an example of another type of thing done with geometry, see Plato's Timaeus "with its generation of physical elements from geometrical figures" (Guthrie, Aristotle, p. 94). (Cf. the Pythagoreans held that bodies are made from numbers.) Of course, for someone who believes that the Rationalists were deluded in their belief that they could deduce the nature of reality from their own ideas, geometry -- that is, the model of geometry -- may appear to be bad for philosophy.

Query: the philosophy of logic as a branch of idealism.

And so, from the last query, we maybe see how the Rationalists might believe that logic is a branch of idealism, or at least of idea-ism, for all Rationalists believe that they can deduce the nature of reality, using only their tool (namely, logic), from the contents (i.e. "clear and distinct ideas") of their own consciousness.

However, geometry is of no importance to Socrates' inquiries for they are inductive (i.e. reason is not allowed to float free of experience, but must always face the test of experience) rather than purely deductive (in the manner of geometry). And as for the study of geometry as such, a man may be "wise in geometry" (as the artisans were wise in their trades) without being wise in how man should live his life.

Query: how do Plato's forms in Phaedo reflect geometry?

The figures of geometry are universals, and thus Plato's forms may be compared to geometric figures such as the triangle, of which there is an archetype (i.e. a general definition of 'triangle', something like 'a three-sided, closed geometric figure, the sum of the interior angles of which is the same as two right angles' [unless the "sum of the interior angles" clause is a theorem rather than part of the definition (Which it is, I can no longer remember)]) and then of which there are countless (i.e. "as many as you like; even more") instances of triangles; regardless of what e.g. these triangles individual interior angles may measure or to what their sides are congruent, they are all take their name from their archetype. Something like this is a possible comparison. However, whether Plato's forms "reflect" geometry -- i.e. whether Plato got the idea for his forms from geometry -- is a different question, and one I don't know the answer to. (As to the Phaedo in particular, I don't remember what similes Plato uses there.)

Question: How does one "reduce an essence"?

How can Virtue be both one thing, always the same, and yet be divisible into parts?

For example, is the essence of courage the same as the essence of piety? In Laches 198b-e Plato says that knowledge of courage is one thing, always the same. Broadening that, later Plato will ask: how can "knowledge" be one thing, always the same (as he says in Euthyphro 5d about "holiness"), and the same thing might be said of "virtue" in this dialog (198a)? How can knowledge be one thing when we call so many things that are quite unalike or even opposite to one another knowledge (or 'knowledge') (Philebus 13e-14a)?

The defining common quality of a class Plato will later call its "Form" (archetype or pattern), and it is only in his later dialogs that he examines the difficulties which his notion of supersensible Forms involves. For a Form is a unity, an essence, and e.g. If virtue is a Form, then how can it have parts which do not have the same essential nature, for even if all virtue is knowledge of good and bad, the knowledge of courage and the knowledge of piety are very different and cannot be defined simply as knowledge of good and bad but must be differentiated, that is, courage and piety do not have the same essential nature (nor could they have or 'courage' and 'piety' would be mere synonyms of 'virtue' rather than the names of parts of virtue). But Plato's doctrine of Forms is not stated in the Laches, and we should not anticipate the developments of Plato's thinking and read into the Laches something which Plato may not have had in mind at all when he composed it.

How is it that we call them all by the same name, namely, 'knowledge' when they appear to be as different as different can be? Plato will ask this question, but he has no answer for it. The question is: at what point does it stop being a philosophical question and become a question, maybe without answer (a rhetorical, "full stop" question, as Drury would say), about the peculiar psychology of man, about how man is able to call by a single name things which are very different, and some not only quite different but opposite to one another? The question is: of which subject should this question be asked: "How is it possible?" What does the word 'how' mean in this question?

Is all philosophy can do here mere "logic of language" (in my jargon) studies? We can describe the various things we do with the word 'knowledge', which like every other word is our tool, but we cannot explain how it is possible for us to do these things. (And which type of possibility is that "cannot"? What is the word 'explain' to mean here? Speculation? What do we want from philosophy -- Logic or Metaphysics? That question each man must answer for himself.)

Query: the difference between Justice is a virtue and Justice is virtue.

That the combination of words 'Justice is a virtue' is defined (has a normal use in the language) in the language, whereas 'Justice is virtue' is undefined. That is the difference.


The "Five Cardinal Virtues" - a conceptual investigation

There are many other virtues, or, excellences proper to man (as well as uniquely human), besides {courage, piety or holiness, justice, temperance or self-control, wisdom}. Or maybe it is clearer if we name the members of the class 'human excellence' this way: {being brave, being pious, being fair, being self-controlled, being wise}. Because there are other virtues, such as patience and modesty ... but these two seem to be (and 'courage' can be included with them) all members of the class 'self-control'. However, piety does not seem to be a kind of self-control but only a kind of wisdom, as does justice.

Question: doesn't wisdom seem to be the odd man out in the set of five cardinal virtues? Wisdom is the excellence that is necessary to all the virtues, because wisdom is their guide. And yet, wisdom is an excellence that is proper to man, but it occupies a special position in the class of the rational virtues, for how can it be a rational moral virtue? (Are not all human excellences rational? Creative imagination, artistic creation, may at some points make use of reason, but they need not. And yet they are distinctly human excellences, but they are akin to instinct, but uniquely human instinct.)

But are all the virtues members of the class 'wisdom' ... but that is not correct. "Well, but haven't you said that virtue is wisdom (or, knowledge)?" Yes, but what does that mean exactly? If you know what is good (or, if you have wisdom or knowledge of the good), then you will do what is good. But that does not make the concepts 'being wise' and 'being good' identical. Wisdom is, rather, the guiding virtue, the virtue that is the necessary guide to all the others. Is wisdom itself then a virtue? Yes, it is an excellence proper to man. Is goodness (or, being good) a virtue? No, 'good' and 'virtuous' are, in this context, the same concept.

Is reason not the excellence that is most proper to man? (Artistic creativity)

So you say that the excellence proper to man is reason, or that reason is the excellence proper to man. However, it would be very strange to say that something man does, and only man does, namely, artistic creation, is not an excellence proper to man. Look at all the arts: music composition, literature (poetry), architecture and the others. Although these may at some points make use of reason, they are not the products of reason alone, and they need not use reason at all.

So are you going to say that artistic creation does not belong to the excellence that is proper to (or, specific to, or, definingly characteristic of) man? Is not humor also an excellence specific to man. And there may be countless others. And so why say that reason is the highest good (the most useful and the most excellent) for man?

Man can live without the arts, whereas he cannot live without discourse of reason, for to live without reason would be to cease to be man (This is a "grammatical" remark/reminder about what we mean by the word 'man', that we don't simply mean a body but also a mind, and a mind with particular characteristics): man without the arts is possible, but man without reason is not. But is man without ethics also imaginable? But ethics is a use of reason (It is reflection, not instinct), and Socratic ethics (how man should live his life) is guided only by the human excellence of reason.)

But is artistic creativity an ethical excellence ("moral virtue") that is proper to man?

An entirely irrational artist -- if such a thing be possible -- would be more natural phenomenon than man. An exotic animal. (Beasts are not only "wanting discourse of reason"; they are also wanting an aesthetic sense: they are surrounded by so much natural beauty, but they don't see it.)

Grammatically, of course, beasts cannot see it -- i.e. the combination or words 'Beasts have an aesthetic sense' is undefined. (Cf. 'The bird perceives the beauty of the sunset', but a sunset is only beautiful in human eyes.) What to see here: (1) that this belongs to grammar, and (2) that it is a reminder (as are all the other "questions without answers", e.g. here 'Do beasts have an aesthetic sense?') to be grateful for what man has been given (without failing to also recognize man's limitations: e.g. man knows nothing of the souls of beasts; he can do nothing more than make comparisons to the human soul).

Wittgenstein alludes to "the mental life of plants", saying that plants lack that life (CV p. 72). But the truth is that we would not know what anyone meant if he said that plants did not lack that life. Thus it cannot be Wittgenstein's view that the proposition 'Plants are without mental life' is a statement of fact (rather than merely a rule of grammar, for what cannot be false also cannot be true, etc.). And that is what is important here. About, as it were, a plant's soul I know nothing. (The background to these remarks is Wittgenstein's concept 'forms of life'. Cf. "We do not say that possibly a dog talks to itself. Is that because we are so minutely acquainted with its soul?" (PI § 357))


Museums in the Greek World

By 'museum' (Mouseion) the Greeks meant 'a place where there was a cult of the Muses', and both Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum were such places. "The Mouseion [in Alexandria, Egypt] ... besides its name, had other features borrowed from the Academy and Lyceum" (Guthrie, Aristotle (1981), p. 41). Guthrie speaks of the customs of Plato's Academy "with its cult of the Muses" (ibid. p. 39).

The Greek word 'peripatos' ("Peripatetic")

[When Aristotle returned to Athens after having been away for thirteen years,] Xenocrates had succeeded to the head ship of the Academy. Aristotle began to teach independently in the Lyceum, the gymnasium of the precinct of Apollo Lykeios. This, like the Academy, was a public place where sophists and rhetors would gather their pupils around them, and it had been a favorite haunt of Socrates ["Cf. the beginning of Plato's Euthyphro ..." (p. 38n2]. Each would have his chosen gymnasium and his favorite covered walk within it, where he could always be found. [The Greek word for a public covered walk is peripatos, and Aristotle chose one such walk in the Lyceum] where he would walk up and down [The words "where he would walk up and down" are those of Hermippus, who lived in the 3rd Century B.C., found in [ap.] Diog. L. v, 2 (p. 39n1)] discussing philosophy with his pupils ... (p. 38)


Each a Prisoner of His Own Thought-World

Note: the following is from my correspondence, and it may not "make sense" out of context, which might be said of much correspondence, but there is something in it nonetheless. Whether 'mental universe' or 'world of thought' is equivalent in meaning to 'forms of life'? Only if forms of life are of two kinds: those one may choose and those one has no choice about because they involve an ability or capacity rather than a decision one might make.

29 July 2011

If as you advise me I am to beware of those who do good to their fellow man, then what should my attitude be towards those who do him evil? -- i.e. it is a strange gospel you are preaching: to dismiss people like Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa as "do gooders". The good they did was "no small matter", for one ran a charity hospital that treated over 130,000 Africans during his lifetime, the other a hospice that took the dying from Calcutta's gutters and brought them to a place where they could die in a clean and loving environment.

Self-righteousness comes cheap, but deeds such as their's do not. Do you remember Schubert's question: Kann er was? Every human being is limited by his thought-world, and so if I am forced to judge another human being, I will do so by his deeds, not by the limits of his world of thought. (And by that standard, what have I myself done for poor Lazarus at the gate?)

In a letter to the George Marshall, Schweitzer recalled to him, as Marshall writes, "that he had gone to Africa to make his life his argument, and stood on the record of his accomplishments.... he felt that if he had not proved his worth by the life he lived, mere words would never prove it." And this is why he did not respond to his critics. (An Understanding of Albert Schweitzer (1966), p. 18)

I believe that Marshall mischaracterizes Schweitzer's thought here. Rather, Schweitzer stood by the service, the deeds he had done, and that service proved the worth of his ideas, of the idea of reverence for life and of the ethics of Jesus. As to his own worth, no man can judge that of himself: Schweitzer was only grateful that it had been given to him to do the things he did, for which in his letters he often thanks God. But to someone who wanted to praise his many accomplishments ("theologian, philosopher, musician, humanitarian and citizen of the world"), Schweitzer waved his hands to dismiss that, "No," he protested, "all I am is a person trying to live his religion." (ibid. p. 17)

The Conceptual Strangeness of Religion

It's not that "the riddle of existence" is nonsense; it's that its sense is not as it were an hypothesis [hypothetical] -- i.e. nothing we might say about the riddle is a statement of fact or of opinion. That does not make the language in which it is expressed meaningless (noise, mere "sound without sense"), but it does tell us that in using language here we are either trying to describe how we use (or might use) an expression (which is Logic) or we are making an actual response to the riddle (which is Religion). There is no philosophical response to the riddle (Even "astonishment" belongs to religion, not philosophy). That is the first thing to understand, I think. The riddle is there -- like our life is there (OC §§559). Part of the riddle is how man should live his life, and that part can be responded to both by philosophy and by religion [Question: is Kant's categorical imperative philosophy or religion? I myself would classify it as religion].

However difficult philosophy may be to understand, that difficulty is nothing if compared to the difficulty of understanding religion (or maybe I should say, to come to an understanding that does not distort ["straw men"]).

Philosophy can no more answer religious questions than religion can answer philosophical questions. Or if either does, the answer is absurd [stupid; "Every way of thinking is all right as long as it isn't stupid," Wittgenstein wrote to Sraffa (Believing something for bad reasons is an example of "stupid", I think)]. An example of a philosophical answer to a religious question: "the God of the philosophers" (i.e. of the scholastics, the Rationalists and the deists), which is utterly unserviceable: it is a "grammar" (a set of rules for using a word), but it is not the grammar of the word 'God' in religion. (The faith of the Jesus of the synoptic Gospels, makes no place for proofs; it simply says "Follow me".)

Religious questions require religious answers, just as philosophical questions require philosophical answers. A philosophical answer to a religious question is simply a misconceptualization of the question -- i.e. it is not an answer to the question, but, at best, a response to a different question.

Query: religion from a philosophical point of view.

Compare: Mathematics from a philosophical point of view -- philosophy does not affect the calculus; it is the view from outside: it may mischaracterize/misapprehend (because it is nothing more than a characterization and, indeed, to characterize is already to distort: A way of looking at things is, by its very nature, never more than one selected way, never the only way). Philosophy asks: how shall we conceive religion in order to understand it? (Cf. Foundations of maths studies.) Statements made from outside, however, whether about religion or about mathematics, leave their subject-matter untouched; they are irrelevant to it.

Wittgenstein to Drury: "I am not a religious man, but I can't help but look at everything from a religious point of view." But this is a question of definitions now. If a man looks at everything from a religious point of view, then is that man, as we normally use the word 'religious', a religious man? Because, question: is a man who says that he is a religious believer, but does not look at everything from a religious point of view, to be called a religious man (for if religious answers are sought to the Eternal Questions then there may be religious answers to them [In philosophy there may or may not be answers to those questions; but all of them nonetheless serve as reminders])? And so we have conceptual tools, and now the question is what do we want to do with them? (And there will be an element of "persuasive definition" here, depending on whether we esteem the title 'religious man' or deprecate it.) Am I a religious man if I look at everything from the point of view of the "questions without answers", which is the point of view of eternity? That is the answer to whether I myself am a religious man. But if to be a religious man is to say one believes in various doctrines or participates in various rituals, then I am not a religious man. And if to be a religious man is to often have deep religious feelings, then I am not a religious man. So, was Wittgenstein a religious man? Say whichever you like. Because it is a matter of definitions, of selecting a classification scheme. We have to set criteria if we are to use the tool 'religious man' as a tool and not simply as "sounds without sense" [i.e. nonsense].

Suppose a man said that with respect to politics (setting government policy), "I am a Christian, and that's always been enough for me, as a standard of judgment; I've never needed any other." Is that to be called 'being religious'? It is an example of "looking at everything from a religious point of view".

At one time I would have said what Wittgenstein said, that "I could not possibly bring myself to believe the things that [Catholics] believe" (Malcolm (Memoir p. 60)). But now I would say that I don't even know what it would mean to say that someone does or does not believe those things -- i.e. what would the word 'believe' mean here? "If a man believes ... would he take his coat? I would not ask that" (LC ii, p. 62). No, for however the word 'believe' is being used here, it isn't the normal way ("Would he take his coat?" is not a move in this language-game, to use Wittgenstein's jargon/conceptualization).

"But now I would say that I don't even know what it would mean to say that ..." Wittgenstein asked: "How do I know that two people mean the same when each says he believes in God? And just the same goes for belief in the Trinity" (CV p. 85 [MS 173 92r: 1950]). But it doesn't matter whether each means the same thing or something more or less different -- but whether each means something, anything at all, by saying 'I believe in the Trinity' rather than uttering nonsense.

So I am asking what 'to believe in a doctrine' means? -- but not as if it were the difference in the way you lived that interested me, for that difference might amount to no more than your persecuting heretics.

The concept 'belief in', as in 'belief in a doctrine', is not at all easy to understand. The Catholic profession of faith -- does it matter what the words are? (What is the difference between believing in the Trinity or not believing in it? If we cannot measure a difference, then is there one? Well, you say this rather than that; and you take disagreements to what you say very seriously (heresy).) But should making a "profession of faith" be called religion? I think, No, but also Yes. But this is a question of "in some sense" -- and the difficulty here is to say in which sense. I want to say: some people take particular doctrines very seriously, whereas all I can take seriously is the general picture (Cf. "Forms of life" as a capacity for a particular way of life).

"What is the difference between believing in the Trinity or not believing in it?" Is the only difference in what you say ('I believe', 'I don't believe')? But if "Words are deeds" (CV p. 46 [MS 179 20: ca. 1945]), then why shouldn't it mean quite a lot to someone to say 'I believe in the Trinity'? as much or as little as it may mean to someone to say to another 'I love you'.

Antidotes, and counter-antidotes

"... all I can take seriously is the general picture." What I believe about Jesus e.g. is not a collection either of historical facts or of doctrines, of particulars, but a general picture (which, of course, has in some ways been strongly influenced by Schweitzer, for as I wrote: the world-picture (thought-world, creed, profession of faith) of Catholic Christianity (in which I include the Reformation) took Jesus away from me; Schweitzer, by returning Jesus to his historical context gave him back to me): the picture of Jesus' ethics of love, of how anyone can belong to the kingdom of God, of Jesus' willingness to die for that; that is all the expression 'the spirit of Christ', which Schweitzer so often uses, means to me. That is a picture that guides my thinking (less often than it should, however, and too often only in quieter moments, when I am alone with my own reflections).

"... took away ... gave back." But as with Wittgenstein, Catholic Christianity must then also be used as an antidote to Schweitzer, because, although Luke's nativity story is a religious myth, that does not make Christmas, the stable and the angels' message to the shepherds any the less worthy of being celebrated, the silent night and the baby in a manger.

That Jesus was mistaken in his world-picture (for the kingdom of God did not come following his death and resurrection) -- that it had no application to reality, that it was what Hayakawa's teacher called "a map without a territory" -- That does not diminish him in my eyes at all.

"... all I can tell you is that the thoughts of Jesus Christ were good thoughts and that it is better to have had a good thought in vain than a bad thought with a purpose." (Bruce Marshall, George Brown's Schooldays (1946) xlviii, p. 198)

But on the other hand, remember that what Wittgenstein said to Drury about Schweitzer's book is correct: "The only value of that book is that it shows how many, many different ways people can interpret the Gospel story." As if the critical-historical view were the only possibility (simply for the reason that no other possibility is of any use to me, for nothing but the application of thoroughgoing reason to every aspect of our life is acceptable to me). That is, I think, it is a case of: "Look at it this way!" Schweitzer's way is one way, the way that is helpful to me. And indeed Schweitzer himself said of the Christian churches (in letters of 19 November 1956 and July 1957): "Each has its special feature, each its justification. What should unite them is the spirit of Christ.... The spirit is one. It can be the same in the various ideologies. They are worth as much as the spirit imbuing them" (tr. Neugroschel).

I am not able (again, "forms of life") to understand men who in religion occupy themselves with particulars; I can see what they do, but I don't understand why they do it. (And if their reply is: We are discussing no small matter, but the truth, and the truth about salvation is important"? But I am not able to believe that in religion anyone knows the truth in particulars -- or in other words maybe: I am not able to believe in "revealed truths".)

The truth is that I simply don't understand any of this. I know what place Jesus has in my thinking (and therefore also in my life), but as a standard ("picture") rather than as a doctrine. If religion is about "belief in", then I am not capable of religion, and this again is a question of "forms of life", but not in the sense of choices one might make (various ways of life one might choose).

One might say: religion, there is nothing strange about that. It is a normal part of human life. (As if there were nothing strange about normal human life!) But in philosophy we want to understand the nature of religion -- and in the case of religion, our normal concepts do not seem adequate. Wittgenstein recognized this at a time when others simply dismissed religious belief as superstition (Russell e.g.).

Albert Schweitzer went to Africa, not in order to talk about the religion of love, but to practice it. (He said: my life is my argument (for my ideas). My own life, if it is to be an argument, has to show how Socrates' thoroughgoing use of reason can enable a man to amend his life, to replace the bad habits acquired in the time of ignorance with thoughtful habits.)

I don't discuss my religion with anyone (I listen, but I don't speak). If I am a Christian -- I don't know whether or not I am -- that is something my life must show (not to me, but to others). It's not something I can show in words ("Are you a Christian?" Is the correct response: "If you have to ask, isn't that the answer" -- i.e. is that the grammar of the answer, the form it by definition must take? I want to say that it is, although it is only one response to a question that may have many meanings). When Jesus came into the world, he taught us things about how to live our life that cannot be forgotten. And whatever we regard him as having been, doesn't change that. However, I have often written on this site about my religious views, and because of that the events of today led me to the following thoughts.

"Talking about these things does more harm than good"

Today I had reason to feel ashamed of many things I wrote years ago about religion in the context of the Philosophy of Religion (although "the God of the philosophers" is not religion but metaphysics or theology, both of which are subject to philosophical criticism). Maybe Wittgenstein was right: maybe talking about these things to a general audience does more harm than good. (Did he mean by this that one should keep one's own counsel; not entirely, because he did talk to Drury about religion, he did give a few lectures on the topic, and he did write some remarks apropos in his notebooks; but he did not speak publicly the way Bertrand Russell and the Church of England parsons did [Recollections p. 102]). In any case, today I met a women who is mourning, and who said that she doesn't understand how atheists, by whom she meant those who do not believe in an afterlife, can keep going. I am not someone who "believes in" (or perhaps is capable of "belief in") things and I haven't any confidence in a afterlife (for me it is a question that is always before me, but as a question without an answer). But I think I understood her, and I could not have said anything that would be contrary to her. What does it mean -- (Here I am asking about grammar) -- to say that someone believes in such things or not does not believe in such things? "Why shouldn't one form of life culminate in an utterance of belief in a Last Judgment?" (LC p. 58) or in the Resurrection. Here I think Wittgenstein did mean "way of life" (but I still think: not as if someone might choose or not choose this particular way of life, that it is not a matter of choice). I think I understood her, the place that religion has in her life, and I wouldn't for anything want to say anything against it. Why shouldn't that be what gives meaning to her life, after all, for it's not as if she were making a mistake.

Query: questions that have no meaning.

To be mistaken someone would have to be basing his belief on facts, e.g. taking claims of "after death experiences" (i.e. alleged memories of events which occurred during an interval of clinical death) that people (A.J. Ayer among them) have reported as evidence of an afterlife. That would be to confuse faith with facts (Facts, [complex facts] can always be interpreted in a variety of ways ("Is that the only possible explanation?")). (The thing is, that if there were evidence, then belief in an afterlife would not be what we classify as religious belief, which is man's response to the riddle of existence (that is, to the questions without answers) whenever it isn't simply "I don't know" or "The riddle doesn't exist". It would be an hypothesis, not religion at all. [Catholicism: clinical proof of medical miracles in the canonization of saints process -- a strange business. (An anomaly. & Wittgenstein: cheating oneself by believing for bad reasons.)]) (LC p. 56, 60-61, p. 59) A philosophical or a factual justification for religious belief is neither needed nor indeed possible. What is needed, however, is for religious belief not to pretend to be/masquerade as what it is not.

A religious symbol does not rest on any opinion. An error belongs only with opinion. (Wittgenstein, RFGB p. 3)

I wonder if I shouldn't remove those pages to an archived section. I felt pretentious today, not because of anything I said but because I felt that I am simply someone who imagines that he is more able to think than he in fact does is. Religion is a great leveler with respect to understanding it ('understanding' in various senses here). To understand it requires not only the right conceptual tools, but also depth. And I am not all that deep in mind, and indeed quite shallow in religious feeling. In this it resembles understanding love, both the phenomenon and the use of language. (I had two contrasting conversations today, the first with the woman I mentioned above, who does "know what love is", and the second with a woman, who like me, does not. She married when she was nineteen; she soon realized that it was only infatuation ("Love is sex spelled with four letters"), but in those days people did not get divorced and there were children ... And so she asked rhetorically, "What is love?" I learned a lot today.)

Stoicism and Death

I wouldn't like anyone to mourn for me when I've died. Man must have what is of permanence at the foundation of his life, something that cannot be taken away from him, as human beings, intelligence, skills, position and possessions can be; a stroke may take away his education in an instant, nor is poverty ever very far away. Because if man has what is of permanence at the foundation of his life, then he will look at our life from the perspective of eternity. And from that perspective the death of others is part of man's life, and what follows death is unknown to us, and to mourn for those who have died (and, indeed, to allow one's own sadness at one's loss to flourish) is to think one knows what one does not know (Apology 29a).

That is the way of looking at things -- for that is all a philosophy can be: a (i.e. one) rational way of looking at things -- of Stoicism, of course, a way that has no tolerance for the irrational. Irrationality (the Circe that turns man into "an animal wanting discourse of reason", and cannot do otherwise), a category in which is found not only human appetites but also "conceited ignorance", is the root of all unhappiness. If you let your emotions lead you about by the nose, then you make yourself "a hostage to fate" (Cervantes), as much a pitiable victim of events as animals are.

Of course it's a cold point of view, but Socrates -- from whose thoroughgoing use of reason as the guide to how man should live his life -- Stoicism was born, was not unhappy -- not that the happiness of the philosopher is a mood; it is not a state of mind but instead a way of life (namely, to be "growing in goodness", which is impossible without knowing (-- and this is the wisdom Socrates seeks --) what is and what is not the good for man).

"You have lived through the bitter prose and can now devote yourself to the poetry of the thing." But with Stoicism it is the reverse: you have lived through the bitter poetry ... the irrational.

If the only thing that impresses one about life is its impermanence, birth followed by death, creation followed by destruction, then how does one "keep going"? And if, overwhelmed by the impermanence, one falls into despair, then will one invest one's energies in anything? (That is "world-and-life-negation"? I find it difficult to work with Schweitzer's tools.)

Two propositions: "The man who has never loved has never known God" and "How can you say that you love something but do not fear losing it?" Was Augustine right (i.e. is that how we use the word 'love')? Have you never loved, then, if there is no one you have feared losing? (The only love I myself have ever experienced has been infatuation (irrational enthusiasm), which is very intense but which soon enough becomes indifference. [Cf. Z § 504]) Being in love and loving are different "things", i.e. different phenomena [Natural history of man] and different concepts [Logic]. («Cosa è l'amore? Lei lo sa?» No, I know nothing about the second.) As with love, religious faith is simply outside my own experience. But I would deeply agree with what Wittgenstein expressed during the war (to Drury in 1944), "I seem to be surrounded by Roman Catholic converts now. I don't know if they pray for me. I hope they do." Because that much I do understand.

Wittgenstein's concept 'forms of life'. Is that where our understanding of religious belief or faith ends up, by pointing to these?

The distinction between natural phenomena and the use of words

The distinction really isn't that difficult to make, for on the one hand there is the phenomenon of love (which is natural history) and on the other hand there is the concept 'love' (which is logic). It is only when one forgets to make this distinction and imagines that one must define the phenomenon (rather than simply describe the use of a word) that one becomes confused, deeply perplexed. (Logic-philosophy does not make hypotheses about natural phenomena.) And that is a simple summary in words of one syllable. Maybe too simple.

"... imagines that one must define the phenomenon." How? To define is to set limits, and what sets limits are concepts -- i.e. rules for the use of words. Phenomena without concepts are blind. About phenomena in themselves, about reality in itself, we know nothing (and indeed about nonsense it is not possible to know more than that).

"... maybe too simple." Doesn't Plato after all describe -- not our use of the word 'man' -- but what sort of thing man is (the relationship of man's soul and body)? Doesn't Plato "define man"? But here we are using the word 'define' equivocally: we define the use of word, the nature of a thing. (We call various kinds of things "metaphysics". The principle, "We define words, not things, belongs to logic", although on the other hand, it was Wittgenstein's insight that most or very often, philosophy consists of trying to understand the concepts we already have, because it is those concepts that we do not have a clear view of -- not the phenomena named by concept-words, the phenomena imagined to exist independently of our concepts.)

Query: what does Phaedrus believe about the nature of love?

I don't understand the expression 'nature of love' -- what does 'nature' mean here? (And why not simply say "... believe about love?" for what does "the nature of" add? for it might be "about the nature of the concept 'love' (i.e. the use of a word)" as freely as it might be "about the nature of the phenomenon of love".) If Plato is discussing the phenomenon of love, then, either because I am too old or too young, the topic bores me; is it philosophy? I don't know (but what else would it be? but it is not what interests me in philosophy, for my interest is logic -- i.e. concept clarification; well, that and Socratic ethics). About the phenomenon of love, very much might be said by many people, and this might make something or many things clearer about our life; it's just that, speaking for myself, this topic does not move me.

On the other hand, you could say that we define the "phenomenon of love" when we describe the ways we commonly use the word 'love'. And that is very different from stating a thesis about "what love really is", which is what Plato does in his Phaedrus.

Query: how do Socrates and Euthyphro represent different forms of living?

No, ignorance and presumption is not an alternative "form of life": to think you know what you do not know is not a "form of life/form of living/way of life"; there is only one way of life here: Euthyphro is simply lacking in understanding [self-knowledge, knowledge of the state of his own mind], not in the sharing of a common ideal -- i.e. the quest to know the truth and to thereby [i.e. through that knowledge] live piously. ((Wittgenstein: jargon that is misunderstood: formulae misapplied, without thought))

Query: is Euthyphro right to prosecute his father?

Not if Euthyphro prosecutes his father because Euthyphro thinks he knows what he doesn't know (namely, what piety demands of him in this particular case) because, as he says to Socrates, "I know what piety is and will tell you". That, I believe, is the point of this dialog, which is not whether Plato believes that the prosecution is justifiable (which Gorgias 479d may suggest he does, although Plato's view of slaves may suggest the opposite), but only whether Euthyphro is able, based on what Euthyphro knows, to justify prosecuting his father. To prosecute his father through "conceited ignorance", i.e. thinking he knows what he does not know, may be to do the very opposite of what is pious.

Query: is it right for Euthyphro to prosecute his father?

Is that the subject of Plato's dialog, or is it -- not "Is it right?" -- but "Is Euthyphro right to prosecute his father?" Well, but if it is right for Euthyphro, then it is right for everyone else, too. Is it? How are we to decide if Euthyphro is right to prosecute his father? Plato sets a criterion: Euthyphro is right only if Euthyphro can prove that he is right (i.e. have his thesis about "what piety is" subjected to cross-questioning without it being refuted).

Euthyphro claims that he is prosecuting his father because his father has done something impious (i.e. conduct contrary to correct conduct towards the gods), but Euthyphro is unable to provide a criterion for distinguishing what is pious from what is impious -- and so how does Euthyphro know that what he is doing is pious rather than impious?

Plato's dialog's topic is what Euthyphro knows versus what Euthyphro doesn't know, not whether Euthyphro's father's act is pious or not but only whether Euthyphro knows whether or not it is pious or impious.

The dialog concerns knowledge in the particular case; the rule is to prosecute only impious acts -- but that is a very general rule; the trouble is to apply it in the particular case. ("The Limit of Know Thyself" is knowing how to live one's life in each particular case.)

Query: the study of the rules of measuring and how one should think is called.

That is the very topic of the Euthyphro: is there a criterion, a standard of measurement in ethics? (Is it sound reasoning for the philosopher to demand there be one? The reasoning may be sound, but the premiss false.)


The Socratic Standard in philosophy: Not to think you know what you don't know

Note: These few notes supplement (actually they were dross from) the discussion of Socrates, "Il maestro di color che non sanno". The word 'master' means 'teacher' in philosophy', not 'lord'.

With respect to vacuums, as Pascal demonstrated, Descartes' method lead Descartes to believe he knew what he did not know. He thought that he could deduce the non-existence of vacuums (But the proposition 'There can be no extension which is extension of nothing' is a tautology, not a proposition of experience), but he was wrong (His introspection was a fantasy). So he thought he knew what he did not know.

And if Aristotle's charge against Plato of inventing metaphors with no application ["empty words and ... metaphors" (Metaphysics 991a20, tr. Ross; cf. 987b10)], such as "participate in", "partake of" and "share in", is just, then Plato, in speaking this way, also thinks he knows what he does not know, for if someone writes nonsense -- i.e. uses undefined combinations of words -- then he does not know what he thinks he knows. (Everything in philosophy must stand up to the first test of reason, namely, the test of language sense and nonsense: it is not rhyme or reason in philosophy, for rhyme alone does not pass that test.) Further, Aristotle (ibid. 991a19-32) asks: what work do Plato's Forms do? (If they do no work, then Ockham's razor can be applied to them.)

Il maestro di color che non sanno -- what does it mean? "The master of those who don't think they know what they don't know." But as a wealthy African woman who, although she had four servants, was out gathering her own firewood said when Schweitzer asked her why, "Ah, sir, just because you have servants doesn't mean you are well-served", and Socrates could have said this about his followers as well, that they are not terribly faithful in not thinking they know what they don't know. Nonetheless, that is a fitting title for Socrates, one which Dante could have given him.

And Plato -- of whom is Plato the master? Maybe of the Rationalists (for Descartes did not invent that type of thinking). The master of the philosopher, however, is Socrates.

"Descartes thought that he could deduce independently of experience the non-existence of vacuums." But that was to confuse logical and real possibility. Question: for Descartes are all definitions "real definitions"? Was that Pascal's criticism? that rather than hypotheses, the Rationalists merely, in the words of Wittgenstein, obliterated the distinction between verbal ["nominal"] and real definitions (RPP i § 949).

Query: ignorance is by definition ...

The question to ask here, and to always ask, is: by definition of what -- of the word 'ignorance' [Logic] or of some thing [Metaphysics] else? (Kant's "analytic propositions" belong to metaphysics, not to logic of language, because they are opinion-like speculations based on introspection, rather than simply descriptions of our public conventions for using language.)

Query: Descartes on thinking for oneself.

Well, is it "for" or "by" oneself? Trying to recast Descartes in the mold of Socrates doesn't work, even if for no other reason than that Socrates lived in Athens, "the place where speech is most free" (Plato, Gorgias 461e), and Descartes lived under the Inquisition (just as did his contemporary Galileo). Descartes bowed to the authority of the Church, whether sincerely or from mere caution. (Would he have chosen to die for philosophy as Socrates did, if, that is, Descartes ever thought that he faced that choice?)

Query: compare and contrast Socrates and Descartes regarding teaching.

Is there a method of teaching to be found in Descartes (cf. Hegel)? See Dialectic versus introspection, Socrates' method versus Descartes'. There is, instead, maybe a method of learning.

Query: how can Socrates examine the knowledge of others about a subject he does not know?

With this method (or, standard): that "If a man knows anything he can give an account of what he knows (i.e. explain) to others, an account (in Plato, a particular type of definition) which can stand up against cross-questioning (refutation)". Remember, however, that Socrates' concern is ethics, the question of how man should live his life, and that this is not a subject he is unfamiliar with. But his method works in all cases: if someone cannot explain what he claims to know to you, then, using Socrates' standard, we may conclude that he does not know what he claims to know. Someone may be able to do something (have a skill, e.g. absolute pitch) without being able to say how he does it; but that is not the sense of the word 'know' that concerns philosophy: philosophy seeks only what can be put into words, to examine whether it is clear or not, and if it is a thesis, to see if it can be refuted or not.

Query: philosophy is really to find truth.

If that isn't its intent, then what would it be but idle? In this philosophy differs from religion, for religion believes that it has already found the truth ([Divine, in contrast to Aristotle's Natural Theology (metaphysics)] Theology only tries to understand that truth better) -- but it that not belief that is subject to refutation in dialectic, as is philosophical belief. The sciences differ from both these in that they are concerned with the universe, but not with looking at our life from the perspective of eternity.

Speculation, like tea, is not what I want, but various things may be wanted from philosophy

Query: Plato's six steps in his refutation of Thrasymachus' view.

I have never been able to take Plato's proofs (as distinct from Plato's questions), as e.g. for the eternal life of the soul in the Phaedo, seriously. Now, why is that, for that is a very important question. I think it is because Rationalism does not move me: speculation that cannot put to the test of experience, is what we mean by 'Rationalism'; e.g. the existence of the ghostly soul in Plato cannot be verified by experience (Introspection is not an example of what we call verification; it is no more verification than a dream is). As Wittgenstein begins his On Certainty: "any proposition can be derived from other propositions", if of course the right propositions are selected, because the test of reason alone allows that. But philosophy that is "reason alone" is not what I want; mathematics is reason alone, chess is reason alone, mathematical logic (the propositional calculus) is reason alone -- and in my view what these all have in common is that: they are not sources of knowledge about anything outside themselves. If metaphysics is the part of philosophy concerned with "no small matter, but what is real", Rationalism does not reach the goal of metaphysics, if that goal is knowledge of reality; at most it may show the "grammatical" relationships among the concepts that it makes us of.

I read Plato for his many insights, e.g. his tautologies about the good man ("If the good man harms his enemies, then what does the bad man do to them" [Republic 335e]), or e.g. that "written words can't defend themselves" (Phaedrus 275c-e), or e.g. his invention of the notion of "logical form", and of course, as in Xenophon, the method of dialectic: to agree with a thesis or refute it. (The question that interests me here is about "agreement": are you compelled to accept a proposition just because you cannot think of a way to refute it? No, only to agree to accept that proposition for the sake of continuing the discussion: step by step. You can still hold the position, "I am troubled by that proposition: I don't believe it is correct, although I don't see how to refute it". Or can you? For the purpose of dialectic, the discussion at hand, an objection, a doubt, without grounds is no objection at all; an objection without reasons is no objection.)

But Plato's speculative proofs as such don't move me. And I wonder at professors who think it worthwhile to force young students to try to follow those arguments (particularly when the very words Plato uses seem not to be translatable into English, e.g. the word rendered 'justice' by translators of the Republic) -- for do many of their students really care? And do those who do not care benefit from the assigned task nonetheless (or does it simply make them misologists, enemies of philosophy for ever after)? The "arguments for the immortality of the soul" in the Phaedo -- for even if someone were somehow convinced ("somehow", for what does conviction here amount to?) by those arguments that "the soul is immortal" (neither is born nor ever dies), what then? For it tells us nothing about the nature of the soul's existence either before or after life in this world ("life in the body"). Plato was a singular man in the context of Greek philosophy, so different from both Socrates and Aristotle (both of whom were so down to earth). I don't know what to make of him.

Maybe I am myself too -- i.e. if "Nothing too much", then unwisely -- down to earth to speculate about what "eye hath not seen nor ear heard". I would state this as a principle (or, as one definition of 'know' that is important in philosophy): "What we cannot in any way perceive for the sake of verification, we cannot know" (And by that standard: we believe that facts of history, the testimony of others is true) -- and it is knowledge I seek in philosophy. Is that principle, or selected meaning of the word 'know' a description of our normal way of using that word? (As if our normal use of that word weren't thoughtless!) I am not drawn to Rationalism, in which I include the philosophers from Descartes to Hegel, excluding Kant's insights, -- why? Are my feet too heavy of clay?

The Socrates in Plato's Apology (40c-41c) has clearly stated what we know about death (as has Albert Schweitzer) -- and any attempt to penetrate that mystery (or, indeed, any mystery about "ultimate reality"), to speculate about things we simply can't by philosophical means know, has always seemed to me idle, and what is worse, a waste of the so little time we have [available to us] to give to philosophy (Phaedo 66c-d). There is simply too much that is unclear (we are surrounded by so much "vagueness and confusion") about the little that we can know (i.e. "logic of language") to devote time to, what are in my view, Rationalistic fantasies, imaginative but idle pictures. (In Phaedrus 229e-230a Plato's Socrates turns away from speculation, and yet Plato with his un-Socratic speculations -- for they concern metaphysics, not ethics -- does just the opposite.) I want clarity about what we can know; not speculations into what we can't know (for if we could know, it would not be speculation, but hypotheses with methods of verification). I find such speculation repugnant in any field of thought (e.g. those refuges of ignorance in historiography: "probably", "no doubt").

Query: which of the following would Socrates identify as the greatest evil?

But if that list is apropos of Plato's Gorgias ... then the choices you have been given are wrong: Because for Plato in that dialog: the greatest evil is to do wrong and not be punished for one's wrong-doing in this world, and consequently to face punishment for one's wrong-doing after death. But for Socrates the greatest evil is to think you know what you do not know (which is "presumptuous" or "conceited" ignorance); that is the Socrates of Plato's Apology and of Xenophon.

Query: Greek philosophy: the wisest is the man who knows that he doesn't know.
Query: what did Socrates mean when he said, all I know is that I do not know?
Query: Socrates says that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing; what does this mean?

According to Socrates' interpretation in Plato's Apology of Apollo's words: wisest is the man who knows that he doesn't know anything worth knowing, and what is worth knowing is how man should live his life ("We are discussing no small matter, but how to live". Did Plato's Socrates believe that he knew how man should live? Yes. But belief is not knowledge ('belief' and 'knowledge' are very different concepts). Because by the standard Plato set, Plato's Socrates was not able to give an account (i.e. to state an essential definition) of what he knew to others (i.e. to state a general definition of e.g. 'piety' or 'courage'), and therefore he did not know.

Query: do you believe that Socrates' concept of recollection can stand the test of reason?

First, 'recollection' is not Socrates' concept; the doctrine is Plato's thesis (which derives from the principles of Heraclitus rather than from the principles of Socrates). Second -- and more importantly -- philosophy is not a question of "believing" or not believing that a proposition is true, but of putting a proposition to the test in dialectic to stand or be refuted. The questions you should be asked are: (1) What is Plato's thesis?, and (2) Can you see a way to refute it? Because if you cannot refute it, then you must accept it [agree to it].

Question: But is the test of reason, by itself, a sufficient test of a proposition's truth or falsity? (For "Any proposition can be derived from other propositions.") Is it not necessary to add, as Socrates did, the test of experience to the test of reason, if we are to find the truth? Not according to Plato, who argues that sense experience leads man away rather than towards the truth. Strangely, however, he appeals to experience in his arguments as e.g. in Phaedo 65d): "Have you ever seen any of these things with your eyes?"

Query: Socrates - why do all of our absolute standards come to us before we are born?

Have you ever seen an absolute standard with your eyes? I don't know. I have not seen one of beauty e.g. Maybe that suggests that there is none. -- But that's not the end of the matter, for if there is none, then how do we know when and when not to apply the word 'beautiful' to a thing? Try to understand Plato's perplexity; don't brush it aside as if it must be conceptual confusion, as if metaphysics were a mistake. (The bad influence of a doctrinaire acceptance of Wittgenstein.)

Recollection. That would be an example of "guessing": you already know a word's meaning; you just have to, so to speak, summon what you know to consciousness. (That is the presumption of Linguistic Analysis.)

["Tea is not what I want" is an allusion to Michael Henchard.]

"Philosophy is a working on oneself"

Philosophy is really a working on oneself, on one's own interpretation, way of seeing things. (CV p. 16)

Or on one's own understanding of some philosopher's thoughts. Because I am not a philosopher, because I do not have an original way of looking at things, my writing is necessary only to me, because philosophy cannot be taught: no one can philosophize for you; no one can think your thoughts for you; even if you find a useful thought elsewhere, in the work of a philosopher, you still have to think it through for yourself. No one can do your philosophizing for you; philosophical conscientiousness belongs to the individual, not to a community. No one can be philosophically conscientious for me; I must do the thinking myself, even if it is only thoughts about others' thoughts.

And second: philosophy is not collective work (It is not like natural science); it is the revolutionary creation of rare individuals. You could also say: there are no advances in philosophy; there are only movements to elsewhere. (But maybe that is not entirely correct: we do learn, or think we learn, from the solutions to philosophical problems tried by others; e.g. we do not follow what we take to be their false paths. But that is not the same thing as to say that we build on their work.)

Why does anyone choose a particular philosophy -- but not as if one had a choice. Philosophies each have their own magnetism, to which we as individuals respond. If, if a philosophy really is no more than one rational way of looking at things among others, then is this a question of temperament? I would not say that: reasoning is compelling regardless of whether one wants to accept its conclusions or not (What does the word 'temperament' make clearer? Cf. 'intuition'. Those are refuge for ignorance words).

Hegel may be out of fashion now, but a philosophy answers to the needs of an individual, and there will always be those for whom Hegel has something important to say. It can hardly be accidental to philosophy (i.e. surely it belongs to its essence) that there are "still" Aristotelians, "still" Cartesians, "still" Hegelians, usw..


Postscripted

... and because of these impediments, we have no time to give to philosophy. (Plato, Phaedo 66c-d)

Tell me, was anything ever done? (Leonardo)

Why have my days become so short? Why does so little get done, and so much remain to be done? "God has given me this peace", and yet it seems that I am wasting it, that my mind is distracted, preoccupied with foolish things (the "fluff and nonsense" of time ephemeral). Plato speaks of the mind in old age (Laches 189c-d). Or is it that I think there is more light left than there is, that the time when I must work will stretch out much farther than it is prudent to assume? (And no, contra Wittgenstein (CV p. 4 [MS 108 207: 29.6.1930]), I did not know how to live before the lines of my thinking coalesced in my fifty-third year.)

Don't mortgage the future by presuming on life. No one with his eyes on death (St. Theodosius the Cenobite used to meditate beside a freshly dug open grave) has time for the ephemeral. (What a philosopher knows is difficult to know; what a philosopher does is difficult to do. And it takes devotion and time.)

And then there are all the revisions in my thinking: "first I write one thing, then another, just the opposite", or maybe that is simply the way philosophy is, never finished, never at an end. Or maybe that is the way it is for every philosophical thinker (But am I a philosophical thinker?).

Query: simple explanation of Wittgenstein's language game.

I think I have given an account in the same down to earth language Wittgenstein himself wrote in (as I wrote in my Preface, which I don't know if anyone ever reads), that 'simple' = 'straightforward, unpretentious, in "readable sentences"'; (I myself have never had any patience with the writers of "difficult" texts, i.e. texts that are difficult to assign any meaning to because of the way the author writes, as if he believed that a difficult subject matter justified his confusing forms of expression). However, when others call my writing "simple" -- is that a compliment or is it synonymous with calling me a simpleton offering a simplistic account of Wittgenstein's thought?

Well, well, I've asked that question before. And the answer doesn't really matter. Barely any visitors to my site stay for more than 30 seconds, and the number of visitors falls every year. So that I am, for the most part, writing as I always have done, for the desk drawer. But it just doesn't matter. I philosophize because that's what I do, and not for any other reason, trying in my life to follow Socrates in his thoroughgoing use of reason as the guide to how man should live his life.

(How can anyone judge his own work, if he cannot jump higher than his own forehead? In dialectic: if his account stands up to the test of refutation in dialog. Provided that he is not himself a fool arguing with a fool -- i.e. a fool holding discourse with himself.)

"We all need a lot of help", Wittgenstein thought

Someone says of another, "He calls himself a Christian, but look what he does!" But the Lord said that he did not come to call saints but to call sinners to repent of their wrong-doing (Luke 5.32). Saints do not need prophets. Only wrong-doers do. If a man were perfect, what sense would there be for a voice in the wilderness to cry to him to repent of what he has not done, to change the course of an already righteous life. A Christian is someone who says, "I am one of the lost sheep" -- but not until a man sees just how lost he is can he say that. "My sins have gone over my head": the bad habits I formed in the time of ignorance add to the sum of my wrong-doing daily. The man who does not think that he is drowning will not grasp at what (the lifeline that) is thrown to him, not in logic of language, nor in Jesus' ethics of love and the kingdom of God, nor in Socrates' thoroughgoing reason as the guide to how man should live his life.

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners [to repentance (Luke 5.32)]. (Matthew 9.12-13)


Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 16 November 2013 : 2013-11-16

The URL of this Web page:
https://www.roangelo.net/logwitt/thought-worlds.html

Back to top of page

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