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Wittgenstein. To Banish Metaphysics

... and then philosophy as an antidote to Wittgenstein. Because, if despite the many instances of language confusion in philosophy, there is nevertheless a "metaphysical use" of language, as e.g. Plato's discussion on the soul, then Wittgenstein's project to banish metaphysics by uncovering philosophy's "true" origins loses it point.

What is the end of philosophy? The awareness of ignorance, the understanding of concepts (logic and language)? Or speculative questions about what is apparently unknowable (metaphysics), and about how to live our life (ethics)? Or is to stop asking those questions the aim of philosophy (Wittgenstein)?

Philosophy, as far as I can see, stands on three legs or principles. There are four lines of thought that are the source of my own philosophical views. Briefly, behind this page are the ignorance of Socrates and the "logic of language" (Wittgenstein's expression which in my jargon means: how the distinction between language with meaning and nonsense is made in philosophy). Almost fifty years later I am where I began, "surrounded by vagueness and confusion and metaphors that aren't metaphors", knowing nothing much "worth knowing", yet still hoping to see "the other side of the sky" (Plato).


Topics on this page ...


"And its method pointless"

What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. (PI § 116)

But if the tool of philosophy, namely its vocabulary (Philosophy has three tools: language, logic and experience), is taken away, then of course metaphysics becomes impossible. There are no primitive language games to be the home of philosophical words, e.g. 'mind' or 'soul'. (Small children are unacquainted with philosophy (PG i § 138, p. 191). But man does not live an eternal childhood.)

Plato's pictures of the soul before its imprisonment in the body and after its release from the body do not appear to belong to "a conceptual rather than a factual" investigation (Z § 458). They may be the product of conceptual confusion (which is confusion about language; Phaedo 65a-d: have you ever seen absolute largeness?); they may be false pictures of reality; but they are pictures of a logically possible reality, not undefined combinations of words.

What you might say is that without the misapprehended grammar that gives birth to them, these pictures lose their point: they no longer serve as explanations.

But on the other hand, the concept-formation of common names remains puzzling even if the logic of our language is accepted as being the rules in plain sight (rather than something hidden), and Plato's speculative solution is not nonsense.

[Only, it's possible to be interested in a phenomenon from various points of view.] (PI § 108)

In contrast to Wittgenstein's interest ("the concept 'soul' and therefore the use of a word"), Plato and Aristotle ask about the nature of the soul, about its relation to the body, about whether the soul survives the death of the body. Is there a metaphysical use of the word 'soul' (or 'mind', 'spirit', Greek psyche), the use Plato makes of that word in the Phaedo and Gorgias, when he asks about the essence of man in the context of knowledge, life in the body and death? Wittgenstein classifies the word 'soul' as a superstition-word:

Too little is made of the fact that we include the words 'soul' and 'spirit' in our civilized vocabulary. A whole mythology is deposited in our language. (RFGB p. 10)

Well, but mythology is not nonsense -- and neither is metaphysics, which is like it. [As if the materialist view of the soul weren't a metaphysical rather than a "civilized" doctrine.] And if there is a metaphysical use of language, then isn't Wittgenstein's project itself just hot air (Luftgebäude)?

About the Philosophical Investigations, Russell wrote that "its positive doctrines seem trivial, its negative doctrines unfounded" (My Philosophical Development (1959) p. 216) -- and to that he could have added "and its method pointless" ... if there is a metaphysical use of language.

So long as one does not lose sight that metaphysics is speculative and not knowledge (Not thinking you know what you don't know is the sum of Socratic wisdom), what harm is there in it? Why shouldn't Wittgenstein be dismissed as a blowhard? (Of course I don't agree that "its positive doctrines are trivial", but I do believe Wittgenstein's fundamental thesis is fallacious, "unfounded.)

Whatever we mean by the word 'thought', when we think about the experience of thought, we do not mean the experience of anything physical, but by the word 'thought' in this context we mean something fundamentally different from anything physical. Regardless of the cause of thought or physical correlations, or the expression of thought (e.g. spoken sounds or written words), the experience of thought is of disembodied language and images or sounds, both of something very familiar and very strange, like being alive itself. This is not linguistic or conceptual confusion (although it may lead to that, if speculative "pictures" of thought as an ethereal substance is the product of confusion. It is "metaphysical use" of language, but it is not nonsense).

Can you say that 'thought' is like the word 'time', that it is without meaning unless the way thought is measured is specified? We don't always talk about time in the context of physics; we also talk about the experience of time. Likewise with thought: we don't always talk about operating with signs or picturing, but also about the experience of thought.

[Note in margin: Only it is possible to be interested in a phenomenon in a variety of ways] (PI § 108)

So that I am ultimately disillusioned with Wittgenstein's work in philosophy. It treats only one kind of problem, such as the absurdities of Lewis Carroll, namely problems caused -- or which may be looked at [or seen] as being caused -- by linguistic-conceptual muddle. And that is not the whole of philosophy -- or of philosophy's possibilities.

It is the nature of every advance that it appears much greater than it actually is. (Motto of the Philosophical Investigations, in Drury's translation)

Die Wunder sind geblieben. (E.T.A. Hoffmann)

Wittgenstein doesn't want to solve philosophical problems; he wants to explain them away as not really problems at all. "Everything is what it is and not another thing" (Bishop Butler). "A is really B." No, A is really A. The eternal questions are questions, not really something else. Men are perplexed [mystified] by existence because existence is perplexing [mystifying], not because they are perplexed [mystified] by language, although they are very often that.

Immanuel Kant's insight about philosophy, about what belongs to the subject, what to the object, is metaphysics, a way of looking at (classifying) things, and nothing else -- but not therefore a way of thinking to be dismissed as "stupid" or nonsense.

Grammar or Metaphysics

Time came before man. There is plenty of it. Do not hurry. (The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1935))

Well, but no it didn't. Time, that is the concept 'time', did not exist before man. Time does not exist for insects; animals live in an eternal present. Time is a human category of thought; the concepts 'past', 'present', 'future' belong to a human classification scheme. (Those are, of course, rules of grammar, since I have already defined 'concept' as 'rules for using a word' and, as a very general fact of nature (PI II, xii, p. 230), animals are "beasts wanting discourse of reason".)

So you cannot say this is entirely a conceptual investigation (RPP i § 949), because there are questions of fact involved. And if you say that for an animal there is no time, that may affect the way you treat animals, thinking that for animals and small children waiting can be torturous. ("Are you so well acquainted with a dog's inner life?" If I say that for a dog there is no time, that is not only grammar; it is also speculative: it is metaphysics.)

We do not say that possibly a dog talks to itself. Is that because we are so minutely acquainted with its soul? Well, one might say this: If one sees the behavior of a living thing, one sees its soul. (PI § 357)

"One might say ..." But that's either a grammatical remark -- or metaphysics ("What is the reality of a living thing's inner life?") As "grammar" (in Wittgenstein's jargon) what does that proposition mean -- is it an explanation of meaning or an arbitrary convention (PG i § 138, p. 190)? If it is an hypothesis, it is a metaphysical hypothesis. You cannot call it a convention only -- as if very general facts of nature did not force concept-formation on you here (as they do with e.g. 'object', 'space', 'change'): "one sees the behavior of a living thing" (cf. PI § 303).

An instinct not an opinion

Wittgenstein: "I am not of the opinion he has a soul" (ibid. II, iv, p. 178). Well, an instinct is not an opinion. But man does not live an eternal childhood; he is a creature of learning and reflection as much as of instinct. Unlike small children, grown-ups are acquainted with the problems of philosophy; and they do have opinions about phenomena (reality).

Does the word 'soul' belong to the part of speech metaphysical-word? Is there such a part of speech or category of language use -- "the metaphysical use of language"?

An overstatement

[The title "And its method pointless" is an overstatement of course. Just as Some All, so too not-All not-Some, i.e. none. The method does uncover disguised nonsense (PI § 464) in the case of some philosophical propositions, just not in all.]

Wittgenstein's Project in Philosophy

[The expression 'Metaphysics-philosophy' (or 'Philosophical-metaphysics') is modeled after Wittgenstein's expression 'Logic-philosophy' (or 'Philosophical-logic').]

"To banish Metaphysics-philosophy"

Wittgenstein is an enemy of philosophy from first (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) to last (Philosophical Investigations). To do away with metaphysics he first invents a system wherein the only language that is not nonsense is the language of "natural science" (i.e. propositions of the form: "This is how things stand"), which is the language of sense perception, and because metaphysics talks about the imperceptible (that is imagined to lie behind what is perceptible), metaphysics is nonsense ("senseless"). But since in the TLP 'nonsense' ≠ 'meaningless', the TLP's account of language meaning is a failure, and therefore its dismissal of metaphysics is also a failure. In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein makes a second effort at depriving Metaphysics-philosophy of meaning (by showing that it is a dysfunction of language). But ultimately, why is metaphysics impossible? Because Wittgenstein wants it to be Impossible.

But I certainly don't think you can say that Wittgenstein chose the meaning of 'meaning' he chose for the Philosophical Investigations in order to banish metaphysics. (Nor do I think it has that consequence.) It was, in my view, chosen because it makes an objective (verifiable) distinction between sense and nonsense. And indeed were it not for this, Wittgenstein's later logic of language would be as arbitrary in its definitions of 'sense' and 'nonsense' as the TLP had been.

Wittgenstein's thesis that philosophy is an error, a disorder of the understanding caused by language is, as Russell says, unfounded; in my view because that thesis commits the fallacy of Some therefore All, not because it is not in some cases true. But the problem is more fundamental than that fallacy ... if there is a "metaphysical use of language".

Most significant is that Wittgenstein simply does not ask the great questions of philosophy; as if asking those questions were now impossible -- and no one calls him out on this (except Joad, at which Wittgenstein explodes, but offers no defense, only abuse of Joad). As if Plato only asked about the immortality of the soul because he did not understand the grammar of our language, as if that question were a meaningless combination of words and therefore impossible to ask, or as if only a philosophical charlatan could discuss the classical questions of philosophy nowadays.

[Wittgenstein only discusses the afterlife in the context of religious belief and then not as a philosophical question; he calls that kind of belief (e.g. in an afterlife or last judgment) a life-guiding religious "picture". He otherwise in his work ignores the eternal questions -- strange to call him a philosopher (cf. Russell on WII), but he claims to be philosophy's "legitimate heir" (BB p. 28).]

Philosophy as a disorder of the intellect. Theories about language as the origin of this disorder

About the origins of philosophical-metaphysics Wittgenstein has theories. All seem to show that philosophy is a dysfunction of the understanding caused by a misapprehension of the way natural language works (about what gives or can give language meaning), summed up by the proposition or thesis: "The logical-grammar of our language is misunderstood."

Earlier, elsewhere I wrote about the fundamental problem with Wittgenstein's philosophy. But now setting aside my own concern, namely the logic of language, to look rather at Wittgenstein's project in philosophy -- which, contrary to what I wrote, wasn't the logic of language, but the exposure as nonsense and consequent banishment of philosophy-metaphysics -- there is perhaps a more fundamental problem with Wittgenstein's work.

One of Wittgenstein's origin theories is that false grammatical analogies lead us to ask questions that are nonsense, e.g. to ask about the mind as if the word 'mind' or 'soul' were the name of an invisible object (Presumption: if there are visible objects, there must be invisible ones as well; cf. "the real existence of negative numbers"), and so to reason, e.g. that if a library has a location, then so must the mind). But it does look like nonsense, 'nonsense' in the sense of 'foolishness', to say that Plato asks about the essence of man (mind and body or mind alone) simply because he has followed a misleading grammatical analogy.

False Analogy

What would the false analogy be? That just as you can ask where sugar goes when it is mixed with water (dissolved in water, but it can be precipitated out) or where water goes when a fire is set under it (evaporated, but invisible water vapor can be condensed), so too you can ask where the light goes when the flame of a candle is extinguished [cf. BB § 56, p. 108] and you can ask where the soul goes when the body stops being alive.

And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle is like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing. (Alice in Wonderland i)

Some = Some

But there are indeed cases where not seeing the grammar of our language aright is the source of nonsense, e.g. when it sends us looking for a ghostly (PI § 36) substantive named by the word 'force' (The presumption: that all nouns are names of objects or phenomena) and we ask What is force? (cf. "What is time?") And this is because we do not see that the word 'force' (cf. "What is energy?", "What is gravity?") has no meaning except in the context of measurement: the meaning of the word 'force' is stated when the method by which force is to be measured is stated (Some propositions are nonsense without a method of verification).

Some philosophy, some metaphysics is indeed nonsense produced by misunderstanding the grammar (logic) of our language, and it is very important to see this [Wittgenstein as antidote to philosophy]. It is fundamental -- indeed, it is the first question to ask in philosophy -- to try to understand the logic of our language [to distinguish objectively between sense and nonsense], but that is not the essence of philosophy and it is not the end of philosophy (in either sense of 'end'). [Next: Philosophy as an antidote to Wittgenstein.]

The Fundamental Problem

But it is an impossible stretch from that to say that all philosophy is that way, or, as an earlier query said, "Philosophy is just bad grammar" ('grammar' in Wittgenstein's jargon). That contention is not only absurd; it is false, and it is the fundamental problem with Wittgenstein's project in philosophy, the notion that philosophy is a dysfunction of the intellect rather than a reflection of man's condition that sets these questions ("The riddle exists"), as e.g. the eternal questions about existence, about the perception of reality, and about good and evil. That and not language dysfunction (PI § 109) is why philosophy exists.

In this context, Thebes as a symbol of Philosophy

Wittgenstein's later project in philosophy is premised on a presumption (i.e. it is a requirement, a preconception, not the result of investigation (PI § 107)) -- that is anomaly-proof (i.e. that is logically impossible to disprove); in fact it is an axiom. In other words, this is not so much a project to test an thesis as a theory into which to fit a selection of data -- i.e. Wittgenstein's philosophy (unlike his logic of language) is Procrustean -- or rather Protean: Wittgenstein evades rather than answers the Sphinx's challenge; he simply does not take the road to Thebes. Wittgenstein never questions his theory -- i.e. he never looks for anomalies -- that philosophy is an illness of the understanding to be cured of, really no more than a bewitchment of the intellect by language (ibid. § 109).


Is a "clear and distinct idea" an absolute point of reference?

Query: proof by contradiction, philosophy.

It is, rather, disproof = refutation by contradiction (Plato, Sophist 230b-d), in Socratic philosophy. Socrates' method of refutation: cross-questioning theses by the natural light of reason and experience to uncover unclarity or contradiction in sense, not merely contradiction in form. (Although, apropos of the query, there is the method of proof in geometry where a proposition is proved true by demonstrating that its contradiction is false.)

"If I doubt, I must exist"

Query: why can't Descartes doubt clear and distinct ideas?

Either I don't remember or I never knew. [That's what I think, too.] So I will make something up. Doubt, where there are no grounds for doubt, would imply that Descartes' mind was ruled by an Evil Deceiver rather than a benevolent God (That Descartes is not deceived is presumed to be true; it is not itself a "clear and distinct idea"; it has the same standing as the logical principles of identify and contradiction): when Descartes can by the light of reason alone find no grounds for doubt, or if a proposition is deduced from other indubitable propositions, he calls his idea "clear and distinct". (I have no idea, none, whether that was Descartes' thought.)

And Archimedes' fulcrum

"Give me a lever and a fulcrum on which to rest it, and I will lift the world."

We say that the truth of all things is relative to some point of reference, as e.g. the origin of the Cartesian graph, which we can position wherever we like. If there were an absolutely fixed point, if that combination of words were not nonsense, that would be Archimedes' fulcrum: "Find me a fixed point ..." But there is no such point ... except that Descartes regards his "clear and distinct" ideas as such absolute points: they are knowledge (in Plato's Heraclitean sense), unchanging and therefore absolute knowledge.

When Augustine pointed out to the would-be absolute skeptics that I must exist if I am doubting, or when Descartes pointed out that it is a contradiction in sense to say 'I think, but I do not exist', did they identify an absolute point of reference? Is a tautology absolute knowledge? Well, a tautology does not change.

"Poverty-stricken and arbitrarily chosen"

You might think that Descartes could say, "If I do anything at all, e.g. play the violin, then ..." But this is not so, for I can doubt that I am playing the violin, e.g. I may be deluded, hallucinating, dreaming. But even to be deluded I must be thinking -- and thus it is only that I am thinking that I cannot doubt (That's why Descartes' place is not an "arbitrarily chosen" place for his philosophy to begin, although from Schweitzer's point of view, which is the point of view of ethics -- i.e. of "how to live our life" -- it is indeed "poverty-stricken", indeed destitute).

Therefore the Romantics cannot really say, as Kenneth Clark ("The Worship of Nature", Civilisation xi) has them say, "I feel, therefore I am" -- because Descartes cannot know that he has a body, much less sense perceptions. All Descartes knows is that he has ideas, not whether some of those ideas are of something independent of himself. Oneness with nature may be pure fantasy, self-delusion -- it can certainly be doubted -- from Descartes' perspective (and it is Descartes' formula Clark uses). Whatever can be doubted is not knowable, unless it can be deduced from what cannot be doubted.

Descartes' method is deductive rather than empirical (To my mind this makes him a medieval rather than a scientific thinker: for the latter what is deduced from principles, e.g. the theorems of geometry, must be verified by experience). While Pascal was demonstrating empirically that vacuums exist, Descartes was deducing that vacuums cannot exist: "There can be no extension that is extension of nothing." [Cf. Einstein's requirement for ether is Platonic, a priori.] Although there is this, that Descartes, unlike Aristotle, uses mathematics when trying to interpret nature (as, I think, did Archimedes and of course Pythagoras); indeed, it seems that Aristotle excelled in all branches except mathematics (but note that Darwin called Aristotle the master of observation, and that there are no mathematical equations in The Origin of Species). So much then for categories.

Moore and Ordinary Language

Apropos of G.E. Moore, not Descartes. As we normally use the word 'know' we know many things. It is characteristic of philosophers that they attack our normal use of language, as if to say that we are using the word 'know' wrong, for they say "You don't really know those things".

About the concept 'knowledge'. Knowledge belongs to the community; from this point of view, there is no absolute knowledge, no super standard for knowing; there are instead rules of a particular community's game, public, verifiable (OC § 555); 'knowledge' is a relational or relative concept; it is a shared, common-use tool. And as we normally use the word 'know', we know many ordinary things beyond a reasonable (even if not a logical) doubt; where there are no objective grounds for doubt, we often say that we know things (courts of law, e.g.), else we'd never get anything done; look at the words 'I know' as tool with uses in our life.

One can of course revise the concept 'knowledge' (as Wittgenstein revised the concept 'grammar') or select a particular meaning of 'knowledge' for a particular purpose (as Socrates did in the context of philosophy, or as Wittgenstein did with the concept 'meaning'). You can choose a different frame of reference from our normal one, but you mustn't imagine that you thereby show that our normal use of the word 'knowledge' is mistaken, that we don't really know the things that within our normal frame of reference we do know. (A concept is a frame of reference or reference point, a way of classifying things, not the frame, not the classification. There is no absolute frame of reference.)

Concepts, things and phenomena

Query: Wittgenstein's conception of meaning.

Maybe the word 'conception' is too suggestive of "concepts define phenomena", which they do, but is there a phenomenon of language meaning? Well, but doesn't language have meaning -- i.e. don't we as a matter of fact make a distinction between sense and nonsense, between language with meaning and sounds or marks without meaning, when we speak and write natural language? Then a "conception" here would be an account of how that distinction is made. Wittgenstein's conceptions of language meaning: (1) meaning is use and (2) meaning as use.


The logic of comparison, an Example

Compare abstract art (painting) to instrumental, non-program music or song -- in what way? In that neither has representational meaning. "They must both be appreciated the same way, i.e. by other qualities: in the case of music: melody, harmony, tempo, etc. In the case of art: shape, color, texture, etc." Is that comparison helpful -- i.e. does it teach you how (i.e. a method) to appreciate abstract art?

I imagine you could say that the smile of the Cheshire cat was all that remained after abstraction, or that an artist might abstract away the eyes and mouth of a face, leaving only the emotion or state of mind on the canvas.

"Often, nothing serves so well as an explanation of meaning as a picture"

"Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; "but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!" (Alice in Wonderland vi)

You might deduce (make the grammatical analogy) that if there can be a cat without a grin, there can be a grin without a cat. Nonsense in words, but not nonsense in a drawing. ("So that is what you are calling 'a grin without a cat'." Although the context in the story -- and it is important -- is that there was a cat there to begin with, one that could vanish by bits, finally leaving behind only its grin.)

Is a man's shadow cast on a wall an abstraction? The outline, a line drawing of a face, is an example of abstraction, for instance color having been subtracted -- but what has been subtracted from instrumental music? And so the comparison between abstract and instrumental music is false in this respect -- i.e. here they are unlike rather than like, dissimilar rather than similar.


Proof and Persuasion

Query: Socrates' use of logic on Euthyphro.

Does 'logic' here contrast with 'persuasion'? The role of logic in Socratic dialog: to refute theses (i.e. claims to know something) that are either unclear in meaning or self-contradictory. In the Euthyphro, Plato shows Euthyphro contradicting himself, or in other words, Euthyphro being refuted by Euthyphro's own statements ... although Euthyphro does not recognize or acknowledge thereby that he does not know what he thinks he knows. What would be an example of persuasion?

About the afterlife myth in Gorgias 522e-524b, Plato says "I am convinced = persuaded by this story" (526d-e) although its truth cannot be demonstrated and it may be regarded as an old wife's tale by some (527a-b). The distinction between proof and persuasion is important to Plato -- but examples of persuasion, or maybe rules of persuasion (sophistic method), are needed to explain the difference in meaning.

The method of persuasion may (1) use few examples so that anomalies are overlooked; it may (2) employ opaque or pseudo metaphors, fallacies of reasoning (logical fallacies); and it may (3) present only the reasons for, neglecting the reasons against (or vice versa). Persuasion is to the plausible what proof is to the truth. What is an example of a proposition that one is easily persuaded to, that is readily plausible? 'Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of the intellect by means of language' (PI § 109) -- Wittgenstein is quite persuasive with that proposition because he recognizes no anomalies; cf. the theory of evolution: one forgets to ask: what would count as a falsification of that thesis -- what would an anomaly look like?

Euclidean plane or the Earth's topography (Logical possibility)

Query: then is a circle not round?

Is the proposition 'A circle may or may not be round' a rule of grammar or a statement of fact? A logical possibility is a rule of grammar, i.e. a description of a use of language, an explanation of meaning. 'The shape of a circle may depend on the Euclidean plane or on the Earth's topography' is a rule of grammar. (The query sounds rhetorical only if one cannot describe an alternative.)

'Blue exists'

The discussion of metaphysics for Wittgenstein is about distinguishing between rules of grammar and statements of fact.

Compare the sentences 'Blue is a color' and 'The sky is blue' with respect to their uses in the language. Both those sentences may be used to state rules of grammar and statements of fact. The proposition 'Blue is a color' is both a rule for using the word 'blue' and a statement of fact about the English language, just as the proposition 'The sky is blue' may used to state a rule -- e.g. an ostensive definition of the word 'blue' -- or a statement of fact about the sky. The proposition 'Blue is one of the colors of the rainbow' is a statement of fact about rainbows, not as it were a statement of fact about the color blue, just as 'Blue is a color' is not a statement of fact about the color blue (nor is 'The ancient Greeks had no word for the color blue). The proposition 'Mixing green and yellow creates the color blue' is a statement of fact [if it is true] about the color blue (and about the colors green and yellow). And the sentence 'Blue exists' -- what is its grammar (i.e. description of its use in the language)?


Sleep-walking and language

Many meanings of 'meaning'

Suppose while talking in my sleep I confess to having committed a crime ... can my confession be used as evidence against me in a court of law?

So we have the question of the meaning of language: If someone says while he is asleep 'I am sleeping' [or, I think, Wittgenstein's example was: If someone says while sleeping, 'It is raining', even if it actually is raining] that is not a move in a language game: it hasn't got a meaning in the sense of 'meaning' DEF.= 'use in the language'. [It is like a hologram: it appears to be a move, but it isn't.]

But if in his sleep someone says "I killed so-and-so", doesn't that language have meaning -- i.e. isn't it not nonsense? It certainly has a meaning that can be acted on, investigated to see if the speaker did in fact do the murder. Well, there are many meanings of the word 'meaning', not only the one Wittgenstein chose ("It hasn't got what I call a meaning"); we are not taught to speak in our sleep: talking in one's sleep is not a "language game". [Compare talking in one's sleep to dark clouds in the sky: hypotheses may be formed based on these.]

A move without a counter-move

And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, "Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?" and sometimes "Do bats eat cats?", for, you see, as she couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way she put it. (Alice in Wonderland i)

Now, although we don't know their answers, we wouldn't say "it doesn't much matter which way we put them" about the questions without answers, because they are not nonsense (sound without meaning).

(But what is it that "doesn't much matter"?)

Well, but if a ball is thrown at you and you do not know how to respond (because there is no rule to follow, to tell you what to do), are you nonetheless playing a game?

One way to get a clearer view of a word's use in the language is to try to describe the use of the word as if it were a move in a game ("as in language game"). (Cf. Z § 294)

The language game type 'question and answer' -- if you know there is no way to answer a question, then are you playing that game type? Is a move without a counter-move a move in the question-and-answer game? (Is a riddle without a solution a riddle?)

Concept fluidity. If a ball is thrown at you and there is no rule for how you are to respond (i.e. if how you are to respond is undefined), we don't say therefore that no ball is thrown at you.

(Variations. For Alice's questions, "Do cats eat bats?" and "Do bats eat cats?", do have answers, even though she hasn't the evidence to answer them.)

Is a monologue -- talking to oneself -- a language game? There is no part of speech 'monologue-word'. [There are various meanings of 'language game'.]


Some Remarks about Philosophy

Defining 'philosophy' or Saying what philosophy is

"Philosophy is rational ways of looking at some things." So you say, but does that mean that all philosophical understanding is relative to some way or other of looking at things? Well, is it logically possible -- i.e. can it be described -- for it to be otherwise? If we knew what "the eye of God" saw, if there were an absolute point of reference, then all these questions, all our questions would be resolved [answered]. If there were. [What is the relation of these remarks to Augustine and Descartes' absolute proposition?]

Query: I don't understand philosophy.

Join the queue, because no one else does either. Not if to understand philosophy means to understand our existence (to be wise in metaphysics, logic, and ethics). But if the query means that you don't understand the writings of a philosopher, then why is this? Is it because of (1) the philosopher's ideas, or (2) the philosopher's use (or abuse) of language, or (3) someone else's presentation of the philosopher's ideas to you? What is it that you don't understand, i.e. that is not clear to you? (Cf. "I don't understand geometry" -- why? The presentation is the first suspect always. Philosophy doesn't have to be -- and indeed can't be -- written or spoken in "unreadable sentences": nonsense (undefined language) is no less nonsense for being called philosophy.)

By 'rational' can we mean the way of the natural light of reason and experience, which is the way of all Socratic philosophy? No, because the way of Descartes is the way of the natural light of reason only (not reason and experience).

What are we calling 'reason'?

It might be clearer to talk about the act of reasoning. What do we mean? Above all, we mean logic ("the art of reasoning"): deduction, induction, and adduction ("giving reasons") -- but above all self-consistency. A reasonable person does not willingly contradict himself.

Socrates asks: Is the thesis clear in meaning and is it self-consistent, or is it unclear (language that we cannot put to the test, because like the clouds, it won't stand still: the nebulous, the chaotic, is an antithesis of reason) does it contradict itself or experience (a reasonable man does not base his thinking on false premisses, or on disproven or unproven propositions of fact).

What Hume means by the word 'reason', I don't know. Or Locke either.

The thought of a philosopher is a rational way of looking at logic, ethics and/or metaphysics. Should philosophy be called "the collection of individual philosopher's frames of reference (e.g. Wittgenstein's chosen meaning of 'meaning' is a frame of reference)" or "conceptual projects"; would we want to define the word 'philosophy' that way? A definition serves to make something clearer.

Query: similarities and differences of etymological and philosophical definitions of philosophy, in Venn diagram.

How to begin? Would we list the defining characteristics of each, and note which were held in common, which not? The 'historical Socrates' might be defined this way, if one were so inclined. It might seem that every project in philosophy would be a pursuit of wisdom, but what are we calling 'wisdom'? Not knowledge of just anything, but only of how to think, how to live, and what is real. But Wittgenstein's philosophy does not seek to say how to live or what is real.

We might want to begin with the etymological definition ("love of wisdom") qualified by the Stoic three-part circle ("... in logic, ethics, and metaphysics"), and indicate which of the three parts each philosopher's project in philosophy overlapped ("intersected"). That would be a Venn diagram.

Query: can 'philosophy' only be defined etymologically?

What would a non-etymological definition of philosophy look like? Not statements like Wittgenstein's "Philosophy is a battle against language mystification", which are statements about philosophy, not definitions of the word 'philosophy' -- i.e. they are not descriptions of how we use that word (or might use that word with a particular project in mind); instead they attempt to state what the real (as in real definition) essence of philosophy is. Are they hypotheses?

Not every statement of fact can be put to the test (A test requires grounds for doubt or the possibility of counter-examples (anomalies), which the facts in plain view have not) and therefore not every statement of fact is an hypothesis (DEF.=, but only because I want to define the word that way; words are tools, sometimes for pointing out distinctions).

Russell's statement that the "fundamental aim [of philosophers] has been to understand the world as well as may be, and to separate what may count as knowledge from what must be rejected as unfounded opinion" is an hypothesis about the real nature of philosophy.

The Stoic statement that "philosophy is love of wisdom in metaphysics, logic, and ethics" attempts to be a verbal definition of the word 'philosophy'. It begins with etymology, but the scope of the wisdom must be limited if the definition is to be Socratic, i.e. it must differentiate the wisdom philosophy pursues (namely metaphysical, logical, ethical) from all other kinds of wisdom.

Thrushes in the Wind

Query: define wonders by Plato.

That is the first step: ask what is being said -- Don't presume to tell before you ask. That is the correct order of inquiry (Republic 339a). "Philosophy begins in wonder" -- Ask Plato to explain what he means by the word 'wonder' (which he in fact does in Theaetetus 155c-d, namely 'perplexity' or 'puzzlement').

That is also where philosophy ends. Philosophy is an engine for the discovery of ignorance, above all one's own. (Although maybe a little more, for the relation between concepts and phenomena may be made clearer, conceptual confusion perhaps averted. ("Maybe" and "perhaps" are telling words.))


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