What it means to be conscious is that the world is meaningful to us. Consciousness is as little able to be found in the brain as is the value of a precious family keepsake to be found in its physical construction. Meaning is what the brain does in its interaction with the external world. When we are aware, when there is something it is like to be us, when the world is accessible to us, there exists a meaningful relationship between our neural activity and the outside world. Even in its most elementary openings, meaning is present. Of course, there is some neural correlate for this meaning-making, but meaning itself is not contained in this neural correlate. Rather, the meaning is present only in the activity of our full bodied, exploratory interaction with the world. Dreaming, which seems to be an experience that brain originates on its own, is founded upon our interaction with the external world. When we dream, it is as though we are seeking that original foundation. That is why we ask what a dream means, not in terms of the dream itself, but in terms of the life we live when we are awake. It is as if dreaming is a kind of searching for something that is missing, our presence in the world.
26. In the Tractatus Wittgenstein manages, as Russell quips, to say a great deal about what cannot be spoken of. In the Philosophical investigations, Wittgenstein appears to acknowledge Russell's point by truly remaining silent on matters that language cannot speak of. The question remains, however, whether W's new beginning in the PI results in the same sort of line to be drawn between what can and cannot be spoken of. Questions of value, for instance, are part of our everyday use of language and as such are meaningful. It therefore appears that what could not be spoken of in the Tractatus can be meaningfully spoken of in the Philosophical Investigations. Indeed, it appears everything relevant to our human form of life can be spoken of meaningfully. We are sometimes silent not because we cannot say what we mean but because we have nothing relevant to say.
27. It has been suggested that the appearance of something new within our established forms of life and the language games that depend on these forms is evidence for the efficacy of that of which language cannot speak. Such an assertion is but a disguised attempt to say the unsayable. It contradicts itself. Accordingly, Wittgenstein has nothing to say about this. Something new appears in language not out of some silent resource but from within the activities of language itself, activities that include empirical investigation, the asking of questions as well as the imaginative use of language. This last includes the activity of drawing analogies, an activity in which W is very skilled and one that allowed him to say something new about philosophy. There is an openness to our language activities that is not bound by rules, just as in tennis, there is no rule on how high to throw the ball or on the spin that is put on a ball. Such openness is not silence and certainly not the unsayable but rather the possibility of saying something that has not been said before but remains meaningful within our human form of life.
28. In what sense are language activities games? 'Game' was first introduced as an analogy to the plurality of speech acts that, like games, are rule-governed activities that share affinities but no essential attribute. However, Wittgenstein appears at times to use 'language-game' as if it were a 'game' like chess or patience. Are speech act games or simply analogous to games? My tentative conclusion is that speech acts are only analogous to games and that to include language activities in the same category as chess or patience is misleading. Language activities do share affinities with games such as chess but the 'form of life' in which most language activities occur is different from that of chess, though speech and debate competitions and crossword puzzles are particular language-activities that would certainly count as games in its customary sense. Our everyday use of language is not just a game. It is in fact no game at all
29. A similar problem develops as to what counts as a language-game. Does 'language-game' refer only to the plurality of everyday speech acts (commands, requests, prayers, confessions, etc.) or are we to include theology, aesthetics, sociology, etc. as well? These later appear to belong to what Wittgenstein would call grammatical fictions because their use of words seeks to be denotative where no denotation is possible. Beauty, truth and virtue are words that acquire meaning from their use within a community and not from supposed mental objects that bear their names. It is as if we mistake the shape of the container of gas for the gas itself or rather we mistake the picture for what the picture is supposed to represent. In the case of virtue, what is to be represented is how we use the word in our everyday speech not in some fictitious realm of the mind.
21. What do we mean when we call something private? It may mean something that I have chosen not to speak of or it may mean something of which I claim ownership as a product of my physical or intellectual work or it may mean something that only I can know. It is only the third of these senses that Wittgenstein questions:
In what sense are my sensations private? Well, only I can know whether I am really in pain; another person can only surmise it. -- in one way this is false, and in another nonsense. If we are using the word "know" as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?), then other people very often know I'm in pain. -- Yes, but all the same, not with the certainty with which I know it myself! -- It can't be said of me at all (except perhaps as a joke) that I know I'm in pain. What is it supposed to mean -- except perhaps that I am in pain? (PI 246)
The sentence "Sensations are private" is comparable to "One plays patience by oneself." (PI 248)
What can it mean to play patience by oneself but to play patience? What can it mean that sensations are private but that there are sensations?
22. What then are sensations?
"And yet you again and again reach the conclusion that the sensation itself is a Nothing." -- Not at all. It's not a Something, but not a Nothing either! The conclusion was only that a Nothing would render the same service as a Something about which nothing could be said. We've only rejected the grammar which tends to force itself on us here. (PI 293)
There is a temptation here to use the phrase "a Something, but not a Nothing" as though referring denotatively to sensation. But Wittgenstein makes clear that he is talking here specifically about the "service" that such phrases as "not a Nothing" and "a something about which nothing can be said" perform. What service do such phrases serve? They serve to draw the line between what can be spoken of and what cannot. It is necessary to reject the grammar which tends to force a denotative sense on us. As denotative phrases, ‘Not A Something’ and ‘Not a Nothing’ cancel out. And yet, we would make it into a something. Just so language bewitches us. This way leads to mysticism.
23. Can we use "private" as equivalent with "that which cannot be said" as pertains to experience or sensation? Wittgenstein himself never himself does. And if we did, it would serve no purpose. The word "my" has meaning only in what can be talked about and what is therefore potentially accessible to others.
"Another person can't have my pain." -- My pains -- what pains are they? . . . In so far as it makes sense to say that my pain is the same as his, it is also possible for us both to have the same pain. (PI 253).
24. As Wittgenstein says in his discussion of the 'Beetle in the Box', "If we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of 'object and name', the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant" (PI 293). It does not belong to the language-game at all. Can 'sensation' be construed otherwise than on the model of 'object and name'? Of course. It acquires meaning by its use in what it is our shared form of life. When you say "I have a toothache", I understand what you mean, not because "toothache" denotes something we can both privately observe in our experience and then conclude our experiences are similar -- rather, that the possibility of recognizing my toothache as a toothache in the first place depends upon a form of life in which what I call a toothache is what everyone else calls a toothache. That is the language-game!
25. It is certainly true that I cannot be conscious of your pain as you are. This is to say no more than you are in pain and I am not. This fact, however, does not imply that your pain is thereby private such that your experience is essentially hidden from me. Your experience of pain is hidden from me only if you choose to hide it.
Neural activity has no meaning except in the context of our projects and activities. Of itself brain function is as meaningless as the fall of rain or the tides of the sea or the rotation of the earth apart from our witness. When something in the biochemistry of the brain changes and leaves a person impaired, the meaning of that impairment is founded upon the life denied, though human projects are such that impairment itself is often experienced not as tragic or even debilitating but as occasion for courage and love. The meaning of life lies not in the circuits of the brain but in forms of life in which we participate and in the language we use. It is a mistake to believe that such words as love, envy, or courage must point to something other than the structure of our activities. What we hear when we speak of soul or the meaning of life is the poetry and music of our lives. What is most astonishing is that there is any meaning at all. That the meaning of life dies with us testifies to that meaning. Consciousness can not be found in the brain because apart from our language and our projects consciousness is nothing but a wind that is not even that.
14. Wittgenstein’s method:
The great difficulty here is not to present the matter as if there were something one couldn’t do. As if there really were an object, from which I extract a description, which I am not in a position to show anyone. – And the best that I can propose is that we yield to the temptation to use this picture, then investigate what the application of the picture looks like. (PI 374)
A picture held us captive. And we couldn’t get outside it, for it lay in our language, and language seemed only to repeat it to us inexorably. (PI 115)
When philosophers use a word –- “knowledge”, “being”, “object”, “I”, “proposition/sentence”, “name” – and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language in which it is at home? What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.
When I say I want to investigate ‘consciousness’, it appears to me that I am investigating something’. Is consciousness, for instance, some inner mental state that can be observed only from within and is, therefore, private to each of us? Whenever we use the sentence “I am conscious” in everyday speech, it is either a needless affirmation of what is obvious to the person I am addressing or it is bound up in a particular event where I had been temporarily ‘unconscious’. e.g. in a coma. In any case, the meaning of the word is immediately and easily understood by the person with whom I am speaking. Why then does ‘consciousness’ present a problem? Is it not because I think that a word is a name for something somehow inside me? But isn’t the expression ‘inside me’ a metaphor that we are here mistaking for some actual location? But how am I to find that ‘inside’? But, if it is not ‘inside’, where is it? It is neither ‘inside’ or ‘outside’, neither here or there. When I use the word ‘conscious’ in an everyday context it never occurs to ask myself “Where am I conscious?” It is simply a fact of my existence. The word ‘conscious’ only becomes problematic when we take the word out of its everyday usage and ask “But what is this thing called consciousness?” and then seek an answer as if it were the same sort of question as “What is an aardvark?
15. We commit the same error when we attempt to define consciousness as what it is to like to be me or a bat or what it is like to be another person.
“You don’t know what it like to be me” as an expressive statement in an everyday situation is significant but to turn it into an argument for solipsism is a mistake. As an expressive statement in the course of our everyday life, it is an appeal to another person. To turn it into a statement of existential isolation is to lift the statement out of that situation and create an illusion of the ‘self’.
16. “Are you saying there is no ‘self’?” Yes and no. “Either there is a ‘self’ or there is not!” Wittgenstein:
At this point, our thinking plays us a strange trick. That is, we want to quote the law of excluded middle and say: ”Either such a an image floats before his mind, or it does not; there is no third. . possibility!” . . . And problem is now supposed to be: does reality accord with the picture or not? And this picture seems to determine what we have to do, what to look for, and how – but it does not, precisely because we do not know how it is to be applied. Here, saying “There is no third possibility” . . . expresses our inability to urn our eyes away from the this picture – a picture which looks as if it must already contain both the problem and its solution . . . Similarly, when it is said “Either he has this sensation, or he doesn’t”, what primarily occurs to us is a picture which already seems to determine the sense of the statements unequivocally: “Now you know hat sin question”, one would like to say. And what’s just what it does not tell you. (PI 352)
When we create a picture of the ‘self’, the rules for its application are not given. The meaning of ‘self’ as used in our everyday language (“I am not myself today.”) is immediately understood in the context in which it is spoken.
17. “Are then the pictures we create inconsequential?” On the contrary! If we but step away from application and see the creating of such pictures as a primary activity, they become important experiences unto themselves and, along with other language activities, provide our life with meaning. No longer are such pictures illusions because no longer do we treat them as pointing beyond themselves.
“A picture tells me itself” is what I’d like to say. That is, it's telling me something consists in its own structure, in its own forms and colours. (PI 523)
Don’t take it as a matter of course, but as a remarkable fact, that pictures and fictitious narratives give us pleasure, absorb us. (PI 524)
We create our images for their own sake; they do their own work within the activities of which they are a part. To seek ‘application’ is actually to reduce their significance. It is application that turns ‘image’ into illusion.
18. The way out of the “bottle” is to find meaning in each language activity in terms of its own structure and rules. “Does this mean that there is no priority among such activities or no judgment to be made among them as to their value?” It is difficult to know where to begin to respond to such questions? It is as though somehow were to ask “Do Hamlet and right triangles exist along with aardvarks and civil liberties?”-- as if one could somehow apply the rules of one language game to those of another. “But what then, are they all equal.” But that statement assumes terms of comparison! Where are we to find them?
19. “Can we make no judgments?” Only this: some language activities create problems where none need be. They do so because they seek to apply the rules of their activity to those of another. Such applications lead, as Wittgenstein tells us, to “deep disquietudes”. It may be that if we gave up ‘application, some of these language activities would no longer trouble us or would lose their interest, much as childhood games like “Go Fish” become vapid. Perhaps not. Perhaps they would take on a new vitality!
20. In the Preface to Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein invites readers to think for themselves:
I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.
Indeed, Wittgenstein’s style requires the reader to think for himself:
Consider two language games:
(a) Some gives someone else the order to make particular movements with his arm, or to assume particular bodily positions (gymnastic instructor and pupil). And a variant of this language-game is this: the pupil gives himself orders and then carries them out.
(b) Someone observes certain regular processes – for example, the reactions of different metals to acids – and thereupon makes predictions about the reactions that will occur in certain cases.
There is an evident kinship between these two language-games, and also a fundamental difference. In both, one might call the spoken words “predictions”. But compare the training which leads to the first technique with the training for the second one! (PI 630)
Here Wittgenstein does not tell the reader what the difference in training is between his two examples nor does he comment on the significance of this difference. The reader is left to think this out for himself.
To what ‘training’ is Wittgenstein referring in the first instance (a), that of the one who gives the order or the one who receives it? That there is such a question reveals a significant disparity with the second instance (b). In (a), the one who gives the order and the one who receives the order participate in a common form of life that gives the order its meaning. To speak of ‘prediction’ in this instance (a) is to turn it into an object of thought that is foreign to the activity itself, thereby creating a picture whose application leads us to believe that the action performed is similar to “the reactions of different metals to acid” and that now we better understand the first instance because he have made it ‘objective’. The achievement of this objectivity, however, is illusory, as it has been accomplished by conflating wholly different activities that have wholly different rules of language by which they are played. We have ‘reduced’ one activity to another by subjecting it to the rules of another. If we miss that we have confused the use of ‘prediction’ in (a) and (b) or miss that it is how we use words in particular activities that determine their meanings, we end up bedeviling ourselves with questions like those that the debate over free will provoke.
7. “We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand.” (PI 89)
“Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by the resources of our language.” (PI 109)
“The philosopher treats a question; like an illness.” (PI 255)
What was said in Nos.1-6 is symptomatic of the very illness that Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity endeavors to cure: the will to theorize, to look away from what is in plain sight, from everyday use of language, and to seek logical connections among analogous forms of expressions. Everywhere in the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein is trying to eliminate “misunderstandings concerning the use of words, brought about, among other things by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of our language” (PI 90).
8. Or to put it as Wittgenstein does early on in the Philosophical Investigations, such discussions as Nos. 1-6 are what happen “when language goes on holiday” (PI 38). The particular fault of Nos. 1-6 is the arbitrary use made of the blurriness of the idea of a ‘language-game’, a blurriness that allows us free rein to theorize. Wittgenstein speaks directly to this problem:
But if the colors in the original shade into one another without a hint of any boundary, won’t it become a hopeless task to draw a sharp picture corresponding to the blurred one? Won’t you then have to say: “Here I might just as well draw a circle as a rectangle or a heart, for all the colors merge. Anything – and nothing – is right.” – And is the position in which for example, someone finds himself in ethics or aesthetics when he looks for definitions that correspond to our concepts. (PI 77)
9. It may be that Wittgenstein is responsible for such misunderstandings. He himself strays on occasion into “theorizing” (e.g. PI 7:“I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the activities into which it is woven, a ‘language-game’.”) The problem is further compounded by the style of the fragments themselves which require careful reading to avoid mistaking a statement that Wittgenstein wants to challenge with one that he is affirming (e.g. see discussion below of the ‘Beetle in the Box’ PI 293).
10. What does Wittgenstein want us to understand as a ‘language game’? He lists examples for us in PI 15, among which are “requesting, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.” The illness that Wittgenstein is so energetically trying to combat arises when a philosopher attempts to generalize from what are plainly everyday, ordinary speech acts and interpret, for instance, his reference to “praying” as a reference to ‘theology’ as a word game unto itself.
11. For Wittgenstein not all uses of language qualify for what he means by a ‘language game’:
Other illusions come from various quarters to join the particular one spoken of here. Thought, language, now appear to us as the unique correlate, picture, of the world. These concepts: proposition, language, thought, world, stand in line one behind the other, each equivalent to each. (But what are these words to be used for now? The language-game in which they are to be applied is missing. ) (PI 96)
Though it may be that Wittgenstein is himself responsible for confusion over what counts as a language-game, it is nevertheless clear that he directs our attention over and over again to everyday usage, warning us as he goes against the will to theorize, systematize or mistake analogies for logical equivalencies.
12. How easily Wittgenstein’s aphoristic style leads to confusion can be seen in his discussion of the ‘beetle-in-the-box’: (PI 293):
If I say of myself that it is only from my own case that I know what the word ‘pain’ means – must I not say that of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly.
Well, everyone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case! – Suppose that everyone had a box with something in it which we call a “beetle”. No one can ever look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. – Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. – But what if these people’s word “beetle” had a use nonetheless? – If so, it would not be as the name of a thing. The Thing in the box doesn’t belong to the language-game at all; not even as a Something: for the box might even be empty. – No, one can ‘divide thought’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is.
Here Wittgenstein is using the language of ‘privacy’ to debunk that very language. His discussion amounts to a reductio ad absurdum, as his conclusion to his aphorism makes clear:
That is to say, if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of ‘object and name’, the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant. (PI 293)
It would be a serious error here to suppose that Wittgenstein is arguing for some mystical notion of the ineffable: To do so is to mistake the purpose of his analogy.
13. What Wittgenstein is arguing against in his discussion of ‘privacy’ is the mistake he is everywhere warning us against: of supposing that words are essentially denotative, so that the “I” in “I think” denotes an “I” that exists as some kind of object. We understand the first person pronoun in its everyday usage readily enough: “I am going to the store.”; “I am in pain.”; “I am your friend.” The meaning of “I” only becomes problematical when we want to sever the pronoun from its ordinary use. That is the bewitchment of language about which Wittgenstein is warning us. It leads to entanglements that are the origin of “disquietudes” that he would dispel:
The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes.. . (PI 111)
Here is the fundamental fact is that we lay down rules, a technique, for playing a game, and that then, when we follow the rules, things don’t turn out as we had assumed. So that we are, as it wee entangled in our own rules. This entanglement in our rules is what we want to understand: that is, to survey. (PI 125)
It may be that Wittgenstein would allow that metaphysical languages do count as ‘language-games’. If so, they would be games whose rules end up being self-defeating, creating entanglements such as Descartes cogito, ergo sum in which the “I”, under Wittgenstein’s critique, “drops out of consideration as irrelevant” (PI 293 supra). (There is more to be said on Descartes’ cogito.)
(to be continued)
(These comments represent a journey in my undertstanding of Wittgenstein's Philosophical investigations. As I read Wittgenstein more closely, I have sometimes discovered certain preconceived ideas that had to be revised or discarded. 1-6 may sound like a plausible reading of Wittgenstein.but as I pay closer attention to the actual text and am able toI set aside my previous ideas about Wittgenstein, the more mistaken these early comments appear to be. Still, they seem to have some value -- at least, as a caution to those who think they know what Wittgenstein is about in his Philosophical Investigations without close reading of the actual text in its entirety.)
1. “I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the activities into which it is woven, a ‘language-game’.” (PI, 7)
Is not Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity also one of the many language activities (games) that are woven into the whole (game)? How could it not be? Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity clearly involves techniques or skills that can be mastered and, like other games, can be played at different levels of sophistication. An example of such a skill in Wittgenstein’s game is what he calls a “grammatical investigation”:
“Understanding a world”: a state. But a mental state? – We call dejection, excitement, pain, mental states. Carry out a grammatical investigation as follows: we say
‘He felt dejected the whole day'
‘He was in great excitement the whole day’
‘He has been in pain uninterruptedly since yesterday’. –
We also say, ‘Since yesterday I have understood this word.’ ‘Uninterruptedly’, though? – To be sure, one can speak of an interruption of understanding. But in what cases? Compare: ‘When did your pains get less?’ and ‘When did you stop understanding that word?’ (PI, 149)
This manner of looking at our actual use of words like ‘pain’ is repeated over and over again throughout the Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein’s game, of course, is not restricted to one such gambit. There are many others that must be mastered. It is perhaps enough to say here that even the formatting of this critique of Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity is to play the Wittgensteinian game. Of course, it is a poor attempt, but like any game, Wittgenstein’s can be played on all levels of mastery.
2. But even if this critique of Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity is correct, what has been achieved? Does it invalidate or weaken Wittgenstein’s work? Of course not. For what is good or useful or true or well done has only relevance within the game that is being play. And certainly the fact that we have identified Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity as one language-game among others does not mean that it is frivolous, trivial or merely diverting. (Here it is important to remember that W explicitly states that he intends his use of “game” to be not a definition of anything or a valuation but rather an analogy that will help us understand how we use words. Further discussion of this ‘analogy’ is required.)
3. One consequence of identifying Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity as a “game” is that we are able to recognize that it has “affinities” and “family resemblances” with other philosophical activities, such as Plato’s or Aristotle’s. There are a great many of these “affinities” to be explored, but for now, it is enough to recognize how familiar Wittgenstein’s resort to everyday usage is to Aristotle’s discussion of happiness or how familiar Wittgenstein’s use of analogy is to Plato’s.
4. But on what ground can Wittgenstein’s “game” be considered superior to those of other philosophers who appear, despite their “affinities”, to be playing games as different as checkers, chess, ring-around-a-rosy, poker, or GO. The play in each of these can only be evaluated within the individual games themselves. The one fault we might find with Wittgenstein’s game is the same one we find in those of other philosophers: that their game is presented as the game, the one by which all others are to be measured.
5. That Plato is playing a different game from that of Wittgenstein can be demonstrated by an investigation into the former’s use of analogy. Plato uses his analogies (the cave, the divided line, the chariot, the theory of recollection which leads to the further analogy of the slave-boy) to bump up against the barriers of language: an attempt to say the unsayable. To turn any one of these analogies into Platonic doctrine is to forget the purpose within any given dialogue that these analogies serve. In the case of recollection and the slave-boy episode, Plato employs these analogies to help us move beyond Meno’s paradox that it is senseless to search for what one does not know. Indeed, at the end of the slave-boy analogy, Socrates offers this qualification:
I shouldn’t like to take my oath on the whole story, but one thing I am ready to fight for as long as I can, in word and act – that is, that we shall be better, braver and more active men if we believe it is right to look for what we don’t know than if we believe there is no point in looking because what we don’t know can never be discovered."
We may say something similar in response to Wittgenstein: the attempt to say what cannot be said about truth, beauty and virtue is not a futile activity even though it will render up only what is nonsense from Wittgenstein’s perspective. The attempt itself has the effect of creating a life that is experienced as deeply meaningful. In playing Plato’s game, we discover that what is of most value is not the answer to the question, What is virtue?, but the kind of life that silently, invisibly comes about as a consequence of earnestly asking the question.
6. Wittgenstein himself seems to be alive to and find personal value in those games that involve bumping one’s head against the barrier of language. See his “A Lecture on Ethics” as well as the later part of the Tractatus. It may be that Wittgenstein’s problem with Plato and other philosophers is really the problem that has developed with respect to his own philosophical activity: the philosophical activity has become hardened into doctrine, or even worse, dogma. (It is all too often forgotten that Wittgenstein used "game" as an analogy, which like all analogies must eventually fall away.) Socrates is all about the activity itself of philosophy, as is Wittgenstein. As with any game, the value is in the play itself.
(See Journal 7-13 where the above critique is understood as flawed.)
LECTURE ON ETHICS
My subject, as you know, is Ethics and I will adopt the explanation of that term which Professor Moore has given in his book Principia Ethica. He says: "Ethics is the general enquiry into what is good." Now I am going to use the term Ethics in a slightly wider sense, in a sense in fact which includes what I believe to be the most essential part of what is generally called Aesthetics.
And to make you see as clearly as possible what I take to be the subject matter of Ethics I will put before you a number of more or less synonymous expressions each of which could be substituted for the above definition, and by enumerating them I want to produce the same sort of effect which Galton produced when he took a number of photos of different faces on the same photographic plate in order to get the picture of the typical features they all had in common. And as by showing to you such a collective photo I could make you see what is the typical--say--Chinese face; so if you look through the row of synonyms which I will put before you, you will, I hope, be able to see the characteristic features they all have in common and these are the characteristic features of Ethics.
Now instead of saying "Ethics is the enquiry into what is good" I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into what is valuable, or, into what is really important, or I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into the meaning of life, or into what makes life worth living, or into the right way of living. I believe if you look at all these phrases you will get a rough idea as to what it is that Ethics is concerned with. Now the first thing that strikes one about all these expressions is that each of them is actually used in two very different senses. I will call them the trivial or relative sense on the one hand and the ethical or absolute sense on the other. If for instance I say that this is a good chair this means that the chair serves a certain predetermined purpose and the word good here has only meaning so far as this purpose has been previously fixed upon. In fact the word good in the relative sense simply means coming up to a certain predetermined standard. Thus when we say that this man is a good pianist we mean that he can play pieces of a certain degree of difficulty with a certain degree of dexterity. And similarly if I say that it is important for me not to catch cold I mean that catching a cold produces certain describable disturbances in my life and if I say that this is the right road I mean that it's the right road relative to a certain goal.
Used in this way these expressions don't present any difficult or deep problems. But this is not how Ethics uses them. Supposing that I could play tennis and one of you saw me playing and said "Well, you play pretty badly" and suppose I answered "I know, I'm playing pretty badly but I don't want to play any better," all the other man could say would be "Ah, then that's all right." But suppose I had told one of you a preposterous lie and he came up to me and said, "You're behaving like a beast" and then I were to say "I know I behave badly, but then I don't want to behave any better," could he then say "Ah, then that's all right"? Certainly not; he would say "Well, you ought to want to behave better." Here you have an absolute judgment of value, whereas the first instance was one of relative judgment.
The essence of this difference seems to be obviously this: Every judgment of relative value is a mere statement of facts and can therefore be put in such a form that it loses all the appearance of a judgment of value: Instead of saying "This is the right way to Granchester," I could equally well have said, "This is the right way you have to go if you want to get to Granchester in the shortest time"; "This man is a good runner" simply means that he runs a certain number of miles in a certain number of minutes, etc.
Now what I wish to contend is that, although all judgments of relative value can be shown to be mere statement of facts, no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgment of absolute value.
Let me explain this: Suppose one of you were an omniscient person and therefore knew all the movements of all the bodies in the world dead or alive and that he also knew all the states of mind of all human beings that ever lived, and suppose this man wrote all he knew in a big book, then this book would contain the whole description of the world; and what I want to say is, that this book would contain nothing that we would call an ethical judgment or anything that would logically imply such a judgment. It would of course contain all relative judgments of value and all true scientific propositions and in fact all true propositions that can be made. But all the facts described would, as it were, stand on the same level and in the same way all propositions stand on the same level.
There are no propositions which, in any absolute sense, are sublime, important, or trivial. Now perhaps some of you will agree to that and be reminded of Hamlet's words: "Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." But this again could lead to a misunderstanding. What Hamlet says seems to imply that good and bad, though not qualities of the world outside us, are attributes to our states of mind. But what I mean is that a state of mind, so far as we mean by that a fact which we can describe, is in no ethical sense good or bad.
If for instance in our world-book we read the description of a murder with all its details physical and psychological, the mere description of these facts will contain nothing which we could call an ethical proposition. The murder will be on exactly the same level as any other event, for instance the falling of a stone. Certainly the reading of description might cause us pain or rage or any other emotion, or we might read about the pain or rage caused by this murder in other people when they have heard of it, but there will simply be facts, facts, and facts but no Ethics.
And now I must say that if I contemplate what Ethics really would have to be if there were such a science, this result seems to me quite obvious. It seems to me obvious that nothing we could ever think or say should be the thing. That we cannot write a scientific book, the subject matter of which could be intrinsically sublime and above all other subject matters. I can only describe my feeling by the metaphor, that, if a man could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world. Our words used as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of containing and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense. Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural and our words will only express facts; as a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water and if I were to pour out a gallon over it.
I said that so far as facts and propositions are concerned there is only relative value and relative good, right, etc. And let me, before I go on, illustrate this by a rather obvious example. The right road is the road which leads to an arbitrarily predetermined end and it is quite clear to us all that there is no sense in talking about the right road apart from such a predetermined goal. Now let us see what we could possibly mean by the expression, 'the absolutely right road.' I think it would be the road which everybody on seeing it would, with logical necessity, have to go,or be ashamed for not going.
And similarly the absolute good, if it is a describable state of affairs, would be one which everybody, independent of his tastes and inclinations, would necessarily bring about or feel guilty for not bringing about. And I want to say that such a state of affairs is a chimera. No state of affairs has, in itself, what I would like to call the coercive power of an absolute judge.
Then what have all of us who, like myself, are still tempted to use such expressions as 'absolute good,' 'absolute value,' etc., what have we in mind and what do we try to express? Now whenever I try to make this clear to myself it is natural that I should recall cases in which I would certainly use these expressions and I am then in the situation in which you would be if, for instance, I were to give you a lecture on the psychology of pleasure. What you would do then would be to try and recall some typical situation in which you always felt pleasure. For, bearing this situation in mind, all I should say to you would become concrete and, as it were, controllable. One man would perhaps choose as stock example the sensation when taking a walk on a fine summer's day. Now in this situation I am, if I want to fix my mind on what I mean by absolute or ethical value.
And there, in my case, it always happens that the idea of one particular experience presents itself to me which therefore is, in a sense, my experience par excellence and this is the reason why, in talking to you now, I will use this experience as my first and foremost example. (As I have said before, this is an entirely personal matter and others would find other examples more striking.) I will describe this experience in order, if possible, to make you recall the same or similar experiences, so that we may have a common ground for our investigation.
I believe the best way of describing it is to say that when I have it I wonder at the existence of the world. And I am then inclined to use such phrases as 'how extraordinary that anything should exist' or 'how extraordinary that the world should exist.' I will mention another experience straight away which I also know and which others of you might be acquainted with: it is, what one might call, the experience of feeling absolutely safe. I mean the state of mind in which one is inclined to say 'I am safe, nothing can injure me whatever happens.' Now let me consider these experiences, for, I believe, they exhibit the very characteristics we try to get clear about. And there the first thing I have to say is, that the verbal expression which we give to these experiences is nonsense!
If I say 'I wonder at the existence of the world' I am misusing language. Let me explain this: It has a perfectly good and clear sense to say that I wonder at something being the case, we all understand what it means to say that I wonder at the size of a dog which is bigger than any one I have ever seen before or at any thing which, in the common sense of the word, is extraordinary. In every such case I wonder at something being the case which I could conceive not to be the case. I wonder at the size of this dog because I could conceive of a dog of another, namely the ordinary size, at which I should not wonder. To say 'I wonder at such and such being the case' has only sense if I can imagine it not to be the case. In this sense one can wonder at the existence of, say, a house when one sees it and has not visited it for a long time and has imagined that it had been pulled down in the meantime. But it is nonsense to say that I wonder at the existence of the world, because I cannot imagine it not existing.
I could of course wonder at the world round me being as it is. If for instance I had this experience while looking into the blue sky, I could wonder at the sky being blue as opposed to the case when it's clouded. But that's not what I mean. I am wondering at the sky being whatever it is. One might be tempted to say that what I am wondering at is a tautology, namely at the sky being blue or not blue. But then it's just nonsense to say that one is wondering at a tautology.
Now the same applies to the other experience which I have mentioned, the experience of absolute safety. We all know what it means in ordinary life to be safe. I am safe in my room, when I cannot be run over by an omnibus. I am safe if I have had whooping cough and cannot therefore get it again. To be safe essentially means that it is physically impossible that certain things should happen to me and therefore it is nonsense to say that I am safewhatever happens. Again this is a misuse of the word 'safe' as the other example was of a misuse of the word 'existence' or 'wondering.'
Now I want to impress on you that a certain characteristic misuse of our language runs through all ethical and religious expressions. All these expressions seem, prima facie, to be just similes. Thus it seems that when we are using the word right in an ethical sense, although, what we mean, is not right in its trivial sense, it's something similar, and when we say 'This is a good fellow,' although the word good here doesn't mean what it means in the sentence 'This is a good football player' there seems to be some similarity. And when we say 'This man's life was valuable' we don't mean it in the same sense in which we would speak of some valuable jewelry but there seems to be some sort of analogy.
Now all religious terms seem in this sense to be used as similes or allegorically. For when we speak of God and that he sees everything and when we kneel and pray to him all our terms and actions seem to be parts of a great and elaborate allegory which represents him as a human being of great power whose grace we try to win etc.
But this allegory also describes the experience which I have just referred to. For the first of them is, I believe, exactly what people were referring to when they said that God had created the world; and the experience of absolute safety has been described by saying that we feel safe in the hands of God. Third experience of the same kind is that of feeling guilty and again this was described by the phrase that God disapproves of our conduct.
Thus in ethical and religious language we seem constantly to be using similes. But a simile must be the simile for something. And if I can describe a fact by means of a simile I must also be able to drop the simile and to describe the facts without it. Now in our case as soon as we try to drop the simile and simply to state the facts which stand behind it, we find that there are no such facts. And so, what at first appeared to be simile now seems to be mere nonsense. Now the three experiences which I have mentioned to you (and I could have added others) seem to those who have experienced them, for instance to me, to have in some sense an intrinsic, absolute value. But when I say they are experiences, surely, they are facts; they have taken place then and there, lasted a certain definite time and consequently are describable. And so from what I have said some minutes ago I must admit it is nonsense to say that they have absolute value. And I will make my point still more acute by saying 'It is the paradox that an experience, a fact, should seem to have supernatural value.'
Now there is a way in which I would be tempted to meet this paradox. Let me first consider, again, our first experience of wondering at the existence of the world and let me describe it in a slightly different way; we all know the like of which we have never yet seen. Now suppose such an event happened. Take the case that one of you suddenly grew a lion's head and began to roar. Certainly that would be as extraordinary a thing as I can imagine. Now whenever we should have recovered from our surprise, what I would suggest would be to fetch a doctor and have the case scientifically investigated and if it were not for hurting him I would have him vivisected. And where would the miracle have got to? For it is clear that when we look at it in this way everything miraculous has disappeared; unless what we mean by this term is merely that a fact has not yet been explained by science which again means that we have hitherto failed to group this fact with others in a scientific system. This shows that it is absurd to say 'Science has proved that there are no miracles.'
The truth is that the scientific way of looking at a fact is not the way to look at it as a miracle. For imagine whatever fact you may, it is not in itself miraculous in the absolute sense of that term. For we see now that we have been using it to describe the experience of wondering at the existence of the world by saying: it is the experience of seeing the world as a miracle.
Now I am tempted to say that the right expression in language for the miracle of the existence of the world, though it is not any proposition in language, is the existence of language itself. But what then does it mean to be aware of this miracle at some times and not at other times? For all I have said by shifting the expression of the miraculous from an expression by means of language to the expression by the existence of language, all I have said is again that we cannot express what we want to express and that all we can say about the absolute miraculous remains nonsense. Now the answer to all this will seem perfectly clear to many of you. You will say: Well, if certain experiences constantly tempt us to attribute a quality to them which we call absolute or ethical value and importance, this simply shows that by these words we don't mean nonsense, that after all what we mean by saying that an experience has absolute value is just a fact like other facts and that all it comes to is that we have not yet succeeded in finding the correct logical analysis of what we mean by our ethical and religious expressions. Now when this is urged against me I at once see clearly, as it were in a flash of light, not only that no description that I can think of would do to describe what I mean by absolute value, but that I would reject every significant description that anybody could possibly suggest, ab initio, on the ground of its significance. That is to say: I see now that these nonsensical expressions were not nonsensical because I had not yet found the correct expressions, but that their nonsensicality was their very essence. For all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond the world and that is to say beyond significant language. My whole tendency and, I believe, the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language.
This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless. Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it. -
By Ludwig Wittgenstein (1929)
This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it -- or similar thoughts. it is therefore not a text-book. Its object would be attained if it afforded pleasure to one who read it with understanding.
The book deals with the problems of philosophy and shows, as I believe, that the method of formulating these problems rests on the misunderstanding of the logic of our language. Its whole meaning could be summed up somewhat as follows: What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.
The book will, therefore, draw a limit to thinking, or rather -- not to thinking, but to the expression of thoughts; for, in order to draw a limit to thinking we should have to be able to thnk both sides of this limit (we should therefore have to be able to think what cannot be thought).
The limit can, therefore, only be drawn in language and what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply nonsense.
How far my efforts agree with those of other philosophers I will not decide. Indeed what I have here written makes no claim to novelty in points of detail; and therefore I give no sources, because it is indifferent to me whether what I have thought has already been thought before my by another.
I will only mention that to the great works of Frege and the writings of my friend Bertrand Russell I owe in large measure the stimulation of my thoughts.
If this work has a value it consists in two things. First that in it thoughts are expressed, and this value will be the greater the better the thoughts are expressed. the more the nail has been hit on the heard. -- Here I am conscious that I have fallen far short of the possible. Simply because my powers are insufficient to cope with the task. -- May others come and do it better.
On the other hand the truth of the thoughts communicated here seems to me unassailable and definitive. I am, therefore, of the opinion that the problems have in essentials been finally solved. And if I am not mistaken in this, then the value of this work secondly consists in the fact that it shows how little has been done when these problems have been solved.
Principles of Research
address by Albert Einstein (1918)
(Physical Society, Berlin, for Max Planck's sixtieth birtday)
IN the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside. Our Planck is one of them, and that is why we love him.
I am quite aware that we have just now lightheartedly expelled in imagination many excellent men who are largely, perhaps chiefly, responsible for the buildings of the temple of science; and in many cases our angel would find it a pretty ticklish job to decide. But of one thing I feel sure: if the types we have just expelled were the only types there were, the temple would never have come to be, any more than a forest can grow which consists of nothing but creepers. For these people any sphere of human activity will do, if it comes to a point; whether they become engineers, officers, tradesmen, or scientists depends on circumstances. Now let us have another look at those who have found favor with the angel. Most of them are somewhat odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows, really less like each other, in spite of these common characteristics, than the hosts of the rejected. What has brought them to the temple? That is a difficult question and no single answer will cover it. To begin with, I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought; this desire may be compared with the townsman's irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.
With this negative motive there goes a positive one. Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in tbe narrow whirlpool of personal experience.
What place does the theoretical physicist's picture of the world occupy among all these possible pictures? It demands the highest possible standard of rigorous precision in the description of relations, such as only the use of mathematical language can give. In regard to his subject matter, on the other hand, the physicist has to limit himself very severely: he must content himself with describing the most simple events which can be brought within the domain of our experience; all events of a more complex order are beyond the power of the human intellect to reconstruct with the subtle accuracy and logical perfection which the theoretical physicist demands. Supreme purity, clarity, and certainty at the cost of completeness. But what can be the attraction of getting to know such a tiny section of nature thoroughly, while one leaves everything subtler and more complex shyly and timidly alone? Does the product of such a modest effort deserve to be called by the proud name of a theory of the universe?
In my belief the name is justified; for the general laws on which the structure of theoretical physics is based claim to be valid for any natural phenomenon whatsoever. With them, it ought to be possible to arrive at the description, that is to say, the theory, of every natural process, including life, by means of pure deduction, if that process of deduction were not far beyond the capacity of the human intellect. The physicist's renunciation of completeness for his cosmos is therefore not a matter of fundamental principle.
The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them. In this methodological uncertainty, one might suppose that there were any number of possible systems of theoretical physics all equally well justified; and this opinion is no doubt correct, theoretically. But the development of physics has shown that at any given moment, out of all conceivable constructions, a single one has always proved itself decidedly superior to all the rest. Nobody who has really gone deeply into the matter will deny that in practice the world of phenomena uniquely determines the theoretical system, in spite of the fact that there is no logical bridge between phenomena and their theoretical principles; this is what Leibnitz described so happily as a "pre-established harmony." Physicists often accuse epistemologists of not paying sufficient attention to this fact. Here, it seems to me, lie the roots of the controversy carried on some years ago between Mach and Planck.
The longing to behold this pre-established harmony is the source of the inexhaustible patience and perseverance with which Planck has devoted himself, as we see, to the most general problems of our science, refusing to let himself be diverted to more grateful and more easily attained ends. I have often heard colleagues try to attribute this attitude of his to extraordinary will-power and discipline -- wrongly, in my opinion. The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshiper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart. There he sits, our beloved Planck, and smiles inside himself at my childish playing-about with the lantern of Diogenes. Our affection for him needs no threadbare explanation. May the love of science continue to illumine his path in the future and lead him to the solution of the most important problem in present-day physics, which he has himself posed and done so much to solve. May he succeed in uniting quantum theory with electrodynamics and mechanics in a single logical system.
For, after all, what is man in nature? A nothing compared
to the infinite, a whole compared to the nothing, a middle
point between all and nothing, infinitely remote from
an understanding of the extremes; and the end of things
and their principles are unattainably hidden from him in
impenetrable secrecy. Equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which
he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed. . .
Because they failed to contemplate these infinites, men
have rashly undertaken to probe into nature as if there were
some proportion between themselves and her.
Strangely enough they wanted to know the principles of
things and go on from there to know everything, inspired
by a presumption as infinite as their object (p. 199).
Car enfin qu’est-ce que l’homme dans la nature? Un néant `a
l’égard de l’infini, un tout `a l’égard du néant, un milieu entre rien et
tout. Infiniment eloigné de comprendre les extrêmes, la fin des choses
et leur principe sont pour lui invinciblement cachés dans un secret
impénétrable, également incapable de voir le néant d’o`u il est tiré, et
l’infini o`u il englouti. . .
Manque d’avoir contemplé ces infinis, les hommes ne sont portés
témérairement `a la recherche de la nature, comme s’ils avaient quelque
proportion avec elle. C’est une chose étrange qu’ils ont voulu comprendre
les principes des choses, et de l`a arriver jusqu’`a connaître tout, par
une présomption aussi infinie que leur objet. Car il est sans doute qu’on
ne peut dormer ce dessein sans une presomption ou sans une capacité
infinie, comme la nature. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (72)
In the evening, all the cats who had participated in the rat-catching had a grand session at the Swordsman's house, and respectfully asked the great Cat to take the seat of honor. They made profound bows before her and said: "We all wish you to divulge your secrets for our benefit." The grand old cat answered: "Teaching is not difficult, listening is not difficult either, but what is truly difficult is to become conscious of what you have in yourself and be able to use it as your own."
From a 17th century master's book on swordplay, The Swordsman and the Cat
The majority of men are subjective towards themselves and objective towards all others, terribly objective sometimes -- but the real task is in fact to be objective towards oneself and subjective towards all others.
καὶ τίνα τρόπον ζητήσεις, ὦ Σώκρατες, τοῦτο ὃ μὴ οἶσθα τὸ παράπαν ὅτι ἐστίν; ποῖον γὰρ ὧν οὐκ οἶσθα προθέμενος ζητήσεις; ἢ εἰ καὶ ὅτι μάλιστα ἐντύχοις αὐτῷ, πῶς εἴσῃ ὅτι τοῦτό ἐστιν ὃ σὺ οὐκ ᾔδησθα;
μανθάνω οἷον βούλει λέγειν, ὦ Μένων. ὁρᾷς τοῦτον ὡς ἐριστικὸν λόγον κατάγεις, ὡς οὐκ ἄρα ἔστιν ζητεῖν ἀνθρώπῳ οὔτε ὃ οἶδε οὔτε ὃ μὴ οἶδε; οὔτε γὰρ ἂν ὅ γε οἶδεν ζητοῖ—οἶδεν γάρ, καὶ οὐδὲν δεῖ τῷ γε τοιούτῳ ζητήσεως—οὔτε ὃ μὴ οἶδεν—οὐδὲ γὰρ οἶδεν ὅτι ζητήσει.
And in what way, Socrates, will you seek that which you do not at all know what it is? For having proposed it, what sort of thing of the things you do not know will you seek? Even if, in the best case, you should happen upon it, how would you know that it is that which you had not known?
I understand what you want to say, Meno. Do you see that you are bringing to shore (spinning, drawing out, landing, conjuring, launching) an eristic argument, that it is consequently not possible for a man to seek for what he knows, nor for what he does not? He would not seek for what he knows -- for he knows it, and there is no need at all to such a one for searching -- nor for what he does not know -- for he does not know what he will be looking for.
Philosophers, theologians, mystics, and even physicists are wont to return to the etymological background of certain key words to garner support for their theories de rerum natura. It is as if the root meanings of words like “reality,” “truth or “sin” provide a kind of archeological record of the mind, revealing profound insights based on a primordial and pristine perception of things. We can briefly observe how this etymological digging works in the excavation of that most controversial word, “reality.” “Reality” derives from the Latin noun res: thing, circumstance, condition, affair, etc. Res itself is cognate with the Latin verb reor, reri: to think. A philosopher who gets a hold of this last root meaning may suggest that “reality” is what you are able to think about. He may go on to argue that reality is a concept that mediates between the known and the unknown and, indeed, points beyond itself since what can be thought about and what is known are on principle always limited. Some Zeno, delighting in paradox, may argue that reality is precisely not what we think it is.
"I say 'I have toothache' because I feel it" contrasts this case with, say, the case of acting on the stage, but can't explain what 'having toothache' means because having toothache = feeling toothache, and the explanation would come to: "I say I have it because I have it" = I say I have it because it is true = I say I have it because I don't lie. One wishes to say: In order to be able to say that I have toothache I don't observe my behavior, say in the mirror. And this is correct, but it doesn'tfollow that you describe an observation of any other kind. Moaning is not the description of an observation.That is, you can't be said to derive your expression from what you observe. Just as you can't be said to derive the word 'green' from your visual impression but only from a sample. Now against this one is inclined to say: "Surely if I call a color green I don't just say that word, but the word comes in a particular way," or "if I say 'I have toothache' I don't just use this phrase but it must come in a particular way!" Now this means nothing, for, if you like, it always comes in a particular way.
"But surely seeing and saying something can't be all!" Here we make the confusion that there is still an object we haven't mentioned. You imagine that there is a pure seeing and saying, and one + something else. Therefore you imagine all distinctions to be made as between a, a + b, a + c, etc. The idea of this addition is mostly derived from consideration of our bodily organs. All that ought to interest you is whether I make all the distinctions that you make: whether, e.g., I distinguish between cheating and telling the truth.-"There is something else!"-"There is nothing else!"- "But what else is there?"-"Well, this / !" "But surely I know that I am not a mere automaton!"-What would it be like if I were?-"How is it that I can't imagine myself not experiencing seeing, hearing etc.?"-We constantly confuse and change about the commonsense use and the metaphysical use.
"I know that I see."-
"I see."-you seem to read this off some fact; as though you said: "There is a chair in this corner." "But if in an experiment, e.g., I say 'I see,' why do I say so? surely because I see!" It is as though our expressions of personal experience needn't even spring from regularly recurrent inner experiences but just from something.
Confusion of description and samples. The idea of the 'realm of consciousness.'
Here is an online paper by Chalmers that expands upon the video:
What rules life is the next thing to be done, death being only the last, wherein every breath is a labor. So we have our marching orders, but who says we must obey. There are glimpses of something else in dreams and song, in love and inspiration. Such things help us through the night, but day comes and reminds us of what is real and of the next thing to be done. But what is more real: this sunlit world or that which makes it possible that there is any world or light at all? And what is that but that same activity of mind that gives rise to dreams and song and to the self that ever longs to return to its source and is ever thrown back? It is not that the world is an illusion; rather, it is that we mistakenly live in the world as if it exists as it does independently of our engagement with it. Dreams, songs, love, inspiration, all the activities of mind, weave themselves into the fabric of things and give it form, color and meaning. It turns out that what rules life is not the next thing to be done but the right thing, the true and beautiful thing to be done. In dying nothing is to be done; it is the undoing the self has earnestly longed for in all its virtue, all its beauty and all its truth.
There is a veritable constellation of motives and impulses behind every choice we make. There is never a time when we do something "only" out of compassion or, for that matter, "only" for selfish reasons. Sometimes decision making is like making sausage, other times it is more like art, even creative. It is certainly not true that because negative factors are present in our decision making, thereby our decisions are "solely" determined by those negative factors. Indeed, in what I call the creative moral act, our decisions are something more than simply balancing competing factors, but something that truly, fully and beautifully expresses who we are -- beyond good and evil, but yet made possible by our desire for the good. In such a creative moral act, the negative factors contribute positively to the whole. Such a creative choice is an act of our whole being and is as such beyond notions of free will and determinism. The marks of such a creative moral act are that we not only are at peace with our decision but there is also joy in the actions that follow from it.
The choice comes to one like an inspiration. We stand somewhat like an artist before a blank canvas. What matters most is the intention of artist to create something beautiful. What matters most for us is the intention to be a good person. It is not for nothing that the true, the good and the beautiful are considered by many philosophers (Plato especially) to be different aspects of one reality. Yet for all that, the artist fails more often than not. Just like us.
Help out an old man on the precipice. How is it that there is to us an external world? I am not doubting that there is an external world. We would agree, I think, that we are only speaking metaphorically when we speak of experiencing ourselves from the inside. Why is it not equally metaphorical to speak of experiencing an outside. Space after all is not a sense perception. Isn't it a construction of the brain? A part of that construction is that we experience the world as something apart from the very brain that constructed it. O ghost of Parmenides!! There must be some simple answer for this question. You are all sensible, smart, sane folk. Help out a simple-minded old man! I have not yet leaped to the conclusion that there is no external world at all. I know you have papers to write or grade and a multitude of mundane matters to attend to and your share of sisyphean labor as well. And surely more worthwhile things to think about. As do I, except I can't shake this sense of the unreality of reality. Perhaps over the weekend. Or direct me to a wise man who can explain this to me, other than a psychotherapist.
Day Two: No help has arrived. So I'll try again.
I am arguing that all input from the external world is translated into the binary system of the neuronal process. The brain then recreates the external world as a hypothesis that it is continuously testing. The recreation is, however, never the world as it is. Even the externality of the world is a creation of the brain, not just colors or any other qualities. There is, so to speak, no transparency between our experience and the objects of that experience. Our experience is always hypothetical; we walk through our world through our own internal projection of it. It is unnerving to me.
Day Three: Help has come from my old dialogue partner, Jordan Fleischer.
Jordan Fleisher: I definitely agree with your ideas about our internal world. One thing I think we must consider though is that there is a definite connection between the external and internal world. Although our experience is only a hypothesis of the external world, our experience only exists because of the external world. After all, our brains create our experience, and our brains are part of that external world. Does this make sense? So while our experience is just an internal projection, I think that necessary connection is what enables us to feel as if the external world must also exist.
Hugh Himwich: I agree that the external world must exist, but radically and perhaps necessarily other than we can ever possibly know. (Reminds me here of some statements about God.) We are caught up in existence and are part of what we speak of as external-- but what really exists is neither external nor internal.
Jordan Fleischer: If what really exists is neither external nor internal, what really exists?
Hugh Himwich: There is no way of knowing. The external exists only from our perspective. The most we could say is: Not This. We are always and everywhere a negation of being. This does not mean that science cannot discover aspects of reality that are useful, but we often mistake our ability to make nature work for us for knowledge of existence itself. It may be existence is so radically different from our understanding -- no matter how efficacious that understanding may be -- that to talk about advancement in knowledge is like talking about progress in our understanding of what it is like to be another person. We may be able to seize upon patterns and even make predictions, we may even discover the neurological correlate for consciousness, but what it is like to be that other person necessarily eludes us. So too existence.
Jordan Fleischer: I think I understand your argument. If I'm not mistaken, we can never trust our perception of the external world to be an accurate reflection of the external world as it really is. However, would you agree that by the simple fact that we do perceive an external world, an external world of some sort necessarily exists? I agree that all we know is the external world from our perspective, but I feel that because our perception exists, some sort of external world must be causing our perception.
Hugh Himwich: I agree that the external world exists as a kind of mode of being, the other mode being the internal. Shades of Spinoza here. I think I am proposing something more radical, however, than that our perceptions of the external world are merely hypothetical. I am arguing that externality itself is a construction as well as the internal and that two really are one. This "one" is inaccessible from the internal side (1st person) or the external (3rd person). The mind/body problem results from this dual inaccessibility with the result that this problem is not resolvable from either the 1st person or 3rd person perspective. Consequently, I argue that the external world is an illusion (as is the internal), not in the sense that the external world is nothing but that it does not exist as we suppose it to be, that is external. Reality is not out there or in my mind. It transcends both objectivity and subjectivity. We know this because of the failure of either to account for what we are. We ourselves are the proof that the two are one. We just can't get to it other than by being. I am proposing a different kind of existential philosophy.
Socrates: Boy, you see this square, 2 ft by 2 ft.
Socrates: Do you know its area?
Boy: It is a 4 ft. square, Socrates.
Socrates: Very good. Can you draw the side of a square that would be double the area of this one?
(Boy draws out one side of the square so that it is 4 ft. long.)
Socrates: I see you have made your side double the side of the original square. Now draw the new square that can be constructed on the side you have drawn.
(Boy draws a square that is 4 ft. by 4 ft.)
Socrates: What is the area of this square?
Boy: 16 ft. square.
Socrates: That’s four times the area of the first square, not double. We need a square that is half of this one. Let’s go back to the original 2 foot square and try again. (Socrates erases the 16 ft. square and redraws the original one.)
(Boy thinks for a moment and then draws a length that is 3 feet)
Socrates: The side of your square is now 3ft?
Boy: Yes, Socrates.
Socrates: Now draw a square on this new side and tell me the area of the new square.
Boy: It is 9 ft. square, Socrates. Still too big.
Socrates: Well, let’s go back to the original square and try yet again. (Socrates erases the 9 ft. square and redraws the original one.) What will be side of a square that is double in area of this one?
Boy: (looking puzzled, hesitates, scratches his head, etc and says in bewilderment): I don’t know, Socrates.
Socrates: We can at least say that you are better off than before when you thought that you knew the answer, but now at least you know that you don’t.
Boy: Yes, Socrates. You are right. I am better off.
Socrates: Let’s go back to your 16 ft. square and think.
(Socrates draws the 16 ft. square and divides the square into fourths.)
Socrates: We want a square that is half the area of 16 ft. square and equal to the sum of two of these inner squares.
Socrates: Well, what should we do?
Boy: (he thinks, puzzled, and says) I told you, Socrates, I don’t know.
Socrates: I think you do. Draw the diagonal of one of the inner squares, Boy, and see if you see anything.
Boy: Like this?
Socrates: Yes. What do you see?
(Boy looks, deep in thought, thinks and then with a rush of pleasure and delight says)
Boy: O Socrates, I know, I know. (And he draws the other three diagonals.)
Socrates: Explain, Boy!
Boy: Yes. (With some excitement) The diagonals must all be the same length because the squares are the same and each diagonal cuts its own square in half, so the resulting square must be half the size the of the 16 ft. square and therefore is that very 8 ft. square we have been searching for.
Socrates: Well done!
“Others give you the appearance of happiness, but I give you the reality.” (Socrates, Apology)
What is the difference between seeming to be happy and actually being so? How can it be that I am not actually happy when I think I am? Does this correspond with my own experience? And if it does, what does Socrates offer in place of the “appearance of happiness”? What good to me is Socrates’ dictum that the “unexamined life” is not worth living? Is that dictum not some sort of self-torture? I certainly acknowledge that I often feel that there is something lacking in my life, that there should be something more in the daily round of my activities. But what is this “something more”? What for me is happiness? It is sustained activity in accordance with my basic being. What do I mean by “basic being”? Though there are many possible answers, the onethat comes to me again and again is that my “basic being” is ethical – that is, I want most deeply to be a good human being. I believe no harm can come to me if I am actively living in accordance with my own ethical intuitions. I don’t mean that I would not suffer but that whatever suffering I experience would not be able to touch me. The happiness I experience when I do live “from the inside out,” acting out of that ethical core, makes my inviolable.. Not even death can harm me. So what about what Socrates offers, the examined life? Is that not precisely what I am doing here and now in this journal entry. It is. His dictum recalls me to myself, my basic being, my ethical core.
I believe in the Road.
When I was a sophomore at Brown University, I returned home for spring break and asked my father to read some of my own poems and others by Rilke. My father, a pioneer in the study of the biochemical basis of mental illness, told me that my poems and those of Rilke revealed schizophrenia. I left home within the hour, on foot, never to truly return again. Before my father died, I had forgiven him and loved him as a father should be loved. Now, I am grateful to him. Grateful for endowing me with the same passion with which he lived his life, however imperfectly. My own life has been no less imperfect. That night, as I walked down a dark highway, singing to myself the Woody Guthrie song “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” I vowed never to allow another person’s assessment of me to determine how I felt about myself, my ideas or my poetry. I did not then return to Brown. When I did, I was married and a father.
That first long night on the road lead to two years of aimless but purposeful hitchhiking. There were others on that road. One bad man, the owner of an art gallery in Austin, Texas, lured me out to his ranch and tried to force me to have sex with him. I refused. Quietly but definitely. His hired man pulled out a knife. I said, “I will not.” Quietly but definitely. I was not afraid. He did not touch me. In that precarious moment, I knew myself. It was as if life had asked me a question and I had answered.
Since that time, I have found myself in other precarious situations, as I do even today. I will not chronicle these critical moments here except to say they put the integrity of my life in question. Each of these situations required of me an answer beyond any philosophy I had ever read. Philosophy does indeed ask essential questions, but it is only with our actual lives that we answer those questions. Such philosophical questions as Do we have free will? What is truth? Or Justice? are all too often illusions like the paradoxes propounded by Zeno. The illusion comes when we mistake the arena in which these questions are to be answered. What is truth? Observe how I live, not what I say. I necessarily live out my answers to what is true and good. I am my philosophy and all that I have suffered I own.
I am always on the road, aimless but purposeful, knowing that the road is where my true self is revealed. For me the literal and metaphorical road have become one. I know I have at least one great road trip still in me. We may pass by each other in the East Mountains or between here and there. Know all is well even if I look sad, ragged and tired. Pass on. All is well.
You are invited to join Mr. Himwich in a reading of the Latin text of Spinoza's Ethics. Mr. Himwich is working on an ancillary textbook that will help students learn the Latin fundamentals necessary to read Spinoza's text in the original. Chapter I will provide the necessary grammatical and vocabulary background to read the Title Page below and the Schema or Table of Contents. Subsequent chapters will proceed methodically through the text and become increasingly comprehensive in its explanations of how the Latin language works. It is not necessary for you to know any Latin; those who do, however, can be especially helpful. All that is required is an abiding interest in Spinoza's philosophy. Whether new to Latin or an old hand, you will help Mr. Himwich think through this project, critique the instructional materials, and develop philosophical commentary. And best of all, you will read Spinoza slowly and thoughtfully. Mr. Himwich expects the project will last for the rest of his days.
|BENEDICTI DE SPINOZA|
|E T H I C A|
|ORDINE GEOMETRICO DEMONSTRATA|
|IN QUINQUE PARTES DISTINCTA|
|IN QUIBUS AGITUR|
|II.||DE NATURA ET ORIGINE MENTIS.|
|III.||DE ORIGINE ET NATURA AFFECTUUM.|
|IV.||DE SERVITUTE HUMANA SEU DE AFFECTUUM VIRIBUS.|
|V.||DE POTENTIA INTELLECTUS SEU DE LIBERTATE HUMANA.|
For consciousness to be what it is the brain must be able to take its own activity as an object. The brain must have a meta-mechanism by which it partially re-represents its interaction with its environment. This re-representation creates a feedback loop to the original activity. It is this feedback loop that makes possible the experience, if not the reality, of free will. The re-representation is accomplished through language, such that if there is no language there is no consciousness -- as the split-brain research reveals. Language in its re-representation creates a self to whom the activity of the brain belongs. It is that creation of the self that makes us feel that there is something it is like to be me because that is the story that the brain tells itself. Consciousness itself is that story. There may also a proto-consciousness, a potentiality or readiness state, anticipatory of the word, a state of simple synchrony between the original brain activity and its re-representation.
TO THE despisers of the body will I speak my word. I wish them
neither to learn afresh, nor teach anew, but only to bid farewell to
their own bodies,- and thus be dumb.
"Body am I, and soul"- so saith the child. And why should one not
speak like children?
But the awakened one, the knowing one, saith: "Body am I entirely,
and nothing more; and soul is only the name of something in the body."
The body is a big sagacity, a plurality with one sense, a war and
a peace, a flock and a shepherd.
An instrument of thy body is also thy little sagacity, my brother,
which thou callest "spirit"- a little instrument and plaything of
thy big sagacity.
"Ego," sayest thou, and art proud of that word. But the greater
thing- in which thou art unwilling to believe- is thy body with its
big sagacity; it saith not "ego," but doeth it.
What the sense feeleth, what the spirit discerneth, hath never its
end in itself. But sense and spirit would fain persuade thee that they
are the end of all things: so vain are they.
Instruments and playthings are sense and spirit: behind them there
is still the Self. The Self seeketh with the eyes of the senses, it
hearkeneth also with the ears of the spirit.
Ever hearkeneth the Self, and seeketh; it compareth, mastereth,
conquereth, and destroyeth. It ruleth, and is also the ego's ruler.
Behind thy thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty
lord, an unknown sage- it is called Self; it dwelleth in thy body,
it is thy body.
There is more sagacity in thy body than in thy best wisdom. And
who then knoweth why thy body requireth just thy best wisdom?
Thy Self laugheth at thine ego, and its proud prancings. "What are
these prancings and flights of thought unto me?" it saith to itself.
"A by-way to my purpose. I am the leading-string of the ego, and the
prompter of its notions."
The Self saith unto the ego: "Feel pain!" And thereupon it
suffereth, and thinketh how it may put an end thereto- and for that
very purpose it is meant to think.
The Self saith unto the ego: "Feel pleasure!" Thereupon it
rejoiceth, and thinketh how it may ofttimes rejoice- and for that very
purpose it is meant to think.
To the despisers of the body will I speak a word. That they
despise is caused by their esteem. What is it that created esteeming
and despising and worth and will?
The creating Self created for itself esteeming and despising, it
created for itself joy and woe. The creating body created for itself
spirit, as a hand to its will.
Even in your folly and despising ye each serve your Self, ye
despisers of the body. I tell you, your very Self wanteth to die,
and turneth away from life.
No longer can your Self do that which it desireth most:- create
beyond itself. That is what it desireth most; that is all its fervour.
But it is now too late to do so:- so your Self wisheth to succumb,
ye despisers of the body.
To succumb- so wisheth your Self; and therefore have ye become
despisers of the body. For ye can no longer create beyond yourselves.
And therefore are ye now angry with life and with the earth. And
unconscious envy is in the sidelong look of your contempt.
I go not your way, ye despisers of the body! Ye are no bridges for
me to the Superman!-
A conversation between a student and a teacher at Albuquerque Academy.
The Teacher: Hugh Himwich
Justice is the fundamental right of all human beings to have the same opportunity to lead a fulfilling life. This right does not exist in nature. It exists only by the creative act of my choice. It is natural justice in the sense that it is not created ex nihilo, but based upon all that it is to be human. Once again, you are free to choose against this, but only at the cost of your humanity. It is never a question of knowing whether your choice is right -- it is a question only of what kind of world you choose to live in.
The Student: Jordan Fleischer
We have agreed that there is no objective standard by which one can decide whether any action or choice can be said to be just, which is exactly why it seems foolish of us to go ahead and define justice as we have. It is essential to remember that justice itself is only an experience. If someone makes a choice based on the parameters you have provided, they will indeed experience an act as if it is just. However, when it comes to determining if there is any truth behind that experience, there is simply no way to know. It reminds me of the phenomenon of color; it exists in our consciousness as something undeniably real, yet, the truth is that color is simply created by our brain and truly only exists as waves of light. No one can say what the truth is about justice.
The Invitation: Join the conversation by sending your
thoughts on justice to Jordan Fleischer (FLEJ100@aa.edu) or Mr. Himwich
1. The Best Sort of Student
We should think of Aristotle as the very best sort of student who regards his teacher Plato with respect and affection but has a still higher regard for the truth. This is certainly how Aristotle saw himself.
It is, therefore, ironic that it was the reverence for Aristotle himself, upheld by the Church, that impeded progress in the sciences for almost two thousand years. When the sciences made progress again, it returned to Plato and Plato’s Pythagorean mathematics. It is interesting in this regard that the Copernican ideas that the earth was in motion and not at the center of the universe were already to be found in Plato. Aristotle had wrongly held that the earth was motionless and at the center of the universe.
Again, Plato and many others before him knew that the brain was the seat of thought while Aristotle and his followers believed that the seat of thought was the heart. In other areas, Aristotle’s ideas also proved retrograde. For instance, Aristotle believed that a woman’s body demonstrated arrested development and that her soul reflected this imperfection, particularly with regard to the exercise of her rational faculty. Plato believed that soul was sexless and though he was hardly a feminist he at least did not see the deficit in woman as a flaw of her soul.
Are you an Aristotelian or a
2. Are you an Aristotelian or a Platonist?
It is customary to think of Aristotle as a scientist and a man of common sense and of Plato as someone with his head in the clouds.
Aristotle was certainly a great observer of the natural world whose descriptions and conjectures concerning the natural world are approvingly cited by Darwin and by naturalists today but he was not a scientist in the modern sense of one who tests hypotheses through experimentation while controlling for variables nor did he use mathematics as you do in your physics and chemistry classes to understand the underlying organization of the natural world.
Aristotle’s reputation for common sense derives partly from his well-known curiosity about the natural world, partly from his judicious method of sifting through the conflicting opinions of others, but mainly this reputation derives from his dismissal of Plato’s forms as empty names.
Plato’s conception of forms had lead to the notion of two worlds. Plato believed, or so the story goes, that things like chairs are chairs not because of any inherent organization in the material of the chair but because they participate somehow in the form or essence of a chair, a form conceived as something that stands somehow outside the physical world and is considered more real than any particular chair.
The same is true of qualities like beauty, whose form is responsible for the beauty of individual things but itself stands apart from these things.
For Aristotle, an ardent observer of nature, there are no forms but in the things themselves. While the form of the thing and its material can be separated in thought, the form has no actual existence apart from the material in which it expresses itself. What does remain problematic for Aristotle is the status of the form of a thing as it exists in the mind of the human observer. Does Aristotle's philosophy like Plato's result in two worlds, one in nature and another in the human soul?
3. Matter and Form
Consider any completely developed thing whether it be a product of human manufacture like a copper pot or a product of reproduction like an oak tree.
Copper is the material out of which the pot is made and we easily see that the copper could have been formed otherwise into a bowl or cup or candleholder. What makes the pot a pot is not the material but the form of the material.
In the case of an oak, the organic material of the tree is basically the same as the organic material from which an ash or laurel tree is made. What makes the oak an oak is the form or organization that the constituent materials take on.
We can, as an exercise of thought, reason back to some prime matter, what Aristotle calls hyle, the common undifferentiated stuff or gunk or simple atom that is the common material out of which the copper pot and the oak tree and all things are formed. This prime matter is never itself to be found. Whenever something is produced by manufacture or by nature, the material out which of which the new thing comes about was already matter differentiated by some form. Thus the cooper of the pot is not original matter but is itself already an expression of form and matter.
To the idea that matter is never found without form in nature, Aristotle adds the idea that there never was a moment of creation in which matter for the first time took on form. The kosmos, which means in Greek the arrangement of the world, is for Aristotle eternal. Without beginning or end.
The relation of matter and form can also be view dynamically as the relation of potential to actual.
Thus, copper may be said to have the potential to be a bowl or cup or pot. And the germ or seed of an oak is only potentially an adult, parent oak. Thus, the form of an oak exists first as the tendency to become an actual oak.
Aristotle further observes that in nature each living thing has some final stage of development that is the aim or telos of the organism and in the case of man this final stage is under his rational, conscious direction.
Aristotle’s notions of matter and form, potentiality and actuality find their fullest expression in his doctrine of the four causes or aitia.
Aitia is he word in Greek for causes and refers to the attribution of responsibility in a court of law. The notion of a mechanical cause or of some uniform event causing another event which in turns causes another event is foreign to Aristotle. Rather, for Aristotle the four causes provide common sense explanations for how the world is the way it is. To avoid confusion about this you may want to use the Greek terms: aition for a singular cause and aitia for the plural.
First there must be some material out of which something is made: that is the material cause or aition; second, there must be some form or organizational principle that expresses itself in that material and makes the material some actual thing, that is the formal aition; 3rd there must be an agent that is responsible for bringing about the presence of form in the material – that is the efficient cause; and finally, there must be some final stage of completion toward which the whole process aims: that is the final cause or aition.
In the case of an oak, the seed or germ is the material cause, the formal cause is its principle of organization and growth, the parent oak is the efficient cause, and the final cause is the fully formed oak tree capable of now engendering its form in matter.
In the case of a copper bowl, the copper is the material cause, the formal cause is the shape of the bowl, the efficient cause is the craftsman, and the final cause is the conception of the completed bowl in the mind of the craftsman.
It would be wrong to think of these four causes as natural forces, rather they are simply four different ways of understanding why any particular thing in the world is the way it is.
Nor are these causes to be seen as rigid or absolute: We will see in the case of man that his soul functions as the efficient, formal and final cause of his being. The causes are distinctions of emphasis or perspective.
Let’s take a brief look at the kosmos itself in terms of these four causes and ask what is the efficient cause of the universe: the answer is God or the unmoved mover. God is an individual being that stands outside of time, space and is complete unto itself, it is without motion, is imperishable, immaterial etc., etc. etc. It is pure form, pure actuality.
Here we have an obvious violation of Aristotle own dictum there are to be no forms except in things.
The activity of God is thought and the object of its thought is thought alone. Its activity is pleasant and brings continuous happiness to itself. The world as we know it is of no concern to God. Rather, God moves the universe by being the object of the world’s desire. Form in the universe is the response of matter to the presence of this unmoved mover. God and matter stand as the indispensable conditions of the kosmos. This conception of God is very far from the God who cares for the fall of the sparrow or the God who so loved the world that he gave his only son for our salvation.
Here we find Aristotle out Platonizing Plato in his conception of God as pure cold form. Plato’s conception of God at least has the virtue of being more friendly to man, as Plato’s God cares for man and makes the world as best he can given the limitations of the material with which he was forced to work.
The soul (psyche) for Aristotle is the formal cause of any living thing. The soul is the very life of any body that is so internally organized as to have an inbuilt aim. Aristotle tells us that if the eye were animal, its soul would be sight.
The soul then is not something separate from the body or something that interacts with the body.
Aristotle is quite prepared to say that plants as well as animals and human beings have souls, though the internal organization of each, or formal cause, is different. Plants are so organized that they can grow and reproduce, animals can sense, move and have emotions, and humans, in addition to these things, can think, plan, and choose.
The well being of organisms depends upon the integrated exercise of their respective capacities. This state of well-being is their telos or inbuilt aim. and is referred to by Aristotle as eudaimonia, which has been translated variously as happiness or a fulfilled life. Thus, according to Aristotle, we do not decide for ourselves what a fulfilled life is, rather that is determined by the nature and capacities of our souls.
The good for man is what is good for his soul and what is good for man’s soul is the efficient exercise of reason.
Our rational capacity is what makes each of us a human being; it is the distinguishing form of our being. Its proper and efficient exercise is man’s arête or excellence.
As it turns out, there are two applications of our rational capacity: one practical and the other theoretical. By the practical exercise of reason we attain wisdom by directing our lives in accordance with a principle or rule of conduct, what Aristotle calls the mean, and thereby achieve a fulfilled and virtuous life; by the theoretical exercise we seek understanding of the kosmos and achieve perhaps divine thought.
It has always been a question in the study of Aristotle whether the theoretical exercise of reason is required for a fulfilled life. I think it is safe to say that for Aristotle and perhaps for any man that a complete life, a truly happy life, requires sustained reflection on the ultimate nature of things whether or not such reflection culminates in knowledge.
If we apply Schrodinger's concept of objectification to emergence theory, the consequence profoundly shifts the nature of the problem that emergence was intended to solve. Emergence always occurs to an observer and the observer therefore must be included in the matrix of the event. Once the observer is included, the phenomen of emergence is at once more complex and less magical. My suspicion is that emergence theory has become a backdoor for spiritualists.
Tonight I am leading a seminar on
Eagleman's book. I found it devilishly hard to keep the stories straight,
so I made the following list of chapters and their ideas and a few possible avenues for our discussion. The first statement, I think therefore SUM, is not part of the book, but is a notion that "I think" is in play throughout the book.
Tonight I am leading a seminar on Eagleman's book. I found it devilishly hard to keep the stories straight, so I made the following list of chapters and their ideas and a few possible avenues for our discussion. The first statement, I think therefore SUM, is not part of the book, but is a notion that "I think" is in play throughout the book.
I think therefore SUM
1 Sum: 14 minutes of pure joy? In a whole lifetime?
2. Egalitaire: Do we really want true equality?
3. Circle of Friends: How having friends can make us lonely?
4. Descent of Species: What is it like to be a horse?
5. Giantess: Meaning depends on scale
6. Mary: Has Dr. God lost control of his creation
7. The Cast: You never catch up with your dreaming
8. Metamorphosis: When your name is spoken for the last time
9. Missing: God is a couple in need of marriage counseling
10. Spirals: Do you have answer?
11. Scales: Man, a cancerous growth in the divine being
12. Adhesion: Can we quantify relationships?
13. Angst: A quest for meaninglessness
14. Oz: Who is brave enough to see the face behind the face?
15. Great Expectations: Will an exact replica of your brain reproduce what it like to be you?
16. Mirrors: What finally kills you
17. Perpetuity: Only the good die, the rest of us live on in perpetuity
18. The Unnatural: A cure for death
19. Distance: God keeps his distance from us for our own benefit – otherwise . . . .
20. Reins: God’s obsolescence
21. Microbe: God is unaware of our existence.
22. Absence: New religious wars
23. Will-o’-the-Wisp: Blessed ignorance of the future
24. Incentive: The best actors play the role of the uninitiated beneficiary
25. Death Switch: Virtual life after life
26. Encore: Am I a simulation?
27. Prism: Self Reunions
28. Ineffable: emergent afterlives
29. Pantheon: The gods love us because we are as self-involved as they are
30. Impulse: an anomalous algorithm
31. Quantum: all possibilities exist at once sort of like when . . . . . .
32. Conservation: A tale told by a lonely quark
33. Narcissus: A device that only takes pictures of itself
34. Seed: Accidents happen all the time
35. Graveyard of the Gods: a fellowship of abandonment
36. Apostasy: a heaven of unbelieving believers
37. Blueprints: Knowledge never substitutes for experience
38. Subjunctive: your would haves, should have beens come back to haunt you
39. Search: The atoms that once were me search for meaning in limitlessness
40. Reversal: Living your life backwards undermines the narrative of your life
Do not these stories lead to the conclusion we are already dead?
Is eternal boredom worse than death?
It’s not so great to be God.
Consciousness is a narrative.
All reality is virtual.
Don’t we know that there is no afterlife, all other alternatives being (just) stories?
If a man possessed a letter which he knew, or believed, contained information bearing upon what he must regard as his life’s happiness, but the writing was pale and thin, almost illegible—then would he read it with restless anxiety and with all possible passion, in one moment getting one meaning, in the next another, depending on his belief that, having made out one word with certainty, he could interpret the rest thereby; but he would never arrive at anything except the same uncertainty with which he began. He would stare more and more anxiously, but the more he stared, the less he would see. His eyes would sometimes fill with tears, but the oftener this happened the less he would see. In the course of time, the writing would become fainter and more illegible, until at last the paper itself would crumble away, and nothing would be left to him except the tears in his eyes.
“A” in Either/Or, I, p. 188, (SVII, 176)
1) How are the dialogues to be read? Are the dialogues a compendium of philosophical doctrines in which the dialogue form is a convenient and entertaining way of expressing those theories or is the dialogue form itself essential to Plato’s philosophical doctrine? If the dialogues are a compendium, then we need only select out doctrines like recollection and the theory of forms to arrive at Plato’s philosophy. If the dialogue form itself is essential to Plato’s philosophical doctrine, then we may conclude we are being invited into a conversation about the questions that recollection and the theory of forms seek to answer and that we are not expected to take these doctrines as settled positions.
2) Plato lectured directly to students and colleagues in his Academy concerning his philosophical doctrines. Unfortunately, these lectures have been lost and we have only his dialogues, which were intended for a more general audience than his immediate philosophical associates. Aristotle does report on one such lecture, “On the Good,” in which he has Plato speak of the Good as the number One and the indefinite dyad as the source of all becoming and passing away in the universe. Indeed, it may be that Plato’s real doctrines are Pythagorean and mathematical in nature and were expressly withheld from those outside of the Academy.
3) For Plato, the most fundamental philosophical error is to mistake the image for what it represents. This is the mistake of the prisoners in Plato’s cave. For Plato, images are necessary for thought, but there is the danger that we will settle for the image as the reality instead of moving past it to the reality it represents. A good image is one that points beyond itself. You will decide for yourselves whether the doctrine of recollection and theory of the forms are such images.
4) In the Apology, Socrates tells us that he knew early on that had he engaged in politics as a philosopher he would have long since been executed. Thus, Socrates raises the question of whether a philosopher, by the very nature of his activity, stands in opposition to the state since he would naturally question the assumptions upon which the state rests. In the Republic, Plato tries to solve this problem by making philosophers the rulers of the state but concludes that no philosopher worthy of the name would be willing to do the dirty work required of a ruler. What remains is for the philosopher to build the ideal city within himself. This is what Socrates does in the Crito, where it is the laws of an ideal city of Athens that persuade him not to escape the actual, historical Athens
I. What it means to me to be a good person:
a) To be a good person is to act in accordance with what you most value within yourself.
b) What I most value within myself is that capacity that allows me to do what cannot literally be done: to put myself in the place of another person and to create something out of nothing. That capacity is my imagination. It is through the imagination that there is something it is like to be another person, and it is through the imagination that there is something beautiful when there need not be anything at all. If I come to end of my life and know that I have lived my life in as full a consciousness of the lives of others as possible and that I have created something of beauty, it will have been a good life.
c) What you most value within yourself may be very different. It may also be that what you most value is something outside of yourself, e.g. God, Truth, etc. I would argue that you love God or Truth because of the image of God or Truth that exists within you. In any case, whatever it is that you do most value will determine what it means to you to be a good person. What the value is or whether the value comes from within or without is not critical to my argument.
2. What it means to Aristotle to be a good person:
a) For Aristotle, to be a good person means to act in accordance with man’s defining virtue, his rational capacity. The rational capacity, however, has two actions, practical reasoning and contemplation, and so there are two ways in which a man can be said to be good: one by the action of his practical reason to make the right choice among alternatives, to achieve what Aristotle calls the mean, and the other by the activity of the mind itself to achieve philosophical understanding. The happiest life would be that of a man like Socrates, who exhibits throughout his life the highest excellence of both activities of our rational capacity.
b) For Aristotle, what you should value most within yourself is your rational capacity.
III. How Aristotle was helpful in thinking out what it means to be a good person:
a) Aristotle was helpful in thinking out my own idea of what it is to be a good person. I essentially substituted the imagination for Aristotle’s rational capacity. As Aristotle finds two different actions of the rational capacity, one moral and one purely philosophical, I also found two different actions of the imagination, one moral, compassion, and one purely imaginative, the creation of something beautiful.
b) It may be that what we value most within ourselves will characteristically have a dual aspect: one that relates to others and one that relates only to the activity itself.
My task today is to focus on Books 8 and 9 of The Republic where Socrates takes up the description of unjust cities and individuals that was interrupted at the beginning of Book 5 by the demand that he talk first about women, then about how the just city could actually come into existence and lastly about the education of the philosopher, on whom the actual existence of the just city depends. Socrates describes in Books 8 & 9 how the just city or aristocracy he and the boys have been building in speech will inevitably fail and become first a timocracy, a city built on honor, then an oligarchy, a city built on the wealth of a few, third a democracy, and finally a tyranny. Each of these cities, mixing bronze and iron, gold and silver in new and unhealthy ways, serves as an image of the soul of an individual man, revealing progressive disharmony within the tripartite soul, caused primarily by eros and greed rising to dominance by enlisting the aid of the spirited part. There is a rough but definite correspondence between these unjust cities described in 8 & 9 and the previous just cities described in Books 2-4:
Ideal (Books 2-4) Real (Books 8-9) Human Form & Metal
City of Metals – Guardians Aristocracy: Ancestral City The Just Man: Gold
City of Noble Hounds: Warriors Timocracy: Honor The Timocratic Man: Silver
City of Luxury: Traders Oligarchy: Wealth Oligarchic Man: Bronze
City of Pigs: Craftsman Democracy: Equality/Freedom Democratic Man: Iron
Glaucon’s City: the Perfectly Unjust Man Tyranny: Love /Eros The Tyrant:
There is yet another city, surmounting both the ideal and real cities of this chart: the philosopher’s city, built in the intervening b=Books of 6 & 7 about which we shall have more to say. The Ideal Cities, as charted here, are in ascent & are thrust into an indefinite future but the Real Cities & the Human Forms are in descent with the best city cast back into an indefinite past. The lesson of this odd chronology, I would suggest, is that the just city has never and will never come into existence. We note also the lowly place of democracy, a city that Socrates strangely says is the most resplendent and beautiful of cities. It is the stepping-stone to tyranny. Note that the ideal city corresponding to democracy is the city whose citizens Adeimantus charged Socrates with fattening like pigs in a sty. There may have been more meaning in that word “fattening” than we could have realized back in Book 2. It seems democracy becomes the slaughterhouse of the tyrant. Despite democracy’s position as the entry way to tyranny, it is clear that Socrates feels most at home in this city. He says, for instance, that democracy is the best possible place to shop for regimes:
“because it’s permissive and has every kind, so that anyone who wants to construct a city, as we just did, ought to shop in a democracy as in a regime bazaar. . . .” (557d)
A democracy may not be the healthiest city, it may not be Ronald Reagan’s shining city on the hill, but it appears to be the one best suited for philosophy. I can hardly resist the temptation to suggest that Socrates is playing an image-making Charlotte to a radiant, democratic pig.
As Socrates describes the devolution from aristocracy to tyranny, from the just man to the tyrant, from health to ill health, it is important to point out that whereas the just city exists only in words or in a far distant Golden Age, the other kinds of cities actually do exist among the ancient Greeks. For instance, Sparta is a timocracy and Athens is a democracy. The ancestral aristocratic city fails because the oracle, briefly mentioned in Book III (415c6) as part of the noble lie, -- “that the city will be ruined if it ever has an iron or a bronze guardian” --, has strangely enough come true. You may well wonder how such a thing could have occurred in Plato’s tightly supervised city. And after all, it was a lie. For those of us who admire great champions of freedom, I am sorry to say the oracle is fulfilled only because an incredibly complicated mating formula has been misapplied. This is what Socrates says happened:
“Even though they are wise, the people you have educated to be leaders in your city will, by using rational calculation combined with sense-perception, nonetheless fail to ascertain the periods of good fertility and of infertility for your species. Instead, these will escape them, and so they will sometimes beget children when they should not.” (546b)
I will now read you the fertility formula whose application ultimately escapes the guardians: For the birth of human beings, there is a cycle comprehended by:
“the first number in which are found increases involving both roots and powers, comprehending three intervals and four terms of factors that cause likeness and unlikeness, cause increase and decrease, and make all things mutually agreeable and rational in their relations to one another. Of these factors, the base ones – four in relation to three, together with five – give two harmonies when thrice increased. One is a square, so many times a hundred. The other is of equal length one-way, but oblong. One of its sides is 100 squares of the rational diameter of five each diminished by one, or alternatively 100 squares of the irrational diameter each diminished by two. The other side is 100 cubes of three. This whole geometrical number controls better and worse births.” (546c)
What are we to think of a city whose continued existence is dependent on the correct application of such a formula? Or more importantly, whose potential existence is dependent on such a formula? And even if we can figure out the geometrical number, which appears to be 12, 960,000, how it is to be applied is a mystery. Glaucon, who insisted in Book 5 -- against Socrates’ own inclination -- to be given an account of how their city in words could actually come into existence, remains unfazed by these mathematical difficulties, the applied math involved or the lie within the lie. It will not be until Socrates makes clear the tangled degradation of the soul that occurs in cities that actually exist, especially that of the tyrant, that Glaucon -- brother of Plato, son of Ariston, a close relative of the infamous tyrant Critias, and perhaps the beloved of Socrates – finally yields and grants the argument: if it requires a philosopher to bring the just city into existence, the just city can not and will not ever exist for the simple reason that to engage in politics is abhorrent to the soul of the philosopher. Socrates by a marvelous sleight of hand has introduced the philosopher in Book 5 as the necessary condition for the actual existence of the just city only to undermine that very possibility by demonstrating that a philosopher who is properly raised to rule a city, who has his eyes on The Good, will never in fact be willing to rule. At the end of Book 9, having got a good look at the self-enslaved soul of the tyrant, a self-devouring monster whose only humanity is his outward form, Glaucon acknowledges the philosopher “won’t be willing to take part in politics,” to which Socrates replies:
“Yes, by the dog, in his own city, he certainly will. But he may not be willing to do so in his fatherland, unless some divine good luck chances to be his.”
“I understand. You mean in the city we have just been founding and describing: the one that exists in words, since I do not think it exists anywhere on earth.”
Socrates consoles Glaucon:
“But there may perhaps be a model of it in the heavens for anyone who wishes to look at it and to found himself on the basis of what he sees. It makes no difference at all whether it exists anywhere or ever will. You see, he would take part in the politics of it alone, and of no other.” (592a5-b5)
Socrates like some Heracles rescuing Theseus from the Underworld is rescuing Glaucon from the darkness of his own lust for power. Or again, to use the language of the Cave Allegory, Socrates is turning Glaucon around -- in this instance, by the dog – to use Socrates’ own exclamation -- by hauling a three-headed Cerberus up from the Underworld (sometimes known as Fluffy) and revealing to Glaucon thereby the snarling heads of the tyrant’s tripartite soul. The power that Glaucon would exercise over others, he is now ready to exercise over himself. Socrates has accomplished that “turning around of the soul” that is the object of education and lifts a man out of the cave of himself. Socrates has demonstrated to Glaucon that the life of a just man is not only desirable in itself and for itself but that it is more desirable than that of the perfectly unjust man, the tyrant. It remains for him to show in Book X through the Myth of Er that the just life is also more desirable with respect to its consequences for the individual soul. There Socrates draws a picture of the soul of a tyrant named Ardiaius whose eternal punishment in the afterlife surely inspired Dante’s Inferno and makes clear how each of us becomes responsible for his or her own life.
In the Crito, a dialogue that dramatically follows the Apology, Socrates provides an example of what it means to construct the just city within one’s soul. In this dialogue, Crito comes to Socrates with a sure plan for his escape and so avoid his death sentence. Socrates, however, forestalls these plans by telling Crito that they must consider in their usual way whether such an escape would be just. And so a dialogue ensues whose conclusions both Crito and Socrates agree to abide by. In this dialogue, Socrates himself speaks for The Laws of Athens who acknowledge that an injustice has been done to him, but that his planned escape would be an even greater injustice to the city and, most significantly, to himself. The Laws of Athens speak philosophically in Socrates’ own voice and person as the historical city of Athens could never have done. Socrates does accept the judgment of the Laws – that is the judgment of the Politeia within himself -- that escape would entail the greater injustice and accepts the death sentence issued by the historical city, calmly drinking the hemlock and dying in a simple, dignified manner.
It is a Greek proverb that no man’s life should be considered blessed until it is known how that man’s life ends. Plato surely judged Socrates’ life as truly blessed for his soul remained free of injustice to the very last. It is this most blessed man who is the heavenly paradigm envisioned at the end of Book 9 on which Plato would have his brother Glaucon found the true Politeia.
Pause for Questions
There is, however, another, very different account of The Republic given by those who read the book as essentially a political treatise and charge others as having fallen under Plato’s spell and giving him a pass on what can only be called a totalitarian or fascist program. They will point out as evidence that even the translation of the title of the book, Politeia, meaning regime, has been softened into The Republic, surely a strange term for a system of government that endorses a rigid caste system and that everywhere justifies repulsive means in the name of the greater good. In addition, they point out that Socrates, whom Plato employs as the architect of his city, could not himself have come about in Plato’s city or practice his uncompromising brand of philosophy. Indeed, if justice is defined as minding one’s own business, Socrates is most noteworthy as a busybody who minds everyone else’s. It seems either Socrates is a hypocrite or that Plato is abusing Socrates’ legacy by using it to put forth his own agenda. These critics point also to the totalitarian legacy of would-be Plato’s ,Glaucon’s, and Adeimantus’s like Marx, Trotsky, and Lenin.
These charges against Plato are serious and difficult to turn aside and amount to putting philosophy on trial a second time. At the first trial, Socrates failed to persuade the jurors that his activity was not subversive but actually a service to the city. On this occasion, philosophy is on trial for seeking to impose a new, transparently totalitarian regime. We are even told at the end of Book 7 how such an imposition will come about:
"Everyone in the city who is over ten years old they will send into the country. They will take over the children, and far removed from current habits, which their parents possess, they will bring them up in their own ways and laws, which are the ones we described before. And with the city and constitution we were discussing thus established in the quickest and easiest way, it will itself be happy and bring the greatest benefit to the people among whom it comes to be." (Book 7, 541a)
Finally, if Plato is arguing that philosophers must be rulers so that the just city can become a reality, then philosophy has lost its role as the outsider and is no longer in a position to objectively question the city and its priorities.
I hope what I have already said will go a long way to answering these charges. But more is needed. No philosopher, who has his eye upon the Good, would ever involve himself in the kind of cleansing of the city pictured at the end of Book 7. It would require the soul of a tyrant. It is because Glaucon was not repulsed at this possibility that Socrates must make clear to him the soul of the tyrant in Books 8 & 9. And if Plato is envisioning a totalitarian society, it is certainly the strangest one we are likely to see: it is an upside down society where the rulers are the impoverished class while their subjects enjoy the material pleasures of life. Further, if Plato is held responsible for the likes of Marx, Trotsky and Lenin, then we must also give him credit for what has come to be known as a liberal arts education, founded as it is on the curriculum Plato devised for philosophers in Books 6 and 7; we must give him credit for the very kind of seminars our Humanities program seeks to provide, where ideas are tested in conversation and not inculcated by the might of authority, whether that be the teacher’s or even Plato’s. The heart and soul of a liberal education is the cave allegory and the turning around of the soul that is depicted there. And finally, we must say that to see Plato’s program for the just city as something other than a reflection of the soul of the individual is to mistake the image for what the image represents and to fail to realize that justice for Plato is primarily the arête of the human soul and not an attribute of a city. For Plato, this mistake is the gravest one of all – for not mistaking the image for what the image represents is critical to the soul’s ascent to what Plato calls the Good.
I suggest to you that Glaucon and Adeimantus are being tested, as Socrates says philosophers must be, as young philosophers such as yourselves must be. You are supposed to find fault with Socrates’ image of the just city. As young philosophers you recognized the various versions of the just city as severely lacking, they are robotic and soulless; you were offended at the lies and the patent condescension in every aspect of the just city’s construction; and as young philosophers, you noticed that the conversations and dialogue were but shallow imitations of real philosophical discussions. It is as if we all were doing time in the lower reaches of the divided line, up against the wall of the cave, as if it were a debate by, for and of shadows.
Pause Pause Pause
You may have also noticed, however, that starting with Book 5, the discussion becomes more truly reflective of philosophical conversation and that the eros and eris of the participants become aroused: first in the discussion about women, then in the demand for bringing the city of words into actual existence, followed by the bold assertion at the very numerical center of The Republic that unless philosophers become rulers, the just city cannot come to pass. Then, Socrates surprises us by announcing that the most important element of the soul has been left out, something that is more important than wisdom, temperance, courage and even justice itself – what has been missing is the desire that exists in every soul for the Good. After Socrates’ irritated dismissal of Adeimantus who wants only to argue for the sake of argument, Socrates discloses to Glaucon, as though to him alone, a world of incredible beauty through the analogy of the sun, the divided line and the allegory of the cave. The conversation has turned truly philosophical and provides an image at least of the one to one dialectic that moves freely to and from the idea of the Good. In Book 7, Socrates turns directly to Glaucon to ask if he wishes to continue their conversation for his own sake or for the sake of one or another eristic group:
"So decide right now which group you are engaging in discussion. Or is it neither of them, and are you making your arguments mostly for you own sake – though you do not begrudge anyone else whatever profit he can get from them?" (528a)
"That’s what I prefer -- to speak, question, and answer mostly for my own sake." (528a4-5)
Here we are at the very heart of the matter. Glaucon’s very soul is at stake. The conversation could not be more real. He is somewhat blinded by the brilliance of what Socrates has disclosed to him. Socrates has been striving like some philosophical Orpheus, attempting to turn Glaucon’s soul around with his most beautiful music and to tame those like Thrasymachus who would threaten his beloved. Socrates tells us at the very beginning of The Republic that he has gone down to the Peiraeus, the place beyond the river, to offer his prayers to the goddess of dead. You should know that at the dramatic time of the dialogue, Cephalus was already dead and by the composition date of The Republic Polemarchus had been executed by the agents of the Thirty Tyrants and Socrates had been put to death for what his fellow Athenians believed to be his association with these very same tyrants. That Glaucon disappears in history, apparently having resisted his own dark tyrannic desires, suggests that Socrates in his sojourn in the Underworld, perhaps among the souls to be reborn, has been successful where Orpheus was not.
End of Story