12: Hist Phil: Summary

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12: Hist Phil: Summary

Summary of the course: 3 topics:

Epistemology: how we know

Metaphysics: what there is

Mind: who we are

Cf Anthony Quinton: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics

The Meaning of Life (Monty Python): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buqtdpuZxvk

Influence of Plato

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them. His personal endowments, his wide opportunities for experience at a great period of civilization, his inheritance of an intellectual tradition not yet stiffened by excessive systematization, have made his writing an inexhaustible mine of suggestion. ... Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 39 [Free Press, 1979]

Influence of Descartes

It is difficult to overestimate the influence of Descartes. In philosophy, the Cogito Argument signalled the centrality of the self and the rejection of authority from without, the authority of both texts and teacher. For physics, Descartes represented the rejection of the scholastic physics of matter and form, and its replacement by a mechanistic physics of matter and motion. So in biology, he stood for mechanism and the rejection of Aristotelian vitalism.


Wittgenstein (1889—1951): anti-dogmatism


Schopenhauer, Russell, Frege (Goethe). Began as an engineer, this led to questions about the foundations of mathematics, Frege suggested he study with Russell. http://www.iep.utm.edu/wittgens/

Philosophy is an activity, not a body of thought.

“I give no sources, because it is indifferent to me whether what I have thought has already been thought before me by another.” Tractatus (Ogden Preface)

“When we can't think for ourselves, we can always quote”

“In philosophy it is always good to put a question instead of an answer to a question. For an answer to the philosophical question may easily be unfair; disposing of it by means of another question is not.”

“The philosopher is not a citizen of any community of ideas, that is what makes him a philosopher.” Zettel

“Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical” (TLP 4.003).

“The word ‘philosophy’ must mean something which stands above or below, but not beside the natural sciences” (TLP 4.111)

We should use logical analysis to show the “greats” where they have gone wrong. This should be done by showing not saying (cf Life of Brian – you have to work it out for yourselves).

“Philosophical Investigations is unique in its approach to philosophy. A typical philosophical text presents a philosophical problem, summarizes and critiques various alternative approaches to solving it, presents its own approach, and then argues in favour of that approach. In contrast, Wittgenstein's book treats philosophy as an activity, rather along the lines of Socrates's famous method of maieutics*; he has the reader work through various problems, participating actively in the investigation. Rather than presenting a philosophical problem and its solution, Wittgenstein engages in a dialogue, where he provides a thought experiment (a hypothetical example or situation), describes how one might be inclined to think about it, and then shows why that inclination suffers from conceptual confusion.”


* giving birth to (e.g.Meno)

"My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)" (TLP 6.54)

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (TLP 7).

Philosophy as an Illness

255. The philosopher's treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness.

Aiming for clarity

133. It is not our aim to refine or complete the system of rules for the use of our words in unheard-of ways.

For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear.

The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to.—The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question.—Instead, we now demonstrate a method, by examples; and the series of examples can be broken off.—Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem.

There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies.

Removing confusion

123. A philosophical problem has the form: "I don't know my way about".

309. What is your aim in philosophy?—To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.

119. The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery.

Removing preconceptions

103. The ideal, as we think of it, is unshakable. You can never get outside it; you must always turn back. There is no outside; outside you cannot breathe.—Where does this idea come from? It is like a pair of glasses on our nose through which we see whatever we look at. It never occurs to us to take them off.


115. A. picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.

116. What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.

38. For philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday.

Private language argument

Language is necessarily social:

243. The words of this language are to refer to what can be known only to the speaker; to his immediate, private, sensations. So another cannot understand the language.

Problem of other minds

Subjective experience is also necessarily social:

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 the same of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly?

Immediately after introducing the idea, Wittgenstein goes on to argue that there cannot be such a language. The importance of drawing philosophers' attention to a largely unheard-of notion and then arguing that it is unrealizable lies in the fact that an unformulated reliance on the possibility of a private language is arguably essential to mainstream epistemology, philosophy of mind and metaphysics from Descartes to versions of the representational theory of mind which became prominent in late twentieth century cognitive science.



Compare this method of doing philosophy with other approaches, e.g. Laurillard’s scaffolding. How does the ladder compare/function in that?

Consider Ayer’s logical positivism:

I require of an empirical hypothesis not that it should be conclusively verifiable, but that some possible sense experience should be relevant to the determination of its truth or falsehood. If a putative proposition fails to satisfy this principle, and is not a tautology, then I hold that it is metaphysical and that it is neither true nor false but literally senseless.

Here's how Simon Blackburn talks about philosophy in his book Think:

The word "philosophy" carries unfortunate connotations: impractical, unworldly, weird. I suspect that all philosophers and philosophy students share that moment of silent embarrassment when someone innocently asks us what we do. I would prefer to introduce myself as doing conceptual engineering. For just as the engineer studies the structure of material things, so the philosopher studies the structure of thought. Understanding the structure involves seeing how parts function and how they interconnect. It means knowing what would happen for better or worse if changes were made. This is what we aim at when we investigate the structures that shape our view of the world. Our concepts or ideas form the mental housing in which we live. We may end up proud of the structures we have built. Or we may believe that they need dismantling and starting afresh. But first, we have to know what they are.

Nietzsche: How to philosophize with a hammer (anti-dogmatism)


Schopenhauer, Wagner, the classics, (Goethe).

Critiques of Kant, Descartes(BGE: “on the prejudices of philsosophers”).

Attacks on thing-in-itself and cogito as unfalsifiable beliefs based on naive acceptance of previous notions and fallacies.

They all pose as though their real opinions had been discovered and attained through the self-evolving of a cold, pure, divinely indifferent dialectic (in contrast to all sorts of mystics, who, fairer and foolisher, talk of ‘inspiration’), whereas, in fact, a prejudiced proposition, idea, or ‘suggestion,’ which is generally their heart’s desire abstracted and refined, is defended by them with arguments sought out after the event. (section 5) http://www.planetpdf.com/planetpdf/pdfs/free_ebooks/Beyond_Good_and_Evil_NT.pdf


16. There are still harmless self-observers who believe that there are ‘immediate certainties"; for instance, ‘I think,’ or as the superstition of Schopenhauer puts it, ‘I will"; as though cognition here got hold of its object purely and simply as ‘the thing in itself,’ without any falsification taking place either on the part of the subject or the object. I would repeat it, however, a hundred times, that ‘immediate certainty,’ as well as ‘absolute knowledge’ and the ‘thing in itself,’ involve a CONTRADICTIO IN ADJECTO; we really ought to free ourselves from the misleading significance of words! The people on their part may think that cognition is knowing all about things, but the philosopher must say to himself: ‘When I analyze the process that is expressed in the sentence, ‘I think,’ I find a whole series of daring assertions, the argumentative proof of which would be difficult, perhaps impossible: for instance, that it is I who think, that there must necessarily be something that thinks, that thinking is an activity and operation on the part of a being who is thought of as a cause, that there is an ‘ego,’ and finally, that it is already determined what is to be designated by thinking—that I KNOW what thinking is. For if I had not already decided within myself what it is, by what standard could I determine whether that which is just happening is not perhaps ‘willing’ or ‘feeling’? In short, the assertion ‘I think,’ assumes that I COMPARE my state at the present moment with other states of myself which I know, in order to determine what it is; on account of this retrospective connection with further ‘knowledge,’ it has, at any rate, no immediate certainty for me.’—In place of the ‘immediate certainty’ in which the people may believe in the special case, the philosopher thus finds a series of metaphysical questions presented to him, veritable conscience questions of the intellect, to wit: ‘Whence did I get the notion of ‘thinking’? Why do I believe in cause and effect? What gives me the right to speak of an ‘ego,’ and even of an ‘ego’ as cause, and finally of an ‘ego’ as cause of thought?’ He who ventures to answer these metaphysical questions at once by an appeal to a sort of INTUITIVE perception, like the person who says, ‘I think, and know that this, at least, is true, actual, and certain’—will encounter a smile and two notes of interrogation in a philosopher nowadays. ‘Sir,’ the philosopher will perhaps give him to understand, ‘it is improbable that you are not mistaken, but why should it be the truth?’


The spectacle of the Tartuffery of old Kant, equally stiff and decent, with which he entices us into the dialectic byways that lead (more correctly mislead) to his ‘categorical imperative’— makes us fastidious ones smile, we who find no small amusement in spying out the subtle tricks of old moralists and ethical preachers. (BGE section 5)


The moralism of the Greek philosophers from Plato on is pathologically conditioned; so is their reverence for logical argument. Reason equals virtue and happiness, that means merely that one must imitate Socrates and counter the dark appetites with a permanent daylight — the daylight of reason. One must be clever, clear, bright at any price: any concession to the instincts, to the unconscious, leads downward. Twilight Section 10


Other themes

God is dead/nihilism

The loss of universal values

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!"

As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there he caused considerable laughter. "Have you lost him then?" said one. "Did he lose his way like a child?" said another. "Or is he hiding? Is he scared of us? Did he emigrate?" They shouted and laughed in this manner. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his look. "Where has God gone?" he cried. "I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. We are all his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving now? Where are we moving now? Away from all suns? Aren't we perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Aren't we straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Hasn't it become colder? Isn't more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s putrefaction? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives — who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games will we need to invent? Isn't the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?"

"There has never been a greater deed — and whoever shall be born after us, for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all the history that came before." Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground and it shattered and went out. "I come too early," he said then; "my time hasn't come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still traveling — it has not yet reached human ears. Lightning and thunder need time, deeds need time after they have been done before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars — and yet we have done it ourselves."

It has also been related that on that same day the madman entered various churches and there sang a requiem aeternam deo. Led out and told to shut up, he is said to have retorted each time: "What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"

Gay Science 125 http://markandrewholmes.com/godisdead.html

Slave/Herd Morality

How Christianity has kept us oppressed.

The officers of religion have lied to the people in order to keep them in their place. Humility is not a virtue, it is an oppression, and we should not value democracy In the beginning was forced upon us. Biblical principles of turning the other cheek, humility, charity, and pity are the result of universalizing the plight of the slave onto all humankind, and thus enslaving the masters as well. In addition, "The democratic movement is the heir to Christianity” BGE Section 202
“the democratic movement is not only a form of decay of political organization but a form of the decay, namely the diminution, of man, making him mediocre and lowering his value” (ibid: 203)
"Morality is in Europe today herd-animal morality" (Section 202)—i.e., it emanates from the ressentiment of the slave for the master
True freedom, by contrast, is that of the Greeks – no obsession with rights.

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