This chapter is mainly on the revelations by Russell and Wittgenstein that most of the problems making up Philosophy have simply been elementary mistakes in language. But let me say this first:
Philosophy’ has always been considered to be: the love of wisdom, the search for Wisdom, the foundation of Western civilization, of the uniqueness of the Western mind. But what does it actually do? Someone said it is just informal logic. I am ashamed to say that I don’t know exactly whether that is true. It sounds about right. Philosophers are very good at it but it’s not wisdom.
Philosophers follow where their logic leads them like bright schoolboys, regardless of sensory perception or human sensibility or adult sophistication. They unscramble the wisdoms we already have, such as that we exist and that there is a world out there that we appreciate with our senses, and start again from the bottom, going back to a beginning that we never previously had even as infants. They start all over again with the tool of logicking with words. They then get misled by the logic of words into a maze of abstractions winding upwards into nonsense, the very opposite of rationality. An intelligent, reasonable, rational stopping before that point is required. It is the civilized mind that does this, and doesn’t get led into obsessive schoolboyish logicking.
What they call rationality is a putting aside of the human intelligence already present in our words, and ending up with something silly instead. Also, how on earth can one get wisdom about oneself and other people and humanity through logicking, mathematicking and scientificking? It is absurd that this was called ‘Philosophy’. It has been a stupidity for 2500 years. It is amazing that no-one has objected.
Descartes for example couldn’t convince himself he existed till it occurred to him that he was thinking! Therefore he must exist! Cogito ergo sum! Did he really think as an adult person that he couldn’t believe he existed until the logic of words proved it? But this being led by the logicking of words to say absurdities, is what Philosophy has always been. (Descartes incidentally later changed his mind and said he could after all trust his senses that he did exist, and discarded Cogito ergo sum entirely!)
Philosophers have a mind directed towards logicking with words, instead of accepting what their senses tell them. They say that it is because their senses have sometimes misled them. Their logicking reaches a high standard and a vocabulary of its own. No-one can equal them at it.
But there are mistakes in their use of language.
Russell (in my post here) and the early Wittgenstein (here) went some way to putting their fingers on these mistakes with their Logical Atomism. According to this theory, many of the statements that Philosophy has forever worried over, aren’t really problems at all when one reveals the logical atoms of meaning that make them up. These atoms had been taken for granted and hidden from view. If philosophers had first analyzed these statements into their logical atoms, much of Philosophy would never have needed to exist.
Wittgenstein in his later phase (here) added moreover that many of our important words, such as Truth, Beauty, Courage, and the Good, don’t apply to specific entities at all. (Plato had gone so far as to say that these entities existed in all realness in some kind of heaven! see here.) Such words, said W., simply have their meanings in what they are used for, within the context of a particular language-game between a speaker and an audience. Their meanings are simply what the speaker intends in front of a particular audience.
So, said W., much of Philosophy has been wasting its time. Philosophy, he said, should stick to curing its own language mistakes.
But for me, from the very beginning, the problem with Philosophy’s words was even more basic than that, but I have never been able to put my finger on it. Words, I dimly felt, were only pedestrian ways of expressing what came to Man long ago in his senses. So words are a poor stammering second to our senses, but the philosopher puts them first. Just look at how words come to have the meaning they have from their etymology and then altered roughly through usage during the centuries. Just look at ‘logic’,’convention’, ‘culture’ ‘paradigm’, ‘state’.
Philosophy’s problems are created by the inexactitudes of words in ‘natural language’ (the languages that we actually do use) and it then uses more language to try and solve them. One has to bulldoze one’s way through with words.
Those last two paragraphs of mine are rather wafting with large generalizations in their dubious ‘facts’, and don’t reach the high standards of Philosophy itself, but it’s the best I can presently do.
I feel that philosophers deal in a nitpicking of logic with logic, a bending backwards to eat their own tails, some kind of weakness for obsessive logical certainty and completion that the human mind is prey to. When I feel myself slipping down that path, I pull myself up.
I wanted to say to them, ‘Stop ! stop! There’s no advance towards knowledge down this road at all. When you feel yourself slipping down this path, just break through and use language for what it was invented for!’
Amid these verbal conundrums they have tried to solve, there are perhaps some that are part of the mystery of being human, which philosophers then try to solve by logicking. But these kind of mysteries are imponderable by logic. (It would be helpful if I gave some examples.. But suddenly I can’t.)
Logic, mathematics and science have been the extent to which the minds of philosophers work. They take these as comprising Reason, and then use it as a basis for step-by-step logicking into ‘abstractions’ which impress people as Wisdom on human life. For human life they have a really facile understanding. ‘Human sensibility to human life’ is in them replaced by the logicking, the maths and the science. To me, it is a mechanical kind of intelligence No wonder it is said that Artificial Intelligence could one day emulate it.
Not being of a philosophical/logicking nature, ‘abstract’ is for me a difficult word. It seems to mean that a sensory perception is turned into a concept which is then logicked on, making it a different kind of thing from the original perception.