Sunday, February 19, 2006



In October 1950 the philosophical quarterly Mind published a paper by A. M Turing under the title "Computing Machinery and Intelligence". The first sentence of that paper read, "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'". (1) Six years later the paper was reprinted in an anthology, The World of Mathematics, edited by James Newman, under the title "Can a Machine Think?" Ever since there has been a torrent of publications around that question and it has given rise to what is known as the Artifical Intelligence project. Now, fifty years after that epochal reprint, Mark Halpern has published a judicious study of the whole issue (2). Halpern blasts the claims of Artificial enthusiasts and questions their right to pose as descendents of Alan Turing. To Mark Halpern I owe the incitement to offer the following thoughts.
For reasons that will become evident in the course of this paper, my treatment of the question is tangential to the Turing Test and to the questions it bred and the discussions it incited. I will readily concede it is not inconceivable that we may make a thinking entity or even an entity that loves and hates and composes symphonies and creates original poetry. My contention is that even after conceding that, there would remain questions that we have to be clear about.
Turing, having said it would be absurd to decide the question by examining how the terms "machine" and "think" are commonly used, proposes that the question be decided by an experiment which he calls the Imitation Game but which has come to be known as the Turing Test. The idea of the test is simple: to set questions to a computer and a human being, both hidden from the questioner. If the questioner is unable to decide which answers issue from the computer and which from the human being, we conclude that the computer was thinking.
Turing expected computers to earn the description 'thinking machines' not on the basis of problem-solving capabilities but on the basis of demonstrating the capacity for answering questions in a human-like manner. That, as far as it goes, is sensible. We today have computers that perform in seconds mathematical operations that would take a team of mathematicians much longer to perform; this in itself does not bring those computers any nearer to being human-like. And yet Turing's sensible proviso does not remedy the error inbuilt in the very idea of the test. In proposing to decide the question on the basis of objectively observable criteria, we remove all consideration of subjectivity and thus empty the question of all philosophical significance.
As often happens with questions that look simple, the question "Can a machine think?" is not a single question but is a conglomeration that can be separated into numerous questions which might receive different answers. To think clearly we need to separate these different questions.
In what sense can the Turing Test determine whether a computer is thinking? The answer to this question of course depends in the first place on how we define 'thinking'. But I do not intend to pursue the question in that direction. I think it is not unreasonable to say that however we define 'thinking' it will be possible sooner or later to programme a computer so that it will 'think' in the sense of the elected definition. But this would leave open what I regard as the more important question: Can the Turing Test determine whether a computer has subjectivity?
Again, whether or not we find the Turing Test providing a criterion for subjectivity, we would yet be left with a still more important question: What is subjectivity? For supposing we can devise a computer of such complexity as to have its (her?, his?) own whims and moods and initiative, that 'computer' would be in the same position as a cloned human being — its subjectivity would be an 'emergent' reality not reducible to either the hardware or the software that went to the making of the computer-person.
(I use the term 'emergent' hesitantly since it has been loaded with interpretations I cannot accept.)
What I am concerned to emphasize is that regardless of the process by which a person comes to be a person, it is the subjectivity of the person that is the locus of reality and value.
Approaching the question from a different angle, if or when neuroscientists succeed in completely mapping and artificially reproducing all the workings of a human brain (never mind the untechnicality of my language; I make no pretence to scientific knowledge; this does not vitiate my position), I would still maintain that the achieved autonomy and subjectivity would be creative in a double sense: (1) it would be an instance of the creativity of all process in nature ('natural process' would be needlessly ambiguous), bringing into being a reality that was not there before, an original reality; (2) the 'emergent' entity would fulfil itself, assert its reality, in creative activity, in thoughts and deeds that bring into being what was not there before.
Marginally: supposing we made a fully functional brain of an intelligence equal to that of an Einstein, the being to which that brain pertains would not have human feelings, human emotions, human desires, unless it were integrated with a body of flesh and blood with the same hormones and enzymes and what not as anyone of us. But this is neither here nor there, for there is nothing to prevent there being 'persons' constituted differently from us that would experience feelings and emotions other than those experienced by us.
From the start and throughout Turing's paper it is evident that he has no doubt as to what the answer should be. The test was obviously not devised to help us find an answer to the general question "Can machines think?" but to calibrate particular computers to decide which one or ones come up to the specified standard of thinking. And yet Turing's answer to his own question comes as frustratingly anticlimactic:
"The original question, 'Can machines think?' I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted."
If the question is reduced to one of determining the conventional usage of words, it becomes of little philosophical importance. Halpern points to a "glaring contradiction in Turing's position" since at the beginning of his paper he held that to seek an answer to the question "in a statistical survey such as a Gallup poll" would be absurd.
Halpern quotes psychologist Epstein as saying that "the sentient computer is inevitable." Clearly Epstein understands sentience in behaviourist terms. With the advance of technology we can have computers that imitate human responses and human behaviour with more and more sophistication. But the question for a philosopher does not turn round what computers can or cannot do but round what computers do or do not experience.
Moreover, factually, by the criterion of returning original responses, as Mark Halpern remarks, "no computer, however sophisticated, has come anywhere near real thinking."
Lucretius's tumbling atoms do not remain tumbling atoms: they become Goethe and Heine and Shakespeare and Wordsworth. The question philosophy should answer is this: Which has the better claim to the title 'real', the dust that was Goethe or the living fire that even today sings,
Alles Vergängliche
Ist nur ein Gleichnis;
Das Unzulängliche,
Hier wird's Ereignis;
Das Unbeschreibliche,
Hier ist es gethan;
Das Ewig-Weibliche
Zieht uns hinan — ? (3)
Plato had an answer to that question. I think it is the one answer that makes sense of human life.


(1) Alan Turing's paper is accessible at: and numerous other online sources.
(2) Mark Halpern, "The Trouble with the Turing Test", The New Atlantis, Number 11, Winter 2006, pp. 42-63, available online at: and a more detailed version can be found on his website,
(3) The closing lines of Faust, Part Two.

Friday, February 17, 2006



In this essay I offer an unorthodox approach to Wittgenstein. The essay consists in four parts: I. The Enigma, II. The Riddle of the Tractatus, III. Russell and Wittgenstein, IV. Concluding Remarks.


Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is the great enigma of twentieth-century philosophy. Not only were his personality and life enigmatic, but his philosophical work is replete with riddles. And he has been misunderstood and continues to be misunderstood for the curious reason that those who pose as his followers and who monopolize the exposition and interpretation of his thought belong to the school of philosophy whose very foundations he demolished. Analytical philosophers have idolized Ludwig Wittgenstein, not realizing that he is the apostate that discovered the banality and bankruptcy of Analytical Philosophy. But they cannot understand him so long as they are in denial and refuse to see that he is not their champion but their most radical opponent.
Does it not or should it not give pause that a logical treatise, believed to be structured in correct logical form, should be open to so many conflicting interpretations by acknowledged experts? To realize that the Tractatus is open to contradictory interpretations we need not go far. Wittgenstein himself said that Russell's reading of the treatise was riddled with misunderstandings. Perhaps Russell read, or wanted to read, an orthodox version of Logical Analysis into the treatise. What are we to make of Wittgenstein's remark in that case? Would it not mean that the orthodox reading misses the author's intention?
Wittgenstein opens the preface to the Tractatus with the words, "Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it." This emboldens me to spell out my claim that the Tractatus has so far remained an unsolved riddle and that I hold the key to the solution. Wittgenstein's words would be very odd were they meant to preface a logical treatise. Therefore, the Tractatus is not primarily a logical treatise and all who have read it and treated it as such have minsunderstood it, beginning with Bertrand Russell.
But the second paragraph of the preface is deceptive and has, I believe, deceived his Logical Analysis friends — not intentionally, but because Wittgenstein failed to resolve the conflict between his allegiance to the Logical Symbolism instilled in him by Frege and Russell and his 'suppressed' mystic and metaphysical yearnings which continued to torment him like an unacknowledged illicit desire, erupting in the obscurities, inconsistencies and contradictions that baffle mainstream interpretations.
All Wittgenstein scholars have spoken of the mystic strain in the Tractatus. In fact, in the last few pages it is so loudly emphasized that no one could miss it. But they have treated it as an embarrassing non-integral and inexplicable adjunct to the logical substance. On the contrary, I see it as the crowning flower of the logical investigation.
The preface ends with a succinct summing up of the ostensible outcome of the Tractatus: it unassailably and definitively solves all the problems of philosophy only to discover that, in so doing, we end up with nothing.
I claim that my special version of Platonism can throw a ray of light that will render the riddle of the Tractatus intelligible. I will therefore preface this study by some remarks preparing the ground for my unorthodox approach to the problem.
I vaunt an odd affinity between Ludwig Wittgenstein and poor me. In all my writings I have been saying what the advocates of Logical Analysis have said — but with a crucial difference. I have maintained that there is no 'truth' in metaphysical statements, that metaphysical statements are 'nonsense' as defined by the Logical Analysts, but whereas they say it is meaningless nonsense I say that it is not only meaningful but is the profoundest of meaningful speech. Metaphysical statements are oracular utterances giving mythical expression to the reality of creative intelligence, which is our proper reality and the only reality we know. The expression is mythical and therefore can always be falsified, but is meaningful as an inherently intelligible representation of our inner reality.
From Plato onwards philosophers have been like little children spinning fables and fairy tales. Their fables and fairy tales created worlds in which they lived and others could live a life more real than any life possible in the world of hard fact and verifiable truth. But like little children they did not realize, or did not always fully realize, that their fables and fairy tales were products of their own creative minds, until Locke and Hume shook their credulity and Kant groped his way back to the truth that Socrates saw so clearly but that even Plato only waveringly held to. This is the position I have been advancing in all my writings, particularly in Let Us Philosophize (1998) and Plato: An Interpretation (2005).
The youthful Wittgenstein, under the tutelage of Frege and Russell, accepted the Analytical project as the climax of philosophical wisdom. (See, for instance, Tractatus 4.003, 4.06 and 4.112.) Yet he did not rest in the inane answer that metaphysical perplexities can be made to vanish into thin air by unravelling linguistic knots. In the deepest recesses of his mind there was a yearning, not for the truth pursued by the Positivists and the Analysts, but for the alêtheia wooed by Plato, that can only be expressed in myth and metaphor. He discovered the bankruptcy of Logical Analysis and, I claim, was moving towards a position similar to that I outlined in the foregoing lines, but he stopped halfway, and thereby brought about all his difficulties.
Just as Hume took the Empiricist assumptions of Locke to their logical conclusion and proved the impossibility of certain (= apodeictic) knowledge, so Wittgenstein took the premises of Logical Analysis to their logical conclusions and ended up by confessing:
"My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
"He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.
"What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." (Tractatus, 6.54, 7, tr. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, 1961.)
The mysticism which students of Wittgenstein commonly relegate to his later thought was rooted in the Tractatus. He was too intelligent and too profound to find permanent satisfaction in the thin fare afforded by the assumptions of Logical Analysis to whose seduction he had fallen in the innocence of his youthful enthusiasm for the work of Frege and Russell. When in the Tractatus he spoke of throwing away the ladder and when he enjoined: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" ("What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence"), he was already sensing the rumbling of depths that demanded an expression that cannot be spoken.
Perhaps never since Empedocles has a great thinker's personality and thought been so enigmatic as Wittgenstein's. Academic pundits who would unhesitatingly throw away a dissertation that dared to show any deviation from sanctioned norms and hallowed mainstream views, who disdainfully dismiss Nietzsche's aphorisms and poetic flights, stand in awe before Wittgenstein's obscurities and aphoristic riddles. To them he has become a sacrosanct idol. Wittgenstein must have had some magic spell that he cast over those who come his way. The advocate of Common Sense G. E. Moore could say of Wittgenstein, "He has made me think that what is required for the solution of philosophical problems which baffle me, is a method quite different from any which I have ever used — a method which he himself uses quite successfully, but which I have never been able to understand clearly enough to use it myself."
Wittgenstein came to philosophy by a circuitous route. He studied mechanical engineering; this led him to mathematics, which in turn led him to questions about the foundations of mathematics. These questions were regarded by the Analysts and the Logical Positivists as properly philosophical, or possibly as the whole of philosophy. Even though Wittgenstein seems to have felt throughout his life the pressure of moral and religious questionings, yet at first he seems to have accepted this view, common to Frege, Russell, and the Vienna Circle. Wittgenstein was crippled by their notion of metaphysical nonsense. Carnap could live within the confines of his theory. Frege was first and last a mathematician. Moore was content with his intuition. Russell could skip happily between two isolated worlds. Wittgenstein rebelled and sought to break through the confining fetters. He only half-succeeded.
The Tractatus explores the possibilities of purely logical propositions, and concludes that they are all empty. This is explicitly stated in 5.43 where Wittgenstein states that "all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing." This is the conclusion that drove Wittgenstein to despair, but that the giants of Logical Symbolism, too fond of their nice equations and neat formal structures, refused to acknowledge.
Wittgenstein chooses for motto to the Tractatus the following words extracted from Kürnberger: "… and whatever a man knows, whatever is not mere rumbling and roaring that he has heard, can be said in three words." I venture to supply the three words: ich weiss nichts! (I know nothing), which would seem consistent with Wittgenstein's concluding words: "one must be silent". But twenty-four centuries earlier a man with a clear head and clear vision said, "I know nothing", yet instead of following that with the injunction, "Be silent!", enjoined, "Know thyself!", implying, "for in thyself is all that you know and all you need to know."


The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is architectured on a foundation of seven basic propositions. With the exception of the seventh, which consists of one short oracular sentence, each of the basic propositions is developed in multi-tiered subsidiary propositions. But the seeming perfect structuring of the Tractatus is deceptive. It is not possible to find in it a coherent whole, because, I believe, Wittgenstein was working under conflicting and irreconcilable tensions. If there is a unity in the Tractatus, it is not a unity of structure or system; it is a unity of direction. In my comments below on various propositions, I will be tracing Wittgenstein's reluctant progress – like the man in Plato's allegory being dragged from the darkness of the cave to the vision of the sun – from the darkness of Logical Analysis to the luminosity of mystic insight. (All the quotations below are from the 1961 translation by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness. All emphases shown are in the original.)
The first proposition stipulates: "The world is all that is the case." The six short subsidiary propositions already contain much that is open to different interpretations, such as "The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts" (1.11), and "The facts in logical space are the world" (1.13). But apart from the inescapable vagueness in these propositions, if "The world is all that is the case" implies 'and nothing beside all that is the case', then we have here the empiricist reductionist banning of the subjective and the transcendental.
Thus in the very first sentence of the Tractatus Wittgenstein bans metaphysical philosophizing and in so doing creates for himself the dilemma that tore him apart and continued to tear him apart to the end of his life. By defining the world as "all that is the case", he leaves the philosopher without a world. For a philosopher's proper world, a philosopher's universe of discourse, is not objective and not objectifiable. It is not a world of actualities but a world of meaning, the intelligible realm. That is what Socrates saw clearly when he renounced the investigation of things en tois ergois and decided instead to investigate things en tois logois.
So when at 4.25 Wittgenstein says, "If all true elementary propositions are given, the result is a complete description of the world", I would add: only of the world as already defined, as the sum of all that is the case, the natural world, the world of actualities. There can be no description of reality. There can only be an expression, a projection, a representation of reality in myths that reveal reality. (Reality = transcendent reality, opposed to existence. See my "On What Is Real: An Answer to Quine's 'On What There Is'".)
Proposition 2, "What is the case – a fact – is the existence of states of affairs", together with its subsidiary propositions, suggests that Wittgenstein did not intend his book as a purely logical treatise. Throughout the Tractatus he keeps moving from the logical to the physical, from the cosmological to the metaphysical, without ever setting clear boundaries between these spheres.
At 3 Wittgenstein stipulates: "A logical picture of facts is a thought", which he amplifies in 3.001: "'A state of affairs is thinkable': what this means is that we can picture it to ourselves." But when at 3.03 we read: "Thought can never be of anything illogical, since, if it were, we should have to think illogically", I take this as equivalent to the old Homo mensura of Protagoras, "Man is the measure of all things, of those which are, that they are, and of those which are not, that they are not." But don't we then sacrifice the relation of thought to the outside world? Wittgenstein's thinking on this question remains ambivalent throughout the Tractatus.
Proposition 3.141 reads: "A proposition is not a blend of words. — (Just as a theme in music is not a blend of notes.) A proposition is articulate." I take this to mean that what is real in a proposition is the whole that is irreducible to its constituent elements. And I suspect that Wittgenstein half-meant that, and that when he came to acknowledge to himself what he meant he knew that Logical Analysis was not the way for him.
Proposition 3.3 states: "Only propositions have sense; only in the nexus of a proposition does a name have meaning." This (together with 3.141) may or may not mean the same as what I have been saying again and again in my writings: no single word can by itself and in itself have a fixed meaning. With every use of the word, in every new context in which it is placed, it obtains a special, an original, meaning which is a function of the whole apart from which it has only a schematic sense but not a viable meaning. (I use 'function'. 'sense', etc., naively, not in the technical sense of these terms in mathematical logic.) But if this is what Wittgenstein meant, then it runs counter to the very foundations of Logical Analysis and bares the fundamental fictitiousness of Logical Symolism. That this was, if not in the foreground, at any rate in the backgournd of Wittgenstein's thought, is, to my mind, shown by the fact that in the end he draws the conclusion that "all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing" (5.43).
Wittgenstein says, "No proposition can make a statement about itself, because a propositional sign cannot be contained in itself (that is the whole of the 'theory of types')" (3.332). In commenting on the Third Man Argument in the Parmenides of Plato (see my Plato: An Interpretation, p.37f.) I believe I say much the same thing, albeit without technicality, which gives me as much right as Wittgenstein to declare, "That disposes of Russell's paradox" (3.333).
"What can be shown, cannot be said." (4.1212) If we had to show the complete fatuity of the project of Logical Analysis, this simple sentence would be a fit text. A sentence of exemplary simplicity and clarity — seemingly! Does it have a definite, ascertainable meaning? Anyone who knows English (or whatever natural language in which it may be phrased) would unhesitantly assert that the meaning is clear to her/him. But probe deeper and you will find that everyone has infused it with a special meaning derived from the metaphysics that underlie her/his Weltanschauung. The meaning I find, or put, into these words may or may not be far removed from what Wittgenstein had in mind, but I bet Frege, Russell, Carnap, would have found a very different meaning, or possibly no meaning at all, in this deceptively simple sentence.
Under 5 Wittgenstein not only makes all inference tautologous: "If p follows from q, the sense of 'p' is contained in the sense of 'q'" (5.122), but also repeats the Humean negation of the possibility of certainty in natural science: "There is no possible way of making an inference from the existence of one situation to the existence of another, entirely different situation" (5.135), and again more explicitly: "We cannot infer the events of the future from those of the present. Superstition is nothing but belief in the causal nexus." (5.1361)
(At 5.1362– Wittgenstein evades the problem of the freedom of the will by making one enunciation of the problem senseless, but I do not intend to expand on this here.)
"If the truth of a proposition does not follow from the fact that it is self-evident to us, then its self-evidence in no way justifies our belief in its truth" (5.1363): unless this is taken to be a tortuous way of saying simply that self-evidence is all we need, then it, to my mind, creates a paradox more vacuous than Russell's Paradox. What sense is there in separating the truth of a proposition from the self-evidence of a proposition? To require proof of the self-evident is to create the Third Man and Russell's Paradox all over again. Perhaps that is what Wittgenstein wanted to say, but then the proposition would be badly worded.
When we say, "All truth-functions are results of successive applications to elementary propositions of a finite number of truth-operations" (5.32), we are in danger of taking this to mean that understanding (the word 'truth' is a snare I try to be wary of) in philosophical and in practical matters can be attained by reducing problems to, and deriving conclusions from, simple, elementary propositions. This is the Analytic illusion. It blinds us to the fact that logic and analysis can never be a substitute for creative thinking. It is really inconsistent with the holistic insight that finds expression elsewhere in the Tractatus.
No one needs to study logic to think clearly and consistently. Intelligibility is an aesthetic property. Any normal person can immediately appreciate the validity of coherent thinking. That is the whole point of the mathematical experiment with the slave boy in Plato's Meno. When our politicians trade their deceptions and when we all go our several foolish ways, it is not want of logic but the force of unquestioned prejudices and passively received false value judgements that cause us to err. I see 5.4731 as supportive of this view.
I will not comment at length here on 5.5421 where Wittgenstein affirms that "there is no such thing as the soul", and again that "a composite soul would no longer be a soul." I will only say that there is more than one sense in which what Wittgenstein says is acceptable, but this acceptable sense can easily be turned into gross error. This is also the case with 5.631 on "the subject that thinks or entertains ideas."
Wittgenstein says, "Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt" ("The limits of my language mean the limits of my world") (5.6). This is only true if 'meine Welt' is equated with the objective, the given, world solely. But underneath the objective world and beyond the reach of articulate speech there is the ineffable immediacy of my inner reality. Wittgenstein continues, "Die Logik erfüllt die Welt; die Grenzen der Welt sind auch ihre Grenzen" ("Logic pervades the world: the limits of the world are also its limits" (5.61). Again this is true but only qualifiedly; or maybe it's truer than Wittgenstein intended. Logic pervades the existent, the objective world, and the boundaries of that world are indeed the boundaries and confines of logic: the world comprehends logic, but logic does not comprehend Reality.
When Wittgenstein says, "The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world." (5.632), I see him straining to break the fetters of Logical Analysis and reach beyond. He develops this, albeit cryptically, in 5.633. Like Jacob wrestling with God, Wittgenstein is here wrestling with the Reality that logic cannot comprehend. This is what the Logical Analysts forbade him as Jehovah forbade Adam the fruit of Knowledge. But, like the wise serpent and like daring Eve, he demanded the right to taste of the forbidden fruit. This is perhaps more evident in 5.641 where Wittgenstein speaks of the metaphysical subject.
The enigma of Wittgenstein is that he broke down the bars of the cage in which the Logical Analysts incarcerated him, but was too timid to step beyond the ground of the cage. The enclosing bars were gone and the endless horizon captivated his vision, but he remained put.
It is such a pity that Wittgenstein's mentors taught him that all early philosophy is worthless. Had he read Plato he would have found in him the insight he craved and the liberation he yearned for.
When Wittgenstein at 5.122 said, "If p follows from q, the sense of 'p' is contained in the sense of 'q'", this had inevitably to lead to 6.002 and further to 6.1, "The propositions of logic are tautologies", and 6.11, "Therefore the propositions of logic say nothing. (They are the analytic propositions.)" All of this simply amplifies on "all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing" (5.43).
"The concept of number is simply what is common to all numbers, the general form of a number." (6.022) Whatever be the utility of this for mathematical logic, Wittgenstein was later to say that there is nothing common to a multiplicity of instances (Philosophical Investigations, I. 65). This is philosophically more significant. It is what Socrates showed again and again in his dialectic, but which nobody seems to have grasped: that the idea of a common character is a chimera; definition, except as an ad hoc tool for a specific purpose, is a Holy Grail; an idea is not an Aristotelean abstraction, but a creative pattern, a form, conferring intelligibility and meaning on nebulous givennesses. (See my Plato: An Interpretaion, ch.3, "The Socratic Elenchus".)
I would say that Wittgenstein was groping towards the Socratic insight that all understanding is grounded in the self-evidence of inborn ideas. In the end, we know nothing but Socrates' foolish "It is by Beauty tha all things beautiful are beautiful". That is understanding and there is no understanding other than that. All the descriptions, all the factual reports, of natural science, all the equations of mathematics, give us usable information, but not understanding. That is the insight revealed in Socrates' declaration that he does not seek aitiai in nature but in ideas; ideas are for him the only and the sufficient aitiai: not en tois ergois but en tois logois he seeks and finds understanding.
Proposition 6.3 asserts: "The exploration of logic means the exploration of everything that is subject to law. And outside logic everything is accidental." That is the bold assumption that is the foundation of Logical Analysis. It falsely excludes the possibility of metaphysics. Outside logic everything is NOT accidental. Outside logic is the intelligibility, the rational sufficiency, of creative affirmation. That a wholesome soul is the proper excellence of a human being (the one credo Socrates lived by, lived for, and died for) does not follow logically from any premise, but it generates logically all the judgements that give meaning and value to human life.
Proposition 6.371, "The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena", should be taken together with 6.341, 6.342, and 6.372. Here we have a conception of natural science and scientific knowledge that neither scientists nor professional philosophers have yet absorbed, but it would take us beyond our present task to expand on this.
The obscurity of 6.41 requires an articulate metaphysical background to illumine it. "The sense of the world must lie outside the world. … in it no value exists … If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case. …" Here we see Wittgenstein reaching out for the transcendent Reality that Logical Analysts deny.
Yet Wittgenstein is unable to break through his Analytical presuppositions. "So too it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics. Propositions can express nothing that is higher" (6.42). This is the prison in which Carnap and Frege and Russell imprisoned Wittgenstein and which he refused to escape even when he had demolished its walls. Once the postulate "In a proposition a thought finds an expression that can be perceived by the senses" (3.1) is accepted, once it is accepted that propositions relate to nothing but what is the case, then of course "it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics." Ethical statements have no factual content, do not relate to existents; they relate to realities that do not 'exist' but have their being in the intelligible realm that is bred in and by the mind. Had Wittgenstein studied Plato, he would have found the answer to his puzzlement. (See my "The Rationality of Socrates' Moral Philosophy", incorporated in Plato: An Interpretation as chapter 2.)
When I see the perplexity in 6.4312 (on immortality) I cannot help remarking, what a pity it is that Wittgenstein's mentors deprived him of the possibility of treating metaphysical questions metaphysically. The Analysts may applaud this and similar propositions in the Tractatus, thinking these bare the nonsensicality of such questions. They do not see that Wittgenstein here is struggling against the sterility of the meaningless and valueless world of facts to which Logical Analysis restricted him.
"How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world." (6.432) Let me dress this in different garb. The natural world does not disclose ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is a creation of the mind, a fiction if you will, but a fiction that gives our life meaning and value. We created God, but God is not therefore an illusion; God is the reality we live when we live a properly human life on the spiritual plane.
"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." (6.44) Here again I will permit myself to give my own version of this. The ultimate mystery of being is the ultimate irrationality of reality. Pace Parmenides and Hegel, ultimately reality is not rational but beyond reason, as Plato, of all philosophers, clearly saw. (Republic, 508e-509a.) Only the great mystics shared this insight with Plato. That my interpretation does not radically falsify Wittgenstein's position can be seen from 6.45 where he says, "To view the world sub specie aeterni is to view it as a whole — a limited whole. Feeling the world as a limited whole — it is this that is mystical." This is Parmenides and Spinoza in one.
Shocked at his heretical blasphemy against the religion of Logical Analysis, Wittgenstein utters a formal recantation of his heretical mysticism in 6.5 — but it is more of a recantation after the manner of Galileo's "E pur si muove".
In 6.52 and 6.521 Wittgenstein is vainly trying to escape committing himself to mysticism or to metaphysics by resorting to the vanishing trick. What cannot be given a logical answer cannot even be asked logically. Therefore there is no problem. But the problem does not recognize the authority of his logic and obstinately goes on nagging in his mind. But when we read, "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical" (6.522), we realize that Wittgenstein could never shed his mysticism.
The wavering is clearly evident in 6.53. Here Wittgenstein was clearly fooling himself or fooling his mentors. He was repeating by rote what they had taught him. But had he been convinced by this, satisfied with this, he would not have been so much subject to the seduction of the mystic lure. Analytical philosophers see this proposition as the statement of his final position and conveniently brush his mystic fumblings under the carpet.
Proposition 6.54, which has been quoted and commented on by every commentator on Wittgenstein, has not, to my mind, been so much as half understood. The first paragraph of this proposition is the epitome of the whole Tractatus and to comment on it would be to repeat all that I have been saying above. But in the one-sentence second paragraph: "He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright", I detect a cryptic message. While Analytical philosophers might take the words "then he will see the world aright" as meaning: then he will see the world 'scientifically', 'logically', I connect these words with 6.522 "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical", and take them to mean that only in the mystical vision do we "see the world aright". This is the profound meaning that Bertrand Russell in his logical reduction of Wittgenstein's mysticism squanders, and in the wake of Russell all Analytical philosophers.
Wittgenstein concludes with the agonized cry, "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen", ("What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence") (7). The whole of my essay is my comment on this one sentence.


To show how Analytical philosophers have failed to understand Wittgenstein I will concentrate on one thinker — one who was best placed to know Wittgenstein's thought, Bertrand Russell.
Russell's first impression of the young Wittgenstein was summed up in the words: "obstinate and perverse, but I think not stupid". Not much later on he was saying, "Perhaps he will do great things. I love him and feel he will solve the problems I am too old to solve." That was too fond a dream for Russell to give up easily. (In fact Russell survived Wittgenstein by almost two decades.)
Between 1911 and 1913 Wittgenstein engaged in conversations with Russell on the foundations of logic. Between 1914-1916, during the years of WWI, he completed drafting the Tractatus. Then, "very soon after the Armistice, while he was still a prisoner at Monte Cassino", Wittgenstein sent Russell the typescript, as Russell wrote in My Philosophical Development (1959).
By the time he wrote the Tractatus, Wittgenstein had already discovered the vacuity of Analytical philosophy. But Russell was so eager to see in young Ludwig the disciple that would carry on the master's work that he was blinded to the radical discrepancy between his approach and Wittgenstein's. The disciple was already an apostate when Russell was penning the laudatory introduction to the thin volume that was seen as the Gospel of the new philosophy. Nobody seems to have realized that the Gospel was blasphemous. The explosive oppositions between Wittgenstein's preface and Russell's introduction to the Tractatus could only be hidden by a strong mental prejudice. They were not so hidden to Wittgenstein.
In 1959, thirty-seven years after Bertrand Russell had written his introduction to the Tractatus and when Wittgenstein had been eight years dead, Russell included in his My Philosophical Development a chapter entitled "The Impact of Wittgenstein" and also discussed his relations with Wittgenstein elsewhere in the book, particularly in the final chapter, "Some Replies to Criticism".
Russell says, "Wittgenstein's doctrines influenced me profoundly. I have come to think that on many points I went too far in agreeing with him …" (p.83). From first to last Russell saw nothing in the Tractatus and understood nothing of it beyond its contributions to the theory of mathematical logic.
We see this unmistakably when Russell continues, "Wittgenstein's impact upon me came in two waves: the first of these was before the First World War; the second was immediately after the War when he sent me his manuscript of the Tractatus. His later doctrines, as they appear in his Philosophical Investigations, have not influenced me at all" (p.83).
Russell goes on to say, "I do not feel sure that, either then [before WWI] or later, the views which I believed myself to have derived from him were in fact his views. He always vehemently repudiated expositions of his doctrines by others, even when those others were ardent disciples" (pp.83-84). I think this is only understandable if the doctrines concerned related to the extra-logical aspects of Wittgenstein's thought. Part of Wittgenstein's tragedy was that he felt he was misunderstood — he was a voice crying in the wilderness.
Earlier, in the opening sentence of his introduction to the youthful work, Russell had affirmed that the Tractatus "certainly deserves, by its breadth and scope and profundity, to be considered an important event in the philosophical world." This testimony is preceded by the words, "whether or not it prove to give the ultimate truth on the matters with which it deals", which implies that Russell, when he wrote this, believed that 'the ultimate truth' on such matters is within our reach. Thus the first sentence contradicts Wittgenstein's conclusion, that all logic is tautological and outside logic there is nothing we can put in words.
Russell continues, "Starting from the principles of Symbolism and the relations which are necessary between words and things in any language, it applies the result of this inquiry to various departments of traditional philosophy, showing in each case how traditional philosophy and traditional solutions arise out of ignorance of the principles of Symbolism and out of misuse of language." Clearly, Russell chose to read the Tractatus as an initial, excusably faltering exercise by the bright pupil who will carry on the work of the master. He did not see that the Tractatus was the outburst of a deep spiritual crisis, the shriek of a soul that felt suffocated in the vacuum of Logical Symbolism, desperately yearning for a Reality beyond the reach of mathematical logic.
Next Russell writes, "The logical structure of propositions and the nature of logical inference are first dealt with. Thence we pass successively to Theory of Knowledge, Principles of Physics, Ethics, and finally the Mystical (das Mystische)" (pp.ix-x). This is part of the misunderstanding of the purpose of the Tractatus. Wittgenstein brings in Physics, Ethics, and the Mystical, not to deal with their principles but only to say that these fall outside the jurisdiction of logic. One feels that Russell, in surveying the contents of the Tractatus, is setting out problems he is concerned with, not the problems that Wittgenstein is addressing.
Russell then writes, "That which has to be in common between the sentence and the fact cannot, so he contends, be itself in turn said in language. It can, in his phraseology, only be shown, not said, for whatever we may say will still need to have the same structure" (p.x). In saying this, I believe, Russell misses completely the point of Wittgenstein's criticism of Russell's theory of Types. Analytical philosophers have to this day failed to grasp the point of Wittgenstein's criticism. (See Tractatus 3.331, 3.332, 3.333.)
Russell also completely misses the profounder meaning of 6.41. His discussion (or exposition) of Wittgenstein's "limitation of logic to things within the world as opposed to the world as a whole" and of Wittgenstein's "somewhat curious discussion of Solipsism" (pp.xvi-xviii) reduces Wittgenstein's insights to a logical formality. Again, Russell's treatment of Wittgenstein's "attitude towards the mystical" (pp.xx-xxi) clearly shows Russell's congenital incapacity for the metaphysical.
The penultimate paragraph of the introduction (concerning 'the problem of generality') not only shows Russell's failure to understand Wittgenstein's criticism of the theory of Types, but the final sentence of this paragraph reveals a gross error in understanding Wittgenstein's "So one cannot say, for example, 'There are objects, as one might say, 'There are books'", which Russell curiously confounds with the problem of 'totality' (4.1272). The impassable gap between the two approaches comes out clearly in Russell's later discussion of the problem and is congealed in a curious incident which Russell relates in My Philosophical Development, which deserves close attention:
"There is another point of very considerable importance, and that is that Wittgenstein will not permit any statement about all the things in the world. [Russell here explains the Principia Mathematica definition of totality.] Wittgenstein … says that such a proposition as 'there are more than three things in the world' is meaningless. When I was discussing the Tractatus with him at The Hague in 1919, I had before me a sheet of white paper and I made on it three blobs of ink. I besought him to admit that, since there were these three blobs, there must be at least three things in the world; but he refused, resolutely. He would admit that there were three blobs on the page, because that was a finite assertion, but he would not admit that anything at all could be said about the world as a whole. This was connected with his mysticism, but was justified by his refusal to admit identity." (p.86.)
That two of the most brilliant intellects of the twentieth century should fail to come to an understanding on such a point must surely give us pause. It brings into question the whole nature of philosophical thinking and of thinking in general. It also makes it seem arrogant for anyone to try to resolve the dispute. But try we must. I will approach the problem from two different angles.
a) Wittgenstein will readily admit that there are three blobs on the page. This is a statement that relates to particular existents in a particular region of space-time. It relates to the given world. Now, the given, the empirical, is for Russell all that there is and all that we can think of; for Wittgenstein it is all we can speak of. When Russell says, 'there must be at least three things in the world', he is thinking of the sum of actual things in the actual world, whcih is all there is for him, but for Wittgenstein this statement relates to the Whole, not the sum of actual existents but the transcendent One. To borrow theological language, this statement relates to the world as it might be for God.
b) We can speak of three things existing for us. But there is no Three in the world. Three is an idea, a creation of the mind, that gives intelligibility to some part of our experience. Not only we cannot say that Three exists in the world but also it is only for practical purposes that we can speak of numbered things in the world; philosophically, this is not admissible.
The final paragraph of the introduction compounds a new version of the theory of Types, a hierarchy of successive higher languages ad infinitum, with a 'logical' sophism abolishing "the supposed sphere of the mystical". Russell refuses to see that there is no escape "from Mr Wittgenstein's conclusions". In My Philosophical Development (p. 85) he again refers to this 'solution' that he believes "disposes of Wittgenstein's mysticism". Russell errs on two counts. First, his 'solution' simply recreates his famous Paradox and its lame formal solution in the theory of Types. Secondly, his 'solution' obliterates the profound metaphysical insight in Wittgenstein's mysticism, reducing it to a logical technicality. No wonder Wittgenstein was unhappy with Russell's introduction, complaining that it was riddled with misunderstandings.
The concept of logical atomism, crucial for Analytical philosophy, was introducedt by Wittgenstein in his doctrine of atomic facts and was immediately adopted by Russell, but it was already implicit in the Analytical approach and in the doctrines of Frege and of the Principia Mathematica, and in truth goes back to Leibniz' monadism and his dream of a perfect language.
In My Philosophical Development Russell refers to the principle of atomicity, quoting Tractatus 2.0201, then continues:
"This principle may be taken as embodying the belief in analysis. At the time when Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus he believed (what, I understand, he came later to disbelieve) that the world consists of a number of simples with various properties and relations. The simple properties and simple relations of simples are 'atomic facts' and the assertions of them are 'atomic propositions'. The gist of the principle is that, if you knew all atomic facts and also knew that they were all, you would be in a position to infer all other true propositions by logic alone" (p.88).
Russell then branches into discussing "important difficulties that arise in connection with this principle". What concerns me here is that in the lines I have quoted Russell acknowledges that Wittgenstein came to discard the whole rationale of Logical Analysis. I would only add that this rejection was already inherent in the Tractatus. In Russell's own words, "Wittgenstein announces aphorisms and leaves the reader to estimate their profundity as best he may. Some of his aphorisms, taken literally, are scarcely compatible with the existence of symbolic logic" (p.93).
This comes out more clearly in Chapter 14, "Universals and Particulars and Names", where Russell says, "At one time, Wittgenstein agreed with me in thinking that a logical language would be useful in philosophy, and I attributed this view to him in the introduction which I wrote to his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Unfortunately, by this time, he had not only abandoned the view, but had apparently forgotten that he ever held it. What I said about it therefore appeared to him as a misrepresentation" (p.123). Russell here puts his finger on the root of the discord between him and Wittgenstein: two opposed conceptions of philosophy. I think Russell is justified in saying that Wittgenstein at one time had agreed with him, for that was what he had been taught by Frege and Russell himself. But by the time he had completed the Tractatus, Wittgenstein had discovered that a logical language tells us nothing of substance, that "all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing." Wittgenstein was justified in saying that Russell failed to see this and consequently misrepresented his position in the introduction to the Tractatus.
Russell remarks that Wittgenstein made the doctrine of structure "the basis of a curious kind of logical mysticism" (pp.84-85). From the explication he appends, it is clear that Russell saw nothing of Wittgenstein's mysticism beyond the inexpressibility of the logical form. To my mind, for Wittgenstein this logical mystery was an analogy for a profounder metaphysical mystery, the mystery of transcendent reality. I may be mistaken. I may be reading my own metaphysics into Wittgenstein's words, for Wittgenstein's text is obscure. But if Wittgenstein meant no more than Russell saw in his words, then how explain the spiritual agony manifest in Wittgenstein's life?
I will not comment on Russell's quarrel with Wittgenstein over the concept of identity and other points of dispute. To do so would involve discussing the nature of logical theory and of theoretical thinking in general. I may some day take this up in a special paper on Russell.
Russell grew increasingly impatient and embittered towards Wittgenstein. "He, himself, as usual, is oracular and emits his opinion as if it were a Czar's ukase, but humbler folk can hardly content themselves with this procedure" (p.88). This is particularly evident in the prefatory passage to Chapter 18 "Some Replies to Criticism", where he lumps him with two men Russell clearly despises: Pascal who "abandoned mathematics for piety" and Tolstoy who "debased himself before the peasants". (Personally, I share Russell's antipathy to Pascal but not to Tolstoy.)
Wittgenstein minus his mysticism would be worth no more than the summary treatment accorded him in Russell's chapter. It is his dark aphorisms, which "taken literally, are scarcely compatible with the existence of symbolic logic", that open up vistas of metaphysical vision beyond the ken of Logical Analysts.


1. Wittgenstein had discovered the barrenness of Logical Analysis and of the tools of Logical Symbolism. When he turned to the analysis of oridinary language, he was turning away from the paucity of logical and semantical abstractions, away from the false dream of Leibniz nursed by Frege and Russell, to the richness inherent in the inescapable imprecision, vagueness, and ambiguity of the language of life.

2. After a period of complete despair of all philosophizing, he sought to find meaning in life and the language of life. Did he think that in this way he would be solving or resolving metaphysical problems, or was he turning away altogether from metaphysical problems?

3. It may be that Wittgenstein, instead of harking to the inner voice that, like Socrates' dream, bade him 'make music', thought that he could find rest from its nagging by convincing himself that the voice was nothing but the reverberation of clumsily structured linguistic formulations. Take the parts of the formulation apart, 'elucidate' the meaning, and the nagging voice is silenced. Wittgenstein, it seems was too much a child of his age to obey the voice within. But he was deluded. He could not possibly find peace that way and remained divided. His investigations into language were doubtless of great value in many fields, not least in the study of human nature, but they did not offer a way out of metaphysical puzzlement.

4. Even though Wittgenstein ceased to be an Analytical philosopher in the manner of Carnap, Moore, or Russell, yet it seems he was not able to escape finally from the presumption of Analytical Philosophy that it is through the analysis of statements or words that we attain truth.

5. In Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein, it seems, discovered the necessary, essential, and fecund vagueness of language (or, as I prefer to say, the fluidity of language). Language performs its vital function – its life-maintaining, life-supporting, life-advancing function – through its vagueness. When language loses its vagueness (albeit only relatively) as in the language of mathematics or chemical formulae, it is no longer a channel in which, through which, life flows, but is an insubstantial schema into which meaningful content must be infused from outside if it is to relate to life.

6. Anyway it seems that Wittgenstein sought to replace the dearth of the world of Logical Analysis and Logical Symbolism with the ideal world embodied in living language with its blurred boundaries ("mit verschwommenen Rändern"), shadowy nooks, confused overlappings and interminglings in which we live and move and have our being, in which alone we have our properly human life.

7. How could our present-day Sophists, our professional philosophers, understand the real point of Wittgenstein's aporia when they have never been able to understand that of the Socratic elenchus? In the dialogues of Plato, Socrates again and again demonstes the impossibility of definition, and our philosophers continue somnambulantly to rehearse the error initiated by Aristotle affirming that Socrates aimed at reaching definitions. Yet Wittgenstein was not Socrates. Socrates knew what he was doing, he led his interlocutors on the hopeless venture of trying to catch the elusive definition – 'Tis here! 'Tis here! 'Tis gone! – to guide them to the pregnant aporia that makes them look for meaning and reality nowhere but within the mind. Socrates saw this puzzlement and the consequent confession of ignorance as a blessing. Wittgenstein too realized the impossibility of definition, but did so in desperation. He knew that in our desperate quest for definition, instead of arriving at 'das Gemeinsam' (what is common) we only discover 'eine Verwandtschaft' (an affinity); he knew that in language "es fliessen ja alle Farben durcheinander" ("all colours flow through one another"): "Und in dieser Lage befindet sich z.B. der, der in der Aesthetik, oder Ethik nach Definitionen sucht, die unseren Begriffen entsprechen." (One who, in aesthetics or ethics for example, seeks definitions tallying with our concepts, finds oneself in this situation.") But instead of seeing, like Socrates, in this seemingly fruitless quest an affirmation of our inner reality, Wittgenstein merely affirms, "Frage dich in dieser Schwierigkeit immer: Wie haben wir denn die Bedeutung dieses Wortes ("gut" z.B.) gelernt? An was für Beispielen; in welchen Sprachspielen? Du wirst dann leichter sehen, dass das Wort eine Familie von Bedeutungen haben muss." ("In this quandary always ask yourself: How then have we learnt the meaning of this word ('good' for example)? Out of what examples? In what language games? You will then see more easily that the word must have a family of meanings.") (Philosophical Investigations, I. 77.) And the sum of his Herculean labours is encapsulated in the tame declaration: "The meaning is the use."

8. Wittgenstein is reported to have said that the point of the Tractatus was ethical. — What did he mean by this? Did he mean that the importance of the Tractatus lay in showing that philosophy, as conceived by Frege and Russell, has nothing of importance or of relevance for human life? Was the 'ethical' message of the Tractatus that about mathematics, and only about mathematics, may we speak, but about all else we must be silent? If so we may conceive Wittgenstein as straining, throughout many years, under this, to him, necessary but unbearable conclusion, until he thought he found there was a way to speak the unspeakable. — No. Wittgenstein never found Plato's answer to the riddle of speaking the unspeakable. Wittgenstein's turning to the investigation of life and language was not a triumphant flight but a pis aller.

9. If metaphysics and morals are nonsense and mathematics without content, how are we to deal rationally with the problems of life? Wittgenstein struggles with this problem until he finds the answer in the philosophy of language — which, as I say, catches only half of the Socratic solution.

10. A word has a social function and a private function, or a social dimension and a private dimension. If a word did not mean roughly the same thing to all people in a certain community there would be no communication. But a word always has different associations, different nuances, for every person.

11. The title Philosophical Investigations is significant. Wittgenstein after having at one time rashly believed that he had put an end to all philosophizing, later on came to see that there was room for philosophical investigation.

12. Wittgenstein came to a view of philosophy as therapy and his own work in Philosophical Investigations has been described as a kind of philosophical therapy. Socrates practised the same 'therapy' in his dialectical discourse, but Socrates, instead of simply clarifying the use of a term, led his interlocutors to realize (if they were alert enough) that it is only in the self-evidence of ideas in their own minds that they can find the meaning of anything, thus emphasizing that our active intelligence is our sole reality and our whole worth.

13. Having discovered the essential barrenness of Logical Analysis, Wittgenstein realized that to arrive at any meaning, to escape the deadly speechlessness of Logical Analysis and Symbolism, to say anything relating to life and the problems of living, we must have recourse to the shadowy, imprecise, fluid language of life. There, as Socrates knew long ago, we cannot reach 'truth' and cannot obtain knowledge but will find meaningfulness and have understanding. Hence while the Tractatus soon exhausts its message and ends by confessing its own nonsensicality, the Investigations propagate, and will keep propagating, endless fruitful problems and perspectives.

14. Wittgenstein's 'meaning as use' is not a theory but an approach, a programme of investigation. He says that in many, though not in all, cases, where we employ the word 'meaning' we can define it by saying that the meaning of a word is simply its use in the language (I. 43). Having relegated all metaphysical inquiry – all examination of ultimate meaning and ultimate principles – to the realm of the unspeakable – he recommends a behaviouristic approach to the socially vital problem of clarifying linguistic transaction and communication. This is as sensible as it is modest. It is the time-honoured approach of the lexicographer.

15. Consistently with this, Wittgenstein's injunction, "Don't think, but look!", as his guiding principle in the investigation of meaning, can be rendered, "Don't theorize, but observe and note." This echoes "What can be shown, cannot be said" (Tractatus, 4.1212).

16. Wittgenstein concludes that we cannot find what is common to all language games or all language and makes them into language or parts of language (I. 65). This is just what Socrates has shown in his elenctic discourses. In vain do we seek to capture the essence, the common character, of a number of instances, in a fixed formula. All language is language not because languages share a common character but because we have created the notion 'language' to assemble these numerous instances in an intelligible whole. Socrates would have us say: It is by Language that all language is language.

17. A philosopher's function is to create notions that extend our universe of discourse or give us new universes of discourse in which our intelligence may roam and live. Wittgenstein's own notions of 'language game', 'family resemblances', etc., are such creative notions.

18. Wittgenstein notes that in tracking the family resemblances of a word we "see a complicated network of resemblances, overlapping and traversing one another" (I. 66). But it is not the difficulty of finding a common character that rules out a finally valid formal definition. No doubt for practical pruposes we can always find good formal definitions — good for a specific purpose. But a formal definition does not reveal meaning. It is only the foolish Socratic beholding of an idea in the mind that reveals meaning.

Friday, February 10, 2006



[Abstract: Recently academic philosophy increasingly distanced itself from the concerns of common humanity, losing all relevance to human life. Independent philosophers are sprouting here and there, trying to reach intelligent readers to whom academic philosophy has ceased to be meaningful. Here I present one such independent philosopher, Richard Schain.]

Throughout the past century academic philosophy increasingly distanced itself from the concerns and interests of common humanity until, during the past five decades or so, with very rare exceptions, the work of professional philosophers ceased to have any relevance to human life. It is not that academic philosophy became so abstruse or technical as to be inaccessible to lay readers. That in itself would not have been irremediable. Spinoza and Kant, for instance, wrote difficult texts that can only be negotiated by a dedicated and well-trained reader. But the substance of their writings was immediately and essentially relevant to the meaning and value of human life. The problem with the main current of recent and contemporary academic philosophy is that it plumes itself on being concerned with 'objective' disciplines and technicques and neglects or utterly denies the reality of the subjective life of humans which is the locus of all values and ideals.

Though there have been some protesting voices arising against this situation from within academic circles, what may in the end rescue philosophy from turning into a mere shadow of its true self, is that a number of independent philosophers are sprouting here and there all over the globe, trying to reach intelligent readers to whom academic philosophy has ceased to be meaningful. Taking advantage of the immense possibilities of digital technology, they are speaking their word through e-journals, personal websites, and Print-On-Demand publications.

Of course the phenomenon of independent philosophers is nothing new. Even if we confine ourselves to modern philosophy, we can say without exaggeration that, by and large, the most important developments in philosophical thought were due to non-professional philosophers. Neither Descartes nor Spinoza nor Leibniz nor Locke nor Hume held university posts. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche taught for a while in universities but did their best work when they were on their own. Even Kant, who began his academic career lecturing on physics before being appointed professor of logic and mathematics, produced his epoch-making philosophical work 'on the side' as it were.

I referred to independent philosophers taking advantage of the possibilities of digital technology. It is obvious that these possibilities with their ubiquity and indiscriminate availability are open to the worthy and the worthless alike, and what is worthy is likely to be as a drop lost in the deluge of what is worthless. This is a problem that has to be faced, but it is not a problem that I intend to tackle here. Let us put our faith in the intrinsic potency of the good to survive. In this essay I present one of this group of independent philosophers who, hopefully, may succeed in bringing philosophy once again to relate to human life.

Richard Schain is not as completely unrelated to the academic horizon as some other independent philosophers are. Schain graduated at New York University (philosophy, medicine) and had neurology training at Yale. For a time he held a university professorship in neurology. But he had been enamoured of philosophy from boyhood and his choice of neurology seems to have been made under the illusion that he would thereby keep close to his first love. He discovered that neurology as an objective science and philosophy as the search for our inner reality are distinct. Disappointed of that fond dream, he resigned his professorship and devoted his time and energy to producing book after book and article after article in which he affirmed the reality and primacy of the subjective life of a human being.

In the preface to his Radical Metaphysics (2002) Schain defines the underlying theme of his philosophical project as "the task of building a metaphysical self". He re-affirms this in slightly varied phraseology: "Virtually all of my writings … represent an effort at developing a metaphysical consciousness … a distinct form of being that is superior … to material existence" (p.11). This metaphysical consciousness relates to the inner, subjective reality which is denied and negated by the materialist world-view which dominates our age. I would say that not even the religious masses are exempt from this dominance, for apart from the few for whom religion is a personal experience, most followers of institutionalized religions are fully under the sway of the materialist world-view. Their dogmatic belief in a non-material reality, outwardly inculcated, is not sufficiently vibrant with life to turn the mind's eye inwards to discover its own reality.

The emphasis on the development of the interior self presupposes that we be convinced of the reality of the soul, "one must intuit that the soul exists" (p.18). Schain accordingly finds himself poised against all the forms of reductionism that are currently rife among both professional philosophers and scientists. As a neurologist he finds himself opposed to the majority of his colleagues who think that the description of objective neural processes exhausts the meaning of mind or soul.

But Schain's insistence on the primacy of subjective reality is not merely a theoretical stance. It is in the first place a protest against the culture of this technological age which smothers individuality and spirituality. A citizen of the country that ranks first in the world in scientific, economic, and technical achievement, Schain does not find a home for his soul there.

In his latest work, In Love With Eternity (2005), Schain dwells on the idea of eternity, more specifically the eternity of the soul. Beside the insights of philosophers and theologians, he finds support for his view in the Einsteinian conception of time. He weds the idea of eternity to the idea of development of the self: "The task of an individual is to develop the spiritual self that will be his or [her] contribution to eternity" (p.12). Eternity is a crucial concept in my own writings too, but while Schain equates eternity with personal immortality, I draw a sharp line between the two. But this is not the place to discuss the question.

Judging by his writings, Schain's sources of inspiration spread over a remarkably wide span: Kierkegaard beside Nietzsche, Thoreau beside Schopenhauer, Sartre beside Berdyev, Goethe beside Paul Tillich. He writes passionately, as one would expect from someone whose object in writing is to build his metaphysical self. In A Fanatic of the Mind (1987) he writes, "No Greek philosopher was taken seriously whose life did not reflect his thoughts even though he wrote with the pen of angels" (p.12).

I have given this brief account of the philosophy of Richard Schain as an example of what I (perhaps too fondly) see as a burgeoning phenomenon of independent philosophy. I do not mean to suggest that Schain is representative or typical of this phenomenon. Independent philosophy is not a school of thought or a 'movement' voicing a unified philosophy. If there is one trait common to the individuals active in this area, it is that for them philosophy is an anxious, earnest search for the meaning of life.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A DREAM (a philosophical tale)

A Dream
(a philosophical tale)

I saw in a dream, reclining under the shade of an ancient tree by a warbling brook — who else but Zeno of Elea, reading to a comely youth out of a tattered scroll.
"If an archer shoots an arrow, the arrow can never reach its target. At any given moment of time, the arrow is in a space equal to its own length. It is therefore at that moment at rest. Hence it is at rest at all moments. An infinite number of positions of rest does not amount to motion. The arrow is at no time in motion and can never reach its target."
The boy was agape, but before he could speak, there suddenly appeared on the spot a white-haired man and a young woman. They were – I knew it by that mystic cognizance with which we are endowed in dreams – a professor and student of physics from a modern university. They stood close by Zeno and the Greek boy but were apparently unaware of their existence. Yet I could see that Zeno and the boy were attentively watching the new couple. The white-haired professor was intently explaining something to the young student.
"Heisenberg showed that a problem arises when you try to measure the position and the momentum of a particle simultaneously. In his 1927 paper he said – and I think I can trust my memory with the exact words –, 'The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.' Which means that an inescapable uncertainty is encountered in attempting to observe a single event with two frames of reference. The two frames substantively complement each other, but at the same time they mutually exclude each other. The juxtaposition of the contradictory frames of reference is necessary to yield an exhaustive view, yet their mutual exclusiveness effectively bars the juxtaposition."
Then Zeno laughed. "What fools! I have been speaking to them in parables for two and a half millennia and they will not understand."
I felt the young girl shiver – I felt it in my own bones – as if a foreign presence had just entered into her being. I saw her eyes shine with a strange brilliance. When she spoke her voice sounded as if it came from remote depths in space-time.
"Professor," she said, I will not even pretend that I have understood your explanation of the Principle of Indeterminacy, but I have just had a notion, a philosophical notion." She stood silent for a while. When she spoke again, I somehow felt as if it was not she that was speaking. "From a philosophical point of view, I would suggest that the principle puts us face to face with the fact that all science operates with fictions; creative, productive fictions, but fictions nevertheless. First, permit me to put forward two preliminary propositions. (1) Theoretical science is not – as the widespread misunderstanding, even among practising scientists has it – concerned with finding facts, but with the interpretation of facts. (2) Real things are whole, active, creative processes. The notions of time, space, inert matter, and so on, are abstractions from the whole."
"Let me now", she continued, sounding more and more entranced, "get back to the Principle of Indeterminacy. Physicists are nonplussed by the fact that they cannot determine the position and the momentum of a particle simultaneously. The reason, to my mind, is simple. Only the whole process is real. Both the notion of momentum and the notion of position in space are fictions. When you speak of momentum (itself the product of two fictions, mass and velocity) you negate the notion of position in space, and when you speak of position in space you negate the notion of momentum. You can only determine the one by ignoring the other, which in fact has no actual existence. So it is impossible to determine both at the same time, because when you do that you are negating both. More generally, you can represent any whole in terms of an elected abstraction, but you cannot exhaust the whole in terms of any set of abstractions."
The girl fell silent and a look of amazement spread over her features. Surely she was wondering what moved her to say what she had just said. The professor was obviously displeased; no, more than displeased, he was pained. He had had hopes for his student. One word escaped his lips. "Nonsense!"
Then out of nowhere I saw the venerable Alfred North Whitehead advancing. He approached, stood for a while silent, then in a sad voice said, "I too had tried to tell them that, in my philosophy of organism, but no one took notice."
Then the whole group vanished, and I heard my alarm-clock ringing.



Note: I offer these disjointed and chaotic reflections on the problem of evil in the hope that they may yet be found of value as raw material for thought.

I call Good a mystery because, in my view, it is an ultimate reality. Like being and like intelligence, it is simply there and is not amenable to any explanation. Life is not only self-affirming in a narrow sense; it is, essentially and originally, affirmative of life in its generality and universality — and of more than life, of form and of being. Animal love, animal tenderness, animal sympathy, are observable phenomena that extend far beyond a particular animal's offspring. These phenomena are not explainable by reduction to any extraneous factors or circumstances. But if reality is ultimately good, then the existence of evil – however we define evil – is a riddle that calls for explanation.

In dealing with the problem of evil we have to distinguish clearly between two different problems: (1) The problem of the metaphysical status of evil, and (2) The problem of evil in human behaviour.

The problem of the metaphysical status of evil must have occupied the minds of thoughtful human beings from the earliest times. Human beings found themselves surrounded by forces that seemed inimical: hurricanes, fires, ferocious beasts, pain, and death. Who brought about all that destruction and suffering? The angry gods? And if there is just one most powerful god/dess, is he/she vicious? But in other ways he/she seems to be very benevolent. Is he/she contesting against another equally or nearly equally powerful god/dess?

There were certain creeds that regarded evil as ultimate. But to regard evil as ultimate entails either an ultimate dualism (Ahura Mazda has to fight against Ahriman), which I find metaphysically untenable, or an anthropomorphic conception of the ultimate being as a limited animal with all the constraints, contradictions, conflicts, and imperfections that we find in ourselves (Jahweh, for no conceivable reason makes Satan, and then gives him free rein), which is metaphysically puerile.

So, the metaphysical problem of evil only arises within the framework of a world-view that makes an omnipotent power or powers responsible for the world. If God is personal, omnipotent, and omniscient then, to my mind, no argument can exonerate him/her of responsibility for all the calamities and the suffering that we find all around us. All theodicies are unavailing. But if we elect to give up belief in a personal, omnipotent, and omniscient God rather than allow Evil to dwell in the highest places, then we have no need for a theodicy and we can go on to address the problem of evil in human life, in the individual and in society.

If Reality is essentially creative, as I maintain, then only the transcendent creative act is eternal. All determinate existents in which the creative act is actualized are necessarily transient. All that is actual is in process of becoming. All life is ephemeral. We are constantly dying: not only our body but our feelings, our thoughts, our emotions, our memories, our moments of glory, are constantly passing away, and the death that comes at the end of our term of life is only a more glaring instance of the selfsame process. All of this is tragic but not evil.

Life is intrinsically tragic, as all existence is tragic because essentially transient. And human life will always be subject to the injuries inseparable from its natural frailty. But neither death nor illness nor natural catastrophe can canker life as corrupt thought can. It is the diseased thought of man that mars life and is the origin of all evil: selfishness and bigotry and the valuation of what is of no true value and the worship of false gods. But for these evils, life could be wholly good.

The biological phenomenon of pain is a vital function and is not in itself evil. Even excruciating physical pain, which makes life intolerable, is not an evil in nature. It is in the same class as natural disasters. Of course pain wilfully inflicted by a human being on another living creature, is the most vicious form of evil; but pain resulting from some natural ailment or accident I would not call evil.

I do not concern myself here with the pathological, with psychopathic conditions, which we may be tempted to describe as pure evil. These are explicable, but their explanation is a matter for specialized psychological studies. I do not see them as raising a fundamental philosophical problem.

In the dialogues of Plato we find Socrates again and again affirming that no one does moral wrong willingly. This is a cardinal article of Socratic faith which I seek to vindicate. As A. E. Taylor puts it, "A man has temporarily to sophisticate himself into regarding evil as good before he will choose to do it" (Socrates, 1933, ch. IV). The tragedy of human life is that we sophisticate ourselves into regarding evil as good, not temporarily but permanently, through institutions, dogmas, superstitions, and spurious and meretricious values.

Human beings are human in virtue of their living in a world of their own creation. To take this in the sense that civilized human beings live in an ambiance constituted by inventions, contrivances, systems and organizations produced by the ingenuity of human beings, would be trite though true. What I mean goes much beyond that. I maintain that humankind as a species, and individual human beings, are only specifically human inasmuch as they live in a world constituted by ideas (a blanket term) which are the creation of the human mind, from the most basic concepts which are a necessary dimension of simple perception and without which impressions and sensations remain devoid of subjectivity, to the most sophisticated scientific or philosophical world-view, to the highest ideals of magnanimity, generosity, integrity, and the like. As a corollary to this, I further maintain that all human behaviour is shaped by the cultural make-up of groups and individual persons. I maintain that drives, instincts, propensities, incentives and what not, that are thought to determine bahaviour, are all, on the human plane, neutral, providing the material of action, that can only be actualized in determinate form under the influence of ideas. The same elemental drive under the formative governance of different ideal systems results in radically different modes of behaviour. The same ideal system conjoined to different elemental drives produces forms of behaviour that are modally distinct but essentially congenital. In short, I maintain that all behaviour, on the human plane, is shaped by ideas and ideals, beliefs and superstitions, values and illusions, dreams and fears, that all have their rise and origin in the human mind. The noblest of human deeds and the most atrocious of human actions are equally the offspring of mind-generated ideas: the self-denying benevolence of a Mother Teresa or a Schweitzer equally with the bloodthirsty actions of a tyrant or the deeds of a common serial killer are in a most strict sense realizations of ideas and could never occur apart from the influence of ideas.

Apart from physical catastrophes and natural ailments, all human misery stems from religions — not only the traditional systems known by that appellation, though these have their ponderous share, but also the religions of material values, of false ideals, of the delusions of pleasure, of power or of glory. All of these – equally with the religions of heaven and hell, of divine wrath and divine inculcations, of original sin and original evil – are creeds, systems of belief, set above life and the spontaneity of the pure, unencumbered will which issues in life-affirmation and joyful creativity. The cause of all the misery in the world is to be found in superstition, narrow-mindedness and bigotry — the cause of all misery engendered by human beings resides in the minds, the thoughts, of humans. (Of course a great portion of natural ailments and natural calamities are also human-induced, partly through ignorance and venial ineptitude, but largely through false beliefs, mistaken values, illusory goals.)

Ideas constitute the world of a human being. A brute, or a person nurtured in the wild, in complete isolation from human society, would, I believe, have various drives and impulses, some affirmative and constructive and some negative and destructive. It is only when those drives and impulses are placed under and directed by ideas that they become good in a higher sense, as only spiritual values can be good; or evil as only human behaviour can be evil. Nevertheless, we may be less in error if we call affirmative deeds bereft of thought good, since nature is elementally good, than if we call thoughtless negative deeds evil rather than neutral.

All evil-doing is moral blindness. Macbeth is blinded by the goal he has set himself; his understanding is completely and exclusively riveted to that one goal; he is totally incapable of bringing any other consideration to the light of understanding.

In the way of making for evil, the role of religious ideas cannot be over-emphasized, but the role of the secular store of ideas is equally ponderous: ideas of honour and mastery and propriety and inherited fictions we thoughtlessly hold as to what is desirable and what is beneficial. What a joke it is to call the human being a thinking animal when the whole of humanity throughout its history has been nothing but a solid mass of thoughtlessness. Alas for Socrates! were he to come into our present-day world, he would die of dejection and despair.

Only behaviour that issues from ideas is bahaviour on the human plane. It is then either free action, when the ideas are consciously examined and rationally appropriated or it is determined passion when the ideas are externally imposed and passively acquiesced in. Behaviour that issues from warped ideas is also 'human' in the sense that only human beings are capable of such vicious doings; but it is not free: it is not action (in Spinoza’s sense) but passion. Even when the ideas are good and the behaviour commendable, if the ideas are not rationally embraced, then it cannot be rated any higher than what Plato termed 'demotic virtue'. Socrates' examinings sought to convert the conventionally received ideals of virtue into reasoned principles. That is what moral philosophy can do and should do, to lead us to the fount of all goodness in us, not by analyses and syllogisms, but by revealing the essential intelligibility of virtue as the creative affirmation of intelligence.

All human dealings are intertwined with human-made institutions, human-made laws, and human-made creeds and superstitions – human-made meaning the product of thought, of imagination and of reason, that is, of ideas.

Both Abraham and Agamemnon were willing to offer human sacrifice in obedience to a thought system. Agamemnon was morally superior to Abraham in that he sacrificed his daughter to the good of the community, whereas Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son to no good, but in obedience to the unjustified dictate of a capricious tyrant. But the significant point for our present purpose is that both were acting in pursuance of accepted ideas.

A human being becomes a person when, by virtue of the idea of the 'I' s/he gains subjectivity, positing the self in opposition to the not-self. But the I, the self, like all fictions, has no essential fixity. Over and above its contextual fluidity, (the I that enjoys a nice ice-cream is not the same I that is joyed when my favourite soccer team scores a goal), various experiential and cultural influences are effective in forming the boundaries of the self, and make all the difference between the narrowly constricted self of a James Steerfort or a Uriah Heep and the virtually boundless self of a Daniel Peggotty or a Thomas Traddles in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.

Perhaps the major fault of traditional psychology was the tendency to fragment the human being. Our starting point, the ground on which we should take our stand and from which we should proceed, should be the whole human being — the only reality we know directly, immediately and unquestionably.

It would be more conducive to an understanding of human nature to regard a human being not as consisting of so many powers, faculties, etc. (as students of the human psyche from Plato and Aristotle down to modern psychologists have tended to do), but as made up of so many different strata or planes of being. Theories of the subconscious and the unconscious have perhaps moved in that direction, but I think there is still need for a more clear-headed approach.

A human being is partly matter; and matter has its own habits, its own character. (My inner mentor tells me not to shun metaphor, for all language is metaphorical and all truth is metaphorical.) A human being is flesh and blood; and flesh has its proper habits and its proper character. A human being is a bundle of drives and emotions and passions; and these psychic factors have their wonted ways and a character of their own. A human being is a reservoir of memories, beliefs, dreams and ideals; and these all, individually and collectively, have their behavioural traits and their character.

Thus an individual human being exists on various planes of being. On each of those planes s/he belongs to a special world and is subject to the laws and influences of that world. On the physical plane a stream of gamma radiation changes her/his constitution. On the molecular plane an aspirin tablet, a glass of whisky, a puff of contaminated air can change her/his temper for better or for worse. On the biological plane a bacterium or a virus can disrupt her/his vital processes. (In giving these instances I speak as a laymen, claiming no knowledge and making no attempt at scientific correctness.) Up to this point we meet with nothing peculiar to humans; in all of this a human being differs in no way from any other animal. But a human being lives also on an ideal plane, a plane constituted by ideas, beliefs, values, purposes. When I speak of an ideal plane I do not refer specifically or exclusively to sublime or elevated ideals. Complete morons apart, every human individual – from a Mother Teresa to the most depraved of serial killers – lives in her or his own world of ideas, beliefs and values. How these ideas (to use this word as a blanket term) are formed or acquired is, in my opinion, the central problem of education, of moral philosophy, of political theory.

For once let us, in philosophizing, follow the example of science. Let our question be, not: How should we act?, but: How do we act? We shall find that we do good spontaneously because there is goodness in us: because we have being and all being is perfection and in its creativity affirms perfection. The difference between the action of one agent and that of another stems from the measure of wholeness realized in the ideal constitution of the one agent or the other.

Goodness, sympathy and tenderness, disinterestedness and generosity, friendliness, love of beauty, love of peace and serenity, love of life, the will to affirm, the joy of creativity — all of that is not only possible and natural but is also amply exemplified in all walks of life, in the animal world, among primitive peoples, and in imaginative literature (which I consider of no less significance than factual records). And normal human beings, I believe, are never without a hankering to all of that and a secret belief that that is the way to true happiness. What, then, are the causes that lead human beings to be (in Aristotle's phrase) 'maimed as regards their potentiality for virtue'?

There are two distinct and opposed religions that go about clothed in the loose cloak of Christianity: one whose principle is love and another whose principle is hostility to sin. The first is life-affirming and joyful and is commonly the source of much good. The second is life-denying and sorrowful and is commonly the source of much evil.

Sensuality, lust, submission to the allurements of pleasure, all that traditional Christian morality castigates as sins of the flesh; all of that cannot justly be condemned on moral grounds. It is on psychological, hygienic and practical grounds that inordinate pleasure-seeking can be taken to task. The distinction here is not indifferent. It is important that our thinking should be clear on the subject, because confused thinking here necessarily leads to a diseased philosophy of life. Acceptance of the denunciation of pleasure on moral grounds results in a life-negating attitude while the unthinking reaction against that attitude results in a more or less dissolute style of life that leaves little or no room for spiritual values.

We need a life-affirming Stoicism: a philosophy of life that holds that our dearest treasure is within us but knows that our inward worth can and must be realized in creative activity, in deeds of love, in 'a thing of beauty', even in simple pleasures. And when we are unfortunate, we can fall back on our inalienable and invincible stronghold within ourselves and forfeit all outer good things without denying their value.

In a nutshell, my position is that, contrary to traditional Christian teaching, the flesh is pure. The flesh never sins. Our instincts, our natural drives, may be blind and may err through ignorance, but moral wrongdoing is always brought about by and through an idea. Does that square with the Socratic position that nobody does wrong willingly? Fully, because the idea that leads to wrongdoing is always an ignorant idea, a fiction taken too seriously, an illusion parading as reality. 'Lead us not into temptation' translates into 'give us understanding', and 'deliver us from evil' into 'free us from self-deception'.

Beasts live and die; they may occasionally suffer, but their life on the whole seems worthwhile. But humans fill their life with false expectations, unattainable desires, claims on others and counter-claims that can only breed tragic conflict and gnawing grief. A human's thought is her/his glory; yet it is just that thought that can turn a human being's life into a sham and a shambles.

Nietzsche was right. Every honest human being will readily admit that there is cruelty in her/him/self and much vice (however this may be defined). But against this I think it is necessary to acknowledge and to emphasize two truths. Firstly, that it is not what we naturally are that matters morally but what we determine to make ourselves into. The ideals we adopt and the values we elect and seek to uphold are what we truly are as human beings. Secondly, there is in us also much natural goodness, the spontaneous affirmation of the love of being and love of life which are our birthright as intelligent beings.

Aristotle speaks of things 'pleasant to people of vicious constitution'. We might think of the 'pleasure' people experience in watching cruel sports or in themselves commiting acts of cruelty and atrocity. Here we are clearly not dealing with pleasure but with the discharge, the outburst, the decompression, of vicious complexes and pressures – reducible to negative beliefs and judgements – formed under the impact of adverse experiences. This applies to all destructive impulses and attitudes.

Violence is possibly a composite phenomenon, and instances of violent behaviour may differ widely in the extent to which the one element or the other enters into their constitution. There is a culture of violence and much violence in the contemporary world is fuelled by articulate systems of ideas and scales of value. But much violence also is mainly a physical eruption. When it is such and to the extent that it is such, it calls for medication rather than edification, as Aristotle rightly thought.

The case of an evil person who desires to harm a good person for no other reason than the other person's goodness is in my view a case of envy. The evil person knows that s/he has a defect; s/he envies the good person for her/his goodness; s/he wants to deface and to remove the good person's goodness as the source of the evil person's painful awareness of her/his own defect. This schematic sketch may sound very silly, but I believe it is basically true.

When a person feels that her/his life is vacant, s/he will choose to fill it with anything rather than face the horror of a blank life, which is the negation of life. This horror of the blank, in fortunate individuals, is the source of creative work, of art and discovery and of heroic deeds and of self-sacrificing benevolence. But in less fortunate persons it can lead to self-torment or torment inflicted on others. I do not think such a person deliberately chooses one of these alternatives in preference to the other; the choice is foisted on her/him by circumstances. I think this explains much of what appears as senseless cruelty and evil.

In every one of us there is a Dr Jekyll and a Mr Hyde. Both the Jekyll and the Hyde are natural and also non-natural: natural in the sense that both are built on raw material that is inborn in us; non-natural because the inborn raw material can never determine specific character; both the Jekyll and the Hyde are the product of ideas and values giving specific shape to the material. How do the Jekyll and the Hyde live side by side in the same person? They do so because all of us are only more or less integrated and streamlined. All of us are the product of multifarious influences, the conflux of various tributaries. Only the most fortunate of us, the wisest and the best, attain a fair measure of harmony and of unity.

I think it is wrong to assume that we naturally seek to maximize our own pleasure. I think the more basic drive is to realize our perfection. The quest of pleasure is only a particular, conditioned, (acquired) specification of the quest of perfection. Likewise, I think people seek power because it is a form of the extension of the self.

I am free when I act spontaneously in fulfilment of my 'self'. But, more often than not, my 'action' is not spontaneous. Leaving aside for the moment the question of external pressures and drives, my spontaneity can be marred by internal conflict. This is possible because 'I' am not a wholly-formed, stable entity. I am continually being formed and re-formed.

In Ethica Nicomachea, 1111a-b, Aristotle criticizes Plato's usage of the terms voluntary and involuntary. To my mind this shows the difference between two mentalities. One might say that while Plato is thinking ethically, Aristotle is thinking legalistically. When Plato says that an act done in anger or in obedience to appetite is not voluntary, he, true to his Socratic inspiration (however much he may have modified the theoretical architecture of Socrates' ethics), means to reserve the appellation voluntary for acts done in exercise of what is best in a human being. In all base and wicked acts a person is not true to her/him/self, and even in neutral deeds a person is not acting on the highest plane of her/his being.

Aristotle says that "outbursts of anger and sexual appetites ... actually alter our bodily condition, and in some men even produce fits of madness" (Ethica Nicomachea, 1147a, tr. W. D. Ross). I think this points to the most distressing and puzzling question relating to the problem of freewill: What determines human behaviour, thought or chemistry? The question here cannot in truth be posed in the form whether x or y. The significant question is, How are the planes of chemistry and thought related? This is an empirical question to be studied by the methods of science. Whatever the results we arrive at, it remains true that only when our behaviour is governed by our ideas are we living on the human plane. But how sad it is to realize what rarity this is in the life of every individual of us and in the life of humankind at large.

"The explanation of how the ignorance is dissolved and the incontinent man regains his knowledge is the same as in the case of the man drunk or asleep and is not particular to this condition; we must go to the students of natural science for it" (Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, 1147b, tr. W. D. Ross). Aristotle is right here. Ethical theory need not concern itself with abnormalities and aberrations, except marginally: "we must go to the students of science" for that. The rapist and the serial killer are for the therapist and the legislator to deal with, not the moral philosopher.

The long and the short of the matter is that when people do wrong, they are not human; they are another kind of being. Aristotle was right: to explain or to cure wrongdoing we have to go to the scientist not to the philosopher. The final word of philosophy is that when a human being is in full possession of her/his humanity, s/he only acts in love and understanding. The Socratic ethics is only seen as wrong-headed when we take it as applying to the sub-humans that the best of us are most of the time and most of us are all the time. When we are and for the duration of the time that we are the human beings we are meant to be, we can do nothing but what we think good and just and noble. That we often do otherwise is regrettable and explainable. The study and the treatment of our behaviour under those circumstances is the task of psychology, psychotherapy, paedagogy, jurisdiction, criminology, and the like. The task of philosophy is to keep before our eyes the excellence we should aspire to and can and do realize — haltingly, intermittently, but, hopefully, in time, more and more consistently. The alternative is to acquiesce in the doom and final ruin of humanity.

Socrates had true insight, the insight that is the essence of wisdom and that is the whole of wisdom. He may have fumbled all his life for the best manner of putting his insight into words. But there was a kernel of truth – most profound and most precious – in his belief that to know what is good is to be good. Perhaps it was unfortunate that he went on to ask: What is that knowledge or what knowledge is that? For knowledge of the good can only be defined in terms of the good. The more opportune question would be: How do we come by that knowledge? And in seeking the answer to this question we find the answer to the first question. The knowledge of the good is not theoretical knowledge. We cannot arrive at it by any deduction or any reasoning. It is an experience. We know the good when the good in us is allowed to flourish.

But how best – coming down to the details and particulars of practice – can we allow the good in us to flourish? That is the problem of education, that is the whole essence of the art and science of education. If virtue is 'knowledge', how can it be taught? The difficulty is engendered by the unfortunate use of the word 'knowledge'. But if virtue is soundness of mind, then it is easy to see that it is not to be taught but developed. This is the positive element in the doctrine of anamnesis: we do not inculcate virtue; we help the soul come to flower.

It is no metaphor to say that the babe at its mother's breast sucks in love. It is there and then that it receives the first seed of morality, which is then nourished by every harmonious sound, every beautiful form, every kindly touch.

How can we relate the influences that mould a child's character in the earliest stages of life to the view that human behaviour is wholly governed by ideas? When a child, in its earliest days, is taught that one thing is desirable and another undesirable, this may either involve the inculcation of a belief or the imposition of a conditioned reflex (or, as is more likely, a mixture of this and that). As long as the desire or the aversion remains merely a 'conditioned reflex', then the agent, in behaving in obedience to those desires or aversions, is behaving on a sub-human level, is not acting on the plane of intelligent personality. All of us live and behave on such a sub-human level most of the time, and for most of the time this is innocuous. But when we find our behaviour clashing with a value we consciously hold, then it is always possible for a well-formed person to examine, to question and to correct her/his habitual attitudes and behaviour. So that it is still possible to maintain that the behaviour of a human being – living and acting as a human being – is always subject to her/his ideas and ideals, good or bad.

Mark Twain speaks somewhere of the collision of a sound heart and a deformed conscience: All human evil – all evil, because I know of no evil outside the sphere of human action and human dealings is attributable to deformed conscience. If we all grew up without any interference foreign to our elemental nature, independently and autonomously like wild flowers, we would all have sound hearts and there would be no room for conscience – sound or deformed – and there would be no collision and no conflict. A deformed conscience is constituted by acquired false judgements and acquired false values; by inherited dogmas and inherited prejudices. Even what we call a conflict of interests cannot arise, on the human plane, without a pre-determined set of ideas and values. Without any conscience whatever we would not have evil, but without an enlightened conscience we would not have the highest, noblest morality.

I don't think that rivalry among 'wild' animals is an evil trait in those animals. They do not act viciously. They do not seek to harm others, but only to realize their own good. The same is also true of little children. Some little children are violent or fierce; many commit acts that, by mature standards, are cruel. But all such deeds and acts have a positive content and if rightly directed will turn to good. When a little child behaves aggressively one moment and the next moment behaves sympathetically, the two types of behaviour do not proceed from contradictory motives but from contrary viewpoints, contrary perspectives. In educating a child we do not have to extirpate its aggressiveness but to broaden its sympathy. In our day-to-day doings we often catch ourselves acting in forgetfulness of the good of others. How often and how effectively one does or does not remedy this forgetfulness may be all that differentiates a benevolent person from a selfish one.

It is said that certain of the brutes – the camel, the elephant – take vengeance on persons that hurt them. It may be that this is not in the same class as vengeance in human beings. It may be that a camel encountering a person that had inflicted harm on it, reflexively acts to pre-empt expected harm. (I purposely express myself here crudely and vaguely as I do not wish to suggest an excursion into animal psychology.) I think this is something quite different from a human being harbouring the intention of revenge, which essentially involves a system of beliefs and values. Of course a human being, being an animal, may also behave in a similar situation purely as an animal. In that case I would not describe the behaviour as morally evil.

I cannot say that I am good and someone else is evil. I know that I am quite as liable as that someone else to be blinded to the good and to be overwhelmed by the contingencies that make for folly and error. The difference lies not in the nature of this or that person; it is simply that some persons are fortunate in having had an upbringing and circumstances that enabled them to be in communion with the good in them while others are unfortunate in that their upbringing or circumstances shut them off, more or less, from the spring of good in them. The only right attitude towards 'evil' persons is expressed in the words of Jesus: They know not what they do.

Does the explainability of evil preclude the condemnation of evil? It all depends on what we mean by condemnation. I say that the evil-doer is not free, is not truly human. That's moral condemnation, isn't it? If by condemnation we mean subjection to penal and corrective measures, that's a practical matter that has to be decided in each case in the light of practical considerations: the good of the wrong-doer and/or the good of other members of the community. It is never morally right to take vengeance.

If I view the wrongdoer as a plaything of forces beyond her/his ken, does that necessarily mean that we have to regard ourselves in the same way? My answer is No, because the point of morality is precisely this, that to attain our perfection as human beings we have to be the authors of our action.

It seems to me that when Plato, in the Symposium, after giving Diotima's account of the ascent to what we may justifiably designate as the beatific vision brings in Alcibiades's account of his own experience under the influence of Socrates, he wants to point out that even such an essentially generous and noble nature as Alcibiades's cannot be brought round to virtue if it has not been in-formed in the first place by the right influences. Virtue indeed is wisdom, but that wisdom is not any kind of theoretical knowledge; it is 'knowledge' of the beautiful and the good as experienced.

A genetic propensity to aggressiveness is not necessarily translated into wrongful behaviour. There are types of characters, modes of behaviour, but determinate behaviour is the outcome of the character or general mode shaped into specific acts by the individual's system of ideas [ideals, values, aims]. I believe that nobody is born a criminal. There is no genetic or inherent criminality; there can only be genetic or inherent irascibility, impetuosity, forcefulness, cunning, roguery, but these are all morally neutral; under the impress of the individual's ideas they can find their realization in heroism, in exploits of discovery and adventure, in flights of fancy, or, on the other side, in criminal deeds and activities.

I do not think that 'desiring to do some harm to the person who is the object of your anger' is 'primitively intelligible' (Peter Goldie, "Explaining Expressions of Emotion", Mind, Jan. 2000, p.28) or rational. You can be pained and angry and yet entertain no desire to do any harm. You may take out your anger on yourself or on an inanimate object, without any desire to harm the person who engendered your anger. And we cannot regard the desire to harm the object of our anger as rational if our action serves no purpose. (Peter Goldie may mean by 'primitively intelligible' no more than that we can imagine ourselves doing the same thing in a similar situation. Properly defined, that would be a legitimate use of the expression. Still, I would think it an unhappy choice since it tends to suggest that the desire is rational, which I do not think is the case.)

Desiring to do harm to the object of our anger is not in the same class as 'desiring' to get away from the object of our fear. A wild animal fighting to the death with another, is not venting its anger. It is defending itself, its young, or its livelihood. Its anger is sheer adrenalin. When the adversary retreats, defeated, the victor entertains no further desire to harm it or to wreak vengeance on it. All our evil desires are belief-induced.

If the inescapable egotism (more accurately: egocentrism) of the human being is taken to be antithetical to morality, then how can we explain our willing submission to the dictates of morality? The egotism of a human being is simply the necessary grounding of all individual activity in a center of self-awareness: to be a self is to be self-centred. This does not preclude the self being expansive and life-affirming. Sympathy is as natural, as instinctive as self-assertion. I venture to say that there is no empirical evidence to show that Hobbes' 'war of every man against every man' has ever been the 'state of nature', not even if we put the word 'animal' or 'beast' in place of the word 'man'. It is not companionship and friendliness and cooperation, whether among humans or among other animals, that call for explanation but antagonism and animosity and conflict. It is these that are due to special causes. I think Kant was not consistent in his endorsement of Hobbes' view of human nature. When Kant says, "As Hobbes maintains, the state of nature is a state of injustice and violence, and we have no option save to abandon it and submit ourselves to the constraint of law", he negates the autonomy of morality. We have to submit ourselves to the constraint of the moral law, but that submission is not a choice of expediency but a choice that responds to a deep-seated aspiration to inner perfection. Even if we had no evidence to the contrary and believed that human association and human solidarity developed only under self-seeking motives, we can still say that the sentiments of fellow-feeling and sympathy and love that were then engendered translated humankind into a realm of autonomous morality transcending all self-seeking motivation.

Benevolence is not opposed to self-love. Far from it. Self-love is the necessary ground for all virtue. Self-love is nothing but the primitive and simple outcome of the joy of living. In a healthy environment it develops into positive and creative life-affirmation, which is the essence of all morality. A vicious person is not motivated by self-love or self-interest. More often than not, a person who wrongs others hates her/him/self more than s/he hates the one s/he wrongs. In all cases, wrongdoing stems from narrow-mindedness, from a constricted personality, from ignorance, not the philosophic ignorance that Socrates advocated, but the moral ignorance he spent his whole life combating.

It is not through knowledge of nature and mastery over nature that humanity can achieve its elusive goal. Technological wizardry, political, economic and organizational acumen may all be necessary conditions of living, especially with our ever-increasing numbers. But it is only understanding, the understanding of ourselves, of the meaning and purpose of life, of what gives life meaning and value, that can make human life worthwhile.

People are beginning to dream of changing human nature by altering our genes. Whether that is possible or not, whether that is desirable or not, I think it is both desirable and feasible to change human behaviour by altering our ideas and beliefs. Of course, before doing that, we have to agree on which ideas and beliefs are to be changed and which are to be adopted. And that is just another reason why, perhaps now more than at any other time, we need philosophy and free philosophical discussion, because only philosophy is competent to examine the wholesomeness and worth of ideas, ideals and values.

Good literature and good art are the best, the most powerful, disseminators of true values. Unfortunately, in our contemporary world, much that goes by the name of literature and art is pernicious because it does not spring from love, does not spring from genuine spontaneous creativity, but from those very false attachments and delusions that it is the task of true literature and true art to remove.

Understanding can change Earth into Heaven — this was my childhood faith and it remains the cardinal article of my religion at the close of my life. But are all people capable of attaining this understanding, this Socratic 'knowledge'? I believe, Yes. As strongly, as unwaveringly, as naively as Socrates, I believe in the perfectibility of humankind. All undeformed minds are capable of flowering into the understanding that makes men good and happy. By a proper education that begins at the mother's breast, fortified by good example and sympathetic handling, nurtured with all forms of beauty, nourished by imaginative representations of fine ideas and ideals — in a healthy atmosphere where these ideas and ideals prevail: aye, there's the rub! for to clear the corrupting influences that infest all human society today is the Herculean task that the combined efforts of women and men of goodwill may not be equal to, so that the utter and final destruction of civilization – perhaps of the very existence of humankind – seems a much more likely outcome than the salvation of humanity .. (I know that I have left my sentence gaping at a chasm; let it be, for such is the state of humanity's fate!)

Life can be beautiful, to humanity at large and to individual human beings. It may be overwhelmed by tragedy and beset with calamities; the heart may be wrung with grief; and yet life can remain pure and beautiful and worthwhile. Why is it then that for most people it is never, and for all people not always, that? It is because of human stupidity and folly and want of understanding.

If I thought for a moment that my optimistic portrayal of human nature would dampen our revulsion and horror at the atrocities perpetrated all around us in the world, I would not have permitted myself to give voice to these views. My hope is that, if we are convinced of the goodness of human nature, that would shore the fortitude necessary to keep up the fight.

The situation of humanity at the turn of the twenty-first century can be summed up as follows: Humanity is now very rich in knowledge, with unlimited prospects of progress in that direction at an unprecedented tempo; at the same time, it is miserably poor in wisdom; not only is it not advancing in that direction, but it seems to be forfeiting much of the tentative gain it had made in past ages, and the path of progress is foggy and uncharted and those who claim to have some idea as to how to tread it are all at loggerheads with one another and often actively at one another's throats. It is a situation that is no less catastrophic than it is tragic.

And the remedy? I have no better claim than anyone else to the possession of the answer, but in such a situation every person must stand up and be counted. This is no time for fake modesty. The remedy, as I see it, is nothing but the old Socratic proceeding: to take hold of a hefty broom to sweep off the junk that clutters our minds and take a good candid look at our inner reality — at our soul in its nakedness.