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Do you think that Wittgenstein knew he was a genius before people started

Do you think that Wittgenstein knew he was a genius before people started telling him what they thought about the Tractatus? I'm sure that Wittgenstein thought he was a genius before that, but too many people (especially teenaagers, I guess) think they are geniuses. :-) What I mean is to ask if Wittgenstein had enough reason to think he was a genius before reasonable people started tell him things that gave him reason to think that he was.

He did not seem initially to have thought that he was a genius at philosophy and required confirmation from colleagues before he was prepared to concentrate on it. On the other hand, he obviously had a pretty firm idea of his own talent at a variety of intellectual activities. He also had an income and a supportive family which made the pursuit of what interested him possible.

Your question is about the notion of the genius whom no-one appreciates in his or her lifetime, but who nonetheless has a strong sense of their genius.This must always be possible, since there are cases where an individual is the best judge of the work being created, perhaps it is so ahead of its time or out of sync with the culture out of which it emerged. On the other hand, it is worth the individual being aware of the likelihood of self-deception on this issue. It is all too easy to interpret not being very good at something as being a misunderstood genius. That is perhaps why Wittgenstein sought the advice and opinions of others before he felt it was worth concentrating on philosophy.

I'm having trouble appreciating Kant's moral philosophy. According to him an

I'm having trouble appreciating Kant's moral philosophy. According to him an action is bad if we can't universalize it as a maxim of human behavior. Under that way of thinking being gay is bad because if everyone was gay nobody would have any babies and that means you are willing the non-existence of the human race which would be a contradiction if you want to exist. So I guess bisexuality is okay but being a monk isn't. The reasoning seems absolutely bonkers if you are gay whether from choice or from nature there is no reason to surmise that you think everyone has to be gay. If Kants moral philosophy is so lame I must admit that it prejudices me against his whole philosophical system. Is there any reason why I should give Kant's ethics more credit?

On one version of the Categorical Imperative, we're told to act only on maxims (roughly, principles of action) that we could will to be universal laws. That may or may not be the right way to think about morality; I don't have a settled opinion. However, there are philosophers who think Kant had the theory right, but fell down in applying it. Kant thought that lying is always wrong; whether the Categorical Imperative requires this is less clear. The question is whether there's a way of formulating an acceptable maxim that allows for lying in some circumstances. Kant's argument to the contrary isn't entirely convincing, to say the least.

The case of homosexuality is arguably a case in point -- or more accurately, the case of homosexual sex may be a case in point. Kant thought, far as I know, that homosexual acts are always wrong. But when someone who's homosexual by orientation acts on that orientation, it's pretty implausible that their maxim, universalized, requires that heterosexuals have homosexual sex.

This suggests a different problem for Kantianism: not that it demands morally screwy conclusions, but that at least some formulations of the categorical imperative may not provide much guidance. The first version of the categorical imperative calls for a certain sort of consistency, but consistency alone may not get us very far. The requirement that we never treat anyone as a mere means but also as an end in themselves may have more content. Once again, Kant seems to have thought that this version rules out homosexual sex (and masturbation, and extra-marital sex), but once again, we can doubt that Kant is the best guide to what the principle entails.

Did Socrates and Plato believe in any of the Myths of their time?Kaly

Did Socrates and Plato believe in any of the Myths of their time? Kaly

This question needs to be narrowed down before it can be answered usefully. First, everyone speaking of ancient Greek religion has to bear in mind the complex relationship between that religion as a whole and the myths that -- to modern readers -- are its most famous element. Second, while it's not hard to answer the question as it asks about "any" of the myths (the answer is "Yes"), one comes to know Socrates and Plato better by trying to find out how many of the myths they might have believed, or which ones.

First, the relationship between myths and religion. Modern religions tend to be organized around beliefs, not only general doctrinal beliefs (e.g. "God exists") but also beliefs about events ("Jesus was crucified and resurrected"). So modern readers tend to gravitate toward the most visible beliefs in ancient religion, which are the myths or stories about what their gods did. The great poems of Homer and Hesiod contain many of those myths; Socrates and Plato would have heard more through other poems, such as those of Pindar and Bacchylides, and would have seen tragedies based on yet other myths. It seems that hymns about the gods and goddesses, including but not limited to the Homeric Hymns, were performed by choruses of young people, in a city like Athens, so that on numerous occasions during the year the public would have heard recitations of divine actions.

Religious practice, however, did not have to include recitation of myths. The standard religious practice was the sacrifice, normally the sacrifice of an animal but sometimes of such vegetable products as a honey cake; and these rituals could be carried out without anyone's stating or discussing a myth. So the first distinction to be drawn is between myths, many of which our philosophers did not believe in, and religious practices, which all the evidence suggests they did participate in. For instance, we see Socrates in Plato's _Symposium_ pouring out a splash of wine to Zeus the Savior, as the Athenians and other Greeks customarily did before drinking wine themselves. This was a religious practice toward which neither Socrates nor Plato expresses any skepticism.

Plato's _Republic_, for all its revolutionary proposals about Greek society and culture, likewise seems to assume the continuation of religious practice as it was known. There is talk of sacrifices in the new city that the philosophers are founding; and the highest authority remains the oracle at Delphi.

So, if you are asking "Was Plato religious?" then even though that word "religious" does not correspond exactly to anything in ancient Greek culture, nevertheless one can answer "Yes," inasmuch as "being religious" had more to do with participating in traditional rituals and practices than in believing this or that claim about the gods.

But suppose we don't want to know about religious practice. We want to know: Did these philosophers believe a word of the myths they had heard? Again, asking whether they believed "any" myths makes the question too easy to answer. There are enough references to specific myths scattered throughout the dialogues to imply that at least some of the myths passed muster with the philosophers. For instance, in Book 2 of the _Republic_ Socrates reviews what stories the children may hear about gods in the ideal city, and his discussion makes clear that quite a few traditional stories are worth keeping and retelling. Zeus judges the souls of the dead, punishing the wicked and rewarding the just. The great technological inventions that human beings possess were given to them by the gods. Such wholesome tales are to be repeated in earnest, so that the young may grow up with a pious sense of gratitude toward their divine benefactors.

More famously, Socrates speaks out in Plato's dialogues against those myths he refuses to believe. Relevant passages include Plato's _Euthyphro_ and the aforementioned Book 2 of the _Republic_. Any stories about the gods' quarreling with one another, or lying to human beings, or changing shape, or being overwhelmed by lust, or sleeping with one another's spouses, strike the Socrates we find in Plato's dialogues as unseemly, and impossible of containing truth. (If the truth in them is something allegorical, they still need to be suppressed, because the typical young listener cannot tell the difference between a symbolic meaning and the superficial narrative.)

In rejecting such myths both Socrates and Plato seem to be following the lead of the earlier philosopher Xenophanes. Xenophanes had no patience with the anthropomorphism in Greek religion. It was bad enough, from his point of view, that human beings pictured their gods in human form, with arms and legs, desires and emotions; far worse was the shabby morality those gods seemed to follow. Zeus repeatedly raped young mortal women, who then found themselves hounded and tormented by his jealous wife Hera. How could the king of the gods participate in such horrid injustice?

Plato apparently agrees with the critique. He has Socrates confess he cannot believe in such stories. They couldn't possibly be true, if the gods are to be (as we claim to believe them to be) perfectly powerful and honest and good. Some storyteller must have lied about the gods. The falsehood is not at all the falsehood that modern unbelievers experience. An atheist today is likely to say that religion is just far-fetched, or without evidence; atheism begins with epistemology. The Socratic and Platonic disbelief presupposes genuine belief that the gods exist, and only a refusal to agree that they could behave in such ungodlly manner.

Do you think that either Plato or Aristotle are able to show that there is a

Do you think that either Plato or Aristotle are able to show that there is a human function, that in order to be happy we need to fullfil this function and that being virtuous will help us do so? Thank you.

There are a lot of excellent questions here, and each one of them -- being excellent -- deserves a longer answer than I can give. But let me skip over the first part and move on to the rest.

First of all, it's not that being virtuous will help us fulfill the human function, in the way that eating broccoli will help us be nourished. On both Plato's and Aristotle's views, if there is a human function, then human virtue simply consists in the fulfillment of that function. The function of a knife is to cut, and sharpness enables the knife to cut well, so sharpness is the knife's virtue. Sharpness does not help the knife cut well; rather, the cutting well is constituted by the virtue of sharpness.

The happiness is trickier. It is true that for both Plato and Aristotle happiness requires the fulfillment of the human function. What a lot of philosophers debate is exactly how these philosophers think the connection works. Is happiness simply equivalent to performing the human function? Or does the human function order the soul in some way that creates the condition of happiness? The connection is more clear and explicit in Plato (especially the Republic), but also often more implausible. How exactly Aristotle takes the arrival at happiness to work is harder to say, and more frequently disputed, even if it seems more believable than Plato would have it.

Above all there is your first question. Is there a human function? Modern thought veers decisively away from this idea. Of course there are things that all human beings do: walk, talk, play games, digest food, sleep, reproduce ... Those could all be called human functions. But as a knife has a specific function, that which it does best and which nothing else does as well, so too "function" in the sense that matters to ethical reasoning has to be something specific to the human. What is it that we do that no other animals do? That question already is remarkably hard to answer. Biology and anthropology have accumulated evidence making almost all generalizations shaky.

For most philosophers who argue from the human function, the first step is the human faculty of reason. There are things we can do mentally that no other species seems able to do; or, when some very bright dolphins and chimpanzees to achieve a version of what we do, they perform that task (compared to human beings) very imperfectly. But in the first place, what exactly human reasoning is, how it works, has not been thoroughly understood by psychologists and other researchers.

And a second objection is more telling. Both Plato and Aristotle come close to implying that intellectual expertise correlates with virtue. Plato especially intellectualizes virtue (equating it with the practice of philosophy) to such a degree as to make it more plausible that the animal that reasons most must also be the most virtuous. Most people by this date in history have seen too many counter-examples to trust that intelligence will also lift the person into virtue. Cognitive ability is just too far off from the kind of thinking that goes into ethical behavior.

This is probably too bad. Speaking for myself, I find something hopeful in Plato's and Aristotle's quest for a human function that grounds virtue. In most general terms, they are saying: let's find out what kind of animal the human is, and then we'll know how to live. If I am a good watchdog I will practice barking at the arrival of strangers; a good parrot will be one that repeats what humans say to it; and likewise a good human being will perform the acts that define the human essence. This is the opposite of the view expressed in the movie "Babe," in which a pig dreams of being a dog and doing a dog's shepherding work. Both Plato and Aristotle would take offense at that film. "A pig should live a pig's life. Let the dog be the dog!" We don't think people ought to live like rats or be shy as mice. Humans should lead human lives. It's an uplifting slogan, and if we could say in terms that everyone agreed to what a human life is, then the study of the human could give us the basis of ethical principles.

Unfortunately the history of philosophy is littered with unsuccessful attempts to spell out the human essence. It is not likely that anyone any time soon will state the defining human function in uncontroversial terms. In this sense it's clearest that no, neither Plato nor Aristotle could show that there is a human function.

According to Heidegger philosophy has never really asked what we mean by "Being"

According to Heidegger philosophy has never really asked what we mean by "Being". According to him we ask what the essence of this or that form of being is but we never concern ourselves with being proper. Perhaps what Heidegger means or alludes to in this question is the idea that the very fact of being is in some way the very essence of being. This reminds me of Fichte's idea of the fact of consciousness rather than a principle of consciousness as the starting point of philosophy. And yet this fact of being just like the fact of consciousness is mysterious and elusive, while paradoxically present, and hence suppressed by a reductive urge within philosophy. Yet, I'm kind of skeptical about Heidegger claim of a suppression within philosophy of the question of being. It seems as if the question of being was first made problematic far further in the German tradition than Heidegger, as early as Kant, if its not something that has always been with philosophy. Kant argued very much like Heidegger, I think,...

Well, you raise a whole series of fascinating issues in your question. I'll just focus on the claim Heidegger makes, and not direct myself to either Fichte or Kant.

What does Heidegger mean in claiming that the question of the meaning of Being has rarely if every been asked? I wouldn't say that he means that the question has been 'supressed' -- in the way free speech is supressed in a totalitarian regime. Rather, he means that the question has always been raised only with respect to some limited frame of reference, where that frame is determined by other philosophical commitments. A theological frame of reference understands Being only as either creator or created; the frame of reference of mathematics yields a conception of Being as substance; a technological frame of reference understands Being (including the human) only as the availability or otherwise of resources; and so forth.

The other point worth making is that although the above discussion makes Heidegger sound as though he is profoundly dismissive of previous philosophers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of Heidegger's work comprises very careful and scholarly (though often enough controversial) workings through of texts from the history of philosophy, from the pre-Socratics through to the relatively recent. In each case, the name of the game is to find those moments when the question of Being itself is indeed asked, but then gets immediately covered-over or interpreted away according to the demands of the frame of reference (as we termed it above). This is what Heidegger, in an unfortunate choice of words, calls the 'destruction' of the history of ontology. This procedure is a kind of reading philosophy against the grain, so as to bring into relief questions that were nearly asked, and types of thinking that were not, but could be, used to raise the question in the present.

Anachronism aside, can Socrates be considered an analytic philosopher?

Anachronism aside, can Socrates be considered an analytic philosopher?

Thank you for your question. If analytic philosophy is understood as a way of engaging with philosophical questions that emphasizes clarity, rigor, and the giving of reasons for what one asserts, then Socrates has a good claim to count as an analytic philosopher. On the other hand, if analytic philosophy is construed as a logic-chopping activity obsessed with definitions and minute distinctions, then Socrates would probably not count as an analytic philosopher. I would like to think that analytic philosophy is better described by the first rather than the second account, though I admit that to outsiders, the second account may seem apt. More important, we see Socrates in many dialogues challenging his interlocutors to clarify themselves, to give arguments for their views (and he gives plenty of his own), and to face up to the consequences of their positions. That is a great deal of what modern analytic philosophers aspire to. If there is a difference between Socrates' approach and what is dominant today, it is that we always see Socrates practicing philosophy in a social setting, and he never sets himself up as an author. By contrast, most contemporary analytic philosophers author works of philosophy that they intend to be read by people with whom they have no direct contact. But many of these philosophy-authors are also teachers, and when they teach they often aspire to follow Socrates' method of dialectic practiced in a group of inquirers.

Mitch Green

Why is the socratic paradox called a paradox?

Why is the socratic paradox called a paradox?

I presume this phrase refers to the "The one thing I know is that I know nothing" remark attributed to Socrates? Well, one form of paradox occurs when you are simultaneously motivated to endorse a contradiction -- i.e. both accept and reject a given proposition, or assign the truth values of both true and false to it. And that seems applicable in this case. On the one hand what Socrates is asserting is that he knows nothing (after all, if he KNOWS that he knows nothing, then since knowledge usually implies truth, it follows that he knows nothing). But then again on the other hand the very assertion seems to disprove it, since he KNOWS it, and therefore knows not nothing, but something. So he simultaneously seems to be asserting that he knows something and that he does not know something. Now you may not find this particularly paradoxical -- you might be tempted to resolve it directly (by rejecting one of the two propositions). But I suppose it's called a paradox because reasonably good cases can be made for both sides of it (even if some individual believes it can be resolved).

hope that helps--



Hello, I am reading Tolstoy's My Confession for my philosophy class and had a question about it. What does he mean when he says "What meaning has my finite existence in this infinite world"? I understand what he means by the 'finite', but what is the meaning behind the 'infinite'? Does he just mean the unknown? Thanks David

Good question. While it has been many years since I read Tolstoy's confessions, I suggest that in the passage you cite he is struggling with the apparent void or endless, apparent meaningless of life (and a universe) without God. I recall him claiming that if one really took seriously the idea that life was utterly void of meaning, the only way to live would be to be drunk most of the time! Many philosophers today disparage Tolstoy's position --they think life itself can have meaning, whether or not God exists or they reject questions about the meaning of life as somehow confused (sentences and language have meaning, but life itself?) But I think Tolstoy raises a vital, philosophically interesting set of questions and his reported discovery of meaning in relationship to God is profoundly deep and worth taking seriously. The famous 20th century Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein was very impressed by Tolstoy's thinking about life's meaning and values.

I might add that while Tolstoy's outlook evolved along Christian lines (this is perhaps most evident in his short stories which I highly recommend) and yet he was no conventional believer, but very much an advocate of internationalism rather than patriotism or nationalism, he championed a life of non-violence, he was a vegetarian on principle, he was an energetic, strident critic of the educational institutions of his time, he believed in serious land reform in Russia, and the like. He was something of a dramatic, charismatic radical in social, political, and religious matters. I highly recommend his short story about the meaning of life involving an angel who visits and stays with a poor tailer and his wife. There is a disarming charm to the stories which (unlike, say, War and Peace) might be described as fairy stories for adults (as well as children).

What did Descartes mean by saying "I think, therefore I am?"

What did Descartes mean by saying "I think, therefore I am?"

Here's a simple (maybe even simplistic!) answer:

"I think" is Descartes's first axiom.

"I am" is his first theorem.

Descartes was seeking propositions that could not be doubted. He determined that the most indubitable one was "I think", on the grounds that, even if he were being deceived and was not really thinking—if, that is, he only thought that he was thinking—then he was still thinking! (Either I am really thinking or I only think that I am thinking; in either case, I am thinking.)

He then decided that he could derive from that starting point (that axiom) the proposition that he, who was thinking, must exist in order to think.

Some of his critics have suggested that a more cautious "theorem" to derive from "I think" is: thinking is going on (not necessarily that he is thinking or that he who thinks exists).

what is the difference between Kant's "things in themselves" and Locke's

what is the difference between Kant's "things in themselves" and Locke's secondary qualities? (I don't see the "real" difference other than semantics). thanks, Todd

Secondary qualities are properties that a thing appears topossess for certain observers of this thing. On reflection, however, secondaryqualities turn out to be ways in which certain observers are affected by thething in question. Colors are an example. Colors are not genuine propertiesinherent in things but rather ways in which human beings with normal eyesightare affected by certain things they encounter. Secondary qualities are thus to be explainedby reference to both: the object with its “primary” qualities and the perceptual apparatus of a specificobserver of this object.

The doctrine of secondary qualities brings with it thethought of the object as it is apart from whatever qualities it merely appearsto possess for certain observers. You can call this the thing it itself, thething considered apart from its merely apparent, observer-dependent properties.So the two expressions you query are not at all synonymous but rathercorrelative: “thing in itself” refers to an object as it is apart from whatever(secondary) qualities it possesses only for some or all of its observers.

Locke thought that paradigm primary properties of things aretheir geometrical shape and location in space. He took these properties to beinherent in things themselves, and thus to be independent of any and everyobserver – in Kant’s phrase, Locke considered the physical objects analyzed byphysics to be things in themselves. Kant, however, disagrees with thisassessment. His hypothesis is that even the spatial and temporal properties ofobjects are observer-dependent, that these are properties that physical objectsmerely appear to possess when we encounter them with our human sensibility. On Kant’saccount, the concept of a thing in itself refers then to things considered apartfrom their secondary qualities and fromtheir spatial and temporal features.