by Witty Ludwig
Having taken a break from any “serious” thinking for a while now, I recently started reading a book I purchased some time ago that contains the University notes of Alice Ambrose and Margaret Macdonald; notes taken during Wittgenstein’s lectures between 1932 and 1935. As I have nothing of any interest to say at the moment– since I still haven’t digested or returned to my earlier thoughts on philosophical grammar concerning ethics / ‘God’ etc.– I thought I would share this excerpt if only for the purpose of breaking me out of my inaction. It is good, though, isn’t it, simply to enjoy life rather than dwelling on this sort of subject matter.
’28 Let us look at the grammar of ethical terms, and such terms as “God”, “soul”, “mind”, “concrete”, “abstract”. One of the chief troubles is that we take a substantive to correspond to a thing. Ordinary grammar does not forbid our using a substantive as though it stood for a physical body. The words “soul” and “mind” have been used as though they stood for a thing, a gaseous thing. “What is the soul?” is a misleading question, as are questions about the words concrete and abstract”, which suggests an analogy with solid and gaseous instead of with a chair and with permission to sit on a chair. Another muddle consists in using the phase “another kind” after the analogy of “a different kind of chair”, e.g., that transfinite numbers are another kind of number than rationals, or unconscious thoughts a different kind of thought from conscious ones. The difference in the case of the latter pair is not analogous to that between a chair we see and a chair we don’t see. The word “thought” is used differently when prefaced by these adjectives. What happens with the words “God” and “soul” is what happens with the word “number”. Even though we give up explaining these words ostensively, by pointing, we don’t give up explaining them in substantival terms. The reason people say that a number is a scratch on a blackboard is the desire to point to something. No sort of process of pointing is connected with explaining “number”, any more than it is with explaining “permission to sit in a seat in a theatre”.
Luther said that theology is the grammar of the word “God”. I interpret this to mean that an investigation of the word would be a grammatical one. For example, people might dispute about how many arms God had, and someone might enter the dispute by denying that one could talk about arms of God. This would throw light on the use of the word.* What is ridiculous or blasphemous also shows the grammar of the word.’
* My thought that springs to mind: And this difference, this clash of grammars, is indicative of different cultures; or not even this much but of different ways of life.