P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue No. 190
7th January 2015
Edited by Pieter Meurs
1. 'How to understand the sense of life?' by Nicole Note
II. 'Worldviews and philosophical capital -- an exploratory
introduction' by Tom Vanwing and Pieter Meurs
III. 'Wittgenstein on 'The Realm of Ineffable'' by Manoranjan Mallick
and Vikram S. Sirola
Sense and worldview
This issue of Philosophical Pathways deals with the question of
sense. What is sense? What makes sense? What is the meaning of sense?
How do we make sense of the world?... The one who thinks to find
answers to these questions in this issue will be disappointed.
Disappointed, not only because the articles of Nicole Note, Tom
Vanwing and Pieter Meurs, Manoranjan Mallick and Vikram Sirola employ
the typical philosopher's toolbox: raising more questions rather than
giving answers. Disappointed also, because the various articles do
not stem from the same background and perspective. Sense, meaning,
world, and thought are conceived in contrasting ways and are
interpreted differently throughout the various treatments. And this
latter reason is no coincidence. In order to really open the dialogue
on sense, I have selected three essays that not only excavate
different points of view, but also start from differing premisses.
The motive for this fragmented choice lies in the idea that sense as
such can only speak for itself. There is no speech or thought that
can completely grasp or coincide with sense. Sense is precisely that
what withdraws from speech or thought. It is what creeps or sneaks in
between words. It binds words together without itself being
expressible. Maybe it is precisely this what links together the three
selected articles: the idea that words can not grasp the sense of
sense, the sense of the world.
The following articles, then, are varied explorations in what makes
sense in the world, or rather: what the world senses. In her essay
How to understand the sense of life?, Nicole Note delves into the
mysteries of meaning and sense, and how these different concepts (if
they are concepts?) are conceived within contemporary philosophy. She
finds inspiration in continental philosopher Emmanuel Levinas,
particularly his approach to the age-old topic of how to come to
terms with the fact that language or thought cannot grasp all there
is, or that there is something that ineffably defies any attempt at
The essay Worldviews and philosophical capital -- an exploratory
introduction, from Tom Vanwing and myself, is a piece which finds it
origin in the many conversations we had on the topic of sense and
worldviews and their meaning for educational settings. In the essay,
we introduce the concept of philosophical capital as a tool or
instrument for grasping the importance of questions on sense and
worldviews, in short: questions about the philosophical within the
context of education. We consider philosophy as an essential part of
education and propose philosophical capital as a means to grasp this
In their Wittgenstein on 'the realm of ineffable', Manoranjan Mallick
and Vikram Sirola investigate the way in which Wittgenstein conceived
the relation or gap between the world and the word. From a very
different perspective, they touch upon the same questions with
regards to sense as Nicole Note. They offer a transparent and
invigorating reading of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, with a specific
attention for the limits of words and thought.
In selecting these articles for this issue, I hope that I have
succeeded in putting together an interesting issue of Philosophy
Pathways. The main reason for choosing this topic and these essays
lies in the aim to do justice to sense, which means: engaging in the
struggle not to define that what appears to us as sense, but what
always already withdraws. I hope this issue can be a source of
inspiration for those who try to make sense of sense.
(c) Pieter Meurs 2015
About the editor:
I. 'HOW TO UNDERSTAND THE SENSE OF LIFE?' BY NICOLE NOTE
The following considers an aspect of meaning in life that has not yet
been taken into account in philosophical discussion. We will call it
'sense of life'. Before explaining in what its added value consists,
we should briefly discuss how philosophers usually conceive of the
field of meaning in life. Most of us tacitly share a background
understanding on the content of meaning in life, but this does not
fully overlap with recent delineations in philosophy.
Philosophers have established a small but important distinction
between the more traditional field of meaning of life and a newer
field of interest called meaning in life. Meaning of life is about
the deep and intriguing questions concerning life or existence in
general: Why is there life? Why is there a cosmos? What is the sense
of being born? What is the sense of dying? What is the sense of
cruelty and suffering? These questions concern not only us humans,
but all life on earth. However, because philosophers found there were
no straight answers to these questions, their fascination with the
subject waned. The last three decades have seen a modest revival, not
in the least because of a shift -- or rather a narrowing down -- of
its focus towards what provides meaning in the lives of people.
Indeed, unlike meaning of life, meaning in life concentrates on what
makes human life meaningful or not. We can speak of meaningful lives
when people are positively engaged in activities that they find
worthwhile (Kekes 2008) and that are considered subjectively and
objectively valuable by a large number of people (Wolf 2010). More
generally, this can be expressed as orienting our rational nature in
a positive way towards the conditions of human existence, more
particularly the lives of our fellow humans, human life as a
collective and the larger environment in which humans live (Metz
2013). Also, a meaningful existence is exemplified by the good, the
true or the beautiful (Seachris 2011; Metz 2013).
Thaddeus Metz' work is the most comprehensive on the subject to date,
covering nearly all argumentation and research done in the field of
analytic philosophy on meaning in life over the last decades. Even
so, we feel analytic philosophers have so far omitted a decisive
aspect, i.e. the aspect we introduce below and have called 'sense of
life'. (Actually, it is not yet clear how this 'aspect' should be
delineated: as an additional aspect, as a sub-domain or perhaps even
as the foundational bottom line of the entire issue at stake. To keep
things simple, we will provisionally consider it an aspect, albeit one
that is at odds with existing accounts. Also, introducing 'sense of
life' begs the question whether there is a distinction with sense in
life, parallel to the distinction between meaning of life and meaning
in life, a question that will not be answered here.) What matters now
is that the introduction of this aspect allows us to fill a perceived
lacuna in the domain. In broad lines one could claim that meaning of
life is about what-questions (what is life all about?), meaning in
life is on when-questions (when can we say human existence is
meaningful?) while sense of life enables us to look at the
how-questions, focussing on how, through sense, meaning comes about.
Although this matter is of the utmost importance, it would be beyond
the scope of this article to go into full detail here. Instead, we
will focus on how to grasp this 'sense', more specifically by
introducing one way of getting closer to it.
For a variety of reasons, it is not easy to bring up the idea of
sense of life, next to meaning of/ in life. Firstly, analytic
philosophy has set certain standards to delineate the domain but,
despite their good intentions, they also somehow have a restrictive
effect. More in particular, analytic philosophy distinguishes between
the concept of meaning in life and conceptions of it. A concept is
that which unites competing conceptions, that which makes a given
theory a theory of meaningfulness as opposed to a theory of happiness
or moral duty. To Metz, there are two clear criteria: the concept
should account for the logical possibility of supernaturalism,
subjectivism and objectivism and it should single out conditions that
fit only theories of meaning. Although our discussion of 'sense of
life' fulfils these requirements neither in substance nor in
approach, this aspect merits serious consideration for if we fail to
acknowledge it we might even fail to understand what the subject is
Secondly, contemporary philosophers writing on meaning in life stay
within the realm of analytic philosophy, while to grasp the realm of
sense, it is preferable to venture into continental philosophy. More
particularly, it is by bridging both disciplines that a fuller
understanding of the subject can be achieved. This, however, makes it
no less complicated since both traditions stem from different
backgrounds, different world views and different styles of reasoning.
As for the latter, continental philosophy is characterised by making a
point without recurring to argumentation. Continental philosophy is
not about 'proving' but about seeking insights, revealing a 'truth'
about reality that is not visible through mainstream philosophy.
What adds to the complexity of any attempts to bridge both traditions
is that while reasoning in analytic philosophy falls at least partly
within a common understanding shared by laymen, continental
philosophy's background, subject, logic and language on sense do not
but need to be skilfully mastered. This makes it harder to explain
the observations to the general public, indeed, even to analytic
philosophers, since it is not feasible to explain an entire knowledge
system within the space of a short article, as the following will
To present a preliminary broad outline of sense, we will find
inspiration in continental philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (in a rather
loose manner), particularly his approach to the age-old topic of how
to come to terms with the fact that language or thought cannot grasp
all there is, or that there is something that ineffably defies any
attempt at description. We will refer to a much simplified version of
the first part of his Totality and Infinity to develop a rough
understanding of what sense entails. Levinas is commonly known for
his ethical approach, but Totality and Infinity is read from a
different angle, leaving aside ethics. Precisely by scrutinising his
work from a contrasting perspective and through a close reading, we
can discern a very subtle distinction that has so far been overlooked
but that is vital to be able to reach an understanding of what
provides sense to life: between the world as we are aware of it
through thought, and the world that cannot be made the object of
knowledge -- which we will call hereafter the being of the existent.
The former provides meaning to life. It is the world of what we speak
of and think of. The latter provides sense , but not as one would
assume, as a world in itself and through representation, for it
cannot belong to the realm of the known world. The way it makes sense
is rather complex and we will focus on one particular instant of
coming closer to sense and how it can be revealed to us, if not
through knowledge. The distinction between both is crucial but due to
a lack of space we cannot explain it in a nuanced way here. To come
closer to sense, we will start with a possible interpretation of
Levinas' reasoning on the being of the existent, i.e. the world that
we cannot know through thought.
2. The being of the existent
The being of the existent cannot be known through thought, but it can
be known through the body. Influenced by other French thinkers such as
Merleau Ponty, Levinas argues that the body is not just an object
ordered by a transcendent mind, but embodied in the world, that is,
it has its own way of being-in-the world and thus of 'knowing' the
world, and this is not a pre-consciousness knowing. Levinas
distinguishes the mode of enjoyment, the mode of labour, the mode of
dwelling, and the mode of representation (or thought). Interestingly,
in their own particular way of knowing, they grasp the being of the
existent, if only for a fleeting moment. (In truth, 'grasping' is not
the right word, because grasping belongs to the realm of
representation, but again, there is not enough space here to present
the nuanced idiom used by Levinas).
If we take enjoyment, e.g. in nature, we can say that it can occur in
different manners. While nature has increasingly become something to
watch, to consume, to wear, it also has the potential to reveal
deeper levels. Here is an example to illustrate this. Imagine we are
standing on the border of a lake, eyes closed, a gentle breeze all
around us. We are totally absorbed by the sensation, let go, lose
ourselves in it. At that moment, we are -- as Levinas puts it -- 'in
the bowels of being', we are enjoyment. Now, what should be noted
here is that, at that moment, enjoyment is our consciousness and way
of knowing. It is distinctive from any rational reflecting on what a
breeze is and how it affects us. Also, we cannot be in both positions
at the same time, we cannot simultaneously enjoy and reflect on the
enjoyment; both modes are mutually exclusive. Being in the bowels of
being is at that moment 'knowing' the being of the existent in the
form of contentment, and to Levinas this should not be considered
pre-conscious (hence a lesser form of knowledge). This knowing makes
sense to us.
As indicated, in the modes of labour and dwelling we are also in
touch with the being of the existent. However, for our purpose it is
more interesting to consider the mode of representation or content
thought right away. While the being of the existent can supposedly
only be known through the body, we still need representation to come
closer to sense in a way that surpasses body and thought. In order to
fathom what this entails, we will briefly explain how representation
manages to neutralise the being of the existent, and subsequently,
that it is through the interruption of this neutralisation that we
can again come closer to it.
Levinas, hinting at Descartes' clear and distinct ideas, considers
that representation (or intelligibility) is a total adequation of the
intentional act (noesis) and the object of representation (noemata).
To representation, there is no longer an object, strictly speaking;
as pure spontaneity, representation projects and considers its
projection objective, representing this to itself. Certainly,
although this may seem one great illusion, it is also
representation's strength, for its unlimited creativity provides
meaning to the being of the existent. Through representation, the
world is found as meaning given.
Yet, even if the being of the existent (the world that we cannot know
through thought) has been 'swallowed up' by representation, so to
speak -- both have become virtually inseparable, there remains an
imperceptible, infinitesimal distinction between the two. The deep
reason behind the distinction is -- one that we can only refer to
without further explanation -- that the I of representation
determines; it is present, while the being of the existent is being
determined; it is present to the I. There is no full reciprocity,
leaving an unnoticeable gap between both. From this gap or opening,
sense reaches us.
Sense reaches us all the time without our noticing this because it is
overruled by meaning belonging to thought and representation. Yet
there are moments in daily life when representation is interrupted,
more particularly, when we are moved. Again, how to understand 'being
moved' calls for a nuanced explanation, which, regrettably, cannot be
provided within the scope of this article. We therefore simply note
that 'being moved' is used in a generic sense, referring to both
appealing and appalling moments or situations. To understand the
nature of these interruptions, we will now turn to one of Levinas's
Levinas is not interested in the being of the existent, but in what I
will call for this purpose 'the being of the Other's existence' (or,
in his own terminology, the face; the otherwise than being, beyond
essence, that which we cannot know through knowledge). When we become
'aware' of the face of the Other, meaning-making will be interrupted,
if only for a fleeting moment. As Levinas puts it, the face is the
epiphany of the Other, and through it, we strongly feel both the
proximity and the distance of the other person. In everyday language:
as we look at the person in front of us, we are forming images about
that person, we simply have to. This is the meaning created by
representation. Yet there are encounters in which the face of the
Other shines through its 'plastic', as Levinas puts it. We experience
these kinds of encounters at moments when we are moved. For instance,
we may be moved by a beggar's open and non-defensive look into our
eyes, at which instance any predefined image we had of her will be
questioned. Levinas describes this as a being questioned by the Other
-- our image is questioned because we experience the irreducible
otherness of the Other -- the being of existence of the Other which
is not their 'essence'. To Levinas, this very interruption (the
questioning) is ethics. It creates a distance. Yet, finding ourselves
in this moment, we likewise come closer to the other person than we
usually do -- there is a proximity.
Levinas concentrates on what happens between people because to him
the interruption of meaning-making is most radical at that point. As
we see it, however, we can also be moved by a painting, a bird's
song, the silence of the wood (which are experiences that Levinas
considers secondary to being moved by the face). At these instances,
our representation is interrupted (there is a distance to
representation) and we find ourselves in the gap or opening of sense
(experienced as a proximity).
Being in this opening of sense is paramount, because -- at least at
the moment we are moved -- it inspires without providing answers. The
key challenge is, of course, to explain what this entails. To give a
necessarily concise answer, logically speaking, being in the opening
of sense cannot provide answers (in terms of meaning) for if it is an
interruption of signification, of meaning-making, then it is also void
of meaning. Yet, despite this void, that which had an impact on us
apparently already has an 'evaluative sense' -- it moved us! And here
is another major challenge: although we admittedly use 'evaluative' to
describe this sense, no moral purpose is implied, for morality
definitely has its place in the realm of meaning, and there is no
morality or meaning in a void. It is rather in the sense that we
comprehend that 'something' (that which is there in front of us and
moves us (in its passive sense)) genuinely 'matters', e.g. the beauty
of a painting (without ever being able to describe in words what
beauty 'is'), the fragility of an elderly person, the horror of a
piano being burned in wartime, the cruelty of man towards animals.
Being moved, as an interruption, as a breaking point, modulates at
that same instance into a lead point. That is why it makes sense.
That is what provides sense to life.
And yet, the situation is even more complex. Standing in the opening
of sense is standing in a void of signification, yet, paradoxically,
it is also always finding oneself in the midst of meaning made by
representation, for we are always moved in certain contexts. The
context may be a situation of beauty, truth, good, and belonging, but
also circumstances that are a painful display of their absence. Again,
somehow we feel that what we are experiencing is important (beauty
matters, and so does the destruction of beauty) but the moment itself
does not provide any clue as to what to do with it next. And so we
attempt to find out in the realm of signification, through reason and
argumentation; we try to build theories of art, beauty, morality, and
we even reflect on theories of meaning in life. We produce theories
of 'truth' that invariably -- and eternally -- will be challenged by
4. Attentive affectability
A pertinent question that has so far been left unanswered is, If
there is a void (and thus no representation is possible), how then
can we fathom what is happening at that moment? Is this not a
contradiction? The question is a legitimate one, and again, odd as it
may seem, we can either accept the answer or not. I believe though
that through subtle introspection we can all come to realise that the
description is adequate. Drawing on Levinas's two major works, I
account for it in terms of attentive affectability. In Totality and
Infinity, Levinas introduces a 'surplus of attention', i.e. a
condition in which we are able to comprehend without signification.
Since he had a religious background (he was Jewish), he expressed
this in terms of a revelation of the face making an appeal to which
we are attentive, prior to our possibility of affirming or denying
it, or even expressing it. Phenomenologically, I follow this, without
adhering to his religious stance. In Otherwise than Being, Levinas
claims that the questioning leaves a scruple in our conatus essendi,
so that as subjects we are never fully closed but already and
irrevocably open to the Other, and through this, also to the world.
We are always already subjected to the Other, hence our
affectability. Next to enjoyment, dwelling, labour and
representation, attentive affectability can be regarded as an
additional mode or consciousness of knowing the being of the existent.
This article began by pointing out that at this stage it is not clear
whether we should consider sense an aspect, a subdomain, or even a
bottom line issue. In the course of the article, the depth of its
function was revealed and with it, our inclination to consider it a
decisive and even prerequisite element in order to understand the
issue of meaning in life.
Indeed, we indicated one distinctive way of being in the opening of
sense, but, as we also explained, through the gap, sense always
reaches us. If it is inspiring, the way we assume it is, then it
might well be that each and every meaning is at least partially
dependent on sense; sense inspiring us in order to find, each time
again, a signification or meaning to that which inspires us. It is a
thesis whose development and fine-tuning definitely require further
reading (e.g. the works of Jean-Luc Nancy) and reflection.
Kekes, John. 2008. 'The Meaning of Life'. in The Meaning of Life. A
reader. Edited by E.D. Klemke and Steven M. Cahn. The meaning of
life. A reader. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd
edition, pp. 239-258.
Levinas Emmanuel. 2002 Totality and Infinity . trans. Alfonso Lingis
16th ed. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press.
Levinas Emmanuel. 1991, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence.
Kluwer Academic Press.
Seachris Joshua. 2011. The Meaning of Life: The Analytic Perspective.
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/mean-ana/
Susan Wolf, 2010, Meaning in Life and Why It Matters. Princeton and
Oxford: Princeton University Press.
(c) Nicole Note 2015
Postdoctoral Fellow FWO
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Center for Interdisciplinary Studies Leo Apostel
II. 'WORLDVIEWS AND PHILOSOPHICAL CAPITAL -- AN EXPLORATORY
INTRODUCTION' BY TOM VANWING AND PIETER MEURS 
Since Hegel's analysis of weltanschauung the concept of 'worldview'
has received a variety of implementations relating to a shared and
encompassing cultural comprehension of and by a community in a given
period and society. Worldviews can best be described as the
various ways in which people imagine or represent their (social)
existence, how they fit together with others, how things in the world
go on. They are (meta)physical systems of dispositions that
function as principles that generate and organize representations and
practices. Implicitly and explicitly, worldviews give meaning to our
everyday relation with the world and the other. With regards to
people's most important beliefs and faiths, worldviews enter the
domain of lifestances: what really drives people, what grounds their
being and what is the main-spring of their attack in life? From a
religious and ideological point of view, such questions can be
answered rather unambiguously and straightforwardly. However, due to
(post)modern evolutions in science and its accompanying
secularization of society, the foundation and legitimation of such
grand narratives are increasingly and extensively discredited.
Furthermore, the expanding globalization of the world entails a
far-reaching diversification of and confrontation between various
belief systems. Indeed, if anything, contemporary society can no
longer claim an exclusive and univocal kosmotheoros, a single theory
about the world. This alleged decline of general and common frames
of reference for the guidance of our daily actions seems a non
sequitur however: while from a philosophical and scholarly stance,
the use of a world-picture or a worldview as the absolute foundation
of everyday praxis is discredited, in global socio-cultural
contexts these frames of reference easily gather power for groups
with ideological inspiration (religious, political, ...). In a global
setting, due to an increasing globalized interconnectedness and its
unprecedented degree of people with different religious and
lifestance backgrounds, the tangibility of this strange non sequitur
is evermore present: the idea that the finite reach of such
worldviews and lifestances is sociologically and philosophically
acknowledged contrasts strongly with the way in which these frames of
reference all too easily seem to gather terrific power in local
contexts. Every day our world witnesses the further rise of
religious, political and economic radicalism, unfortunately often
with dramatic scenes and results. A 'clash of civilizations' seems
to be practically on our doorstep.
Philosophy as education
Considered from a global educational perspective, this situation
necessitates new forms of understanding. Such forms of understanding
is the domain of philosophy. Indeed, it is philosophy that offers
hermeneutical or deconstructive possibilities. It raises questions
and proffers answers. Unfortunately, philosophy today is often
confused with its simple singular: a philosophy. All too often,
people relate to philosophy as if it were a set of beliefs or a frame
of reference, as if it were the same as a worldview. Philosophy in the
first place however, refers to the literary irony of our beliefs or
worldviews rather than to the discursive truth of that belief or
view. In this sense then, philosophy is absolutely not the same as a
worldview: it does not refer to a (world)view, but rather to the act
of viewing. It does not picture a world, but investigates the
conditions and legitimation of such picturing. As such, it is the
raison d'etre of a worldview and at the same time it sets the limits
of that view. Philosophy first and foremost refers to the logic of
such a view and to its contingency, to its truths and to its
fallacies. It offers nothing more than the building blocks from which
a worldview is built. In an age in which we experience a clash of
worldviews or the limited tenability of a coherent and consistent
worldview, philosophy is evermore necessary, specifically within an
educational perspective. As one of the most vital sinews of
education, philosophy offers new forms of understanding: it
questions, guides, or, in short: it e-ducates (literally: 'to lead
out' or 'to reach out'; hence the emphasised spelling). Philosophy is
what makes education about liberating or displacing our worldview, and
not about arriving at a liberated view. It incorporates the most
crucial movement of education: showing other possibilities, showing
alternatives. Philosophy is nothing other than the essence of
education. It offers us the possibility for another view on things.
It leads us out of our own worldview.
Although the media mainly report about the negative issues of the
growing clash of civilizations, within the field of education there
is an increasing number of initiatives that try to focus on the
positive aspects of these differences. Ever since 'globalization' has
become a word to describe the state of the world, we can see a
heightened attention for inter-lifestance dialogue and worldview
education. Also, in its Recommendation on Education and Religion
of 2005, the Parliamentary Assembly of the council of Europe states
that 'a good general knowledge of religions and the resulting sense
of tolerance are essential to the exercise of democratic
citizenship'. The Toledo Guiding Principles of the Organization for
Security and Co-Operation in Europe in 2007 concurringly adhere to
two core principles: 'first, that there is positive value in teaching
that emphasizes respect for everyone's right to freedom of religion
and belief, and second, that teaching about religions and beliefs can
reduce harmful misunderstandings and stereotypes'.
It is clear that philosophy has a crucial role to play within
lifestance and worldview-education. Or rather: that is elementary to
such teaching. Not only does it make it possible to critically assess
various worldviews , it also grasps the core of what such
Education about worldviews, lifestances and inter-lifestance dialogue
is increasingly considered to be valuable for various institutions.
Such engagement at the very least can inform and/ or can alter the
way one deals with the world on a daily basis. Education about
lifestances and worldviews often allow the individual to get their
minds around certain things or to look upon the world from a
different perspective. In a way, it offers coping strategies for an
ever changing world. Indeed, there is a personal as well as
educational or emancipatory value connected to lifestances and
worldviews. It makes it possible for the individual to alter his/ her
way of life, its stance, its priorities: its value(s). In this sense,
one might be tempted to draw an analogy with the famous concept of
social capital. According to Putnam, social capital refers to the
relationships (friends, neighbors, strangers, ...), to social networks
and to the mutual bonds between people. It refers to the social
value and the cooperative power of people. It helps people in dealing
with problems through mutual relations. Social capital means
relationships have value in themselves. One could say a similar thing
about the education in worldview and lifestance-aspects: knowledge
about and engagement with worldviews can have value in itself. In
this sense, we could speak about philosophical capital. Philosophical
capital refers to the means, value and knowledge of an individual of
(his own) lifestances, worldviews or ethos/ ethics, in such a way it
allows the individual to address his/ her (and other's) being anew.
It refers to the actual and potential resources coming from an
engagement with and education of one's own and other's views of the
world. The crucial and emancipatory value of philosophical capital
lies in the fact that worldviews or lifestances are not considered as
discursive truths, but as ironic displays of the world and of life.
They are prone to alteration and adaptation in such a way they offer
the individual another look upon the world: it is the key to
e-ducation. In this sense, philosophical capital is nothing other
than the premise of education.
One could summarize the idea of philosophical capital by means of the
deconstructive touching that lies hidden in the word world-view.
Contrary to the hermeneutic circle, wherein the process of
understanding is established through an increasing clarifying
dialectic of its different parts ('world' and 'view'), the
deconstructive touch makes sense through the limits of each part.
World and view touch upon each other in so far as they do not
converge with each other. World and view are the exact opposites of
each other: a world is everything that exists, a view is nothing but
a view of the world. We draw upon the analysis Heidegger makes in his
The age of the world picture here. According to Heidegger, a view
of the world, is nothing more than a simple representation of that
world. In imagining the world, a worldview does not simply evoke a
picture of the world, but implies the conception and grasping of the
world as picture. And this implies that 'what is, in its entirety, is
now taken in such a way that it first is in being and only is in being
to the extent that it is set up by man, who represents and sets
forth'. However, the world is always already there before one can
have a view about it. As such, 'world' always already touches upon the
limits of a certain view. It indicates a view is always restricted and
cannot grasp or see the whole world. 'View' on the other hand, touches
the world, renders it visible, but only in so far as it touches. One
has to consider worldview in a deconstructive sense. It is there
where the educational value of philosophical capital emerges: within
the limits of a worldview.
Conclusion: towards the exploration of philosophical capital?
In the above, we have touched upon the possible meaning and
importance of philosophical capital. We believe it is an important
concept that could enhance the way in which we deal with the world.
However, as a tool, it would bring us further than mere
understanding: it would resonate with Marx's famous 11th thesis on
Feuerbach: 'the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in
various ways; the point is to change it'. Indeed, when
philosophical capital would be used as a tool in education and
teaching, it could offer the possibility for people to change their
world. Much more work and research is required to investigate how
philosophical capital could be used as a concrete tool or instrument
of measurement for the educational sciences. We should investigate
the idea of philosophical capital and focus on the question how we
should understand the role of and relation with worldviews for our
daily interaction with the other and with the world. As an initial
inquiry into the social scope and impact of the everyday
philosophical in people's lives, this paper has introduced the
concept of philosophical capital.
1. Dr. Tom Vanwing is a professor at the Educational Sciences
department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB). Dr. Pieter Meurs
is affiliated with the Centre Leo Apostel of the VUB. This article
came into being through various conversations between the two.
2. Hegel, G.F. (2005) The phenomenology of mind. New York: Cosimo.
3. Aerts, D., Broekaert, J., D'Hooghe, B., and Note, N. (2012)
Worldview, science and us. London: WSP; Apostel, L. (1994)
Wereldbeelden: Ontologie en Ethiek, Tweede Vrijzinnige Conferentie,
H.V. ism H.V.V.; Meurs, P. (2012)The bodily excess of a worldview:
beyond a theoretical account of the world. In: Aerts, D et al.
Worldviews, Science and Us. London: WSP; Naugle, D. (2002) Worldview:
the history of a concept. Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
4. H. V. Stopes-Roe, (1976), The concept of a 'life stance' in
education. In: Learning for Living, Vol. 16, Issue 1. From hereon we
will use lifestance as a shared label to describe both religious as
non-religious worldviews, p. 25
5. Nancy, J.-L. (1993) Le sens du monde. Paris: Galilee. Also see
Meurs, P., Note, N., Aerts, D. (2009) This world without another. On
Jean-Luc Nancy and la mondialisation. In: Journal of Critical
Globalisation Studies, issue 1, pp. 31-46.
6. See Heidegger, M. (1977) The age of the world picture. In: The
question concerning technology and other essays. New York: Harper
Torchbooks; Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The postmodern condition.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; Nancy, J.-L. (1993) Le
sens du monde. Paris: Galilee
7. The rise of IS (Islamic State) and Boko Haram, the everlasting
conflict between Israel and Palestine, ...
8. Huntington, S.P. (1997) The clash of civilizations and the
remaking of world order. London: Pocket Books; Barber, B. (2003)
Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism's challenge to democracy. London: Corgi
9. Meurs, P. (2012) Education as praxis: a corporeal hermeneutical
account. In: Meta. Research in hermeneutics, phenomenology, and
practical philosophy. Vol. IV, n. 2, pp. 363-376.
10. Knitter, P.F. (1990) Interreligious Dialogue: What? Why? How? In:
Swidler L., Cobb J.B., Knitter, P.F. and Hellwig M.K. (eds.) Death or
dialogue? From the age of monologue to the age of dialogue. London:
SCM Press; Kalliath, A. (2002) Editorial. A renewed call to
interreligious dialogue. In: Journal of Dharma, 27 (1); Swidler, L.
and Mojzes, P. (2000). The study of religion in an age of global
dialogue. Philadelphia: Temple University Press; Basset, J.-C. (1996)
Le dialogue interreligieux, Paris: les Editions du Cerf.
11. Elias, W. (1998) Herders zonder God noch meester, of hoe
'mondigheid' ook retoriek impliceert. In: Katus, J. Kessels, J. W. M.
en Schedler, P. E. (red.) Andragologie in transformative
12. Various authors have written on forms of capital. See Bourdieu,
Pierre (1986), 'The Forms of Capital', in Richardson, John G., ed.,
Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, New
York: Greenwood; Coleman, James S. (1988), 'Social Capital in the
Creation of Human Capital', American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94,
Supplement: Organizations and Institutions: Sociological and Economic
Approaches to the Analysis of Social Structure, pp. S95-S120; Putnam,
Robert D. (2001), Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American
Community, New York: Simon & Schuster; Putnam, R.D. (1998). Foreword
to Social Capital: Its Importance to Housing and Community
Development. Housing Policy Debate 9 (1): v-iii. Alexandria/:
Metropolian Institute/ Routledge.
13. Putnam, R.D. (1998). Foreword to Social Capital: Its Importance
to Housing and Community Development. Housing Policy Debate 9 (1):
v-iii. Alexandria/: Metropolian Institute/ Routledge.
14. Heidegger, M. (1977). The age of the world Picture. In: The
question concerning technology and other essays.
15. Heidegger, M. (1977), p. 129-130.
16. K. Marx and F. Engels. The German ideology. Including Theses on
Feuerbach and Introduction to the critique of political economy. New
York: Prometheus Books, 1998, p. 571.
(c) Tom Vanwing and Pieter Meurs 2015
Vrije Universiteit Brussels
III. 'WITTGENSTEIN ON 'THE REALM OF THE INEFFABLE'' BY MANORANJAN
Mallick AND VIKRAM S. SIROLA
The paper attempts to delve into the distinction Wittgenstein makes
between factual discourse and moral thoughts. It can be linked with
the basic distinction made between facts and values which have been a
debatable issue over the centuries from pre-Socrates to analytic
period. In order to accumulate new knowledge about the essence of
world we require metaphysical investigation. Metaphysical inquiry is
to do with 'what is real' or 'what is the essence of reality'.
Traditionally, philosophers have been emphasizing on the theory
building activities in metaphysics that shows how the world comes to
be. Wittgenstein rejects this traditional approach of metaphysics.
For him, it is nothing more than building castles in the air. The
shift is in the philosophical emphasis from metaphysics to
clarification of language.
Wittgenstein's most famous work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
(1921) starts from the problem of understanding the logic of language
and explicates the relation between language, thought and the world.
In the preface of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein writes, 'the aim of the
book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather -- not to thought, but
to the expression of thought: in order to be able to draw a limit to
thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable'
(i.e. we should have to think what cannot be thought) (Wittgenstein
1961: 3). In this proposition, Wittgenstein claims that we should be
able to think both sides of the limit of thought in order to draw its
limit. That is, we would also have to think the unthinkable and in
that case, unthinkable would no longer remain unthinkable. Therefore,
such limits cannot be drawn. But the fact is that we can draw the
limits to the expression of thought, i.e. to language. And certainly
this is central to the whole Tractarian project. In fact, we can
think both sides of such a limit if there is to be such a limit drawn
in any respect. It is clearly stated that in order to draw a limit,
'one must first have the capacity to think from the vantage point of
'outside' the limits being drawn. It is only absurd to speak of 'both
sides' of Thinking; but to speak of 'both sides' of thought and its
expression is not. In short, if the task of the Tractatus is to limit
language or the 'expression of thoughts,' then one will have to be
able to think both sides of such a limit to fulfill such a task'
(Bruce 2007: 5).
The structure of thought and the structure of language are logically
related. Since we cannot interrogate the thought directly, the limits
of thought have been taken as the limits of language. An attempt to
draw the limits of thought directly would lead to a paradoxical
situation. We might have to think the other side of thinkable -- the
unthinkable. Hence, only solution to this paradox is to draw the
limits in the expression of thought -- the language. That is why,
philosophy according to Wittgenstein is a critique of language aimed
at clarity of thought. Language is given primacy over thought because
thought would cease to be thought if it cannot be expressed in
language. Thought without language is void. Since thought is not
possibly interrogated directly, the limits of thought have been taken
as the limits of the expression of thought -- the language. Thinking
involves language and what is expressed in language is a result of
limits of thought. Hence, Wittgenstein claims, 'It will therefore
only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the
other side of the limit will simply be nonsense' (Wittgenstein 1961:
3). The aim of the Tractatus is claimed as to draw the limits of
thought by drawing the limits of language. By drawing the limits of
the language, Wittgenstein has tried to explore the significant
issues, which cannot be put within the framework of language. His
emphasis is on making a distinction between 'how things are in the
world' and 'how the essence of the world is grasped from the point of
view of the 'higher' (Wittgenstein 1961: 6.432). Wittgenstein's
standpoint on metaphysics remains same throughout his works. In fact,
for him, metaphysics is unavoidable and the discourses on metaphysics
are not false but merely nonsense.
Wittgenstein's entire philosophy is considered as propounding a new
approach to moral philosophy. He displays the nonsensicality of the
ways in which ethical theses have been discussed in moral philosophy.
Philosophy, he states, has always tried to go beyond what the science
tries to explain about the empirical world. Wittgenstein's aim in
philosophy is to show that there cannot be any meaningful
metaphysical discourses because language cannot touch the essence of
world and the essence of life. The things, which are possible in
language, have both assertion and negation. More precisely, building
theories about metaphysics are beyond the propositions of natural
sciences. In fact, Wittgenstein is quite critical of the traditional
metaphysical philosophers who had attempted to describe something
which cannot be significantly said about what the nature of reality
is. They have failed to understand the syntactical rules of language
and as a result produced the nonsensical philosophical propositions.
Tractatus presupposes that logical investigation reveals metaphysical
entities and the logical form of expression shows something about the
essential structure of the world. The metaphysical expressions do not
assert anything empirically; rather they exhibit something deeper and
higher that is neither true nor false. It has no sense and no
theoretical content according to the rules of language. But it is
purely absolute and eternal, and hence, ineffable. These expressions
are neither propositions of empirical sciences nor tautologies of
logic or mathematics.
The most significant theme of Tractatus lies in the idea of
'philosophy as a critique of language' (Wittgenstein 1961: 4.0031).
The superficial way of understanding does not give the clarification
about the essential nature of language, which is the subject matter
of philosophical inquiry. It demands to go into the depth by
analyzing language. In Tractatus, Wittgenstein uses logic as a tool
of inquiry that constitutes the limits of proposition of what is
thinkable, and sensible. It is a priori structure of all kinds of
possibilities in empirical world. Here, logical investigation
explores the structure of language and hence the structure of world.
The critique of language involves the study of the logical structure
of language insofar as it brings out the essence of language, which
demarcates between the propositions, which have sense, which are
senseless, and the nonsensical propositions. In fact,
misunderstanding this distinction leads to the confusion between
'what can be expressed' and 'what cannot be expressed' in language.
This is the source of, what Wittgenstein calls the philosophical
diseases. He attempts to cure philosophy of these diseases in both,
earlier and later philosophical works. Though the difference lies
only in the kind of treatments he suggests there.
Ordinary language for Wittgenstein, is good enough to analyze the
philosophical activities, thus, there is no need to construct a
formal language as suggested by Frege, Russell, and logical
positivists. We only need to understand the logical structure of
language. However, ordinary language is vague in nature and has
ambiguity yet it is adequate to show the form of language and the
form of world. Wittgenstein's early work emphasizes on the process of
analysis which makes the sense of proposition clear. The complex
proposition, which describes the complex fact, is analyzed into the
elementary proposition, which describes the simplest (atomic) object.
We cannot know the sense of propositions until we refine them. In
other words, it clarifies the logical structure of language, which
underlies beneath ordinary propositions. The focus of the Tractatus
is on finding a common structure between the language and the world
and constructing a possible pictorial relationship between them.
Basic contention is to discover an isomorphic relation between the
language and world where both share a common logical form.
In later writings, Wittgenstein has made a slight change in his
viewpoint. Now there is no final analysis on clarity of language like
in Tractatus, rather we get to know the usages of the words in the
social context. He emphasizes that the language-game primarily
teaches us to dismiss the ambiguity and vagueness of language but
this does not lead us to any fixed rules for using the words in
day-to-day life. That is why some interpreters believe that in later
works, Wittgenstein cannot be considered as a typical analytic
philosopher. Here, there is no need to refine the propositions for
discovering the formal language because formal language is inadequate
to explain the moral life. This notion of language provides us with
the flexibility to formulate language according to our own convenient
and conventions and reject a priori structure of language. This is a
clear shift from the essentialism of Tractatus to pluralism of his
A proposition can be said to have sense if they do represent the
possible situation in reality or say something about the empirical
world. Hence, they are neither necessary nor contradictory but are
contingent. That is, they have bipolar relation with truth-values.
Whereas, the propositions of logic and mathematics have unipolar
relation. They are senseless, as they do not represent any state of
affairs. They eliminate nothing. They include all the possibilities
in themselves. Hence, no other possibilities are left there. Also,
contradictions and tautologies do not represent itself like the
propositions with sense. The truth possibilities of the sentence 'It
is raining', depends upon the situation of world. It means that it
leaves open all the possibilities to world. Whereas, tautologies and
contradictions have nothing to leave to the world. 'I know nothing
about the weather when I know that it is either raining or not
raining' (Wittgenstein 1961: 4.461). Therefore, tautology and
contradictions are degenerated propositions because they are a priori
and fixed. They are nothing more than symbols and notations. They are
sort of necessary and certain rules and their truth-value do not
depend on facts. They neither say anything nor do they try to say
anything but they show the logical structure of the world. Hence,
logical propositions are unconditionally true, they are tautologies,
and their negations are contradictions. They have 'zero sense'
(P.M.S. Hacker 2001: 111).
As mentioned, propositions of ethics, religion, aesthetics do not
have sense nor are they senseless. They are, as labeled by
Wittgenstein, nonsensical because they are not real propositions but
pseudo-propositions. They violate the syntactical rules of language
as they go beyond the limits of language and hence, the world. They
are neither about the state of affairs nor about the laws of the
world. They show the ineffable truths which are not 'said' but only
'shown' by the well-formed propositions.
The correct method in philosophy, according to Wittgenstein, is 'to
say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural
science' (Wittgenstein 1961: 6.53). By saying this, Wittgenstein has
tried to draw the limits of philosophical activity, which is only a
systematic description of how things are. That way, any metaphysical
discourse becomes nonsensical. But it should not be taken as the
rejection of metaphysics itself, as done by the logical positivists.
Rather it is an attempt to show the limits language and philosophy,
which was missed out by the traditional philosophers which lead them
to cause 'philosophical disease'.
Tractatus aims at showing the inexpressible by exhibiting clearly
what is expressible. That is why, Wittgenstein claims, 'it will
signify what cannot be said, by presenting clearly what can be said'
(Wittgenstein 1961: 4.115). This makes a clear distinction between
'saying' and 'showing'. The ultimate truth or reality about the
essence of life and the essence of world is ineffable. Wittgenstein
has reached such a point where the mystical must be treated as
inexpressible. The mystical can only be shown but cannot be expressed
in language. He has claimed that the mystical manifests itself in
language, so the inexpressible reveals through the expressible.
Hence, the concept of silence conveys more meaning than 'what is
said'. For instance, the real sense which a poem conveys is more
valuable than the utterable words. A poem usually goes beyond the
said words by making use of metaphors. Wittgenstein says, 'the sense
of the world must lie outside the world' (Wittgenstein 1961: 6.41)
because the sense of the world refers to Absolute values. The
Absolute values cannot be expressed in language because unlike
empirical propositions they lack truth-values. They are intrinsic
good and do not need any functional values and characteristics. They
are absolute because they exist for their own sake. Absoluteness of
value does not exist in empirical form rather comprehended
intellectually through formulating and participating in the world.
The ultimate truth is beyond the domain of empirical world. In fact,
the subject matter of ethics, aesthetics and religion, etc., is not
the domain of factual world. Metaphysical entities are not the matter
of empirical experience rather subjective experience, which cannot be
put into language. What is mystical and transcendental is the corner
stone of our understanding of the essence of world. This silence
indicates towards perusing a meaningful life.
This distinction between what can be said and what cannot be said in
Tractatus is already fixed by the syntactical structure of language,
which is a priori and logical. But in later writings this distinction
is shown by the use of language because the 'form of life' comes to
replace the 'logical form', which plays a crucial role for carrying
out the meaning by the practical situation of human activity. Thus,
we need to understand the form of life, which makes the connection
between language and world and precisely exhibits the meaning of the
use of words.
Comparing Wittgenstein's notion of metaphysics demands to understand
why there cannot be any meaningful metaphysical propositions i.e.
propositions of ethics, aesthetics, religion, etc.; why language
cannot touch the essence of the world? These propositions would be
about metaphysical self or 'I' which is purely subjective and
private. And this subject or will and world of natural science are
independent of each other and are not causally connected. The will or
I remains a transcendental demonstrator, which sees the events of the
world but cannot change its order. The self has no role to play with
contingent facts in the world. The will is the bearer of ethical
values such as good, evil, right, etc., these values do not get
affected by the events of the world. So the self or subject is
absolutely independent from the world. The world is as it is,
governed by the casual laws, which cannot be altered by the exercise
of the good or bad of the will or self. Thus, essence of world lies
outside of the world; what cannot be said is not the part of the
world of natural science rather belongs to the metaphysical realm.
On many occasions, Wittgenstein himself engages in the nonsensical
discourses about ethics, aesthetics, and religion especially in
Tractatus. It does not mean that he is not aware of the
nonsensicality of these metaphysical discourses. But this engagement
cannot be taken merely as nonsensical. It is a deliberate attempt to
display the nonsensicality of the metaphysical theses. This
instructive nonsense also indicates towards the indefinable,
ineffable, the real meaning of life. It propounds the Absolute truth
which can only be shown or hinted at. It means making the structure
or theory building in ethics, aesthetics, religion, and so on do not
give the real meaning of life rather distorts the ethical value which
cannot be learned and grasped from any teaching and training. Any isms
and doctrines about ethical judgment would eventually limit and
destroy the freedom of understanding in a broad perspective.
Propositions of Tractatus on ethics do not give any structure or
theory about values but they merely convey something for realizing
the essence of life. These nonsensical propositions do not provide
any destination of life but show in detail different lanes, which
would lead to reaching at any such destination. By saying they are
nonsensical, Wittgenstein compels the readers to get into the details
and philosophize independently.
Anscombe, G.E.M., An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus, 4th
edn. (London: Hutchinson, 1971.)
Baker, G.P., Wittgenstein, Frege and the Vienna Circle (Oxford:
Blackwell Publishers, 1988).
Diamond, Cora, The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and
The Mind (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1991).
Glock, Hans-Johann (ed.), Wittgenstein- A Critical Reader (Oxford:
Hacker, P.M.S., Insight and Illusion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).
______ Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies (Oxford: Clarendon
Howes, Bruce, 'Rethinking the Preface of the Tractatus',
Philosophical Investigations, Vol. 30, No.1, 2007, p. 5.
John w. Cook, Wittgenstein's Metaphysics (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1994).
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, G.E.M. Anscombe
(trans.) (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958).
______ Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness
(trans.) (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961).
______ Philosophical Remarks, Rush Rhees (ed.), Raymond Hargreaves
and Roger White (trans.) (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975).
______ Culture and Value, G.H. von Wright and H. Nyman (ed.), P.
Winch (trans.) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
(c) Manoranjan Mallick and Vikram S. Sirola 2015
Dr. Manoranjan Mallick
Dept. Of Humanities & Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Dr. Vikram S. Sirola
Associate Professor in Philosophy
Dept. Of Humanities & Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to email@example.com
The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
reflect those of the Editors.