International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   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 description.

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 essentiality.

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: https:---



1. Introduction

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 all about.

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 substantiate.

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 core themes.

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).

3. Inspiring

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 new theories.

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.

5. Conclusion

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:---

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 Belgium





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.[2] 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.[3] 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?[4] 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.[5] 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[6], 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.[7] A 'clash of civilizations' seems to be practically on our doorstep.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] 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 [11], it also grasps the core of what such education entails.

Philosophical Capital

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.[12] According to Putnam, social capital refers to the relationships (friends, neighbors, strangers, ...), to social networks and to the mutual bonds between people.[13] 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.[14] 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'.[15] 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'.[16] 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 Books

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





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 later works.


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.


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(c) Manoranjan Mallick and Vikram S. Sirola 2015

Dr. Manoranjan Mallick Research Associate Dept. Of Humanities & Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology Bombay Powai, Mumbai India


Dr. Vikram S. Sirola Associate Professor in Philosophy Dept. Of Humanities & Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology Bombay Powai, Mumbai India


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