Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent – Ludwig Wittgenstein
When we engage in philosophy, we tend to do so through language. We usually either speak, write or think aloud. However, we tend to use the tool of our language. It seems important, therefore, if we have the choice, to pick the best tool for the job. There are lots of major tools of philosophy which we could use: English, Latin, Japanese etc. I will however, try to make you consider another which is not in so many philosophers’ toolkits.
What are the major goals of philosophy? This is obviously a hard and potentially highly-subjective question (and one I won’t attempt to fully answer here!). Perhaps, it is to discover truth about reality. There might be more to the world than just us. Physics and maths have been really successful successful in this area, maybe more so than any other way of doing philosophy.
Should we be worried?
Why should we be worried about ‘normal’ languages’ ability to reach the truth about philosophy? Why should we care as to whether a language is better than, say, English? Firstly, the design or origin of normal languages doesn’t seem the best for philosophy. Languages seem to have evolved naturally over centuries to be very good at communicating survival-related problems. English is very good at warning you about the lion over there, but it may not be the best to discuss whether God exists. It may not have the right vocabulary, syntax or even format.
Philosophy isn’t anywhere near solved. There is no agreement on any of the major issues. There are obviously loads of reasons why this might be the case. But, perhaps, our tools just aren’t up to the job. This certainly seems to be an explanation for all the confusion and disagreement we see across philosophy. It would perhaps be no surprise that philosophy is so confusing and confused if it was being discussed in fundamentally the wrong way.
Should we be hopeful?
But, it appears that we have solved some philosophy, or at least we have solved something approaching philosophy (talk about marginal gains…). The study of reality in the form of science in general or physics in particular appears to have made some progress.
Deep philosophical questions like ‘why am I here?’ and ‘why do I see reality as I do?’ are unsolved. I am by no means saying that science provides complete or certain answers to these questions or even that it can. But, it seems that it has made some certain progress. When we describe reality in the language of maths, we at least get to answers that there is some agreement on and which seem unattainable otherwise. It seems facetious to say that describing some of the science of consciousness and physics of reality does nothing to help explain why we see what we see.
There is not much reason to believe that science can transcend its current boundaries, but there is a little cause for hope. It would once have been a reasonable position to think that something like the movement of the planets could only be discussed as a matter of theology. Now, we would struggle to proclaim someone an expert on astronomy if they couldn’t manage calculus.
I do not think that we can answer all questions in the language of maths, but it seems to be an avenue which is at least worth exploring. Adding another tool to your toolkit cannot hurt. It seems that nature understands some languages better than others and maths especially well. Perhaps, if we were to talk to nature in a language it understands, we might get some answers.