Human language is ordained according to certain rules and principles which “codify” the place of words in a sentence (syntax), the appropriate word usage (semantics), verb tense, and so on. For instance, we acquire, from childhood, the rule that English places the subject at the beginning of a sentence, followed by a verb, and, if necessary, an object. We would not change this order without the meaning becoming confused or completely nonsensical. Thus, we instinctively know that the proper form is “The cat eats the mouse” and not “The cat the mouse eats;” nor would we arrange words in this order: “The mouse eats the cat,” unless we really wanted to state something illogical, because English, unlike Greek, Latin, or German, does not decline nouns, and so requires words to occupy a specific position in a sentence.
These rules, which we acquire through interaction with the society around us, are collectively known by the name of grammar. Now, grammar is not something devised from nothing for the purpose of creating a new, intellectual science. It performs a function, that of explaining the “codes” of a particular language. But as we have just seen, these codes, which determine the place of words in a sentence, or codify the use of a certain word over another, are inherant to all languages, and they determine our own choice of speech whether we are aware of them or not; they exist before the science of grammar. The role of grammatical science, then, is to make manifest these pre-existing codes, it rationalizes them by defining them. We do not need to learn grammar to learn basic language skills and be properly understood. Yet, once we are aware of the existence of these rules, and understand their particularities, grammar can greatly improve our own speech, and be used to refine it. We can decide for or against the use of a word in a particular sentence structure, etc. It is as if we beheld language from above in order to better grasp it and use it.
The same is true of philosophy. Philosophy has as its object the true nature of the cosmos and of being. It studies the world in order to better understand it and, thus, uncover its true meaning. As a tool of reflection and search, it analyzes and hypothesizes about the world, the gods, the relationship between man and God, the place of nature in this system, etc. Now, it is clear that philosophy is not the mere delusioned fruit of minds too fertile. Rather, it is a way to apprehend the world as it exists by positing, through observation and logic, certain concepts about the world. As grammar defines and rationalizes the pre-existing codes of language, philosophy rationalizes the world, visible and invisible, to comprehend it and grasp its true nature. This rationalization is one of the great discoveries of the Greek mind, and one that distinguishes Greek thought, and with it the whole Western mind, from others (1).
Now, as grammar is the rationalization of something that already exists, and that people use unconsciously, philosophy is the rationalization of a certain tacit conception of the world, a conception of which we are often unaware, that is hidden to our minds, but that nonetheless informs our perceptions, behaviors, and, ultimately, culture. This unaware, unconscious background we could call the “pre-philosophical background.”