On Certainty (Harper Perennial Modern Thought) (ドイツ語) ペーパーバック – 1972/9/6
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Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was born in Austria and studied at Cambridge under Bertrand Russell. He volunteered to serve in the Austrian army at the outbreak of World War I, and in 1918 was captured and sent to a prison camp in Italy, where he finished his masterpiece, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, one of the most important philosophical works of all time. After the war Wittgenstein eventually returned to Cambridge to teach.
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I like the process of seeing Wittgenstein’s thinking evolve - the book seems as much about himself clarifying his own thoughts. At times it is tentative, in others definite.
The translation is excellent, although the repeated use of the archaic word “shew” jarred for me. This is not a modern translation, but it’s much less than a 100 years old- so why translate from German in this way? If there is some subtlety I’m missing let me know. (It’s also inconsistent as in 618 ‘show’ is used). A very minor point, but I am flawed by occasional pedanticness!
To enjoy this you have to be interested in the topics Wittgenstein is interested in. If you are and have not read this, I’d definitely recommend it.
LW is said to be difficult to access and understand. I can believe it. But I also suspect this is one of his more readable books, so for someone who is interested in how LW practices philosophy, it should be a good "beginner" primary text. (N.B. The book is relatively short -- the printed edition is twice as long as it would otherwise be because of the inclusion of the original German text.)
Two themes stood out this time, maybe the two themes that I've always thought were most important.
1) Distinguishing "grammatical" propositions from empirical ones
It's hard to talk about this briefly, but, roughly, "grammatical propositions", for Wittgenstein, are statements about how we speak. Elsewhere and here, he remarks on our commonly mistaking the one for the other. For example, he remarks on the physicist Eddington having "discovered" that tables (and other physical objects) aren't really solid, given that they are mostly made up of the space within and between atoms. He says that Eddington is actually proposing a change in the way that we speak, changing how we use the word "solid", rather than simply reporting an empirical observation. The line is blurry -- certainly empirical observations are relevant to the proposed change in the way we speak. Nevertheless, it is a powerful distinction. Wittgenstein is interested in correcting our tendency to be misled by such statements into some sort of false mysterious profundity, as here, in the kinds of skepticism and idealism under examination in his time.
But the distinction may also be useful in more common circumstances -- what about the statement "Life begins at conception (or quickening or birth or . . . )"? Is that statement empirical, or is it more a recommendation about how we should use the word "life"? If the latter, how does that change the debate about the rightness or wrongness of abortion rights? Both sides try to lend their argument more weight by treating such a statement as an empirical one, a "fact". Likewise G.W. Bush saying that "The US doesn't torture." Did that function for him as a factual statement, or a decision about how we are going to use the word "torture"?
2) The "natural history" of human beings
On Certainty responds to Wittgenstein's reading of Moore's "common sense" papers, particularly "Proof of an External World" and "A Defense of Common Sense". Moore in turn was responding to Kant's declaration of a "scandal to philosophy" that we can't (in quasi-ordinary words) prove the existence of a world outside our minds. Moore believed he could provide such a proof. But it's really the picture behind the felt need to provide such a proof that is bothersome and important. It calls up a picture of human beings creating "knowledge" in their minds by observing and reasoning about a world "outside their minds". Wittgenstein's arguments tend toward a less intellectualized and more natural relationship between human beings and the world, something more akin to what gets called "coping" by later writers (e.g., Heidegger).
We don't need to "know" or "prove" the existence of an external world, since we live in the world. In fact, the very attempt to prove its existence makes its existence questionable, now that these propositions (e.g., "There is a world external to my mind") are articulated. The compulsion to ask, now that we've articulated them, whether we know them or knew them before we articulated them, seems already to be a mistake. Such propositions weren't there before articulating them, and what they try to express didn't function as "knowledge" per se. Our situation is much more akin, as Wittgenstein says (jokes?), to a squirrel's apparent knowledge that winter will come and so he'd better store nuts against it -- squirrels don't infer that winter will come from past winters coming. Nor we do we, as Moore tries to do, establish the existence of a "world external to our minds" by inferring its existence from some more primitive facts that we know to be true.
Here is some late-breaking news. A couple of years after posting this review, I actually published a paper about Wittgenstein. My article concerns Wittgenstein's analysis of the word, "expectation." My article got published early in 2010:
Brody, T. (2010) Obviousness in patents following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision of KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc. in Journal Patent Trademark Office Society 92:26-70.
ON CERTAINTY concerns only two language games, namely, to know and to believe. In contrast the Philosophical Investigations concerns many language games, for example, actual games (board games; card games) (para 66 of PI), games of giving an order, reporting an event, play-acting, making a joke (para 23 of PI), game of interpreting (page 171 of PI), game of obeying a rule (para 199), game of remembering (para 305 of PI), game of recognizing (para 604 and page 169 of PI). Other language games not discussed in ON CERTAINTY are "performatives" or "speech acts," such as promising, christening a ship, or verbal contracts. Performatives are described in Wittgenstein by Robert J. Fogelin (page 158) and in Speech Acts by John Searle.
TO KNOW VERSUS TO BELIEVE. The book ON CERTAINTY obviously concerns what it means to be certain or to believe. W. discloses what it means to know by contrasting it with what it means to believe. The contrast between the two can be set forth by providing Moore's Paradox. Moore's Paradox goes like this: "He believes that it is raining, but it is not raining." The corresponding version in the past tense is: "He believed that it was raining, but it was not raining." The first statement is absurd. But the second statement is reasonable. Moore's Paradox is discussed in para 42 of ON CERTAINTY. Another difference is that it is not absurd to say, "I thought I knew such and such, but I was wrong" but it is absurd to say, "I thought I was certain about such and such (or believed such and such), but I was wrong." (para 12). The difference between to know and to believe is further given, where we are told that it make sense to say, "He is in a position to know such and such," and that it does not make sense to say, "He is in a position to believe such and such" (paras 555-556). We are told, "If someone believes something, we needn't always be able to answer the question `why he believes it' but if he knows something, then the question `how does he know?' must be capable of being answered (para 550).
Moore's Paradox is further discussed in para 520 (example of a tree) and para 549 (example of a chair), 550. Wittgenstein writes, "Moore has every right to say he knows there's a tree there in front of him. Naturally he may be wrong. For it is not the same as with the utterance, I believe there is a tree there." (para 520). According to para 569, inner experiences are not relevant to using the term, to know (para. 569). In contrast, inner experiences are the basis of using the term, to believe or to be certain. If to know does not depend on any inner experience, then what is the condition precedent for knowing. The answer lies in Wittgenstein's notion of the "system of evidence." (see below)
A SYSTEM OF EVIDENCE. Commentary on "a system of evidence" is used to define what it means to know something. This system of evidence is not relevant to use of the term, to believe something. Although ON CERTAINTY does not dwell much on mental pictures, as does the Philosophical Investigations, commentary on "a system of evidence" does constitute an argument that knowing does not require any mental pictures. W. discloses the concept of a "system of evidence," family of connections, or a world picture throughout the book. This system of evidence is necessary for us to know something. In other words, if we weren't aware of the elements in this system of evidence, we would not be able to assert that we know anything, we wouldn't be able to use the word, to know. In para. 140, we find, "we are taught judgments and their connexion with other judgments." In para. 144, we find, "the child learns . . . bit by bit there forms a system of what is believed . . . it is rather held fast by what lies around it."
In para. 185, we find "It would strike me as ridiculous to want to doubt the existence of Napoleon . . ." To do so would be "doubting our whole system of evidence." In para. 279, we find, "This system is something that a human being acquires by means of observation and instruction." In para. 518, we find commentary on this system of evidence, "Wouldn't a mistake topple all judgment with it." In para. 572, we learn that to know something means that, "If that is wrong, then I am crazy," in other words, that our entire system of evidence is wrong. In para. 594, we find, "My name is L.W. And if someone were to dispute it, I should straightaway make connexions with innumerable things . . ."
In para. 613, we find that the use of the term, to know, is where "a doubt would seem to drag everything with it and plunge it into chaos."
In para 356, we read that to know means "that I should not understand where a doubt could get a foothold."
In para. 614, we find, "If I were contradicted on all sides and told that this person's name was not what I had always known . . . the foundation of all judging would be taken away from me." In para. 617, we find that "Certain events would put me into a position in which I could not go on with the old language-game any further. In which I was torn away from the sureness of the game."
Elegant descriptions of this system of evidence include, "what I hold fast to is . . . a nest of propositions." (para 225), and "this system is something a human being acquires" (para 410). Wittgenstein tells us that when we are confronted with something that casts doubt on something that we know, we usually react by doubting the doubt (paras 516-517).
PAIN. Further evidence as to the difference between to know and to believe comes from commentary about pain. In short, pain is not something you know, but it is something you believe. "For to say one knows one has a pain means nothing." (para 504) In other words, under ordinary circumstances, saying "I am in pain" makes sense, but saying "I know that I am in pain" does not add anything further and, in fact, it seems like a nonsense statement. (But it does make sense to say, "I know that he is in pain." (para 535)) Thus, it appears that Wittgenstein is saying that "I know that I am in pain" is like uttering, "I believe such and such." Here, the utterance is valid and cannot be questioned, and here it is not relevant to point to the system of evidence, to "connexions with innumerable things," or to "a nest of propositions." Pain is frequently discussed in PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS (para 244, 288, 303, 310, 351, 403, 404, 666, 667, of the PI). The value of reading ON CERTAINTY, is that its focused effort in contrasting to know with to believe, as well as its (all-too-brief) commentary about pain, should inspire a better understanding of the PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS, especially on the PI's comments about pain.
In addition to reading the currently reviewed book, I read Wittgenstein's "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" (his only published work during his lifetime), as well as his famous "Philosophical Investigations". In addition, I read his lengthy series of lectures given at Cambridge University in 1939, titled "Wittgenstein's Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics", edited by Cora Diamond.
Having read that much of Wittgenstein's writings and lectures, I think that I'm learning a significant amount about the philosophical thinking of this great philosopher. Yet, I feel truly compelled to regard with serious reservations aspects of what I understand Wittgenstein's philosophical views to be. He seems, to me, to wish to endorse, to some serious degree, a philosophy that has at its core substantial idealism, or the viewpoint that language consists of our own subjective "game playing", rather than language being primarily a phenomenon that evolved with the desires and the needs for human beings to share with others their knowledge, desires, will, purposes, and understanding of the nature of "reality". My own worldview, including my philosophy of language, is closely tied to a realist outlook, whereby I believe that the universe and other realms of reality have objective existence, are possessed of objective properties, and also that we are quite able to PARTIALLY COMPREHEND and describe certain aspects of the properties of reality. Therefore, language, as I see it, is far more than a mere game-playing activity. Rather, language represents our persistent efforts to make sense of reality and to describe and discuss -- in conjunction with other human beings -- our own understanding of reality. Thus, the early Wittgenstein's concepts of language as "pictures of the world" has a whole lot to be said in its favor. His later thinking about language seems to have shifted toward a "postmodernist" kind of subjectivity of mere game-playing in language. This I find objectionable, in spite of how highly I esteem Wittgenstein's deep and brilliant philosophical insights.
Let me end by asserting that, notwithstanding the differences between aspects of Wittgenstein's (apparent) worldview and mine, I regard his writings as indispensable to any modern philosopher of language. Given his great impact on modern philosophy, I believe that philosophy has been permanently influenced (hopefully for the better) by the brilliant insights of a very eccentric and deep-thinking philosopher, namely, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
An anti-skeptic, such as G.E. Moore who claimed to know all sorts of the things about the external world (e.g. This is a hand), does NOT know, according to Wittgenstein, in part because Moore's question-begging response to the skeptic is wholly inadequate. But noting this does not mean that the skeptic wins the battle because, for Wittgenstein, it does not make sense to doubt the existence of the external world. We must affirm certain propositions in order to have inquiry at all, Wittgenstein argues, and among these are those claims which Moore alleges to know, aka 'Moorean facts.' Wittgenstein takes himself to show that we must believe the Moorean facts, but that, contrary to Moore, we do not know them.
As bewitching as the Wittgensteinian effort is, it does strike me that he, in no way, demonstrates his central claim - namely, that we cannot sensibly doubt Moorean facts. Despite this rather damning criticism, I highly recommend delving into this brilliant attempt.