• ZzzoneiroCosm
    958
    Looking at a close reading of Wittgenstein's On Certainty.

    Any and all interpretations and comments on Wittgenstein and On Certainty are welcome. References are appreciated.




    The following is a fascinating turn of phrase:

    47..."Forget this transcendent certainty, which is connected with your concept of spirit."


    In what way is certainty linked to the notion of spirit?
  • Janus
    8.9k
    In what way is certainty linked to the notion of spirit?ZzzoneiroCosm

    The idea of gnosis as opposed to the idea of defeasible knowledge, perhaps? Or on a more mundane level the idea that ordinary knowledge, about everyday life matters and the kinds of "facts" presented in encyclopedias is certain and transcends any cultural mediation or construction?
  • A Seagull
    472

    Certainty is a state of mind. It is an indulgence, people like to think that what they know is certain. However, it is not conducive for a philosopher to take such a dogmatic view, hence it is best forgotten.
  • Richard B
    34
    “The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other”

    This proposition is certain and that proposition is uncertain. This degree of sharpness of this distinction can wax and wane. A concept of “spirit” could demand a lack of this state of flux, so maybe one should leave this world a transcendence if one is to philosophizes about language.
  • Janus
    8.9k
    Continuing on from my previous post: The assumption that we simply know things would seem to be the natural pre-critical state of consciousness. Hegel in his Phenomenology of Spirit refers to this first stage of consciousnesses as "sense certainty" if I remember correctly.

    The idea of direct knowing can also be elaborated in notions of pure intellectual or rational intuition a la Plato, the PreSocratics, the Gnostics, and the early modern rationalist philosophers Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. It was this idea of pure intellectual intuition that Kant sought to deny and Hegel sought to reinstate, although in an historically evolutionary dialectical form, after Kant's "destruction" of the idea.
  • schopenhauer1
    4.2k
    Certainty is a state of mind. It is an indulgence, people like to think that what they know is certain. However, it is not conducive for a philosopher to take such a dogmatic view, hence it is best forgotten.A Seagull

    However, being uncertain at all moments can be harmful to individuals and lead to any action being acceptable. At the same time, if viewed differently, uncertainty might itself be a good basis for a morality of negative ethics. We are uncertain if my "good" is something you or someone else would prefer, therefore I shouldn't force my view on you or force anything on you if I can help it. It can be a justification for the non-harm and non-aggression principles. Do no harm nor aggressive acts towards others when possible, even if you have good intentions.
  • A Seagull
    472

    Certainly a certain amount of certainty is useful for pragmatic purposes, indeed daily life would be impossible without it. But a philosopher needs also to be aware that those certainties are based upon personal subjective judgements and may need re-visiting should it become apparent that they need upgrading.
  • jamalrob
    2.4k
    47..."Forget this transcendent certainty, which is connected with your concept of spirit."

    In what way is certainty linked to the notion of spirit?
    ZzzoneiroCosm

    It's a puzzling one. First, it's clear that here and throughout On Certainty he attacks the notion that ordinary certainty is not enough, that we need, not only a solid bedrock, but one that is is somehow guaranteed to be solid, for all time and universally, that is, an absolute certainty. This impossible kind of knowledge would be transcendent, as it would require a foundation external to human capacities.

    This is where the concept of spirit comes in, I think. Transcendent (not transcendental) metaphysics is part of what Wittgenstein and others were reacting against in the early 20th century. Passage 47 implies that he sees a connection between the epistemological search for absolute certainty, and transcendent metaphysics such as that of the rationalists. In OC, Wittgenstein is discussing Moore, who was defending common sense against philosophers such as Bradley, for whom the concept of spirit may have been significant, as it was for Hegel, who heavily influenced Bradley. Wittgenstein's word is Geist, the same as Hegel's. Spirit transcends our everyday reality, and is thus similar to the Holy Grail of epistemology.

    Here's the context:

    46. But then can’t it be described how we satisfy ourselves of the reliability of a calculation? O yes! Yet no rule emerges when we do so.—But the most important thing is: The rule is not needed. Nothing is lacking. We do calculate according to a rule, and that is enough.

    47. This is how one calculates. Calculating is this. What we learn at school, for example. Forget this transcendent certainty, which is connected with your concept of spirit.
    — Wittgenstein

    So calculating according to a rule is enough. Even if it is legitimate to ask if the rule itself is reliable, we shouldn't expect by doing so to find another, higher level, transcendent rule. In the end it is in the very following of the rule that one attains correctness and reliability.

    Wittgenstein appears to view this yearning for transcendent truth, rules, knowledge, certainty, and so on, as all connected to the bad philosophical habit, a legacy of theology, that Kant ends up rejecting in the Critique of Pure Reason. As far as Wittgenstein was spiritual, he regarded it as involving what cannot be said, and therefore as nothing to do with philosophy.
  • Ansiktsburk
    16
    Reading On Certainty, i see an engineer who goes philosophizing. Even more that when reading Tractatus. I have NO difficulty at all seeing a slightly poorer Ludwig born 100 ys later developing web applications in Visual studio. Those guys philosophize in that manner at lunch or coffee breaks. I kind of like it.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.1k
    So calculating according to a rule is enough. Even if it is legitimate to ask if the rule itself is reliable, we shouldn't expect by doing so to find another, higher level, transcendent rule. In the end it is in the very following of the rule that one attains correctness and reliability.jamalrob

    This is not conducive to certainty though. One could look at contradictory rules, and correctness could be obtained by following either one. Now all that person would have is uncertainty as to which rule to follow. Calculating according to a rule may be sufficient for correctness but it's not sufficient for certainty.
  • Janus
    8.9k
    Wittgenstein appears to view this yearning for transcendent truth, rules, knowledge, certainty, and so on, as all connected to the bad philosophical habit, a legacy of theology, that Kant ends up rejecting in the Critique of Pure Reason. As far as Wittgenstein was spiritual, he regarded it as involving what cannot be said, and therefore as nothing to do with philosophy.jamalrob

    :up:
  • Banno
    7.9k
    You never gonna get anywhere if you gonna read stuff and put it in context.

    The way ahead here is just to make stuff up based on the title.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.1k


    194. With the word "certain" we express complete conviction, the total absence of doubt, and thereby we seek to convince other people. That is subjective certainty. But when is something objectively certain? When a mistake is not possible. But what kind of possibility is that? Mustn't mistake be logically excluded? — On Certainty

    Following a rule allows one to be judged by others as correct. It obviously does not provide what is necessary for certainty of the subjective type. And it cannot provide what is necessary for certainty of the objective type because the possibility of mistake can only be excluded if we know that the person is following the specific rules, which are applicable in the particular set of circumstances. To exclude the possibility of mistake requires not only that one follows a rule, but that the rule being followed is the rule which will exclude the possibility of mistake.
  • Sam26
    1.6k
    When Wittgenstein talks about certainty in connection with the "spirit" he's referring to the idea that there is some transcendent certainty or knowing. As if we can know apart from some language-game - it's an internal metaphysical knowing that he was criticizing or pointing out. This can be seen in religious contexts. It's more than pointing to something internal, it's like pointing to something ethereal.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.1k

    It's quite clear, from his distinction between "subjective certainty" and "objectively certain", that Wittgenstein begins with an assumed separation between "I am certain that...", and "it is certain that...". "Objectively certain" here, would refer to a true transcendent form of certainty, like what we commonly refer to as facts independent from human acknowledgement.

    I think, as you imply, he criticizes this sense of "objectively certain", pointing out that it is unjustifiable. What he sets up instead, is a structure which grounds "it is certain that..." in a type of inter-subjectivity supported by language use. The result is a sense of "it is certain that..." which is consistent with justified, but has no requirement for objective truth.
  • Sam26
    1.6k
    There are at least two ways of being certain for Wittgenstein. There is the subjectively certain, which expresses an inner conviction, often we use this expression to convey our feelings toward what we believe to others. One may use it to express one's faith for example. Wittgenstein often refers to what Moore claims to know as an inner certainty, "I know this is a hand." This was done through Moore's gestures and tone of voice, it reveals a particular state-of-mind. Moore thought he was expressing what was objective certainty, but Wittgenstein demonstrates throughout OC that Moore's propositions were not ordinary propositions. They were not the kind of propositions that one could claim to know in the ordinary sense. Wittgenstein calls them hinge-propositions or bedrock propositions.

    Wittgenstein also demonstrates that not only is there certainty which is subjective, but there is objective certainty, which is akin to knowing. Objective certainty is backed up with facts, evidence, or good reasons.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.1k
    Wittgenstein also demonstrates that not only is there certainty which is subjective, but there is objective certainty, which is akin to knowing. Objective certainty is backed up with facts, evidence, or good reasons.Sam26

    I don't think this is true. Wittgenstein seeks objective certainty in On Certainty, but is incapable of finding it. He clearly does not ever demonstrate that there is such a thing. He defines it, but cannot demonstrate that the identified thing, objective certainty, actually exists. That's why Wittgenstein is known as a skeptic.

    Objective certainty is backed up with facts, evidence, or good reasons.Sam26

    This is incorrect, subjective certainty, "inner conviction", is backed up by facts, evidence, and good reasons. But facts, evidence, and good reasons are insufficient for objective certainty, which is to exclude the possibility of mistake. This is because mistake is a consequence of actions, which by their nature occur in particular circumstances. The facts, evidence, and good reasons, must be judged for applicability in the particular circumstances, and the possibility of mistake is inherent within that judgement.
  • Richard B
    34
    Would not Wittgenstein say that when you hit “bedrock” we are not talking about evidence and fact but acceptance and trust on what is presented.

    At some point doubt becomes nonsensical, not because we excluded the possibility of mistake but understanding the first steps of acquiring a language is trust and acceptance.
  • Gregory
    983
    Does anyone here have a full list of Wittgenstein's currently published works?
  • Sam26
    1.6k
    During Wittgenstein's lifetime he published the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a children's dictionary, and a lecture on ethics. However, the Philosophical Investigations along with a long list of other notes was publisihed posthumously. Here's a link to a list.

    https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/efts/WITT/WITT.bib.html
  • ovdtogt
    667
    47..."Forget this transcendent certainty, which is connected with your concept of spirit."

    An eternal soul is an illusion. Fuck Christianity.
  • Sam26
    1.6k
    I don't have a particularly good attitude towards Christianity either, but Wittgenstein would never make such remark. Moreover, he would never say that the soul is an illusion, and neither would I. The word soul isn't necessarily a religious word, although it's associated with many religions, especially Christianity.
  • ovdtogt
    667
    'Transcendent certainty' is what the Christian church is selling you. It wants you to believe you have an eternal Soul and they can help you save it (for a price).
  • softwhere
    111
    Any and all interpretations and comments on Wittgenstein and On Certainty are welcome. Refereces are appreciated.ZzzoneiroCosm

    Hello, Zzz. I'd like to open with a quote.

    476. Children do not learn that books exist, that armchairs exist, etc.,etc. - they learn to fetch books, sit in armchairs, etc.,etc.
    Later, questions about the existence of things do of course arise, "Is there such a thing as a unicorn?" and so on. But such a question is possible only because as a rule no corresponding question presents itself. For how does one know how to set about satisfying oneself of the existence of unicorns? How did one learn the method for determining whether something exists or not?
    477. "So one must know that the objects whose names one teaches a child by an ostensive definition exist." - Why must one know they do? Isn't it enough that experience doesn't later show the opposite?
    For why should the language-game rest on some kind of knowledge?
    478. Does a child believe that milk exists? Or does it know that milk exists? Does a cat know that a mouse exists?
    479. Are we to say that the knowledge that there are physical objects comes very early or very late?
    — Wittgenstein

    Remark #479 especially amuses me.

    The best way that I have made sense of the later Wittgenstein is via 'Dreydegger.' Hubert Dreyfus offers his analysis of Heidegger's 'one' in Being-in-the-World and mentions Wittgenstein several times in a way that I found especially illuminating. Chapter 8, 'The Who of Everyday Dasein,' is a revelation. Taking Wittgenstein and Heidegger together (as Dreyfus to some degree blends them) gives us the discovery or making-explicit of the 'one' (operational background) as the heart of 20th century philosophy.

    This 'phenomenological' approach gives philosophy something 'objective' to do that science is seemingly not equipped for. The 'one' or the (back-)ground is what makes science possible in the first place. I don't claim that philosophers have explained it (perhaps not an intelligible task) but only brought it to our awareness for discussion.
  • softwhere
    111
    All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much as the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life. — Wittgenstein

    To expand on my previous post, one is already able to speak the language. One is already intelligible to others before hypotheses can be proffered and criticized.

    If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty. — Wittgenstein
    One already knows what a tree is, what a hand is, what one expects from trees and hands. One knows all sorts of things that one doesn't bother to know that one knows. And one knows things in a way that suggests that 'know' is the wrong word here. 'Understand' is better if we stress the 'under.' One participates in a form of life. 'One' refers to that form of life as a kind of software. But where is one?

    At the core of all well-founded belief lies belief that is unfounded. — Wittgenstein

    Where I question that last quote is the framing of the background or the one in terms of unfounded beliefs. This word 'belief' suggests too much consciousness, too much language. Instead we might think in terms of habits. Even the use of language is perhaps more habitual and automatic than we might like it to be as philosophers who would like to question and secure everything.

    Instead we seem to be thrown into a community lifestyle and its average intelligibility. It's only after this having-been-thrown that we can use what we've inherited, what has made us rational agents, to go back and question whether we have hands or what 'meaning' means.

    The difficulty is to realise the groundlessness of our believing. — Wittgenstein

    There is...something that average everyday intelligibility obscures... that it is merely average everyday intelligibility...This is what Heidegger called 'the perhaps necessary appearance of foundation....What gets covered up in everyday understanding is not some deep intelligibility as the tradition has always held; it is that the ultimate 'ground' of intelligibility is simply shared practices...This is the last stage of the hermeneutics of suspicion. The only deep interpretation left is that there is no deep interpretation. — Dreyfus

    I hope readers will excuse the injection of Heidegger via Dreyfus. While I studied Wittgenstein first, I know believe that the exposition in terms of remarks is not ideal --that it is better to offer an organized theory.
  • ZzzoneiroCosm
    958
    Wittgenstein appears to view this yearning for transcendent truth, rules, knowledge, certainty, and so on, as all connected to the bad philosophical habit, a legacy of theology, that Kant ends up rejecting in the Critique of Pure Reason. As far as Wittgenstein was spiritual, he regarded it as involving what cannot be said, and therefore as nothing to do with philosophy.jamalrob

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. Moving through the book slowly. Not much to say yet.
  • softwhere
    111
    In what way is certainty linked to the notion of spirit?ZzzoneiroCosm

    In a misleading way, and not only in terms of a pursuit for 'perfect' or 'geometrical' certainty. How then? By investigating meaning in terms of a subject, of what that subject feels and thinks.

    'I am certain that X' gets its meaning (roughly) from convention and context. In the same way, handshaking or saluting gets its meaning from convention and context. This also applies to 'I know X' as opposed to 'I think X.' In an important sense, language is exterior to the speaker. It is a system of intersubjective intelligibility. We cross out 'intersubjective' because this system is prior to the concept of the subject and intersubjectivity. It's only within this system that social human beings can use 'I' properly and intelligibly. This is not at all to deny what is referred to by private experience. At the same time, though, this 'private' experience is profoundly conditioned by the community in which it occurs.

    If anyone is allergic to the Heidegger/Dreyfus vector, this is already implicit in Saussure, as beautifully interpreted by Jonathan Culler (his short book on S. is highly recommended.) I also recently read Limited Inc (Derrida) which Culler summarizes with clarity and discipline here: @http://www.colby.edu/music/nuss/mu254/articles/Culler.pdf

    I realize that this may seem like a dodging the issue of certainty. Instead the intent is to properly frame the issue in terms of convention and context -as opposed to the traditional dead-end of an obscure subject. For me Wittgenstein became far more intelligible once I read more straightforward presentations of sufficiently similar approaches.
  • ZzzoneiroCosm
    958


    Thanks for the clear and thoughtful prose. No allergies to Heidegger etc here. Looks like an interesting interpretation. As I mentioned above, I'm moving through the book slowly so I don't have a lot to say for now.
  • softwhere
    111


    Thank you for responding. It's a great book, and I look forward to hearing what you make of it.
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