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Valentina Petrolini

on 9 January 2017

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Transcript of WITTGENSTEIN

On Certainty
Collection of notes and fragments started from the reflection on Moore's theses on common sense.

Unpublished during Wittgenstein's life, it was re-organized and edited after his death by two students:
Elizabeth Anscombe
Norman Malcolm.

Several topics are discussed throughout the book, but not in a sequential way. The whole reasoning looks more like a series of
that the reader may decide to follow.

Main topics:

Truth, certainty, doubt, Moore's truisms, foundations of knowledge, common sense and philosophy, difference between knowing and believing, status of the fundamental propositions, logical and empirical certainty.
Paths of OC
1) Some truths are certain.
Born in Vienna, from a wealthy family and with seven older siblings.
While studying
aeronautical engineering
he becomes interested in
and reads Frege, Russell and Whitehead.
(1911) and starts attending
's lectures in Cambridge.
On Certainty (1951)
Inherits a fortune from his parents and donates all the money to poets (Rilke, Trakl).
Participates in WWI as a volunteer and starts writing the
Publishes the Tractatus (1921) and decides to leave philosophy because
"everything has been said"
in his book. Works as a gardener and an elementary school teacher for a few years.
Starts attending the meetings of the
Vienna Circle
Goes back to Cambridge and to philosophy, starts working on a revision of the
Starts teaching at Cambridge (1939).
Leaves teaching permanently (1947) but keeps working on a lot of notes that will be published only after his death:
Philosophical Investigations
On Certainty

[As you can gather from this short summary, Wittgenstein's life and personality are extremely fascinating. If you are interested in knowing more about his biography, you can read this book by Ray Monk (1991):

Wittgenstein starts by criticizing Moore, according to which some truths are certain as a simple "matter of fact". W goes beyond this and claims that some truths
to be certain. Indeed,
we need certainty in order to be able to doubt

We need some foundational propositions around which all other beliefs can "turn", otherwise doubt itself would become impossible. These propositions work like
building blocks
of our knowledge.

See fr. 115:
If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

fr. 343:
We just can't investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put.
2) We cannot write down a list of things that we are certain about.
As opposed to Moore's attempt to write down the list of truisms, Wittgenstein is convinced that such
a list cannot be given
. Although he argues that some propositions cannot be doubted - see 1) - he also thinks that they
do not form a specific class
and are rather

The idea is that we become acquainted with these propositions
without being explicitly taught
, and therefore we are not able to go back and re-construct our learning process at a later stage. These propositions rather describe our
, our
way of acting
that rests on a number of assumptions.

fr. 466:
Thus it seems to me that I have known something the whole time, and yet there is no meaning in saying so, in uttering this truth.

fr. 212:
In certain circumstances, for example, we regard a calculation as sufficiently checked. What gives us a right to do so? Experience? May that not have deceived us? Somewhere we must be finished with justification, and then there remains the proposition that this is how we calculate.

fr. 143:
I am told, for example, that someone climbed this mountain many years ago. Do I always enquire into the reliability of the teller of this story, and whether the mountain did exist years ago? A child learns there are reliable and unreliable informants much later than it learns facts which are told it. It doesn't learn at all that that mountain has existed for a long time: that is, the question whether it is so doesn't arise at all. It swallows this consequence down, so to speak, together with what it learns.
3) If we don't stop doubting at some point, we fall prey of an infinite regress.
Another risk of compiling a list of true propositions is that we may be tempted to
each proposition as if we an additional proof of its certainty was needed. Yet, in this way we just fall prey of an
infinite regress
that is at odds with our way of acting in everyday life.

fr. 344:
My life consists in my being content to accept many things.

fr. 345:
If I ask someone "What color do you see at the moment?", in order, that is, to learn what color is there at the moment, I cannot at the same time question whether the person I ask understands English, whether he wants to take me in, whether my own memory is not leaving me in the lurch as to the names of colors, and so on.

fr. 346.
When I am trying to mate someone in chess, I cannot have doubts about the pieces perhaps changing places of themselves and my memory simultaneously playing tricks on me so that I don't notice.
Again, in order to doubt something we need to have a
background of certainty
. We cannot call everything into question at the same time, because our doubt needs something to rest upon.
[Think how this might apply
to Descartes' project]
4) Hinge propositions can be of different kinds.
While Moore and Russell focus mostly on truths coming from logic or direct sensory experience, Wittgenstein talks about a
host of things
that we normally do not call into question.

To illustrate this point, Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of a
: our foundational beliefs work like
that guide everything else, while all our - less certain - beliefs function like
Wagons are easier to change, whereas rails can be modified only in special circumstances. In these situations, our whole path would be modified.

fr. 210:
Much seems to be fixed, and it is removed from the traffic. It is also so to speak shunted onto an unused siding.

There are different kinds of propositions that work like "rails" or "hinges":

Mathematical Propositions
-- e.g. 12 X 12 = 144
Empirical Propositions
-- e.g. "Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo"; "This is my hand"; "I have never been on the Moon"; "The fire burns";...
Bewitching (or undeniable) Propositions
-- e.g. "Something exists"; "I exists"; "Something is true". These are the propositions that philosophy is concerned with, and the ones that Wittgenstein is struggling to explain.
5) Hinge propositions can change
According to Wittgenstein, hinge propositions are
not fixed once and for all
but can
change over time
or according to
at the individual or community level.

For example, Wittgenstein regards the idea of someone going to the Moon as a logical impossibility:
fr. 106. Suppose some adult had told a child that he had been on the moon. The child tells me the story, and I say it was only a joke, the man hadn't been on the moon; no one has ever been on the moon; the moon is a long way off and it is impossible to climb up there or fly there.

Due to technology advancements and scientific revolutions, it became possible to fly to the Moon a few years after Wittgenstein's death. This would be a good example of a foundational proposition subject to change because of external circumstances.

fr. 96:
It might be imagined that some propositions, of the form of empirical propositions, were hardened and functioned as channels for such empirical propositions as were not hardened but fluid; and that this relation altered with time, in that fluid propositions hardened, and hard ones became fluid.

fr. 517:
But might it not be possible for something to happen that threw me entirely off the rails? Evidence that made the most certain thing unacceptable to me? Or at any rate made me throw over my most fundamental judgements? (Whether rightly or wrongly is beside the point.)

6) Hinge propositions are not learned but *swallowed*
We learn about hinges propositions only by
within our community and using
in a certain way. No one explicitly teaches them to us: we become acquainted with them because they work as assumptions that constitute the
of our culture or society (
forms of life
picture of the world

fr. 94:
But I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.

fr. 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?

7) Some doubts are unreasonable, some doubts are impossible
fr 454:
There are cases where doubt is unreasonable, but others where it seems logically impossible. And there seems to be no clear boundary between them.
Doubts are
when they call into question
common sense
and everyday circumstances of life. Unreasonable doubts concern propositions against which no evidence can be marshaled.
E.g. "Is this really a hand/table/foot?"; "Is the table still there when no one sees it?"; "Did Napoleon really exist?"; "Is there a stairway in this house going six floors deep into the earth?"

Doubts are
when they call into question the assumptions of the belief-system itself. When impossible doubts are confirmed, our entire worldview is subject to change.
E.g. "Are there physical objects?"; "Is my name Valentina?"; "Am I writing in English?"; "Are all our calculations wrong?"; "Was the Earth there before I was born?"

Remember that for Wittgenstein there are extreme situations in which i
mpossible doubts can be confirmed
- see 5).

fr. 617:
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. Indeed, doesn't it seem obvious that the possibility of a language-game is conditioned by certain facts?

"Language games"
are all the linguistic and agential practices or norms governing a particular form of life. Like in every game, communities have rules of speech and behavior that are more or less explicitly followed. These norms constitute the frame of reference for every member of the community, that ends up taking them for granted.
Required Fragments of OC:
In addition to the fragments commented or mentioned in this presentation, you are required to read the following ones:

fr. 2- 6 - 10 - 15 - 21 - 31 - 37 - 42 - 53 - 56 - 65 - 67 - 84- 88 - 92 - 94 - 96 - 102 - 103 - 105 - 108 - 112 - 114 - 115 - 126 - 136 - 138 - 141 - 144 - 151 - 152 - 155 - 162 - 163 - 165 - 185 - 192 - 199 - 204 - 208 - 209 - 210 - 214 - 215 - 225 - 283 - 286 - 288 - 292 - 298 - 308 - 310 - 315 - 336 - 387 - 401 - 407 - 415 - 435 - 454 - 467 - 472 - 476 - 481 - 494 - 501 - 513 - 515 - 517 - 559 - 560 - 594 - 595 - 609 - 628 - 633 - 653 - 655 - 657 - 674.
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