An Analysis of On Certainty

Discussions on the nature of being, existence, reality and knowledge. What is? How do we know?

Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby -1- on November 25th, 2018, 6:40 pm 

There is something else connected with the language-game that is also very important, and that's the idea of private rule-following, which is closely connected with the idea of knowing. By private we mean that one cannot learn to follow rules privately, not that you can't put to use rules that you've learned privately, but that rule-following is necessarily communal. This means that even if you do mathematics in private, i.e., follow the rules privately, those rules are only validated as part of a community. The only way to validate that you've done the math correctly is within the community.

Keep in mind that rule-following carries with it the idea of correct and incorrect, i.e., to say there is a correct way of following a rule, necessitates an incorrect way of following a rule. This can't be done privately, in some sense it is logically impossible, or maybe linguistically impossible. Why? Because privately (completely private, shut off from all connection with language) it's impossible to distinguish between following a rule, and not following a rule. This means that whatever you think following a rule entails, IS following a rule (Wittgenstein). Whatever you think being correct entails, IS correct. And by implication, whatever you think is knowing entails, IS knowing.


i have several problems with the above two paragraphs. They pertain to private rules and private rule following and private rule not-following.

1. "but that rule-following is necessarily communal. This means that even if you do mathematics in private, i.e., follow the rules privately, those rules are only validated as part of a community."

Here Wittgenstein, or one or more of his interpreters, declares that validation is necessary part of following rules. I claim that community validation is only of concern to the community, including possibly the individual who is doing the private rule-following. Community validation does not determine rule-following has been done; it only validates it or invalidates it. That is so not a part of following rules or not following rules.

2. "Keep in mind that rule-following carries with it the idea of correct and incorrect, i.e., to say there is a correct way of following a rule, necessitates an incorrect way of following a rule. This can't be done privately, in some sense it is logically impossible, or maybe linguistically impossible. Why? Because privately (completely private, shut off from all connection with language) it's impossible to distinguish between following a rule, and not following a rule." This is clearly false. I can privately not follow a rule and distinguish it from following a rule. I may have done it inadvertently, or knowingly, or deliberately, but I can certainly distinguish between following a rule and not following a rule, be it done privately or validated by the community.

After all, the community can only validate or invalidate a rule-following as such, by each person in the community being INDIVIDUALLY able to discern between the two. If all individuals can discern between the two (and that is necessary for a community validation), then the private individual also can.

---------------
I have no idea whether I criticized Wittgenstein here, or the words/ interpretations of one of his interpreters. If the interpreter was correct in translating Wittgenstein's thoughts, then I think I debunked Wittgenstein.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on November 26th, 2018, 5:56 pm 

Again, the point of writing this thread is to do an analysis of On Certainty, and some of Wittgenstein's thoughts leading up to OC. It's fine if you want to disagree, but I find that some of the disagreements show a complete misunderstanding of the material. People make pronouncements without having studied Wittgenstein's thinking, and I don't mean a cursory reading of Wittgenstein's ideas, I mean a real effort to study primary sources; and secondary source material where appropriate.

It's as if every thought in these threads has equal value. All it does is confuse those who want to understand. I guess forums are not a good place to flush out ideas. That said, I do run into people who are able to think through the material, but they are far and few between. Mostly, you get people who have inflated egos, which is typical of social media.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby TheVat on November 26th, 2018, 7:48 pm 

As I recently posted in a newbie thread here, we have had serious attrition in our more scholarly philosophy buffs. SCF has been heavier on career scientists and engineers than philosophers. That said, we've had some excellent philosophy of science threads. Linguistic philosophy, as you've noticed, is one of our weak areas.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Neri on November 27th, 2018, 10:13 am 

BIV and Sam26,

In “on Certainty,” Wittgenstein asks a simple question: How can we be sure of any fact when no empirical claim is free of all doubt?

He resolves this issue by asserting that certain propositions, although they are empirical in form, are actually “logical.” Thus, the proposition, “here is my hand,” is an example of the kind of hinge belief (to wit, the existence of the human body) which all discourse necessarily presumes.

Wittgenstein’s use of the word “logic” in this context is akin to Kant’s “intuition,” except that Kant claimed that such cardinal beliefs are true to us but not true in themselves, whereas Wittgenstein held them to be beyond doubt and undeniably true.

Wittgenstein tells us that if there were no hinge beliefs shared by all, language would be impossible. When we make a claim that someone did or did not do something, we presume that he exists and that he has a body. Wittgenstein says that it is impossible to act as though an outside world does not exist, for everything we say and do presumes it.

Therefore, Wittgenstein does not deny Moore’s conclusion but only provides a very different argument to support it.

Wittgenstein’s argument is fundamentally linguistic. He says that the indubitable truth of hinge beliefs makes language possible. Language consists of the way that human vocalization is used in practical situations to convey meaning. The rise of meaning occurs in such situations through what Wittgenstein calls language games. By social interactions in practical situations a person comes to understand the meaning of certain human sounds and how they are put together to express ideas of every kind. Wittgenstein seems to be saying that language is inextricably conjoined with truth and indeed is the only source of knowledge. He never explains exactly why this is so.

Even if language were not possible without hinge beliefs, at most this would indicate that we are constitutionally incapable of disbelieving them but would not guarantee, by that fact alone, that they are absolutely true.

At any rate, I do not believe that language is the only source of knowledge, although it most certainly is the immediate source of much of what we know.

As I have maintained so often, the senses are the ultimate source of all knowledge. Sense impressions are the things that give rise to all beliefs, including the belief that the human body, the world outside the body and all things belonging to that world are in fact real. It is true that we cannot help but believe such things but it is also true that these beliefs are fully justified.

Because, I have so often argued why this is the case, I see no point in repeating those arguments here.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby -1- on November 30th, 2018, 4:21 am 

Neri » November 27th, 2018, 10:13 am wrote:Wittgenstein seems to be saying that language is inextricably conjoined with truth and indeed is the only source of knowledge. He never explains exactly why this is so.

Perhaps W had his own ideas about "knowledge" and "source". After all, his treatise in "On Certainty" has started off with a micro-analysis of the verb "to know", and he concluded that people communicate different meanings with this very one and the same word.

So perhaps we ought to be careful when we read "source of knowledge" written by W.

I would never venture to guess his thought, but I feel I could provide some examples what he could have meant by "only source of knowledge." Perhaps he meant by knowledge "hinged knowledge", not all knowledge. He may have meant some communal knowledge. He may have meant some archetypal knowledge.

There is also significance in the wording of "source". People don't learn knowledge from each other; the learn it from the language itself. We tend to think that knowledge comes from teachers, parents, peers, animals. But no. Teachers and parents of a given culture teach more-or-less the same thing to their growing young. Peers too. The most common denominator of a culture is language. So we spread a uniform package of education, so to speak, among the members of a culture, via language. It is indeed the case that language teaches us, not acts as an intermediary between teacher and student.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Neri on December 3rd, 2018, 12:49 pm 

To All,

I believe that the following selected numbered aphorisms from “On Certainty” sufficiently set forth Wittgenstein’s epistemology. They are for the most part clear enough and do not require extensive commentary (although their translation into English may leave something to be desired.) In the bracketed material, I try to render Wittgenstein ideas in plainer English.


24. The idealist's question would be something like: "What right have I not to doubt the existence of my hands?" (And to that the answer can't be: I know that they exist.) But someone who asks such a question is overlooking the fact that a doubt about existence only works in a language-game. Hence, that we should first have to ask: what would such a doubt be like?, and don't understand this straight off.

[The idealist’s doubts only make sense in a certain kind of language game (philosophical discourse). But, we must ask what that doubt would consist of.]

90. "I know" has a primitive meaning similar to and related to "I see" ("wissen", "videre"). And "I knew he was in the room, but he wasn't in the room" is like "I saw him in the room, but he wasn't there". "I know" is supposed to express a relation, not between me and the sense of a proposition (like "I believe") but between me and a fact. So that the fact is taken into my consciousness. (Here is the reason why one wants to say that nothing that goes on in the outer world is really known, but only what happens in the domain of what are called sense-data.) This would give us a picture of knowing as the perception of an outer event through visual rays which project it as it is into the eye and the consciousness. Only then the question at once arises whether one can be certain of this projection. And this picture does indeed show how our imagination presents knowledge, but not what lies at the bottom of this presentation.[/b]

[“I know” has a primal meaning similar to “I see.” This supposedly expresses a relation between a fact and me, where I become aware of a fact. Supposedly, outer events are known by presenting them as they really are and projecting them into the consciousness. But, can we be certain of this projection? This picture does indeed reveal how our imagination presents knowledge but it does not reveal what lies at the bottom of the presentation [i.e. whether or not it corresponds to external reality]. This is why one wants to say that nothing in the external world is really known but that knowledge is instead purely a matter of sensory experience.]

191. Well, if everything speaks for an hypothesis and nothing against it - is it then certainly true? One may designate it as such. - But does it certainly agree with reality, with the facts? - With this question you are already going round in a circle.

[If all the evidence supports a claim, one may properly say that it is certainly true. But if we conclude that it corresponds to a fact, we are begging the question; for that conclusion is already baked into our minds with the idea of certain truth.]

201. Suppose someone were to ask: "Is it really right for us to rely on the evidence of our memory (or our senses) as we do?"

[No clarification required]

202. Moore's certain propositions almost declare that we have a right to rely upon this evidence.

[No clarification required]

203. [Everything that we regard as evidence indicates that the earth already existed long before my birth. The contrary hypothesis has nothing to confirm it at all. If everything speaks for an hypothesis and nothing against it, is it objectively certain? One can call it that. But does it necessarily agree with the world of facts? At the very best it shows us what "agreement" means. We find it difficult to imagine it to be false, but also difficult to make use of.] {crossed-out in MS} What does this agreement consist in, if not in the fact that what is evidence in these language games speaks for our proposition? (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus)

[If all the evidence points to the fact that the earth existed long before my birth, with no evidence to the contrary, then it is proper to say that such a thing is “objectively certain.” But does it mean that it corresponds to a fact in the real world? At best it shows that all agree that this proposition must be the case. Such an agreement reflects the evidence from language games that gives rise to the proposition.]

209. The existence of the earth is rather part of the whole picture which forms the starting-point of belief for me.

[The existence of the earth is one of a number of bedrock propositions—part of the whole picture that forms the starting point for all language games (“of belief for me”)]

214. What prevents me from supposing that this table either vanishes or alters its shape and colour when on one is observing it, and then when someone looks at it again changes back to its old condition? - "But who is going to suppose such a thing?" - one would feel like saying.

[Meaning is clear]

215. Here we see that the idea of 'agreement with reality' does not have any clear application.

[Here we see that the correspondence theory of knowledge has no clear application.

220. The reasonable man does not have certain doubts.

[There are doubts that no reasonable man would entertain.]

221. Can I be in doubt at will?

[No clarification required]

222. I cannot possibly doubt that I was never in the stratosphere. Does that make me know it? Does it make it true?

[No clarification required]

223. For mightn't I be crazy and not doubting what I absolutely ought to doubt?

[For I might I not be crazy for not doubting what I absolutely should doubt.]

230. We are asking ourselves: what do we do with a statement "I know..."? For it is not a question of mental processes or mental states. And that is how one must decide whether something is knowledge or not.

[When one asks---“what does it mean to know?”--he is not merely asking for a mental state but rather for how to decide whether a belief constitutes knowledge or not.]

231. If someone doubted whether the earth had existed a hundred years ago, I should not understand, for this reason: I would not know what such a person would still allow to be counted as evidence and what not.

[If someone claims that he doubts that the earth existed a hundred years ago, I would be at a loss to understand what in his mind would still constitute evidence or the lack thereof.]

232. "We could doubt every single one of these facts, but we could not doubt them all."Wouldn't it be more correct to say: "we do not doubt them all". Our not doubting them all is simply our manner of judging, and therefore of acting.

[We can doubt some beliefs but cannot and do not doubt all beliefs, for some are native to our way of judging things and consequently are reflected in our actions.]

247. What would it be like to doubt now whether I have two hands? Why can't I imagine it at all? What would I believe if I didn't believe that? So far I have no system at all within which this doubt might exist.

[Meaning is clear.]

416. And have we an example of this in, say, the proposition that I have been living in this room for weeks past, that my memory does not deceive me in this? - "certain beyond all reasonable doubt" –

[If I claim that I have been living in this room for weeks and that my memory does not deceive me, we may say that it is certain beyond all reasonable doubt.]

248. I have arrived at the rock bottom of my convictions.
And one might almost say that these foundation-walls are carried by the whole house.

[The foundational beliefs (hinge beliefs) are the rock bottom of my convictions and, so to speak, are the foundation upon which the whole house rests.]

249. One gives oneself a false picture of doubt.

[No clarification required]

250. My having two hands is, in normal circumstances, as certain as anything that I could produce in evidence for it. That is why I am not in a position to take the sight of my hand as evidence for it.

[Because the existence of one’s hands is normally something certain to us that requires no evidence to support it, I cannot properly say that seeing my hands is evidence of their existence.]

251. Doesn't this mean: I shall proceed according to this belief unconditionally, and not let anything confuse me?

[Meaning clear]

252. But it isn't just that I believe in this way that I have two hands, but that every reasonable person does.

[Meaning clear]

253. At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded.

[All justified beliefs rest upon foundational beliefs that are not justified by evidence as such but are, as it were, self-justifying.]

257. If someone said to me that he doubted whether he had a body I should take him to be a halfwit. But I shouldn't know what it would mean to try to convince him that he had one. And if I had said something, and that had removed his doubt, I should not know how or why.

[I would think it preposterous if someone claimed that he doubted that he had a body, for I would not know how to convince him otherwise. Even if I somehow erased his doubt, I would not know how or why.]

356. My "mental state", the "knowing", gives me no guarantee of what will happen. But it consists in this, that I should not understand where a doubt could get a foothold nor where a further test was possible.

[The indubitable truth of foundational beliefs yields knowledge but is no guarantee of what the future holds. This knowledge is such that I would be unable to understand how doubt could possibly get a foothold or how additional evidence could possibly be necessary.]

383. The argument "I may be dreaming" is senseless for this reason: if I am dreaming, this remark is being dreamed as well - and indeed it is also being dreamed that these words have any meaning.

[Requires no clarification]

407. For when Moore says "I know that that's..." I want to reply "you don't know anything!" - and yet I would not say that to anyone who was speaking without philosophical intention. That is, I feel (rightly?) that these two mean to say something different.

[When Moore says that he knows that he has a body, I want to say, “you don’t know anything;” but I would not say such a thing except in a philosophical context. A thing said in ordinary parlance means something quite different from that which is said as part of a philosophy language game.]



The above-cited material establishes that Wittgenstein abandoned his previous position that truth lies in a proposition if but only if it corresponds to a fact. His later position was that the only truth we can know is one built upon our native inability to doubt certain basic beliefs and that we cannot say that this absence of doubt indicates a correspondence to external reality. In this regard, the later Wittgenstein may be described as a reluctant Kantian.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby -1- on December 3rd, 2018, 3:49 pm 

Dear Neri, Thanks for this exhaustive and informative dissemination of the dissected teaching of W.

W introduced doubt, as a tool of proof, and he proved that doubt has no role in the proof of the relationship between reality sensed and real reality.

He tells us that some doubts make no sense to a reasonable man; and that some things that we don't normally doubt are things that we can't imagine otherwise; and then he says that despite the lack of an ability to doubt, due to the non-existence of any extant evidence to the contrary of our beliefs, the knowledge we do not doubt is not actual knowledge, it is not necessarily actually a true correspondence between the real world as it is and our image of the real world as we sense it and get to learn it.

What this tells me is that he introduced doubt as a tool of investigation towards a proof, and concludes that this tool is useless.

Which in turn tells me that he was paid for by the number of words he published.

His impact in terms of saying something could have been worded ""Cogito ergo sum" trumps any claim of sensation of reality as proof of reality." And that single expression would have sufficed equally well, compared to his entire book written about the topic.
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