Wittgenstein & Skepticism…

An analogy: Early Wittgenstein was rather like the Skeptics of today…thinking everything is neat and tidy and defined.  But then doubt creeps in on top of the doubt.  Maybe reality is a bit wider?  More details and three short videos on Wittgenstein:

Earlier Wittgenstein:  A language is a form of life–a picture.  There is ALWAYS DOUBT–ALWAYS SKEPTICISM!  If you can’t speak of doubt, you can’t speak of knowledge, either.  Like the Skeptical viewpoint, which is based on clearly defined structures, reality is fairly straightforward.  There are no genuine philosophical problems–it’s all about understanding our language. This was a great success in that Wittgenstein had solved all philosophical problems by looking at them from this viewpoint.  (Video 4 min.)

Wittgenstein and The End of Philosophy:  But Wittgenstein became uneasy with his success.  He realizes reality is wider.  (Video 4 min.)

Later Wittgenstein:  He abandons the idea that language is a picture.  He realizes it’s not all that simple.  We don’t just have one all-encompassing language, but we have different “language games.”  The meaning of a word is the way it’s used in a particular language game.  Philosophical problems arise when we mix ideas amongst different language games–confusing one way of talking with another. (Video 3 min.)


 For the Skeptic, it’s fairly straightforward–it’s all about understanding science.  Like early Wittgenstein, Skeptics also think they’ve solved it all because, simply, science is the touchstone.  The Rosetta Stone.  But some skeptics themselves become skeptical, like Wittgenstein did.  They take a longer view, a more synoptic view, and realize that reality is spring loaded with paradigm shifts–some small, some large.  The later Wittgenstein was forced to admit reality was a bit wider.  Maybe Skeptics should realize that science is similar to a language game a la the later Wittgenstein.  After all, quantum, relativity, and Newtonian views are quite different.  (Note that logically it’s irrelevant to this argument that they could be united in some sense in the future…I have no doubt they will.)

A healthy Skepticism is good.  But those folks closer to the far end of the spectrum (the Deniers) are a bit like the 2-D creatures in Flatland who can’t comprehend the wider picture–the picture that’s currently outside their paradigm, but one that will come into view in good time.  (However, let’s not take this analogy with Wittgenstein too far…. he was more open-minded later, but ultimately not open-minded enough.)

3 comments on “Wittgenstein & Skepticism…

  1. Hello, Aliman. One of the things I bemoan about the more hardline of my skeptical fellows is that they often try to use cut-and-dry mundane explanations for certain reported phenomena, when if one considers all the factors in the case being investigated, several different things are actually going on, and overly simplistic explanations, or overused, stock explanations, in an abuse of Occam’s razor, only wind up sounding contrived. While it is often said among skeptics in reference to Hume’s writings, and later, Carl Sagan, that extraordinary claims do indeed require extraordinary evidence, it is also true that even ordinary claims still require evidence, however ordinary it may be. Just as with the case of Plate Tectonics theory, a simple, or stock explanation is not always appropriate, as reality is not always so accommodating to our desires for magic, or mundane, easy answers.

  2. Indeed! Wegener was thinking along the right lines–that the continents moved–but thought too simply in thinking they just forced their way around the “stationary” globe. Not until years (decades, I think) later did scientists realize that the lithosphere was utterly malleable.

  3. Hey Aliman, I am a bit late here but I had to comment on your attention to Witty. Even if he is hated today by professionals, I think that he still is really misunderstood, and could provide much needed fresh philosophical air. I don’t think that he ever wanted to “figure out the world”, but he wanted to figure out what kind of beast logic and epistemology are. (Many things ought to be passed over in silence by philosophers perhaps)

    In part (perhaps a minor one though) he smothered the concept of philosophical skepticism. If skepticism means anything in our way of thinking, it must have a role. Does it make sense to doubt in the first place (this is answered by examining the “language-game”), in a particular context? Raimond Gaita followed this line in an essay called, “Philosophical Heroes And Dangerous Thoughts”. He examined a philosopher who was a daring hard-nosed logic warrior. He doubted the existence of chairs and so on. The tradition wants us to think that he poses a real intellectual problem with the way we live. But Gaita points out that people who can’t be sure if chairs exist are not models of intellectual rigor, but insane.

    Wittgenstein wanted to show how certainty arises in our lives. When I pull a chair under me and sit, doubt has no role (in normal circumstances). The concept is senseless in this context.
    Anyway, good subject and good to see that you are still chompin’ at the bit, my good man!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s