Manny's Reviews > On Certainty

On Certainty by Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Dec 28, 2011

bookshelves: to-read, linguistics-and-philosophy

Some interesting things that people are certain about:

Religion

You have an invisible friend who is the most important being in the world and responsible for everything that happens.

Science

The great strength of science is that all its findings are provisional and subject to revision at any moment if new evidence comes in. This is why you should trust it.

Economics

Even 0.1% growth over a few tens of millenia would result in an economy bigger than the known universe. But, although it is impossible in the long term, the critical thing is that the economy should grow, otherwise catastrophe will ensue.

Love

Exercise left to the reader.
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08/09/2016 marked as: to-read

Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie From a biography on Wittgenstein, I got the sense he was preoccupied with what rules of language could be applied to assert a proposition. What are the rules of language that makes a proposition true?


message 2: by Julie (new)

Julie If you accept that is a tree, that is.


message 3: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny He started off by thinking about what made propositions true, but as he progressed I would say it more turned into thinking about how people use language, especially when they are talking about philosophy. It turns out that the connection with things being true isn't as clear as one first believes.


message 4: by Tom (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Lichtenberg There is also the idea that we are hard wired to believe first and question later, like my own personal motto, often wrong but never in doubt!


message 5: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Tom wrote: "There is also the idea that we are hard wired to believe first and question later, like my own personal motto, often wrong but never in doubt!"

Exactly. Certainty doesn't seem to be a logical concept, when you look at how it's actually used.


message 6: by David (last edited Dec 29, 2011 08:26PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David Katzman It is a simple but brilliant book. He essentially says all philosophy is just nonsense. Philosophical debates are nothing more than linguistic arguments about terms that have no real meaning ... only an endless loop of words used to construct worldviews ... that are in many ways like ideologies.


message 7: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny He essentially says all philosophy is just nonsense.

Or, to use a technical term, bullshit. I think Frankfurt made a small but valuable contribution here.


David Katzman Haha! True.


message 9: by Tuck (new)

Tuck he DID like his schnitzel and skirts The World As I Found It


Jason Combs Wittgenstein would not agree with your descriptions of those things, except for maybe love.


message 11: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Why do you think he wouldn't agree?


message 12: by Jason (last edited Feb 05, 2015 10:58AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jason Combs Manny wrote: "Why do you think he wouldn't agree?"

Because Wittgenstein did not respect science, or rather scientists, as much as you imply, though perhaps I'm reading into your statement more than you mean. He thought science was useful, but he railed against imposing scientific analyses as the arbiter of truth. Science is just a form of life by which we contemplate to make sense of the natural world. But, as he said in his Tractatus, “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.”
He would've liked Thomas Kuhn's notion of paradigms.

IMHO, the best primary source read for his view of science vis-a-vis religion is his "Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough." See https://docs.google.com/document/d/19... & http://www.roangelo.net/logwitt/logwi...

Wittgenstein had a lot of respect for belief & religion, even claiming to see things from a religious POV. Bertrand Russell once noted that he thought Wittgenstein should become a cleric if not a philosopher, LOL. To the dismay of the Vienna Circle, Wittgenstein was ultimately a mystic in the sense of Proposition 7 of his Tractatus, which bluntly ends, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." He was not interested much in metaphysical "proofs" of God (metaphysics confuses the logic of our language) or traditional doctrines, but he did not think that God was some invisible friend we make up. God was as real as anything else was to Wittgenstein, and shown in our actions: “If you and I are to live religious lives, it mustn't be that we talk a lot about religion, but that our manner of life is different. It is my belief that only if you try to be helpful to other people will you in the end find your way to God.”

Not coincidentally, his top students, & the executors whom he left in charge of his library and legacy, Rush Rhees & GEM Anscombe, were both religious & highly influential analytic philosophers.

On economics, he would not consider economic growth good. He believed the contrary, that it is bad. He was from a wealthy family, but when his dad died & he inherited a fortune, he gave it all away and instead lived the life of a simple intellectual ascetic. He considered wealth and possessions to be pointless distractions & entirely earned his keep through teaching and architectural engineering.


message 13: by Manny (last edited Feb 05, 2015 11:42AM) (new) - added it

Manny But the way I'm describing all those things is of course ironic. I'm just pointing out how odd it is that people consider them certain.

I'd never heard of Wittgenstein's remarks on The Golden Bough! Thanks :)


message 14: by Ted (new)

Ted not sure if that remark about economy is meant as irony or not?! at any rate I cannot agree with it.


message 15: by Jason (last edited Feb 05, 2015 11:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jason Combs Manny wrote: "But the way I'm describing all those things is of course ironic. I'm just pointing out how odd it is that people consider them certain.

I'm an analytic philosopher, so I'm horrible at determining mood of written words, LOL!


I'd never heard of Wittgenstein's remarks The Golden Bough!..."

Yeah, he pretty much tears Frazer a new you-know-what. It's a quick, entertaining, and very thoughtful read, which is saying something when it comes to Wittgenstein's otherwise technical style of writing.

Cheers!


message 16: by Ted (new)

Ted Tom wrote: "There is also the idea that we are hard wired to believe first and question later, like my own personal motto, often wrong but never in doubt!"

Love that, Tom. I must see if my aged brain can remember it. (view spoiler)


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