Wittgenstein on Belief

‘If someone can believe in God with complete certainty, why not in Other Minds?’ (Ludwig Wittgenstein, ‘Culture and Value’, p. 73e)

This is, so far as I can tell, where the first stab at something like properly basic beliefs (in the modern, Plantingan sense) was formulated. It’s interesting – Wittgenstein reverses the usual, ‘belief in other minds is rational, so why not belief in God,’ form of the argument. Can it still stand as a convincing idea?

What’s interesting is that Wittgenstein assumes that belief in God is totally, completely rational (we might even use the term, ‘basic’) – and that it’s belief in other minds as rational that is justified by the rationality of believing in God. We might be able to take his thought a bit further: can anything be believed in with complete certainty if God is not first believed in? Thinkers such as Cornelius van Til, one of the primary philosophers behind a movement in Reformed Christian thought, would say a resounding no. I do not agree.

Wittgenstein knew what ‘complete certainty’ meant here – not simply being sure or confident, but certain in the mathematical sense: as certain of God as one is of 2+2=4. One could argue that only in mathematics can one be certain of things in a mathematical sense, but the question still remains: is it belief in God that justifies belief in other minds, or belief in other minds that justifies belief in God, or is there another alternative?


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