Musings on Wittgenstein and Certainty

Reading through ‘On Certainty’ is interesting – because there are very few certain conclusions that Wittgenstein comes to.  It seems odd that an investigation into the nature of knowledge and how we know things doesn’t really offer any firm, certain conclusions. But perhaps, despite a non-systematic format and method, a few things can be gleaned that shed light on the problems of certainty.

‘In the course of our conversations Russell would often exclaim: “Logic’s hell!” – And this perfectly expresses the feeling we had when we were thinking about the problems of logic; that is to say, their immense difficulty, their hard and slippery texture.

I believe our main reason for feeling like this was the following fact: that every time some new linguistic phenomenon occurred to us, it could retrospectively show that our previous explanations were unworkable. (We felt that language could always make new, and impossible, demands; and this makes all explanation futile.)

But that is the difficulty Socrates gets into trying to give the definition of a concept. Again and again a use of a word emerges that seems not to be compatible with the concept that other uses have led us to form. We say: but that isn’t how it is! – it is like that though! and all we can do is keep repeating these antitheses.’ (‘Culture and Value’, p. 30e)

The problem emerges in the last paragraph: the fluid nature of language is a real barrier to examining things like certainty and logic. This is why Wittgenstein adopts a more ‘therapeutic’ method of investigation, working, wading and kneading through the issues and problems.  Perhaps no clear, concise answer appears – but can such an answer even be feasible given the limitations imposed on us by our language?

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