Friday, April 30, 2010

The anti-scepticism of Wittgenstein

Sentences like the one I commented in my last blog might give the impression that Wittgenstein is a sceptic. The quotation from On Certainty there seems to imply that we can doubt everything: each statement that might be true still has some aspects that might make it possible to doubt it. One might think that this is supported by one of the first aphorisms in this book, which I quote now from an edition that I have found on line: “From its seeming to me - or to everyone - to be so, it doesn't follow that it is so.” (aphorism 2; see, also for the next quotations) It implies the idea that everything that we might hold true might be different, not only in the sense that it has implications that may make it false (for instance that our statement about an object is only true as long as we look at it; see my last blog). It may also be possible that our statement is false if we look at it from another viewpoint, for instance from the viewpoint of another person. Everything might be different, so it seems, and this is basically the position of a sceptic.
This is not the position of Wittgenstein. It is true, much can be doubted, but already in the second sentence of aphorism 2, right after the quotation just given, Wittgenstein gives a hint that he doubts this endless doubt: “What we can ask is whether it can make sense to doubt it”. As Wittgenstein shows later in his On Certainty, in order to doubt we always need a frame of reference from which it is possible to doubt: “If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty” (115). And here we get to Wittgenstein’s famous language games in the sense of regions of our language with their own rules and grammar, which make talking and discussion possible, anyhow. Even then one can ask: What justifies these languages games? However, there is no endless regress and in the end we simply have to act in order to survive (see my blog of March 3, 2008). And so Wittgenstein’s develops his anti-scepticism.
Basically, I agree with Wittgenstein. Nevertheless, if we look at the present research by Metzinger and Murphy and Brown, a certain degree of scepticism cannot be avoided. For is it not so that they have shown that the truths we hold are actually only representations in our head, which makes them individual truths in the end? The only way to try to avoid such a relativism with sceptical consequences is, I think, to look for as much agreement between as many people as possible about the truth of these individual truths, by a free, unlimited and unrestricted discussion as proposed by Habermas. What we arrive at then is not TRUTH but at least a maximum possible intersubjective consensus.
But however this may be, one thing is without doubt: My next blog will be published a bit later than usual.

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