Category Archives: Wittgenstein

Strangers amongst us

We struggle with strangeness. Whether we fear who’s different or merely fear those who fear the different differently from us, home’s where our differences largely go unnoticed. It struck me how self-evident it has become to see public announcements, on a hurricane for instance, accompanied by somebody translating them into sign language. It’s difficult not to see this as progress; therefore difficult to see it as anything but self-evident. But it’s not self-evident. It’s the outcome of a struggle by strangers incapable of hearing and once discarded by society and probably labeled “deaf and dumb”. Well, it is their struggle and that of caring people who provided an understanding home to them in which they could be understood and, hence, come to their own understanding. How did they realize such a remarkable feat making acceptance of deaf people into something “so general as to make it unthinkable to see it as someone’s original idea”? The latter is Kafka’s description of that immediate insight which, once made, seems to become so entrenched in custom it is like it could not have been otherwise. Wittgenstein would probably say it becomes part of the grammar of deafness that it is a difference that ought to be accommodated. Still, however self-evident it may seem now it was anything but self-evident not so very long ago.

How can that be? What can we learn from it?

Continue reading

To the latrine with our doctrines!


My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.” 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Routledge Classics, 1961.

I’m reading Cora Diamond’s “The Realistic Spirit” in which proposition 6.54 is seen as the key to crack the code of continuity in Wittgenstein’s thought. I don’t know about that but I do know this: what she says resonates with why I always liked reading Wittgenstein. It’s not the famous proposition 7 calling bull-shit on philosophy that enticed me, calling bull-shit is easy. It’s the resistance to clear-cut philosophical doctrines and a view of reason as somehow beyond life as we know it which rings true to me.

Is it possible to do philosophy without leaving behind you beliefs that one p or another is true in a deeper way than pointing to the coffee mug and saying that it is on the table? In a way we’re all philosophers who want to believe that what we say matters in a way that is beyond being merely true. Philosophy, I believe (and I believe Wittgenstein believed all his life), is about showing that to be a terrible equivocation. A terrible equivocation more specifically on two crucial real-life common words: the demonstrative ‘that’ and the verb ‘to believe’.

Let me show you that. Maybe if you read on you’ll believe.

Continue reading

4.112 Philosophy is (..) an activity

“4.1122 Darwin’s theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
hypothesis in natural science.”
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, l. Wittgenstein, Routledge Classics, 2001.
(this is the official translation, no original this time, sorry)

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 20-05-2009. I have almost come to the point where all old posts have been transferred to the new site and I feel like maybe one of these days I can make new stuff, hopefully having learned from all the many mistakes I have made previously.]

When discussing this with friends of mine, one of them suggested I argue for it on a reductio ad absurdum. I won’t. It seems more fitting to the case at hand to go for a less known (and known to be merely rhetorical) argument: the one “ab absurdo”, ie from the absurd. Hence (I am in a playful mood), I do apologize on beforehand: for assuming the existence of God in some parts of the below.

Continue reading


Another one of those quoteless quoughts. Life is too hectic for me to do anything more complicated than just think my thoughts. So here is an old thought that I never put in a public place (I am considering my cognitive science thesis as a rather private place, and besides: the thought didn’t have quite as sexy a name as in the title above). Probably I didn’t do that because it allowed me to flatter myself into thinking that once, when I had some real time, I’d work this out and people would be baffled by a thought so unequivocally changing the boundaries of any future thinking.

But I do no longer want to flatter myself. Reality is much too painful in the light of what might happen, certainly when you are convinced that what might happen ought in fact to happen.

The thought is simple: there’s a characterization of philosophy that, if at all highlighted, was never highlighted enough. It’s about the difference between static and dynamic philosophy; between the synchronic and diachronic approaches to knowledge. Sure, people have demarcated between absolute systems such as the Hegelian one and generically open-ended non-systems such as the Bergsonian élan vital. But in this case the demarcation is done to serve the purpose of a fingerpointing of the other side as ‘bad’. Closest to my thought is Wittgenstein where at least in one person, albeit split over two almost non-overlapping time periods, you have both aspects integrated. Because my thought is not a thought of either/or, my thought is a thought of neither/nor.

But I’ll leave it to the interested reader to click for further reading in order not to cloud the front page with my babble:

Continue reading

Über Gewissheit – On Certainty

“Das Kind, möchte ich sagen, lernt so und so reagieren; und wenn es das nun tut, so weiss es damit noch nichts. Das wissen beginnt erst auf einer späteren Stufe.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, Über Gewissheit – On Certainty, Clause 538, p. 71-71e, Blackwell Publishing, 1969.

[Re-posted from The Old Site. Original dd. 17-12-2007. In itself the message of this one is so simplistic that I was a little bit ashamed to re-post it here, but a. such are the rules, b. simplistic is not necessarily false and c. the conceptions of & within the ‘analytic’ tradition are such that what is simplistically opposed to this is for many still conceived wisdom.]

(Official English translation: “The child, I should like to say, learns to react in such-and-such a way; and in reacting it doesn´t so far know anything. Knowing only begins at a later level.”)
Philosophy of language is mostly known in its synchronic version. The method of language analysis has been extremely productive. The early Wittgenstein – a sentence corresponding to a certain state of affairs …  – is still quoted heavily for his contributions in this vein, however much his name is discredited by the opaque writings (like the one above) of the late Wittgenstein.

Continue reading

0. Worüber man spricht, schweigt man nicht.

“7. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (p. 89), Routledge Classics, 1961.

(amateuristic English translation of the title phrase: Whereof we speak, we don’t shut up.”)

I am off to a slow start here. So, allow me to have some innocent fun by messing up a popular quote. I attended a three-hour lecture on Satz 7 a week or so ago. The only thing I could keep on thinking was why not the other way around? – it is highly probable, by the way, that this is the side effect of an overdose of Musil ‘look for the opposite’-irony. It’s also of some value to add here that it is difficult to keep focused on what basically is just one sentence – no matter how valiant the effort is on the part of the lecturer to uncover layers and layers of deeper meaning in it.

Anyway, somewhere halfway the above Satz 0 (please try to pronounce in German) had lodged itself in my brain. It has been there ever since. I tried to Google it to find one million people who came to the same sentence and found none. So I couldn’t remove Satz 0 because of lack of originality (you might argue that not every sentence once thought is on the internet but you really shouldn’t think so blasphemous a thought).

I struggled a couple of days more. I wanted to believe that Satz 0 was at least trivial, if not just obviously gramatically incorrect. I did not succeed in convincing me of either. Satz 0 was so damned sticky that I even numbered it and slowly realized it was absolutely cool to imagine it pronounced in German.

So what is the matter with Satz 0? Let me tell ya, below the fold.

Continue reading