14 August 2006

Wu-Tang + Cold War Kids + Wittgenstein

I have to say, I'm kind of bored with this so-called blogging thing. But it's tres useful for me to type up things in the morning after having slept on it or whatever. I don't believe in sleeping on things. Moving on to some other things I've been doing lately.

Wu-Tang is da bomb!

The Cold War Kids will be the next big indie thing.

Understanding what Wittgenstein means by “certainty” is central to understanding his work. The concept of certainty runs through all of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Indeed, it seems as if this concept is a clue that connects Wittgenstein’s early and late philosophy. More than any other philosopher, Wittgenstein seems to have completely reversed his thinking about his subject matter. The Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus seems to differ entirely from the Philosophic Investigations. But with his final work, written almost on his deathbed, flies in the face of the dichotomy that is commonly drawn to describe the alterity between the TLP and the PI. On Certainty offers a range of thought that draws on both the TLP and the PI. The thread that runs through these works is woven of Wittgenstein’s use of words and phrases like “proposition”; “fact”; “to know”; “to be certain of”; “picture” and “form of life”.
Wittgenstein’s remarks in OC bear out an unexpected consequence: Certainty is not a language game. Language games belong to language. (It is true that in a language game there is significantly more than language itself in play.) Rather, Wittgenstein assigns to certainty a kind of non-linguistic prominence. He says that certainty is beyond justification. It is, “as it were, as something animal”. Utterances are offered as justification. If I’m asked if I’m certain that the world exists, it’s nonsensical to reply, “Yes, I am certain.” Such a reply justifies nothing. The justification for certainty is “something animal” in that it is non-discursive; I justify my certainty by acting. Wittgenstein asks rhetorically, “Does a cat know that a mouse exists?” The sensible answer is that the cat does not know that a mouse exists. Or, if a cat could speak, it would make no sense for the cat to say, “I know that mouse exists”. The cat’s certainty of the mouse’s existence is shown by its stalking the mouse. This is the type of certainty to which Wittgenstein refers when he says that certainty is “something animal”.

To move on, this point naturally moves toward another entry in the Wittgenstein Glossary. Why is it nonsensical to say that the cat doesn’t know that a mouse exists? The cluster of remarks implies (correctly) that it is nonsensical for a man to say that he doesn’t know that his hands don’t exist. This fine distinction hangs on Wittgenstein’s use of “to know”. OC was written in response to a G.E. Moore essay in which Moore says that he knows that he has two hands. Nothing will ever convince him otherwise. Wittgenstein’s criticism of Moore can be summed up by saying that he thinks Moore misuses “to know”. He equivocates its meaning with the meaning of a phrase of the type “I am in pain”. The latter cannot be doubted. Therefore, Moore thinks the former cannot be doubted. Wittgenstein uses “to know” in a very specific way. (Although, he does say, “I would like to reserve the expression ‘I know’ for the cases in which it is used in normal linguistic exchange”. )

Wittgenstein says that “to know” expresses a relation between a subject and a fact. There are various times when sensibly we use “I know”; i.e., it would make sense to say, “I know my bicycle is locked to the parking meter”. There is a fact—“my bicycle…”—and “I”, who has taken into account the fact. There seem to be a class of propositions that are not facts. This distinction gives a clue as to why Wittgenstein criticizes Moore’s usage. “That I have two hands” is not a fact. This proposition forms part of my world-view, which is a necessary condition of my making judgments at all. I am certain of such propositions.

Wittgenstein says that one could not give up such a proposition for fear of giving up his whole system of beliefs; such a proposition has the character of a rule. In this way, certainty relates to a large portion of the PI, which deals extensively with rules and rule following. There are propositions of which we are certain, and there are propositions that we know. (I ignore for now propositions that we believe.) The latter have the character of empirical knowledge. Wittgenstein says, “it is always by favor of Nature that one knows something.” I take this to mean that propositions that we know can be confirmed or denied. These propositions relate to what Wittgenstein calls “facts” in the TLP. Propositions assert a state of affairs, to which they may or may not agree. When Wittgenstein says, “The world is all that is the case”, he means that the world is composed of all propositions that correctly express the facts. Propositions of which one is certain differ from propositions that one knows. Just one example of their difference is that the negation of a proposition of which one is certain makes no sense. If I say, “Water will freeze at 100 degrees Celsius”, then something may be wrong with my entire world-view. I may not know what the words “freeze” or “water” mean.

As I said above, certainty cannot be justified with words. A result of this phenomenon is that we believe things for which we have no good reason to believe. Wittgenstein says, “At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded”. Part of what this means is that a belief in the efficacy of an analgesic in relieving a headache is founded ultimately on a whole system of beliefs—e.g., in modern medicine, in advertising, in experience and so forth—that mutually support one another.