08 March 2007

Thesis On Certainty

So this is what we would call something of a cop-out post. But, well. (We hate how hyphenated words looks; Joyce was the most stylish writer ever. We were reading out loud "Araby" a few nights ago and the way he puts one word against another word to make a sentence--it's so beautiful. You can learn everything about writing with beauty (not that that would have to be your goal) by reading out loud and typing or writing Joyce's writing: Joyce constructed neologism-type words by omitting hyphens and jamming words together, not that that was the phenomenon about which We were talking directly above, but that is the thought that got usonto this topic about Joyce.)

We're going to paste in here the first part of ourcompleted thesis. We're really happy with how it came out. And, We'll, like, do something else later.

[This here below is the epigraph. Following that is the first page or so of the thesis.]

I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is, and also the most
demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness,
flat-out speed, endurance, and that strange mix of caution and abandon we call
courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one
exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical
variables. Given that a net that’s three feet high (at the center) and two
players in (unrealistically) a fixed position, the efficacy of one single shot
is determined by its angle, depth, pace, and spin. And each of these
determinants is itself determined by still other variables—for example, a shot’s
depth is determined by the height at which the ball passes over the net combined
with some integrated function of pace and spin, with the ball’s height over the
net itself determined by the player’s body position, grip on the racquet, degree
of backswing, angle of racquet face, and the 3-D coordinates through which the
racquet face moves during that interval in which the ball is actually on the
strings. The tree of variables and determinants branches out, on and on,
and then on even farther when the opponent’s own positions and predilections and
the ballistic features of the ball he’s sent you to hit are factored in.
No CPU yet existent could compute the expansion of variables for even a single
exchange—smoke would come out of the mainframe. The sort of thinking
involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious
entity, and then only unconsciously, i.e., by combining talent with repetition
to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without
conscious thought. In other words, serious tennis is a kind of
David Foster Wallace[i]


[i] David Foster Wallace, “Tennis Player
Michael Joyce’s
Profession Artistry As a Paradigm of Certain Stuff About Choice,
Limitation, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness,” in A Supposedly
Thing I’ll Never Do Again (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1997),

About two-thirds of the way through On Certainty,[i] Wittgenstein seemingly encapsulates his entire philosophic
project in one day’s worth of propositions.
471. It is so difficult to find
the beginning. Or, better: it is difficult to begin at the
beginning. And not try to go further back.

472. When a child
learns language it learns at the same time what is to be investigated and what
not. When it learns that there is a cupboard in the room, it isn’t taught
to doubt whether what it sees later on is still a cupboard or only a kind of
stage set.

473. Just as in writing we learn a particular basic form
of letters and then vary it later, so we learn first the stability of things as
the norm, which is then subject to alterations.

474. This game
proves its worth. That may be the cause of its being played, but it is not
the ground.

475. I want to regard man here as an animal; as a
primitive being to which one grants instinct but not ratiocination. As a
creature in a primitive state. Any logic good enough for a primitive means
of communication needs no apology from us. Language did not emerge from
some kind of ratiocination.

Taken in order, we believe (surmise)
that these five propositions position cogently Wittgenstein’s thought about the
limits of thought, and therefore philosophy. The first proposition is the
kernel—the essential seed—of Wittgenstein’s philosophy: his work tries to
exorcise from the reader the urge to “try to go further back.” This urge
spurs on philosophers to raise nonsensical questions, to which they proffer
nonsensical answers; from this urge results what we would call
“metaphysics.” On the one hand, the metaphysical urge catalyzed Platonism
and Aristotelian auto-affective notion of God. Both of these doctrinaire
systems assume that there is an underlying cause that lies further back from the
sensible world. Both Platonic formalism and Aristotle’s conception of the
“unmoved mover” as pure being-at-work suppose an impoverished view of reality;
both try to supply a metaphysical backdrop that secures for reality a more full
And we find on the other hand, thousands of years later, Moore
taking up another aspect of going “further back.” His attempt to prove
realism fails for similar reasons, over which we will go later. Attempts
at proving realism and idealism; deriving transcendental categories of the
understanding; and even the search for totally certain knowledge all arise from
the metaphysical presupposition of the existence of a “further back.”
Philosophers rely on this “further back” in order to ground their thought in
apodicticity or transcendence—it is the site of the a

Where Wittgenstein provisionally situates the “beginning,” then, is the point at
which “a child learns language.” As he says, attendant to learning
language, a child must learn quite a few other things: the stability or
uniformity of the objects expressed by language; belief in the regularity (of
the meaning) of language; the authority of the teacher. These things
simply cannot be the language-learner’s theme of investigation if he is to learn
language. But it would be a mistake to think that these uninvestigated
themes comprise the “ground” of language-learning. The game—in this
instance, language-learning—“proves its worth,” but this worth doesn’t ground
the game. A game’s ground is “further back” from the practice of the game,
and the ground is not itself part of the game: it is a condition of the
possibility for the game. This ground would have to come prior to the
practice of the game, and it is part of Wittgenstein’s task to show—in general
terms—why the transcendental ground—or the urge to find a transcendental
ground—is not a proper theme for philosophy.

[i] Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (New York: Harper & Row, 1969).