Analytic Philosophy

“Analytic Philosophy” is used to describe philosophy that proceeds via analysis – broadly, by seeking to understand the composition of its subject matter (or concepts of that subject matter) out of simple (or simpler) components. Some important marks of analytic philosophy are a focus upon small parts of larger issues, attention to fine details of the small parts, rigor and explicitness, with the latter often facilitated by the use of formal methods.
The method of analysis is the method to understand a subject matter by coming to understand its components. The aim is to understand the behavior of the whole by tracing the behavior to the influences of its parts and their organization. The success of the method is dependent both upon the correctness of the analysis and upon its capacity to deepen understanding by explaining the less well understood – the whole – on the basis of what is better understood – the simpler components and the effects of their configuration in the whole. (Guy Longworth: Analytic Philosophy)

It is difficult to give a precise definition of analytic philosophy, since it is not so much a specific doctrine as a loose concatenation of approaches to traditional problems. If there is a single feature that characterizes analytical philosophy, it is probably its emphasis on trying to articulate clearly the meaning of concepts such as “knowledge”, “truth”, and “justification”. This project is guided by the assumption that a proposed thesis cannot be assessed judiciously until it and its constituent concepts are understood plainly. The effort at such clarification constitutes roughly what is meant by “analysis”.
There are, however, many different ways of pursuing this end, from the strict formal approach of Gottlob Frege or Alfred Tarski to the aphoristic, example-oriented technique of the later Wittgenstein. Therefore, rather than trying to define the concept exhaustively, we shall concentrate on individuals who are unquestionably regarded as analytical philosophers. (The Columbia History of Western Philosophy Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy. p605)

Analytic Philosophy is a 20th Century movement in philosophy which holds that philosophy should apply logical techniques in order to attain conceptual clarity, and that philosophy should be consistent with the success of modern science. For many Analytic Philosophers, language is the principal (perhaps the only) tool, and philosophy consists in clarifying how language can be used.
The three main foundational planks of Analytical Philosophy are:
  •  that there are no specifically philosophical truths and that the object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts.
  •  that the logical clarification of thoughts can only be achieved by analysis of the logical form of philosophical propositions, such as by using the formal grammar and symbolism of a logical system.
  •  a rejection of sweeping philosophical systems and grand theories in favour of close attention to detail, as well as a defense of common sense and ordinary language against the pretensions of traditional Metaphysics and Ethics.
( Analytic Philosophy   Copy)

The remote ancestry of analytic philosophy is well illustrated in the dialogues of Plato, where Socrates is shown to be concerned with delineating the meaning of key concepts like "piety," "justice," or "soul."
In the Phaedo, Socrates, in one of his last moments with his disciples, is shown teasing Crito about the corrupting power of familiar but misleading language. Crito has asked how Socrates should be buried. Socrates points out that one should not confuse the person designated "Socrates" with his body and thus should not speak of burying a "you", a person. Unanalyzed speech, as in this case, Socrates warns, can lead to unreflective materialism in thought and life. A major strand or concern in the rest of the history of Western philosophy can be read in a similar light, as overt or covert analysis of language. ( Analytic Philosophy)

Analytic philosophy is the practice of seeking better understanding of complex concepts through the analysis (i.e., the breaking down and the clarification) of problematic linguistic expressions.

Clear and precise definition is vital to productive philosophical inquiry.

Analytic philosophy has been the dominant academic philosophical movement in English-speaking countries and in the Nordic countries from about the beginning of the twentieth century up to about the 1970s or 1980s, and possibly since then. It is distinguished from Continental philosophy, which takes its name from the European continent and is the dominant philosophy in most non-English speaking countries.

The main founders of analytic philosophy were the Cambridge philosophers G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell. Perhaps its strongest impetus came from their reaction against British Idealism, and their rejection of Hegel and Hegelianism. However, both Moore and Russell—especially Russell—were heavily influenced by the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege, and many of analytic philosophy's leading proponents, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudolf Carnap, Kurt Gödel, Karl Popper, Hans Reichenbach, Herbert Feigl, Otto Neurath, and Carl Hempel have come from Germany and Austria.

Analytic philosophy developed primarily in English-speaking countries.

In Britain, Russell and Moore were succeeded by C. D. Broad, L. Susan Stebbing, Gilbert Ryle, A. J. Ayer, R. B. Braithwaite, Paul Grice, John Wisdom, R. M. Hare, J. L. Austin, P. F. Strawson, William Kneale, G. E. M. Anscombe, Peter Geach, and others.

In America, the movement was led by many of the above-named European emigres as well as Max Black, Ernest Nagel, Charles L. Stevenson, Norman Malcolm, Willard Van Orman Quine, Wilfrid Sellars, Nelson Goodman, and others, while A. N. Prior, John Passmore, and J. J. C. Smart were prominent in Australasia.

Logic and philosophy of language were central strands of analytic philosophy from the beginning, although this dominance diminished greatly in the latter part of the twentieth century. Several lines of thought originate from the early, language-and-logic part of this analytic philosophy tradition. These include: logical positivism or logical empiricism, logical atomism, logicism and ordinary language philosophy.

Central to logical positivism and logical empiricism were the Vienna Circle, the work of Moritz Schlick and Rudolf Carnap and other members of the Circle, the principle of verificationism, the analytic-synthetic distinction, the rejection of metaphysics, and emotivism in ethics and aesthetics. A.J. Ayer's small but highly influential book, Language, Truth, and Logic can be thought of as a summary statement of and introduction to logical positivism for the English-speaking world. In the 1930s, with the coming of Nazism, there was a large immigration of logicians and scientists from continental Europe to Britain, America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the non-Nazi world.

In the 1950s the programs of the logical positivists and logical empiricists began to unravel for both internal and external reasons. Quine's 1951 essay, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," disposing of the supposed analytic-synthetic distinction, and of reductionism, "the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience" as Quine put it, was central to the demise of logical positivism. Hempel's essay, "Problems and Changes in the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning," published in 1950, also showed logical and other problems inherent in the notions of experiential testability, verifiability, falsifiability, confirmability, and translatability into an empiricist language as a criterion of cognitive meaning. Those works and others, written by former proponents of logical positivism or logical empiricism, proved devastating to the program.

It is possible to divide analytic philosophy into two strains or camps: ordinary language philosophy, led by John L. Austin and carried on by his followers—this has sometimes been known as "Oxford philosophy"—and the other camp containing everything else. This break comes over the question whether analysis should be carried on primarily through and on ordinary language, or whether it should have a component of formal logic and formal language.

Subsequent analytic and post-analytic philosophy includes extensive work in ethics, such as carried out by Philippa Foot, R. M. Hare, J. L. Mackie, Alasdair MacIntyre, and others; political philosophy as done most notably by John Rawls and Robert Nozick; aesthetics as investigated by Monroe Beardsley, Richard Wollheim, and Arthur Danto; philosophy of religion as studied by Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne; philosophy of language carried out by many philosophers including David Kaplan, Saul Kripke, Richard Montague, Hilary Putnam, W.V.O. Quine, Nathan Salmon, and John Searle; and philosophy of mind as studied by Daniel Dennett, David Chalmers, Hilary Putnam and others. Analytic metaphysics also came into its own with the work of Saul Kripke, David Lewis, Nathan Salmon, Peter van Inwagen, P.F. Strawson, and others.

Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy

The history of twentieth-century analytic philosophy is marked by the rapidity with major movements suddenly appear, flourish, lose their momentum, become senescent and eventually vanish. Examples include idealism, in its absolutist and subjective variants, sense-data theory, logical atomism, neutral monism, and logical positivism. There are, of course, exceptions to this pattern. In ontology, various forms of materialism continue to enjoy widespread support, and naturalized epistemology as developed by W.V.O. Quine and expanded by his followers shows no signs of abatement. Indeed, if anything, the tremendous prestige of science has intensified in the twentieth century. Scientism, which P.S. Churchland has defined as the notion that “in the idealized long run, the completed science is a true description of reality: there is no other Truth and no other Reality”, is today widely espoused in epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind.

Contemporary philosophers have reacted to the impact of science principally in three ways, two of which are forms of scientism.
1. The more radical form of scientism asserts that if philosophy has a function, it must be something other than trying to give t true account of the world. A variant of this view holds that philosophy should deal with normative or value questions, while science engages in wholly descriptive activity.
2. A less radical form of scientism maintains that philosophy, when done correctly, is just an extension of science. According to Quine, for example, there is a division of labor among scientific investigators – including philosophers – and their tasks and problems, though compatible, are somewhat different. 3. There is a variety of approaches that reject scientism and in different ways defend the autonomy of philosophy; they hold that philosophy has a descriptive function and can arrive at nonscientific truths about reality. G.E. Moore, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, P.F. Strawson, and John Searle, among others, espouse this last sort of belief.

It is difficult to give a precise definition of analytic philosophy, since it is not so much a specific doctrine as a loose concatenation of approaches to traditional problems. If there is a single feature that characterizes analytical philosophy, it is probably its emphasis on trying to articulate clearly the meaning of concepts such as “knowledge”, “truth”, and “justification”. This project is guided by the assumption that a proposed thesis cannot be assessed judiciously until it and its constituent concepts are understood plainly. The effort at such clarification constitutes roughly what is meant by “analysis”.
There are, however, many different ways of pursuing this end, from the strict formal approach of Gottlob Frege or Alfred Tarski to the aphoristic, example-oriented technique of the later Wittgenstein. Therefore, rather than trying to define the concept exhaustively, we shall concentrate on individuals who are unquestionably regarded as analytical philosophers. This group include Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), G.E. Moore (1873-1958), Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970), J.L. Austin (1911-1960), Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976), Karl Popper (1902-1994), and W.V.O. Quine (1908-2000). Nearly all of the major achievements in this field are due to these people. Many of them have transformed older traditions in new ways (as we will see with Quine’s holistic empiricism), but some (especially Wittgenstein and Austin) have developed new and unique approaches to philosophical questions. Without a doubt, the most influential philosopher of the era has been Wittgenstein (1889-1951). His writing - nearly all of them published only after his death – dominate the contemporary scene and seem destined to remain of central importance in the foreseeable future. A fruitful way of surveying the period is thus to concentrate (chronologically) upon the contributions of this distinguished group of individuals.

The creation of symbolic (or mathematical) logic is perhaps the single most significant development in the century. Apart from its intrinsic interest and technical sophistication, it has exercised an enormous influence on philosophy per se. Though there are anticipations of this kind of logic among the Stoics, it modern forms are without exact parallel in Western thought. It quickly became apparent that an achievement of this order could not easily be ignored, and no matter how diverse their concerns nearly all analytical philosophers acknowledge the importance of mathematical logic. This was especially true when the new logic, with its close affinities to mathematics, was recognized as fundamental to scientific theorizing. The combination of logic and science was regarded by many philosophers as a model that philosophical inquiry should follow. Logical positivism – a doctrine that flourished in the 1930s an 1940s - was an egregious expression of this point of view.

But logic itself, apart from its scientific affiliations, served as a role model. Many philosophers felt that its criteria of clarity, precision, and rigor should be the desired ideals in grappling with philosophical issues. Yet other thinkers, especially the latter Wittgenstein, rejected this approach, arguing that treating logic as an ideal language, superior to natural languages such as English or German, led to paradox and incoherence. Wittgenstein’s later philosophy consisted in developing a unique method that emphasized the merit of ordinary language in describing the world. In particular, his method avoided the kind of theorizing and generalization essential to logic. Since the new logic initiated such powerful and diverse reactions, we shall begin with a brief account of its central tenets. On this basis, we can describe why these philosophers responded to it in their different ways.


An Overview of Analytic Philosophy

Analytic philosophy, also called linguistic philosophy, a loosely related set of approaches to philosophical problems, dominant in Anglo-American philosophy from the early 20th century, that emphasizes the study of language and the logical analysis of concepts. Although most work in analytic philosophy has been done in Great Britain and the United States, significant contributions also have been made in other countries, notably Australia, New Zealand, and the countries of Scandinavia.

“Analytic Philosophy” is used to describe philosophy that proceeds via analysis – broadly, by seeking to understand the composition of its subject matter (or concepts of that subject matter) out of simple (or simpler) components. Some important marks of analytic philosophy are a focus upon small parts of larger issues, attention to fine details of the small parts, rigor and explicitness, with the latter often facilitated by the use of formal methods.
The method of analysis is the method to understand a subject matter by coming to understand its components. The aim is to understand the behavior of the whole by tracing the behavior to the influences of its parts and their organization. The success of the method is dependent both upon the correctness of the analysis and upon its capacity to deepen understanding by explaining the less well understood – the whole – on the basis of what is better understood – the simpler components and the effects of their configuration in the whole.

Analytic philosophers conduct conceptual investigations that characteristically, though not invariably, involve studies of the language in which the concepts in question are, or can be, expressed. According to one tradition in analytic philosophy (sometimes referred to as formalism), for example, the definition of a concept can be determined by uncovering the underlying logical structures, or “logical forms,” of the sentences used to express it. A perspicuous representation of these structures in the language of modern symbolic logic, so the formalists thought, would make clear the logically permissible inferences to and from such sentences and thereby establish the logical boundaries of the concept under study. Another tradition, sometimes referred to as informalism, similarly turned to the sentences in which the concept was expressed but instead emphasized their diverse uses in ordinary language and everyday situations, the idea being to elucidate the concept by noting how its various features are reflected in how people actually talk and act. Even among analytic philosophers whose approaches were not essentially either formalist or informalist, philosophical problems were often conceived of as problems about the nature of language.

In spirit, style, and focus, analytic philosophy has strong ties to the tradition of empiricism, which has characterized philosophy in Britain for some centuries, distinguishing it from the rationalism of Continental European philosophy.
The most renowned of the British empiricists—John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill—have many interests and methods in common with contemporary analytic philosophers. And although analytic philosophers have attacked some of the empiricists’ particular doctrines, one feels that this is the result more of a common interest in certain problems than of any difference in general philosophical outlook.

Three philosophical influences were at work in Britain in nineteenth century: Scottish common sense, English philosophic radicalism, and German idealism.
English philosophy started off in the nineteenth century continuing the Scottish common-sense outlook, but also saw the development of an applied empiricism by radical thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham (1746-1832), James Mill (1773-1836), and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). A couple of English literati, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), immersed themselves in the developing German thought and brought it to the attention of the English intellectual public. Kant and Hagel suddenly came fully into their own and, in turn, led to the development of a British form of idealist philosophy that dominated Oxford and Cambridge to the end of the century, until it was challenged by G.E. Moore (1873–1958) and Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), (The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. (1999) Richard H. Popkin, Editor, pp 517 and 575)

Absolute idealism was avowedly metaphysical, in the sense that its adherents thought of themselves as describing, in a way not open to scientists, certain very fundamental truths about the world.
In their conclusions and, most important, in their methodology, the idealists were decidedly not on the side of commonsense intuition. The Cambridge philosopher J.M.E. McTaggart, for example, argued that the concept of time is inconsistent and that time therefore is unreal. British empiricism, on the other hand, had generally started with commonsense beliefs and either accepted or at least sought to explain them, using science as the model of the right way in which to investigate the world. Even when their conclusions were out of step with common sense (as was the radical skepticism of David Hume), the empiricists were generally concerned to reconcile the two.

The first break from the idealist view occurred when Moore, in a paper entitled “The Nature of Judgment” (1899), argued for a theory of truth that implies that the physical world does have the independent existence.
In his seminal essay “A Defence of Common Sense” (1925), as in others, Moore argued not only against idealist doctrines such as the unreality of time but also against all the forms of skepticism—for example, about the existence of other minds or of a material world—that philosophers have espoused. The skeptic, he pointed out, usually has some argument for his conclusion. Instead of examining such arguments, however, Moore pitted against the skeptic’s premises various quite everyday beliefs—for example, that he had breakfast that morning (thus, time cannot be unreal) or that he does in fact have a pencil in his hand (thus, there must be a material world). He challenged the skeptic to show that the premises of the skeptic’s argument are any more certain than the everyday beliefs that form the premises of Moore’s argument.

Although some scholars have seen Moore as an early practitioner of ordinary language philosophy, his appeal was not to what it is proper to say but rather to the beliefs of common sense. His rejection of any philosophical doctrine that offends against common sense was influential not only in the release that it afforded from the metaphysical excesses of absolute idealism but also in its impact on the sensibilities and general orientation of most later analytic philosophers.

Moore was also important for his vision of the proper business of philosophy—analysis. He was puzzled, for example, about the proper analysis of “a sees b,” in which b designates a physical object (e.g., a pencil). He thought that there must be a special sense of see in which one does not see the pencil but sees only part of its surface. In addition, he thought that there must be another sense of see in which what is directly perceived is not even the surface of the pencil but rather what Moore called “sense data” and what earlier empiricists had called “visual sensations” or “sense impressions.” Moore’s problem was to discern the relationships between these various elements in perception and, in particular, to discover how a person can be justified, as Moore fully believed he is, in his claims to see physical objects when what he immediately perceives are really only sense data. The idea that sense impressions form the immediate objects of perception played a large role in early analytic philosophy, showing once again its empiricist roots. Later, however, it became an important source of division among the logical positivists. In addition, most ordinary-language philosophers, as well as those closely influenced by the later work of Russell’s most famous student, Ludwig Wittgenstein, found sense data to be as unpalatable and unwarranted as Moore had found McTaggart’s doctrine of the unreality of time.

One can hardly claim, however, that analytic philosophers have universally accepted commonsense beliefs, much less that metaphysical conclusions (regarding the ultimate nature of reality) are absent from their writings. But there is in the history of the analytic movement a strong antimetaphysical strain, and its exponents have generally assumed that the methods of science and of everyday life are the best ways of finding out the truth.

Most empiricists, though admitting that the senses fail to yield the certainty requisite for knowledge, hold nonetheless that it is only through observation and experimentation that justified beliefs about the world can be gained—in other words, a priori reasoning from self-evident premises cannot reveal how the world is. Accordingly, many empiricists insist on a sharp dichotomy between the physical sciences, which ultimately must verify their theories by observation, and the deductive or a priori sciences—e.g., mathematics and logic—the method of which is the deduction of theorems from axioms. The deductive sciences, in the empiricists’ view, cannot produce justified beliefs, much less knowledge, about the world. This conclusion was a cornerstone of two important early movements in analytic philosophy, logical atomism and logical positivism. In the positivist’s view, for example, the theorems of mathematics do not represent genuine knowledge of a world of mathematical objects but instead are merely the result of working out the consequences of the conventions that govern the use of mathematical symbols.

The question then arises whether philosophy itself is to be assimilated to the empirical or to the a priori sciences. Early empiricists assimilated it to the empirical sciences. Moreover, they were less self-reflective about the methods of philosophy than are contemporary analytic philosophers. Preoccupied with epistemology (the theory of knowledge) and the philosophy of mind, and holding that fundamental facts can be learned about these subjects from individual introspection, early empiricists took their work to be a kind of introspective psychology. Analytic philosophers in the 20th century, on the other hand, were less inclined to appeal ultimately to direct introspection. More important, the development of modern symbolic logic seemed to promise help in solving philosophical problems—and logic is as a priori as science can be. It seemed, then, that philosophy must be classified with mathematics and logic. The exact nature and proper methodology of philosophy, however, remained in dispute.

For philosophers oriented toward formalism, the advent of modern symbolic logic in the late 19th century was a watershed in the history of philosophy, because it added greatly to the class of statements and inferences that could be represented in formal (i.e., axiomatic) languages. The formal representation of these statements provided insight into their underlying logical structures; at the same time, it helped to dispel certain philosophical puzzles that had been created, in the view of the formalists, through the tendency of earlier philosophers to mistake surface grammatical form for logical form. Because of the similarity of sentences such as “Tigers bite” and “Tigers exist,” for example, the verb to exist may seem to function, as other verbs do, to predicate something of the subject. It may seem, then, that existence is a property of tigers, just as their biting is. In symbolic logic, however, existence is not a property; it is a higher-order function that takes so-called “propositional functions” as values. Thus, when the propositional function “Tx”—in which T stands for the predicate “…is a tiger” and x is a variable replaceable with a name—is written beside a symbol known as the existential quantifier—∃x, meaning “There exists at least one x such that…”—the result is a sentence that means “There exists at least one x such that x is a tiger.” The fact that existence is not a property in symbolic logic has had important philosophical consequences, one of which has been to show that the ontological argument for the existence of God, which has puzzled philosophers since its invention in the 11th century by St. Anselm of Canterbury, is unsound.

Among 19th-century figures who contributed to the development of symbolic logic were the mathematicians George Boole (1815–64), the inventor of Boolean algebra, and Georg Cantor (1845–1918), the creator of set theory. The generally recognized founder of modern symbolic logic is Gottlob Frege (1848–1925), of the University of Jena in Germany. Frege, whose work was not fully appreciated until the mid-20th century, is historically important principally for his influence on Russell, whose program of logicism (the doctrine that the whole of mathematics can be derived from the principles of logic) had been attempted independently by Frege some 25 years before the publication of Russell’s principal logicist works, Principles of Mathematics (1903) and Principia Mathematica (1910–13; written in collaboration with Russell’s colleague at the University of Cambridge Alfred North Whitehead).

The method of analysis played a role in early Greek philosophy (see e.g. Plato’s “Theaetetus”) and reappeared to take a major part in the early modern period, in the work of Descartes and his followers. However, the method began gradually to lose its centrality during the rise of German Idealism, as philosophers responded to the work of Kant by seeking to develop grand systematic theories. In part, the aim of work in that tradition was to respect what was thought to be the holistic interconnectedness of mind and world, an aim thought not to be well served by the method of analysis. Although the method was a central tool of some other important thinkers in the 19th century―most notably, Franz Brentano and C. S. Pierce―its rise to prominence in 20th Century Anglo-American philosophy was due mainly to the work of G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell.

Moore and Russell
In the very late 19th century, Moore began a revolt against German Idealism. There were four main sources of dissent.
First, Moore felt that Idealism was an erroneous metaphysical view and that, where possible, there should be a return to Realism.
Second, he felt that the urge to grand system building should be suppressed in favor of careful attention to detail and rigorous argumentation.
Third, and related, he objected to what he saw as unnecessary obfuscation in the writings of German Idealists. He felt that philosophical theories and arguments for those theories should be open to objective assessment and so should be stated as clearly and sharply as possible.
The first three sources of dissent were based upon an un-favorable comparison of the major philosophical work of the period with work in the sciences. In Moore’s view, these more successful cognitive practices should serve as a model for a better philosophical methodology.
The same motivations were at work in the fourth source of Moore’s dissent, his negative reaction to the Idealist suppression of the method of analysis. Calling for a return to the method, Moore wrote that ‘… a thing becomes intelligible first when it is analysed into its constituent concepts’ (Moore's "The Nature of Judgement", 1899: 182)

Inspired by Moore, and enamored in particular by the science of mathematics, Russell began systematically to develop the programme of analysis. He was helped by his discovery (or rediscovery) of modern quantificational logic. A very similar logic was developed in the medieval period. However, the discovery of quantificational logic in its modern form is usually attributed to Gottlob Frege (1879) and (independently) Peirce (1885). Although Russell was aware of the work of both thinkers, their influence on his own development of quantificational logic is not well understood. This logic enables the systematic treatment of the inferential behavior of a very large range of the statements that can be made in natural language (and so the thoughts expressible by the use of those statements) as well as the sharp statement of complex positions and arguments. Of special importance was Russell’s treatment of definite descriptions.

Russell’s treatment of definite descriptions showed that philosophical progress could be made by discerning the (or a) logical form of a philosophically problematic range of statements and that some philosophical disputes are usefully viewed as (at least in part) concerning how best to represent the logical forms of statements involved in those disputes. Together with the new treatment of quantification more generally, became a model for a variety of approaches to philosophical problems that involved attention to the forms of language used in the statement of those problems. For it supported the view that philosophical problems can arise due to the misleading superficial forms of the language we use and provided a model for how problems that arise in that way might be solved through uncovering the true logical forms of the statements involved.

The influences on Russell and Moore—and thus their methods of dealing with problems—soon diverged, and their different approaches became the roots of two broadly different traditions in analytic philosophy, referred to above as formalism and informalism. Russell, whose general approach would be adopted by philosophers in the formalist tradition, was a major influence on those who believed that philosophical problems could be clarified, if not solved, by using the technical equipment of formal logic and who saw the physical sciences as the only means of gaining knowledge of the world. They regarded philosophy—if as a science at all—as a deductive and a priori enterprise on a par with mathematics. Russell’s contributions to this side of the analytic tradition have been important and, in great part, lasting.

In contrast to Russell, Moore, who would inspire philosophers in the informalist tradition, never found much need to employ technical tools or to turn philosophy into a science. His dominant themes were the defense of commonsensical views about the nature of the world against esoteric, skeptical, or grandly metaphysical views and the conviction that the right way to approach a philosophical puzzle is to examine closely the question through which it was generated. Philosophical problems, he thought, are often intractable simply because philosophers have not stopped to formulate precisely what is at issue.

Because of these two themes, Moore enlisted sympathy among analytic philosophers who, from the 1930s onward, saw little hope in advanced formal logic as a means of solving traditional philosophical problems. These philosophers also shared with Moore the belief that it is often more important to look at the questions that philosophers pose than at their proposed answers. Thus, unlike Russell, who was important for his solutions to problems in formal logic and the philosophy of mathematics, among other areas, it was more the spirit of Moore’s philosophy than its lasting contributions that made him such an important influence.

In his seminal essay “A Defence of Common Sense” (1925), as in others, Moore argued not only against idealist doctrines such as the unreality of time but also against all the forms of skepticism—for example, about the existence of other minds or of a material world—that philosophers have espoused. The skeptic, he pointed out, usually has some argument for his conclusion. Instead of examining such arguments, however, Moore pitted against the skeptic’s premises various quite everyday beliefs—for example, that he had breakfast that morning (thus, time cannot be unreal) or that he does in fact have a pencil in his hand (thus, there must be a material world). He challenged the skeptic to show that the premises of the skeptic’s argument are any more certain than the everyday beliefs that form the premises of Moore’s argument.

Although some scholars have seen Moore as an early practitioner of ordinary language philosophy, his appeal was not to what it is proper to say but rather to the beliefs of common sense. His rejection of any philosophical doctrine that offends against common sense was influential not only in the release that it afforded from the metaphysical excesses of absolute idealism but also in its impact on the sensibilities and general orientation of most later analytic philosophers.

Moore was also important for his vision of the proper business of philosophy—analysis. He was puzzled, for example, about the proper analysis of “a sees b,” in which b designates a physical object (e.g., a pencil). He thought that there must be a special sense of see in which one does not see the pencil but sees only part of its surface. In addition, he thought that there must be another sense of see in which what is directly perceived is not even the surface of the pencil but rather what Moore called “sense data” and what earlier empiricists had called “visual sensations” or “sense impressions.” Moore’s problem was to discern the relationships between these various elements in perception and, in particular, to discover how a person can be justified, as Moore fully believed he is, in his claims to see physical objects when what he immediately perceives are really only sense data. The idea that sense impressions form the immediate objects of perception played a large role in early analytic philosophy, showing once again its empiricist roots. Later, however, it became an important source of division among the logical positivists. In addition, most ordinary-language philosophers, as well as those closely influenced by the later work of Russell’s most famous student, Ludwig Wittgenstein, found sense data to be as unpalatable and unwarranted as Moore had found McTaggart’s doctrine of the unreality of time.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was the most famous pupil of Russell and Moore. His Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) further developed the analysis of statements in the direction of logical atomism. … This paradigm of analysis -- which bears comparison with aspects of Plato’s Theaetetus -- was driven by the view that ‘A proposition [i.e. the content of a statement] has one and only one complete analysis’ (“Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus “, 1922: 3.25). The work’s major conclusion was that there are two types of statement: those that represent the world, and so can be either true or false depending upon how the world in fact is -- the synthetic truths and falsehoods -- and those that either cannot be true or cannot be false -- the logical or analytic truths and falsehoods -that fail to represent the world as being one way or another. Since genuinely philosophical statements, derived by analysis, were taken to fall on the non-representational (analytic) side of this divide, they were taken to be devoid of real content and to have a role other than that of conveying information. And since a core sense of meaningfulness was identified with representational significance, such statements were taken to be -- in that core sense -- meaningless.

Vienna Circle
Members of the Vienna Circle―including especially Rudolf Carnap―were inspired by Wittgenstein’s work and sought to embed its central themes in an approach to philosophy―logical positivism―shaped by epistemological concerns. They replaced Wittgenstein’s distinction between statements whose truth-value depends upon worldly contingency and statements whose truth-value is fixed independently of such contingency with a distinction between statements that admit of verification or falsification on the basis of experience and statements that cannot be so verified or falsified. The task of philosophy was taken to be the analysis of statements into experientially significant components, an analysis that would either indicate precisely the course of experience that would verify or falsify the statement or show it to be beyond verification of falsification. In that way, philosophy would either show how a statement can be assessed on the basis of scientific observation, or show the statement to be (in the Circle’s proprietary sense) meaningless. Since the only properly cognitive activity was taken to be the collection of observations, the programme of the Vienna Circle was shaped by the view that ‘what is left over for philosophy … is only a method: the method of logical analysis’. (Carnap's "Überwindung der Mataphysik durch logische Analyse derSprache", 1932) (reprinted as "The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language", 1959)

In the early post-1945 period, many philosophers retained the Vienna Circle’s animus towards traditional metaphysics but viewed its approach to analysis as overly restrictive. They sought to replace what they saw as an empirically unmotivated fixation upon a very narrow conception of empirical content with a more expansive view of philosophical analysis. According to the more expansive view, the analysis of statements was to include the tracing of their roles within larger systems of language driven by careful attention to the way those statements are actually used in ordinary contexts. The more expansive view therefore involved a partial return to the sort of holistic approach involved in German Idealism. Wittgenstein’s work within the more expansive paradigm developed his earlier view that the role of philosophical analysis should be largely therapeutic―that it should serve the removal of philosophical perplexity by uncovering and excising the sources of confusion in the misleading superficial forms of language. But many other philosophers working within the new paradigm of analysis, including J. L. Austin, Gilbert Ryle, and P. F. Strawson―the so-called ‘ordinary language’ philosophers―returned to the view that some philosophical questions might be genuine and hoped that the analysis of language would deliver answers to those questions.

W. V. Quine took a different path away from the Vienna Circle. Quine was strongly influenced by the work of Carnap and retained the Circle’s view that scientific observation is the only source of cognitive significance. However, he thought that Carnap had failed fully to draw out the consequences of that view. Quine argued that the view served to undermine the distinction between statements that can be verified or falsified on the basis of experience and those that cannot be so verified or falsified―i.e. the Circle’s version of the distinction between statements that are analytic and those that are synthetic. Quine therefore took the range of statements that are up for scientific assessment to include statements in logic and mathematics. He took our total theory of the world to form an interconnected web of statements that can only be assessed as a whole on the basis of the range of predictions it makes about the course of experience. Again, Quine’s work involved a partial return to the holism of earlier periods and a rejection of the goal of atomist analysis that formed the impetus for the earliest work in modern analytic philosophy.

Quine’s rejection of the existence of a category of analytic truths went hand in hand with a general rejection of the philosophical utility of appeals to unreconstructed notions of linguistic meaning. In particular, Quine argued for the indeterminacy of translation, the claim that for any translation from one language into another(including translation from a language into itself), there will be other translations that have equally good empirical credentials. For one famous instance, he argued that evidence that an expression is to be translated by the English expression ‘rabbit’ can be equally good evidence that the expression is to be translated by the English expression ‘un-detached part of a rabbit’. (See Quine’s “Word and Object”, 1960: 1–79.) When conjoined with Quine’s rejection of a principled distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, acceptance of Quine’s views has seemed to many to undermine the possibility of a philosophy based upon methods of analysis. For the rejection of an analytic-synthetic distinction appears to undermine a distinction between the analysis of statements and the empirical assessment of those statements. And the rejection of determinate translation appears to undermine the assumption that there is such a thing as the analysis of a statement.

Quine’s conclusions remain the subject of controversy. The main effects of his work―either directly or indirectly―have involved the further broadening of the analytic horizon. Many contemporary analytic philosophers who are influenced by Quine’s rejection of an analytic-synthetic distinction allow their work to be shaped by the findings of empirical science. Under the same influence, many contemporary analytic philosophers allow that philosophy―even when approached from the armchair―can be a source of discovery about the world. Thus, the culmination, via Quine, of the Vienna Circle’s anti-metaphysical empiricism has led ultimately to the reinstatement of metaphysics as a legitimate area of cognitive inquiry. Finally, many contemporary philosophers have followed Quine in relegating the study of meaning from its central place in the analytic philosophers’ armoury and have sought a more direct approach to answering philosophical questions.

Post-war period
The post-war period of intense focus upon language and linguistic meaning coincided with Frege’s work becoming widely available in translation and led to a re-evaluation of his place in the development of analytic philosophy. In particular, Michael Dummett has claimed that it is criterial of modern analytic philosophy that it approaches the study of thought via a study of the way language is used to express thought and that, from that perspective, Frege should be assigned priority over Russell as its progenitor. (See Dummett’s “Origins of Analytical Philosophy” , 1993.) Dummett’s claim is controversial for at least three reasons. First, it is controversial that it is criterial of analytic philosophy that it assigns methodological priority to the study of language. The criteria would appear not only to place many contemporary philosophers who work within the analytic tradition outside the bounds of analytic philosophy proper, but would also appear to exclude the early work of Russell and Moore. Second, it is controversial that Frege would himself count as an analytic philosophy by Dummett’s standard, since he distrusted natural language and sought to construct artificial systems better able to capture the nature of thought. Third, although Frege’s work now occupies a central place in the curriculum of analytic philosophy, there is little consensus concerning its precise role in shaping the initial development of the modern analytic tradition. His work had some influence on Russell, as noted above, and exerted a powerful influence on both Wittgenstein and Carnap. But other philosophers also played important roles in the development of all three thinkers. What is uncontroversial, however, is that Frege’s work possesses many of the qualities associated with analytic philosophy, including narrow focus, clarity, rigor, and depth, and exhibits all those qualities to a very high degree. To that extent, no education in analytic philosophy would be complete that did not involve a careful study of his work.


Analytic Philosophy: Beyond The Linguistic Turn And Back Again

1. Analytic Philosophy
Analytic philosophy, understood as a phase in the history of ideas, originated in Cambridge in the late 1890s with the revolt, by the young Moore and Russell, against the neo-Hegelian Absolute Idealism that had dominated British philosophy in the last third of the nineteenth century. What Moore and Russell shared was a commitment to realism, as opposed to Hegelian idealism, and to analysis, as opposed to Hegelian synthesis. Neither Moore nor Russell conceived of themselves as concerned with language or thought – they were concerned with discovering special, very general, truths about the world. Russell’s early pluralist Platonism evolved, via the theory of denoting concepts, the theory of descriptions and the theory of types, on the one hand, and the distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description, on the other, into the more austere doctrines of logical atomism. Logical atomism attained its most sophisticated form in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. The most important achievements of that book were twofold. Negatively, it gave profound criticisms of the Fregean and Russellian conceptions of logic, language, and intentionality. Positively it made great strides in clarifying the nature and status of the necessary truths of logic. The Tractatus was the culmination of the first phase of analytic philosophy and the primary source of the next two phases.

The second phase was Cambridge analysis of the 1920s and early ’30s (e.g. Ramsey, Braithwaite, Wisdom, Stebbing) a movement greatly influenced by Moore and Russell and inspired by Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. It was short lived, for Wittgenstein himself terminated it through his own teachings in Cambridge from 1930 onwards, when he repudiated the Tractatus and self-consciously engineered a revolution in philosophy – dismissing its aspirations to disclose truths about reality, and insisting upon its restriction to the disentangling of conceptual confusions.

The third and more influential phase, which also stemmed from the Tractatus, was the logical empiricism of the Vienna Circle and its affiliates. Under the influence of the Tractatus programme for future philosophy, and greatly impressed by its explanation of the vacuous character of the propositions of logic, the logical empiricists repudiated the ambitions of philosophy to investigate the nature of the world, vehemently rejected the aspirations of metaphysics, and restricted philosophy, by and large, to what they called ‘the logic of scientific language’. They proposed the principle of verification as the key to the notion of linguistic meaning and invoked verifiability as a criterion of meaningfulness. The latter was wielded, rather heavy-handedly, in the anti-metaphysical polemics of the Circle, which lacked the subtlety of Wittgenstein’s criticisms of metaphysics of the mid-1930s.The Circle was destroyed by the Nazis, and the leading logical empiricists (e.g. Carnap, Feigl, Reichenbach, Hempel, Frank, Tarski, Bergmann, Gödel) fled to the USA, where they played a major role in the post-war years in transforming American pragmatism into logical pragmatism.

The fourth phase of the movement was the emergence of postwar Oxford analytic philosophy, led by Ryle (influenced by Wittgenstein) and Austin (influenced by Moore), with such colleagues as Berlin, Hampshire, Hart, Grice, and after 1959, Ayer (influenced by the Vienna Circle), and among the postwar generation Strawson and Hare. From Oxford, its influence spread throughout the English speaking world and beyond. Unlike the Vienna Circle, this was no ‘school’ of philosophy, it published no manifestos, and contrary to current myth, cleaved to no dogmas. But there was broad consensus on three points. First, no advance in philosophical understanding can be expected without the propaedeutic of investigating the use of the words relevant to the problem at hand. Second, metaphysics, understood as the philosophical investigation into the objective, language-independent, nature of the world, is an illusion. Third, philosophy, contrary to what Russell had thought, is not continuous with, but altogether distinct from science. Its task, contrary to what the Vienna Circle averred, is not the clarification or ‘improvement’ of the language of science.

A strand, which is interwoven with, but distinguishable from, postwar Oxford, even though it ran concurrently with it, is, of course, Wittgenstein’s later philosophy and the work of his many distinguished pupils: for example, his successors in the Cambridge chair, von Wright, Wisdom and Anscombe, those of his students who taught at Oxford, such as Waismann, Paul and (again) Anscombe, and those who transmitted his ideas to philosophers in the USA, such as Ambrose, Black and Malcolm.

This fourth phase of analytic philosophy declined from the 1970s, partly under the impact of American logical pragmatism, the leading figures of which were Quine (much influenced by Carnap) and Quine’s pupil Davidson (influenced by Tarski), and, in Britain, under the impact of Dummett and later of his pupils. For the first twenty years, a new philosophical endeavour dominated the subject – the project of constructing a theory of meaning for a natural language, an endeavour which promised the key to the great problems of philosophy. Subsequently, as performance failed to match promise, forms of speculative philosophy of mind, focused largely on mind/body questions and converging on emergent self-styled cognitive science, came to occupy centre stage. Whether what resulted from these varied reactions to Oxford analytic philosophy was a fifth phase of a still flourishing tradition or the slow death of analytic philosophy itself is, I believe, still too soon to say. In fifty years time our successors will perhaps be able to see more clearly. But there is no doubt that many philosophers today who deem themselves analytic philosophers repudiate most of what was achieved, or was understood as having been achieved, in the fifty years between the 1920s and the 1970s. To be sure, what counts as achievement in philosophy is itself a moot philosophical issue of no small moment. I shall turn to this matter below.

2. Analysis, logic and language
It might be said that one unifying feature of the analytic tradition is the commitment to analysis.

Early Moore held himself to be analysing concepts, which he took to be not uses of words, but rather constituents of propositions of which reality consists (Moorean propositions being more akin to Tractatus facts that to senses of sentences). Analysing a concept, Moore confusedly thought, was a matter of inspecting something that lies before the mind’s eye, seeing the parts of which it is composed and how they are related to each other, and discerning how it is related to and distinguished from other concepts. Analysis was, therefore, associated with decomposing complexes into components.

Young Russell was influenced in his reaction against Absolute Idealism by Moore, but his early conception of analysis had other roots too, namely Leibniz and Bradley, on the one hand, and Weierstrass, Dedekind and Cantor, on the other. But, like Moore, Russell thought that analysis is essentially the decomposition (in thought) of conceptually complex things (of which the world supposedly consists) into their simple unanalysable constituents. Russell’s exuberant Platonist realism was curbed by his conception of denoting concepts and his subsequent invention of the theory of descriptions. The latter focused his attention on the symbolism with which we describe the world, and led him to distinguish complete from incomplete symbols. This suggested a deficiency in the overt grammatical forms of sentences containing denoting expressions, and bred the myth of ‘the logical form of the proposition’.3 Subsequently Russell came to think of analysis as having facts as its object. He came to think of the form of a fact as one of its constituents, and held that the task of philosophy is to analyse the most general facts of which the world consists, and to catalogue their forms. Given his epistemological convictions, this committed him to reductive analysis, e.g. of material objects to sense-data.

(Note3: Russell was to drop this muddled conception of propositions in favour of a slightly less muddled conception of facts as composing the world. Then the sentences of natural language were argued to misrepresent not the real forms of the propositions they signify, but the real forms of the facts they describe.)

The young Wittgenstein did not think that forms are constituents of objects, propositions or facts. He held that logical analysis of language would disclose the logico-metaphysical forms of facts and of their constituent objects – the substance of the world. For, he held, there is a pre-established metaphysical harmony between language and reality. The logico-syntactical forms of expressions are the forms of what, on analysis, they represent. So logical analysis is the key to the (strictly speaking, ineffable) nature of all things.

The Vienna Circle, however, viewed logical analysis as a method merely for the clarification of sentences of ‘science’ and the elimination of the pseudo-propositions of metaphysics. This conception evolved, in Carnap’s hands, first into reductive analysis, and later into the method of explication and of the invention of artificial languages for elucidatory purposes.

The later Wittgenstein was adamantly opposed to reductive analysis. He renounced any claims to penetrate appearances in order to disclose the logico-metaphysical forms of things, not because this is beyond the powers of philosophy, but because there is no such thing to disclose. A proposition is fully analysed, he claimed (The Big Typescript, p. 417), when we have completely laid bare its ‘grammar’ (the sense-determining rules for its use) and present that grammar in the form of a perspicuous representation that will dissolve philosophical confusion. This conception of analysis had non-coincidental affinities with Ryle’s ‘logical geography’ of concepts. It was perspicuously articulated in Strawson’s methodological discussion of ‘connective analysis’ and exemplified in his numerous papers.5 Connective analysis, or elucidation, is a non-reductive description of conceptual connections, compatibilities and incompatibilities, arrayed for the purposes of philosophical clarification.

Yet other forms and conceptions of analysis are to be found in latter day analytic philosophers (such as Davidson, Dummett, Putnam and Quine) but it should be evident that the concept of analysis, logical and linguistic, is Protean. Its history is part of the history of the analytic movement, and just because of that, the bare concept of analysis is not a useful tool to illuminate its general character. But there are two features that can be invoked, not to define, but to characterize this phase in Western philosophy.

The first is the revival, for the first time since the Middle Ages, of interest in, and a philosophical preoccupation with the nature of, formal logic. ...

The second feature of the analytic movement in the twentieth century is the intense interest in, and meticulous attention to, language and its uses. ...


3. Analytic philosophy: the linguistic turn and beyond
Analytic philosophy has sometimes been characterized by reference to the linguistic turn. But there is considerable unclarity over what this is. It is not a phrase used by any of the major philosophers of the period to refer to their work. Richard Rorty borrowed it from Gustav Bergmann as the title of his 1967 anthology of essays.8 He deemed members of the Vienna Circle, Wittgenstein and his followers, Oxford philosophers, and sundry Americans associated with these groups (including Quine), to be linguistic philosophers – participants in ‘the most recent philosophical revolution’.9 They shared, Rorty suggested, the common belief that the problems of philosophy may be solved or dissolved either by reforming language (the advocates of this were dubbed ‘ideal language philosophers’) or by understanding more about the language we actually use (‘ordinary language philosophers’). Thus conceived, the linguistic turn characterizes the third and fourth phases of the analytic movement. Rorty sensed, rightly I think, that a deep and important change had occurred in analytic philosophy in the 1930s and 1940s – a shift in the conception of the problems and methods of philosophy that to some extent bridged the gulf that separated the Vienna Circle and affiliates (with all the differences there were between the Schlick/Waismann wing, on the one hand, and the Neurath/Carnap wing, on the other) from Oxford philosophers and affiliates and followers of Wittgenstein (with all the differences between them). Despite these great differences both within and between these two streams, a sea-change had occurred.

With the benefit of another thirty eight years’ hindsight, I myself should wish to elaborate Rorty’s account. The linguistic turn, I suggest, was taken when it was proposed

1. That the goal of philosophy is (a) the understanding of the structure and articulations of our conceptual scheme, and (b) the resolution of the problems of philosophy (to be specified by paradigmatic examples), which stem, inter alia, from unclarities about the uses of words, from covert misuses, and from misleading surface grammatical analogies in natural languages.

2. That a primary method of philosophy is the examination of the uses of words in order to disentangle conceptual confusions.

3. That philosophy is not a contribution to human knowledge about reality, either superior to or on the same level as scientific knowledge, but a contribution to a distinctive form of understanding.

This turn had been initiated by Wittgenstein’s Tractatu s. It could be completed only when the metaphysical doctrines of the Tractatus were jettisoned and the logical doctrines accordinglymodified. This was effected by Wittgenstein himself in the 1930s, and, partly under his influence, by the Vienna Circle. The three claims are common ground to most of the logical positivists, most Oxford analytic philosophers and their followers, and most of Wittgenstein’s pupils. One cannot therefore characterize analytic philosophy as such, but only its third and fourth phases, by reference to the linguistic turn.



“Analytic” and “Continental” Philosophy (Brian Leiter)

"Analytic" philosophy today names a style of doing philosophy, not a philosophical program or a set of substantive views. Analytic philosophers, crudely speaking, aim for argumentative clarity and precision; draw freely on the tools of logic; and often identify, professionally and intellectually, more closely with the sciences and mathematics, than with the humanities. (It is fair to say that "clarity" is, regrettably, becoming less and less a distinguishing feature of "analytic" philosophy.) The foundational figures of this tradition are philosophers like Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, the young Ludwig Wittgenstein and G.E. Moore; other canonical figures include Carnap, Quine, Davidson, Kripke, Rawls, Dummett, and Strawson.

"Continental" philosophy, by contrast, demarcates a group of (primarily) French and German philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The geographical label is misleading: Carnap, Frege, and Wittgenstein were all products of the European Continent, but are not "Continental" philosophers. The foundational figure of this tradition is usually thought to be Hegel; other canonical figures include the other post-Kantian German Idealists (e.g., Fichte, Schelling), Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Gadamer, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, and Foucault. Continental philosophy is sometimes distinguished by its style (more literary, less analytical, less reliant on formal logic [though most so-called “analytic” philosophy makes no use of formal logic]), its concerns (more interested in actual political and cultural issues and, loosely speaking, the human situation and its "meaning"), and some of its substantive commitments (more self-conscious about the relation of philosophy to its historical situation). So-called “Continental philosophy” is not, however, a monolith; indeed, “analytic philosophy,” before its demise at the hands of Quine and Sellars, was a far more coherent philosophical movement than the two hundred years of philosophy on the European Continent since Hegel. “Continental philosophy” is more aptly characterized as a series of partly overlapping traditions in philosophy, some of whose figures have almost nothing in common with other.

There is an important sense in which "analytic" philosophy—as a substantive research program— is dead. The idea that intellectual labor is neatly divisible between philosophers and empirical scientists; that philosophers have a special method ("conceptual analysis") with which to solve problems; that philosophical problems are essentially soluble a priori, from the armchair—all these substantive commitments have largely died thanks to Quine and others. "Analytic" philosophy, today, is the most richly interdisciplinary of all the humanities, engaging with psychology, linguistics, biology, physics, law, computer science, and economics in way that no other traditional ‘humanities’ field does. Indeed, what distinguishes analytic philosophy even more than "style" is its adoption of the research paradigm common in the natural sciences, a paradigm in which numerous individual researchers make small contributions to the solution of a set of generally recognized problems. This is true, interestingly, of even the best work by Anglophone philosophers about so-called “Continental” philosophy: researchers debate and work out the details of the readings of Hegel by Brandom, Forster, Pippin, and Wood, or the readings of Foucault by Dreyfus & Rabinow, Gutting, and Pile. Some of this is simply an artifact of the structure of post-graduate education in the Western world, where each new generation of doctoral students must find their niche and establish the significance of their research against the background of established scholarship.

Criticisms of "analytic" philosophy are familiar: arid, insular, boring, obsessed with logic-chopping, irrelevant. The criticisms are not without some truth. Clearly the "best" analytic philosophers do not resonate with the concerns of the broader culture in the way that figures like Nietzsche and Sartre do. Analytic philosophers do often miss the forest for the trees, and they often let dialectical ingenuity trump good sense (and sometimes science!) in terms of the views they will defend. Read the entire article   Copy

Read also William Blattner's comment on this article: Some Thoughts About "Continental" and "Analytic" Philosophy   Copy  

Relation of Analytic Philosophy to continental philosophy

The term "analytic philosophy" in part denotes the fact that most of this philosophy traces its roots to the early 20th century movement of "logical analysis"; in part the term serves to distinguish "analytic" from other kinds of philosophy, especially "continental philosophy." Continental philosophy mainly denotes philosophy that developed in continental Europe after Hegel, largely in response to Modernity or Modern philosophy that developed from Descartes through Hegel. The major philosophical movement of "continental philosphy" was phenomenology initiated by Edmund Husserl, followed by Martin Heidegger. Analytic philosophy developed as a reaction against the strong influence of Hegel, and especially against Heidegger. Most analytic philosophers considered themselves to be empiricists, and they took Hume to be their greatest and most important philosophical ancestor. Analytic philosophers viewed Hegel's philosophy to be "obscure and neologistic" and Heidegger's to be "aggressive and oppressive obscurantism, obfuscation, and opacity."

The split between the two began early in the twentieth century. The logical positivists of the 1920s promoted a systematic rejection of metaphysics, and a generalized hostility to metaphysical concepts that they considered meaningless or ill-conceived: for example, God, the immaterial soul, or universals such as "redness." This was at the same time that Heidegger was dominating philosophy in Germany and becoming influential in France, and his work became the object of frequent derision in English-speaking philosophy departments.

While continental philosophers pursued traditional metaphysical issues and socio-political-historical dimensions of knowledge, analytic philosophers focused on logical analyses of languages. These two movements took different paths without much communication. Analytic philosophers ignored continental philosophy as “obscure and meaningless,” and continental philosophers looked down on analytic philosophy as “superficial and shallow.” The split affected various philosophy departments of higher education. Most philosophy departments in England and USA were dominated by analytic philosophy and those of Germany, France, and other countries in the continental Europe were dominated by continental philosophy.

Each tradition, however, outgrew and evolved into diverse styles and forms. The division of these two movements today is no longer as sharp as that was at early half of the twentieth century.

The coinage of “analytic” and “continental” is also problematic. The term "analytic" conventionally indicates a method of philosophy, while the term "continental" indicates, rather, a geographical origin. The distinction is, for this reason, somewhat misleading. Analytic philosophy's founding fathers, Frege, Wittgenstein, Carnap, the logical positivists (the Vienna Circle), the Logical Empiricists (in Berlin), and the Polish logicians were all products of the continent of Europe. Much philosophy in Germany and Italy today, most of that in the Nordic countries, and a great deal scattered over the rest of the continent and in Latin America, is likewise analytic. The European Society for Analytic Philosophy holds continental-wide conventions every third year. Conversely, continental philosophy is pursued today perhaps by more people in English-speaking countries than anywhere else, if primarily in comparative literature or cultural studies departments.

Many people now claim that the distinction fails: that the subject matter of continental philosophy is capable of being studied using the now-traditional tools of analytic philosophy. If this is true, the phrase "analytic philosophy" might be redundant, or maybe normative, as in "rigorous philosophy." The phrase "continental philosophy," like "Greek philosophy," would denote a certain historical period or series of schools in philosophy: German idealism, Marxism, psychoanalysis qua philosophy, existentialism, phenomenology, and post-structuralism.

Analytic philosophy, under one interpretation, failed by its own "systematic" lights to demonstrate the meaninglessness or fictitiousness of the concepts it attacked. As early as 1959 John Passmore declared that "Logical positivism … is dead, or as dead as a philosophical movement ever becomes." ("Logical Positivism," in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Paul Edwards, Ed., Vol. 5, 56) Few analytic philosophers today would agree that they have anything like an exact and proven theory of which terms are meaningful and which meaningless. Contemporary analytic philosophy journals are—for good or ill—as rich in metaphysics as any continental philosopher.



Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Image source: Multiple sources  
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Image source: Multiple sources  

An Overview of Bertrand Russell’s Analytic Philosophy

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century and the greatest logician since Aristotle. He wrote original philosophy on dozens of subjects, but his most important work was in logic, mathematical philosophy, and analytic philosophy. Russell is responsible more than anyone else for the creation and development of the modern logic of relations – the single greatest advance in logic since Aristotle. He then used the new logic as the basis of his mathematical philosophy called logicism.

Logicism is the view that all mathematical concepts can be defined in terms of logical concepts and that all mathematical truths can be derived from logical truths to show that mathematics is nothing but logic. In his work on logicism, Russell developed forms of analysis in order to analyze quantifiers in logic (words like “all” and “some”) and numbers in mathematics, but he was soon using them to analyze points in space, moments of time, matter, mind, morality, knowledge, and language itself in what was the beginning of analytic philosophy.

This first chapter presents an overview of Russell’s technical work in logic, logicism, and analysis, and then of his broader inquiries of analytic philosophy in metaphysics, knowledge, and language. Subsequent chapters treat each subject in detail.




As well as founding the logic of relations, developing the theory of logicism, and discovering fundamental contradictions in logic and set theory, Russell more than anyone else founded the twentieth-century movement of analytic philosophy that still dominates philosophy today.
Analytic philosophy as practiced by Russell logically analyzes concepts, knowledge, and language to say what there is and how we know it. Analysis is a significant part of analytic philosophy and its role in the movement is largely due to Russell. His logical analysis of mathematics is one of the movement’s primary examples of analysis.

Notions of analysis vary from one analytic philosopher to another and from one analysis to another by a single philosopher. This last case is true of Russell himself. Most generally, “analysis” for him means beginning with something that is common knowledge and seeking the fundamental concepts and principles it is based on. This is followed by a synthesis that begins with the basic concepts and principles discovered by analysis and uses them to derive the common knowledge one first analyzed to begin with.

In Russell’s own words (in Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy): “By analyzing we ask what more general ideas and principles can be found, in terms of which what was our starting-point can be defined or deduced?” (p. 1). Similarly, in Principia Mathematica, he says “There are two opposite tasks which have to be concurrently performed. On the one hand, we have to analyze existing mathematics, with a view to discovering what premises are employed?. On the other hand, when we have decided upon our premisses, we have to build up again [i.e., synthesize] as much as may seem necessary of the data previously analyzed” (vol. 1, p. v).
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4. Logical analysis: The theory of descriptions
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For Russell, the theory of descriptions shows that the grammar of ordinary language is often misleading. Using it, sentences containing singular definite descriptions – descriptions of the form “the so-and-so” such as “the author of Waverley” in the sentence “Scott was the author of Waverley” – are analyzed so that the description does not occur in the logical analysis of the sentence, but is replaced by a predicate.

For example, “the author of Waverley” in “Scott was the author of Waverley” is replaced with the predicate “x wrote Waverley” and the sentence becomes “There is exactly one thing x such that x is Scott, and x wrote Waverley,” or more briefly, “Scott wrote Waverley.” The description “the author of Waverley” no longer occurs in the logical analysis of the sentence. In particular, the word “the” is gone. That is the whole function of the theory of descriptions.

Why analyze a sentence so that the definite description it contains, and especially the word “the,” disappears? Notice that “the author of Waverley” seems to function like a name and to denote a particular object. However, the expression that replaces it, “x wrote Waverley,” is a predicate, not a name, and by itself it does not denote any such object. Let us pause here to consider this idea that names denote, but predicates do not. It is an important idea to Russell.

The idea that names refer to, or denote, objects should not be controversial. “Napoleon” refers to the commanding French general at the battle of Waterloo, “Einstein” to the man who created the special and general theories of relativity, and so forth. And as Russell points out, names have these references independently of occurring in propositions. Finally, definite descriptions like “the author of Waverley” seem to function like names and refer to particular individuals too, just as “Sir Walter Scott” does.

Predicates, on the other hand, do not name, or refer to, objects. For example, the predicate “x is red” does not name or denote any particular individual by itself independently of occurring in a proposition. It does not specify which object or objects it might be used to apply to. So a predicate is definitely not a name. Because definite descriptions are not names but are predicates, Russell calls them incomplete symbols. They appear to name objects, but they really don’t.

By showing that definite descriptions, which appear to be names of objects, really aren’t, we can see how sentences containing descriptions can be meaningful without the sentence asserting the existence of what is described. For example, we can see how sentences like “The present king of France rolled the round square down the golden mountain” can be meaningful without asserting that any of these things (“the present king of France,” “the round square,” and “the golden mountain”) exist.

This solves a general problem of logic for Russell – how to logically analyze sentences containing definite descriptions true of no objects. More significantly, Russell uses a variation of this theory, called his “no-class” theory of classes, to remove all references to classes in his logic by treating names of classes and descriptions of classes as predicates. Then, since logic, so interpreted, does not assume that sets exist, the Russell paradox of the set of all sets that are not members of themselves cannot occur – as we will see next.

In addition to analyzing singular definite descriptions so that what appear to be names are seen to actually be predicates that do not name anything, Russell sometimes treats proper names the same way, for example, in Principia Mathematica (in *14.21). He argues there that words like “Homer” that appear to be proper names are actually concealed definite descriptions such as “the author of the Homeric poems.” They are then treated like definite descriptions and replaced with predicates too. By 1918, in “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism,” Russell is using this idea aggressively, insisting that all proper names like “Socrates,” “Napoleon,” and “Einstein” are disguised definite descriptions, but in Principia, he only suggests it once.

After singular definite descriptions such as “the author of Waverley” come plural definite descriptions such as “the inhabitants of London.” These too are analyzed so that they are replaced by predicates. The phrase “the inhabitants of London” in the sentence “The inhabitants of London are cosmopolitan,” seems to name a class of objects, namely, the inhabitants of London. But it is replaced by “x lives in London,” which, being a predicate, names no object or objects. The sentence then reads “If anyone lives in London, that person is cosmopolitan.”

In the slightly different sentence “The class of people who inhabit London is large,” the subject is a description that appears to name a single object, the class of people living in London. It is a different example because it includes the word “class.” But as before, we replace the description with the predicate “x lives in London” to get “Many people live in London.” Similarly, when a symbol stands for a set as the name of the set, we treat it like a disguised definite description, just as “Socrates” is treated as the disguised description “the teacher of Plato.” For example, when α = the class of even numbers, we translate “6 ∈ α” (“the number 6 is a member of the class α of even numbers”) by replacing α with the predicate “x is divisible by two” to get “6 is divisible by 2.” Again, we simply replace the class with the predicate that defines it.

Russell uses these techniques to define classes as predicates in Principia Mathematica. This replaces apparent references to classes with predicates that do not refer to classes. Thus, Principia Mathematica makes no reference to classes. There are then no classes in his logicist thesis, which ensures that paradoxes of set theory cannot arise in it. So Russell eliminates classes from his logic to prevent paradoxes of sets from arising in it or in the logistic theory based on it. This is Russell’s no-class theory of classes. (Though in truth it is a little more complex than this, as we will see in Chapter 3.)
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Though the no-class theory does avoid Russell’s paradox of classes, there is a paradox similar to it for predicates that the no-class theory does not eliminate. This of course is because the no-class theory eliminates classes, not predicates. Here is the new paradox: Some predicates are true of themselves – for example, “x is a predicate” is itself a predicate. Others are not – for example, “x is red” is not red. Thus, “x is a predicate that is not true of itself” is a meaningful predicate. It is true of some predicates and not of others. But is it true of itself or not? If it is, it isn’t, and if it isn’t, it is. We thus have a contradiction.

So simply eliminating classes from one’s logic and logicism using the no-class theory does not eliminate all paradoxes from logicism, because similar paradoxes arise in it for predicates. We can try to use something analogous to the no-class theory to eliminate predicates. For example, we might replace predicates with propositions. Unfortunately there are also similar paradoxes for propositions. And so on.

Fortunately, Russell has another method for avoiding paradoxes called the theory of logical types. Notice that both versions of the Russell paradox arise from self-reference – from allowing a set to be a member of itself or a predicate to apply to itself. Many other similar paradoxes also arise from self-reference, by allowing sets to be members of themselves, predicates to apply to themselves, propositions to be about themselves, and so forth. The theory of types prevents such paradoxes from arising by banning self-reference.
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Russell’s ideas about the nature of reality are often responses to problems in logic, mathematics, and analysis. His views on reality in early work (1900-17) are expressed in “Principles of Mathematics” (1903), “On the Relations of Universals and Particulars” (1912), and “Analytic Realism” (1911). In them, a defense of analysis is part of his view of reality.

Philosophical monists, who were common in England in Russell’s time, argue that analyzing the whole of reality into parts is impossible. They feel that the nature of objects is determined by the role they play in larger wholes, and that analyzing wholes into parts leaves out these larger connections. And if the nature of an object lies in the role it plays in a whole, and the nature of that whole lies in the role it plays in some larger whole, reality is ultimately one undivided whole – the plurality we experience is an illusion.

To defend analysis, Russell rejects the monists’ arguments and concludes that reality is plural and “atomistic,” that is, composed of parts that can be understood independently of their role in the whole. Details about reality in Russell’s atomism are reached by analysis of logical principles – it is a logical atomism. He believes that logic and grammar reveal the nature of reality. This avoids beliefs about reality not warranted by logic. For example, if reality consists of things that can be analyzed into parts, the parts themselves are either complex and further analyzable or not complex and simple. If they are complex, they presuppose the existence of still simpler entities.
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In his late period, he analyzes language to show that though we can explain most general words without assuming universals, we cannot eliminate all universals. For example, we can define “red” in “this is red” without assuming the universal redness by replacing “red” with “similar to this.” Yet we need at least one universal to define “similar.” Thus, particular experienced events alone are not enough to account for the meaning of sentences. Universals are not experienced, but to explain meaning we must assume the existence of at least one.

Russell’s theory of knowledge concerns both empirical and a priori knowledge. His early views here occur in “The Philosophical Importance of Mathematical Logic” (1911), “Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description” (1911), “Problems of Philosophy” (1912), and “Our Knowledge of the External World” (1914). Logical and mathematical propositions are thought to be general truths that relate universals existing apart from space and time. These propositions are a priori - known independently of experience.

Knowledge in general is consciousness of particular or universal entities known by awareness (direct acquaintance). These are not physical objects, which Russell says we construct, but data of sense, memory, introspection, or logical intuition – patches of color, sounds, feelings, or mind-independent universals like similar. We also know about things by description, but then our grasp on them comes from our grasp on names of the things of which we are directly aware.

Throughout his career, Russell’s epistemology focuses on verifying the propositions of physics to show how physics as a branch of pure mathematics applies to the world. His view is that physical propositions are not completely verified until terms like “matter” and “instant” are defined by sentences about sense data. The definitions are produced in accord with the theory of descriptions, where phrases apparently naming entities are defined with names for sense data.

By defining physical concepts in terms of sense data, Russell seeks to avoid assuming any more than is necessary about the physical world. That is, he seeks to justify the laws of physics by sense data alone, without having to also assume physical objects that cause our experiences but are not directly experienced and so themselves transcend experience.
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In his early period, Russell’s theories of meaning are confined to what words and sentences denote. These occur in his early metaphysical works such as the Principles (1903). Russell thinks the meaning of a name, verb, or predicate, is the entity it denotes, which may be concrete or abstract, in time and space or outside them. Words that occur as subjects of sentences denote either particulars or universals (things or concepts), while predicates and verbs denote only universals.

Though the things corresponding to words and phrases are their meanings, this is not to say that we are aware of them as meanings. Russell explains this with his doctrine of acquaintance with universals. We can be acquainted with a patch of color and not know that it is an instance of the word “yellow.” For this, the particular patch is not enough: we need to grasp the universal yellow. The understanding of meaning is by way of universals.

The above remarks concern words. Until 1910, the meaning of a sentence is also viewed as a single complex entity – the proposition aRb of two objects a and b with relation R to one another. On this view, a sentence has a meaning (the complex entity) even if it is not believed or judged. Eventually, Russell finds this doctrine unacceptable and replaces it with the theory that a sentence has no complete meaning until it is judged or supposed or denied by someone. On this view, judging is not a relation between a person and a single entity aRb, but a relation between a person and a, R, and b. The proposition is broken into parts and enters into a person’s belief, which arranges them in a meaningful way.

There is now no single entity aRb that is the meaning of a sentence. There are only sentences, which are incomplete symbols, and the context of belief that gives the sentence a complete meaning. This is another analysis using the theory of descriptions: a sentence aRb is an incomplete symbol that acquires meaning when judged or believed but is otherwise meaningless. That a person has a belief is a fact, and the entities that constitute the meaning of the sentence are gathered together with the believer in that fact. Just as the theory of descriptions replaces descriptions with predicates, so here it replaces propositions with facts of belief.

This theory requires that a person is acquainted with the things that enter into the belief, for example, with a, R, and b. But acquaintance with this data is not enough to make a judgment. To believe or judge, a person must also be acquainted with the form in which things are put together. In this case, he or she must grasp what it means to assert a relation.
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Russell's Metaphysics

Like many philosophical terms, “metaphysics” can be understood in a variety of ways, so any discussion of Bertrand Russell’s metaphysics must select from among the various possible ways of understanding the notion, for example, as the study of being qua being, the study of the first principles or grounds of being, the study of God, and so forth. The primary sense of “metaphysics” examined here in connection to Russell is the study of the ultimate nature and constituents of reality.
Read the article at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


1) The 1890s: Idealism
b.F. H. Bradley and Internal Relations
c.Neo-Kantianism and A Priori Knowledge
d.Russell’s Turn from Idealism to Realism
      i.His Rejection of Psychologism
      ii.His Rejection of Internal Relations

2) 1901-1904: Platonist Realism
a.What has Being
b.Propositions as Objects
c.Analysis and Classes
d.Concepts’ Dual Role in Propositions
e.Meaning versus Denoting
f.The Relation of Logic to Epistemology and Psychology

3) 1905-1912: Logical Realism
a.Acquaintance and Descriptive Psychology
b.Eliminating Classes as Objects
      i.“On Denoting” (1905)
      ii.Impact on Analysis
c.Eliminating Propositions as Objects
d.Facts versus Complexes
e.Universals and Particulars
f.Logic as the Study of Forms of Complexes and Facts
g.Sense Data and the Problem of Matter

4) 1913-1918: Occam’s Razor and Logical Atomism
a.The Nature of Logic
b.The Nature of Matter
c.Logical Atomism
      i.The Atoms of Experience and the Misleading Nature of Language
      ii.The Forms of Facts and Theory of Truth
      iii.Belief as a New Form of Fact
      iv.Neutral Monism

5) 1919-1927: Neutral Monism, Science, and Language
a.Mind, Matter, and Meaning
b.Private versus Public Data
c.Language, Facts, and Psychology
e.The Syntactical View

6) 1930-1970: Anti-positivist Naturalism
a.Logical Truths
b.Empirical Truths
c.A Priori Principles
e.The Study of Language

7) References and Further Reading
a.Primary Sources
      ii.Collections of Essays
      iv.The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell
      v.Autobiographies and Letters
b.Secondary Sources
      i.General Surveys
      ii.History of Analytic Philosophy
      iii.Logic and Metaphysics
      iv.Meaning and Metaphysics
      v.Beliefs and Facts
      vii.Logical Atomism
      viii.Naturalism and Psychology

On The relations of universals and particulars

Excerpt and condensation

Particulars are percepts - the objects of acts of perception.
Universals are concepts - the objects of acts of conception.

Opponents of universals, such as Berkeley and Hume, will maintain that concepts are derived from percepts, as faint copies or in some other way.
Opponents of Particulars will maintain that the apparent particularity of percepts is illusory. The objects of acts of perception and the objects of acts of conception differ only by their greater complexity and are really composed of constituents which are concepts.

But the distinction of percepts and concepts is too psychological for an ultimate metaphysical distinction. Percepts and concepts are respectively the relata of two different relations, perception and conception, and there is nothing in their definitions to show whether, or how, they differ. Moreover, the distinction of percepts and concepts, in itself, is incapable of being extended to entities which are not objects of cognitive acts. Hence we require some other distinction expressing the intrinsic difference which we seem to feel between percepts and concepts.

A cognate distinction, which effects part at least of what we waut, is the distinction between thiugs which exist in time and things which do not.

A percept exists in time, while a concept does not.
The object of perception is simultaneous with the act of perception, while the object of conception seems indifferent to the time of conceiving and to all time.
However, the man who reduces concepts to percepts will say that nothing is really out of time, and that the appearance of this in the case of concepts is illusory. The man who reduces percepts to concepts may either, like most idealists, deny that anything is in time, or, like some realists, maintain that concepts can and do exist in time.

In addition to the above distinction as regards time, there is a distinction as regards space which, as we shall find, is very important in connection with our present question. Put as vaguely as possible, this is a distinction which divides entities into three classes: (a) those which are not in any place, (b) those which are in one place at one time, but never in more than one, (c) those which are in many places at once.

Our bodies exist in one place at a time, but not in more than one. General qualities, such as whiteness, on the contrary, may be said to be in many places at once: We may say, in a sense, that whiteness is in every place where there is a white thing.

In addition to the above psychological and metaphysical distinctions, there are two logical relations which are relevant in the present inquiry.

In the first place, there is the distinction between relations and entities which are not relations. It has been customary for philosophers to ignore or reject relations, and speak as if all entities were either subjects or predicates. But this custom is on the decline, and I shall assume without further argument that there are such entities as relations.
Among non-relation entities are included not only all the things that would naturally be called particulars, but also all the universals that philosophers are in the habit of considering when they discuss the relation of particulars to universals, for universals are generally conceived as common properties of particulars, in fact, as predicates.

The second logical distinction which we require is one which may or may not be identical in extension with that between relations and non-relations, but is certainly not identical in intension.
It may be expressed as the distinction between verbs and substantives, or, more correctly, between the objects denoted by verbs and the objects denoted by substantive.
The nature of this distinction emerges from the analysis of complexes. In most complexes, if not in all, a certain number of different entities are combined into a single entity by means of a relation.
"A's hatred for B," for example, is a complex in which hatred, combines A and B into one whole; "C's belief that A hates B" is a complex in which belief combines A and R and C and hatred into one whole, and so on.
The capacity for combining terms into a single complex is the defining characteristic of what I call verbs.
It is the possibility that there may be complexes of this kind which makes it impossible to decide off-hand that verbs are the same as relations. There may be verbs which are philosophically as well as grammatically intransitive. Such verbs, if they exist, may be called predicates, and the propositions in which they are attributed may be called subject-predicate propositions.

The above logical distinctions are relevant to our enquiry because it is natural to regard particulars as entities which can only be subjects or terms of relations, and cannot be predicates or relations. A particular is naturally conceived as a this or something intrinsically analogous to a this; and such an entity seems incapable of being a predicate or a relation. A universal, on this view, will be anything that is a predicate or a relation.

We may now return to the question of particulars and universals with a better hope of being able to state precisely the nature of the opposition between them. It will be remembered that we began with three different oppositions:
(1) that of percept and concept, (2) that of entities existing in time and entities not existing in time, (3) that of substantives and verbs. But in the course of our discussion a different opposition developed itself, namely, (4) that between entities which can be in one place, but not in more than one, at a given time, and entities which either cannot be anywhere or can be in several places at one time.

We may then define a particular in our fourth sense as an entity which cannot be “in” or “belong to” more than one place at one time, and a universal as an entity which either cannot be “in” or “belong to” any place, or can be “in” or “belong to” many places at once.

We have thus a division of all entities into two classes:
(1) particulars, which enter into complexes only as the subjects of predicates or the terms of relations, and, if they belong to the world of which we have experience, exist in time, and cannot occupy more than one place at one time in the space to which they belong;
(2) universals, which can occur as predicates or relations in complexes, do not exist in time, and have no relation to one place which they may not simultaneously have to another.
The ground for regarding such a division as unavoidable is the self-evident fact that certain spatial relations imply diversity of their terms, together with the self-evident fact that it is logically possible for entities having such spatial relations to be wholly indistinguishable as to predicates.

Bertrand Russell’s Philosophy

Analytic philosophy
Russell is generally recognized as one of the founders of analytic philosophy, even of its several branches. At the beginning of the twentieth century, alongside G. E. Moore, Russell was largely responsible for the British "revolt against Idealism," a philosophy greatly influenced by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and his British apostle, F. H. Bradley. This revolt was echoed 30 years later in Vienna by the logical positivists' "revolt against metaphysics." Russell was particularly appalled by the idealist doctrine of internal relations, which held that in order to know any particular thing, one must know all of its relations. Russell showed that this would make space, time, science and the concept of number unintelligible. Russell's logical work with Whitehead continued this project.

Russell and Moore strove to eliminate what they saw as meaningless and incoherent assertions in philosophy, and they sought clarity and precision in argument by the use of exact language and by breaking down philosophical propositions into their simplest components. Russell, in particular, saw logic and science as the principal tools of the philosopher. Indeed, unlike most philosophers who preceded him and his early contemporaries, Russell did not believe there was a separate method for philosophy. He believed that the main task of the philosopher was to illuminate the most general propositions about the world and to eliminate confusion. In particular, he wanted to end what he saw as the excesses of metaphysics. Russell adopted William of Ockham's principle against multiplying unnecessary entities; this principle, known as Ockham's Razor, as a central part of the method of analysis.

Russell's epistemology went through many phases. Once he shed neo-Hegelianism in his early years, Russell remained a philosophical realist for the remainder of his life, believing that our direct experiences have primacy in the acquisition of knowledge. While some of his views have lost favor, his influence remains strong in the distinction between two ways in which we can be familiar with objects: "knowledge by acquaintance" and "knowledge by description." For a time, Russell thought that we could only be acquainted with our own sense data—momentary perceptions of colors, sounds, and the like—and that everything else, including the physical objects that these were sense data of, could only be inferred, or reasoned to—i.e. known by description—and not known directly. This distinction has gained much wider application, though Russell eventually rejected the idea of an intermediate sense datum.

In his later philosophy, Russell subscribed to a kind of neutral monism, maintaining that the distinctions between the material and mental worlds, in the final analysis, were arbitrary, and that both can be reduced to a neutral property—a view similar to one held by the American philosopher, William James, and one that was first formulated by Baruch Spinoza, whom Russell greatly admired. Instead of James' "pure experience," however, Russell characterized the stuff of our initial states of perception as "events," a stance which is curiously akin to his old teacher Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy.

While Russell wrote a great deal on topics in ethics, he did not believe that the subject belonged to philosophy, or that when he wrote on ethics he did so in his capacity as a philosopher. In his earlier years, Russell was greatly influenced by G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica. Along with Moore, he then believed that moral facts were objective but only known through intuition, that they were simple properties of objects, not equivalent (e.g., pleasure is good) to the natural objects to which they are often ascribed (see Naturalistic fallacy), and that these simple, undefinable moral properties cannot be analyzed using the non-moral properties with which they are associated. In time, however, he came to agree with his philosophical hero, David Hume, who believed that ethical terms dealt with subjective (personal and cultural) values that cannot be verified in the same way that matters of fact are. Coupled with Russell's other doctrines, this influenced the logical positivists, who formulated the theory of emotivism, which states that ethical propositions (along with those of metaphysics) were essentially meaningless and nonsensical or, at best, little more than expressions of psychological attitudes and preferences. Notwithstanding his influence on them, Russell himself did not construe ethical propositions as narrowly as the positivists, for he believed that ethical considerations are not only meaningful, but that they are a vital subject matter for civil discourse. Indeed, although Russell was often characterized as the patron saint of rationality, he agreed with Hume, who said that reason ought to be subordinate to ethical considerations: "Reason is and ought to be the servant of the passions" (David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II, Part I).

Russell wrote some books about practical ethical issues such as marriage. His book Marriage and Morals, even though it can be accused of being shallow and having more weaknesses than strengths, must be acknowledged as one of the very few works on this topic ever written by an Anglo-American philosopher. His opinions on this field were liberal. He argued that sexual relationships outside of marriages are acceptable. In his book, Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954), he advocated the view that we should see moral issues from the point of view of the desires of individuals. Individuals are allowed to do what they desire, as long as there are no conflicting desires among different individuals. Desires are not bad, in and of themselves, but on occasion, their potential or actual consequences are. Russell also wrote that punishment is important only in an instrumental sense; thus, we should not punish someone solely for the sake of punishment.

Logical atomism
Perhaps Russell's most systematic, metaphysical treatment of philosophical analysis and his empiricist-centric logicism is evident in what he called "Logical atomism," which is explicated in a set of lectures, "The Philosophy of Logical Atomism," which he gave in 1918. In these lectures, Russell sets forth his concept of an ideal, isomorphic language, one that would mirror the world, whereby our knowledge can be reduced to terms of atomic propositions and their truth-functional compounds.

Logical atomism is a form of radical empiricism, for Russell believed the most important requirement for such an ideal language is that every meaningful proposition must consist of terms referring directly to the objects with which we are acquainted, or that they are defined by other terms referring to objects with which we are acquainted. Russell excluded certain formal, logical terms such as all, the, and is from his isomorphic requirement, but he was never entirely satisfied about our understanding of such terms. One of the central themes of Russell's atomism is that the world consists of logically independent facts, a plurality of facts, and that our knowledge depends on the data of our direct experience of them. In his later life, Russell came to doubt aspects of logical atomism, especially his principle of isomorphism, though he continued to believe that the process of philosophy ought to consist of breaking things down into their simplest components, even though we might not ever fully arrive at an ultimate atomic fact.

Philosophy of language
Russell was not the first philosopher to suggest that language had an important bearing on how we understand the world; however, more than anyone before him, Russell made language, or more specifically, how we use language, a central part of philosophy. Had there been no Russell, it seems unlikely that philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gilbert Ryle, J. L. Austin, and P. F. Strawson, among others, would have embarked upon the same course, for so much of what they did was to amplify or respond, sometimes critically, to what Russell had said before them, using many of the techniques that he originally developed. Russell, along with Moore, shared the idea that clarity of expression is a virtue, a notion that has been a touchstone for philosophers ever since, particularly among those who deal with the philosophy of language.

Perhaps Russell's most significant contribution to the philosophy of language is his "theory of descriptions," as presented in his seminal essay, "On Denoting," first published in 1905, which the mathematician and philosopher Frank P. Ramsey described as "a paradigm of philosophy." The theory is normally illustrated using the phrase "the present king of France," as in "The present king of France is bald." What object is this proposition about, given that there is not, at present, a king of France? (Roughly the same problem would arise if there were two kings of France at present: which of them does "the king of France" denote?). Alexius Meinong had suggested that we must posit a realm of "nonexistent entities" that we can suppose we are referring to when we use expressions such as this; but this would be a strange theory, to say the least. Frege, employing his distinction between sense and reference, suggested that such sentences, although meaningful, were neither true nor false. But some such propositions, such as "If the present king of France is bald, then the present king of France has no hair on his head," seem not only truth-valuable, but indeed obviously true.

The problem is general to what are called "definite descriptions." Normally this includes all terms beginning with "the," and sometimes includes names, like "Walter Scott." (This point is quite contentious: Russell sometimes thought that the latter terms shouldn't be called names at all, but only "disguised definite descriptions," but much subsequent work has treated them as altogether different things.) What is the "logical form" of definite descriptions: how, in Frege's terms, could we paraphrase them in order to show how the truth of the whole depends on the truths of the parts? Definite descriptions appear to be like names that by their very nature denote exactly one thing, neither more or less. What, then, are we to say about the proposition as a whole if one of its parts apparently isn't functioning correctly?

Russell's solution was, first of all, to analyze not the term alone but the entire proposition that contained a definite description. "The present king of France is bald," he then suggested, can be reworded to "There is an x such that x is a present king of France, nothing other than x is a present king of France, and x is bald." Russell claimed that each definite description in fact contains a claim of existence and a claim of uniqueness which give this appearance, but these can be broken apart and treated separately from the predication that is the obvious content of the proposition. The proposition as a whole then says three things about some object: the definite description contains two of them, and the rest of the sentence contains the other. If the object does not exist, or if it is not unique, then the whole sentence turns out to be false, not meaningless.

One of the major complaints against Russell's theory, due originally to Strawson, is that definite descriptions do not claim that their object exists, they merely presuppose that it does. Strawson also claims that a denoting phrase that does not, in fact, denote anything could be supposed to follow the role of a "Widgy's inverted truth-value" and expresses the opposite meaning of the intended phrase. This can be shown using the example of "The present king of France is bald." Taken with the inverted truth-value methodology the meaning of this sentence becomes, "It is true that there is no present king of France who is bald" which changes the denotation of 'the present king of France' from a primary denotation to a secondary one.

Wittgenstein, Russell's student, later achieved considerable prominence in the philosophy of language. Russell thought Wittgenstein's elevation of language as the only reality with which philosophy need be concerned was absurd, and he decried his influence and the influence of his followers, especially members of the so-called "Oxford school" of ordinary language philosophy, who he believed were promoting a kind of mysticism. Russell's belief that there is more to philosophy and knowing the world than simply understanding how we use language has regained prominence in philosophy and eclipsed Wittgenstein's language-centric views.

Philosophy of science
Russell frequently claimed that he was more convinced of his method of doing philosophy, the method of analysis, than of his philosophical conclusions. Science, of course, was one of the principal components of analysis, along with logic and mathematics. While Russell was a believer in the scientific method, knowledge derived from empirical research that is verified through repeated testing, he believed that science reaches only tentative answers, and that scientific progress is piecemeal, and attempts to find organic unities were largely futile. Indeed, he believed the same was true of philosophy. Another founder of modern philosophy of science, Ernst Mach, placed less reliance on method, per se, for he believed that any method that produced predictable results was satisfactory and that the principal role of the scientist was to make successful predictions. While Russell would doubtless agree with this as a practical matter, he believed that the ultimate objective of both science and philosophy was to understand reality, not simply to make predictions.

The fact that Russell made science a central part of his method and of philosophy was instrumental in making the philosophy of science a full-blooded, separate branch of philosophy and an area in which subsequent philosophers specialized. Much of Russell's thinking about science is exposed in his 1914 book, Our Knowledge of the External World as a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy. Among the several schools that were influenced by Russell were the logical positivists, particularly Rudolph Carnap, who maintained that the distinguishing feature of scientific propositions was their verifiability. This contrasted with the theory of Karl Popper, also greatly influenced by Russell, who believed that their importance rested in the fact that they were potentially falsifiable.

It is worth noting that outside of his strictly philosophical pursuits, Russell was always fascinated by science, particularly physics, and he even authored several popular science books, The ABC of Atoms (1923) and The ABC of Relativity (1925).

          It is difficult to overstate the extent to which Russell's thought dominated twentieth century analytic philosophy: virtually every strand in its development either originated with him or was transformed by being transmitted through him. Analytic philosophy itself owes its existence more to Russell than to any other philosopher.Nicholas Griffin, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).




Logical Atomism

The theory of logical atomism itself was adumbrated in a course of eight lectures that Russell delivered in London in 1918, later published under the title The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1956).
Logical atomism is a philosophy that finds its sustenance in the new logic.

Russell used the term “atomism” in contrast to various forms of idealism, which he considered ‘holistic’ in their contention that reality constitutes a totality whose parts cannot be separated from one another without distortion. One implication of this form of holism is that no statement is wholly true or wholly false, and it was this idea that Russell rejected.
He argued that there were discrete facts that could be depicted accurately, and these were the “atoms” that formed the basic units in his philosophy.

G.E. Moore, in formulating his epistemological realism, had rejected the idealist position in favor of a common-sense, realistic view of the world in which certain statements were wholly true or wholly false, depending on whether they did or did not correspond to particular, discrete facts. Though Moore does not call his philosophy “atomistic”, it is similar in this respect to Russell’s.

The theory of logical atomism itself was adumbrated in a course of eight lectures that Russell delivered in London in 1918, later published under the title The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1956). Among its main exponents were Wittgenstein, Ryle and Gustav Bergmann. Wittgenstein used it as the central doctrine of his Tractatus Logical-Philosophicus (1921).

The main idea of logical atomism is that there is a direct correlation between the structure of reality and the structure of the ideal language given in Principia Mathematica. The ideal language can be conceived of as a kind of map of reality. … The mapping relationship is sometimes called picture theory since in an extended sense of the term the map provides a picture of the real world. In the hands of Russell and Wittgenstein, picture theory became both a theory of meaning and a theory of truth.

Russell’s theory of descriptions rejects the oldest and simplest notion about how the elements of language acquire their meanings. Suppose one is speaking about a piece of chalk and says, “This is white”. According to this older theory, “this” and “mean respectively the piece of chalk and its color. On some accounts, the copula, “is”, refers to an ontological tie that bonds whiteness to the piece of chalk. According to Russell, however, this view collapses in the face of negative existential sentences such as “Santa Claus does not exist”. This sentence is both meaningful and true, yet there is nothing in the actual world that “Santa Claus” denotes. “Santa Claus” cannot derive its meaning from a corresponding entity, since there is no such entity. Thus, we have to explain its meaning in some other way, for which Russell proposes the theory of descriptions. On it, “Santa Claus” is not a denoting term (that is, a proper name) but an abbreviated or covert description.

But Russell and Wittgenstein thought there was something in the older theory that, though it could not be generalized to language as a whole, was right about a special segment of language that Russell calls “atomic sentences”. These are logically singular sentences of the form “Fa” whose English equivalents would be sentences in which a proper name replaces the logical constant a. “Smith is tall”, is an example of such a sentence. Atomic sentences are distinguished from molecular sentences, which are complex sentences that can take various forms. For example, two atomic sentences connected by “and” form a molecular sentence. Some general sentences such as “Some men all tall” are also molecular, since when analyzed they contain the two sentences “Something is a man”, and “Something is tall”. Since sentences containing definite descriptions are complex general sentences, they are also molecular and not singular.

Russell believes the distinction between atomic and molecular sentences is crucial. When the un-interpreted logical symbols in an atomic sentence were expressed in the words or sentences of a natural language, they had the capacity to be true or false. Thus, when “Fa” is interpreted as “Smith is tall”, it is true is Smith is tall and false otherwise. Likewise, a molecular sentence in purely logical notation, such as (∃x)(Hx.Tx) when translated, for example, as “Some men are tall”, is also true or false. It is true if at least one human male is tall and false if there is no such entity or if no existing human male is tall. It is clear that no general sentence is true unless a “value” of that sentence is true. By a value, Russell means a singular sentence. If (∃x)(Tx) is true, then at least one sentence of the logical form “Fa” must be true. Thus, a molecular sentence such as “Some men are tall” is true if and only if some atomic sentence such as “Smith is tall” is true.

Russell adhered throughout his career to the correspondence theory of truth, according to which a sentence p is true if and only if there is some fact of the world that it describes accurately.
“Smith is tall” is true if only if Smith is tall.
Though molecular sentences can be said to be true, there are no molecular facts in the world. A molecular sentence such as “If it is raining and the streets are wet” is made true because there are atomic facts, such as “It is raining” and “The streets are wet”, that are true. The corresponding theory is a theory of truth, but Russell saw that a variant of it could be used as a theory of meaning.

In the ideal language of the Principia mathematica, atomic sentences are the key to the whole system of axioms and calculi. All theorems are molecular and are thus constructed out of atomic sentences. Any molecular sentences can thus be reduced to a set of atomic sentences and will mean nothing more nor less than the combination of these sentences.
But what do atomic sentences mean? The answer lies in picture theory. According to this view, the older theory of what linguistic units mean can be explained through the distinction between atomic and molecular sentences. While the meaning of the latter are always reducible to the meaning of the former, atomic sentences have meaning because there is a one-to-one correspondence between the names and predicates occurring in them and the entities they denote. Thus, in “Smith is tall”, the name “Smith” means the object Smith and the word “tall” means the property “being tall”. In the case of “Smith”, for example, the actual person Smith is literally the meaning of the term.

Russell argued that it follows from this view that proper names have no meaning in an intensional sense, as Frege thought. If they did, they could be construed as definite descriptions, and the sentences containing them would become general sentences. But if all sentences were general, there would be no direct way of hooking them up with the world of fact, and logic could not be said to be a discipline concerned with truth. That it is so concerned means that there must be singular sentences that if true must perforce be meaningful. In turn, there can be meaningful only if their denoting constituents are meaningful.
Hence, proper names are meaningful, but the only candidates left for them to mean are the objects they denote. Accordingly, the basic sentences if the ideal language are logically singular sentences whose subject terms denote actually existing objects.

Logical atomism is thus a metaphysical view that claims that mathematical logic mirrors the structure of reality. The theory of descriptions is a key component in the theory. Translating an English sentence into the perspicuous notation of (a process Russell called “analysis”) reveals its basic structure and its real meaning. For example, if a sentence contains a description, it will never be a singular sentence, and thus it will never be an identity sentence or a trivial truism in the way that each identity sentence is. Moreover, no sentence containing a description will mirror those basic features of the world that Russell labels atomic facts. Those facts are reflected only in the atomic sentences of the ideal language, which are all singular sentences containing proper names. Logical atomism is thus a metaphysical construction concerning the relationship among language, meaning, and the world of fact.

After its original, powerful thrust, logical atomism began to lose adherents and has virtually disappeared today. At least two factors were responsible for its eclipse, the first of which was the rise of logical positivism, another philosophy influenced by the development of mathematical logic. According to this doctrine, metaphysics was nonsense, and since logical atomism is a form of metaphysics, it was rejected by thinkers who accepted the newer view.
A different approach was developed by P.F. Strawson in a celebrated paper, “On Referring” (1950). Strawson argued that Russell and other logical atomists committed at least three errors: They confused denoting with referring; failed to distinguish meaning from referring; and conflated the grammatical forms of linguistic units (such as names, phrases, and sentences) with their referential, ascriptive, and statement-making uses. It is people who use language in its various forms to refer to or mention particular individuals or places or things, and it is a mistake to think that words or sentences per se have these properties. Meaning and statement making, for example, must be distinguished.
Meaning is a property of linguistic expressions. Thus, “The present king of France is wise” Has the same meaning in all contents of its use. But while its meaning is a function of the meaning of its lexical constituents, it can be used on different occasions by speakers to refer to or mention different individuals. When the individuals referred to exist (say, when a seventeenth-century Englishman used those words to refer to Louis XIV), the speaker is then making a statement that is either true or false. But the words themselves, taken out of any context, are neither true nor false. Further, if they were to be used when no such person existed, certain statement-making presuppositions would have been violated, and accordingly no statement would have been made; in such a case the locution would be neither true nor false. Strawson’s attack on Russell and on the presuppositions of logical atomism were generally accepted as correct and became one of the factors leading to the demise of the earlier view.


Logical Analysis

In On Denoting and later papers Russell constantly speaks of the activity of the philosopher as being one of analysis. By analysis he means a technique of substituting a logically clear form of words for another form of words which was in some way logically misleading. His theory of descriptions was for long a paradigm of such logical analysis.
But in Russell’s mind, logical analysis was far more than a device for the clarification of sentences. He came to believe that once logic had been cast into a perspicuous form it would reveal the structure of the world.

Logic contained individual variables and propositional function: corresponding to these the world contained particulars and universals. In logic, complex propositions were built up out of simple propositions as truth-functions of the simpler propositions. Similarly, in the world there were independent atomic facts corresponding to the simple propositions. Atomic facts consisted either in the possession by a particular of a characteristic, or else in a relation between two or more particulars. This theory of Russell’s was called ‘logical atomism’.

The theory of descriptions was the great analytic tool of logical atomism. Russell began to apply it not only to round squares and to Platonic entities, but also to many things which common sense would regard as perfectly real, such as Julius Caesar, tables, and chairs. The reason for this was that Russell came to believe that every proposition which we can understand must be composed wholly of items with which we are acquainted. “
“Acquaintance” was Russell’s word for immediate presentation: we were acquainted, for instance, with our own sense-data, which correspond in his system to Hume’s impressions or the deliverances of Cartesian consciousness. But Russell still retained something of his earlier Platonism: he believed that we had direct acquaintance with the universals which were represented by the predicates of the reformed logical language. But the range of things which we could know by acquaintance was limited: we could not be acquainted with Queen Victoria or our own past sense-data. Those things which were not known by acquaintance were known only by description; hence the importance of the theory of descriptions.

In the sentence ‘Caesar crossed the Rubicon’, uttered in England now, we have a proposition in which there are apparently no individual constituents with which we are acquainted. In order to explain how we can understand the sentence Russell analyses the names ‘Caesar’ and ‘Rubicon’ as definite descriptions. The descriptions, spelt out in full, no doubt include reference to those names, but not to the objects they named. The sentence is exhibited as being about general characteristics and relations, and the names with which we become acquainted as we pronounce them.

For Russell, then, ordinary proper names were in fact disguised descriptions. A fully analyzed sentence would contain only logically proper names (words referring to particulars with which we are acquainted) and universals (words referring to characters and relations). It was never altogether clear what counted as logically proper names. Sometimes Russell seemed to countenance only demonstratives such as ‘this’ and ‘that’. An atomic proposition, therefore, would be something like ‘(this) red’ or “this) beside (that)’.

An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are on a train in Scotland.
The engineer looks out the window and sees a black sheep. He comments, "Look, they have black sheep in Scotland".
Then physicist looks and comments, "From this observation, we can only say there is at least one black sheep in Scotland."
The mathematician then looks and comments, "Actually, from this we can only say there is at least one sheep in Scotland that's black on one side."



Logical Positivism

Logical positivism is a radical form of scientism that holds that only the special sciences can make cognitively meaningful statements about the world. It rejects traditional philosophy, especially metaphysics, as at best a pseudo-science and at worst unintelligible; in either case, it is nonsense.
Logical positivism asserts instead that philosophy should be restricted to the clarification and explanation of scientific theorizing. On this interpretation, philosophy is a second-order discipline, describing and articulating the essential principle of the first-order discipline: science.
Logical positivism bases its outlook on the new logic as the provider of an ideal language and on the notion that science alone is capable of providing a true account of reality.

This outlook developed in Vienna and later became the view of “The Vienna Circle”. This group, which grew up round Moritz Schlick (1882-1936) after his appointment as Professor of the Philosophy of Science in Vienna in 1922, consisted of philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists - among its members Friedrich Waismann, Otto Neurath, Hans Hahn, Victor Kraft, Philippe Frank, and Herbert Feigl – were all scientists. Like many Europeans of that period, they had extensive schooling in the classics, including philosophy. Its eventual program was prefigured in Schlick’s Allgemei Erkentnislehre (General theory of knowledge; 1918), but as the group enlarged it developed a consensus in the early 1920s about the nature of traditional philosophy and about the principles a new philosophy should follow. Its views gradually became known outside of Austria, attracting Rudolf Carnap in Praque and Hans Reichenbach in Berlin, among others.
In 1929, after a congress in Prague, the circle issued a manifesto, the Wissenschaftliche Weltauffassung der Wiener Kreis, which proclaimed the launch of a campaign against metaphysics as an outdated precursor of science. The ideas of the circle were publicized in the journal Erkenntnis, founded in 1930 and edited by Carnap in conjunction with Hans Reichenbach. The circle was broken up in 1936 as a result of political pressure, after Schlick had been killed by an insane student.

The movement achieved worldwide fame partly for political reasons, partly because of the distinguished journal Erkenntnis, and partly as a result of a book, Language, Truth, and Logic (1936), written by a young Englishman Alfred J. Ayer (1910-1989). Though Ayer was a late addition to the Circle, he became its most popular spokesman. For a time, though, the political aspects were perhaps the most salient. Many of the positivists were Jews who because of the rise of Nazism fled Europe and settled in the United States and England. The wide dispersal of these thinkers opened new conceptual vistas in other countries, and provided a platform from which their writings transformed the intellectual ambience of world philosophy.

In the middle twenties, Wittgenstein was living in Vienna, and members of the Circle were acquainted with him personally, as well as with his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Some commentators have argued that some of positivism’s characteristic theses were derived from the Tractatus and that Wittgenstein is their real source. In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein states that philosophy is not a theory but an activity, a comment that suggests the positivist theses that philosophy cannot make cognitively significant statements about the world. Wittgenstein also wrote that the meaning of a statement is its method of verification, a notion that is close to the positivist idea that for any contingent sentence to be meaningful, it must in principle be empirically verifiable. Despite these resemblances, Wittgenstein never identified himself with logical positivism and in his later philosophy explicitly rejected its scientism. In Ayer’s presentation, Wittgenstein is hardly mentioned at all.

Positivism rested on three principles: a sharp distinction between analytic and synthetic statements; the principle of verifiability; and a reducibility thesis about the role of observation.

What the Positivists claimed to take from the Tractatus was the idea that necessary truths are necessary only because they are tautologies. In the past, logical and mathematical propositions had presented serious difficulties for empiricism. Few empiricists were willing to follow Mill in denying that such propositions were necessary. It was much more attractive to accept that they were necessary but that they told us nothing about the world. Empiricists could now reaffirm their claim that knowledge about the world is acquired only by experience, and devote themselves with a clear conscience to the attack on metaphysics.

The great weapon in this attack was the Verification Principle. This, in its original form, ruled that the meaning of a proposition was the mode of its verification. Such a view of meaning enabled one to rule out of court as meaningless all statements which could neither be verified nor falsified by experience. Faced with a dispute about the nature of the Absolute, or the purpose of the Universe, or Kantian things-in-themselves, the Positivist could expose the emptiness of the quarrel by saying to the warring metaphysicians: ”What possible experience could settle the issue between you?”

Almost as soon as the Verification Principle was stated dispute broke out about as its status and its formulation. Was the principle verifiable by experience? If not, it seemed to stand self-condemned as meaningless. Moreover, not only metaphysical propositions, but scientific generalizations, were incapable of conclusive verification. Should we say then that the criterion of significance was not verifiability but falsifiability? But how, on this view, were assertions of existence significant? Short of an exhaustive tour of the universe, no experience could conclusively falsify them.
So the principle was reformulated in a ‘weak’ form which laid down that a proposition was significant if there were some observations which would be relevant to its truth or falsity.
This widely accepted formulation was proposed by Alfred J. Ayer. In Language, Truth, and Logic, Ayer states that to verify the proposition is to know what observations would lead that individual to accept the proposition as true or reject it as false. The key to Ayer’s formulation is the term “observation”. The point of the verifiability principle is that it must be possible to describe the observations that would allow someone to determine whether the proposition is true or false. If a described observation is relevant to determining the statement’s truth or falsity, it is a significant proposition; if not, it is meaningless.
Thus, the positivists draw a distinction between the terms “verified” and “verifiable”. They do not mean that a proposition must be verified to be meaningful, only that it must be verifiable.
The difference is important. The proposition “There is human life in outer space” is, given present technical limitations, unverified, but it is verifiable in principle and hence meaningful. We know what kind of observation are necessary to determine whether the proposition is true or not, and that is sufficient to show it to be meaningful. This is not true regarding the proposition “God is infinitely wise”. According to the positivists, no relevant observation is possible, and hence that collection of words is not cognitively significant.
Even thus qualified, it was not easy to apply the Verification Principle to matters of history; and any further modifications of the principle ran the risk of making it so wide as to admit metaphysical statements.

Another principle that Positivism rested is the reducibility thesis about the role of observation. The positivists give a specific interpretation to the concept of “observation”. Following the earlier empiricists such as Locke and Hume, they hold that an observation consists in having a particular sense experience, a particular datum with which one is directly acquainted and about which one cannot be mistaken. This given can be a quality, such as the color red or, on some interpretations, a physical object itself. The thesis is a reductive one, holding that ultimately all knowledge of external reality can be reduced to particular sense data. This emphasis upon sense experience generated the doctrine of empiricism; namely, that all knowledge derives from the senses. The joint emphasis upon logic and experience explains why logical positivism is sometimes called “logical empiricism”.

The Positivists accepted the Tractatus view that the true task of philosophy was to clarify non-philosophical statements.
In clarifying the language of science, the philosopher must show how all empirical statements were built up truth-functionally from elementary or ‘protocol’ statements, which were direct records of experience. In knowing which experiences would make one accept or reject any particular protocol one would understand what it meant.
The words occurring in non-protocol statements derived their meaning from the possibility of the translation of such statements into protocol statements; and the words occurring in protocol statements derived their meaning from the possibility of an ostensive definition – of a gesture which would point (literally or metaphorically) to the feature of experience to which the word referred.

A difficulty here presents itself. What protocol statements record seems to be something which is private to each individual. If meaning depends on verifiability, and verification is by mental states which I alone experience, how can I ever understand anyone else’s meaning?
Schlick tried to answer this by making a distinction between form and content. The content of my experience – what I enjoy or live through when I look at something green – is private and incommunicable. But the form, the structure relationship, between my private experience and other people’s private experience is something public and communicable. I cannot know whether, when I see a tree or a sunset, other people enjoy the same experience as I do; for all I know, when they look at a tree or a sunset they see the color which I see. As long as we both agree to call a tree green and a sunset red – as long as the form or structure of our experience pattern is similar – we are able to communicate with each other and construct the language of science. Few people found this answer wholly satisfactory, and the threat of solipsism was not adequately dealt with until Wittgenstein returned to philosophy.


Positivism (at least in its canonical form) has disappeared from the contemporary stage for a number of complex reasons, but two stand out. First, there was an internal criticism the positivists never overcame concerning the status of the principle of verification itself: If the principle itself is cognitively significant, then according to the theory it must be either analytic or synthetic. If the former, it is empty of factual content; if the latter it has to be verifiable. But how to verify it? What kind of observations would show that it is either true or false? Unfortunately, nobody could make a convincing case that it was susceptible to observation at all, and thus, by its own criterion, it was cognitively meaningless. Some positivists suggested that it could be interpreted as a heuristic principle – that it was a useful guide for separating non-sense from cognitive sense – but this simply begged the question. It thus became clear that the principle of verification was part of the disease the theory was designed to cure.

Apart from this problem, the attitude that science alone can provide significant information about reality does not appeal to or convince some philosophers. These thinkers believe that they can make assertions about the real world that are not only meaningful but true and that these are not propositions of science but genuinely philosophical. A major philosopher who espoused this point of view was G.E. Moore.



G. E. Moore
G. E. Moore
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G. E. MooreG. E. Moore
G. E. Moore
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G.E. Moore

From a conceptual point of view, 1903 was one of the nodal moments of the century. That year saw the publication of Moore’s The Refutation of Idealism and Principia ethica, as well as Russell’s The Principles of Mathematics. These three works, each dealing with a different subject matter, revolutionized twentieth-century philosophy. Russell’s work was his first major study in the foundation of mathematics that led to Principia mathematica and to the development of symbolic logic. The focus here will be on Moore’s epistemological realism, which took two forms: A defense of certainty via an appeal to common sense and a defense of a form of representative realism in the theory of perception that rested on sense-data theory. Moore is also of central importance to the twentieth-century study of ethics.

Epistemological Realism

The 1903 paper, The Refutation of Idealism had an powerful impact. Before this paper appeared, the prevailing mode of philosophy both on the Continent and in the English-speaking world was idealism. It took many different forms, some post-Kantian, some post-Hegelian, and some post-Berkeleyan, but all of them having in common the notion that reality was ultimately mental.

Moore’s refutation was of Berkeley’ so-called subjective idealism, a doctrine encapsulated in the formula esse is percipi, meaning that whatever is perceived is mind dependent. Thus, the existence of table, persons, planets, and everything else depends upon their being perceived by some mind. Moore thought this proposition ‘monstrous’ and developed a series of arguments against it. His main argument rests on a distinction between the act of perceiving and the object perceived. The act, he argues, is clearly mind dependent but the entity perceived (say, a blue patch) is not. There is no good reason to believe that its existence has the same status as that of the act. Indeed, he contends, there is good reason to believe the opposite. As a result of Moore’s critique, that form of idealism has more or less vanished from the Western philosophical scene and been replaced by various forms of realism, the doctrine that mind-independent entities exist. Moore called these “material” or “physical” objects. It was a form of this doctrine that he was to defend in his epistemological writings.

Moore’s defense was via a theory of representative perception that turned on the existence of sense data. In the twentieth century, the major epistemologists – Russell, Ayer, C.D. Broad, H.H. Price, Roderick Chisholm, and some of the logical positivists – espoused versions of this view. Nearly all these writers agree that much of the knowledge we have of “the external world” derives from perception. They also agree that a distinction must be drawn between what one directly perceives in any perceptual act, and what one can infer from such direct perception. Sense data were perceived directly and physical or material objects were perceived indirectly through the mediation of sense data. A major question this view engenders concerns the relationship between sense data and the physical objects that presumably correspond to them: How can we be sure that these data accurately represent physical objects? Or even worse, how can we be sure on the basis of such subjective experiences that there is an external world at all? Perhaps we are each simply encapsulated within the circle of our own ideas. Moore grappled with these problems for more than forty years.

In a series of famous papers, including “The Status of Sense-Data” (1913-1914), Some Judgments of Perception” (1918), “A Defense of Common Sense” (1925), and his last published essay, “Visual Sense-data” (1957), Moore attempted prove there were such entities as sense data and to explicate their relationship to physical objects. These studies tried, in effect, to solve a problem that in its modern form derives from Descartes, the so=called problem of our knowledge of the external world. Moore’s approach analyzes propositions about external objects, such as “This is table”, that are known to be true. Moore holds that in giving such an analysis, one must refer to what he calls the “true subject” of the judgment; namely, something that is perceived directly in an act of perception. This cannot be, for example, a whole table; a table is an opaque object and at a given moment and from a particular perspective one cannot see its backside or underside. Yet there is no doubt that one sees something: There is something in one’s visual field when one looks at a table. This, Moore says, is something directly perceived, and he coined the term “sense datum” for it.

In this example, one possibility is that it is simply a facing part of the surface of the table. So in seeing a table, one is seeing directly a part of it; namely, a part of its surface. Moore would have welcomed this result, which would have meant that one directly sees external physical objects, and thus that one can get outside of the circle of one’s ideas. This would have been an intuitively plausible and simple solution to the external-world problem, Unfortunately, there is a powerful argument (sometimes called the argument from synthetic incompatibility) that according to Moore shows this analysis to be impossible, thus leading him back to a theory of representative perception.

Consider the following situation: We know that a penny is made of metal and that it is approximately circular. It does not rapidly change its shape under normal conditions of temperature and pressure. Looking at the penny from directly above shows us a round object, But if we walk around the penny, we will see a series of elliptical images; the penny will appear to be flattened. But nothing can be both round and elliptical at the same time. In the case of the coin there is no reason to believe it is changing its shape as one walks around it. The conclusion is that in seeing an elliptical object, we are not seeing the surface of the coin directly, yet an elliptical object is seen, what Moore calls a sense datum. What, then, is the relationship between this elliptical object and circular surface of the coin? Clearly, they cannot be identical. But if that is so, how does an elliptical object give us knowledge about an external object such as a coin> Moore admitted that he was never able to give a satisfactory answer to this question.

In part for this reason, sense-data theory collapsed about the time of the Second World War. A group of critics pointed out that the problem that Moore and his congeners dealt with is spurious: It assumed that sense data were real objects and on that assumption asked how these, say, elliptical objects could be related to the surface of a circular coin? But these critics (among them G.A. Paul, W.H.F. Barnes, and J.L. Austin) deny that Moore’s description of the perceptual situation is correct. They assert that it is misleading and indeed positively wrong to say that we do not see the surface of the coin directly as we walk around it. It is more correct to say that the coin appears to be elliptical from such and such a point of view rather than there is an elliptical object that exists in one’s visual field. There is thus no problem, they contend, in trying to explain the relationship between a sense datum and a physical object. There are no entities over and above the physical object in such a perceptual situation, and therefore there is no special entity that has to be related to the perceived physical object. This view, termed the “theory of appearing”, eliminates Moore’s problem by eliminating the special entities whose existence the problem presupposes. The theory of appearing does not deny that there are such phenomena as visual illusions or hallucinations and other perceptual anomalies, but it does not follow that the perceptual situation is best analyzed by positing a class of sense data. This result has been generally accepted by epistemologists and sense-data theory today is virtually nonexistent. The theory of representative perception is, however, currently widely accepted, but the mental representations that give us knowledge of external objects are not the sorts of things Moore called sense data. Modern representative theories (sometimes called “causal theories”) thus deny that one sees physical objects directly while also denying that representations (intermediaries) are sense data.

Moore’s espousal of epistemological realism should be distinguished from his adherence to sense-data theory, though of course in his writings these tend to be intertwined. Leaving sense-data theory aside, we can say that Moore was and is important for his attack on two forms of sceptism: a mitigated kind that holds that contingent statements are only probable and can never be known with certainty, and a more radical kind that holds that we cannot even attain probable information about external world since we can never know we are not dreaming.
Moore asserts the opposite of both of these theses. In “Certainty” (1941), he attacks mitigated skepticism, stating that he knows such contingent propositions as that he is now standing up, that there are windows in that wall and a door in another, to be sure with certainty. In “A Defense of Common Sense” (1925), his target was radical skepticism. In that paper, Moore listed a number of propositions that he stated he knew to be true and to be true with certainty. Among these were “The earth exists”, “The earth is very old”, and “Other persons have existed, some of them have died, and some are still alive”. He claimed that virtually every adult knew these propositions to be true. He called this indefinitely large set of propositions “the commonsense view of the world” and held that each proposition in it was wholly true and known to be true with certainty. He then stated that any philosophical view that produced statements contradicting the common-sense view could be discarded automatically as false. So if a philosopher contended (as some idealists did) that one could not be sure of the existence of space, time, or other persons, their comments could be dismissed out of hand as false. What puzzled him, he said, was that philosophers could develop theories that ran counter to propositions they knew with certainty to be true. He described such views as paradoxical, and the idea that paradoxical philosophical views can be rejected wholesale became widely accepted byn Wittgenstein and his followers, including inter alios Norman Malcolm, John Wisdom, Morris Lazerowitz, and Alice Ambrose.

In defending his position, Moore draws a distinction between what he (and presumably virtually every adult) knew and what he and they could prove. In “Certainty”, for example, he states that he knows at a particular moment that he is standing up and therefore knows he is not dreaming. But he cannot prove that he is standing up because he cannot prove that he is not dreaming, though he knows he is not. Moore did feel that his response to skepticism was effective. As he put it, “My argument that I know that I am standing up and therefore know that I am not dreaming is at least as good as the sceptic’s argument that since I cannot know that I am not dreaming, I cannot know that I am standing up”. Moore’s common-sense outlook, his robust sense of reality, and his defense of ordinary language against the paradoxical pronouncements of philosophers had profound influence on twentieth-century philosophy. Resonances of his views are easily discernible in the contemporary literature as the twentieth century draws to a close.

Epistemological Realism

Absolute idealism was avowedly metaphysical, in the sense that its adherents thought of themselves as describing, in a way not open to scientists, certain very fundamental truths about the world.
In their conclusions and, most important, in their methodology, the idealists were decidedly not on the side of commonsense intuition. The Cambridge philosopher J.M.E. McTaggart, for example, argued that the concept of time is inconsistent and that time therefore is unreal. British empiricism, on the other hand, had generally started with commonsense beliefs and either accepted or at least sought to explain them, using science as the model of the right way in which to investigate the world. Even when their conclusions were out of step with common sense (as was the radical skepticism of David Hume), the empiricists were generally concerned to reconcile the two.

The first break from the idealist view occurred when Moore, in a paper entitled “The Nature of Judgment” (1899), argued for a theory of truth that implies that the physical world does have the independent existence.
In his seminal essay “A Defence of Common Sense” (1925), as in others, Moore argued not only against idealist doctrines such as the unreality of time but also against all the forms of skepticism—for example, about the existence of other minds or of a material world—that philosophers have espoused. The skeptic, he pointed out, usually has some argument for his conclusion. Instead of examining such arguments, however, Moore pitted against the skeptic’s premises various quite everyday beliefs—for example, that he had breakfast that morning (thus, time cannot be unreal) or that he does in fact have a pencil in his hand (thus, there must be a material world). He challenged the skeptic to show that the premises of the skeptic’s argument are any more certain than the everyday beliefs that form the premises of Moore’s argument.

Although some scholars have seen Moore as an early practitioner of ordinary language philosophy, his appeal was not to what it is proper to say but rather to the beliefs of common sense. His rejection of any philosophical doctrine that offends against common sense was influential not only in the release that it afforded from the metaphysical excesses of absolute idealism but also in its impact on the sensibilities and general orientation of most later analytic philosophers.

Moore was also important for his vision of the proper business of philosophy—analysis. He was puzzled, for example, about the proper analysis of “a sees b,” in which b designates a physical object (e.g., a pencil). He thought that there must be a special sense of see in which one does not see the pencil but sees only part of its surface. In addition, he thought that there must be another sense of see in which what is directly perceived is not even the surface of the pencil but rather what Moore called “sense data” and what earlier empiricists had called “visual sensations” or “sense impressions.” Moore’s problem was to discern the relationships between these various elements in perception and, in particular, to discover how a person can be justified, as Moore fully believed he is, in his claims to see physical objects when what he immediately perceives are really only sense data. The idea that sense impressions form the immediate objects of perception played a large role in early analytic philosophy, showing once again its empiricist roots. Later, however, it became an important source of division among the logical positivists. In addition, most ordinary-language philosophers, as well as those closely influenced by the later work of Russell’s most famous student, Ludwig Wittgenstein, found sense data to be as unpalatable and unwarranted as Moore had found McTaggart’s doctrine of the unreality of time.

Perception - New Opposition to Representative Realism

Though sense-data theory in the form developed by Russell, Moore, Broad, and Price has vanished from the philosophical scene, the question of whether human perception of the external world is direct or indirect has been revived in the eighties and nineties. The issue arises primarily for various forms of realism that hold that the world contains mind-independent entities; the question is whether visual access to them is mediate or immediate – that is, whether it is conditioned by the intervention of mental entities or even by certain physical factors. The model invoked in these discussions is not necessarily Cartesian, but it does presuppose the existence of minds. The term “external” means “outside of the human mind”, so a contrast between mind and non-mind is operative in such analysis. What is interesting about these discussions, especially those emphasizing recent work in psychology and neurology, is that they often construe the distinction between direct and indirect in ways different from their sense-data predecessors. Philosophers have been sensitive to these developments, and a burgeoning literature has developed that addresses the question, frequently focusing upon its possible sceptical implications. Among such works are The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism by Barry Stroud (1984), Scepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties byn P.F. Strawson (1985), The View from Nowhere by Thomas Nagel (1986), Knowledge and Sceptism by Marjorite Clay and Keith Lehrer (1989), The New Representationalisms edited by E. Wright (1993), and The Walls of Plato’s Cave by J.R. Smythies (1994).

In An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (1979), J.J. Gibson argues that the normal perception of physical objects (such as Niagara Falls) is direct, by which he means that it is not mediated by sense data or images of any sort, which he described as “flat pancakes”. He contrasts such flat pancakes with three-dimensional objects whose properties, including their three-dimensionality, are seen in normal perception. Gibson agrees that there is such a thing as indirect perceptions; looking at a photograph of Niagara Falls is seeing Niagara Falls indirectly. But in general, persons see objects themselves, not images or photographs of them, and that is direct seeing. Though his remarks are in part directed at the early sense-data theorists, his real targets are contemporary cognitive scientists who claim that all perception is mediated by “mental representations”. His theory is opposed to any form of representative realism. (p663)

......... ........ ....... (pp 664-665)


Ethical Questions in Analytic Philosophy

An influential debate in analytic ethics, for example, concerned the question of whether sentences that express moral judgments (e.g., “It is wrong to tell a lie”) are descriptions of some feature of the world, in which case the sentences can be true or false, or are merely expressions of the subject’s feelings—comparable to shouts of “Bravo!” or “Boo!”—in which case they have no truth-value at all. Thus, in this debate the philosophical problem of the nature of right and wrong was treated as a problem about the logical or grammatical status of moral statements.

Moral Realism

Moore’s Principia Ethica (1903) defends a view now called “moral realism” , the most famous classical exponent of which was Plato. This is the doctrine that moral judgments can be either true or false. It entails the view that the world contains facts of various types, some of which are “moral”, and that moral pronouncements correspond to these moral facts, they are true. But in defending this thesis, Moore develops a devastating argument against any form of reductionism in ethics. He called this argument the “naturalistic fallacy”, which consists in trying to define a moral concept in non-moral terms, such as defining the good in terms of happiness, desire, pleasure, and so forth. According to Moore, every true naturalistic proposition about the nature of goodness (such as “Pleasure is good”) will be synthetic. Thus, one can always conceive of a case where something is pleasant but not good, and accordingly the two concepts do not mean the same thing. The result applies to any naturalistic property, such as preference and utility. Thus, the argument demonstrates that goodness is a simple property and hence indefinable. The result entails that no reductive or scientific account of goodness is possible. Here, then, is an example of how philosophy can make factual discoveries about the world that are nonscientific in character. (p625)

This view generated an enormous literature in response, both supporting and criticizing Moore. One of the main criticisms was developed by the logical positivists and received its most powerful statements in Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic. Ayer holds that moral judgments cannot be true or false because they are not cognitively significant. Rather, they are utterances evoking emotions and feelings and are used by speakers to elicit similar emotions from listeners. This view, which he called “The Emotive Theory of Ethics”, was widely accepted, especially in the sophisticated form given to it by Charles L. Stevenson in his Ethics and Language (1945). In various forms, it is still alive today; indeed, in the mid-1990s Allan Gibbard is a distinguished proponent of a roughly emotivist, non-cognitivist point of view. Moore later acknowledged the force of these criticisms and stated that his earlier arguments were full of mistakes, but he never abandoned the view completely; In The Philosophy of G.E. Moore(1942), he said wittily that he was inclined to accept the emotive theory of ethics and also inclined to reject and did not know which way he was inclined most strongly.



Ludwig Wittgenstein 1930
Ludwig Wittgenstein 1930
Image source: Wikipedia  
Ludwig Wittgenstein 1922
Ludwig Wittgenstein 1922
Image source: Wikipedia  

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein, in full Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (born April 26, 1889, Vienna, Austria-Hungary [now in Austria]—died April 29, 1951, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England), Austrian-born British philosopher, regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. Wittgenstein’s two major works, Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung (1921; Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922) and Philosophische Untersuchungen (published posthumously in 1953; Philosophical Investigations), have inspired a vast secondary literature and have done much to shape subsequent developments in philosophy, especially within the analytic tradition. His charismatic personality has, in addition, exerted a powerful fascination upon artists, playwrights, poets, novelists, musicians, and even filmmakers, so that his fame has spread far beyond the confines of academic life.
Read the article at Encyclopædia Britannica: Ludwig Wittgenstein   Copy

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher who contributed several ground-breaking works to contemporary philosophy, primarily on the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind.
Read the article at New World Encyclopedia: Ludwig Wittgenstein   Copy

In his Tractatus , Wittgenstein, like Russell, maintained that language was composed of things he called propositions, which could be broken down to less complex propositions until you arrived at some basic truths. Similarly, the world is composed of myriad complex facts that can be broken down again and again until you arrive at an atomic fact.

Here is Wittgenstein in brief: The world is made up of facts. We perceive facts through turning them into thoughts, which in essence means creating a mental picture of them. Thoughts are expressed in language in what Wittgenstein called propositions. He envisioned boiling language down to what he called atomic sentences, which would then describe reality as we know it.

Because language is an expression of facts, it has no meaning. And a truly logical language would not be able to express subjective notions of Beauty and Love. Wittgenstein decided that Tractatus, which he called the “final solution” to all problems of philosophy, had left him with nothing more to say on the subject of philosophy. He remained philosophical silent for ten years, only to come back with another major work that basically denounced his earlier theories.

Logical analysis is an exact science, and language and physical reality are not so mathematically precise, Wittgenstein came to believe. He decided that his plan to devise the ultimate logical language was not only impossible but also a bad idea. For years, Wittgenstein wrote nothing – what was the point since it’s meaningless anyway? – but his students took copious notes as the philosopher forged a new philosophy.

Eventually, Wittgenstein wrote Philosophical Investigation, in which he broadened his view of language to regard words not as the basis of propositions, but as tools that are designed to perform different tasks in communicating. He also came to see language as a game where its many players develop their own rules. Rather than create a logical (and inevitably sterile) language, Wittgenstein now began to celebrate linguistic diversity.
(James Mannion: The Everything Philosophy Book, pp. 135-137, Adams Media Corporation, 2002)

His philosophy is often divided into an early period, exemplified by the Tractatus, and a later period, articulated in the Philosophical Investigations. The early Wittgenstein was concerned with the logical relationship between propositions and the world and believed that by providing an account of the logic underlying this relationship, he had solved all philosophical problems. The later Wittgenstein rejected many of the assumptions of the Tractatus, arguing that the meaning of words is best understood as their use within a given language-game.
(Wikipedia: Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Our craving for generality has [as one] source … our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness. I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is “purely descriptive".
(Wittgenstein, in the “The Blue Book”)

"What is your aim in philosophy?—To shew [sic] the fly the way out of the fly-bottle".
(Philosophical Investigations, Part I, #309)

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

The Tractatus is brief, beautiful, and very difficult. It consists of a series of numbered paragraphs, often containing no more than a single sentence. The two most famous paragraphs are the first ‘The world is all that is the case’ and the last ’Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’.

The book’s main concern is the nature of language and its relation to the world. Its central doctrine is the picture theory of meaning. According to this theory, language consists of propositions which picture the world. Propositions are the perceptible expressions of thoughts, and thoughts are logical pictures of facts; the world is the totality of facts.

Thoughts and propositions, according to the Tractatus, are pictures in a literal, not just a metaphorical sense. An English sentence such as ‘the rain will spread across Scotland’ or ‘blood is thicker than water’ does not look like a picture. But that, according to Wittgenstein, is because language disguises thought beyond all recognition.

In ordinary language the logical form of thoughts is concealed. One reason for this is that many of our words, like ‘Bristol’ and ‘London’, signify complex objects. The relationship between propositions and facts will only become clear if complex objects are logically analyzed into simple ones. In order to carry out this analysis, Wittgenstein made use of an extension of Russell’s theory of descriptions. For instance, ‘Austria-Hungary’ can be regarded as a definite description of the complex object formed by the union of Austria and Hungary, and the sentence ‘Austria-Hungary is fighting Russia’ can be analyzed, in accordance with the theory of descriptions, as follows.

For some x and some y,
x = Austria
and y= Hungary
and x is united to y
and x is fighting Russia
and y is fighting Russia.

In the sentence thus analyzed, no mention is made of Austria-Hungary, and so we have got rid of one complex object. However, this is obviously only a first step; Austria and Hungary are each of them, in their turn, highly complex objects, consisting of many different kinds of object in spatial and other relationships.

If we proceed with the analysis of a proposition, Wittgenstein believed, we will in the end come to symbols which denote entirely non-complex objects. So a fully analyzed proposition will consist of an enormously long combination of atomic propositions, each of which will contain names of simple objects, names related to each other in ways which will picture, truly or falsely, the relations between the objects they represent. Such full analysis of a proposition is no doubt humanly impossible; but the thought expressed by the proposition already has the complexity of fully analyzed proposition. The thought is related to its expression in ordinary language by extremely complicated rules which we operate unconsciously from moment to moment.

The connection between language and the world is made by the correlation between the ultimate elements of these concealed thoughts and the simple objects or atoms which constitute the substance of the world. How these correlations are made Wittgenstein does not explain; it is a deeply mysterious process which, it seems, each one of us must make for himself, creating as it were a private language.

Much of the Tractatus is devoted to showing how, with the aid of various logical techniques, propositions of different kinds can be analyzed into combinations of atomic pictures. The truth-value of propositions of science would depend upon the truth-value of the atomic propositions from which they were built up. The propositions of logic were tautologies, that is to say, complex propositions which are true no matter what truth values their atomic propositions take; an obvious example is the proposition ‘p or mot p’, which is true whether p is true or false. Would-be propositions which are incapable of analysis into atomic propositions reveal themselves as pseudo-propositions which yield no pictures of the world. Among these, it turns out, are the propositions of philosophy, including the propositions of the Tractatus itself. At the end of the book he compared it to a ladder which must be climbed and then kicked away if one is to see the world aright.

The Tractatus quickly became famous. Oddly enough, though it was itself highly metaphysical, as well as austerely logical, its most enthusiastic admirers were the anti-metaphysical positivists of the Vienna Circle.

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Wittgenstein's early work on the foundations of Logic and his philosophy in general were deeply influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer and Immanuel Kant, as well as by the new systems of Logic put forward by Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege. When his work began take on an ethical and religious significance during World War I, his "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" gradually took shape, although it was still very much in line with the general Logicist approach of the time as exemplified by Russell and Whitehead's "Principia Mathematica". Due to various personal difficulties and arguments, the "Tractatus" was not published until 1921, and it remained the only philosophical book Wittgenstein published during his lifetime. For a time, he believed that the work offered a definitive solution to all the problems of philosophy.

The "Tractatus" attempted to define the limits of Logic in understanding the world. It claimed that the world consists of independent atomic facts (existing states of affairs) out of which larger facts are built, an idea that later became known as Logical Atomism and was further developed by Bertrand Russell. Language too consists of atomic (and then larger-scale) propositions that correspond to the facts of the world by sharing the same "logical form".

The key to understanding the "Tractatus" is Wittgenstein's picture theory of meaning. He drew an analogy between the way that pictures represent the world and the way that language (and sentences it is made up of) represent reality and states of affairs, and he asserted that thoughts, as expressed in language, "picture" the facts of the world. Furthermore, the structure of language is determined by the structure of reality, and we are able to talk about reality not just because we have words that stand for things, but because the words within a sentence have a relationship to each other that corresponds to the relationship things have to each other in the world. Indeed, Wittgenstein claimed that, unless language mirrored reality in this way, it would be impossible for sentences to have any meaning.

It should be stressed here that Wittgenstein was not referring to ordinary everyday conversational language, but to the "elementary sentences" which undelie ordinary language, and which can be distilled out of everyday language by analysis. He made clear that the so-called logical constants ("not", "and", "or" and "if") were not part of the picturing relationship, but were merely ways of stringing multiple pictures together or operating on them. Thus, Wittgenstein claimed that we can analyze our thoughts and sentences to "express" (in the sense of "show", not "say") their true logical form, but those we cannot so analyze cannot be meaningfully discussed, and so should not even be spoken of. He believed that the whole of philosophy essentially consists of no more than this form of analysis, and that non-factual concepts such as those in the fields of Ethics, Religion and Aesthetics were effectively unsayable and meaningless.

Some commentators have pointed out that the sentences of the "Tractatus" would not qualify as meaningful according to its own rigid criteria, and that Wittgenstein's method in the book does not follow its own demands regarding the only strictly correct philosophical method. Some have gone so far as to argue that the book is actually deeply ironic in that it demonstrates the ultimate nonsensicality of any sentence attempting to say something metaphysical. Either way, having originally propounded this stance in the "Tractatus", Wittgenstein was to reject it in his later "Philosophical Investigations". The logical positivists of the Vienna Circle, it should be noted, immediately seized on Proposition 7 of the book, "what we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence", even though Wittgenstein himself gave it a rather different, and much more mystical, interpretation.

Neither science nor philosophy can show us the meaning of life.
        We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course, there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer. (Tractatus 6.52)
Philosophy could in one sense do very little for us; but what it could do, Wittgenstein believed, had been done once for all by the Tractatus. The book contained all that was essential for the solutions of the problems of philosophy; and so, having written it, Wittgenstein gave up the subject.


Ludwig Wittgenstein

The Tractatus is a complex book that has generated a large number of commentaries. One of the most vigorously debated issues is whether, or at least to what degree, Wittgenstein’s earlier views are consistent with his later ones.
Almost all commentaries agree that though the Tractatus begins with an affirmation of a species of logical atomism – that is, with a metaphysical doctrine – it ends on a therapeutic note that rejects metaphysics as nonsense and is central to the later books.
Those who stress the continuity theses put emphasis upon this facet of the Tractatus. A majority of exegetes, however, favor the position that the later philosophy embeds a wholly different approach to philosophy. First of all, it is therapeutic in a more sophisticated sense than the Tractatus; second, it recognizes a kind of depth and insight in traditional approaches; and third, it identifies and recommends a positive, nontherapeutic role for philosophy. All of these features are functions of what Wittgenstein called a “new method” he had discovered after his return to Cambridge. The majority view thus sees a radical different between the two phases of his career,

Another major difference between the two periods that supports this interpretation concerns Wittgenstein’s treatment of meaning. In the Tractatus, meaning was constituted in the notion that language pictures facts and does so in part because names mean their bearers (a thesis that Ryle later dubbed the “Fido-Fido theory of meaning”). The isomorphisms between names and objects and between sentences and facts give rise to meaning. On this view, language is static in just the way that a picture or a map is. In his later philosophy, however, Wittgenstein says, “Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the use”. With this emphasis, language is seen as an essential feature of human action, as a kind of doing rather than a kind of picturing. The significance of this shift can be appreciated only with an understanding of his new method.

Unfortunately, Wittgenstein never gives a full or self-referential account of this transforming method. Instead, we must derive it from Wittgenstein’s actual practice. In the preface to the Philosophical Investigations, he says that it will issue in “sketches of landscapes” and thus seems to imply that it will not take a discursive literary form or involve explicit argumentation that engenders the kinds of definitive “result” traditional philosophy has expected. The method rests on two presuppositions that he articulates in entries 89 to 133 in the Investigation, the first of which is that philosophical problems arise in complex, labyrinthian forms and represent a tangle of assumptions, principles, and theses, usually united by a conceptual model or vision that organizes the world for the philosopher who wishes to explore reality at its deepest levels. Because of this network of concepts, philosophical problems resist theoretical simplification, easy explanation, and generalized solutions. ……… ……. The method seems to imply that there can never be a final solution to a serious philosophical problem.

The second presupposition of Wittgenstein’s new approach to philosophy is that philosophy takes two forms: “traditional philosophy” and Wittgenstein’s proposal about how philosophy should be done, which itself derived from his new method.
Traditional philosophy, for Wittgenstein, is a conceptual activity that attempts in nonscientific, nonfactual, or non-empirical ways to understand the nature of the world, including its human inhabitants. The new conception of philosophy rejects theorizing and replaces explanation with description, attempting to give a true picture of things by describing the resemblance and difference between “cases” or scenarios.

Traditional philosophy attempts to provide an explanation of whatever topic is under investigation by finding coherent patterns in what seems to be a confusing flux of events, phenomena, and processes that impinge upon the human psyche. These patterns are not found in surface features – if they were, they could be discerned by anyone. Instead, they are benthic and thus hidden from the naked eye.
Traditional philosophy is depicted by Wittgenstein as committee to the quest to uncover the hidden, the essences of things, the covert principles that allow one to make sense of the world. “We feel as if we had to penetrate phenomena”, he writes and adds that “the essence is hidden from us” (Philosophical Investigation, 92)

Traditional philosophy for him is not o be dismissed, as the positivists would have it. It must be taken seriously, for it is profound in its attempt to discover the basic principles of reality. In its effort to discover the ultimate principles behind the phenomenal world, traditional philosophy models itself on science. Newton’s great achievement is envisaged as a paradigm for further investigation. His theory explains a vast array of seemingly unconnected phenomena” why apples fall to the earth, why the planets continue to circle the sun without falling into it, and why there are tides on the earth. It does so through a single, simple principle: the law of universal gravitation. The philosopher wishes to discover a similar key in reality, but according to Wittgenstein, philosophy is not a fact-finding activity. On the contrary, it does not so much discover patterns in reality as impose a conceptual model upon them, This act of imposition itself leads to misunderstanding, misdescription, and paradox.

Consider the deep philosophical insight that human beings are nothing but machines. As Hobbes said, “What is the heart but a spring and what are the nerves but so many strings?” Eliminative materialists in cognitive science take a similar view. According to them, there are no such things as beliefs or thoughts: There is simply brain activity, and the brain is nothing but a very complex, parallel-processing computer. According to Wittgenstein, a traditional philosopher is “captured by a picture”. This picture or conceptual model sees deeply into things, making connections that the ordinary person would miss. Thus, to see that organisms that seem radically different from machines are nothing but complicated mechanic-chemico-electric devices is a profound insight. It allows the mystery of the mind to be accommodated and explained by the physical sciences. Yet despite this insight, the view is ultimately paradoxical. In homogenizing diverse phenomena under one rubric, that of a machine, this model does not provide an accurate picture of reality. The reality is that living organisms must be distinguished from artifacts, and accordingly any theory that attempts to blur such distinction is profoundly misleading.

Wittgenstein’s alternative to this mode of philosophizing emerges from his new method. According to that method, philosophy is not a fact-finding discipline but its function is to change one’s orientation to and understanding of reality. It does this by calling attention to facts one has known all along but that are so obvious as to be ignored or dismissed as unimportant. The new philosophy, he says, will be a corrective to this orientation: “Philosophy simply put everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything … One might give the name ‘philosophy’ to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions. The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose” (Philosophical Investigation, 126-127). In these passages, Wittgenstein describes how, following his method, philosophy should be done. The key entry in the Investigations with respect to this is 109” “We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place”.

In order to grasp the power of his approach, we should consider a specific example. In the Investigation (89) and in the Brown Book (107-8), Wittgenstein discusses a passage from Augustine’s Confessions. …………

Wittgenstein concentrates upon two features of the passage. When Augustine thinks about time and tries to form a general conception of it, he cannot articulate what it is. And yet in his ordinary, everyday conversation, he finds no difficulties. At that level he says one understands it; yet when he tries to explain what it is to someone else he cannot do so, why not”. ……..

Wittgenstein’s diagnosis in the Brown Book (108) is that Augustine is imposing a certain conception or picture upon his everyday experience in trying to understand what time is. …….

What is driving Augustine is a search for the real meaning or essence of time, something hidden behind the everyday idioms that he can employ so easily and successfully.
For Wittgenstein there is nothing to be discovered by this process. No real facts about the nature of time are at issue; no facts are missing and there is nothing left to be explained. Wittgenstein is urging us to see that there is no theoretically adequate description of time because “time” is used in many ad hoc ways. What is true of the concept of time is true of all the concepts philosophers have traditionally found puzzling: knowledge, truth, certainty, name, object, and so forth. The new philosophy thus must remind traditional philosophers that in every case they possess such knowledge. This can be done by “bringing words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use”. (Philosophical Investigation, 118)


A guy's driving down an old country road and he sees a farmer in his orchard feeding his pigs, but what he's doing is he's taking one pig at a time, holding him up, letting him eat an apple out of the tree, and then setting him down before picking up another pig and letting him eat an apple.
So the guy pulls over and walks up to the farmer and he says, "Wouldn't it save time to just knock all the apples on the ground and let the pigs eat them all at once?"
And the farmer, confused, looks at him and says, "What's time to a pig?" — Doug Stanhope


Ludwig Wittgenstein Quotes

Wittgenstein's Quotes
Wittgenstein's Quotes



If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.

Philosophical problems can be compared to locks on safes, which can be opened by dialing a certain word or number, so that no force can open the door until just this word has been hit upon, and once it is hit upon any child can open it.

Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open.

Language is a part of our organism and no less complicated than it.

My difficulty is only an — enormous — difficulty of expression.

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.

The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world.
This remark provides the key to the problem, how much truth there is in solipsism. For what the solipsist means is quite correct; only it cannot be said, but makes itself manifest.

Logic pervades the world: the limits of the world are also its limits.
So we cannot say in logic, "The world has this in it, and this, but not that." For that would appear to presuppose that we were excluding certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic should go beyond the limits of the world; for only in that way could it view those limits from the other side as well. We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either.

The aim of philosophy is to erect a wall at the point where language stops anyway.

For a large class of cases — though not for all — in which we employ the word meaning it can be explained thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.
The meaning of a word is its use in the language.

It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.

There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.


The difficulty in philosophy is to say no more than we know.

What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.

Philosophizing is: rejecting false arguments.

My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.

Philosophers often behave like little children who scribble some marks on a piece of paper at random and then ask the grown-up "What's that?" — It happened like this: the grown-up had drawn pictures for the child several times and said "this is a man," "this is a house," etc. And then the child makes some marks too and asks: what's this then?

It is one of the chief skills of the philosopher not to occupy himself with questions which do not concern him.

One of the most difficult of the philosopher's tasks is to find out where the shoe pinches.

Logic takes care of itself; all we have to do is to look and see how it does it.

The world is the totality of facts, not things.

You won't — I really believe — get too much out of reading it (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus). Because you won't understand it; the content will seem strange to you. In reality, it isn't strange to you, for the point is ethical. I once wanted to give a few words in the foreword which now actually are not in it, which, however, I'll write to you now because they might be a key for you: I wanted to write that my work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written. And precisely this second part is the important one.

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them... He must so to speak throw away the ladder...

A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.

Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. Philosophy does not result in 'philosophical propositions', but rather in the clarification of propositions. Without philosophy thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and to give them sharp boundaries.
Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result of philosophy is not a number of "philosophical propositions." but to make propositions clear.

Every explanation is after all an hypothesis.

Freud's fanciful pseudo-explanations (precisely because they are brilliant) perform a disservice.
Now any ass has these pictures available to use in "explaining" symptoms of an illness.

Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it.

A tautology's truth is certain, a proposition's possible, a contradiction's impossible. (Certain, possible, impossible: here we have the first indication of the scale that we need in the theory of probability.).

Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.

What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.

What we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stood.

When I obey a rule, I do not choose. I obey the rule blindly.


Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.

Philosophy unravels the knots in our thinking; hence its results must be simple, but its activity is as complicated as the knots that it unravels.

Wittgenstein was basically unscientific. He knew that science was partly driven by a desire to generalize, and he rejected generalization. Scientific questions were of no great interest to him; they merely addressed the working of the natural world. Wittgenstein spent much of his later life examining the way in which language may shape our reality. This is not a subject that is irrelevant to science. ~ Brian L. Silver


Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement.

It is quite impossible for a proposition to state that it itself is true.

One often makes a remark and only later sees how true it is.

In philosophy the race is to the one who can run slowest—the one who crosses the finish line last.


If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.

It's only by thinking even more crazily than philosophers do that you can solve their problems.

Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.

Don't for heaven's sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.

Don't get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.

Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.

If you use a trick in logic, whom can you be tricking other than yourself?

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.

Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when you are walking in the snow. You doze off and die in your sleep.

If you want to go down deep you do not need to travel far; indeed, you don't have to leave your most immediate and familiar surroundings.

I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.

We are asleep. Our Life is a dream. But we wake up sometimes, just enough to know that we are dreaming.

Tell them I've had a wonderful life. ~ Wittgenstein before his death

God and and the purpose of life

The way you use the word "God" does not show whom you mean — but, rather, what you mean.

Make sure that your religion is a matter between you and God only.

What do I know about God and the purpose of life? I know that this world exists.
To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.
To believe in a God means to understand the question about the meaning of life.
To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.
The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God.
To pray is to think about the meaning of life.
This meaning does not lie in it but outside of it.
That life is the world.
That my will penetrates the world.
That my will is good or evil.
Therefore that good and evil are somehow connected with the meaning of the world.

Certainly it is correct to say: Conscience is the voice of God.
Therefore that good and evil are somehow connected with the meaning of the world.

For a truly religious man nothing is tragic.

Ethics and Aesthetics

The World and Life are one. … Ethics and Aesthetics are one.

Ethics does not treat of the world. Ethics must be a condition of the world, like logic.

I am either happy or unhappy, that is all. It can be said: good or evil do not exist.

A man who is happy must have no fear. Not even in the face of death.

Only a man who lives not in time but in the present is happy.

One might say: art shows us the miracles of nature. It is based on the concept of the miracles of nature.

Quotes about Ludwig Wittgenstein

He was the kind of man who would never have noticed such small matters as bursting shells when he was thinking about logic. ~ Bertrand Russell

Just about at the time of the Armistice his father had died, and Wittgenstein inherited the bulk of his fortune. He came to the conclusion, however, that money is a nuisance to a philosopher, so he gave every penny of it to his brother and sisters. Consequently he was unable to pay the fare from Vienna to the Hague, and was far too proud to accept it from me. … He must have suffered during this time hunger and considerable privation, though it was very seldom that he could be induced to say anything about it, as he had the pride of Lucifer. At last his sister decided to build a house, and employed him as an architect. This gave him enough to eat for several years, at the end of which he returned to Cambridge as a don... ~ Bertrand Russell

There are two great men in history with whom he [Wittgenstein] somewhat resembles. One was Pascal, other was Tolstoy. Pascal was a mathematician of genius, but abandoned mathematics for piety. Tolstoy sacrificed his genius as a writer to a kind of bogus humility which made him prefer peasants to educated men and Uncle Tom's Cabin to all other works of fiction. Wittgenstein, who could play with metaphysical intricacies as cleverly as Pascal with Hexagons or Tolstoy with emperors, threw away this talent and debased himself before the peasants — in each case from an impulse of pride. I admired Wittgenstein's Tractatus but not his later work, which seemed to me to involve an abnegation of his own best talent very similar to those of Pascal and Tolstoy.... [M]ental torments which made him and Pascal and Tolstoy pardonable in spite of their treachery to their own greatness. ~ Bertrand Russell

When I met Wittgenstein, I saw that Schlick's warnings were fully justified. But his behavior was not caused by any arrogance. In general, he was of a sympathetic temperament and very kind; but he was hypersensitive and easily irritated. Whatever he said was always interesting and stimulating and the way in which he expressed it was often fascinating. His point of view and his attitude toward people and problems, even theoretical problems, were much more similar to those of a creative artist than to those of a scientist; one might almost say, similar to those of a religious prophet or a seer. When he started to formulate his view on some specific problem, we often felt the internal struggle that occurred in him at that very moment, a struggle by which he tried to penetrate from darkness to light under an intense and painful strain, which was even visible on his most expressive face. When finally, sometimes after a prolonged arduous effort, his answers came forth, his statement stood before us like a newly created piece of art or a divine revelation. Not that he asserted his views dogmatically … But the impression he made on us was as if insight came to him as through divine inspiration, so that we could not help feeling that any sober rational comment of analysis of it would be a profanation. ~ Rudolf Carnap

Finally, toward the end of my time in Cambridge, I ventured to speak to him. I told him I had enjoyed reading the Tractatus, and I asked him whether he still held the same views that he had expressed twenty-eight years earlier. He remained silent for a long time and then said, “Which newspaper do you represent?” I told him I was a student and not a journalist, but he never answered my question. Wittgenstein’s response to me was humiliating, and his response to female students who tried to attend his lectures was even worse. If a woman appeared in the audience, he would remain standing silent until she left the room. I decided that he was a charlatan using outrageous behavior to attract attention. I hated him for his rudeness. Fifty years later, walking through a churchyard on the outskirts of Cambridge on a sunny morning in winter, I came by chance upon his tombstone, a massive block of stone lightly covered with fresh snow. On the stone was written the single word, “WITTGENSTEIN.” To my surprise, I found that the old hatred was gone, replaced by a deeper understanding. He was at peace, and I was at peace too, in the white silence. He was no longer an ill-tempered charlatan. He was a tortured soul, the last survivor of a family with a tragic history, living a lonely life among strangers, trying until the end to express the inexpressible. ~ Freeman Dyson

What is it about the study of philosophy that tends to make brilliant minds stupid when it comes down to what are known as actual cases? Consider Martin Heidegger, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the four great names in twentieth-century philosophy: the first was a Nazi, the second died certain that America was responsible for all the world’s evil, the third was a Stalinist long after any justification for being so could be adduced, and the fourth lived on the borders of madness most of his life. Contemplation of the lives of philosophers is enough to drive one to the study of sociology. ~ Joseph Epstein

He was like an atomic bomb, a tornado — people don't appreciate that. ~ W. A. Hijab, a student of Wittgenstein

Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train. He has a plan to stay in Cambridge permanently. ~ John Maynard Keynes, after meeting with Wittgenstein at his arrival in Cambridge, in a letter to his wife

A good guide will take you through the more important streets more often than he takes you down side streets; a bad guide will do the opposite. In philosophy I'm a rather bad guide. Ludwig Wittgenstein

Bach wrote on the title page of his Orgelbüchlein: "To the glory of the most high God, and that my neighbour may be benefited thereby." That is what I would have liked to say about my work. Ludwig Wittgenstein



On Certainty

I know = I am familiar with it as a certainty. (272)
"I know" often means: I have the proper grounds for my statement. So if the other person is acquainted with the language-game, he would admit that I know. The other, if he is acquainted with the language-game, must be able to imagine how one may know something of the kind. (18)
The difference between the concept of 'knowing' and the concept of 'being certain' isn't of any great importance at all, except where "I know" is meant to mean: I can't be wrong. (8)
"I know that" means "I am incapable of being wrong about that." But whether I am so must admit of being established objectively. (16)
Moore has every right to say he knows there's a tree there in front of him. Naturally he may be wrong. (For it is not the same as with the utterance "I believe there is a tree there".) (520)
With the word "certain" we express complete conviction, the total absence of doubt, and thereby we seek to convince other people. That is subjective certainty. (194)
But when is something objectively certain? When a mistake is not possible. But what kind of possibility is that? Mustn't mistake be logically excluded? (273)

'Knowledge' and 'certainty' belong to different categories. (308)


1. If you do know that here is one hand, we'll grant you all the rest.
When one says that such and such a proposition can't be proved, of course that does not mean that it can't be derived from other propositions; any proposition can be derived from other ones. But they may be no more certain than it is itself. (On this a curious remark by H.Newman.)

4. "I know that I am a human being." In order to see how unclear the sense of this proposition is, consider its negation. At most it might be taken to mean "I know I have the organs of a human". (E.g. a brain which, after all, no one has ever yet seen.) But what about such a proposition as "I know I have a brain"? Can I doubt it? Grounds for doubt are lacking! Everything speaks in its favour, nothing against it. Nevertheless it is imaginable that my skull should turn out empty when it was operated on.

6. Now, can one enumerate what one knows (like Moore)? Straight off like that, I believe not. – For otherwise the expression "I know" gets misused. And through this misuse a queer and extremely important mental state seems to be revealed.

7. My life shows that I know or am certain that there is a chair over there, or a door, and so on. – I tell a friend e.g. "Take that chair over there", "Shut the door", etc. etc.

8. The difference between the concept of 'knowing' and the concept of 'being certain' isn't of any great importance at all, except where "I know" is meant to mean: I can't be wrong. In a law-court, for example, "I am certain" could replace "I know" in every piece of testimony. We might even imagine its being forbidden to say "I know" there. [A passage in "Wilhelm Meister", where "You know" or "You knew" is used in the sense "You were certain", the facts being different from what he knew.]

12. - For "I know" seems to describe a state of affairs which guarantees what is known, guarantees it as a fact. One always forgets the expression "I thought I knew".

14. That he does know remains to be shown.

15. It needs to be shown that no mistake was possible. Giving the assurance "I know" doesn't suffice. For it is after all only an assurance that I can't be making a mistake, and it needs to be objectively established that I am not making a mistake about that.

16. "If I know something, then I also know that I know it, etc." amounts to: "I know that" means "I am incapable of being wrong about that." But whether I am so must admit of being established objectively.

18. "I know" often means: I have the proper grounds for my statement. So if the other person is acquainted with the language-game, he would admit that I know. The other, if he is acquainted with the language-game, must be able to imagine how one may know something of the kind.

19. The statement "I know that here is a hand" may then be continued: "for it's my hand that I'm looking at." Then a reasonable man will not doubt that I know. - Nor will the idealist; rather he will say that he was not dealing with the practical doubt which is being dismissed, but there is a further doubt behind that one. - That this is an illusion has to be shown in a different way.

53. So one might grant that Moore was right, if he is interpreted like this: a proposition saying that here is a physical object may have the same logical status as one saying that here is a red patch.

54. For it is not true that a mistake merely gets more and more improbable as we pass from the planet to my own hand. No: at some point it has ceased to be conceivable.
This is already suggested by the following: if it were not so, it would also be conceivable that we should be wrong in every statement about physical objects; that any we ever make are mistaken.

55. So is the hypothesis possible, that all the things around us don't exist? Would that not be like the hypothesis of our having miscalculated in all our calculations?

61. ...A meaning of a word is a kind of employment of it.
For it is what we learn when the word is incorporated into our language.

62. That is why there exists a correspondence between the concepts 'rule' and 'meaning'.

65. When language-games change, then there is a change in concepts, and with the concepts the meanings of words change.
66. I make assertions about reality, assertions which have different degrees of assurance. How does the degree of assurance come out? What consequences has it?
We may be dealing, for example, with the certainty of memory, or again of perception. I may be sure of something, but still know what test might convince me of error. I am e.g. quite sure of the date of a battle, but if I should find a different date in a recognized work of history, I should alter my opinion, and this would not mean I lost all faith in judging.

71. If my friend were to imagine one day that he had been living for a long time past in such and such a place, etc. etc., I should not call this a mistake, but rather a mental disturbance, perhaps a transient one.

83. The truth of certain empirical propositions belongs to our frame of reference.

84. Moore says he knows that the earth existed long before his birth. And put like that it seems to be a personal statement about him, even if it is in addition a statement about the physical world. Now it is philosophically uninteresting whether Moore knows this or that, but it is interesting that, and how, it can be known. If Moore had informed us that he knew the distance separating certain stars, we might conclude from that that he had made some special investigations, and we shall want to know what these were. But Moore chooses precisely a case in which we all seem to know the same as he, and without being able to say how. I believe e.g. that I know as much about this matter (the existence of the earth) as Moore does, and if he knows that it is as he says, then I know it too. For it isn't, either, as if he had arrived at this proposition by pursuing some line of thought which, while it is open to me, I have not in fact pursued.

89. One would like to say: "Everything speaks for, and nothing against the earth's having existed long before..."
Yet might I not believe the contrary after all? But the question is: What would the practical effects of this belief be? - Perhaps someone says: "That's not the point. A belief is what it is whether it has any practical effects or not." One thinks: It is the same adjustment of the human mind anyway.

90. "I know" has a primitive meaning similar to and related to "I see" ("wissen", "videre"). And "I knew he was in the room, but he wasn't in the room" is like "I saw him in the room, but he wasn't there". "I know" is supposed to express a relation, not between me and the sense of a proposition (like "I believe") but between me and a fact. So that the fact is taken into my consciousness. (Here is the reason why one wants to say that nothing that goes on in the outer world is really known, but only what happens in the domain of what are called sense-data.) This would give us a picture of knowing as the perception of an outer event through visual rays which project it as it is into the eye and the consciousness. Only then the question at once arises whether one can be certain of this projection. And this picture does indeed show how our imagination presents knowledge, but not what lies at the bottom of this presentation.

91. If Moore says he knows the earth existed etc., most of us will grant him that it has existed all that time, and also believe him when he says he is convinced of it. But has he also got the right ground for this conviction? For if not, then after all he doesn't know (Russell).

92. However, we can ask: May someone have telling grounds for believing that the earth has only existed for a short time, say since his own birth? - Suppose he had always been told that, - would he have any good reason to doubt it? Men have believed that they could make the rain; why should not a king be brought up in the belief that the world began with him? And if Moore and this king were to meet and discuss, could Moore really prove his belief to be the right one? I do not say that Moore could not convert the king to his view, but it would be a conversion of a special kind; the king would be brought to look at the world in a different way.
Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry, i.e., these are what induce one to go over to this point of view. One then simply says something like: "That's how it must be."

93. The propositions presenting what Moore 'knows' are all of such a kind that it is difficult to imagine why anyone should believe the contrary. E.g. the proposition that Moore has spent his whole life in close proximity to the earth. - Once more I can speak of myself here instead of speaking of Moore. What could induce me to believe the opposite? Either a memory, or having been told. - Everything that I have seen or heard gives me the conviction that no man has ever been far from the earth. Nothing in my picture of the world speaks in favour of the opposite.

94. But I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.

95. The propositions describing this world-picture might be part of a kind of mythology. And their role is like that of rules of a game; and the game can be learned purely practically, without learning any explicit rules.

96. It might be imagined that some propositions, of the form of empirical propositions, were hardened and functioned as channels for such empirical propositions as were not hardened but fluid; and that this relation altered with time, in that fluid propositions hardened, and hard ones became fluid.

97. The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other.

98. But if someone were to say "So logic too is an empirical science" he would be wrong. Yet this is right: the same proposition may get treated at one time as something to test by experience, at another as a rule of testing.

99. And the bank of that river consists partly of hard rock, subject to no alteration or only to an imperceptible one, partly of sand, which now in one place now in another gets washed away, or deposited.

100. The truths which Moore says he knows, are such as, roughly speaking, all of us know, if he knows them.

101. Such a proposition might be e.g. "My body has never disappeared and reappeared again after an interval."

102. Might I not believe that once, without knowing it, perhaps is a state of unconsciousness, I was taken far away from the earth - that other people even know this, but do not mention it to me? But this would not fit into the rest of my convictions at all. Not that I could describe the system of these convictions. Yet my convictions do form a system, a structure.

105. All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life.

106. Suppose some adult had told a child that he had been on the moon. The child tells me the story, and I say it was only a joke, the man hadn't been on the moon; no one has ever been on the moon; the moon is a long way off and it is impossible to climb up there or fly there. - If now the child insists, saying perhaps there is a way of getting there which I don't know, etc. what reply could I make to him? What reply could I make to the adults of a tribe who believe that people sometimes go to the moon (perhaps that is how they interpret their dreams), and who indeed grant that there are no ordinary means of climbing up to it or flying there? - But a child will not ordinarily stick to such a belief and will soon be convinced by what we tell him seriously.

107. Isn't this altogether like the way one can instruct a child to believe in a God, or that none exists, and it will accordingly be able to produce apparently telling grounds for the one or the other?

108. "But is there then no objective truth? Isn't it true, or false, that someone has been on the moon?" ………….

109. "An empirical proposition can be tested" (we say). But how? and through what? …………

110. What counts as its test? - "But is this an adequate test? ……………

111. "I know that I have never been on the moon." ………..
I want to say: my not having been on the moon is as sure a thing for me as any grounds I could give for it.

114. If you are not certain of any fact, you cannot be certain of the meaning of your words either.

115. If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

121. Can one say: "Where there is no doubt there is no knowledge either"?

122. Doesn't one need grounds for doubt?

124. I want to say: We use judgments as principles of judgment.

141. When we first begin to believe anything, what we believe is not a single proposition, it is a whole system of propositions. (Light dawns gradually over the whole.)

142. It is not single axioms that strike me as obvious, it is a system in which consequences and premises give one another mutual support.

156. In order to make a mistake, a man must already judge in conformity with mankind.

160. The child learns by believing the adult. Doubt comes after belief.

174. I act with complete certainty. But this certainty is my own.

189. At some point one has to pass from explanation to mere description.

191. Well, if everything speaks for an hypothesis and nothing against it - is it then certainly true? One may designate it as such. - But does it certainly agree with reality, with the facts? - With this question you are already going round in a circle.

192. To be sure there is justification; but justification comes to an end. 193. What does this mean: the truth of a proposition is a certain?

194. With the word "certain" we express complete conviction, the total absence of doubt, and thereby we seek to convince other people. That is subjective certainty.
But when is something objectively certain? When a mistake is not possible. But what kind of possibility is that? Mustn't mistake be logically excluded?

200. Really "The proposition is either true or false" only means that it must be possible to decide for or against it. But this does not say what the ground for such a decision is like.

201. Suppose someone were to ask: "Is it really right for us to rely on the evidence of our memory (or our senses) as we do?"

202. Moore's certain propositions almost declare that we have a right to rely upon this evidence.

203. [Everything that we regard as evidence indicates that the earth already existed long before my birth. The contrary hypothesis has nothing to confirm it at all.
If everything speaks for an hypothesis and nothing against it, is it objectively certain? One can call it that. But does it necessarily agree with the world of facts? At the very best it shows us what "agreement" means. We find it difficult to imagine it to be false, but also difficult to make use of.] {crossed-out in MS}
What does this agreement consist in, if not in the fact that what is evidence in these language games speaks for our proposition? (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus)

204. Giving grounds, however, justifying the evidence, comes to an end; - but the end is not certain propositions' striking us immediately as true, i.e. it is not a kind of seeing on our part; it is our acting, which lies at the bottom of the language-game.

205. If the true is what is grounded, then the ground is not true, not yet false.

206. If someone asked us "but is that true?" we might say "yes" to him; and if he demanded grounds we might say "I can't give you any grounds, but if you learn more you too will think the same."
If this didn't come about, that would mean that he couldn't for example learn history.

207. "Strange coincidence, that every man whose skull has been opened had a brain!"

220. The reasonable man does not have certain doubts.

223. For mightn't I be crazy and not doubting what I absolutely ought to doubt?

224. "I know that it never happened, for if it had happened I could not possibly have forgotten it."
But, supposing it did happen, then it just would have been the case that you had forgotten it. And how do you know that you could not possibly have forgotten it? Isn't that just from earlier experience?

243. One says "I know" when one is ready to give compelling grounds. "I know" relates to a possibility of demonstrating the truth. Whether someone knows something can come to light, assuming that he is convinced of it.
But if what he believes is of such a kind that the grounds that he can give are no surer than his assertion, then he cannot say that he knows what he believes.

263. The schoolboy believes his teachers and his schoolbooks.

272. I know = I am familiar with it as a certainty.
273. But when does one say of something that it is certain?
For there can be dispute whether something is certain; I mean, when something is objectively certain.
There are countless general empirical propositions that count as certain for us.
274. One such is that if someone's arm is cut off it will not grow again. Another, if someone's head is cut off he is dead and will never live again.
Experience can be said to teach us these propositions. However, it does not teach us them in isolation: rather, it teaches us a host of interdependent propositions. If they were isolated I might perhaps doubt them, for I have no experience relating to them.
275. If experience is the ground of our certainty, then naturally it is past experience.
And it isn't for example just my experience, but other's people's, that I get knowledge from.
Now one might say that it is experience again that leads us to give credence to others. But what experience makes me believe that the anatomy and physiology books don't contain what is false? Though it is true that this trust is backed up by my own experience.

282. I cannot say that I have good grounds for the opinion that cats do not grow on trees or that I had a father and a mother.
If someone has doubts about it - how is that supposed to have come about? By his never, from the beginning, having believed that he had parents? But then, is that conceivable, unless he has been taught it?
283. For how can a child immediately doubt what it is taught? That could mean only that he was incapable of learning certain language games.
284. People have killed animals since the earliest times, used the fur, bones etc.etc. for various purposes; they have counted definitely on finding similar parts in any similar beast.
They have always learnt from experience; and we can see from their actions that they believe certain things definitely, whether they express this belief or not. By this I naturally do not want to say that men should behave like this, but only that they do behave like this.
285. If someone is looking for something and perhaps roots around in a certain place, he shows that he believes that what he is looking for is there.
286. What we believe depends on what we learn. We all believe that it isn't possible to get to the moon; but there might be people who believe that that is possible and that it sometimes happens. We say: these people do not know a lot that we know. And, let them be never so sure of their belief - they are wrong and we know it.
If we compare our system of knowledge with theirs then theirs is evidently the poorer one by far.

287. The squirrel does not infer by induction that it is going to need stores next winter as well. And no more do we need a law of induction to justify our actions or our predictions.
288. I know, not just that the earth existed long before my birth, but also that it is a large body, that this has been established, that I and the rest of mankind have forebears, that there are books about all this, that such books don't lie, etc. etc. etc. And I know all this? I believe it. This body of knowledge has been handed on to me and I have no grounds for doubting it, but, on the contrary, all sorts of confirmation.
And why shouldn't I say that I know all this? Isn't that what one does say?
But not only I know, or believe, all that, but the others do too. Or rather, I believe that they believe it.
289. I am firmly convinced that others believe, believe they know, that all that is in fact so.
290. I myself wrote in my book that children learn to understand a word in such and such a way. Do I know that, or do I believe it? Why in such a case do I write not "I believe etc." but simply the indicative sentence?

291. We know that the earth is round. We have definitively ascertained that it is round.
We shall stick to this opinion, unless our whole way of seeing nature changes. "How do you know that?" - I believe it.
292. Further experiments cannot give the lie to our earlier ones, at most they may change our whole way of looking at things.
293. Similarly with the sentence "water boils at 100 C".
294. This is how we acquire conviction, this is called "being rightly convinced".
295. So hasn't one, in this sense, a proof of the proposition? But that the same thing has happened again is not a proof of it; though we do say that it gives us a right to assume it.
296. This is what we call an "empirical foundation" for our assumptions.

297. For we learn, not just that such and such experiments had those and those results, but also the conclusion which is drawn. And of course there is nothing wrong in our doing so. For this inferred proposition is an instrument for a definitive use.
298. 'We are quite sure of it' does not mean just that every single person is certain of it, but that we belong to a community which is bound together by science and education.
299. We are satisfied that the earth is round. [In English]


300. Not all corrections of our views are on the same level.
308. 'Knowledge' and 'certainty' belong to different categories. They are not two 'mental states' like, say 'surmising' and 'being sure'. (Here I assume that it is meaningful for me to say "I know what (e.g.) the word 'doubt' means" and that this sentence indicates that the word "doubt" has a logical role.) What interests us now is not being sure but knowledge. That is, we are interested in the fact that about certain empirical propositions no doubt can exist if making judgments is to be possible at all. Or again: I am inclined to believe that not everything that has the form of an empirical proposition is one.

314. Imagine that the schoolboy really did ask "and is there a table there even when I turn around, and even when no one is there to see it?" Is the teacher to reassure him - and say "of course there is!"?
Perhaps the teacher will get a bit impatient, but think that the boy will grow out of asking such questions.
315. That is to say, the teacher will feel that this is not really a legitimate question at all.
And it would be just the same if the pupil cast doubt on the uniformity of nature, that is to say on the justification of inductive arguments. - The teacher would feel that this was only holding them up, that this way the pupil would only get stuck and make no progress. - And he would be right. It would be as if someone were looking for some object in a room; he opens a drawer and doesn't see it there; then he closes it again, waits, and opens it once more to see if perhaps it isn't there now, and keeps on like that. He has not learned to look for things. And in the same way this pupil has not learned how to ask questions. He has not learned the game that we are trying to teach him.
316. And isn't it the same as if the pupil were to hold up his history lesson with doubts as to whether the earth really...?
317. This doubt isn't one of the doubts in our game. (But not as if we chose this game!)

318. 'The question doesn't arise at all.' Its answer would characterize a method. But there is no sharp boundary between methodological propositions and propositions within a method.
319. But wouldn't one have to say then, that there is no sharp boundary between propositions of logic and empirical propositions? The lack of sharpness is that of the boundary between rule and empirical proposition.
320. Here one must, I believe, remember that the concept 'proposition' itself is not a sharp one.
321. Isn't what I am saying: any empirical proposition can be transformed into a postulate - and then becomes a norm of description. But I am suspicious even of this. The sentence is too general. One almost wants to say "any empirical proposition can, theoretically, be transformed...", but what does "theoretically" mean here? It sounds all to reminiscent of the Tractatus.

322. What if the pupil refused to believe that this mountain had been there beyond human memory?
We should say that he had no grounds for this suspicion.
323. So rational suspicion must have grounds?
We might also say: "the reasonable man believes this".
324. Thus we should not call anybody reasonable who believed something in despite of scientific evidence.

325. When we say that we know that such and such..., we mean that any reasonable person in our position would also know it, that it would be a piece of unreason to doubt it. Thus Moore wants to say not merely that he knows that he etc. etc., but also that anyone endowed with reason in his position would know it just the same.
326. But who says what it is reasonable to believe in this situation?
327. So it might be said: "The reasonable man believes: that the earth has been there since long before his birth, that his life has been spent on the surface of the earth, or near it, that he has never, for example, been on the moon, that he has a nervous system and various innards like all other people, etc., etc."
329. 'If he calls that in doubt - whatever "doubt" means here - he will never learn this game'.
330. So here the sentence "I know..." expresses the readiness to believe certain things.

331. If we ever do act with certainty on the strength of belief, should we wonder that there is much we cannot doubt?
332. Imagine that someone were to say, ..... "I don't know if I have ever been on the moon; I don't remember ever having been there"....
333. I ask someone "Have you ever been in China?" He replies "I don't know". ....
334. That is to say: only in such-and-such circumstances does a reasonable person doubt that.
335. The procedure in a court of law rests on the fact that circumstances give statements a certain probability. The statement that, for example, someone came into the world without parents wouldn't ever be taken into consideration there.
336. But what men consider reasonable or unreasonable alters. At certain periods men find reasonable what at other periods they found unreasonable. And vice-versa.
But is there no objective character here?
Very intelligent and well-educated people believe in the story of creation in the Bible, while others hold it as proven false, and the grounds of the latter are well known to the former.
341. That is to say, the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.
342. That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed not doubted.
343. But it isn't that the situation is like this: We just can't investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put.
344. My life consists in my being content to accept many things.
345. If I ask someone "what colour do you see at the moment?", in order, that is, to learn what colour is there at the moment, I cannot at the same time question whether the person I ask understands English, whether he wants to take me in, whether my own memory is not leaving me in the lurch as to the names of colours, and so on.
346. When I am trying to mate someone in chess, I cannot have doubts about the pieces perhaps changing places of themselves and my memory simultaneously playing tricks on me so that I don't notice.

347. "I know that that's a tree." Why does it strike me as if I did not understand the sentence? though it is after all an extremely simple sentence of the most ordinary kind? It is as if I could not focus my mind on any meaning. Simply because I don't look for the focus where the meaning is. As soon as I think of an everyday use of the sentence instead of a philosophical one, its meaning becomes clear and ordinary.
348. Just as the words "I am here" have a meaning only in certain contexts, and not when I say them to someone who is sitting in front of me and sees me clearly, - and not because they are superfluous, but because their meaning is not determined by the situation, yet stands in need of such determination.
349. "I know that that's a tree" - this may mean all sorts of things: I look at a plant that I take for a young beech and that someone else thinks is a black-currant. He says "that's a shrub"; I say it is a tree. - We see something in the mist which one of us takes for a man, and the other says "I know that that's a tree". Someone wants to test my eyes etc.etc. - etc.etc. Each time the 'that' which I declare to be a tree is of a different kind.
But what when we express ourselves more precisely? For example: "I know that that thing there is a tree, I can see it quite clearly." - Let us even suppose I had made this remark in the context of a conversation (so that it was relevant when I made it); and now, out of all context, I repeat it while looking at the tree, and I add "I mean these words as I did five minutes ago". If I added, for example, that I had been thinking of my bad eyes again and it was a kind of sigh, then there would be nothing puzzling about the remark.
For how a sentence is meant can be expressed by an expansion of it and may therefore be made part of it.
350. "I know that that's a tree" is something a philosopher might say to demonstrate to himself or to someone else that he knows something that is not a mathematical or logical truth.....
351. Isn't the question "have these words a meaning?" similar to "Is that a tool?" asked as one produces, say, a hammer? I say "Yes, it's a hammer." But what if the thing that any of us would take for a hammer were somewhere else a missile, for example, or a conductor's baton? Now make the application yourself.
352. If someone says, "I know that that's a tree" I may answer: "Yes, that is a sentence. An English sentence. And what is it supposed to be doing?" Suppose he replies: "I just wanted to remind myself that I know thing like that"?
353. But suppose he said "I want to make a logical observation"? - If a forester goes into a wood with his men and says "This tree has got to be cut down, and this one and this one" -- what if he then observes "I know that that's a tree"? - But might not I say of the forester "He knows that that's a tree - he doesn't examine it, or order his men to examine it"?

354. Doubting and non-doubting behavior. There is the first only if there is the second.
355. A mad-doctor (perhaps) might ask me "Do you know what that is?" and I might reply "I know that it's a chair; I recognize it, it's always been in my room". He says this, possibly, to test not my eyes but my ability to recognize things, to know their names and their functions. What is in question here is a kind of knowing one's way about. Now it would be wrong for me to say "I believe that it's a chair" because that would express my readiness for my statement to be tested. While "I know that it..." implies bewilderment if what I said was not confirmed.
356. My "mental state", the "knowing", gives me no guarantee of what will happen. But it consists in this, that I should not understand where a doubt could get a foothold nor where a further test was possible.
357. One might say: " 'I know' expresses comfortable certainty, not the certainty that is still struggling."

360. I know that this is my foot. I could not accept any experience as proof to the contrary. - That may be an exclamation; but what follows from it? At least that I shall act with a certainty that knows no doubt, in accordance with my belief.
361. But I might also say: It has been revealed to me by God that it is so. God has taught me that this is my foot. And therefore if anything happened that seemed to conflict with this knowledge I should have to regard that as deception.
362. But doesn't it come out here that knowledge is related to a a decision?

366. Suppose it were forbidden to say "I know" and only allowed to say "I believe I know"?
367. ..... As a result a mistake becomes something forbidden.

369. If I wanted to doubt whether this was my hand, how could I avoid doubting whether the word "hand" has any meaning? So that is something I seem to know after all.
370. But more correctly: The fact that I use the word "hand" and all the other words in my sentence without a second thought, indeed that I should stand before the abyss if I wanted so much as to try doubting their meanings - shows that absence of doubt belongs to the essence of the language-game, that the question "How do I know..." drags out the language-game, or else does away with it.

373. Why is it supposed to be possible to have grounds for believing something if it isn't possible to be certain?
374. We teach a child "that is your hand", not "that is perhaps (or "probably") your hand". That is how a child learns the innumerable language-games that are concerned with his hand. An investigation or question, 'whether this is really a hand' never occurs to him. Nor, on the other hand, does he learn that he knows that this is a hand.
375. Here one must realize that complete absence of doubt at some point, even where we would say that 'legitimate' doubt can exist, need not falsify a language-game. For there is also something like another arithmetic.
I believe that this admission must underlie any understanding of logic.

376. I may claim with passion that I know that this (for example) is my foot.
378. Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement.
379. I say with passion "I know that this is a foot" - but what does it mean?
380. I might go on: "Nothing in the world will convince me of the opposite!" For me this fact is at the bottom of all knowledge. I shall give up other things but not this.
381. This "Nothing in the world" is obviously an attitude which one hasn't got towards everything one believes or is certain of.
382. That is not to say that nothing in the world will in fact be able to convince me of anything else.
383. The argument "I may be dreaming" is senseless for this reason: if I am dreaming, this remark is being dreamed as well - and indeed it is also being dreamed that these words have any meaning.
384. Now what kind of sentence is "Nothing in the world..."?
385. It has the form of a prediction, but of course it is not one that is based on experience.

386. Anyone who says, with Moore, that he knows that so and so... - gives the degree of certainty that something has for him. And it is important that this degree has a maximum value.
387. Someone might ask me: "How certain are you that that is a tree over there; that you have money in your pocket; that that is your foot?" And the answer in one case might be "not certain", in another "as good as certain", in the third "I can't doubt it". And these answers would make sense even without any grounds. I should not need for example, to say: "I can't be certain whether that is a tree because my eyes aren't sharp enough." I want to say: it made sense for Moore to say "I know that that is a tree", if he meant something quite particular by it.
388. Every one of us often uses such a sentence, and there is no question but that it makes sense.
But does that mean it yields any philosophical conclusion? Is it more of a proof of the existence of external things, that I know that this is a hand, than that I don't know whether that is gold or brass?

389. Moore wanted to give an example to show that one really can know propositions about physical objects. - If there were a dispute whether one could have a pain in such and such a part of the body, then someone who just then had a pain in that spot might say: "I assure you, I have a pain there now." But it would sound odd if Moore had said: "I assure you, I know that's a tree." A personal experience simply has no interest for us here.
390. All that is important is that it makes sense to say that one knows such a thing; and consequently the assurance that one does know it can't accomplish anything here.
401. I want to say: propositions of the form of empirical propositions, and not only propositions of logic, form the foundation of all operating with thoughts (with language). - This observation is not of the form "I know...". "I know..." states what I know, and that is not of logical interest.
403. To say of man, in Moore's sense, that he knows something; that what he says is therefore unconditionally the truth, seems wrong to me. - It is the truth only inasmuch as it is an unmoving foundation of his language-games.
404. I want to say: it's not that on some points men know the truth with perfect certainty. No: perfect certainty is only a matter of their attitude.
405. But of course there is still a mistake even here.
406. What I am aiming at is also found in the difference between the casual observation "I know that that's a...", as it might be used in ordinary life, and the same utterance when a philosopher makes it.
408. For if someone says he knows such-and-such, and this is part of his philosophy - then his philosophy is false if he has slipped up in this statement.

410. Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it.
411. If I say "we assume that the earth has existed for many years past" (or something similar), then of course it sounds strange that we should assume such a thing. But in the entire system of our language-games it belongs to the foundations. The assumption, one might say, forms the basis of action, and therefore, naturally, of thought.

414. ....When I say "how do I know?" I do not mean that I have the least doubt of it. What we have here is a foundation for all my action. But it seems to me that it is wrongly expressed by the words "I know".
415. And in fact, isn't the use of the word "know" as a preeminently philosophical word altogether wrong? If "know" has this interest, why not "being certain"? Apparently because it would be too subjective. But isn't "know" just as subjective? Isn't one misled simply by the grammatical peculiarity that "p" follows from "I know p"?
"I believe I know" would not need to express a lesser degree of certainty. - True, but one isn't trying to express even the greatest subjective certainty, but rather that certain propositions seem to underlie all questions and all thinking.

420. Even a proposition like this one, that I am now living in England, has these two sides: it is not a mistake - but on the other hand, what do I know of England? Can't my judgment go all to pieces? Would it not be possible that people came to my room and all declared the opposite? - even gave me 'proofs' of it, so that I suddenly stood there like a madman alone among people who were all normal, or a normal person alone among madmen? Might I not then suffer doubts about what at present seems at the furthest remove from doubt?
421. I am in England. - Everything around me tells me so; wherever and however I let my thoughts turn, they confirm this for me at once. - But might I not be shaken if things such as I don't dream of at present were to happen?
422. So I am trying to say something that sounds like pragmatism.
Here I am being thwarted by a kind of Weltanschauung.
425. .... It would be completely misleading to say: "I believe my name is L.W." .... I cannot be making a mistake about it. But that does not mean that I am infallible about it.

426. But how can we show someone that we know truths, not only about sense-data but also about things? For after all it can't be enough for someone to assure us that he knows this.
Well, what must our starting point be if we are to show this?

429. What reason have I, now, when I cannot see my toes, to assume that I have five toes on each foot?
Is it right to say that my reason is that previous experience has always taught me so?
That previous experience may very well be the cause of my present certitude; but is it its ground?
432. The utterance "I know..." can only have its meaning in connection with the other evidence of my 'knowing'.
438. It would not be enough to assure someone that I know what is going on at a certain place - without giving him grounds that satisfy him that I am in a position to know.
439. Even the statement "I know that behind this door there is a landing and the stairway down to the ground floor" only sounds so convincing because everyone takes it for granted that I know it.
440. There is something universal here; not just something personal.

441. In a court of law the mere assurance "I know..." on the part of a witness would convince no one. It must be shown that he was in a position to know.
Even the assurance "I know that that's a hand", said while someone looked at his own hand, would not be credible unless we knew the circumstances in which it was said. And if we do know them, it seems to be an assurance that the person speaking is normal in this respect.
442. For may it not happen that I imagine myself to know something?

446. But why am I so certain that this is my hand? Doesn't the whole language-game rest on this kind of certainty?
Or: isn't this 'certainty' (already) presupposed in the language-game? Namely by virtue of the fact that one is not playing the game, or is playing it wrong, if one does not recognize objects with certainty.

447. Compare with this 12x12=144. Here too we don't say "perhaps". For, in so far as this proposition rests on our not miscounting or miscalculating and on our senses not deceiving us as we calculate, both propositions, the arithmetical one and the physical one, are on the same level. I want to say: The physical game is just as certain as the arithmetical. But this can be misunderstood. My remark is a logical and not a psychological one.
448. I want to say: If one doesn't marvel at the fact that the propositions of arithmetic (e.g. the multiplication tables) are 'absolutely certain', then why should one be astonished that the proposition "This is my hand" is so equally?
449. Something must be taught us as a foundation.
450. ...... A doubt that doubted everything would not be a doubt.
454. There are cases where doubt is unreasonable, but others where it seems logically impossible.
And there seems to be no clear boundary between them.
455. Every language-game is based on words 'and objects' being recognized again. We learn with the same inexorability that is a chair as that 2x2=4.
456. If, therefore, I doubt or am uncertain about this being my hand (in whatever sense), why not in that case about the meaning of these words as well?
457. Do I want to say, then, that certainty resides in the nature of the language-game?
458. One doubts on specific grounds. The question is this: how is doubt introduced into the language-game?
459. If the shopkeeper wanted to investigate each of his apples without any reason, for the sake of being certain about everything, why doesn't he have to investigate the investigation? ......

462. Why doesn't Moore produce as one of the things that he knows, for example, that is such-andsuch a part of England there is a village called so-and-so? In other words: why doesn't he mention a fact that is known to him and not to every one of us?

463. This is certainly true, that the information "That is a tree", when no one could doubt it, might be a kind of joke and as such have meaning.
467. I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again "I know that that's a tree", pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell him: "This fellow isn't insane. We are only doing philosophy."
469. In the middle of a conversation, someone says to me out of the blue: "I wish you luck." I am astonished; but later I realize that these words connect up with his thoughts about me. And now they do not strike me as meaningless any more.

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 [Raisonnement].

476. Children do not learn that books exist, that armchairs exist, etc.,etc. - they learn to fetch books, sit in armchairs, etc.,etc.
Later, questions about the existence of things do of course arise, ....
How did one learn the method for determining whether something exists or not?
478. Does a child believe that milk exists? Or does it know that milk exists? Does a cat know that a mouse exists?
479. Are we to say that the knowledge that there are physical objects comes very early or very late?
480. A child that is learning to use the word "tree". One stands with it in front of a tree and says "Lovely tree!" Clearly no doubt as to the tree's existence comes into the language-game. But can the child be said to know: 'that a tree exists'? Admittedly it's true that 'knowing something' doesn't involve thinking about it - but mustn't anyone who knows something be capable of doubt? And doubting means thinking.
481. When one hears Moore say "I know that that's a tree", one suddenly understands those who think that that has by no means been settled. The matter strikes one all at once as being unclear and blurred. It is as if Moore had put it in the wrong light.
It is as if I were to see a painting (say a painted stage-set) and recognize what it represents from a long way off at once and without the slightest doubt. But now I step nearer: and then I see a lot of patches of different colours, which are all highly ambiguous and do not provide any certainty whatever.
482. It is as if "I know" did not tolerate a metaphysical emphasis.
483. The correct use of the expression "I know". Someone with bad sight asks me: "do you believe that the thing we can see there is a tree?" I reply "I know it is; I can see it clearly and am familiar with it." - A: "Isn't N.N. at home?" - I: "I believe he is." - A: "Was he at home yesterday?" - I; "Yesterday he was - I know he was; I spoke to him." - A: "Do you know or only believe that this part of the house is built on later than the rest?" - I: "I know it is; I got it from so and so."
484. In these cases, then, one says "I know" and mentions how one knows, or at least one can do so.

487. What is the proof that I know something? Most certainly not my saying I know it.
488. And so, when writers enumerate all the things they know, that proves nothing whatever. So the possibility of knowledge about physical objects cannot be proved by the protestations of those who believe that they have such knowledge.
493. So is this it: I must recognize certain authorities in order to make judgements at all?
495. One might simply say "O, rubbish!" to someone who wanted to make objections to the propositions that are beyond doubt. That is, not reply to him but admonish him.
496. This is a similar case to that of showing that it has no meaning to say that a game has always been played wrong.
498. The queer thing is that even though I find it quite correct for someone to say "Rubbish!" and so brush aside the attempt to confuse him with doubts at bedrock, - nevertheless, I hold it to be incorrect if he seeks to defend himself (using, e.g., the words "I know").
499. I might also put it like this: the 'law of induction' can no more be grounded than certain particular propositions concerning the material of experience.

500. But it would also strike me as nonsense to say "I know that the law of induction is true".
Imagine such a statement made in a court of law! It would be more correct to say "I believe in the law of..." where 'believe' has nothing to do with surmising.
501. Am I not getting closer and closer to saying that in the end logic cannot be described? You must look at the practice of language, then you will see it.
503. I look at an object and say "That is a tree", or "I know that that's a tree". - Now if I go nearer and it turns out that it isn't, I may say "It wasn't a tree at all" or alternatively I say "It was a tree but now it isn't any longer". But if all the others contradicted me, and said it never had been a tree, and if all the other evidences spoke against me - what good would it do to me to stick to my "I know"?
504. Whether I know something depends on whether the evidence backs me up or contradicts me.
For to say one knows one has a pain means nothing.
505. It is always by favour of Nature that one knows something.
509. I really want to say that a language-game is only possible if one trusts something (I did not say "can trust something").
510. If I say "Of course I know that that's a towel" I am making an utterance. I have no thought of a verification. For me it is an immediate utterance.
I don't think of past or future. (And of course it's the same for Moore, too.)
It is just like directly taking hold of something, as I take hold of my towel without having doubts.
511. And yet this direct taking-hold corresponds to a sureness, not to a knowing.
But don't I take hold of a thing's name like that, too?

519. Admittedly, if you are obeying the order "Bring me a book", you may have to check whether the thing you see over there really is a book, but then you do at least know what people mean by a "book"; and if you don't you can look it up, - but then you must know what some other word means. And the fact that a word means such-and-such, is used in such-and-such a way, is in turn an empirical fact, like the fact that what you see over there is a book. Therefore, in order for you to be able to carry out an order there must be some empirical fact about which you are not in doubt. Doubt itself rests only on what is beyond doubt. But since a language-game is something that consists in the recurrent procedures of the game in time, it seems impossible to say in any individual case that such-and-such must be beyond doubt if there is to be a language-game - though it is right enough to say that as a rule some empirical judgment or other must be beyond doubt.

520. Moore has every right to say he knows there's a tree there in front of him. Naturally he may be wrong. (For it is not the same as with the utterance "I believe there is a tree there".) But whether he is right or wrong in this case is of no philosophical importance. If Moore is attacking those who say that one cannot really know such a thing, he can't do it by assuring them that he knows this and that. For one need not believe him. If his opponents had asserted that one could not believe this and that, then he could have replied: "I believe it".
521. Moore's mistake lies in this - countering the assertion that one cannot know that, by saying "I do know it".
532. So when Moore sat in front of a tree and said "I know that that's a tree", he was simply stating the truth about this state at the time.
533. Well, if it was correct to describe his state out of context, then it was just as correct to utter the words "that's a tree" out of context.

550. If someone believes something, we needn't always be able to answer the question 'why he believes it'; but if he knows something, then the question "how does he know?" must be capable of being answered.
551. And if one does answer this question, one must do so according to generally accepted axioms. This is how something of this sort may be known.
552. Do I know that I am now sitting in a chair? - Don't I know it?!In the present circumstances no one is going to say that I know this; but no more will he say, for example, that I am conscious. Nor will one normally say that of the passers-by in the street.
But now, even if one doesn't say it, does that make it untrue??
553. It is queer: if I say, without any special occasion, "I know" - for example, "I know that I am now sitting in a chair", this statement seems to me unjustified and presumptuous. But if I make the same statement where there is some need for it, then, although I am not a jot more certain of its truth, it seems to me to be perfectly justified and everyday.
554. In its language-game it is not presumptuous. There, it has no higher position than, simply, the human language-game. For there it has its restricted application. But as soon as I say this sentence outside its context, it appears in a false light. For then it is as if I wanted to insist that there are things that I know. God himself can't say anything to me about them.

555. We say we know that water boils when it is put over a fire. How do we know? Experience has taught us. - I say "I know that I had breakfeast this morning"; experience hasn't taught me that. One also says "I know that he is in pain". The language-game is different every time, we are sure every time, and people will agree with us that we are in a position to know every time. And that is why the propositions of physics are found in textbooks for everyone.
If someone says he know something, it must be something that, by general consent, he is in a position to know.
558. We say we know that water boils and does not freeze under such-and-such circumstances. Is it conceivable that we are wrong? Wouldn't a mistake topple all judgment with it? More: what could stand if that were to fall? Might someone discover something that made us say "It was a mistake"?
Whatever may happen in the future, however water may behave in the future, - we know that up to now it has behaved thus in innumerable instances.
This fact is fused into the foundations of our language-game.
559. You must bear in mind that the language-game is so to say something unpredictable. I mean: it is not based on grounds. It is not reasonable (or unreasonable).
It is there - like our life.
560. And the concept of knowing is coupled with that of the language-game.

579. It is part of the language-game with people's names that everyone knows his name with the greatest certainty.

653. If the proposition 12x12=144 is exempt from doubt, then so too must non-mathematical propositions be.
654. But against this there are plenty of objections. - In the first place there is the fact that "12x12 etc." is a mathematical proposition, and from this one may infer that only mathematical propositions are in this situation. And if this inference is not justified, then there ought to be a proposition that is just as certain, and deals with the process of this calculation, but isn't itself mathematical. I am thinking of such a proposition as: "The multiplication '12x12', when carried out by people who know how to calculate, will in the great majority of cases give the result '144'." Nobody will contest this proposition, and naturally it is not a mathematical one. But has it got the certainty of the mathematical proposition?

4/27/51 (This is the last entry written two days before Wittgenstein died on April 29th, 1951)
670. We might speak of fundamental principles of human enquiry.
671. I fly from here to a part of the world where the people have only indefinite information, or none at all, about the possibility of flying. I tell them I have just flown there from... They ask me if I might be mistaken. - They have obviously a false impression of how the thing happens. (If I wepacked up in a box it would be possible for me to be mistaken about the way I had travelled.) If I simply tell them that I can't be mistaken, that won't perhaps convince them; but it will if I describe the actual procedure to them. Then they will certainly not bring the possibility of a mistake into the question. But for all that - even if they trust me - they might believe I had been dreaming or that magic had made me imagine it.
672. "If I don't trust this evidence why should I trust any evidence?"
673. Is it not difficult to distinguish between the cases in which I cannot and those in which I can hardly be mistaken? Is it always clear to which kind a case belongs? I believe not.
674. There are, however, certain types of case in which I rightly say I cannot be making a mistake, and Moore has given a few examples of such cases.
I can enumerate various typical cases, but not give any common characteristic. (N.N. cannot be mistaken about his flown from America to England a few days ago. Only if he is mad can he take anything else to be possible.)
675. If someone believes that he has flown from America to England in the last few days, then, I believe, he cannot be making a mistake.
And just the same if someone says that he is at this moment sitting at a table and writing.
676. "But even if in such cases I can't be mistaken, isn't it possible that I am drugged?" If I am and if the drug has taken away my consciousness, then I am not now really talking and thinking. I cannot seriously suppose that I am at this moment dreaming. Someone who, dreaming, says "I am dreaming", even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream "it is raining", while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.



COMMENTARIES on Ludwig Wittgenstein's "On Certainty"

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote a series of interconnected remarks on the concept of certainty from April, 1950, until April 27, 1951, two days before his death. Although he did not live to edit this work, which was published in 1969, his observations constitute a remarkably coherent discussion of what is arguably the central problem of epistemology: the question of whether, in what sense, and by what methods it may be possible to attain absolute certainty in knowledge.

The quest for certainty is a legacy of French philosopher René Descartes’s seventeenth century rationalist philosophy. Philosophers have long sought to answer arguments brought by skepticism that knowledge, let alone certain or absolutely certain knowledge, is impossible. The problem of arriving at certain knowledge is carried forward by philosopher G. E. Moore’s essays, including “A Defence of Common Sense” (1923), “Proof of an External World” (1939), and “Certainty” (1943). In these essays, Moore tries to argue that there are items of commonsense knowledge, ultimately justified by immediate sense experience, that can be known without possibility of doubt and that can thereby constitute the foundations for all other knowledge. Wittgenstein regards Moore’s treatment of certainty as among his most important contributions to philosophy, yet he seems to appreciate the essays more as a statement of ordinary ways of thinking about the nature of certainty than for the philosophical conclusions Moore attempts to derive. Without defending skepticism, Wittgenstein mounts a devastating critique of Moore’s attempt to gain certain knowledge for commonsense beliefs.

In a numbered series of reflections, Wittgenstein explores the implications and limitations of the concept of certainty. The problems of epistemology are a mainstay for most philosophers but an unusual topic for Wittgenstein. In his early masterwork, “Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung” (1921; best known by the bilingual German and English edition title of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922, 1961), Wittgenstein explicitly separates the theory of knowledge from philosophy properly understood. There he writes: “Psychology is no nearer related to philosophy, than is any other natural science./ The theory of knowledge is the philosophy of psychology.” (4.1121) Indeed, Wittgenstein does not address the traditional questions of epistemology outside On Certainty.

The dispute about certainty in philosophy is not a dispute about certainty as such; but it is a dispute concerning the criteria of certainty.

Moore, as a champion of common sense philosophy, argued to show that there is substantial proof in accepting the view that material objects exist external to the mind in his papers, “A Defence of Common Sense”, and “Proof of an External World”. In addition to that, he expressed the view that there are a good number of propositions which he knows for certain. Some such propositions are “The Earth Existed long before I was born”, “There were other human beings beside me”. All these propositions, held Moore, are truisms.
Wittgenstein does not deny this fact. In fact, he recognizes the peculiar logical status of these propositions. But, what is wrong with Moore’s propositions, as Wittgenstein sees it, is that they are not the cases of knowledge at all. This statement of Wittgenstein certainly does not debar him from criticizing skepticism.

Wittgenstein’s analysis of the nature of doubt is as follows:
(a) Doubt is not possible without proper grounds
(b) Doubt is not a mere verbal utterance
(c) Doubt is possible only in the context of a language-game
(d) There cannot be a universal doubt
(e) Doubt presumes certainty
The above analysis clearly vindicates that none of the considerations advanced by Wittgenstein concerning the nature of doubt justifies skepticism.



Readings of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty

This collection has been divided into four ‘readings’: the ‘Framework reading’ gathers chapters that either expound or critically examine foundational and grammatical views of On Certainty; the ‘Transcendental reading’ offers neo-Kantian and neo-Realist interpretations of the work; the ‘Epistemic reading’ examines the epistemic versus nonepistemic nature of the certainty in question; finally, the ‘Therapeutic reading’ approaches On Certainty in the spirit of ‘New Wittgenstein’ commentators, nudging us away from framework and transcendental readings, and towards a less theoretical, more dialectical and open-textured interpretation of Wittgenstein’s aims.