Wittgenstein and pyrrhonism: on the nature of philosophy

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(TLP) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a.M., 1984.

(IF) Philosophische Untersuchungen in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a.M., 1984.

(Z) Zettel in Über Gewissheit, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a.M., 1984.

(UG) Über Gewissheit, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a.M., 1984.

(BB) Blue Book, Blackwell, Oxford, 1958.

(BT) The Big Typescript, German–English Scholars’ Edition, edited and translated by C. Grant Luckhardt and Maximilian A. E. Aue, Blackwell, Oxford, 2005.

(M) Wittgenstein’s Lectures in 1930-33 in Moore, Philosophical Papers, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London; Humanities Press inc., New York, 1959.

ARREGUI, J.V., (1984) Acción y Sentido en Wittgenstein, Ed. Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain.

BAKER, G.P. and Hacker, P.M.S., (1980), Wittgenstein, Meaning and Understanding, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

BAKER, G.P. and Hacker, P.M.S., (1984), Scepticism, Rules and Language, Blackwell, Oxford.

BOUVERESSE, J., (1987) Le Mythe de l’intériorité, Les Éditions de Minuit, Paris.

BURNYEAT, M. (1982), “Idealism and Greek Philosophy: What Descartes saw and Berkeley missed”, in The Philosophical Review, XCI, nº 1, jan.

FANN, K.T., (1975) La Concepción de Filosofia de Ludwig Wittgenstein, Técnis, Madrid.

FOGELIN, R.J., (1976) Wittgenstein, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

HACKER, P.M.S., (1972) Insight and Illusion, At the Clarendon Press, Oxford.

HACKER, P.M.S., (1990) Wittgenstein: Meaning and Mind, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

HOTTOIS, G., (1976) La Philosophie du Langage de Ludwig Wittgenstein, Editions de L’Université de Bruxelles, Belgium.

HUME, D., (1975) Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Blackwell, Oxford.

KRIPKE, S.A., (1982) On Rules and Private Language, Blackwell, Oxford.

MALCOM, N., (1988) “Wittgenstein’s ‘Scepticism’ in On certainty” in Inquiry, vol. 31, nº 3, Sep / 1988, Norwegian University Press.

MARCONDES DE SOUZA FILHO, D. (NP), Finding One’s Way About” (draft).

PORCHAT, O., (2007) “Ceticismo e Argumentação” in Rumo ao Ceticismo. São Paulo: UNESP.

SHIBLES, W., (1969) Wittgenstein, Linguagem e Filosofia, Ed. Cultrix/EDUSP, São Paulo.

STRAWSON, P.F, (1985) Skepticism and Naturalism: some varieties, Columbia University Press, New York.

TUGENDHAT, E., (1979) Selbstbewusstsein und Selbstbestimmung, Suhrkamp. Frankfurt a.M.,

1 This article was written to the colloquium “Scepticism: old and new”, held in Buenos Aires from June 25th through the 27th of 1992. Some changes were made after the colloquium. Originally published in Analytica, vol. 1, number 1, Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ, 1993, p. 153-186.

2 Strawson (1985) and Grayling (1985) drew inspiration from Wittgenstein, in particular from his Über Gewissheit, to reject scepticism.

3 Tugendhat (1979, p. 93-94) shows the role played by sceptical arguments in the internal dissolution of realism towards solipsism and, ultimately, in the abandonment of the language of "I". And Hacker (1990, p. 25-26) says that the presuppositions of metaphysical and linguistic theories of philosophers lead ineluctably to solipsism, being scepticism about other minds and about communication two necessary intermediate steps of this process.

4 Kripke (1982), esp. pp. 60-69.

5 Baker e Hacker (1984) especially the first essay.

6 Kenny (1975) e Bouveresse (1987) recognise that Descartes is Wittgenstein's target, but is does not seem less correct to me that Berkeley is criticised as well.


8 I am aware of the existence of works that compare Wittgenstein and the Greek sceptics, but, amongst the main commentators of Wittgenstein's works, none takes into account the Greek scepticism.

9 It is important to highlight that I only refer to the works of Wittgenstein after 1929, in particular to the Philosophical Investigations. Naturally, this suggestion does not apply to the Tractatus.

10 Cf., regarding it, Moore (1959, p. 322)

11 Quoted by Baker and Hacker (1984), p.8.

12 Cf. Hacker (1972), pp. 113-116. We disagree, hence, of those who see the therapy as a previous stage to prepare for a positive stage, as if the description of language were the main goal (e.g., Arregui (1984, pp. 161-168)) or even of those who see the process of clarification as an independent goal.

13 The Big Typescript defined philosophy in the following way: “Philosophising is: rejecting false arguments” (BT, p. 6). Because the descriptions of our language's grammar acquire signification only from philosophical problems, the discussion upon the possible systematicity of this description, independently of the therapeutic finality, appears to us as a discussion outside Wittgenstein's mind (as Backer and Hacker (1980, pp. 290-293) and Strawson (1985, pp. 14-21) do).

14 Hacker (1972, pp. 139-144) describes some of these causes of philosophical diseases and, in (1990, pp. 89-92), draws some comparisons with psychoanalytical theory, as the Big typescript (BT, p. 7) had already suggested.

15 One must highlight, however, that the sort of thinking demanded by philosophical activity is "very different from what is required in the sciences" (M. p. 322). We have already observed that philosophy has a very different procedure from science; here, nothing is hidden, no new fact must be discovered and no theory (or hypothesis) is formulated.

16 The text presents the following manuscript variation: "A talent for philosophy consists in the receptiveness to receive a strong and lasting impression from a grammatical fact".

17 Fann (1975, pp. 72-73) cites a long passage of Hertz about the contradiction that closely resembles Wittgenstein's texts regarding this theme (Hertz, The principles of Mechanics, New York, Dover Publications, 1956, pp. 7-9).

18 This, we see once again that the positive part submits itself to the negative: the description only focalises the contradiction manifested by the rules.

19 Hottois (1976, pp. 141-154) elaborates the idea of an opposition between good and bad images. The “language games” would be good analogies, which would fight the bad analogies that generate philosophical problems.

20 Quoted by Tugendhat (1979), p. 92.

21 Compare these passages with the manuscript variation of the BT, p. 15, quoted in the footnote 16 above.

22 By employing the word "mind”, we do not attribute any "mentalism" to Wittgenstein's philosophy. The use of this word is authorised by the philosopher himself (e.g., BB, p. 28 and M, p. 323, quoted above). On the other hand, Wittgenstein is not a behaviourist (cf., e.g., Tugendhat (1979, pp. 120ff.) e Hacker (1990, pp. 224-253)).

23 Backer e Hacker (1980, “The Nature of Philosophy, p. 259-293) have not mentioned even a single time the tranquillity as the final goal of Wittgensteinian therapy. Arregui (1984, p. 157ff.) says that tranquillity is Wittgenstein's purpose, but does seem to distinguish it from the Übersicht. However, the repeated use of the word “Zweck” (for ex., PI, 109, 127, 132) allows one to talk about clarity as a means to tranquillity. For that reason, we agree with Hottois (1976, p. 164), affirming that the ultimate goal of the übersichthiche Darstellung is to arrive at a state of tranquillity.

24 By criticising the idea of a private language, Wittgenstein assumes one must only use words as they are normally used, "If we are using the word 'to know' as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?)" (PI, 246).

25 The idea that philosophy is a practice was already present since Tractatus (4.112).

26 Grammatical problems, according to Big Typescript, are profoundly rooted in our own grammar, associating themselves to the most ancient habits of thought. Because we had, and still have, the tendency to think like this is the reason language became as it is, in a manner that the liberation of the seduction of language involves an effort against our instinct, as a natural thought (cf. PI, 109). And that would explain the observation that philosophy, since Plato, does not tire of coming back to the same problems, for the basic structure of language is essentially still the same (BT, pp, 14-16).

27 Hottois (1976, p. 165) intends that complete clarity produces a definitive state of serenity. With this, Wittgenstein would reintroduce a theoretical connotation in his philosophy, as well as a utopic ideal. But what seems definitive to us is only the tranquillity regarding a solved particular problem. Other philosophical problems threat the tranquillity that, from this point of view, is momentary.

28 I obviously do not intend to deplete this comparison here. Danilo Marcondes (NP) tackle this problem, approximating, to my mind correctly, Wittgenstein and Sextus.

29 Except, as we will see ahead, from the idea that the philosophical problems are dissolved. This idea is not in Pyrrhonian thought.


31 However, Wittgenstein himself coined expressions of strict philosophical use, such as "rule", "language-game", "form of life" etc.

32 Sextus had already said the same thing regarding sophisms: the observation of practical life is capable of solving sophisms, but the philosopher is not (PH 2.254).

33 Hacker (1990), p. 63.

34 Cf. Hacker (1990), pp. 58-59

35 Hacker (1990), p. 63.

36 To formulate this objection, I inspired myself on the pages 7-9 of Porchat's article "Scepticism and Argumentation".
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