Wittgenstein and ‘Certainty’
And the implications for ‘spiritual exploration’ as well as for philosophical metaphysics
The purpose of this article is to sketch out a contrast between the kind of ‘philosophising’ practiced by the likes of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) and those of a similar mindset; and ‘philosophising’ in the pursuit of an accurate understanding of one’s ordinary experiential existence, specifically with a view to achieving an insight into it, such that one might proceed in the direction of resolving the mystery at the core of our experience. (Whether or not this latter approach is any way ‘meaningful’ or ‘sensical’ or ‘practicable’ etc will not be discussed here, but left for elsewhere.)
Now to many of those whose ability to observe and analyse ‘objectively and impartially’ the metaphysical facts of their own experiential existence may have been damaged and corrupted by exposure to academic philosophy, this whole project will surely seem both wrong-headed and absurd, as well as most likely poisoned by New Age silliness and conceptual naivete. This is seriously mistaken, and, as will be demonstrated, the kind of observational and analytical capacities required to appreciate what follows are infinitely more demanding than those required to grasp logical positivist musings. Read on and see for yourself. (Of course this is not to say that what follows is in any way definitive, or authoritative, or unimprovable, but it will ask questions not normally encountered in any philosophical inquiry.)
The centrepoint for this article is Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophical ‘certainty’. We have chosen to analyse it in two ways: (1) an analysis of how Wittgenstein reached his conclusions, focussing on the evolution of key ideas from the Tractatus via Philosophical Investigations and ‘language game’ to On Certainty; and (2) whether or not the ideas in On Certainty are of any value when it comes to metaphysical self-insight, relating to the quest to resolve the mystery of the human predicament.