II On Certainty

Reasonable Doubts and Unshakable Certainties

Preliminary Remarks

After examining the way in which Wittgenstein referred to pragmatism in earlier years, it is now time to enter into the merits of OC, the specific topic of this study.

First, a few words are in order to place OC in the framework of Wittgenstein’s development. Part I of PI comprises a work commenced at the beginning of the 1930s and concluded in 1945, by and large prepared for publication by Wittgenstein. From the middle of the 1940s, Wittgenstein continued to fill manuscripts and typescripts, which later were published as Part II of PI (PPF in the 2009 edition), RPP and other volumes. OC belongs to these materials and—together with RC and a part of Volume II of LW—it comprises notes written roughly in the last year and a half of Wittgenstein’s life, which never reached the stage of typescript. The editors of the volume affirm that Wittgenstein himself marked the notes as belonging to a single thematic corpus, but there are actually no precise indications as to this; indeed, alleged thematic unity notwithstanding, the interpretations in

© The Author(s) 2016 59

A. Boncompagni, Wittgenstein and Pragmatism, History of Analytic Philosophy, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-58847-0_3

the literature diverge considerably.1 What can be said is that the fourth and last part of OC, which contains the majority of the remarks (from §300 to §676), seems the most homogeneous: all of the remarks come from Wittgenstein’s last three notebooks, MS 175, 176, and 177, and they are dated with precision from 10 March to 27 April 1951 (Wittgenstein died on 29 April). As we shall see in Chapter 4, it is in these last weeks that Wittgenstein’s reflection shows clear affinities with the themes put forward by the classical pragmatists, and especially the so-called pragmatic maxim. The former remarks of OC (from §1 to §299) come from MS 172, 174, and 175; not everything is dated, but the beginning is likely to date back to the first months of 1950 (von Wright 1993, pp. 498, 509).

OC is usually described as particularly pragmatic, so much so that, according to some commentators, it is possible to identify a ‘Third Wittgenstein’ on the basis of these notes, after the early Wittgenstein of TLP and the later Wittgenstein of PI (Moyal-Sharrock 2004; Moyal-Sharrock and Brenner 2005). Passing over the dispute about whether it is opportune to make this kind of division, the question remains if and to what extent there are features in the last period of his work that allow us to speak of a pragmatic or even a pragmatist turn. In this and the following two chapters, the examination of OC will privilege some themes which, in my view, can lead to a fruitful comparison with pragmatism, in order not only to enrich the characterization of the ‘Third’ Wittgenstein, but more specifically to individuate positions, examples, arguments, and points of view which can be properly described as pragmatist. It will emerge that the vicinity Wittgenstein felt to pragmatism was real and that when, in OC, §422, he underlined this with some preoccupation, he well knew what he was talking about. By 1951, his familiarity with this tradition went far beyond what the remarks of the preceding years showed, and it certainly was not limited to the Jamesian conception of truth. Naturally, I will not leave out the differences, as they are [1]

important in understanding the reasons why Wittgenstein would never have accepted an identification with pragmatism.

The following pages move from the clear consonance between Peirce and Wittgenstein on the issue of doubt. Both thinkers show an anti-Cartesian strategy manifest in their rejection of the privacy of the internal world, of the dualism stemming from it, and of doubt as the first move of philosophy. This analysis will lead us to touch on the themes of scepticism and fallibilism. Wittgenstein and Peirce’s consonance on doubt is mirrored in their consonance on the issue of certainty. For both, if certainty features as a starting point, it does so not because it is a foundation, in a traditional sense, but because it is a background; and if it is indubitable, it is so not because it is infallible, but because ‘in deed’ it is not put in doubt.

  • [1] See van Gennip (2008, pp. 52 ff.); Perissinotto (2011, pp. 151 ff.).
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