Wittgenstein and the Appeal to Our Practices
Howe, Kathleen Ann
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In On Certainty, Wittgenstein repeatedly responds to an imagined sceptic by appealing to our everyday expressions of knowledge, doubt, and certainty, thereby showing the sceptic's use of these expressions to flout common practice. Where the sceptic would raise doubts, we ordinarily would not blink an eye. The sceptic's words, despite their resemblance to our own, should not be mistaken for ours—in the sorts of context in which she utters them, they do not clearly express anything. Against the backdrop of ordinary use, this argument against the sceptic appears incisive. However, such ordinary use is precisely the sceptic's target. She aims to show that we are unwarranted in our epistemic conduct. If Wittgenstein means to refute scepticism, his appeal to our epistemic practices cannot stand on its own. It may well be that the sceptic disregards their bounds, but unless it can be shown that they so stand to reality as to warrant what we do, as to in fact produce knowledge, any appeal to them comes to nothing. In the following thesis, I will argue that Wittgenstein need not substantiate this relation between our epistemic practices and reality, for with this appeal to our practices, he intends not to refute the sceptic but to transform her claim into something with which we can and do live. In the first chapter, I provide a more detailed account of the thesis's subject and structure. In the second, I present Wittgenstein's response to scepticism in On Certainty and the apparent difficulty it runs into. In the third, I turn to Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations as a parallel problematic from which we can draw insight. In the fourth, I consider two readings of the rule-following considerations that attempt to avoid the parallel problem of substantiating the relation between our practices and reality and argue that having forgone this relation all together, neither is tenable against scepticism. In the final, I argue for parallel readings of the rule-following considerations and On Certainty that, while dependent on a certain relation between our practices and reality, hold that substantiating this relation is something we need not do.
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