Archives for category: Letter to a dead man

Dear L. J-square Wittgenstein,

well, you wonder how we can know that we know?

There is this chaotic collection of notes of yours, called “On certainty”. (You died short after. I hope that this does not refer to readers, too?)

You repeatadly ask the same question: if I see my hand, how can I know that this is my hand? This is your keypoint, right? The question won’t let you go. You are tortured by it. You rephrase and enhance it several times. Such as:

“Why shouldn’t I think of the earth as flat, but extending without end in every direction (including depth)? But in that case one might still say ‘I know that this mountain existed long before my birth.’ – But suppose I met a man who didn’t believe that?”

Ok, I see your point. Furhtermore you mention the challenge to define truth and knowledge if someone thinks (honestly thinks) that he knows something but later it is shown that this was an error.

However, your notes are so chaotic and unsystematic that it is really hard to read them. Or let’s say: Understanding what you wanted to say. Or maybe you  just changed your mind several times during the writing process? Honestly, this is what I think!

Can you not just get out of your grave for a discussion?

By the way, this is my favourite question: How often do we need to check a mathematical calculation in order to be sure that it is correct? Quite my daily problem as a maths student. (Maybe 3x? And it still can be wrong…)

I love it!

[Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein: On Certainty (Über Gewissheit)
ed. G.E.M.Anscombe and G.H.von Wright
Translated by Denis Paul and G.E.M.Anscombe
Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1969-1975]


Dear Charles Sanders Peirce,

thank you a lot for your great and inspiring piece of work: The fixation of belief. Let’s briefly go through it.

On reasoning you write: “The object of reasoning is to find out, from the consideration of what we already know, something else which we do not know.” I completely agree with this. And you say: “We are, doubtless, in the main logical animals, but we are not perfectly so. Most of us, for example, are naturally more sanguine and hopeful than logic would justify.” Ok, so far.

Next, you distinguish between different methods for fixation of belief. Namely:

  • Method of tenacity
  • Method of authority
  • Method of “a priori”
  • Scientific method

Wait: “Following the method of authority is the path of peace“?
Are you sure? I would love to discuss this one with you!

And then, come on, you compare the logical method with a bride to choose? Honor the others deeply? I think, your last paragraph is very humorous:

“The genius of a man’s logical method should be loved and reverenced as his bride, whom he has chosen from all the world. He need not contemn the others; on the contrary, he may honor them deeply, and in doing so he only honors her the more. But she is the one that he has chosen, and he knows that he was right in making that choice. And having made it, he will work and fight for her, and will not complain that there are blows to take, hoping that there may be as many and as hard to give, and will strive to be the worthy knight and champion of her from the blaze of whose splendors he draws his inspiration and his courage.”

Wow! I am blown away. Unfortunately you are dead, already. “The Fixation of Belief” was published in November 1877. However, thank you very much for this article.

All others: Enjoy reading!

[The Fixation of Belief. Popular Science Monthly 12 (November 1877), pp. 1-15; Charles Sanders Peirce]