Being critically aware of the cultural foundations of our knowledge

Critical Awareness  I  Pluralism  I  References  I  Comments


“I want to show here that the main outcome of On Certainty is not a dissolution of skepticism, but a philosophically illuminating picture of the epistemic structure of language-games and their epistemically relevant settings.” (Kober, 1996, pg. 412)

  • OC 472: When a child learns language it learns at the same time what is to be investigated and what not.

“Children are born into a community and simply acquire the community’s language and the community’s world-picture, children do not learn single sentences or issues, but a whole language or a whole world-picture.” (Kober, 1996, pg. 422)

  • OC 229: Our talk gets its meaning from the rest of the proceedings. 

“Within a (discursive) practice P of a community, a knowledge claim K(i) should be or might indeed be justified by another knowledge claim K(i-1), which again might be justifiable by another knowledge claim K(i-2), etc. Practices have internal ways or standards of justification: ‘What people accept as a justification - is shewn by how they think and live’ (PI, 325).” (Kober, 1996, pg. 416)

For discursive language-games may criss-cross, overlap, and support each other within a world-picture.” (Kober, 1996, pg. 417)

  • OC 473: Just as in writing, we learn a particular basic form of letters and then vary it later, so we learn first the stability of things as the norm, which is then subject to alterations.
  • OC 211: Now it gives our way of looking at things, and our researchers, their form. Perhaps it was once disputed. But perhaps, for unthinkable ages, it has belonged to the scaffolding of our thoughts.
  • Z 568: Seeing life as a weave, this pattern (pretence, say) is not always complete and is varied in a multiplicity of ways. But we, in our conceptual world, keep on seeing the same, recurring with variations, That is how our concepts take it. For concepts are not for use on a single occasion.
  • OC 95: The propositions describing this world-picture might be part of a kind of mythology. And their role is like that of rules of a game; and the game can be learned practically, without learning any explicit rules.

“A myth exhibits the views and the convictions of a cultural community or form of life. It may contain traditions, tales, or legends concerning the origin of the world, the world’s shape and processes (the seasons, the weather, the behaviour of plants and animals, the sexes, reproduction of the species, etc.) as well as political structures, instructions of medical and/or psychological treatment, and religious beliefs - in brief, all those matters which may be of interest in a community’s life.” (Kober, 1996, pg. 418)

  • OC 609: Supposing we met people who did not regard that as telling reason. Now, how do we imagine this? Instead of the physicist, they consult an oracle. (And for that we consider them primitive.) Is it wrong for them to consult an oracle and be guided by it? -- If we call this ‘wrong’ aren’t we using our language-game as a base from which to combat theirs?

“Of course, only if you adopt Western physics will you be able to fly to the moon. But an Indian may ask what sense it makes to do that, and the discussion of the senses and values is connected to many other issues of a world-picture. The claim that x is better than y in respect of z obviously rests on certain assumptions or convictions - not to say: certainties - concerning the importance of z and is therefore anchored in or dependent on a form of life and its world-picture.” (Kober, 1996, pg. 432)

  • OC 262: I can imagine a man who had grown up in quite special circumstances and been taught that the earth came into being 50 years ago, and therefore believed this. We might instruct him: the earth has long ... etc. - We should be trying to give him our picture of the world. This would happen through a kind of persuasion
  • OC 256: A language game does change with time.

Challenge of pluralism: making space for more than one system of knowledge (back to top)

“Wittgenstein's pluralism raises thorny questions. How do we differentiate between language games? It appears that the same words can appear in two different language games. How are we to tell whether a proposition belongs to one way or another one? What relations are down between different language games? How do they correlate and form what we consider to be one language? What disassociations, links, and possible transitions either between different systems of thought and different world pictures? To what extent can one understand one world picture within another one? Are systems of thought or world pictures comparable with each other? How do we recognise that someone has a particular world picture? And so on.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 70)

“Our language is, after all, not the product of a free consensus among speakers; it is handed to us through the authority of parents, teachers, writers, academics, publishers, the media and finally even government.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 145)

“What if there is more than one language that lays claim to being the common medium of communication? What if the linguistic group is stratified by social and class divisions? Who is then speaking ‘everyday’ language? Whose language is it then? What happens when one language claims to have higher standing than that of everyday? The phrase “our everyday language” suggests a whole set of linguistic practices held together by a set of grammatical rules. As with all rules of social life, we need to ask of these rules; whose rules are they? What authority do they possess? What do they demand from us? The grammatical rules of what we can “everyday” language are taught to us by our parents and teachers and also by other users of the language. Some of these figures possess an authority over us that is ratified by society and the state ... But from where have my teachers (parents, other language users) got the rules that they teach me? ... There all kinds of institutions that regularise our everyday language (academics, textbooks, bureaucracies, churches, etc) and there are all kinds of ways in which our language becomes regularised as, for instance, through the writing of great authors, through movies and other media. (Sluga, 2011, page 128 to 129)


“First of all, it is evidently the case that our language games depend on how things are. Secondly, there are human needs and interests and these may vary. Thirdly, there is how we see things and that also may change over time. Our needs, interests, and ways of seeing are movever, all grounded in our human form of life and that form of life does not vary easily from one moment to another ... [Wittgenstein] asks himself ... why we can understand ancient mythology even though we no longer think about the world in its terms. He suggests that there are certain common features of human life on which mythology builds and which we can still identify ... What unites us are certain fundamental givens of the human form of life. They allow us to perceive different kinds of similarities and thus to form different concepts, engage in different language games, speak different language games, and have different world pictures. But they also delimit the ways we see things.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 82 - 83)


References  (back to top)

    • Kober, M. (1996). Certainties of a world-picture: the epistemological investigations of On Certainty In H. Sluga, H. and D. Stern (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Wittgenstein. (pp. 411 - 441) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Sluga, H. (2011). Wittgenstein. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
    • Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Philosophical Investigations. 3rd Edition. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
    • _____________  (1967) Zettel. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
    • _____________ (1969). On Certainty. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Translated by D. Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Harper Torchbooks.