Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it. (Wittgenstein, On Certainty, #410)
PLEASE NOTE: Visitors will notice that the topic-specific glossaries are not organised alphabetically. In the following paragraphs I aim to explain the logic of the On Knowledge Glossary. The concepts of knowledge, certainty and doubt play important roles throughout Wittgenstein's early and later philosophy.
In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus the key concern is knowledge of the world, which is epitomised in the opening remark, "The world is all that is the case." And from that point all human knowledge is a rendering of the world. Like the biblical myth of Adam's apple, the world is pure and this purity is lost once the mind of humankind proceeds to construct concepts out of it. The Tractatus presents factual knowledge as the only unambiguous knowledge. All other knowledge (such as scientific theory) become nets, hierarchies, ladders and systems, which are arrangements of the world according to the concepts upon which we bring to it and through which we seek to see the world and our actions within it more clearly.
In the Philosophical Investigations, knowledge becomes subservient to the language games we play in the act of living. Knowledge becomes highly contextual, communal and dependent upon communities of practice that exert forms of knowledge in the pursuits of living, whether this is the practical knowledge of building to the more abstract and moral concepts of religious and ethical behaviour. By being conscious of our knowledge, we also become aware that our knowledge base could be otherwise. We become conscious that certain forms of knowledge arise out of particular historical and cultural conditions and if we were to imagine another form of life altogether we could imagine an altogether different and distinct system of knowledge. This is the argument that is returned to again and again in On Certainty. Even though Wittgenstein is not a transcendental philosopher, he does want his readers to be mindful of the assumptions that underpin our impressions of the world, which are now to be referred to as world pictures.
KNOWLEDGE - When Wittgenstein refers to knowledge, he is referring to both the content of knowledge and the system in which knowledge is arranged. Wittgenstein regularly employs visual metaphors to illustrate how knowledge is constructive act. "Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it." (OC 410). He further makes this clear by stating "A thinker is very much like a draughtsman whose aim it is to represent all the interrelations between things." and in his quoting of a portion of a Longfellow poem: In the elder days of art / Builders wrought with greatest care / Each minute and unseen part, /For the gods are everywhere. Wittgenstein emphasises that the thinker plays an active role in the way that knowledge is rendered.
FACTS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein states how the world is made up a all possible facts. A fact is something that exists and that can be observed. "God is love" is not a fact, whereas, "Mr Phillip stood on the corner of George St and King St at 3:30pm on 25 March 2012" could be.
TRUTH TABLES - Truth tables appear in the Tractatus (as shown below). A truth table is a ledger of each element in a proposition or of a series of propositions. The aim is to take a reasoned approach as to the validity of each claim. One takes each proposition in a case and identifies whether (a) the statement is true or false, (b) the statement's negation is true or false, and (c) the statement is always true in all cases, thereby making it a tautology. Earlier in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein indicates that a proposition (or a series of propositions) can make sense and generate rich and vivid pictures. Even though the proposition can be visualised, it can also be substantially false. It is at this stage that Wittgenstein emphasised that propositions raise possible states of affairs. A thinker must assess each element of the proposition or series of propositions in order to be satisfied of its validity.
DESCRIPTIONS - To describe is to lay out the details of a case clearly and thoroughly and without comment, embellishment or judgement. To explain is to provide comments on observations, to provide reasons for why something occurred, and to lay judgements on events. For Wittgenstein, “I believe the attempt to explain is certainly wrong, because one must only correctly piece together what one knows, without adding anything.” (Wittgenstein, from Remarks on Fraser’s Golden Bough)
STATES OF AFFAIRS - Wittgenstein insists that propositions describe states of affairs. Or, propositions arrange words in syntax, which refer to the world, and which come to represent how things are or could be, or which could be asserted. In this case, a state of affairs is a proposition or a series of proposition which come to indicate how "things stand" in a given case. "What is the state of affairs?"
SYSTEMS - “Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it.” (OC, 410) Wittgenstein appeals to systems of thought, systems of propositions, systems of belief and more. He implores his reader to imagine knowledge and beliefs as interlocking cogs in a machine or as threads of intricate tapestry. As such, no single cog or thread can reveal the significance of the whole system.
CAUSE AND EFFECT - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein held that one could identify facts. One could also identify that two facts occurred in close proximity. In nature, there may be Event A and Event B. However, the human agent would like to say that Event A caused (or led onto) Event B. Human agents seek to isolate cause and effect, even in cases where a particular model for causation is only one possible arrangement of the facts.
HIERARCHIES - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein states, "Hierarchies are and must be independent of reality." By saying this, he is asserting that humankind imposes orders and structures on the world, whereas empirical reality "just is". Events occur. It is humankind that establishes models, systems, flow charts as means to conceptualise and act within the world. Hierarchies, hanging diagrams and flow charts are all representations of states of affairs which place phenomena in systems for reflection and conceptualisation.
NETS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein described physics as one net that could be used to describe physical phenomena. In this case, Wittgenstein describes a "net" as a particular framework of thinking that provides a scaffold for our observations. Similarly, Marxism would be seen as a net through which to analyse socio-political relationships. The net describes the world but is not of the world. As Locke once noted, "Ideas do more than record. They don't leave the world as it is, nor are they intended to."
LADDERS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein claims that the reader has used the book to climb a ladder to survey more clearly the topic of logic. Once climbed, he recommends that the ladder is discarded. In many ways, Wittgenstein presents an image of what good teaching should achieve; it should provide the learner with a vantage point to notice the patterns in a topic that - once revealed - can be acted upon. The metaphor also presents an image whereby learning is scaffolded and whereby the learner is gradually initiated into a vantage point or way of seeing through a gradual presentation of intermediate cases (e.g. if we look at this case in this way, then ...). Burbles and Peters argue that this is an educational observation, "We want to emphasise that this should be regarded as an educational argument: that it is exploring the question of how understandings and ways of seeing are changed." (Burbles and Peters, 2010, pg 69 - 70).
QUESTIONS - Wittgenstein writes, "If a question can be put into words, then it can also be answered in words. The riddle does not exist." (TLC, 6.5) For Wittgenstein, one can only ask a question when one can imagine what a proper answer would look like. If one cannot imagine the answer to a question, how would one know when the question has been properly phrased and answered?
EXPLANATIONS - To explain is to provide reasons for why something has occurred. It involves the thinker drawing conclusions and applying assessments and/or judgements on a state of affairs. Any assessment is made within a frame of reference to provide the reasons. Different frames of reference could be applied, which would result in different explanations of a state of affairs. Wittgenstein cautioned his readers from mistaking the distinction between description and commentary, “I believe the attempt to explain is certainly wrong, because one must only correctly piece together what one knows, without adding anything.” (Wittgenstein, from Remarks on Fraser’s Golden Bough)
PERSPICUOUS REPRESENTATIONS - Wittgenstein implores his reader to seek a "clear view" of phenomena. In a perspicuous representation, one lays out all the fact(or)s in clear view to assess what is the case. The process also involves the seeking of connections to draw out how the system works. The goal is to gain control over phenomena that may otherwise appear tangled, restless and problematic.
INTERMEDIATE (ALTERNATIVE) CASES - This can also referred to as alternative cases. In cases where one is making a judgement, it is best to consider alternative (or intermediate) cases to explain the overall case. By seeking alternative explanations, one is better able to assess the validity of the first hunch as well as preempt the possibility of multiple valid explanations or the over-reliance on assumed, dominant perspectives. We must ask ourselves, “what would another explanation look like?”
SURVEYABLE REPRESENTATIONS - A surveyable representation involves an attempt to develop a way of looking at a set of phenomena that allows an individual and /or community to make sense of and - in many cases - to manipulate particular phenomena. Similarly, a system (of culture, of language, of life) may be substantially complex, which would require one to develop a method of analysis, a way of thinking, or a manner of living that would make the 'unsuveyable whole' increasingly 'surveyable'. Consider - for instance - the principles of a religion, or the rules of grammar, or a Marxist explanation of socio-political relationships. Each are ways of representing phenomena. It is important to remember that the representation is a way of perceiving the phenomena, rather than being the only possible description (or rendering) of the phenomena.
UNSURVEYABLE WHOLES - It is Hans Sluga (2011) - not Wittgenstein - who uses this term, though it is consistent with Wittgenstein's philosophy. Sluga emphasises that phenomena - such as language, the environment, history - are by nature complicated, immense and unsurveyable. Humankind, nevertheless, develops systems of analysis, fields of knowledge, and ways of seeing that act as tools to make sense and to "survey" or organise what would otherwise be unsurveyable. William Gaddis provides an illustration of this in his novel JR. A history teacher stops a Year 7 lesson to inform his class that history is a lot more complex than the neat historical narratives seem to indicate. He stresses that generations of historians work to preserve order in history so that events do not eventuate as tangled and insignificant.
WORLD - The Tractatus begins with the statement, "The world is all that is the case." One can argue that it states a positivist belief; that (a) the world exists, (b) it exists independent of our will, (c) it is under our investigations and (d) we use our language (and our mathematics) to explore its facts.
CONCEPTS (OF THE WORLD) - Concepts can be represented by words like peace, freedom, sustainability, equity and more. They gravitate our attention to certain values or expectations. Concepts become central to public and communal discussions. It is interesting to explore how certain concepts become central to our discourse whereas other concepts fade into the margins. For Vygotsky, "[concepts] are those means that direct our mental operations, control their course, and channel them toward the solution to the problem confronting us' For Wittgenstein, "Concepts lead us to make investigations; are the expression of our interest, and direct our interest."
SEMIOTIC DOMAINS - A semiotic domain is an area of knowledge, such as basketball, gardening, cooking, physics, hunting, bush tucker, etc. A semiotic domain includes knowledge, concepts, language, contexts, etc. Throughout one's life, one is brought into a range of semiotic domains in learning interactively with others.
SITUATED LEARNING - When we learn, we learn interactively with others to use such learning to approach and/or solve problems. Therefore, learning is not some abstract activity or content. Instead, there is a context in which learners are situated, and the context/culture provides a justification/rationale for learning. Learning is situated. The learner embodies the learning in its application.
COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE - A group of people who engages in a practice (who are the custodians of a practice or a set of practices). This can be a community of doctors, of chess players, of historians, of readers and writers, etc. The community is the custodian of the practices as well as the customs, culture and identities inherent in that community. A community is usually evolving as new members, practices and settings gives rise to a dynamic space.
CULTURE - Stanley Cavell claimed that Wittgenstein was a philosopher of culture. That is, Cacell asserts that Wittgenstein claims that our knowledge, our practices and our values are derived from the interactions of a community. There is considerable evidence to suggest that this is the case. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein stipulates that meaning is derived from the form of life to which our language and practices occur. In addition, On Certainty emphasises how one's knowledge and world pictures are arrived at through one's "upbringing".
HABITUS - This is a concept used by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who cites Wittgenstein as a key contributor to his thinking. Habitus refers to the lived conditions (or context) that serve as the foundation for certain practices, knowledge, tastes and values. It most closely aligns with Wittgenstein's use of the "form of life" concept. Bourdieu would argue that whilst habitus is key to understanding a practice or a way of thinking, it is often poorly analysed or entirely ignored when people consider social, cultural or learning event.
WORLD PICTURES - In the later philosophy of Wittgenstein, we see a transition from a focus on the world as an objective entity to the focus on world pictures as personal and cultural constructs. Our world picture (how we see and imagine events) includes our explorations, our attention, our sense of causation and our way of living, thinking and anticipating. Our world picture is not the world; rather it is a rendering of the world that makes sense to us. For instance, how would the religious world picture differ from that of the atheist?
TACIT KNOWLEDGE - as defined by Gerrans (2005) is "knowledge not consciously possessed by the agent or able to be articulated by her in propositional form but which nevertheless regulates her activities. Bourdieu’s account of the concept draws from a philosophical tradition whose 20th century inspiration is Martin Heidegger, which treats tacit knowledge as practical ability or skill, acquired through habituation ... [It is a] conception of knowledge [that] is, in effect, a dispositional one, which identifies knowledge with the socially acquired capacities, propensities or tendencies of an agent to act appropriately in given circumstances." (p. 54)
CRITICAL THINKING - To think critically is to open ideas to critique. This involves reassessing the ideas by exploring their implication, their premise, and their suitability and accuracy. Whilst a thinker may first attempt to understand the ideas themselves, the critical thinker re-examines this understanding by asking whether it is the best possible explanation (or rendering); whether any bias, shortcuts, or assumptions can be detected; and what other explanations or possibilities exist.
MINDFULNESS - is the practice often attributed to meditation which involves a deepening awareness of experience. In mindfulness, one seeks to develop the peace of mind in the present moment, to become aware of the attributes of one's form of life, to understand "what is the case" with clarity, and to find solace in a more holistic and multifaceted perspective on experience. To be mindful is to achieve a clear view.
THERAPY - Wittgenstein thought that philosophy could be a form of therapy. He wrote, “there is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies. (PI, 133). He wanted philosophy to provide a medicine bag to treat diseases of thought. For instance, he would like his readers to seek alternative explanations so as not to become attached to a restrictive vision. He also encouraged his readers to explore new similes or metaphors to re-render a concept. He asked his readers to give up seeking essential definitions of concepts like truth or righteousness, and instead collect the various instances that would illustrate - though not limit - the concept. He felt that philosophy should strive to clarify one's thinking in order to dispel problems, and that a thinker should have a diverse toolkit of methods to be used to clarify and illuminate. A thinker should be able to say "I'm stuck. That said, if I render it in another way, I can see an explanation or an arrangement that bears greater fruit. I can move ahead now."
FLY OUT OF THE BOTTLE - Another famous metaphor from Wittgenstein's writing. Wittgenstein implores his readers to seek out alternative explanations for phenomenon that trouble us. He contends that people are often like flies trapped in a bottle. The natural tendency is to keep flying straight ahead into the glass by using the same technique without realising that it is not moving one forward. It only takes a shift of gaze to realise that there may be another way out of a problem. For instance, a philosopher may endure late nights to seek the essential definition of beauty, when it would be a lot more productive to provide a catalogue of that which is beautiful to illuminate rather than confine the concept.
ENTROPY - Entropy is formally defined as "the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder." Any system must have energy placed into it so that the system is maintained or preserved. If the practices of a cultural system are not reinforced, then the system and the form of life to which that system is attached will suffer and decay. According to the concept of entropy, the natural state of any system is decay unless efforts are made to maintain it.
INFORMATION ENTROPY - refers to the decay of information and understanding unless that information is processed, conceptualised, synthesised and maintained. In an information society - like our modern, internet age - too much information can lead to a fragmentation of deep understanding. Therefore, whilst information may proliferate but deep understanding may lose cohesion unless maintained.