A Pragmatist Conception of Certainty: Wittgenstein and Santayana

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The ways in which Wittgenstein was directly influenced by William James (by his early psychological work as well his later philosophy) have been thoroughly explored and charted by Russell B. Goodman. In particular, Goodman has drawn attention to the pragmatist resonances of the Wittgensteinian notion of hinge propositions as developedand articulated in the posthumously edited and published work, On Certainty. This paper attempts to extend Goodman’s observation, moving beyond his focus on James (specifically, James’s Pragmatism) as his pragmatist reference point. It aims to articulate the affinity between Wittgenstein’s thought on the topic of certainty and that of the neglected pragmatist thinker, George Santayana. -/- The paper draws on Duncan Pritchard’s recent reading of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty in order to articulate the concept of certainty involved in the notion of hinge propositions. It identifies two important and related points of affinity between this Wittgensteinian line of thought on certainty and the line of thought on the same topic articulated in Santayana’s Scepticism and Animal Faith. The paper argues, firstly, that, both lines of thought reflect a pragmatist concept of certainty, according to which our most fundamental certainties are not conceived as purely theoretical objects of belief or knowledge but rather as thearational presuppositions of beliefs and practical action. Secondly, it examines the way inwhich the pragmatist concept of certainty functions, for the two thinkers as a response to scepticism. It argues that although the two thinkers’ responses are very different, they are mutually compatible and, together, point towards the possibility of a distinctively pragmatist response to scepticism, which involves an anti-epistemological model of the intimate relation of the human self to the world.
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Archival date: 2015-12-07
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