Wittgenstein and the Sceptical Tradition

by Antonio Marques (Volume editor) Rui Bertrand Romao (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 182 Pages


All the chapters in this volume somehow and quite diversely, directly or indirectly, address the relation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, or at least of Wittgenstein- inspired philosophical thought, with scepticism, here generally envisaged as a many-sided tradition and not as a uniform and once for all established theoretical posture.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Contributors
  • Introduction
  • On the Language of Memory: From Scepticism to the Therapeutics of Retrodictions
  • Queer Scepticism: Socrates, Sextus and Wittgenstein
  • Scepticism, Systems and Aspectual Dialectic
  • Belief in Ortega and Wittgenstein
  • Disquietness, Worldhood and Selfhood: Conant’s Wittgenstein and the Problem of Scepticism
  • Scepticism as Philosophical Superlative
  • Fools and Heretics. Some Sceptical and Relativist Traits in Wittgenstein’s Thought
  • Going Back Home?
  • A Brief Remark on the Distinction between “Rustic” and “Urbane” Scepticism in Fogelin’s Pyrrhonian Reflections on Knowledge and Justification
  • Scepticism and Lebensform: An Argument about Some Affinities between Wittgenstein and Pyrrhonian Scepticism
  • Series Index

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List of Contributors

Vicente San Felix

University of Valencia

Jesús Padilla Gálvez

University of Castilla-La Mancha

Renato Lessa

Department of Law, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), Brazil, CNPq, Brazil

António Marques

Ifilnova and New University of Lisbon

Sofia Miguens

Department of Philosophy and Institute of Philosophy

University of Porto

Maria Filomena Molder

Ifilnova and New University of Lisbon

Jaime Ortueta Y Salas

Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Rui Bertrand Romão

Department of Philosophy and Institute of Philosophy, University of Porto

Paulo Tunhas

Department of Philosophy and Institute of Philosophy, University of Porto

Thomas Wallgren

University of Helsinki

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All the chapters in this volume somehow and quite diversely, directly or indirectly, address the relation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, or at least of Wittgenstein-inspired philosophical thought, with scepticism, here generally envisaged as a many-sided tradition and not as a uniform and once for all established theoretical posture.

The bulk of studies that have been published for the last decades focusing that relation or aspects of it naturally insists on Wittgenstein’s ways of dealing with the so-called Modern scepticism epistemological problems viewed as a challenge. This conception of philosophical scepticism is moulded in the wake of the Cartesian pattern, so to speak, though it arguably arose much later than Descartes’s time and from a strict point of view it should not be confounded with Early Modern anti-sceptical conceptions of scepticism (these conceptions being for the major part moulded on Descartes’s sceptical arguments made to overcome scepticism it is understandable that sometimes it is called Cartesian scepticism, though some authors prefer to call it “Cartesian” scepticism to make explicit that they do not subscribe to any sceptical interpretation of the philosophy of Descartes, an overcautious attitude really unnecessary because independently of the use and function ascribed to them by Descartes or by his followers, those arguments may inspire other arguments implying a kind of scepticism of radically negative and universal overtones). Those ways, in spite of leading to different solutions, somehow seem to remain at the centre of Wittgenstein’s preoccupations throughout different periods of his philosophical work. Post-Wittgensteinian philosophy and exegetical studies of Wittgenstein often prolonged them opening up to new problems and new solutions, to new issues or to reinterpretations of the old ones.

Since the 1940s and especially since the 1960s the outgrowth of historical studies on scepticism, especially on Ancient scepticism but also on Early Modern scepticism (a trend of studies greatly impelled and motivated by the ground-breaking researches of Richard H. Popkin and of his disciples), drew many philosophers, historians and commentators to investigate analogies between historical expressions of that tradition and contemporary philosophical currents, trends and issues.

Significantly only in the 1980s, more precisely, in 1983 a collection of chapters by several authors was published academically consecrating and divulging the recognizance of the expression “sceptical tradition”, where the editor considers that by “a ‘tradition’ [he means] a succession of thinkers whose thought is ←9 | 10→conditioned in one way or another by a knowledge of their predecessors in the line, and [he] would include in this description not only those who develop and modify previous ideas, but also those who attempt to overthrow a particular tradition and make a revolutionary break with the past” (Burnyeat 1983, 1). Though it was not the first time the expression was used, it took a particular importance not only because the collection bore it as its title, The Skeptical Tradition,1 but also because it focused it with special emphasis, the project of the book delineating a sort of systematic outline of the tradition. It should be noted that in spite of this broad sense of the use of the expression by the editor, he conceived that tradition as merely an Ancient and Early Modern one, or rather an Ancient one prolonged in Early Modern times, ending with “Kant’s introduction of the distinction between the ‘transcendental’ and the ‘empirical’ ” (Burnyeat 1983, 3), a point of view particularly sustained and developed by Barry Stroud, the author of the concluding chapter of the book “Kant and Skepticism” (Burnyeat 1983, 415–445). In the terms employed by Burnyeat, “in philosophical writing after Kant “skepticism” and “the skeptic” increasingly become schematic, ahistorical notions” (Burnyeat 1983, 3). The way Burnyeat explains why contemporary philosophers keep thinking they have something “to say about various kinds of skepticism” (Burnyeat 1983, 3) is simple: “the skepticisms they are talking about are a free creation of the modern philosophical imagination. They no longer descend from the ancient lineage of Pyrrho and the Academy” (Burnyeat 1983, 3). In a general way we cannot but agree with this last phrase, but we would not infer from it that the pyrrhonian tradition did not survive through Modern philosophy, though in most of the cases when that occurred it somehow was usually separated from the classic issues identified as Modern sceptical problems.

In contrast to a narrower conception of the expression “sceptical tradition”, our employment of it englobes, along with Ancient and early modern uses of scepticism, post-kantian and contemporary ones.

An outgrowth of studies analogous to the abovementioned one centred on sceptical issues occurred since the 1970s on almost every aspect of Wittgenstein’s philosophy leading scholars to variedly focused interpretations not only of Wittgenstein’s responses to scepticism but also of his partaking some features of the sceptical tradition when broadly conceived and namely as not limited to the radical modern epistemological varieties.2

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The chapter by António Marques “On the Language of Memory: From Scepticism to the Therapeutics of Retrodictions”, considering the solutions to “traditional problems of identity of the objects thought or of the representations in general” offered by anti-metaphysical philosophies which deconstruct “the identity of the subject and of the corresponding unity of experience”, first focuses Hume’s sceptical conception of memory as the source, along with imagination, of personal identity and then two “therapeutics of judgements of identity”, the Kantian one, revealing “the necessary particular use of the possessive indexical in the judgments of identity”, and the Wittgensteinian one “revealing the complex grammar of the indexical of ownership”.

“Queer Scepticism: Socrates, Sextus and Wittgenstein” by Thomas Wallgren is a text in form of a dialogue between the characters Day, Twilight and Night presenting an interpretation of pyrrhonian sceptical tradition (envisaged as a philosophical tradition alternative to the mainstream one issued from Plato and Aristotle, and represented by Socrates, Sextus and the later Wittgenstein) called by the Author “Queer Scepticism” to differentiate it from “negative scepticism”, thus emphasizing a distinction based in the attitude towards truth or knowledge, the distinction “between scepticism as an aporetic, unending pursuit in which the commitment to search for truth is paramount and scepticism that turns around doubt and negation of claims to truth or knowledge”. The former is for Day (apparently voicing the Author) the “real scepticism” (characterized by the conjunction of three elements: “an aporetic notion of results in philosophy, high praise of the existential worth of philosophy and polyvocality in the procedure of philosophizing”) while the latter corresponds to the most common current interpretation of scepticism.

“Scepticism, Systems and Aspectual Dialectic” is a comprehensive chapter by Paulo Tunhas on historical and contemporary scepticism and its several kinds according to the author. His standpoint is a comparative one, from which he tries to understand those kinds in relation to his own thought on philosophical systems. Thus, for him the only way to understand Modern scepticism is found, in the terms of the Author, “within a system which requires, by its very nature, a solution having the data of that very system as the starting point”. His interpretation of Wittgenstein places the Austrian as belonging to “the Pyrrhonian type of scepticism”, which is conceived as the real philosophical alternative to ←11 | 12→philosophical systematicity in a considerable part delving its roots in what Tunhas calls “the praxis of the aspectual dialectic” continually moving from one pole to an opposable one.

Jaime de Salas in “Belief in Ortega and Wittgenstein” draws and develops a comparison between the conceptions of belief of Wittgenstein and of Ortega y Gasset (within the context of their respective philosophies), studying them in detail as contributions to a general theory of natural belief, both philosophers being seen as risen in the wake of Hume’s position and further radicalising it and both being envisaged as acknowledging a certain primacy of the concept of belief in their mature thought. For the Author: “Language games in On Certainty in Wittgenstein and “Mundos interiores” (Inner Worlds) in Ortega are based on beliefs that allow them to exist”.

Also centred on modern scepticism, the chapter by Sofia Miguens, “Disquietness, Worldhood and Selfhood: Conant’s Wittgenstein and the Problem of Scepticism”, explores the disquieting dimension of it through a critical reading of James Conant’s conception of its varieties (focusing in particular Cartesian, Kantian and Wittgensteinian ways of dealing with scepticism) and of the philosophical problems associated with it, as presented in a recent writing (Conant 2012, 1–73, Conant 2004, 97–136; cf. Conant/Kern 2014, 1–16), within the context of his “approach to philosophy, […] informed by the so-called ‘austere reading’ of Wittgenstein”.

In “Scepticism as Philosophical Superlative” Jesus Padilla Gálvez focuses the notion of philosophical superlative, showing its use by sceptics and how Wittgenstein dismissed it. Putting this question – “How come that Wittgenstein developed such a critical attitude towards a philosophical superlative?” – the Author sustains and explains that “it was especially this criticism that enabled him to argue against and later reject the programs of realism, idealism, and finally that of sceptics”, for Wittgenstein criticized in scepticism the use of “comparison applying the philosophical superlative”, and concludes that “sceptical arguments are insufficient tools to detect and reveal the mythological aspects of language”.

“Fools and Heretics. Some Sceptical and Relativist Traits in Wittgenstein’s Thought” is an chapter in which its author, Vicente San Felix, taking in account the varied character of the sceptical tradition, discusses the attribution to Wittgenstein of some sort of sceptical or relativistic tendencies and closely examines the sometimes apparently contradictory conceptions on scepticism, solipsism and value-judgements expressed throughout his writings and sustains that in spite of Wittgenstein having “defended that scepticism and relativism are nonsensical philosophical positions, which he surely would have not claimed for himself, there are sceptical and relativistic traits in both the latter and the earliest ←12 | 13→Wittgenstein’s thought” and that “those traits have practical, theoretical and meta-philosophical dimensions”.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (April)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 182 pp.

Biographical notes

Antonio Marques (Volume editor) Rui Bertrand Romao (Volume editor)

António Marques, Ifilnova and New University of Lisbon. Rui Bertrand Romao, Department of Philosophy and Institute of Philosophy, University of Porto.


Title: Wittgenstein and the Sceptical Tradition