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Wittgenstein on Thinking, Learning and Teaching

Patrick Quinn

Wittgenstein is not generally thought of as a philosopher of education, yet his views on how we think, learn and teach have the potential to contribute significantly to our contemporary understanding of pedagogy. Wittgenstein himself was a lifelong learner whose method consisted of thinking intensely about a wide range of topics, including not only the philosophy of language, logic and mathematics but also architecture, music, ethics, religion, culture and psychoanalysis. He then shared his observations and conclusions with his students as a way of teaching them how to think and learn for themselves, and his personification of the learner-teacher deeply impressed those who witnessed his pedagogical performances during his ‘lectures’. This study presents a detailed exploration of Wittgenstein’s legacy as an educationalist, now accessible to us through the extensive published collections of his thoughts on the subject.

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Chapter 3: Belief and Proof

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Chapter 3 Belief and Proof Belief and certainty Some of the most significant contributions which Wittgenstein made to epistemology1 in general and to learning and teaching in particular are contained in his last book, On Certainty, which was completed just two days before his death on 29 April 1951. In the Preface by Elizabeth Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, two of his close friends, we are told that when Wittgenstein visited Norman Malcolm2 in the United States in 1949, Malcolm stimulated Wittgenstein’s interest once again in Professor Moore’s defence of common sense which involved arguing for the obvious by Moore holding up his hands and saying ‘Here is one hand and here is another.’3 While such a statement might seem silly if not bizarre to those unfamiliar with philosophical arguments, Moore’s statement was important philosophically speaking in justifying our certainty about the obvious.4 Although he had been interested in Moore’s position for quite some time, Malcolm’s reminder led Wittgenstein to study more vigorously the common sense position that Moore represented, all of which led to the impressive investigation of certainty, belief and doubt that was posthumously pub- lished as On Certainty. The importance of the book with its emphasis on the essential and fundamental role of belief in the acquisition of knowledge 1 The philosophical study of knowledge. 2 Another former student and friend of Wittgenstein’s. 3 See Preface to On Certainty. 4 The background to such a discussion was clearly the Cartesian method of doubt where Descartes even...

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