Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

By J. F. M. Hunter | Go to book overview

Seven
KNOWING HOW TO GO ON

THE SUBJECT of knowing how to go on, like most other topics treated by Wittgenstein is somewhat of a labyrinth. There are aspects of it that Wittgenstein handles more darkly than others, but because various strands of the subject are woven together in his discourse, it can be difficult to disentangle even the aspects that are in themselves comparatively clear. One important path through this forest will be traced in this chapter.

A writes down a series of numbers. B is supposed to continue the series. For a time he is unable to do so, but then he says 'Now I can go on', and does. How did he know he could go on? What did he mean when he said this?

Our first inclination may be to ask ourselves what happened just then. It may not be clear to us what we will do with the answer to this question, whether for example we will be able to say that he means that this happened, or whether he meant something else, for which what happened might be his justification for saying he could go on, but it seems fair to suppose that something must have happened that will somehow be vital to anwering any other questions we may have about his saying he can go on.

An obvious thought is that what happened here is that the formula of the series occurred to him. After all, if that happens we can normally continue a series, and for most of us with most numerical series, we could not continue if that did not happen.

Wittgenstein can be read as offering two rather different objections to this obvious thought. In §151 he suggests that we may know how to go on without the formula occurring to us -- for example (i) if we hit on the series of numerical

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