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Michael R. Smith Jr., IDSVAFollow





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This text is concerned with the exposition and interpretation of the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein in light of what is here called the “problem of metaphysics.” This problem is based on the claim that philosophers throughout history have approached metaphysics from one of two broadly flawed positions. Firstly, there are those who have tended towards the belief that various metaphysical suppositions are self-evidently true. Secondly, there are those who have attempted to deny the possibility of metaphysics altogether by an appeal to various “non-metaphysical” methodologies. The first of these assumptions is rejected based on the conclusion that any self-evident truth requires the universal assent of everyone, which prima facie has never happened. The second of these assumptions is likewise rejected for the reason that every methodology—antimetaphysical or not—suggests a metaphysics. As this relates to Wittgenstein, it will be seen that we can read his philosophical development as simultaneously encompassing both of these disparate views. These problems are dissolved, however, in much of the work that Wittgenstein did in the last years of his life, especially in On Certainty. There he dismisses the possibility of absolute certainty while acknowledging that some concepts must be fixed in place in order for any description of the world to be possible at all. The question then arises: How do we decide between various possible modes of description? The answer, it will be suggested, is that every mode of description is predicated on an aesthetic predilection alone. This inclination can be given no further justification, nor can it be described. It simply admits that we are free to choose whatever metaphysical construct we see fit and that there is no reason to adopt one metaphysical supposition as opposed to another save our aesthetic proclivity for one thing and not another.

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Arts and Humanities | Philosophy


Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts


Portland, Maine

To Begin at the Beginning: Wittgenstein and the Problem of Metaphysics



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