2 Knowledge as ‘knowledge in practice’

Central to the Scandinavian reception of Wittgenstein are two points which – somewhat ironically – at the same time serve to differentiate this understanding of him from most of the readings he has had in the English-speaking world where the points have been more or less neglected (first one) or construed quite differently (second one). They are, firstly, his indications, especially in § 78 of Philosophische Untersuchungen, that there are other forms of knowledge distinct from propositional knowledge. And secondly, an understanding of his rule-following argument which does not focus on the question of rule interpretation but on the practical following of it, i.e. which sees him as claiming that the “weiter wissen”4 (§ 151, 155, 179) is in the very doing – that in the action itself there is a tacit, embodied understanding of what the right way of proceeding is. Together, these two points explain why Wittgenstein has been taken in Scandinavia to be a proponent of ‘tacit knowledge’ and to strongly advocate its significance, despite the paragraphs in which he quite explicitly says that ‘private experiences’ inaccessible to others have no role to play in language (e.g. the famous beetle-in-a-box argument, § 293) and that a private language is logically impossible (§ 202, §243ff)5.

I do think there is a tension here – in Wittgenstein’s writings and especially in the way they have been used in the Scandinavian literature. I also think the tension can be resolved. Part of the resolution comes about by realizing that ‘tacit’ does not mean ‘private’ in the sense of inaccessible to others. Part of it hinges on providing an interpretation of experience which on the one hand construes it as a phenomenon adhering to the individual and only communicable to others under certain circumstances, and on the other hand does not reduce it to mental states. Both aspects are developed positively in Article 6, without however taking on explicitly the issue of tensions in (the Scandinavian reading of) Wittgenstein’s works. In order to clarify my position – not least with a view to the fact that the “private language argument” is a persistent locus of dispute and differentiated readings((In particular: Whether the argument is centered on the possibility of having a private language about sensations (where the argument starts with § 243 in Philosophische Untersuchungen) as e.g. Kenny, Ayer, Rhees, and Strawson thought (Ayer & Rhees, 1954; Kenny, 1973; Strawson, 1954). Or whether the argument is a much more general one concerning the criteria needed to be able to differentiate in practice between believing one is following a rule and actually doing so (where the argument is central throughout the whole book, the conclusion stated already in § 202, and §§243ff dealing with a special case which seemingly constitutes a counterexample) as Kripke (1982) held.)) – I shall include a few comments on the issue in my presentation here.

  1. ”knowing how to go on”. []
  2. In all fairness it should be noted that not all Scandinavian Wittgenstein readers interpret him in accordance with what I term ‘the Scandinavian reception’ and conversely that some readers within the English-speaking part of the world have understood him in ways which are similar to the one I here ascribe to Scandinavia. An example of the former is Hartnack; an example of the latter is Dreyfus (Dreyfus, 1979; Hartnack, 1962; 1965 (English translation)) []