Workshop: Wittgenstein and Moore’s Paradox

Wittgenstein and Moore’s Paradox

lnternational Ludwig Wittgenstein Workshop

University of Klagenfurt, Austria
July 28 – 29, 2023
Stiftungssaal 10.00h- 18.00h
(James Conant, David Finkelstein, Volker Munz)

Anmeldungen und Auskünfte: volker [dot] munz [at] aau [dot] at


Wittgenstein wrote a letter to G. E. Moore after hearing Moore give the paper in which he first set forth a version of (what has come to be known as) Moore’s paradox. The version of the paradox that Moore first set forward involved imagining someone uttering the following sentence: „There is a fire in this room and I don’t believe there is.“ Wittgenstein’s understanding of the importance of Moore’s paradox may be summarized as follows: Something on the order of a logical contradiction arises when we attempt to combine the affirmation of p and a denial of a consciousness of p within the scope of a single judgment.

In his letter to Moore, Wittgenstein writes:
To call this, as I think you did, „an absurdity for psychotogical reasons“ seems to me to be wrong, or highly misteading. (If I ask someone „Is there a fire in the next room?“ and he answers „I believe there is“, I can’t say: „Don’t be irrelevant. I asked you about the fire, not about your state of mind!“) But what I wanted to say to you was this. Pointing out that „absurdity“ which is in fact something similar to a contradiction, though it isn’t one, is so important that I hope you’ll publish your paper. By the way, don’t be shocked at my saying it’s something „similar“ to a contradiction. This means roughly: it plays a similar role in logic. You have said something about the logic of assertion. Viz: It makes sense to say „Let’s suppose: p is the case and I don’t believe that p is the case,“ whereas it makes no sense to assert „p is the case and I don’t believe that p is the case.“ This assertion has to be ruled out and is ruled out by „common sense,“ just as a contradiction is. And this just shows that logic isn’t as simple as logicians think it is. In particular: that contradiction isn’t the unique thing people think it is. It isn’t the only logically inadmissible form. (Wittgenstein to Moore, October 1944, reprinted in Wittgenstein in Cambridge: Letters and Documents 1911- 1951, ed. B. McGuinness [Oxford: Blackwell, 1995], 365)

The aim of this workshop will be to understand why Wittgenstein thinks that Moore’s paradox provides an example of something that is akin to a contradiction and how it brings out (as Wittgenstein puts it) that logic isn’t as simple as logicians think it is. His treatment of this case involves an expansion of what is ordinarily considered to belong to logic. Section x of Part ll of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical lnvestigations is devoted to an exploration of Moore’s paradox. We there find Wittgenstein making these three remarks:
1. My own relation to my words is wholly different to other people’s.
2. If there were a verb meaning ‚to believe falsely,‘ it woutd not have a meaningful first-person present indicative.
3. „I believe….“ throws light on my state. Conclusions about my conduct can be drawn from this expression. So there is a similarity here to expressions of emotion, of mood, etc,.

The workshop will seek to understand: how my relation to my own words is wholly different from my relation to those of other people; wherein the asymmetry lies between the use of a range of verbs (such as „believe,“ „know,“ and „perceive“) in the first-person present indicative form and other uses of the same verbs (e.g., in the second-person or past tense form); and how the logical grammar of these verbs is related to that of expressions of emotion, of mood, and of sensation, including expressions that takes the form of avowals. Finally, we will explore why Wittgenstein thinks a philosophical investigation of these three points ought to lead to an expansion and transformation of our entire conception of logic.