A doubt without an end is not even a doubt.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty
I read On Certainty two years ago, and I hardly remember any of it. There was a “language game” with slabs, going on with no point, the two workmen engaged eternally in a Sisyphean labor. So I will take the line above, from the book, I found worth writing down on the cover of a writing pad now filled – I will take this line out of context: “Line, I pluck thee out!”
Let's take doubt without an end. “Nothing is absolutely certain,” said a philosophy professor. I'll leave aside the obvious, trite rejoinder: “Well then, smartypants, are you sure?” My reply was, “Aren't some things absolutely certain, like 'I am sitting here'?” The smartypants had a wicked look in his eye as he said, “How do you know you aren't dreaming?” I waited for him to turn back to face the audience, after he'd turned his back on me with disdain.
“I would still be 'sitting here' in my dream,” I said. He didn't answer, and only paced before us, before beginning his lecture.
I say this was satisfactory. I was not a heckler. Perhaps nothing is absolutely certain; perhaps foundationalism is undone – the idea that we begin with something indubitable and reason from there, to less and less certain (perhaps) propositions.
Perhaps not. Even granting objections regarding the question of the nature of “I,” I am still – whatever I am or am not – sitting here (even now). Even if “I” is said not to exist, “sitting here” exists. That is what I would be: not what I'd be doing but what I am. “I am sitting here.”
The phenomenological method has great appeal to me. Granted, I know little: for example, I'm unfamiliar with what may be phenomenology's earliest and strongest competitor, pragmatism. Phenomenology takes seriously my sitting here, in a way I haven't found anywhere, in an attractive way, with interesting language.
Even the forgetting of something, in which every relationship of Being towards what one formerly knew has seemingly been obliterated, must be conceived as a modification of the primordial Being-in; and this holds for every delusion and for every error. [Heidegger, Being and Time]
This is one way of considering forgetting, in direct contrast with representationalist theories of knowledge. When Heidegger writes – by hand; Being and Time was a (long) handwritten manuscript – of Being-in-the-world as a mode of Being of “Dasein,” he says things unlike those written in most other places, where Cartesian dualism, of subject-object binaries, is taken for granted. Dasein is not “inside” looking at a world “out there,” but is “out there,” “in” the world always already. This is not nonsense. It is a way of seeing human existence as existence.
In some sense, I say, “I am sitting here.” Folks like Heidegger, Husserl, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, take as a starting point, before physics, biology, anthropology – before positivist-scientific theorizing and experimentation – our simple being “in” a world, “in” a body, “in” a relationship with other human beings. This is a radical change in viewing a person, from the “natural attitude,” heavily influenced, for many of us, by Cartesian dualism.
“Without a doubt,” something is certain. Our existence is absolutely certain. Not that I am feeling sad or lonely – I may be ill-educated in self-knowledge and mistaken about my “inner” perceptions – but that I am “in” a world, doing something that is my current mode of being in that world. Not that we are not in a dream or a computer simulation or a poem, but that we are at all. To doubt this is not even to doubt but to pretend to doubt.