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Doubt in Wittgenstein’s “Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough”

Andrew Norris
Published Online: 2015-04-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/witt-2015-0103


In this essay I ask what Wittgenstein means when he writes in the introductory section of his “Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough,” “I must plunge into the water of doubt again and again.” This comment is both significant and obscure. Although Wittgenstein did not himself publish the “Remarks,” he took care to organize them, and rejected other introductory comments in favor of the ones that now open the “Remarks” and which conclude with this sentence. But it is not clear what role doubt plays in the “Remarks,” as Wittgenstein neither mentions it again not assumes a doubtful posture towards what he describes as Frazer’s errors. I argue that the sentence is meant to apply first and foremost not to Frazer but to Wittgenstein himself, and that, when read carefully, it refers to a kind of baptism. Appreciating this should decisively shape our understanding of the “Remarks” and has implications for our understanding of the Philosophical Investigations, which echoes and repeats many of the central ideas and even formulations of the earlier text. In particular, it underscores the importance of the idea of disorientation to Wittgenstein’s later work. Being doubtful or disoriented is not just a difficulty to be solved or avoided, but a beneficial process through which one must pass, as Wittgenstein says, again and again.

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Published Online: 2015-04-07

Published in Print: 2015-04-15

Citation Information: Wittgenstein-Studien, Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1–18, ISSN (Online) 1868-7458, ISSN (Print) 1868-7431, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/witt-2015-0103.

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