From Doubt to Despair

A Wittgensteinian Perspective on Gaslighting


  • Jasmin Trächtler



Wittgenstein, On Certainty, Gaslighting, Epistemic Injustice, Doubt


‘Gaslighting’ describes a form of manipulation that induces doubt in someone’s perceptions, experiences, understanding of events or conception of reality in general. But what kind of doubt is it? How do ‘ordinary’ epistemic doubts differ from those doubts that can lead to despair and the feeling of losing one’s mind? The phenomenon of ‘gaslighting’ has been attracting public attention for some time and has recently found its way into philosophical reflections that address moral, sexist and epistemic aspects of gaslighting. Little has been said, however, about the nature of gaslighting-induced doubts themselves, how they differ from ordinary, even ‘reasonable’ epistemic (self-) doubts and how it can come to someone doubting their own perception and conception of reality in the first place. The aim of this paper is to shed some light on these aspects by drawing on some of Wittgenstein’s remarks on doubt, published mainly in On Certainty. To this end, I will first outline the phenomenon of gaslighting as an epistemic injustice before presenting Wittgenstein’s reflections on doubt(ing). These will then be applied to the phenomenon of gaslighting, with a more specific focus on the evocation of such fundamental self-doubt in successful gaslighting, again drawing on some of Wittgenstein’s remarks.

Author Biography

Jasmin Trächtler

Jasmin Trächtler studied history of art and philosophy at the University of Kassel. She received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Bergen and the University of Kassel in 2021, with the thesis Wittgensteins Grammatik des Fremdseelischen (Berlin: Metzler, 2021). She has been a Research Fellow at the Wittgenstein Archives Bergen at the University of Bergen (2018-2021) and the Institute for Philosophy at Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris (2020). Since 2021, she is an assistant professor at the Department for philosophy and political science at TU Dortmund working on her habilitation project in philosophy of science.


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