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Wittgenstein's notes called On Certainty

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 68yrs • M •
Duke77 is new to Captain Cynic and has less than 15 posts. New members have certain restrictions and must fill in CAPTCHAs to use various parts of the site.
Wittgenstein's notes called On Certainty
What follows is my own analysis of On Certainty, and this analysis is done with very little input (reading or otherwise) from other philosophers. Hence, some of my thoughts may diverge or converge with others, but they are mine and I take responsibility for them. Hopefully, I will hit the mark from time-to-time, at least that is my goal. Maybe some of you will get something out of this, but I can tell you it takes a lot of thought. I have read and re-read On Certainty many times, and each time I do, I learn something new.

Wittgenstein wrote On Certainty in response to Moore's papers, Proof of an External World and A Defense of Common Sense in which Moore lists a number of propositions that he claims to know with certainty. Propositions such as the following: "Here is one hand" and "There exists at present a living human body, which is my body (G.E. Moore, Philosophical Papers (1959), p. 1)." Moore continues to enumerate other propositions that he claims to know, with certainty, to be true. These propositions provide for Moore a proof of the external world, and as such, they supposedly form a buttress against the skeptic.

As we shall see as we examine On Certainty it is not only Moore's claim to knowledge that Wittgenstein criticizes, but he also critiques the skeptic, and specifically their use of the word doubt. It is my opinion that Wittgenstein's response to Moore's propositions is not entirely unsympathetic, although he argues that Moore's propositions do not accomplish what Moore thinks they do, namely, to provide a proof of the external world; which in turn is supposed to undermine the doubts of the skeptic. Moore's proof is supposed to show that the conclusion follows necessarily, and if it does, then the skeptic's doubts are supposed to vanish - at least in theory. The proof would look something like the following:

1) Moore has knowledge that he has two hands.

2) Moore makes the inference from the fact that he has two hands, to the conclusion that there exists an external world.

3) Hence, Moore knows that an external world exists.

Wittgenstein is challenging the first premise in the above argument; more specifically, he is challenging Moore's claim that he has knowledge of his two hands. Having knowledge of something presupposes that there are good reasons (at least in many cases) to believe it, but exactly what is it that Moore has knowledge of? He claims to have knowledge of the existence of his hands, but what would count as evidence for such a claim? Do I know that I have hands because I check to see if they are there every morning? Do I make a study of my hands, and thereby conclude that I do indeed have hands? I have knowledge of chemistry, physics, history, epistemology, and other subjects, and there are ways to confirm my knowledge. However, in our everyday lives do we need to confirm that we have hands? And do we normally doubt such things?

From here I will examine On Certainty, sometimes line-by-line, other times a section at a time

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 68yrs • M •
Duke77 is new to Captain Cynic and has less than 15 posts. New members have certain restrictions and must fill in CAPTCHAs to use various parts of the site.
I am going to not only analyze On Certainty, but I am also going to develop a theory based on Wittgenstein's hinge-propositions.

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 68yrs • M •
Duke77 is new to Captain Cynic and has less than 15 posts. New members have certain restrictions and must fill in CAPTCHAs to use various parts of the site.
"If you do know that here is one hand [G.E. Moore, Proof of an External World], we'll grant you all the rest. When one says that such and such a proposition can't be proved, of course that does not mean that it can't be derived from other propositions; any proposition can be derived from other ones. But they may be no more certain than it is itself (OC, 1)."

So Wittgenstein grants that if Moore does indeed know that he has a hand, then Moore's conclusion follows. The skeptic says that such and such a proposition can't be proved. However, that doesn't mean that we can't derive them based on other propositions. I think derive here means something different from drawing a conclusion based on logical considerations. The derivation may not be any stronger than the proposition we started with. It can be also said that if we draw a conclusion based on a proposition, the conclusion may not be any stronger than the proposition we originally started with. There seems to be something foundational here.

"From it seeming to me--or to everyone--to be so, it doesn't follow that it is so. What we can ask is whether it can make sense to doubt it (OC, 2)."

The skeptic may have a point (although it may not be the point he/she is trying to make), that just because people (or Moore) say something is so, it doesn't mean that it is. However, Wittgenstein points out that what we need to ask, is whether the doubt makes sense. Doubting occurs in a language-game, and language-games have implicit rules - later Wittgenstein will point out that a doubt that doubts everything is not a doubt.

Knowledge has to be demonstrated - whereas Moore seems to just state his propositions as facts, and this need to be shown or demonstrated in some way.

"If for e.g. someone says 'I don't know if there's a hand here' he might be told 'Look closer'.--This possibility of satisfying oneself is part of the language-game. Is one of its essential features (OC, 3)."

The language-game of doubt, and what it means to overcome the doubt.

"'I know that I am a human being.' In order to see how unclear the sense of this proposition is, consider its negation. At most it might be taken to mean 'I know I have the organs of a human'. (E.g. a brain which, after all, no one has ever yet seen.) But what about such a proposition as 'I know I have a brain'? Can I doubt it? Grounds for doubt are lacking! Everything speaks in its favour, nothing against it. Nevertheless it is imaginable that my skull should turn out empty when it was operated on (OC, 4)."

Here we begin to see the connection between the use of the word know, and the use of the word doubt. The negation of the proposition "I know that I am a human being" illustrates this point. Wittgenstein points out what it might mean, but we get a sense of how unclear the former proposition is by its negation. The negation being "I don't know that I am a human being."

What are the grounds for doubt? What are the grounds for knowing?

Maybe part of the confusion lies in the fact that we can imagine situations where we can doubt such propositions. However, can we doubt the propositions Moore is using, and more importantly can we doubt them in Moore's contexts.

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[  Edited by Duke77 at   ]
 68yrs • M •
Duke77 is new to Captain Cynic and has less than 15 posts. New members have certain restrictions and must fill in CAPTCHAs to use various parts of the site.
"Whether a proposition can turn out false after all depends on what I make count as determinants for that proposition (OC, 5)."

This is an interesting point, many of our beliefs are indeed determined by what we make count as evidence. In fact, most arguments are over this very thing. For instance, some religious people believe there is evidence for the existence of God, but other people do not believe there is evidence. Now I am not saying that there is or there isn't evidence, only that a proposition is true or false for me or you based on what we allow to count as evidence. In fact, language-games can arise to support any system of belief.

However, it's not the language-game itself that necessarily decides whether we have knowledge of this or that, otherwise we could create language-games to support any belief.

Language-games give us support for the correct use of certain words; and in the case of On Certainty, we are looking at how we use the word "know." However, not all language-games are created equal. We need to look at the original use of a word, and how a word has developed over the years, i.e., the language-game that surrounded the word's birth and growth.

"Now, can one enumerate what one knows (like Moore)? Straight off like that, I believe not.--For otherwise the expression "I know" gets misused. And through this misuse a queer and extremely important mental state seems to be revealed (OC, 6)."

This seems to be where Wittgenstein begins to show that Moore's use of the word "know" is contrary to the word's original home, i.e., contrary to how the word is normally used. Wittgenstein analyzes the word “know,” and its many uses throughout On Certainty.

For the longest time I didn't understand exactly what Wittgenstein was referring to, when he made the following statement about Moore's proposition: "...a queer and extremely important mental state seems to be revealed."

However, in a later passage he seems to clarify what he has in mind. In paragraph 42 Wittgenstein speaks of the mental state of conviction, and that this state of conviction is something that occurs regardless of whether a proposition is true or false. Wittgenstein seems to refer to it as a subjective state of certainty, and we sometimes observe this in the way people speak or gesticulate, i.e., the way we gesticulate will often show our convictions. Moore's claim to knowledge seems to be more in line with this subjective state of certainty, than with real knowledge claims. This will be developed more as we look at certain passages.

Finally, if some of you want to learn how Wittgenstein examines words using the methods in the Philosophical Investigations - I believe On Certainty puts Wittgenstein's methods (the methods of the PI) to use, i.e., we can learn how to apply his methods by a close examination of On Certainty.

There doesn't seem to be much of an interest in Wittgenstein around here.

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[  Edited by Duke77 at   ]
Wittgenstein's notes called On Certainty
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