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Contemporary Philosophy


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Wittgenstein On Certainty

On Certainty by Ludwig Wittgenstein (HarperCollins) Written over the last 18 months of his life and inspired by his interest in G. E. Moore's defense of common sense, this much discussed volume collects Wittgenstein's reflections on knowledge and certainty, on what it is to know a proposition for sure.

Wittgenstein's On Certainty: There - Like Our Life by Push Rhees, edited by D. Z. Phillips ( Wiley-Blackwell)

Rush Rhees, a close friend of Wittgenstein and a major interpreter of his work, shows how Wittgenstein's On Certainty concerns logic, language, and reality – topics that occupied Wittgenstein since early in his career.
  • Authoritative interpretation of Wittgenstein's last great work, On Certainty, by one of his closest friends.
  • Debunks misconceptions about Wittgenstein's On Certainty and shows that it is an essay on logic.
  • Exposes the continuity in Wittgenstein's thought, and the radical character of his conclusions.
  • Contains a substantial and illuminating afterword discussing current scholarship surrounding On Certainty, and its relationship to Rhees's work on this subject.

Readings of Wittgenstein's On Certainty edited by Daniele Moyal-Sharrock , William Brenner (Palgrave Macmillan) is the first collection of papers devoted to Ludwig Wittgenstein's cryptic but brilliant On Certainty. This work, Wittgenstein's last, extends the thinking of his earlier, better known writings, and in so doing, makes the most important contribution to epistemology since Kant's Critique of Pure Reason--a claim the essays in this volume help to demonstrate. The essays have been grouped under four headings, reflecting current approaches to the work: the Framework, Transcendental, Epistemic, and Therapeutic readings.

Excerpt: 67o. We might speak of fundamental principles of human enquiry.

671. I fly from here to a part of the world where the people have only indefinite information, or none at all, about the possibility of flying. I tell them I have just flown there from. . . . They ask me if I might be mistaken.—They have obviously a false impression of how the thing happens. (If I were packed up in a box it would be possible for me to be mistaken about the way I had travelled.) If I simply tell them that I can't be mistaken, that won't perhaps convince them; but it will if I describe the actual procedure to them. Then they will certainly not bring the possibility of a mistake into the question. But for all that—even if they trust me—they might believe I had been dreaming or that magic had made me imagine it.

672. 'If I don't trust this evidence why should I trust any evidence ?'

673. Is it not difficult to distinguish between the cases in which I cannot and those in which I can hardly be mistaken? Is it always clear to which kind a case belongs ? I believe not.

674. There are, however, certain types of case in which I rightly say I cannot be making a mistake, and Moore has given a few examples of such cases.

I can enumerate various typical cases, but not give any common characteristic. (N. N. cannot be mistaken about his having flown from America to England a few days ago. Only if he is mad can he take anything else to be possible.)

675. If someone believes that he has flown from America to England in the last few days, then, I believe, he cannot be making a mistake.

And just the same if someone says that he is at this moment sitting at a table and writing.

676. "But even if in such cases I can't be mistaken, isn't it possible that I am drugged?" If I am and if the drug has taken away my consciousness, then I am not now really talking and thinking. I cannot seriously suppose that I am at this moment dreaming. Someone who, dreaming, says "I am dreaming", even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream "it is raining", while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.

Even Wittgenstein's admirers have been puzzled by his last work, On Certainty. Some even regard it as a lapse at the end of a distinguished career, or as a late epistemological interest that remained undeveloped. Rush Rhees, a close friend of Wittgenstein and a major interpreter of his work, shows how Wittgenstein's On Certainty concerns logic, language and reality — topics that occupied Wittgenstein from early in his career.

From his earliest work on the nature of propositions, to his interest in On Certainty with the `sureness' in our language games, Wittgenstein questions 'what it means to say something:

He emphasizes the importance not of that which cannot be questioned, but of what we do not question in our thought and action. In this book, Rhees brings out the continuity in Wittgenstein's thought, and the radical character of his conclusions.

Wittgenstein's On Certainty: There - Like Our Life by Push Rhees, edited by D. Z. Phillips ( Wiley-Blackwell)

In explicating this text, and demonstrating its continuity with Wittgenstein's earlier work, Rhees has done a great service that will be of profound interest to students and scholars of Wittgenstein for generations to come. Rhees's comments are introduced by D. Z. Phillips, who writes a substantial and illuminating afterword that discusses current scholarship surrounding On Certainty, and its relationship to Rhees's work on this subject.

In the last months of his life, Wittgenstein was interested in certain propositions which had been discussed by G. E. Moore. Wittgenstein's notes make up the work now called On Certainty. The title is not an altogether happy one. 'Certainty' is no more prominent a theme than 'knowledge', `mistake' or 'what it is to say anything at all'.

The reference to Moore's propositions can give, and has given, readers the impression that Wittgenstein's work is devoted to a polemic against Moore's writings. This is a mistake. Wittgenstein quotes several propositions which Moore had selected and spoken about, returns to them repeatedly, as he does to other, additional, propositions, because he thinks they play a curious role in our speaking and thinking. An investigation of this role (and that is whn_right p { color: #444422; margin-top: 0px; font-size: 0.9em; } #column_right a { color: #6A6AB4; } #column_right a:hover { background-color: #EEEECC; } /* Styles for Left Column */ h1 { font-size: xx-large; color: #222200; margin-top: 0px; } h2 { font-size: x-large; color: #333311; margin-top: 0px; } h3 { font-size: large; color: #444422; margin-top: 0px; } h4 { font-size: medium; color: #555533; margin-top: 0px; } h5 { font-size: x-small; margin-top: 0px; } h6 { font-size: xx-small; margin-top: 0px; } a { background-position: 0px 0px; background-repeat: repeat; background-attachment: scroll; } a:hover { background-color: #EEEECC; } /* Styles for Footer */ #footer p { margin: 0; font-size: 0.75em; text-align: left; } #copyright { float: right; text-align: right; } #copyright p { font-size: 0.75em; } #footer a { color: #555522; font-weight: bold; text-decoration: underline; } #footer a:hover { text-decoration: none; } .style_bold { font-weight: bold; } .style_italic { font-style: italic; } {"5 =-NLz\/ Ñp*4kKN)`49'e8r{m6|<+6TBS?)hb4H8rqd62|4uaSUvqdgrf޳X!ۏAdənaD6T%\P k5ű̖NRF-S!g˺fni넩 a8πJG._9iٯs (txLƈIj5 @E(9&b"ԛM,vJ^nSlAe$$Sh5L ҍLrvm ӽI}T׿‰ք)sRm_egy[ovYD,o$YġIm*|(Sd{`d"]xmWWś˒h<-~jԥ,{d .a7S,P'u)FS9Mq`۷c֩#%7fQ8 $BB*4/^ԧ.v 8>-N-}4\CHILDREN\S-1-15-2-3624051433-2125758914-1423191267-1740899205-1073925389-3782572162-737L #LrL #LrL #LrL #Lr E y@EB: N-$gFgPCtX{ ?{RȀKJ I know that that's a tree', pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and observes this, and I tell him: 'This fellow isn't insane. We are only doing philosophy.' (467)

Wittgenstein had conversations with Malcolm on a visit to the United States in 1949, including discussions of Moore's 'Defence of Common Sense' (see Malcolm's Knowledge and Certainty). A case may be made for saying that Malcolm aroused his interest and that On Certainty gives us what Wittgenstein wrote on this topic from that time until his death. This suggests that this is not the sort of discussion that Wittgenstein had had before; or that he had not written on, or discussed, these questions in these ways before. I think this is very misleading. And it may prevent people from recognizing the constant connections between these remarks and his earlier discussions. There are parallels going back at least to 1930, to the time when he began to be dissatisfied with the ways in which people spoke of `logische Möglichkeif' and `logisch unmöglich' (logical possibility and logical impossibility). These are examples, not just analogies.'

Wittgenstein used to speak of Moore's 'Defence of Common Sense' again and again, years before that visit to Malcolm. In one of his discussions in which he spoke of it, he said he had told Moore he thought this was his best article, and Moore had replied that he also thought it was. And he used to speak of the queer character of Moore's 'obviously true' propositions.

I am not questioning the point that his 1949 discussions with Malcolm about Moore's 'defence of common sense' interested him, particularly at the period he was writing the notes in On Certainty. My point is rather that his 1949 conversations with Malcolm stimulated Wittgenstein to take up thoughts which were not new to him, and to develop them further. These thoughts were already present in some remarks in Wittgenstein's lectures in Cambridge in the Lent and Summer Terms of the session 1937-8.

Consider the following remarks in Wittgenstein's Investigations.

It is possible to imagine a case in which I could find out that I had two hands. Normally, however, I cannot do so. Tut all you need is to hold them up before your eyes!' — If I am now in doubt whether I have two hands, I need not believe my eyes either. (I might just as well ask a friend.)

With this is connected the fact that, for instance, the proposition 'The Earth has existed for millions of years' makes clearer sense than 'The Earth has existed in the last five minutes'. For I should ask anyone who asserted the latter: 'What observations does this proposition refer to; and what observations would count against it?' — whereas I know what ideas and observations the former proposition goes with.

I know, of course, that there is much more than this in On Certainty. But it is not a development which began in 1949.

[In their published preface to On Certainty, G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright write: 'Malcolm acted as a goad to his interest in Moore's "defence of common sense", and the propositions he discussed there, but also that 'Wittgenstein had long been interested in these'. The following chapters show how that interest is connected with wider issues and wider developments in Wittgenstein's earlier and later thought.]

Readings of Wittgenstein's On Certainty edited by Daniele Moyal-Sharrock , William Brenner (Palgrave Macmillan)  On Certainty is Wittgenstein's third masterpiece, and arguably the greatest contribution to epistemology since Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. The major aim of this collection — the first devoted exclusively to On Certainty —is to introduce philosophers and advanced philosophy students to a variety of significant contemporary attempts to understand this brilliant but cryptic and under-appreciated final work. The essays have been grouped under four headings: Framework, Transcendental, Epistemic, and Therapeutic readings, and an introductory preview helps to explain why these readings need not be seen as antagonistic.

The authors in this volume include leading Wittgenstein specialists, as well as philosophers known for their work in contemporary epistemology. The papers contribute not only to Wittgenstein scholarship but also to current issues in epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, ethics, philosophy of education, and philosophical methodology.

This collection of essays will prove of invaluable assistance to scholars and students of Wittgenstein who have thus far only fleetingly ventured beyond Philosophical Investigations. Because of the enigmatic nature of On Certainty, this collection will be an essential tool in the comprehension of that work, and of Wittgenstein's legacy.

In a paper entitled 'Certainty', Norman Malcolm speaks of the creation and reception of Wittgenstein's last work:'

Wittgenstein's last notebooks, published under the title On Certainty, were written in the final year and a half of his life. They are rough notes, completely unrevised. They are his discussions with himself, with no anticipation of publication. ... Many readers find the whole thing bewildering. But these notes reward hard study. Not only are there individual comments of great beauty, but also lines of thought emerge that are not to be found elsewhere in Wittgenstein's writings. (1986, 201)

Here, Malcolm evokes the two facets of On Certainty: its roughness and its brilliance — indeed, On Certainty is an unpolished gem. Whatever is responsible for the roughness — be it the circumstances of composition, the vicissitudes of philosophizing, deliberate method, or all three — there is no doubt that On Certainty is a work of beauty and originality, whose reverberation is only just beginning to reach us.

For Malcolm's appraisal did not draw hosts of scholars to the hard study of On Certainty. A handful of excellent book-length works on On Certainty have paved the way,2 but for the last ten years, the way has remained virtually untrodden. Wittgenstein studies have been fixated on Philosophical Investigations and the Tractatus; if On Certainty was alluded to, it was with distance and deference. Deference, for even upon a first reading one intuits the gem; and distance, because the gem is bewildering. Recently, more scholars are persisting through the bewilderment, and are reaping the rewards. There is now a dawning acknowledgement that Wittgenstein was the author of three, not two great works: On Certainty is Wittgenstein's third masterpiece. This, the first collection of essays devoted to On Certainty attests to this rising wave.3 Our hope is that it will also nourish it.

The increasing interest in On Certainty has manifested itself in efforts at understanding (1) the work itself; (2) its place in Wittgenstein's philosophy; (c) its relevance for philosophy in general, and epistemology in particular. Exegesis has been mainly concerned with the proper characterization of the so-called 'hinge propositions' which owe their name to Wittgenstein's metaphor for our basic beliefs as the hinges on which the door of our epistemic inquiries turns (OC 341, 343). Does Wittgenstein think of these 'hinges' as empirical propositions or expressions of grammatical rules? Are they presuppositions, assumptions, tacit beliefs or expressions of our ways of acting? Should the basic, animal certainty Wittgenstein strains to describe be seen as a subjective certainty, an objective certainty, a collective certainty? Is it a kind of warrant, belief, trust or faith? Are all of these options incompatible? On Certainty has also been scrutinized to determine whether its famed images and metaphors draw a foundationalist picture of our basic beliefs, and here, we see that there has been as much resistance to accepting the foundational connotations of reaching 'bedrock' or 'rock bottom', of supportive 'foundation-walls', of enabling 'hinges' and 'scaffolding', of a basic `substratum',' as there has been effort at delineating them.

'Placing' On Certainty in the Wittgensteinian corpus has been another focus of interest: assessing the degree to which it is continuous (or not) with Wittgenstein's earlier work. Does On Certainty show Wittgenstein addressing new problems, finding new solutions to old problems, or simply doing more of the same - where 'doing more of the same' can mean either: proposing similar solutions to the same problems or going on pinpointing problems in an effort at dissolution, not solution?5 Whatever the answer we favour, this new focus on Wittgenstein's last masterpiece cannot but increase our understanding of his philosophy as a whole: commentators can now look backwards from On Certainty and direct fresh thinking onto some of the earlier works; they can also look forward - to the work's future resonance.

The relevance of On Certainty for epistemology has been seen mainly in Wittgenstein's critical treatment of scepticism, and in particular Moore's response to it. Wittgenstein's grammatical response to scepticism has prompted a distinction in the literature between the 'solution' and 'dissolution' of sceptical problems - the latter, further analysed and refined by Michael Williams into antisceptical strategies whose diagnosis is either therapeutic or theoretical (1991, 1999a). Related epistemic questions about On Certainty have been whether Wittgenstein uncovers in it a new kind of foundationalism, or indeed of coherentism, or an odd mixture of both; and whether this newfangled 'foundherentism'6 might be the long-awaited answer to the regress that has plagued all accounts of basic beliefs. But epistemology is only just beginning to mine the plethora of riches in On Certainty: we need to delve further into the nature of its foundationalism, and that requires more probing into its depiction of the noncognitive, pragmatic nature of basic beliefs. Also, On Certainty's deproblematization of scepticism has not yet been fully appreciated -whilst Wittgenstein's response to Moore has been heeded, his corrective to Descartes still beckons: 'A doubt without an end is not even a doubt' (OC 625).7 In order to exorcise all our sceptical demons, Wittgenstein's categorial distinctions between knowledge and certainty, doubt and doubt-behaviour, doubt and obsessive doubt, mistake and aberration, uncertainty and madness must be further distilled. This volume is intended to take us a step further in the process.

To help readers come to terms with the diversity of views being generated in the new focus on On Certainty, this collection has been divided into four 'readings': the 'Framework reading' gathers chapters that either expound or critically examine foundational and grammatical views of On Certainty; the 'Transcendental reading' offers neo-Kantian and neo-Realist interpretations of the work; the 'Epistemic reading' examines the epistemic versus nonepistemic nature of the certainty in question; finally, the 'Therapeutic reading' approaches On Certainty in the spirit of 'New Wittgenstein' commentators,8 nudging us away from framework and transcendental readings, and towards a less theoretical, more dialectical and open-textured interpretation of Wittgenstein's aims.

The readings in this volume reflect current competing interpretations of On Certainty. In doing so, they invite the question of how there could be such perplexingly divergent responses to the same work. The immediate answer might be to point the finger at Wittgenstein: he is, after all, a difficult writer, and the fact that On Certainty is made up of unpolished, and (probably) unfinished notes, compounds that difficulty. A more pondered answer might be that, in spite of appearances, the responses are not that divergent; that, in fact, one would need simply effect something like a terminological switch and make, say, 'transcendental' interchangeable with 'grammatical', and watch the Framework and the Transcendental readings collapse into one.9 If enough care is taken to define 'transcendental' as sufficiently distinct from the Platonic or Fregean idea of a third (human-independent) realm, there may be room for reconciliation. Indeed, if we pay close attention to our Transcendental readers, we see that the term 'transcendental' is much more down-to-earth than we might have assumed. As Howard Mounce emphasizes: 'Classical metaphysics ... is not, as is vulgarly supposed, an attempt to transcend the human condition by attaining an external standpoint. It is an attempt to illuminate that condition by making explicit what is only implicit in the condition itself.' For Anthony Rudd, Wittgenstein's method of seeking a perspicuous presentation of our linguistic and other practices is a transcendental enterprise in that it searches for conditions of possibility, but it does so within our practices themselves. This 'primacy of practice' is also emphasized by William Brenner who sees Wittgenstein parting company from Kant in his rejection of the idea that the logic of a proposition is to be traced to 'something inner' such as the a priori structure of the understanding; for Wittgenstein, logic - the transcendental features of language and thought - is inseparable from use. When the search for 'conditions of possibility' is indistinguishable from the elucidation of the 'conditions of sense', and when those are internally connected with our practice, the difference between 'transcendental' and 'grammatical' all but evaporates.

But then the question arises as to whether the Therapeutic reading can be at all reconciled with the others. One of the radical themes of this reading is that postulating, however ephemerally, some 'rock bottom' of thought and action - whether 'transcendental' or 'grammatical' - is to have strayed too far already. For the Therapeutic reader, Wittgenstein's talk of conditions, foundations and scaffoldings is, like talk of ladders, something which we should regard as either emetic or homeopathic -either something we swallow in order to ruminate and reject it; or a sufficient dose of the poison to cure us of the poison.

Perhaps a better way of accounting for the variegated readings of On Certainty which this volume brings together would be to put these readings on a single continuum - one end of which is more attuned to a traditional understanding of objectivity; the other not at all attuned to objectivity. Perhaps the happy medium is the point at which we all concur that where Wittgenstein speaks of our basic beliefs, our primitive certainties, the conditions of thought, he is speaking of our conditions and of our thoughts; that, for Wittgenstein, the only acceptable objectivity is - to borrow a phrase from David Wiggins - objectivity, humanly speak-ing.10 Or, as Cora Diamond might put it: logic, yes, but with a human face:

Wittgenstein wanted us to see that the grammar of atemporality has application in a life which looks like this and this and this; that is, he shows us life with definitions that fix meaning, life with formulations of rules that do (in an unmysterious sense) contain all their applications. If we do not see him as drawing attention to the face of necessity, the face of life with logic ... [w]e shall miss altogether the kind of philosophical criticism in which he was engaged. (1991, 6-7)

Once it is agreed that where it is Wittgenstein's philosophy we are talking about, any talk of logic, grammar or objectivity is internally linked to our human ways of acting and thinking - that the logical, here, is necessarily anthropological - much of the perplexing divergence in reading On Certainty is attenuated. But not all. It still remains to be explained, for example, what some of us mean by conditions of thought or of sense. Therapeutic readers suggest that invoking conditions of sense or rules of grammar implies that meaning is fixed in advance of use. And so where then is the primacy of practice that is so keenly proclaimed? The question is valid, however, only if the expression 'fixed in advance of use' precludes the primacy of practice, which it need not do. To speak of rules of grammar being formulated, or bounds of sense being demarcated, is simply to say that limits, that are already there, in use, are being made more perspicuous. To speak of bounds of sense or grammatical rules is perfectly in keeping with seeking a more perspicuous view and a more perspicuous presentation of something that is already there in ordinary language: 'We make our moves in the realm of the grammar of our ordinary language, and this grammar is already there' (WVC 183). To say that the correct use of our words is fixed in advance of use does not imply that it is independent of use, but that there is a grammar that can be appealed to, which we have fixed in use (though in advance of that particular use) - in an unconcerted consensus, not a concerted agreement - and which is indispensable to the use, transmission and evolution of language. What is meant by rules of grammar or conditions of thought is simply something like: 'We call this --> a table', and if you call it 'a chair', you are using the word incorrectly or idiosyncratically. As Jeff Coulter puts it: 'Grammar is normative: what people may actually say is, of course, up to them. But what they then mean by whatever they say (if anything) is not solely up to them to say' (1999, 147). To speak of rules of grammar, conditions of thought, or definitions that 'fix meaning' (Diamond in the passage above) is not to say that meaning is fixed in a third realm, or that the conditions of thought are static or independent of context. This is the gist of Wittgenstein's river bed metaphor:

The propositions describing this world-picture might be part of a kind of mythology. And their role is like that of rules of a game; and the game can be played purely practically, without learning any explicit rules.


The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other.

And the bank of that river consists partly of hard rock, subject to no alteration or only to an imperceptible one, partly of sand, which now in one place now in another gets washed away, or deposited. (OC 95, 97, 99)

In these passages, Wittgenstein is describing our basic certainties as constituting a mythology — which is to say that our basic beliefs are not empirical or scientific conclusions we come to about the world, but that they function like the rules underpinning our world picture and our language-games. This mythology, he suggests, is not static; the rules — that is, the conditions, or scaffolding, or hinges, or hard rock of our thoughts: our basic certainties — change. This does not, however, make them any less rules or conditions for all that — 'If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put' (OC 343) — it only suggests that these rules are not absolute; that they are conditioned (though not justified) by certain facts (OC 617). Grammar remains autonomous, but still human-bound.11

Another thing these passages evince is that Wittgenstein's answers are not always transparent. The aim of this volume is to lessen the opacity of some of Wittgenstein's answers, to make his presentations of certainty, knowledge, objectivity, scepticism, more perspicuous still. It is time that On Certainty came into the limelight not only of Wittgenstein studies, but also of current epistemological inquiry — for only then can it be the object of discussion, debate and discord. And only then, can it show its true mettle.

The framework reading

In 'Why On Certainty Matters', Avrum Stroll claims that On Certainty is the most important contribution to epistemology since Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and outlines its major achievements — which are to have shown that knowledge and certainty are not mental states, and differ intrinsically; and that certainty is to be identified with a background which is exempt from the ascription of any epistemic properties, such as being true or false, known or not known, etc. In defending this last view, Stroll introduces the notion of 'negational absurdity', according to which the possibility of radical scepticism, as a challenge to such a background, is seen to be pathological or absurd.

In 'Why Wittgenstein Isn't a Foundationalist', Michael Williams identifies four features of the traditional conception of epistemological foundations: universality, specifiability, autonomy and rational adequacy. He argues that Wittgenstein is committed to none of these, and that he is therefore improperly labelled a foundationalist. According to Wittgenstein, our certainties need not be universal (count as basic for everybody), or theoretically specifiable as basic or non-basic. Nor do our basic certainties either constitute an autonomous, logically independent stratum, or provide (as foundationalists have traditionally hoped) a basis for the rational resolution of all disputes. Since rational resolution or justification is something that we do 'always already' within some upand-running epistemic practice, we fail to make sense when we try to raise or answer questions of justification in the global, decontextualized, abstract matter of the philosophical sceptic and his traditional opponent. For Wittgenstein, Williams explains, the exempting of some judgements from doubt plays an essential meaning-constituting role in our language game. Such judgements are basic certainties, however, only to the extent that they are treated, in practice, as such — and not because they have any of the features suggested either by foundationalism or by its rival, the coherence theory.

Wittgenstein's use of both foundationalist and coherentist images in his delineation of our 'system of beliefs' has been the subject of some discussion.12 In 'Within a System', Joachim Schulte addresses the apparent incompatibility of the positions evoked by these images. He sees a way out of the incompatibility by considering the different images (scaffolding, riverbed, hinges, axis of rotation) as applying to different kinds of propositions. Propositions conveying basic rules or information can be compared to hinges, while sentences expressing commonplaces are more like axes of rotation. The latter do not surface at all in normal circumstances; they are like certain gestures or exclamations used to bring home to people that this is how things work.

In 'Unravelling Certainty', Danièle Moyal-Sharrock also addresses, from a different perspective, the apparent incompatibility of the various images used by Wittgenstein in his efforts to uncover the nature of our basic beliefs. He speaks of them as propositions, as rules, as forming a picture, and as ways of acting, and although the propositional option is rejected, we are left to ponder how certainty can be a way of acting, an unfounded belief and a rule of grammar. It is suggested that the seeming incoherence partly evaporates when we realise that there is an attitude/object ambiguity here: although he does not explicitly distinguish between the two, Wittgenstein is in fact describing objective certainty and objective certainties. Moreover, his elucidation of objective certainty is itself effected from two different perspectives: a phenomenological one, from which he describes what it is like to be objectively certain; and a categorial one from which he seeks to determine the doxastic status of objective certainty. Moyal-Sharrock concludes that objective certainty is a kind of belief-in whose occurrence resembles a flawless know-how. Finally, in order to account for the `ineffability' of a certainty which can nevertheless be formulated (in grammatical rules), it is suggested that a distinction be made between saying and speaking.

The transcendental reading

It is widely denied that Wittgenstein's philosophy is realist. According to many, his views cannot be so classified in that he 'dissolved' the whole dispute between realism and anti-realism. In 'Wittgenstein and Classical Realism', H.O. Mounce aims to show that this view is mistaken. He begins by giving a short account of the dispute between realism and anti-realism as it occurred in traditional philosophy or metaphysics. The dispute concerned the relation between mind and world: according to one party, the mind is formed by the order of the world; according to the other, the order we find in the world is largely a projection of the human mind. Mounce then argues that the assimilation of Wittgenstein to anti-realism is based on the tendency on the part of Wittgensteinians - and here, Mounce singles out Alice Crary and Cora Diamond - to rely on what he considers a spurious dichotomy: either we can transcend language and ground it in the world, or our language is wholly autonomous. The resulting assumption being that because we cannot transcend language, language is not grounded in the world at all. A third possibility - that language develops through our interrelations with an independent world is not considered. This is the position of the classical realist, who holds that the grounds of our language depend not on our own reasoning but on our fundamental relations with the world. In this, suggests Mounce, Wittgenstein is a realist. The rest of the chapter is devoted to the development of Wittgenstein's philosophy which, after the Tractatus, is often treated as a single block. Here again, Mounce argues that this is a mistake, that there are radical differences between Wittgenstein's views in the early 1930s and in his last writings. In the early 1930s, Wittgenstein's views might be described as verificationist or anti-realist. At this time, he embraced a sharp distinction between concept and fact: a statement is true or false only within a framework of concepts. The last writings are radically different. The distinction between concept and fact, in its earlier form, is abandoned. Moreover, there is a repeated emphasis on the dependence of language on natural, prelinguistic reactions. Wittgenstein's mature view, according to Mounce, is that it is only through such reactions that language has its sense. Language is an extension of our natural relations to the world; therefore, its order logically presupposes the order of nature. In this respect, and especially in On Certainty, Mounce sees Wittgenstein as returning to the tradition of classical realism.

In 'Wittgenstein's "Kantian Solution", ' William Brenner aims partly to clarify and develop remarks by Stanley Cavell and other commentators on the `Kantian strain' in Wittgenstein, and partly to counter Howard Mounce's challenging Realist interpretation of Wittgenstein's mature philosophy. Brenner argues that Wittgenstein's Kantianism consists primarily in his rejection of any Realist, that is, 'transcendental realist' justification of our concepts. He discusses two contrary forms of transcendental realism, represented by the Hylas and Philonous of Berkeley's Dialogues. Hylas and Philonous disagree not over the truth of commonsense propositions (of the sort Wittgenstein investigates in On Certainty) but over their correct analysis. Wittgenstein's `Kantian' approach is to locate the sense of the propositions analysed in the propositions themselves, rather than in other, supposedly more fundamental propositions. Where Wittgenstein parts company from Kant, however, is in his rejection of the idea that the logic of a proposition, its possibility of truth or falsity, is to be traced to 'something inner' such as 'the a priori structure of the understanding'. For Wittgenstein, logic - that is, transcendental features of language and thought - is inseparable from 'outer' normative contexts of use: 'You must look at the practice of language, then you will see it' (OC 501).

Anthony Rudd's chapter, 'Wittgenstein, Global Scepticism, and the Primacy of Practice' begins by defining global scepticism as a doubt, not about particular empirical facts, but about the ultimate ontological status of such facts. Although Wittgenstein says relatively little about this in On Certainty, that little, Rudd thinks, suggests an argument based on the fundamental principle of his later thought: the association of meaning and use. The argument being that if the dispute between, for example, realists and idealists about the ultimate ontological status of things is not `manifestable' in practice, then it is empty, indeed unintelligible. The upshot of this dismissal, suggests Rudd, is much the same as that of the sceptic's dismissal: it returns us to our ordinary linguistic practices while abandoning any attempt to ground them in a supposedly deeper metaphysics. Moreover, Rudd finds that the argument is inadequate in two ways. First, usage is much more flexible than dogmatic ordinary language philosophers have supposed, and so it may be that there are contexts (though perhaps not very 'ordinary') where what is at stake between realists, idealists and sceptics is manifested in practice. Second, we need to ask what the status is of the manifestation requirement itself, or, more broadly, the idea of the primacy of practice, which seems to play a central role in On Certainty. Is it a philosophical thesis of some kind? And if it is, why should the sceptic feel obliged to accept it? And wouldn't it conflict with the supposedly anti-theoretical thrust of Wittgenstein's philosophy? Rudd concludes that the idea (or thesis) of the primacy of practice has a transcendental status whose defence would require that Wittgenstein be committed to a stance Rudd calls 'transcendental pragmatism' - an essentially Kantian transcendentalism. It is finally suggested that a detailed articulation of the kind of position presupposed by Wittgenstein can be found in Heidegger's Being and Time. If Wittgenstein is right that meaning is bound up with usage and activity of various kinds, then language-users must be agents engaged with entities distinct from themselves - beings-in-the-world, as Heidegger has it. It follows from this that there are certain beliefs about ourselves that we cannot revise - such as: that we are agents and that we are bound by and able to respond to norms of rationality and meaning.

The epistemic reading

According to Thomas Morawetz, one of the most seductive traps for the novice philosopher is to draw the following inference: from the methodological insight that perennial philosophical topics, such as the concept of knowledge, may be usefully addressed by examining speech acts, such as claims to know, to infer that there is a one-to-one relationship between having knowledge and being in a position to claim, 'I know ...'. The assumption is readily made that whenever one has knowledge, one may appropriately claim to know. In 'The Contexts of Knowing', Morawetz shows that, in On Certainty, Wittgenstein makes clear how seriously wrong that assumption is; that knowledge includes a great many things which, while shown in our conduct, we normally have no occasion to assert - things such as 'I have two hands', for which we can imagine giving corroborating grounds only in abnormal contexts. As Morawetz reads him, Wittgenstein thought that Moore's mistake consisted in countering the sceptical challenge with a knowledge-claim. A less misleading response would have been: doing something with his hands while saying, 'Here I act with a certainty that knows no doubt.'

In 'Wittgenstein's On Certainty and Contemporary Anti-Scepticism', Duncan Pritchard examines the relevance of On Certainty to the contemporary debate regarding the problem of radical scepticism. He begins by considering two accounts in the recent literature which have seen in Wittgenstein's remarks on 'hinge' propositions the basis for a primarily epistemological anti-sceptical thesis: the inferential contextualism offered by Michael Williams and the 'unearned warrant' thesis defended by Crispin Wright. Both positions are shown to be problematic, as interpretations of Wittgenstein and as anti-sceptical theses. The problem with these accounts, from a textual point of view, is twofold. The first is that they share a common assumption about hinge 'propositions' - that Wittgenstein held they really are propositions - which, Pritchard argues, is highly contentious. Even if one is willing to grant this assumption, however, a second problem remains, which is that on a reading of On Certainty that has Wittgenstein advancing a primarily epistemological thesis, there is in fact strong evidence to suggest that Wittgenstein thought that no epistemic response to the sceptic was available - at best, it seems, only a pragmatic anti-sceptical thesis is on offer.

Michael Kober finds it a striking, though undoubtedly puzzling fact that Wittgenstein from the Notebooks 1914-1918 to On Certainty inclusively relates knowledge and certainty to religion and mythology. In his paper, "In the beginning was the deed": Wittgenstein on Knowledge and Religion', Kober explains why, and why it matters to us. He begins by summarizing Wittgenstein's view of objective certainty in terms of the underlying constitutive rules of our epistemic practices, but also sees Wittgenstein, in On Certainty, to be describing a subjective certainty - that is, the particular attitude of any person who knows and acts. This prompts Kober to re-examine the influence on Wittgenstein of William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience. He finds Wittgenstein's thematizing of religion to be in terms, not of true or false beliefs, but of a stance which a person adopts towards her natural and social environment, as well as towards herself. Kober makes a rapprochement between this religious stance and our ordinary epistemic stance, which consists in taking certain things for granted and others for impossible. Such a stance resembles a mood in that it can be expressed via epistemic avowals; is neither true nor false; and requires no justification. In this conception of a religious stance towards the world, Kober sees Wittgenstein as providing a new interpretation of epistemic certainty.

The therapeutic reading

In his chapter 'On Wittgenstein's Response to Scepticism', Edward Minar contends that despite their fragmentary and incomplete nature, the notes comprising Wittgenstein's On Certainty represent a systematic and powerful response to sceptical doubts about our knowledge of the external world - if only we learn how properly to read them. We misread insofar as we expect to find Wittgenstein offering a theoretical account of certainty that, by accurately reflecting the grammar of our practices of inquiry, will demonstrate the nonsense of the sceptic's demand for a global justification of the very possibility of knowledge. In looking for this kind of account, we would seek to unearth the hidden structure of justification which would reveal where the grounds and limits of knowledge really lie, showing the sceptic to be wrong about these matters. Wittgenstein's real purpose in On Certainty is both simpler and more radical. Reminding us of what we actually say and do, he aims to provoke the sceptic to account for his sense that there is something amiss in our cognitive dealings with the world. The hope is that the sceptic will no longer find his doubt natural, let alone obligatory. More specifically, Minar suggests that the sceptic, his dogmatic opponents who insist that his doubts can be directly removed, and those who seek an ironclad demonstration that his doubts are meaningless, all operate with a determinate notion of the proposition, on which each candidate for rational belief carries with it a way of fixing, for all possible contexts, what would count as relevant doubts as to its justifiability. Wittgenstein adamantly opposes this picture of meaning. When, under its sway, we read On Certainty as proposing that the sceptic has mistaken the real structure of empirical propositions, and thereby we have prematurely conceded the possibility of a detached perspective from which the rationality and intelligibility of our practices 'as a whole' could be surveyed. Minar engages us in a more dialectical, less theoretical, way of reading On Certainty - one in which the sceptic and his Moorean, 'common sense' opponents are gradually prodded to put their commitments into words, with the intent that the emerging depiction of the debate will show that its terms, its representations of our lives as knowers, are costlier than or in any case different from what its protagonists had envisioned.

In 'Wittgenstein and Ethics', Alice Crary uses On Certainty to flesh out her contention that Wittgenstein's failure to make a traditional contribution to ethics is an indication, not of his disengagement from ethical concerns, but of his unorthodox expression of them. Wittgenstein makes many of his most explicit remarks on ethical topics amidst his philosophical investigations of other (seemingly non-ethical) topics. This makes an appreciation of these remarks inseparable from an examination of the topics in which they are embedded. Following her own cue, Crary examines what Wittgenstein says about meaning in On Certainty. She suggests that most discussion about Wittgensteinian ethics presupposes `inviolability interpretations' of meaning, according to which our linguistic practices - more specifically, our 'framework judgments' - are immune to rational criticism or assessment. This, she argues, leads to relativism and turns on mistakenly trying to distinguish kinds of nonsense. Crary's aim is to remove this influential interpretation (as particularly exemplified in Marie McGinn's work) in favour of one that shows the ethical outlook as implicit in our being language-users at all.

'Am I not getting closer and closer to saying that in the end logic cannot be described?, You must look at the practice of language, then you will see it' (OC 501). In "The First Shall Be Last and the Last Shall Be First ...": a new reading of OC 501', Rupert Read interprets this passage as a plain indication of the continuity of Wittgenstein's philosophy. But is it perhaps an indication that On Certainty is continuous with the Tractatus (construed after the 'ineffabilist' interpretation of Anscombe, Hacker, and others) and not with Philosophical Investigations?

Read suggests rather that, in his last writings, Wittgenstein comes to recognise more explicitly the continuities between the Tractatus and the Investigations and On Certainty. Read does this by experimenting with two apparently opposed readings of OC 501, and attempting to place them both in the context of the relatively new `resolute' and `therapeutic' reading of Wittgenstein's philosophizing championed by James Conant, Cora Diamond, Juliet Floyd and Warren Goldfarb. His aim is to show that OC 501, read in context, evinces that, at the last, Wittgenstein was endeavouring to philosophize in a resolute fashion, as he had more or less done throughout — and very largely succeeding.


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