An Analysis of On Certainty

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An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 23rd, 2011, 1:41 pm 

Understanding On Certainty is first a matter of understanding who Wittgenstein is responding to. Moreover, it should also be interpreted against the backdrop of his previous writings, but one does not need to necessarily understand his previous works to get the gist of what Wittgenstein is saying, although it helps. In fact, in some ways On Certainty stands alone, almost as a third transition for Wittgenstein. On Certainty (On Certainty = OC) is one of the most lucid of Wittgenstein's writings; and what is amazing is that his last entry is two days before his death from cancer. He wrote up to the very end.

Wittgenstein is one of the most misunderstood philosophers in history, mainly because of his method of doing philosophy, which allowed him to see the problems of philosophy in a different light. He attacked the very tools philosophers use - the proposition; and he exposed many of the propositions of philosophers as senseless or even nonsense. He did this by examining the logic behind the use of words or propositions. This is not to say that his thoughts were entirely new, but only that he was able to articulate the problems of philosophy with a rigor and genius that few philosophers possess.

Wittgenstein probably was, and is, the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. Very few philosophers measure up to the intellect of Wittgenstein - he is like the Isaac Newton or Einstein of philosophy. There are just a few really great philosophers, among them are Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, Hume, and Wittgenstein (this is not a complete list). These philosophers stand head-and-shoulders above the rest; and Wittgenstein stands among these great intellects.

Almost all of what I will write will be from primary sources, with few exceptions, so I will endeavor to keep my interpretation free (as much as possible) from what other philosophers have said about OC. That is not to say, that I have not been influenced by what others have said, but only to make this interpretation, as much my own interpretation, as is practicable or possible.

There are many biographies of Wittgenstein's life, so I will not spend time rehashing what many of you already know; and if you do not know much of Wittgenstein's life I would suggest reading Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir by Norman Malcolm; another really good book, although it is not a biography, is K.T. Fann's book called, Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy. Fann's book will give you one of the best general understandings of Wittgenstein's philosophy available, that is, Fann will give you a good overview of the early and late Wittgenstein. It is a good place to start, so I highly recommend those of you interested in a study of Wittgenstein to start with these two books.

Comments and questions are welcome.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 23rd, 2011, 2:01 pm 

OC is a response to the philosopher G.E. Moore’s paper, Proof of an External World written in 1939, in which Moore lists a number of statements 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” – Moore continues to enumerate other statements that he claims to know, with certainty, to be true. These statements provide for Moore a proof of the external world, and as such, they supposedly form a buttress against the skeptic. However, as we shall see, it is not only Moore’s claim to knowledge that Wittgenstein criticizes, he also critiques the skeptic, and specifically their use of the word doubt.

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.

"If you do know that here is one hand, then 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 starts off by saying that if Moore really does know what he claims to know, namely, propositions such as, "Here is one hand," then Wittgenstein will grant the rest of Moore's argument. Wittgenstein's attack centers around Moore's use of the word know.

Wittgenstein also remarks that any statement can be derived from other statements; however, that is much different from proving a statement. When one derives a statement from another statement, it may "...be no more certain than it is itself."

There is much that can be said about deriving statements from other statements, as opposed to proving a statement. The fact that we can derive a proposition from other propositions is something that we need to come to thoroughly understand. Many of the implications of OC seem to indicate that there is a difference between deriving a proposition from Wittgenstein's bedrock propositions, and drawing conclusions based on them as part of our epistemology - or even speaking of them in terms of what we think we know.

"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)."

Because it seems to follow - it doesn't mean that it does follow. It seems that we know that we have hands - I mean what could make more sense than this. However, a key point that Wittgenstein makes here, and in many other parts of OC, is that there is a logical connection between having knowledge and having doubts. Those of you who are familiar with the Philosophical Investigations will probably notice that it seems to be the same kind of logical connection that obtains between following a rule and making a mistake. Which is to say, that to understand what it means to follow a rule, is also to understand what it means not to follow a rule. Similarly, to understand what it means to have knowledge, one must also understand what it means to not have knowledge, or to doubt the knowledge claims of another.

"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 idea of a language-game was introduced by Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations (PI, 7); however, an example of a language-game is given earlier (PI, 2). Wittgenstein never seems to give a definitive definition of language-game, but he does give examples throughout the Philosophical Investigations. These examples probably paint a better picture for us, so if you want to understand the idea of a language-game, then you need to look at the examples given.

In paragraph 2 Wittgenstein imagines a very primitive language in which there is a builder A and an assistant B. Builder A is using various building-stones called blocks, pillars, slabs, and beams. The purpose of the assistant is to pass the stones to builder A, so the assistant must come to understand what the builder is asking for when he calls out block, pillar, slab, and beam. Therefore, in order for the assistant to properly understand the builder, he has to know the difference between a call for a block as opposed to a call for a slab. If the assistant is able to distinguish between the calls, then the assistant is able to follow the rules of this primitive language or primitive language-game; and just as there are many different games (football, baseball, chess, checkers, marbles, etc) with varying rules, so too, are there many different types of language-games with various rules.

Another way of thinking about language-games is that they are a form of life, that is, in their most basic form you can observe two people building something using simple calls, as in Wittgenstein's example. However, in their more complex forms you can observe societies and cultures developing various language-games for more intricate activities such as mathematics, physics, philosophy, sports activities, acting, teaching, computers, etc. All of these forms of life are rule-governed, just as the more primitive example given above is rule-governed.

Understanding the language-game is important if one wants to understand Wittgenstein's analysis of language.

In paragraph 3 of OC Wittgenstein writes about the language-game of doubt, and what it means to overcome doubt. Remember Wittgenstein's example of a language-game in the Philosophical Investigations (PI, 2)? In this example the assistant learns the proper use of certain words, which enables the assistant to properly respond to the calls of the builder. So there is a kind of logic behind the use of the words between the builder and the assistant, just as there is a logic of use in the language-games of knowing and doubting, which takes place between the one claiming to have knowledge, and the one doing the doubting.

Many or most of the rules in these language-games are implicit, and Wittgenstein is bringing these rules to the fore so that we can clearly observe the use of these words in their proper setting.

Again, comments and questions are appreciated. I will continue if there is enough of an interest.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Positor on October 23rd, 2011, 4:01 pm 

Yes, please continue. This is an area of philosophy I am particularly interested in.

As for myself, I would definitely not claim to know with certainty that I have a hand, or a body. (Descartes acknowledged that an evil demon could deceive him about such things.) I would, however, claim to be certain that "there exists at present a mind, which is my mind".

I wonder whether "Cartesian" doubt differs from practical, everyday doubt only in degree, or whether these are two radically different forms of doubt. It seems that no amount of empirical evidence could overcome Cartesian doubt, so I wonder whether it should be treated as a separate kind of entity from "ordinary" doubt. Are the two kinds of doubt related to the language game in a similar or a different way? I will be interested to read your further comments.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 23rd, 2011, 4:28 pm 

Positor wrote:Yes, please continue. This is an area of philosophy I am particularly interested in.

As for myself, I would definitely not claim to know with certainty that I have a hand, or a body. (Descartes acknowledged that an evil demon could deceive him about such things.) I would, however, claim to be certain that "there exists at present a mind, which is my mind".

I wonder whether "Cartesian" doubt differs from practical, everyday doubt only in degree, or whether these are two radically different forms of doubt. It seems that no amount of empirical evidence could overcome Cartesian doubt, so I wonder whether it should be treated as a separate kind of entity from "ordinary" doubt. Are the two kinds of doubt related to the language game in a similar or a different way? I will be interested to read your further comments.

There are at least two senses to the phrase "I am certain..." One can be certain in the sense that one has good reasons to believe, i.e., we have objective evidence. This is why, I believe, that Wittgenstein asserts in certain instances that we could replace "I know.." with "I am certain... (OC, 8)" It is also the case that one can use the phrase "I am certain..." to express a subjective conviction of certainty. However, to say that one "knows" that such and such is the case - this always requires a justification of some sort.

Not only will Wittgenstein be attacking how Moore uses the word "know," but he will also be attacking the skeptic for using the word "doubt" outside its original home. Both "knowing" and "doubting" require good reasons at the very least. If you were to doubt everything you wouldn't get so far as to doubt anything (Wittgenstein made a similar remark somewhere in OC). The problem with Descartes doubts, is that he assumes at the outset that they are reasonable enough to have to respond to. They are not. I will address this issue as I continue with my posts.

Thanks for the reply Positor.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 23rd, 2011, 7:35 pm 

"'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 is 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; and the negation of the proposition "I know that I am a human being" illustrates this. 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."

Maybe part of the confusion lies in the fact that we can imagine situations were we can doubt such propositions. However, can we doubt the propositions Moore is using, and more specifically, can we doubt them in Moore's context?

It is here that Wittgenstein begins to attack the skeptics use of the word doubt. Just as we should ask if we have good reasons to think we know, we should also ask if we have good reasons to doubt. Therefore we ask, "Why do I think I know such and such?" or "Why do I doubt such and such?" - these questions go hand-in-hand. And of course this is not a private language-game, it is the language-game of knowing and doubting, which takes place in a form of life, i.e., amongst peoples, societies, and cultures. Moore is playing the language-game with the skeptics, but is Moore playing the language-game according to the rules of the game? It is here that Wittgenstein excels as he shows us the rules, and the logic behind the use of these words.

If it makes no sense to doubt a proposition, then how does the word know gain a foothold? And of course this is the question before us - before Wittgenstein. If a statement is immune to doubt, then it would seem to follow that there is no need to justify it; and if there is no need to justify it, then it is not a piece of knowledge. But what kind of proposition or statement is it?
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby mtbturtle on October 24th, 2011, 11:27 am 

Hi Sam26

I haven't read On Certainty but would be interested in what you have to say about it and Wittgenstein.

I was poking around and came across a humorous (and profane) very short summary of it at Philosophy Bro. Some of his other riffs on classic works are fun also.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 24th, 2011, 12:48 pm 

"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 determinants for a particular proposition or belief. It is tempting here to think that "...what I make count as determinants..." is equivalent to what the evidence is, but this may not necessarily be the case. For instance, Moore believes that "This is a hand" is a piece of knowledge; however as we proceed through On Certainty, we shall see that Wittgenstein views bedrock propositions (Moore's propositions) as separate from the language-game of knowledge and doubt, i.e., they are foundational to the language-game of epistemology. If this is so, then bedrock propositions are not pieces of evidence that justify a proposition or belief, but they do provide a kind of support that is outside of our language-game of epistemology. What kind of support this is, will be explained as we continue our analysis of On Certainty.

"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 quote is 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. It is a method of analysis that Wittgenstein used most predominantly in the Philosophical Investigations.

For the longest time I did not know exactly what Wittgenstein was referring to when he alluded to "...a queer and extremely important mental state..." is revealed by Moore's propositions. However, in a later passage he seems to explain 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. I have referred to it as a subjective state of certainty, and we can observe this, according to Wittgenstein, by the way people speak or gesticulate; which is to say, that there are actions of a certain kind that show one's conviction.

Moore's claim to knowledge seems to be more in line with a conviction or a subjective state of certainty, than with real knowledge claims. It is akin to how "I feel" about a particular belief. Thus one can have convictions quite apart from whether a belief is true or false.

The reason, then, that Moore cannot enumerate these propositions in the way he is doing, is that these propositions have a special place within our belief system. They are beliefs of a special kind. They are bedrock beliefs; and as such, they form a special place in the structure of beliefs.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby yadayada on October 24th, 2011, 1:30 pm 

I was in a camp near Bayeux after the Normandy landing. A letter from Wittgenstein telling me he was reading Plato's Theaetetus: «Plato in this dialogue is occupied with the same problems that I am writing about.»
-- M. O'C. Drury


Wittgenstein's strict interpretation of knowledge is Platonic enough. I think this is worth keeping in mind in reading On Certainty. Moore's hand waving is a different, private, subjective form of knowledge. Moore assumes that perception is fundamental knowledge. While he might be certain of his hands, perhaps based on experience, I, watching the demonstration, would not be able to eliminate with certainty the possibility of an illusion.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby newyear on October 24th, 2011, 3:03 pm 

Your posts are interesting Sam26. Wittgenstein's work On Certainty does make one think.

We all use a belief system of one kind or another. Schooling would not be possible if every detail of knowledge is questioned as to its validity or not, as probably there would be a lot of 'not valid' material mixed up with valid stuff. For example, we are taught in geography that Mexico as a country exists. It is probably that in most classes no one has ever been to Mexico, but all believe that it is where the teacher pointed it out. Should this piece of knowledge be taken seriously? And, if the answer is yes, should all countries be taken to exist? Or, only some? Should we be told that it depends upon who is doing the explaining, and what belief system they believe in?

Outside one's own sensory abilities, all communication should be questioned as this information may not be valid.

There is another point and that is, does the mind 'recognise' information that is obtained from one's senses on a par with information that has been obtained via communication? Does Wittgenstein elaborate on this point, Sam?

I found this link interesting: http://philforum.berkeley.edu/blog/2011 ... certainty/
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 25th, 2011, 11:47 am 

yadayada wrote:
I was in a camp near Bayeux after the Normandy landing. A letter from Wittgenstein telling me he was reading Plato's Theaetetus: «Plato in this dialogue is occupied with the same problems that I am writing about.»
-- M. O'C. Drury


Wittgenstein's strict interpretation of knowledge is Platonic enough. I think this is worth keeping in mind in reading On Certainty. Moore's hand waving is a different, private, subjective form of knowledge. Moore assumes that perception is fundamental knowledge. While he might be certain of his hands, perhaps based on experience, I, watching the demonstration, would not be able to eliminate with certainty the possibility of an illusion.

I wouldn't characterize Wittgenstein's remarks in On Certainty as Platonic. Plato is searching for a definition that will define "knowledge," whereas Wittgenstein is showing us how we use the word in varying contexts. While it is true that Plato also uses varying contexts to derive his definition, Wittgenstein mainly concentrates on how we use the word "know," and for the most part stays away from a theory of knowledge. To properly compare the two would require another thread, but there is a difference.

Furthermore, Moore's use of the word "know," imho, is not a "subjective form of knowledge." In fact, Moore's propositions are offered as a proof of the external world, i.e., he is offering objective evidence (he offers up both of his hands as objective evidence). His 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 on the other hand, says that the kind of propositions that Moore offers as proof, are not the kind of propositions that one can purport to know, or to doubt for that matter. Hopefully this will become clear as I continue to explain various passages in OC.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 25th, 2011, 11:58 am 

newyear wrote:Your posts are interesting Sam26. Wittgenstein's work On Certainty does make one think.

We all use a belief system of one kind or another. Schooling would not be possible if every detail of knowledge is questioned as to its validity or not, as probably there would be a lot of 'not valid' material mixed up with valid stuff. For example, we are taught in geography that Mexico as a country exists. It is probably that in most classes no one has ever been to Mexico, but all believe that it is where the teacher pointed it out. Should this piece of knowledge be taken seriously? And, if the answer is yes, should all countries be taken to exist? Or, only some? Should we be told that it depends upon who is doing the explaining, and what belief system they believe in?

Outside one's own sensory abilities, all communication should be questioned as this information may not be valid.

There is another point and that is, does the mind 'recognise' information that is obtained from one's senses on a par with information that has been obtained via communication? Does Wittgenstein elaborate on this point, Sam?

I found this link interesting: http://philforum.berkeley.edu/blog/2011 ... certainty/

Thanks for responding.

I don't think that all communication should be questioned outside of our sensory experiences unless there is good reason, or at least some rational basis for doubting it. Sometimes we doubt that which shouldn't be doubted. If one uses the word "doubt" outside the language-game in which it was developed, then one is using it contrary to the rules of the game.

There is an interesting point about sensory experiences, because some of the hinge propositions or bedrock beliefs are based on sensory experiences. However, these are outside the language-game of epistemology. Thus they are not subject to the implicit rules of the language-game of epistemology. This too, will be seen as we progress through OC.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 25th, 2011, 12:39 pm 

"My life shews that I know or am certain that there is a chair over there, or a door, and so on.--I tell a friend e.g. "Take that chair over there", "Shut the door", etc, etc. (OC, 7)"

Our lives show that we have certain beliefs, and many of these beliefs are shown by our actions. The very act of sitting at a computer and typing shows my belief that there is a keyboard; that I have hands; that I am controlling my fingers; that what I type is saved to a hard drive, etc, etc. I do not even think about it, i.e., I do not think to myself and say, "Is this really a keyboard?" After all there is generally no reason to doubt such beliefs. That I am certain of these beliefs is reflected in what I do. We all act in ways that show our subjective certainty of the world around us. Occasionally things do cause us to doubt our surroundings, but usually these things are out of the ordinary. I am referring to our sense experiences, i.e., generally we can trust our senses.

The idea that we show our beliefs by what we do is an important aspect of understanding what these bedrock beliefs are, or how we develop such beliefs. It seems then that beliefs can be demonstrated in two ways (1) by showing one’s belief based on what we do, and (2) by stating the belief propositionally.

The backdrop of reality grounds us, if this was not the case, then the skeptic would have an argument. So reality has to have a certain amount of stability in order for us to have a ground. However, the skeptic tends to doubt those things that should not be doubted, i.e., they doubt the grounding of our doubts, or they doubt the very thing that gives meaning to doubting.

"The difference between the concept of 'knowing' and the concept of 'being certain' isn't of any great importance at all except where "I know" is meant to mean: I can't be wrong. In a law-court, for example, "I am certain" could replace "I know" in every piece of testimony. We might even imagine its being forbidden to say "I know" there. [A passage in Wilhelm Meister, where "You know" or "You knew" is used in the sense "You were certain", the fact being different from what he knew.] (OC, 8)."

This passage seems to be straight forward, i.e., in many instances we can use the two words know and certain interchangeably; and this is probably where some of the confusion occurs. I can be subjectively certain, but I can also be objectively certain. Both of these refer to beliefs, and as such they also point to states of mind. The difference is how both of these beliefs are supported.

Knowledge is not dependent upon a mental state, it can reflect a mental state, but the mental state does not ground knowledge. Both seem to be grounded, but grounded in very different ways. Knowledge takes place between people, and is supported by reference to the objective. Our subjective certainty is grounded not by the objective, but by what I feel, think, or believe, based on the interactions between our sense experiences and the world around us. These sensory experiences help us to form beliefs apart from the use of language, i.e., they are prior to language.

Subjective certainty takes place within our minds, and is not necessarily dependent upon the rules of language, although it can be if we communicate our subjective beliefs with others. When I say that subjective certainty takes place within, I mean the confirmation is dependent upon what we happen to think or feel. And although there is interaction with the objective world, we decide or interpret this information relative to us, as opposed to verifying it objectively.

For example, if I taste an orange and enjoy the sweetness of the orange, I will arrive at a certain subjective belief about oranges. Note that the orange is objective, but the belief I have about the orange is subjective, since it is depend upon my likes and dislikes. This belief is not dependent upon language, although I can share my belief with someone else using language. Also note that when I share it with you, the belief I have about oranges becomes objective for you. How? Because what I believe, although it is subjective for me, it is objective for you; and it becomes a piece of knowledge for you, and for others because it can be objectively verified.

Notice the way Moore is using the word know, essentially he is saying that he cannot be wrong about such-and-such a proposition, which seems to be an appeal to his subjective state of mind. He is basically saying "Look this is a hand, and I know it" and furthermore every rational person knows it. Moore believes these propositions are so certain that no rational person could doubt them. He is correct in one sense, i.e., a doubt here seems dubious at best. This is probably why it is easy for us to want to agree with Moore. However, Moore's propositions tell us much more about the use of know and doubt than many of us realize.

I may believe that I am not wrong, and have a conviction (the mental state of conviction) that shows my certainty, but that does not mean that I am correct. That we are not mistaken must be shown; or as Wittgenstein says, if what Moore was saying was true, then we could infer the truth of a proposition from the statement "I know...,” and this seems very problematic to say the least.

Part of the confusion between subjective certainty and objective certainty is conflating the use of the word certainty with the use of the word know. This arises because in some contexts we do use "I am certain..." as another way of saying "I know..." but in other contexts it is much different, as I have already explained above.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Positor on October 25th, 2011, 4:05 pm 

I think we need to consider the following four categories:

1. Subjective certainty where I cannot be wrong (e.g. that I have the sensation of eating an orange or of having a hand).

2. Subjective certainty where I can be wrong (e.g. that I am actually eating an orange or actually have a hand, i.e. that my sensations are trustworthy).

3. Objective certainty where I cannot be wrong (an empty category, since no "knowledge" of the outside world is 100% certain).

4. Objective certainty where I can be wrong (which, strictly speaking, includes all cases of objective certainty, although the likelihood of being wrong can obviously differ greatly).

Categories 2 and 4 would include (a) cases where the possibility of error is negligible (e.g. that I have a hand, or that Mount Everest exists) as well as (b) cases where it is non-negligible (e.g. that that book I see on the table is the one I left there ten minutes ago, rather than an identical-looking one with which someone replaced it when my back was turned). Note that even some beliefs of type (a) can turn out to be wrong (e.g. the former universal assumption that the measured speed of light depends on the observer's speed).

I am not sure that there is a clear distinction between categories 2 and 4. For example, my belief that I have a hand seems to be both a belief about myself (and thus subjective) and a belief about an object in the world (and thus objective).

Also, I am not sure that the distinction between bedrock and non-bedrock beliefs always coincides with the distinction between pre-linguistic and language-based beliefs. A belief I have acquired through language may be shown in my subsequent actions. For example, someone may assure me that a particular food has no long-term ill effects, and I may consequently eat it regularly without consciously thinking each time: "Is this really safe to eat?"
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby yadayada on October 25th, 2011, 9:18 pm 

Sam26 wrote: Moore's propositions are offered as a proof of the external world, i.e., he is offering objective evidence (he offers up both of his hands as objective evidence). ... Wittgenstein ... says that the kind of propositions that Moore offers as proof, are not the kind of propositions that one can purport to know, or to doubt for that matter.


Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

What I'm seeing is that Plato claimed that knowledge of Ideas is needed for all other knowledge, but that prerequisite is for us to "unforget" things we already know from our previous stays in the underworld. He did this deus ex machina to avoid customs based social origins of Ideas, which he considered weak. Wittgenstein, very significantly, extends Plato's theory of knowledge upwards in that direction through the investigation of public linguistic usage. Ideas can be known because they have unquestionable social bases. We learn them in usage.

I agree with you that Moore is attempting to use his hands as objective evidence. However, he fails to make the distinctions that Positor pointed out. My saying that I have a unicorn is not enough. Nor is anything else I claim to have. Objectivity is determined by general public acceptance of what I claim, which Moore wrongly presumes to already possess for something as common as his hands.

Which highlights the interesting fact that everyone takes Wittgenstein for their own. The realists, the relativists, the pragmatists, and the phenomenalists. Hehe.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Lomax on October 25th, 2011, 9:36 pm 

Hello Yadayada,

yadayada wrote:Objectivity is determined by general public acceptance of what I claim, which Moore wrongly presumes to already possess for something as common as his hands.


Is the notion that other people exist better-grounded than the notion that one's own hands exist? If not, I wonder why public acceptance would be enough to bolster one's belief in the existence of one's own hands?

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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 26th, 2011, 5:27 am 

Lomax wrote:Hello Yadayada,

yadayada wrote:Objectivity is determined by general public acceptance of what I claim, which Moore wrongly presumes to already possess for something as common as his hands.


Is the notion that other people exist better-grounded than the notion that one's own hands exist? If not, I wonder why public acceptance would be enough to bolster one's belief in the existence of one's own hands?

Lomax

How is it that a music tech undergraduate is able to capture part of the essence of what Wittgenstein is saying in this short (rhetorical) question? I like it.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby newyear on October 26th, 2011, 9:28 am 

Sam26 wrote:How is it that a music tech undergraduate is able to capture part of the essence of what Wittgenstein is saying in this short (rhetorical) question? I like it.


Labels can be pinned upon oneself, and others may pin them. That doesn't mean that the label tells the whole story. If one looks at Lomax's contributions to the forums, this can be observed quickly.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 26th, 2011, 10:28 am 

newyear wrote:
Sam26 wrote:How is it that a music tech undergraduate is able to capture part of the essence of what Wittgenstein is saying in this short (rhetorical) question? I like it.


Labels can be pinned upon oneself, and others may pin them. That doesn't mean that the label tells the whole story. If one looks at Lomax's contributions to the forums, this can be observed quickly.

It wasn't meant to be derogatory. In fact, quite the opposite. Most people that call themselves philosophers, or shall I say amateur philosophers, can't seem to grasp some of these ideas. I have a friend who has had some philosophy, but when I explain things to him, he gets it rather quickly. Some people are just a little quicker.

Why would you even assume that I was putting him/her down?
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Lomax on October 26th, 2011, 11:21 am 

No worries, it read like a compliment haha. I don't think Newyear was implying it were an insult either. Keep up the good thread folks :)
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby newyear on October 26th, 2011, 12:34 pm 

Sam26 wrote:Why would you even assume that I was putting him/her down?


I know you are new to the forums, so perhaps I shouldn't have said anything. However, you gave a label to Lomax in which if you follow some of his posts you will find he has a privileged mind. I know he gives himself this label in his forum profile, but don't be misled. Most of us that love philosophy wouldn't be able to survive for long if we dedicated our efforts to it as a means for a living.

That apart, your posts are excellent and I look forward to reading the next post.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Positor on October 26th, 2011, 2:18 pm 

newyear wrote:That apart, your posts are excellent and I look forward to reading the next post.

Yes, so do I.

Lomax wrote:Is the notion that other people exist better-grounded than the notion that one's own hands exist? If not, I wonder why public acceptance would be enough to bolster one's belief in the existence of one's own hands?

I think each case needs to be treated on its own merits. The complicating factor is that we are dealing with several non-coinciding dichotomies:

1. Those beliefs about which I cannot be wrong, versus those about which I can.
2. Those beliefs that are automatic and shown in my behaviour, versus those where I consciously consider my certainty or doubt.
3. The beliefs I have about myself (however "myself" is defined), versus those I have about the outside world.
4. My beliefs that are prior to language, versus those that I acquire through language.

One could imagine a Venn diagram with overlapping circles corresponding to the above categories, or a table setting out each permutation of categories. We should be careful not to oversimplify matters.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 26th, 2011, 4:00 pm 

"Now do I, in the course of my life, make sure I know that here is a hand-my own hands, that is (OC, 9)?"

It is not that we are unable to imagine situations in which it would be sensible to doubt whether we have hands, of course we can - Wittgenstein acknowledges such situations. However, we are not talking about contexts in which a doubt makes sense, and more importantly Moore is not talking about such contexts. Moore's examples are meant to be instances of propositions that we all know to be true. But Wittgenstein asks if these propositions are the kind of propositions that we come to know? Do we make sure "...in the course of [our] life..." that this is a hand, viz., my hand? It seems the question is rhetorical, and does not require an answer, because the answer is obvious.

Consider a situation in which your senses are all functioning properly, i.e., your not on drugs, and someone is not trying to deceive you, etc. What possible reason would you have to doubt that what your looking at are your hands? You might answer that it is possible that you are being deceived, or that it is possible that something unknown is affecting your sense perceptions; however, the mere possibility that we could be wrong is not enough. We need good reasons for our doubts, just as we need good reasons for knowledge claims.

Do we in the course of a normal day check to make sure that we indeed have hands? And what if someone did express doubts about the existence of their hands, would you think about that kind of doubting? For example, your sitting at the table enjoying your dinner, and you ask Jane to pass the salt. You are perplexed because she is not responding. You also notice that she looks puzzled, so you ask her if there is something wrong, Jane says, "I can't pass the salt." You ask "Why?" She responds, "I am not sure I have hands." Now what would be your response? You might say, "Jane quit kidding and pass the salt." However, Jane just looks at you with a puzzled look. Maybe you remember that she has been studying the skeptics response to Moore's propositions, so you ask her if she is puzzled about whether or not she really has hands. I think this would make most of us chuckle, because most of us realize how odd this is.

Those of us who think rationally would wonder if Jane is more than just confused. It is one thing to express an argument about such things, but it is quite another to act as though one really believes there are reasons to doubt such things. Your actions betray you. Our actions show that we believe Moore's propositions, whether we express doubts about them or not.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 26th, 2011, 4:05 pm 

Positor wrote:
newyear wrote:That apart, your posts are excellent and I look forward to reading the next post.

Yes, so do I.

Lomax wrote:Is the notion that other people exist better-grounded than the notion that one's own hands exist? If not, I wonder why public acceptance would be enough to bolster one's belief in the existence of one's own hands?

I think each case needs to be treated on its own merits. The complicating factor is that we are dealing with several non-coinciding dichotomies:

1. Those beliefs about which I cannot be wrong, versus those about which I can.
2. Those beliefs that are automatic and shown in my behaviour, versus those where I consciously consider my certainty or doubt.
3. The beliefs I have about myself (however "myself" is defined), versus those I have about the outside world.
4. My beliefs that are prior to language, versus those that I acquire through language.

One could imagine a Venn diagram with overlapping circles corresponding to the above categories, or a table setting out each permutation of categories. We should be careful not to oversimplify matters.


Thanks for your posts Positor. Before I answer some of these questions let me continue with the analysis, because some of these questions will be answered as we continue through OC.

I will get to this question though, so stay tuned. Moreover, don't stop with the responses, keep them coming.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 26th, 2011, 4:07 pm 

newyear wrote:
Sam26 wrote:Why would you even assume that I was putting him/her down?


I know you are new to the forums, so perhaps I shouldn't have said anything. However, you gave a label to Lomax in which if you follow some of his posts you will find he has a privileged mind. I know he gives himself this label in his forum profile, but don't be misled. Most of us that love philosophy wouldn't be able to survive for long if we dedicated our efforts to it as a means for a living.

That apart, your posts are excellent and I look forward to reading the next post.

Thanks for the compliment. Look forward to talking with you.

Sam
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 26th, 2011, 4:11 pm 

Lomax wrote:No worries, it read like a compliment haha. I don't think Newyear was implying it were an insult either. Keep up the good thread folks :)

I'll keep posting, and I look forward to discussions that may ensue.

Thanks,
Sam
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby erythrophyte on October 26th, 2011, 4:49 pm 

Sam26 wrote:Wittgenstein is one of the most misunderstood philosophers in history, mainly because of his method of doing philosophy, which allowed him to see the problems of philosophy in a different light. He attacked the very tools philosophers use - the proposition; and he exposed many of the propositions of philosophers as senseless or even nonsense. He did this by examining the logic behind the use of words or propositions. This is not to say that his thoughts were entirely new, but only that he was able to articulate the problems of philosophy with a rigor and genius that few philosophers possess.

It's uncanny how you can replace Wittgenstein with Heidegger in this paragraph and it would still hold true. I find both had very similar ends in mind but approached them from differing lines of thought. But, I suppose the Anglo-American tradition is repelled by his political affiliations and obtuse language (which can be oddly systematic once you get used to it).

Sam26 wrote:The idea of a language-game was introduced by Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations (PI, 7); however, an example of a language-game is given earlier (PI, 2). Wittgenstein never seems to give a definitive definition of language-game, but he does give examples throughout the Philosophical Investigations.

Sam26 wrote:Another way of thinking about language-games is that they are a form of life, that is, in their most basic form you can observe two people building something using simple calls, as in Wittgenstein's example.

I think when he talks of language-games he'd like to stress also the purpose of games i.e. that they have no purpose. By this is meant that there's a sense of play or lack of seriousness associated with games. Yes, there are competitions and tournaments, but for the most part games are leisurely in nature. Further, games are not unified by virtue of a defined and fixed set of rules or criteria. Basketball, chess, golf and euchre each have their set of rules, some of which overlap with other games, but there is no set of criteria by which we can classify all games.

In using the term form of life this sense of lack of purpose and definition is further emphasized. Life, seen in an evolutionary/historical context, serves no set, particular purpose nor was it ever destined to be. The astounding diversity of life we see today has no necessary basis. Had there been some unfortunate cataclysm, our ancestral branch could have been prematurely severed and Homo sapiens may have never come into being. Considered in this light, language can be seen as subject to organic growth, as not grounded exclusively in logic, but with an element of chance or non-sense. There's a passage that crystallizes this beautifully:

"Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses." - Philosophical Investigations, §18

(more soon)
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby yadayada on October 26th, 2011, 7:22 pm 

Lomax wrote:
yadayada wrote:Objectivity is determined by general public acceptance of what I claim, which Moore wrongly presumes to already possess for something as common as his hands.

Is the notion that other people exist better-grounded than the notion that one's own hands exist? If not, I wonder why public acceptance would be enough to bolster one's belief in the existence of one's own hands?

Even if you assume that all existents are equally grounded (which I need not accept), you cannot logically assume that they are all equally well grounded unless you build upon a great many (Aristotelian) assumptions, knowingly, or without awareness. Someone, who is of your convictions will find your conclusion obviously correct. Isn't this part of what Witt is saying?

There was only one real Wittgenstein. Everyone else is just reading and interpreting based upon their own philosophical framework. Come to think of it, even Wittgenstein may not have fully understood the range of implications that arise from reading what he said. He might have objected "but I really meant X". Would that X be the same as what any of us think?
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 27th, 2011, 3:49 am 

Positor wrote:I think we need to consider the following four categories:

1. Subjective certainty where I cannot be wrong (e.g. that I have the sensation of eating an orange or of having a hand

2. Subjective certainty where I can be wrong (e.g. that I am actually eating an orange or actually have a hand, i.e. that my sensations are trustworthy).).

I am not sure I see a difference between these two examples. That I am having the "sensation" of eating an orange, or that I am "actually eating an orange" seem very much the same. However, these seem to be what Wittgenstein would call bedrock beliefs. Both of these involve sensory experiences.

The phrase "I am actually eating an orange" seems a bit strange, in fact both of these statements seem strange. If you are eating an orange, then by definition you are having the experience or sensation of eating an orange. Moreover, what would it mean to "not actually" be eating an orange. Don't we simply say, "I am eating an orange."

You are correct, I believe, to say that these are subjective beliefs, because they are based on our sensory contact with the world. It seems to me that there is a causal relationship between these sensory experiences with the world around us, and what we believe. These may be the very building blocks of language. They seem to be pre-linguistic beliefs. And if they are pre-linguistic, then one could see why they are outside the language-game of epistemology.
3. Objective certainty where I cannot be wrong (an empty category, since no "knowledge" of the outside world is 100% certain).

4. Objective certainty where I can be wrong (which, strictly speaking, includes all cases of objective certainty, although the likelihood of being wrong can obviously differ greatly).

I think that deductive arguments, which are proofs, can be said to follow necessarily from the premises. Thus according to this language-game, we know the conclusion follows with absolute certainty. And there are other things that we know with absolute certainty. Thus the term "absolute certainty" is used to refer to certain kinds of propositions.

Number 4 seems to, at the very least, refer to what we know inductively; and since this kind of knowledge is based on probability, it follows that we wouldn't know the conclusions with absolute certainty. We usually refer to this kind of knowledge as either strong or weak. So yes, I agree with number 4.
Categories 2 and 4 would include (a) cases where the possibility of error is negligible (e.g. that I have a hand, or that Mount Everest exists) as well as (b) cases where it is non-negligible (e.g. that that book I see on the table is the one I left there ten minutes ago, rather than an identical-looking one with which someone replaced it when my back was turned). Note that even some beliefs of type (a) can turn out to be wrong (e.g. the former universal assumption that the measured speed of light depends on the observer's speed).

Categories 2 and 4 are much different in terms of what Wittgenstein is saying. First, number two, which I believe is similar to number 1 are a completely different beliefs altogether, i.e., very basic beliefs based on sensory input. I am referring to them as pre-linguistic. Category number 4 takes place within the language-game of epistemology (inductive reasoning), so they are arrived at in very different ways. The example you use of the speed of light is also different from number 2 in that it is based on a hypothesis. Numbers 1 and two are based on sensory inputs.
I am not sure that there is a clear distinction between categories 2 and 4. For example, my belief that I have a hand seems to be both a belief about myself (and thus subjective) and a belief about an object in the world (and thus objective).

Subjective beliefs can be about real objects (objective things) in the world. However, what makes them subjective is how they originate. Thus a subjective belief may be about things in the world, but what I believe about those things come from how I feel or think about those things.
Also, I am not sure that the distinction between bedrock and non-bedrock beliefs always coincides with the distinction between pre-linguistic and language-based beliefs. A belief I have acquired through language may be shown in my subsequent actions. For example, someone may assure me that a particular food has no long-term ill effects, and I may consequently eat it regularly without consciously thinking each time: "Is this really safe to eat?"
You are correct, I believe, to say that "...the distinction between bedrock and non-bedrock beliefs [doesn't] always coincides with the distinction between pre-linguistic and language-based beliefs. There seem to be two kinds of bedrock beliefs, (1) those that are pre-linguistic (causal beliefs based on sensory input); and (2), bedrock beliefs within language itself. I will talk more about this later.
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 27th, 2011, 3:52 am 

I may not be able to reply to each and every comment, but I will make an effort to reply to some or most comments or questions.

Thanks,
Sam
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Re: An Analysis of On Certainty

Postby Sam26 on October 27th, 2011, 4:16 am 

"I know that a sick man is lying here? Nonsense! I am sitting at his bedside, I am looking attentively into his face.-So I don't know, then, that there is a sick man lying here? Neither the question nor the assertion makes sense. Any more than the assertion "I am here", which I might yet use at any moment, if suitable occasion presented itself.---Then is 2 x 2 = 4" nonsense in the same way, and not a proposition of arithmetic, apart from particular occasions? "2 x 2 = 4" is a true proposition of arithmetic-not "on particular occasions" nor "always"--but the spoken or written sentence "2 x 2 = 4" in Chinese might have a different meaning or be out and out nonsense, and from this is seen that it is only in use that the proposition has its sense. And "I know that there's a sick man lying here", used in an unsuitable situation, seems not to be nonsense but rather seems matter-of-course, only because one can fairly easily imagine a situation to fit it, and one thinks that the words "I know that..." are always in place where there is doubt, and hence even where the expression of doubt would be unintelligible (OC, 10)."

Consider the following: We are sitting together visiting a friend in the hospital. We are in a well lit room, and we are not under the influence of drugs or anything that would alter our perceptions, so there is no reason to doubt that we are looking at a sick friend. I say, "There's a sick man lying here. In fact, I know there is a sick man lying here. It's our friend Bob." You respond with, "What's your point? Obviously there is a sick man lying here. Did you have any doubts?" Notice how out of place the propositions sound. It is important to realize that if there was a reason to doubt the statement, then it would not be out of place. For example, if we were standing outside Bob's room, and it was not well lit, and you asked, "Is that Bob in there?" And I replied, "Yes, it's Bob." You ask, "Are you sure? It's hard to see in here." I respond, "I know that's Bob, because a few minutes before you arrived, I was in there talking with him."

The problem it seems, is that because we can imagine a situation that fits Moore's propositions, i.e., a situation in which we can understand the use of the words know and doubt, then it follows that Moore's propositions are good examples of what we know. But the problem seems to be that some of these propositions will work within the language-game of epistemology, and some will not. One needs to understand the context. Therefore, is it proper to say, as Moore did, "I know I have hands." One cannot answer the doubts of the skeptic by simply using the word know, as if the utterance of the word conveys that you really do know. In fact, the statement that “one knows,” is no more intelligible in this situation, than the statement that “one doubts” that one has hands. Both people are making the same mistake, viz., using the words out of the language-games that make them intelligible.

Wittgenstein seems to be making the same point about the mathematical proposition 2 + 2 = 4, i.e., when it is used outside of its normal range of use (outside the language-game in which it resides), it too, is out of place.

Consider how we use the word know in our everyday lives. We take a course in algebra, history, ethics, or physics, and the teacher wants to know if you know the subject. Is it enough to say to the teacher "I know algebra." Is that enough to remove the doubts of your teacher? Obviously not, we have to demonstrate our knowledge? We take quizzes, we take tests, and we answer questions in class, and this is what convinces others that we have knowledge. Once the doubts are eliminated, then the question of knowing does not generally arise.

If for example we say in a court of law that "Joe Smith guilty of murder," then hopefully the evidence will convince us, so that very little doubt or no doubt remains. A claim to knowledge is a special kind of claim that requires an objective standard; and once the standard is met, we generally have no doubts that we have knowledge. Moreover, the claim to knowledge is not a claim of absolute certainty. We do not need absolute certainty to say we know that a proposition is true or false, but we do need a high degree of certainty.

What possible doubt could there be in the examples above? Doubting has to have a context beyond the expression of the word doubt. Just as knowledge must have a context beyond simply expressing the word know. If one is able to use the words know and doubt in a proposition, that does not mean that the proposition has sense.

Using the word know as Moore used it, seems senseless, in fact, it creates bogus philosophical problems. Many so-called philosophical problems are just as out-of-place as Moore's propositions. For example, the way we talk about free will and determinism, time, knowledge, and a whole panoply of other philosophical ideas. Once we come to understand what Wittgenstein is saying, or trying to do via his method of analysis, then many of the problems of philosophy simply vanish as pseudo-problems - many, but not all.
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