• Sam26
    2.6k
    On Certainty is a response to Moore's papers, Proof of an External World and A Defense of Common Sense in which Moore proposes a number of propositions that he claims to know with certainty. Propositions such as the following: "Here is one hand" and "There exists at present a living human body, which is my body (G.E. Moore, Philosophical Papers (1959), p. 1)." Moore continues to enumerate other propositions that he claims to know, with certainty, to be true. These propositions provide for Moore a proof of the external world, and as such, they supposedly form a buttress against the skeptic.

    As we shall see as we examine On Certainty it is not only Moore's claim to knowledge that Wittgenstein criticizes, but he also critiques the skeptic, and specifically their use of the word doubt. 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. Moore's proof is supposed to undermine the doubts of the skeptic. It is also supposed to demonstrate that the conclusion follows necessarily, and if it does, then the skeptic's doubts are supposed to vanish - at least in theory. The proof would look something like the following:

            1) Moore has knowledge that he has two hands.
      	2) Moore infers from the fact that he has two hands, to the conclusion that 
               there exists an external world.
      	3) Hence, Moore knows that an external world exists.
    

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

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

    I've done this analysis before, but I'm re-writing it to update it. Hopefully, this analysis will be better than the original. I'm not sure how far I'll get, but I'll give it a go.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    On Certainty Post #2

    "If you do know that here is one hand [G.E. Moore, Proof of an External World], we'll grant you all the rest. When one says that such and such a proposition can't be proved, of course that does not mean that it can't be derived from other propositions; any proposition can be derived from other ones. But they may be no more certain than it is itself (OC, 1)."

    So, Wittgenstein grants that if Moore does indeed know that he has a hand, then Moore's conclusion follows (see post 1). The skeptic says that such a proposition can't be proved. This doesn't mean, according to Wittgenstein, that we can't derive them based on other propositions. However, the derivation may not be any stronger than the proposition we started with. My interpretation is that there is something foundational here, viz., that some propositions are foundational to our claims of knowledge or our claims of doubt. When you reach bedrock no part of the foundational structure is stronger.

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

    The skeptic may have a point (although it may not be the point he/she is trying to make), that just because people (or Moore) say something is so, it doesn't follow that it is. However, Wittgenstein points out that what we need to ask, is whether the doubt makes sense. Doubting occurs in a language-game, and language-games have rules - later Wittgenstein will point out that a doubt that doubts everything is not a doubt. Some kinds of doubting make no sense, i.e., if you start out doubting everything, then doubting loses all sense.

    Knowledge has to be demonstrated - whereas Moore seems to just state his propositions as facts, and this needs to be shown or demonstrated in some way.
  • tim wood
    8.9k
    Having knowledge of something presupposes that there are good reasons (at least in many cases) to believe it,Sam26

    The word "presupposes" (imo) is key. It would be an accomplishment to list any thing that might pass for knowledge, that was free of any and all presuppositions.

    Presuppositions are the ground. And if good, they're usually solid ground - until they change.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    The word certainty in On Certainty seems to be used in at least two ways. First, a subjective sense, viz., "I feel certain." Or, two, "I know or am certain that such and such is the case." In the second case the word certain could replace the word know, i.e., they essentially mean the same thing.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Presupposes as used in this context means there is a justification for believing X, or rather a justification for making the claim that one knows that X is the case.
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    Moore is also misunderstanding the skeptic. The skeptic will agree that we have an experience of having a body. But Moore is making a claim about the external world. Moore thinks waving his hands around proves that waving hands exist as such in the external world. How does Moore get from his experience of a body to an external world matching that experience? He just assumes it.
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    just because people (or Moore) say something is so, it doesn't follow that it is. However, Wittgenstein points out that what we need to ask, is whether the doubt makes sense. Doubting occurs in a language-game, and language-games have rules - later Wittgenstein will point out that a doubt that doubts everything is not a doubt. Some kinds of doubting make no sense,Sam26

    It helps to ask why skeptical doubt arose in the first place. Ancient skeptics produced various arguments for doubting dogmatic claims about the world that Moore makes. As for the coherency of doubting everything, the ancient skeptics were aware of those criticisms. One answer is that beliefs are based on what appears to be the case to someone, such as having a body with two hands to wave about, but that doesn't justify being dogmatic.

    The most widely discussed charge is that they cannot act without belief (Apraxia Charge). In response, the skeptics describe their actions variously as guided by the plausible, the convincing, or by appearances. The notion of appearances gains great importance in Pyrrhonian skepticism, and poses difficult interpretive questions (Barney 1992). When something appears so-and-so to someone, does this for the skeptics involve some kind of judgment on their part? Or do they have in mind a purely phenomenal kind of appearing? The skeptical proposals (that the skeptic adheres to the plausible, the convincing, or to appearances) have in common their appeal to something less than full-fledged belief about how things are, while allowing something sufficient to generate and guide action. — https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-ancient/
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    Or, two, "I know or am certain that such and such is the case." In the second case the word certain could replace the word know, i.e., they essentially mean the same thing.Sam26

    Until one finds out they were wrong to be certain. In that case they didn't actually know what they were certain about. Unfortunately, I have been certain and wrong a few times before. Probably all of us have.

    This is one argument for skepticism. We think we know various things. They we find out we don't actually know.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    On Certainty Post 3

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

    The language-game of doubt, and what it means in a particular context to overcome the doubt.

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

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

    What are the grounds for doubt? What are the grounds for knowing? Maybe part of the confusion lies in the fact that we can imagine situations were we can doubt such propositions. However, can we doubt the propositions Moore is using, and can we doubt them in Moore's contexts?
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    However, can we doubt the propositions Moore is using, and can we doubt them in Moore's contexts?Sam26

    We can doubt his claims to certainty about an external world because it appears that he has hands. How do we really know (have certainty) the external world is as it appears to us humans? The problem is Moore's dogmatism.

    If the argument is only that we can't doubt the everyday appearance of normal life, then sure. But it doesn't help Moore's case. It's just an argument for pragmatism, while Moore wants to argue for realism.
  • tim wood
    8.9k
    Presupposes as used in this context means there is a justification for believing X, or rather a justification for making the claim that one knows that X is the case.Sam26

    That just makes a mash of the meaning of the word. What do you imagine pre-suppose to mean? If I claim justification, then that is exactly not presupposing. See the problem?
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    Presuppositions are the ground. And if good, they're usually solid ground - until they change.tim wood

    Such as someone in antiquity presupposing the Earth was motionless. It was as obvious as waving one's hands about. The sun, planets and stars are what move. Or things upon the Earth. But it's the Earth that provides the stationary ground upon which we have a means to measure motion.

    Or some such obvious appeal to the way things seemed to be prior to convincing arguments for heliocentrism.
  • tim wood
    8.9k
    Presuppositions, and particularly a species of them called absolute presuppositions, are a part of all thought. Not an entirely simple topic, but approachable in R.G. Collingwood's An Essay on Metaphysics.
    https://www.amazon.com/Essay-Metaphysics-R-G-Collingwood/dp/1614276153
    And by browsing the internet for papers both by and about him and absolute presuppositions.
    This, for example:
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/collingwood/
  • Marchesk
    4.6k


    Interesting:

    In other words, the ‘realism’ which constitutes the target of Collingwood's critique is not the ontological thesis that there exist mind independent objects, but the epistemological thesis that there is such a thing as presuppositionless knowledge of reality. Collingwood's rejection of this realism develops out of an attempt to explain how forms of enquiry which make mutually exclusive absolute presuppositions can co-exist alongside one another. — https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/collingwood/

    And:

    He attacked the neo-empiricist assumptions prevalent in early analytic philosophy and advocated a logical/epistemological transformation of metaphysics from a study of being or ontology to a study of the absolute presuppositions or heuristic principles which govern different forms of enquiry.

    Sounds like absolute presuppositions are similar to Witty's hinge propositions. But Collingwood argues we have mutually exclusive presuppositions across different fields of inquiry, which raises a problem for using those as a basis for making claims to certainty about the world.
  • tim wood
    8.9k
    A pdf here. Maybe there are others easier to read. Collingwood himself is very easy to read.
    https://epdf.pub/an-essay-on-metaphysics.html
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    That just makes a mash of the meaning of the word. What do you imagine pre-suppose to mean? If I claim justification, then that is exactly not presupposing. See the problem?tim wood

    If I presuppose there are good reasons for believing X, then I'm presupposing there is a justification for X. In this case presuppose means to entail.
  • TheMadFool
    13.8k
    Why did Moore choose hands to make his point?
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    On Certainty Post 4

    "Whether a proposition can turn out false after all depends on what I make count as determinants for that proposition (OC, 5)."

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

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

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

    This 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. There is a kind of logic of use involved in Wittgenstein's method throughout On Certainty.

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

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

    Finally, if some of you want to learn how Wittgenstein examines words using the methods in the Philosophical Investigations - I believe On Certainty puts Wittgenstein's methods (the methods of the PI) to use, i.e., we can learn how to apply his methods by a close examination of his notes.
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    Why did Moore choose hands to make his point?TheMadFool

    Would you have preferred a different body part?

    Probably because hands are harder to be skeptical about than a rock, since hands are part of the person doing the doubting. You can kick the rock, but it's still not as good as waving hands about.

    However, it still doesn't accomplish what Moore wanted it too, unless one already agrees with Moore. A skeptic is not going to be persuaded. Moore is waving his hands to the choir.
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    However, in a later passage he seems to clarify what he has in mind. In paragraph 42 Wittgenstein speaks of the "mental state of conviction," and that this state of conviction is something that occurs regardless of whether a proposition is true or false. Wittgenstein seems to refer to it as a subjective state of certainty, and we observe this in the way people speak or gesticulate. The way we gesticulate will often show our convictions. Moore's claim to knowledge seems to be more in line with this subjective state of certainty, than with real knowledge claims. This will be developed more as we look at these passages.Sam26

    This is very interesting. So Moore is misusing the word "know" to instead refer to a feeling of certainty.

    As a side note, it's also interesting that Wittgenstein is referring to a mental state.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Sorry, but I'm not going to respond to every post. I'm just going to get the exegesis out, and you can do what you like with the information.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Both Moore and the skeptics are misusing the words know and doubt respectively.
  • TheMadFool
    13.8k
    Would you have preferred a different body part?Marchesk

    Well, hands aren't exactly "external" reality are they? Hands are too me to be proof of anything other than me, no?
  • A Seagull
    615
    Certainty is easy. The stupidest of people and the dumbest of animals can be certain of their beliefs.
    Doubt takes something more.
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    Well, hands aren't exactly "external" reality are they? Hands are too me to be proof of anything other than me, no?TheMadFool

    Well, you might say your body is part of external reality. That you have a body moving about in the world proves there is a world. Some people want to argue the subjectivity/objectivity divide is false. It's all objective. Problem is it can go the other way and be all subjective.

    So how do we know which one it is?
  • TheMadFool
    13.8k
    Well, you might say your body is part of external reality. That you have a body moving about in the world proves there is a world. Some people want to argue the subjectivity/objectivity divide is false. It's all objective. Problem is it can go the other way and be all subjective.

    So how do we know which one it is?
    Marchesk

    Where exactly is the boundary between internal reality and external reality? Presumably there is an internal reality since we're talking about external reality. Also, it seems to me that hands and other sensory organs are the interface between the internal and the external - a place, so to speak, where the external and the internal greet and converse with each other. Given this is so, I'd expect something other than bodily parts for a proof of the external world. :chin:
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    Where exactly is the boundary between internal reality and external realityTheMadFool

    Our perception. Hands have nerves, so they're part of it.
  • TheMadFool
    13.8k
    Our perception. Hands have nerves, so they're part of it.Marchesk

    Isn't Moore's claim like an astronomer thinking stars, galaxies, giant gas clouds, space dust, etc. exist by just looking at, as opposed to looking through, her telescope?
  • Marchesk
    4.6k
    Isn't Moore's claim like an astronomer thinking stars, galaxies, giant gas clouds, space dust, etc. exist by just looking at her telescope?TheMadFool

    Pretty much. It accomplishes nothing against the skeptic. Like skeptics hadn't considered having hands before.
  • path
    284
    Where exactly is the boundary between internal reality and external reality? Presumably there is an internal reality since we're talking about external reality. Also, it seems to me that hands and other sensory organs are the interface between the internal and the external - a place, so to speak, where the external and the internal greet and converse with each other. Given this is so, I'd expect something other than bodily parts for a proof of the external world. :chin:TheMadFool

    If proof means something like 'argument or sufficient evidence for the truth of a proposition,' then it seems to me that the very concept of proof is social. Who is the argument for? What is reason? If reason is radically private, how does it avoid being absurdly arbitrary?

    The idea that was start in some kind of private mental space and have to somehow construct or justify the world from there is massive and misleading assumption. Why does our skeptic take this framework for granted? Why does the skeptic not doubt the existence of the mental, of the inner? Perhaps because the skeptic assumes without proof that language/thought is 'inside.'
  • TheMadFool
    13.8k
    If proof means something like 'argument or sufficient evidence for the truth of a proposition,' then it seems to me that the very concept of proof is socialpath

    You have to convince yourself before you can even try to convince an other.

    Why does the skeptic not doubt the existence of the mental, of the inner?path

    Descartes?
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