Andrew's Reviews > On Certainty

On Certainty by Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Aug 09, 2011

it was amazing
Read from August 09 to 10, 2011

Really interesting book. A diary of Wittgenstein's thoughts on a couple of Moore's pieces, on which the latter proved the obvious: "This is my hand," "That is a tree." The aphorisms add up to a complex analysis of thought, belief, knowledge, language games, forms of life, learning, doubt, and what is a mistake is. The basic argument is that for Moore his hand really is certainly his hand, yet Moore's knowledge is not really anything more than his firm conviction in his own belief. All knowledge that we lay claim to is based around unconscious systems of rules (yet note that these are not the rules of a book, but embedded ways that we have mastered - not even we could write them into a rule book) that justify to ourselves what we know. The irony of Moore's argument is that he feels he can offer a proof because his language is so clear (an analytic philosopher who does indeed have written propositions) and his proposition so neatly emerges from its perfect coherence. What is obvious and common-sense to Moore in England might be complete hogwash to someone from a distant community or the Moon. These people haven't spent years playing the same philosophical language games as Moore, and therefore are not "certain" of the same things as Moore is. They may doubt Moore's system to the point where Moore would have to abandon it (the combat of the missionary). Any doubt or error within Moore's system would neet to be written off as a mistake in order not to compromise the premise. When Moore, in the lecture hall, realizes that his hand is really my hand and therefore that his assertion is incorrect, then certainly he was mistaken, as the majority of the time that hand would indeed be his.
The most interesting part about this book for me is the discussion of learning and the empirical propositions that aren't really even assertions. Over time what we do builds up into what we "know" - what seems obvious. This obviousness removes doubt from certain portions of our lives. And then we may act. The child doesn't know that he knows what the color red is called. He simply sees red and thinks that it is red because that is what others do, and what he was taught to do, and what his teacher called it yesterday. Upon the landscape of such sedimentations we have forms of life and the language games that occur related back to them.
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