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On Certainty (Harper Perennial Modern Thought)

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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.

194 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1969

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About the author

Ludwig Wittgenstein

353 books2,393 followers
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (Ph.D., Trinity College, Cambridge University, 1929) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

Described by Bertrand Russell as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating", he helped inspire two of the twentieth century's principal philosophical movements: the Vienna Circle and Oxford ordinary language philosophy. According to an end of the century poll, professional philosophers in Canada and the U.S. rank both his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations among the top five most important books in twentieth-century philosophy, the latter standing out as "...the one crossover masterpiece in twentieth-century philosophy, appealing across diverse specializations and philosophical orientations". Wittgenstein's influence has been felt in nearly every field of the humanities and social sciences, yet there are widely diverging interpretations of his thought.

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Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
July 21, 2020
Über Gewissheit = On Certainty, Ludwig Wittgenstein

On Certainty is a philosophical book composed from notes written by Ludwig Wittgenstein over four separate periods in the eighteen months before his death on 29 April 1951.

The book's concerns are largely epistemological (theory of knowledge), a recurrent theme being that there are some things which must be exempt from doubt in order for human practices to be possible, including the activity of raising doubts: "A doubt that doubted everything would not be a doubt"

عنوانها: «در ب‍اب‌ ی‍ق‍ی‍ن»‌؛ «در ب‍اره‌ (درباره) ی‍ق‍ی‍ن»‌؛ نویسنده: ل‍ودوی‍ک‌ وی‍ت‍گ‍ن‍ش‍ت‍ای‍ن‌؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و پنجم ماه سپتامبر سال 2002میلادی

عنوان: در ب‍اب‌ ی‍ق‍ی‍ن‌؛ نویسنده: ل‍ودوی‍ک‌ وی‍ت‍گ‍ن‍ش‍ت‍ای‍ن‌؛ مت‍رج‍م از متن انگلیسی م‍ال‍ک‌ ح‍س‍ی‍ن‍ی‌؛ ت‍ه‍ران‌ ش‍ه‍ر ک‍ت‍اب‌، ه‍رم‍س‌، 1379؛ در 184ص؛ شابک 9647100787؛ چاپ دوم 1382؛ چاپ دیگر تهران کتابهای هرمس‏‫، 1387؛ در 380ص؛ شابک 9789643635176؛ چاپ دیگر تهران هرمس‏‫، 1390؛ در 360ص و بیست و دو صفحه؛ چاپ سوم 1392؛ چاپ چهارم 1395؛ موضوع یقین - فلسفه و کلام - از فیلسوفان اتریشی بریتانیایی - سده 20م

عنوان: در ب‍اره‌ ی‍ق‍ی‍ن‌؛ نویسنده: ل‍ودوی‍گ‌ وی‍ت‍گ‍ن‍ش‍ت‍ای‍ن‌؛ مت‍رج‍م: م‍وس‍ی‌ دی‍ب‍اج‌؛ ت‍ه‍ران‌: ت‍ن‍دی‍س‌، 1380؛ در 188ص؛ شابک ایکس - 964671126؛ چاپ دیگر با عنوان درباره یقین و کشف المطالب آن؛ تهران: مولی‏‫، ‏‫1397؛ در دوازده و 307ص؛ شابک 9786003390744؛‬‬

دربارهٔ یقین یا «در باب یقین» کتابی فلسفی، دارای یادداشت‌های «ویتگنشتاین»، در دو سال پایانی زندگی ایشانست، که سال‌ها پس از درگذشتش در سال 1969میلادی منتشر شد؛ جناب «موسی دیباج» این کتاب را با عنوان «دربارهٔ یقین» و جناب «مالک حسینی» با عنوان «در باب یقین» به فارسی ترجمه کرده‌ اند. این کتاب شامل بحث «در باب رنگ‌ها» نیز می‌شد، ولی آن بخش به صورت جداگانه‌ به چاپ رسیده است

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 31/04/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.7k followers
Want to read
December 28, 2011
Some interesting things that people are certain about:


You have an invisible friend who is the most important being in the world and responsible for everything that happens.


The great strength of science is that all its findings are provisional and subject to revision at any moment if new evidence comes in. This is why you should trust it.


Even 0.1% growth over a few tens of millenia would result in an economy bigger than the known universe. But, although it is impossible in the long term, the critical thing is that the economy should grow, otherwise catastrophe will ensue.


Exercise left to the reader.
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books451 followers
February 25, 2009
I’m not…certain how I feel about this book. What I mean more precisely is…that…it is impossible for me to be certain how I feel about this book. In fact, it’s impossible for me to really be certain of anything whatsoever. According to Mr. Ludvig Vittgen-shhhhhhhtein, that is.

On Certainty was a rather enjoyable read despite the fact that it contained 676 numbered paragraphs of somewhat repetitive analysis. But if one is as fascinated by philosophy as I am, then it’s no bother. Some would say Wittgenstein is a philosopher’s philosopher because he spends much of his effort debunking traditional philosophy. Here is what I can tease out of this text:

All things that we are certain of, including science, are part of a world-view. World-views are based on language and language games (meaning the “rules” we create for language, in order to understand each other.) All the things that we consider to be “certain” or sure (i.e. True), are actually premises for our language games. In other words, you can point to every fact we are so sure of, “The world is spherical,” or “This is my hand,” and they always end up pointing back to what are assumptions of the language game. Things we believe are so because we defined them in our language game as so. He would say that nothing is ever truly objective because there is always some lower level “fact” that points to another “fact” that points to a “fact” that points back to language. It points back to an assertion, something we are taught. Facts are really socially constructed in our worldview. Certainty is constructed meaning, not objective meaning.

Certainty has no ground. If you say, “I know the earth is round,” how is that different from “I am of unshakeable conviction that the earth is round.” What “I know” really means is that you are convinced of some set of rules you have been taught. LW would say that in the end every “I know” is merely a statement of your relation to an accepted world view, not a factual ground. All our grounds are merely hardened propositions accepted by each of us in order to be welcomed into a taught world-view.

There is no ground beneath her feet.

He compares the world views of different societies as well to further communicate his point. In some tribal society, it may be the shaman who causes rain, not a meteorological phenomenon. Are they demonstrably wrong? Perhaps…but what if…cause and effect were actually wrong. Scientific evidence is all based on cause and effect being true, but it’s impossible to objectively demonstrate cause and effect. Even if something happens a billion times repeatedly…that is not objective proof that it will always happen that way. Or that it happens for the reason we thought it did. The future cannot be predicted. Science can suddenly alter its worldview and then suddenly the facts that were our ground, no longer are. There is no objective ground. No certainty.

Some writers claim that LW actually debunks skepticism because he claims skepticism’s questions (such as “Is this all a dream?”) don’t fit into the language game of a given world view so they are not coherent questions. For a question to be coherent, it must fit into the language game. But I don’t see that. He actually seems like the ultimate skeptic, to me. You just need to reword the questions and ask things like, “If we can’t be certain of anything, because in the end language only points to itself, then how can we be certain we aren’t all just in a dream?”

So how can we?
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,378 reviews2,253 followers
October 13, 2019
Second Wittgenstein book I have read, that was far less challenging that the first.
A deeply insightful collection of notes that effectively gets into the mind of this influential and complex philosopher. Wittgenstein writes on the theme of common sense, as he attempts to address the debate between radical skepticism and GE Moore's claim to know various facts with certainty. He has always been difficult to read and truly grasp, but this book reads relatively straightforward, making it a good place to start for the Wittgenstein beginner. Some say this is his best book, which also turned out to be his last writings. Don't think I would have even read him if it wasn't for my admiration for Thomas Bernhard.
Profile Image for hayatem.
671 reviews169 followers
July 2, 2020

يعد في اليقين أهم أعمال الفيلسوف الألماني لودفيغ فتغنشتاين الذي أنهى كتابته قبل وفاته. وهو مجموعة من الفقرات والملاحظات التي شكلت كتابه هذا. على خلفية جدالات خاضها مع صديقه نورمان مالكوم في عام 1949 عن المعرفة والحس المشترك عند جورج مور. نشر أول مرة في عام 1969 . أثار هذا العمل الكثير من الصخب في الاشتغال الفلسفي اللغوي واللساني، والنفسي. كما نبه هدا العمل على منطق واستدراك الاستعمال المفاهيمي، والتمايز الدلالي، للمفردة أو الكلمة في اللغة.

بعض الاقتباسات:

يقول لنا فغنشتاين في الفقرة رقم 559 إن لعبة اللغة شيء لا يمكن التنبؤ به، وهي غير عاقلة، وربما الشيء اللافت حقاً للانتباه والمثير للتأمل هو ربطه لوجود لعبة اللغة بوجود حياتنا.

ويقول كذلك في الفقرة 357 يمكن للمرء أن يقول: "إن جملة؛ " أنا أعرف" تعبر عن اليقين المريح، وليس اليقين الذي لايزال يعاني".

أيضاً يقول في الفقرة 601 يوجد دائماً خطر الرغبة في إيجاد معنى التعبير من خلال التأمل في التعبير نفسه، وفي الحالة العقلية التي يستعمله المرء أثنائها، عوضاً عن التفكير دائماً بالممارسة. هذا ما يجعل المرء يكرر التعبير لنفسه مراراً، لأنه كما لو أن المرء يلزم عليه أن ينظر فيما يبحث عنه في التعبير وفي الشعور الذي يعطيه إياه.

الفقرة 331 . إذا تصرفنا دائماً يقيناً مستندين على قوة الاعتقاد، فهل ينبغي لنا التعجب من أنه يوجد الكثير الذي لا يمكننا الشك فيه؟

الفقرة 300. ليست جل تصحيحات رؤانا على المستوى نفسه.

للاستزادة أكثر حول هذا العمل اقرأوا كتاب:

‏Wittgenstein and On Certainty
‏By Andy Hamilton
‏Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, 2014, pp. 340, Reviewed by Derek A. McDougall

فتجنشتاين وفي اليقين، من تأليف البروفسور أندي هاميلتون- ترجمة مصطفى سمير، عن دار ابن النديم والروافد الصادر في عام 2019. يقع الكتاب في 479ص. وهو مدخل موسع لآخر وأهم ما كتب فتجنشتاين ( في اليقين).
هنا مراجعتي على الكتاب👇

hayatem (The United Arab Emirates)’s review of "فتجنشتاين و"في اليقين | Goodreads
Profile Image for Deepthi.
29 reviews234 followers
January 7, 2015
I will not be able to use "I know" in my vocabulary without first questioning my statement's certainty a hundred times. Would I be certain of my knowledge then? I might not be. Wittgenstein, in this book, uses short philosophical and linguistic reflections on "knowing" as a response to G. E. Moore's 1939 paper, “Proof of an External World”. He asks you to emphasize on "I believe" than "I know" whenever you "don't know", because when you think you "believe", and say that you "know", you actually are saying that you "believe" because you really, in actuality, "don't know", as there is no way of actually "knowing" certain things. Makes sense? If it does, Wittgenstein won't disappoint you.
Profile Image for William West.
328 reviews102 followers
October 16, 2015
It seems to me that Wittgenstein is trying, with this very late work, to answer the questions raised in his Tractatus in the terminology he employed in his mid-period, that of the language games of the Blue and Brown Books and Philosophical Investigations. With On Certainty, finished two days before the author's death, I think Wittgenstein arrives at surprisingly Kantian conclusions.

Wittgenstein begins both this work and the Tractatus with an inquiry into that of which he can be certain. In the Tractatus he asks himself what he truly knows. In On Certainty he asks himself what he can and cannot be said to doubt. To doubt everything, Wittgenstein proclaims in the later portion of the text would not actually be doubt at all. To doubt everything would be to no longer be able to act or think because one would no longer believe even in the meaning of the words one uses to express doubt. The language game of social existence could not continue under such circumstances, and doubt is actually a product of the language game, one might say one of the game's subgenres. (Does not Descartes, in doubting even his own existence, not ultimately validate that existence, and even insist on its primacy?)

So one cannot doubt the rules of the game themselves (which is to say “everything”) but one most certainly can doubt within the rules of the game. To see if a proposition can be doubted, says Wittgenstein, look to what supports the proposition's truth-claim. In almost all instances, he holds, it will only be other propositions. Language games rely on themselves as proof. Even mathematics Wittgenstein holds to be a kind of language game-asserting the certainty of its conclusions by insisting on the validity of its own rules. Within a language game, what is true is what is comprehensible according to the rules. Therefor, something can be doubted if said doubt does not make other propositions impossible, (which is to say that the vast majority of propositions can be doubted) but the doubt deployed will (in the vast majority of cases) only end by affirming the rules of the game. (Wittgenstein does here acknowledge, which I don't think the young author of the Tractatus would have, that there are very rare instances when a doubt changes the rules of the game, for instance a momentous scientific “discovery”- something interestingly akin to a Badiouian Event. At any rate, for Wittgenstein, unlike Badiou, the game of meaning simply keeps reinventing itself and imposing its rules on us, even in cases of major changes to the way the game is played. I do think this avowal by Wittgenstein of the possibility of changes to the rules, while valid, gets him in some philosophical trouble. How can the rules not be doubted if doubt can change the rules?)

Wittgenstein distinguishes between “knowledge”, that to which one must subscribe if one is to continue to believe anything, i.e to continue to play the language game, and “certainty” a term that he thinks, if we were to live completely honestly, we would abolish. “I am certain” should, ideally, be replaced with “I believe I know”. Belief is the ultimate justification for knowledge, and there is no ultimate justification for belief, except perhaps for faith, which is spiritual, not scientific, mathematical, or philosophical.

Wittgenstein's distinction between “knowledge” and “certainty” strike me as similar to that of Kant between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds. As with Kant, we must, in On Certainty, think about the world in a way that enables us to keep thinking and acting in the world, whether or not said thinking corresponds to the reality of the world-in-itself. There are major differences between the two ontologies, of course. For Kant, it is the nature of the human mind and senses that determines the shape of our experience, of our phenomenal world. For Wittgenstein, it is the rules of the particular language game that a person is taught to play that determine how a person thinks and acts. He describes a war of cultures as a contest between different language games, each trying, futilely, to persuade the other of its correctness. (Kant's nature versus Wittgenstein's nurture)

Whenever I read Wittgenstein, I sense a repressed fear and, yes, uncertainty. But the nervous energy is palpable in this last work, written as the philosopher literally lay dying. Faced with the immediacy of the absolute uncertainty of death, I think the man clinged to philosophy as both a comfort and an outlet for his dreadful suspicion that life may, in fact, be but a dream.
Profile Image for Jamey.
Author 7 books75 followers
October 27, 2007
Strange, wonderful little book. It has its dull moments, but there are moments of blazing light.

How certain am I, that I have never been to Jupiter?
"It is as certain as any grounds I could give for it."
Profile Image for Veronica.
102 reviews67 followers
June 29, 2021
How intolerable is a perennially incomplete system of knowledge! And yet how fortunate I can commiserate with Wittgenstein, though we are separated by time.

At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded.
On Certainty, Ludwig Wittgenstein
Profile Image for Katelis Viglas.
Author 17 books23 followers
October 17, 2018
Εξαιρετικό και ιδιοφυές. Το τρίτο μεγάλο έργο ή αριστούργημα του Wittgenstein, καθώς συνηθίζεται να λέγεται. Πάμπολλες διατριβές και μάστερ έχουν γίνει πάνω σε αυτό το έργο -και θα συνεχίσουν να γίνονται- καθώς αναρίθμητες είναι και οι αναφορές και οι σχετικές μελέτες. Τί θα μπορούσα να πω, να συνάγω από μία επί τροχάδην ανάγνωσή του μικρού αυτού βιβλίου, σε δύο μόνο ημέρες; Μάλιστα, δεν είναι ο τύπος έργων που κανονικά θα με εντυπωσίαζαν. Οι λόγοι πολλοί και διάφοροι. Πρώτον, πάντα αντιπαθούσα τις φιλοσοφικές πραγματείες που χρησιμοποιούν πεζά παραδείγματα από την καθημερινή ζωή ή τη φύση για να φωτίσουν τα νοήματα, και αυτό το έργο ανήκει σε αυτήν την αγλλοσαξωνική, και όχι μόνο, παράδοση. Δεύτερον, επιφανειακά δεν κάνει καμία αναφορά στην παρελθούσα φιλοσοφική σκέψη, ο φιλόσοφος σκέφτεται μόνος του, μοιάζει να γράφει για να απαντήσει σε ερωτήματα που γεννήθηκαν από την κουβέντα με φίλους του. Όμως, στην πραγματικότητα, συνεχίζει θέματα της παραδοσιακής γνωσιολογίας και μεταφυσικής, αλλά κατά τρόπο υπόγειο και δυσεξιχνίαστο. Τρίτον, το έργο έχει τη μορφή μιας σειράς πρόχειρων (;) σημειώσεων, που ενίοτε μοιάζουν ασύνδετες. Τέταρτον, και κυριότερο, ο Wittgenstein αντιπαθεί τη μεταφυσική, μάλιστα στρέφεται εναντίον της, θεωρώντας ότι ο καλύτερος τρόπος του φιλοσοφείν γίνεται μέσω των γλωσσοπαιγνίων. Ας πω όμως και για ποιούς λόγους εντυπωσιάστηκα. Πρώτον, είναι αυθεντικός, σκέφτεται την πραγματικότητα εξ υπαρχής, κατασκεύασε τη φιλοσοφία του φαινομενικά μόνος του. Υπάρχει ομοιομορφία και πρωτοτυπία του στον στοχασμό που φαίνεται από το ύφος. Επίσης, στην πραγματικότητα το έργο είναι άκρως αινιγματικό, παρότι φαίνεται να στοχάζεται την καθημερινή εμπειρία του μέσου Ευρωπαίου. Η τελευταία παράγραφος του έργου είναι μια πρωτόφαντη αναφορά στην ουσία της γνώσης και της σοφίας, δίνει ένα αίσθημα μεγαλείου και αμέτρητου φιλοσοφικού βάθους, ως ακροτελεύτειος λόγος, που κλείνει και στεφανώνει εντυπωσιακά το βιβλίο. Εν συνόψει το βιβλίο αυτό εξετάζει τις ρίζες και τη βάση του πολιτισμού μας. Η ανάγνωσή του μόνο κέρδος δίνει και δεν μπορεί να λησμονηθεί εύκολα. Το συνιστώ ανεπιφύλακτα.
Profile Image for Richard Newton.
Author 27 books565 followers
September 15, 2021
This is the first full book of Wittgenstein’s I have read - being for a long time put off by the mystique of impenetrability. I found this very good, engaging and an easier read than I expected. I don’t claim to have understood all the subtleties, but what I read seemed clear - certainly clearer than many other philosophy books discussing topics like language, logic and knowledge. (To be honest, this was definitely helped by reading an analysis of the book in advance).

I like the process of seeing Wittgenstein’s thinking evolve - the book seems as much about himself clarifying his own thoughts. At times it is tentative, in others definite.

The translation is excellent, although the repeated use of the archaic word “shew” jarred for me. This is not a modern translation, but it’s much less than a 100 years old- so why translate from German in this way? If there is some subtlety I’m missing let me know. (It’s also inconsistent as in 618 ‘show’ is used). A very minor point, but I am flawed by occasional pedanticness!

To enjoy this you have to be interested in the topics Wittgenstein is interested in. If you are and have not read this, I’d definitely recommend it.

updated review 2021 My journey into philosophy is ongoing and I have read more by and about Wittgenstein who is both an intriguing character, and wrote many intriguing works. I suspect this is one of his most accessible. It seems at times no more than musings, Wittgenstein's developing thoughts over a period of time when he ponders on knowledge and certainty. As so often with Wittgenstein, he explores these concepts through the "language game". I really like this work, although I can imagine for some it would come across as no more than trivial half-baked thinking. I think there is more to it than this, but it is not about a finished set of thoughts - it is thinking in development and most interesting for being this.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,006 reviews1,117 followers
November 28, 2013
As recalled, this was my favorite volume of the very many produced by the clever fellows who have made careers out of his. Wittgenstein himself published very little, but an enormous body of works attributed to him have been culled from his correspondences, notebooks and students' notes of lectures and conversations.

On Certainty comes as close as Wittgenstein ever does to being a systematic philosopher rather than just playing at being a skeptic, phenomenologist, speculator or analyst of language. It isn't original, but it is interesting to see how he seems to come to conclusions very similar to those of the transcendental philosophy associated with Immanuel Kant.
Profile Image for sigurd.
205 reviews39 followers
June 9, 2018
devi crederci Witt
ci sarà una storia d'amore in un mondo migliore
ci sarà un azzurro più intenso in un cielo più immenso
ci sarà la tua ombra al mio fianco vestita di bianco...

Profile Image for Dia.
68 reviews34 followers
April 18, 2010
What can we be certain of? The only thing Wittgenstein is certain of is that there's something fishy about philosopher G.E. Moore's assertions "I know that that's a tree" or "I know that here is a hand" or "I know that I have never been far above the earth's surface." Wittgenstein is terribly perturbed by these statements but doesn't know quite why. It has something to do with the fact that the only people who ever make such statements are philosophers; the rest of us "know" such things by simply behaving as if they were true. Thus it seems that his gripe is more linguistic than epistemological. That is, for all his puzzling over such statements, he seems actually unconcerned about whether we truly can be certain about anything. He's more concerned about what makes sense to say. And he's very, very concerned about this and very, very dissatisfied with his own attempts to formulate any rules for what's sensibly said. Reading Wittgenstein's year-and-a-half (last of his life) struggle with Moore's assertions is like observing someone who's trying to remember the answer to a crossword clue: he knows the answer -- or he once knew it -- but he can't quite recall it; he answers all the surrounding clues; he's got three out of eight of the letters -- now four; but he just can't complete the puzzle. Wittgenstein's ultimately fruitless pursuit has its lovely and curious moments, and it's somehow endearing, not to mention instructive, to see him in the trenches, sleeves rolled up, at work to the end.
Profile Image for Tosh.
Author 13 books626 followers
August 16, 2018
Reading Ludwig Wittgenstein is a series of moments when one thinks of language and what it truly means. 'I think there is a tree' and 'there's a tree' is a vast difference, that can fit an entire universe. Or at the very least in the world of Wittgenstein. For me, I 'think' I understand Wittgenstein, but the lasting impression he has on me as a writer is to write as clearly as possible, but without surrendering the poetics in a specific description.

For inspiration and getting my brain exercised in a natural manner, unlike reading the tweets of a specific idiot in a building in Washington DC, is my spring water that is Wittgenstein. "On Certainty" is later Wittgenstein, and the title is actually an exact and accurate description of the book. Wittgenstein challenges the notion of being certain through language and what one sees. What is perhaps a given factor knowledge is in theory, challenged by Wittgenstein's observations on what certainty means to an individual or even group.

I bought this book at John K. King Books in Detroit, Michigan. I started reading "On Certainty" in a coffee shop in the New Center, which is a district in Detroit. Actually in the Fisher Building. The juxtaposition of reading this difficult book in a splendid structure was an additional pleasure for me. Me 'being' there, or thinking I was there, is an actual thought in my head as I did know I was truly at the Fisher Building, reading Wittgenstein's "On Certainty."
Profile Image for Soeine.
17 reviews41 followers
June 7, 2011
Wittgenstein always fascinates me. He is not easy to read unless you are willing to go into his terrain of mind. He has a different mind from most of us, above, on a meta level of what we call "things in life". This book questions all the things we take for granted in order to live, to the extreme extent of almost being silly. After the questioning, there is not much left to maintain the human life. I wonder how many people can overcome that void.
Profile Image for Theresa MacPhail.
55 reviews20 followers
January 19, 2011
I love Wittgenstein for, if nothing else, his pithy writing style. I also find him helpful for thinking through my research data in terms of the relationship between certainty, uncertainty, and the production of knowledge. Worth it, even if you haven't read Philosophical Investigations.
Profile Image for Maaike.
231 reviews
June 16, 2022
Geloof ik zonder twijfel alles wat deze man schrijft? Zeker. Weet ik dan ook iets? Dat is de vraag.

Alas, als ik nu een witte man was geweest had ik mijn thesis over deze notities geschreven. Iets over de maanlanding of de gekozen verpakking bij het verzenden van een Ludwig Wittgenstein, bijvoorbeeld.

Profile Image for Vladivostok.
105 reviews9 followers
September 2, 2015
Epistemology as linguistic analysis. The phrase "I know _" is more appropriately rephrased as "I believe _ to be so", that is, an expression of a degree of certainty regarding a proposition that is dependent on a specific frame of reference. That all judgments of "truth" ultimately rely on some faithful assumption is an important insight. And yet, I'd much rather read about the domain-specificity of skepticism and heuristics à la Nassim Taleb than proceed further down Wittgenstein's rabbit hole of stifling hypotheticals. There we hear the faint murmurmings of understanding, but find no dynamism of movement. Ayn Rand's criticism of the philosophy of language as sterile and ultimately impotent has some truth to it:(http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/lin...). After all, how many Wittgensteins can dance on the head of a pin? Somewhat thought-provoking, but not really my cup of tea.

"I believe it might interest a philosopher, one who can think himself, to read my notes. For even if I have hit the mark only rarely, he would recognize what targets I had been ceaselessly aiming at."
Profile Image for Asim Bakhshi.
Author 8 books258 followers
April 21, 2016
At times tough, at times perplexing, at times dull. Its about language, not epistemology but kind of vague epistemic conjecture in undertones. Looks like a soliloquy but a wonderful little masterpiece.
Profile Image for Ege.
163 reviews26 followers
July 29, 2019
3. If 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.

10. ... "2x2=4" is a true proposition of arithmetic - not "on particular occasions" nor "always" ... And "I know that there's a sick man lying here", used in an unsuitable situation, seems not to be nonsense but rather seems matterof-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 no doubt, and hence even where the expression of doubt would unintelligible.
11. We just do not see how very specialized the use of "I know" is.

30. When someone has made sure of something, he says: "Yes, the calculation is right", but he did
not infer that from his condition of certainty. One does not infer how things are from one's own
Certainty is as it were a tone of voice in which one declares how things are, but one does not infer
from the tone of voice that one is justified.

36. "A is a physical object" is a piece of instruction which we give only to someone who doesn't yet
understand either what "A" means, or what "physical object" means. Thus it is instruction about the use of words, and "physical object" is a logical concept. (Like colour, quantity,...) And that is why no such proposition as: "There are physical objects" can be formulated.
Yet we encounter such unsuccessful shots at every turn.

41. "I know where I am feeling pain", "I know that I feel it here" is as wrong as "I know that I am in pain". But "I know where you touched my arm" is right.

92. However, we can ask: May someone have telling grounds for believing that the earth has only
existed for a short time, say since his own birth? - Suppose he had always been told that, - would he have any good reason to doubt it? Men have believed that they could make the rain; why should not a king be brought up in the belief that the world began with him? And if Moore and this king were to meet and discuss, could Moore really prove his belief to be the right one? I do not say that Moore could not convert the king to his view, but it would be a conversion of a special kind; the king would be brought to look at the world in a different way.
Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or
symmetry, i.e., these are what induce one to go over to this point of view. One then simply says
something like: "That's how it must be."
93. The propositions presenting what Moore 'knows' are all of such a kind that it is difficult to
imagine why anyone should believe the contrary. E.g. the proposition that Moore has spent his
whole life in close proximity to the earth. - Once more I can speak of myself here instead of
speaking of Moore. What could induce me to believe the opposite? Either a memory, or having been
told. - Everything that I have seen or heard gives me the conviction that no man has ever been far
from the earth. Nothing in my picture of the world speaks in favour of the opposite.
94. But I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it
because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I
distinguish between true and false.

108. ... "We don't know how one gets to the moon, but those who get there know at once that they are there; and even you can't explain everything." We should feel ourselves intellectually very distant from someone who said this.

131. No, experience is not the ground for our game of judging. Nor is its outstanding success.

138. We don't, for example, arrive at any of them [Add: The propositions which Moore retails as examples of such known truths] as a result of investigation. There are e.g. historical investigations and investigations into the shape and also the age of the earth, but not into whether the earth has existed during the last hundred years. Of course many of us have information about this period from our parents and grandparents; but maynt' they be wrong? -"Nonsense!" one will say. "How should all these people be wrong?" - But is that an argument? Is it not simply the rejection of an idea? And perhaps the determination of a concept? For if I speak of a possible mistake here, this changes the role of "mistake" and "truth" in our lives.

142. It is not single axioms that strike me as obvious, it is a system in which consequences and premises give one another mutual support.
143. I am told, for example, that someone climbed this mountain many years ago. Do I always enquire into the reliability of the teller of this story, and whether the mountain did exist years ago. A child learns there are reliable and unreliable informants much later than it learns facts which are
told it. It doesn't learn at all that that mountain has existed for a long time: that is, the question
whether it is so doesn't arise at all. It swallows this consequence down, so to speak, together with
what it learns.
144. The child learns to believe a host of things. I.e. it learns to act according to these beliefs. Bit by
bit there forms a system of what is believed, and in that system some things stand unshakeably fast
and some are more or less liable to shift. What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically
obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies around it.
145. One wants to say "All my experiences show that it is so". But how do they do that? For that
proposition to which they point itself belongs to a particular interpretation of them.
"That I regard this proposition as certainly true also characterizes my interpretation of experience."

152. I do not explicitly learn the propositions that stand fast for me. I can discover them
subsequently like the axis around which a body rotates. This axis is not fixed in the sense that anything holds it fast, but the movement around it determines its immobility.

163. ... For whenever we test anything, we are already presupposing something that is not tested. ...

186. "I might suppose that Napoleon never existed and is a fable, but not that the earth did not exist 150 years ago."
188. It strikes me as if someone who doubts the existence of the earth at that time is impugning the
nature of all historical evidence. And I cannot say of this latter that it is definitely correct.
189. At some point one has to pass from explanation to mere description.
191. Well, if everything speaks for an hypothesis and nothing against it - is it then certainly true?
One may designate it as such. - But does it certainly agree with reality, with the facts? - With this
question you are already going round in a circle.

206. If someone asked us "but is that true?" we might say "yes" to him; and if he demanded grounds we might say "I can't give you any grounds, but if you learn more you too will think the same."
If this didn't come about, that would mean that he couldn't for example learn history.

237. If I say "an hour ago this table didn't exist", I probably mean that it was only made later on.
If I say "this mountain didn't exist then", I presumably mean that it was only formed later on -
perhaps by a volcano.
If I say "this mountain didn't exist an hour ago", that is such a strange statement that it is not clear what I mean. Whether for example I mean something untrue but scientific. Perhaps you think that the statement that the mountain didn't exist then is quite clear, however one conceives the context. But suppose someone said "This mountain didn't exist a minute ago, but an exactly similar one did instead." Only the accustomed context allows what is meant to come through clearly.
257. If someone said to me that he doubted whether he had a body I should take him to be a halfwit. But I shouldn't know what it would mean to try to convince him that he had one. And if I had
said something, and that had removed his doubt, I should not know how or why.
258. I do not know how the sentence "I have a body" is to be used.
That doesn't unconditionally apply to the proposition that I have always been on or near the surface
of the earth.

282. I cannot say that I have good grounds for the opinion that cats do not grow on trees or that I
had a father and a mother.
If someone has doubts about it - how is that supposed to have come about? By his never, from the
beginning, having believed that he had parents? But then, is that conceivable, unless he has been
taught it?
283. For how can a child immediately doubt what it is taught? That could mean only that he was
incapable of learning certain language games.

314. Imagine that the schoolboy really did ask "and is there a table there even when I turn around,
and even when no one is there to see it?" Is the teacher to reassure him - and say "of course there
Perhaps the teacher will get a bit impatient, but think that the boy will grow out of asking such
315. That is to say, the teacher will feel that this is not really a legitimate question at all.
And it would be just the same if the pupil cast doubt on the uniformity of nature, that is to say on
the justification of inductive arguments. - The teacher would feel that this was only holding them
up, that this way the pupil would only get stuck and make no progress. - And he would be right. It
would be as if someone were looking for some object in a room; he opens a drawer and doesn't see
it there; then he closes it again, waits, and opens it once more to see if perhaps it isn't there now, and keeps on like that. He has not learned to look for things. And in the same way this pupil has not
learned how to ask questions. He has not learned the game that we are trying to teach him

344. My life consists in my being content to accept many things.

370. But more correctly: The fact that I use the word "hand" and all the other words in my sentence
without a second thought, indeed that I should stand before the abyss if I wanted so much as to try
doubting their meanings - shows that absence of doubt belongs to the essence of the language-game, that the question "How do I know..." drags out the language-game, or else does away with it.

374. We teach a child "that is your hand", not "that is perhaps (or "probably") your hand". That is
how a child learns the innumerable language-games that are concerned with his hand. An
investigation or question, 'whether this is really a hand' never occurs to him. Nor, on the other hand, does he learn that he knows that this is a hand.

375. Here one must realize that complete absence of doubt at some point, even where we would say
that 'legitimate' doubt can exist, need not falsify a language-game. For there is also something like
another arithmetic.
I believe that this admission must underlie any understanding of logic.

383. The argument "I may be dreaming" is senseless for this reason: if I am dreaming, this remark is being dreamed as well - and indeed it is also being dreamed that these words have any meaning.

423. Then why don't I simply say with Moore "I know that I am in England?" Saying this is
meaningful in particular circumstances, which I can imagine. But when I utter the sentence outside
these circumstances, as an example to show that I can know truths of this kind with certainty, then itat once strikes me as fishy. - Ought it to?

499. I might also put it like this: the 'law of induction' can no more be grounded than certain
particular propositions concerning the material of experience.
500. But it would also strike me as nonsense to say "I know that the law of induction is true".
Imagine such a statement made in a court of law! It would be more correct to say "I believe in the
law of..." where 'believe' has nothing to do with surmising.
501. 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.

524. Is it essential for our language-games ('ordering and obeying' for example) that no doubt
appears at certain points, or is it enough if there is the feeling of being sure, admittedly with a slight breath of doubt?
That is, is it enough if I do not, as I do now, call something 'black', 'green', 'red', straight off, without any doubt at all interposing itself - but do instead say "I am sure that is red", as one may say "I am sure that he will come today" (in other words with the 'feeling of being sure')?
The accompanying feeling is of course a matter of indifference to us, and equally we have no need
to bother about the words "I am sure that" either. - What is important is whether they go with a
difference in the practice of the language.
One might ask whether a person who spoke like this would always say "I am sure" on occasions
where (for example) there is sureness in the reports we make ( in an experiment, for example, we
look through a tube and report the colour we see through it). If he does, our immediate inclination
will be to check what he says. But if he proves to be perfectly reliable, one will say that his way of
talking is merely a bit perverse, and does not affect the issue. One might for example suppose that
he has read sceptical philosophers, become convinced that one can know nothing, and that is why
he has adopted this way of speaking. Once we are used to it, it does not infect practice.

599. For example one could describe the certainty of the proposition that water boils at circa 100C.
That isn't e.g. a proposition I have once heard (like this or that, which I could mention). I made the
experiment myself at school. The proposition is a very elementary one in our text-books, which are
to be trusted in matters like this because... - Now one can offer counter-examples to all this, which
show that human beings have held this and that to be certain which later, according to our opinion,
proved false. But the argument is worthless. [May it not also happen that we believe we recognize a
mistake of earlier times and later come to the conclusion that the first opinion was the right one?
etc.] To say: in the end we can only adduce such grounds as we hold to be grounds, is to say nothing
at all.
I believe that at the bottom of this is a misunderstanding of the nature of our language-games.

617. Certain events would me into a position in which I could not go on with the old language-game
any further. In which I was torn away from the sureness of the game.
Indeed, doesn't it seem obvious that the possibility of a language-game is conditioned by certain
618. In that case it would seem as if the language-game must 'show' the facts that make it possible.
(But that's not how it is.)
Then can one say that only a certain regularity in occurrences makes induction possible? The
'possible' would of course have to be 'logically possible'.

622. But now it is also correct to use "I know" in the contexts which Moore mentioned, at least in
particular circumstances. (Indeed, I do not know what "I know that I am a human being" means. But even that might be given a sense.)
For each one of these sentences I can imagine circumstances that turn it into a move in one of our
language-games, and by that it loses everything that is philosophically astonishing.
623. What is odd is that in such a case I always feel like saying (although it is wrong): "I know that
- so far as one can know such a thing." That is incorrect, but something right is hidden behind it.

653. If the proposition 12x12=144 is exempt from doubt, then so too must non-mathematical
propositions be.
654. But against this there are plenty of objections. - In the first place there is the fact that "12x12
etc." is a mathematical proposition, and from this one may infer that only mathematical propositions are in this situation. And if this inference is not justified, then there ought to be a proposition that is just as certain, and deals with the process of this calculation, but isn't itself mathematical. I am thinking of such a proposition as: "The multiplication '12x12', when carried out by people who know how to calculate, will in the great majority of cases give the result '144'." Nobody will contest this proposition, and naturally it is not a mathematical one. But has it got the certainty of the mathematical proposition?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lidia.
16 reviews2 followers
January 24, 2023
Puede resultar pesado porque, al fin y al cabo, no deja de ser pura filosofía analitica. Pero me ha gustado bastante la forma en la que hace un recorrido dubitativo/reflexivo (etc) con quien esté leyéndolo. Esto al final te empuja a comprender (más o menos) aquello que trata de analizar. No parece que vaya a atar cabos en cualquier momento de la obra, lo cual te deja un poco en standby. Pese a ello, es entretenido
Profile Image for christina.
176 reviews21 followers
June 20, 2020
Facing multitudinous uncertainties as of late, I reached for philosophy to stem the tide of despair. On Certainty, perhaps was not the appropriate book to reach for. I remember why I had originally given it three stars four years ago: they are the notes of W on various strands of incomplete thoughts about as many aspects of certainty as he could think of, which means they were written in an aphoristic-style.

This is more me than W. I loathe aphorisms. It's not that I despise terseness, it's that theories that present themselves in aphorisms (or aphoristic-like) creates an imbalance between the philosopher/writer and the reader. I enjoy philosophy when that philosophy lays no absolute claim (how can it) and invites the questions upon the reader/student. Aphorisms, by their very nature, assumes an already pre-established and complete theory that the reader/student must of their own volition aim towards without a clear understanding of how and what its import or implications might be -- it makes me feel that the presentation is not theoretical but smug and sanctimonious indoctrination.

But this is not what W intended, clearly, these are his notes, they aren't fleshed out. They are wayward and challenging because they aren't fleshed out. They are obvious and lead nowhere, because they aren't fleshed out. They are contradictory and compound upon each other, because they aren't fleshed out. They are brilliant without explanation, because they aren't fleshed out.

With this realisation, I was able to let go of my immediate aversion to this note-taking style and found ways to re-read ideas on their own merit without assuming that W had any clearer understanding of his observations than I do (or at the very least, an end goal to the topic). Instead of attempting to tease out every single idea to see where the thought would lead, I simply allowed the ideas to assimilate and flourish, if they would, and didn't trouble myself too much when an idea just remained as that: just an idea; sometimes a pipe is just a pipe. And yet there were real moments of great insights that I must have missed the first time through -- allowing my annoyances to supersede the shrewd observations of some of these notes -- which I was better able to appreciate this time.

For those of you who are interested in W, I highly encourage you to read On Certainty as I am certain I am an anomaly and therefore believe it's totally possible others will get more out of this book than I could in the first or even second reading -- just look at the all the stars this book gets and the other reviews! Maybe in a third reading in another four years, I can get even more out of it. Here's to hoping.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
Author 6 books206 followers
May 5, 2020
This book belongs to the last 1 1/2 years of Wittgenstein's life. In 1949, he visited the US at the invitation of Norman Malcolm and stayed at his home in Ithaca, NY. Malcolm goaded Wittgenstein to write about G. E. Moore's famous "defence of common sense." Moore claimed to know a number of propositions for sure. For example, Moore stated in "Proof of the External World" the following:

"Here is one hand, and here is another."

That quote by the way explains the cover with hands on it.

Here are two other examples from Moore's "Defence of Common Sense":

"The earth existed a long time before my birth."

"I have never been far from the earth's surface."

These quotes are referred to in Wittgenstein's propositions.

It is all first-draft material. Wittgenstein did not live to excerpt and polish.

Here are two quotes:

513. What if something really unheard-of happened?--If I, say, saw houses gradually turning into steam without any obvious cause, if the cattle in the fields stood on their heads and laughed and spoke comprehensible words; if trees gradually changed into men and men into trees. Now, was I right when I said before all these things happened "I know that that's a house"etc., or simply "that's a house" etc.?

663. I have a right to say "I can't be making a mistake about this" even if I am in error.

One of the problems with certainty is that pretty much everyone is certain. I don't meet many people who are not certain. I received a harassing letter on Goodreads a while back from someone who attacked me for believing in the "fantasy" of evolution. He is certain of that. I'm certain of evolution. It's as certain in science as the earth going around the sun.

I think certainty comes down to understanding science. It is our only hope for finding answers.
Profile Image for Rob.
86 reviews85 followers
July 1, 2011
i couldn't decide whether this book is for humans or space aliens. i guess it's for both.

wonderful wittgenstein. 90 excruciating pages (676 numbered sections) on whether G. E. Moore was justified in holding up his hand and saying, "I know that here is my hand." the second half is quite creepy to read, as he was dying of cancer while writing it. the dates are on the entries, with the final page written two days before he died.

127 - how do i know that someone else uses the words "I doubt it" as i do?
152 - the propositions which stand fast for me are like the axis of a spinning object
210 - does my telephone call to a friend in NYC strengthen my conviction that the earth exists?
279 - cars don't grow out of the earth
281 - my friend hasn't got sawdust in his head
282 - cats don't grow on trees
287 - the squirrel does not infer by induction that it will need stores again next winter as well
315 - THE game teachers are trying to teach pupils: how to ask questions.
341 - propositions that are exempt from doubt are like hinges on which the others turn
418 - is my understanding only blindness to my own lack of understanding? it often seems so to me
450 - a doubt that doubted everything would not be a doubt
616 - would it be unthinkable that i should stay in the saddle however much the facts bucked?

although this is much shorter than Philosophical Investigations, you should probably read PI first, since this was written afterwards and refers to PI occasionally.
Profile Image for Brian.
233 reviews5 followers
December 29, 2014
Do we become more or less certain as we get closer to death? In Wittgenstein's case, judging from his notes during his final days, he was open to questioning even the most obvious and trivial facts. The book was published posthumously from notes compiled within his last two years alive in the early 1950s, and did not appear to a broader audience until nearly 20 years after his death.

The text was written mostly, but not exclusively in German. I benefited from having the German and English side-by-side in the edition I read. It is clearly a work in progress and not complete. The final entry, two days before his death, references the dream time of the other side.

While the text is repetitive and rambling, the subject raised is extremely provocative. Wittgenstein's ability to call into question fact and belief remains relevant in matters of ethics and epistemology.

The editors could have done away with some of the repetition and digressions with little loss to the meaning of the text. On the other hand, the text is very dense and heavy. For every trivial observation or repeated assertion, there is a sentence worth contemplating.
Profile Image for Dipankar.
60 reviews118 followers
November 2, 2015
Would it be extremely weird of me if I said it was a 'fun' read? As much as saying this amuses me, this was a really funny book, and I mean in a very positive and serious way. First thing Wittgenstein does to you, from the outset, is tear apart your cozy little way of thinking, and 'knowing'. I'll never 'know' anything the way I've known before, or at least I'll think a second more before I say I'm certain of something. Next, as you read and re-read and re-re-read almost every other sentence, you'll start getting used to his brusque narration and instantly feel more respect for yourself for putting up and sailing through the initial acclimatising bout of offhand and crazy philosophical quagmire. But you forgive him for it starts as a response to a paper by Moore and now since you're used to his language and style (well as used as you possibly could be), you begin to really enjoy what he's trying to say. And once you reach there, it's all wonderful.
3 reviews
March 13, 2014
This was an excellent read. Wittgenstein's main works are, of course, the Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations, but some consider On Certainty to be his third major work. Unfortunately, On Certainty was not formally organized by Wittgenstein. It is more or less a collection of notes, which represent Wittgensteinian thought post-PI.

Some readers take Wittgenstein's stance in these notes to be sceptical. I personally don't sympathize with this view. If anything, Wittgenstein is starkly anti-sceptical (particularly enlightening is his discussion on 'hinge propositions'). I found Meredith Williams' exegesis to be particularly insightful in understanding Wittgenstein.

Either way, for those of you stuck in Cartesian (Humean) sceptisim, Wittgenstein is definitely worth the effort you put in.
Profile Image for Olli K.
31 reviews
November 8, 2013
I read Tractatus Logico Philosophicus and On Certainty one after another and I must say that On Certainty is much more enjoyable to read than TLP. At least if you do not have any previous knowledge about philosophy.

I was happy to notice that this book was not so hard to read and gave the reader opportunity to form own opinions. At one point I even noticed that there was a flaw in Wittgenstein's thinking.

If you do not have any or very limited previous knowledge about philosophy and wish to read Wittgenstein I'd recommend that you start from this one rather than TLP.
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