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Wittgenstein's On Certainty Reconsidered

An overview and analysis of the insights and implicit arguments in Wittgenstein's On Certainty with attention to the philosophical background which rendered radical skepticism such a compelling challenge to generations of western philosophers

G. E. Moore once claimed that he knew there was an external world (beyond his own mind, i.e., his perceptions, conceptions, etc.) because he could raise a hand and show it when asked (the physical body being part of the external world, the thoughts and our awareness of it being the "internal"). 'I know I have a hand,' he said (I'm paraphrasing), 'because here is one hand and here is another' at which point he held up his second. Moore's was an argument from common sense. Wittgenstein, as he lay dying, was asked to say something about that . . . The text was eventually published as On Certainty [and] takes off from Moore's "argument" to explore what it means to say we are certain of anything. . . .

To be certain is a state of mind, a condition of unwillingness to doubt, whatever the basis for that unwillingness. In that book he shows that there are different reasons not to doubt different things and that, just because we cannot be certain of something for one kind of reason, it doesn't follow that we cannot be certain for another, often quite different, sort of reason.

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