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On Certainty 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0631169406
ISBN-10: 0631169407
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The seventh volume of the Wittgenstein corpus, which contains notes written at the end of his life.... Provides a straightforward guide to the thought of this most complex of philosophers." -- "Bookseller""The volume is full of thought-provoking insights which will prove a stimulus both to further study and to scholarly disagreement." -- Alan R. White, "Philosophical Books""All students of philosophy will want to read it. What it contains is his notes on knowledge and doubt, written in the last year and a half of his life, mainly in answer to G. E. Moore's articles on these subjects." -- "British Book News"

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation)
Original Language: German --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (January 8, 1991)
  • Language: English, German
  • ISBN-10: 0631169407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631169406
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,691,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
A compilation of loosely connected, aphoristic-like statements about the idea of certainty, taking off from G. E. Moore's famous assertion in favour of common sense, Wittgenstein here presents his thoughts, at the end of his life, concerning the question of how sure of anything we can ever be. Dealing with a fundamentally epistemological question, this little book follows the path Wittgenstein had defined for himself in the latter part of his career, concerning itself with language and how we talk about the ideas we have.

Some misread him very badly, which is not surprising given his penchant for cryptic brevity and his own tendency to avoid extensive explication of his ideas in favour of the brief observation or statement reflecting moments of insight. Indeed, insight seems to have been at the very core of his later philosophy . . . it's all about seeing things in a new way.

On the matter of certainty, his claims here, sometimes rambling and seemingly unconnected, seem to boil down to a couple of points, consistent with his general way of seeing things:

1) Being certain of anything, he seems to say, is a matter of what we mean in the context in which we are expressing certainty. That is, he suggests that "certainty" the word has different meanings, depending on the application, and that we can become too readily confused if we try to apply one meaning (or use) in a place where another is required. As a corollary of this, he clearly holds that there is no basic idea of "certainty" to which all can be reduced, but only a range of related uses of the word in our language.
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Format: Paperback
"On Certainty" represents a much more honed work than the more common "Philosophical Investigations," though the depth of its insights are no less than than that work. OC is, by far, my favorite Wittgenstein book because it focuses so much on epistemological issues. Some examples include showing the error realists _and_ idealists are making (showing the fly the way out of the bottle), why there isn't necessarily a clear division between mathematical certainty and other kinds, and the failures of unchecked skepticism. He does this in a manner similar to the one used in "Philosophical Investigations": by an analysis of how we _normally_ know and doubt things.

The remarkable depth of this technique in highbrow philosophy is a breath of fresh air. Though I am currently investigating phenomenology, I always return to Wittgenstein (quite literally, by rereading passages of this or PI) to get my bearings when I suspect my ideas are getting a little too big for their britches. Wittgenstein sometimes thought philosophy should be therapeutic, and I must say that when I find myself in a muddle, his works or at least his methodology helps me find my way about.

As with his other works, though he spends some time knocking down familiar walls he does not leave you standing in the rubble but instead paves the way for new construction. I have read (not here) many references to Wittgenstein as some kind of postmodern deconstructionist, though even a little time spent trying to understand his points should be sufficient to demonstrate that he would not be satisfied until a problem was _resolved_, not just exposed.
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Format: Paperback
Wittgenstein hastily wrote "On Certainty" in his last days - several places he seemed frustrated that he was unlikely to be able to get his ideas across. However, this work distills most of his work on the foundations of knowledge in a manner that is quite accessible. In fact, this book should have been entitled something like "cutting through centuries of misguided notions" - you only get clarity of vision such as contained in this volume if you are lucky enough to get samadhi from "show me your original face".
Wittgenstein used Moore's (in)famous paper that started with "knowing" his hand and then deduced the universe. Wittgenstein showed the inherent fallacy of this attempt and in the process paraded the naked emperor of metaphysics around in all its dualistic glory. For Wittgenstein really attacked the 'mapping' of what is really psychology into the analytic framework of philosophy.
Wittgenstein pointed out that doubt is a 'game', in the sense that doubting must follow logical rules. The game runs aground when it attempts to doubt the actual framework - such as doubting your own existence. This is no longer part of the 'game' but instead is simply nonsense or, better, psychology.
Wittgenstein wrote the book in his familiar style utilizing short semi-paragraphs to map out his arguments. I find the format quite similar to Eastern philosophy such as Tao Te Ching and the Zen koans and feel it is quite readable. Other people may want to buy Avrum Stroll's excellent "Moore and Wittgenstein on Certainty" for a more 'standard' overview of the argments.
This is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of philosophy.
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