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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


"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.

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: #1,303,157 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 is an excellent introduction to Wittgenstein's thought, especially for those who may be turned off by the terseness and impenetrability of the Tractatus. This piece is still terse by any standard but Wittgenstein's, and many statements are just clever one-sentence aphorisms that float by themselves, seemingly disconnected from the main thread of argument. Assertions are often left unproven, and the numbered-statements style can be tiring. Still, some numbered statements are actually several sentences long (!), and many actually go into detail -- this makes it is somewhat unusual among Wittgenstein's works. As is often the case with philosophers' works, a beginning student would be well advised to proceed into Wittgenstein's works in reverse chronological order. The early Wittgenstein -- of perfect edifices of language and logic -- may be better understood in light of the later Wittgenstein, of social constructs and language games.
Where does Wittgenstein come down on the question of epistemological relativism? In classical paradoxical Wittgensteinian fashion, he is both for and against, sort of. He admits that he is certain of some things, and that he often thinks that someone who is not certain of these things (e.g., "This is my hand." etc) as not "reasonable." But he does not go so far as to say there is an objective truth on a Platonic plane. Certainty is more personal than that (a la Michael Polanyi?), and in some deep axiomatic way, has to be taken on faith. We are ultimately certain of things just because we are certain of them, and, as Wittgenstein writes about the statement "this is my hand," any evidence we could muster to support such a statement is not as strong as the original statement itself.
Overall, this is a fascinating look at the interplay of language, belief, and epistemology, from one of the 20th century's master philosophers.
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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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