Why On Certainty Matters
Why does On Certainty matter? The answer is simple. Wittgenstein’s book is the most important contribution to the theory of knowledge since The Critique of Pure Reason. But the support for that simple answer requires detailed articulation. Accordingly, I shall be giving six answers to the question, while recognizing that they hardly constitute all that might be said by way of response. As the readers of this volume will quickly ascertain, many of its contributors have their own and quite different interpretations of the work. But however much their views differ from mine, it is palpable that all of them regard it as a major contribution. The six answers I offer form a connected set that runs as follows: Wittgenstein begins by describing (1) a form of foundationalism that differs from anything in the previous philosophical literature; and that (2) he identifies with certainty. This assimilation in turn leads to (3) a unique conception of how knowledge and certainty differ; and that discrimination issues (4) in the distinction between subjective and objective certainty. Once in place, that contrast becomes the basis for (5) an unprecedented treatment of radical scepticism; which (6) is then shown to rest on the role or roles played by human communities in determining what counts as sensible doubting. I will explore these complexities seriatim.
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