Mistakes and Mental Disturbances: Pleasants, Wittgenstein, and Basic Moral Certainty

Philosophia 41 (2):477-487 (2013)
In his article, “Wittgenstein and Basic Moral Certainty,” Nigel Pleasants argues that killing an innocent, non-threatening person is wrong. It is, he argues, “a basic moral certainty.” He believes our basic moral certainties play the “same kind of foundational role as [our] basic empirical certaint[ies] do.” I believe this is mistaken. There is not “simply one kind of foundational role” that certainty plays. While I think Pleasants is right to affiliate his proposition with a Wittgensteinian form of certainty, he exposes himself to a tension that exists in On Certainty regarding how we acquire it: is certainty natural, is it social? In this paper, I present two ways in which we come to possess certainty: a bottom-up approach, where certainty is part of our instinctual predisposition, and a top-down approach, where certainty is acquired through positive reinforcement by family and culture.
Keywords Bottom-up  Top-down  Certainty  Basic moral  Wittgenstein
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DOI 10.1007/s11406-012-9385-2
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