After Certainty offers a reconstruction of the history of epistemology, understood as a series of changing expectations about the cognitive ideal that we might hope to achieve in this world. Pasnau ranges widely over philosophy from Aristotle to the 17th century, and examines in some detail the rise of science as an autonomous discipline.
When we engage in practical deliberation, we sometimes engage in careful probabilistic reasoning. At other times, we simply make flat out assumptions about how the world is or will be. A question thus arises: when, if ever, is it rationally permissible to engage in the latter, less sophisticated kind of practical deliberation? Recently, a number of authors have argued that the answer concerns whether one knows that p. Others have argued that the answer concerns whether one is justified in believing (...) that one knows that p. Against both of these, this paper argues that the answer concerns whether p is ‘practically certain’—that is, whether the actual epistemic probability that p differs from epistemic certainty that p only in ways that are irrelevant to the decision one currently faces. (shrink)
When is it permissible to rely on a proposition in practical reasoning? Standard answers to this question face serious challenges. This paper uses these challenges to motivate a certainty norm of practical reasoning. This norm holds that one is permitted to rely on p in practical reasoning if and only if p is epistemically certain. After developing and defending this norm, I consider its broader implications. Taking a certainty norm seriously calls into question traditional assumptions about the importance (...) of belief and knowledge. In particular, it raises the possibility that many epistemological jobs that are usually assigned to belief and knowledge should be reallocated to two related but importantly different states: psychological and epistemic certainty. (shrink)
Researchers have debated whether knowledge or certainty is a better candidate for the norm of assertion. Should you make an assertion only if you know it's true? Or should you make an assertion only if you're certain it's true? If either knowledge or certainty is a better candidate, then this will likely have detectable behavioral consequences. I report an experiment that tests for relevant behavioral consequences. The results support the view that assertability is more closely linked to knowledge (...) than to certainty. In multiple scenarios, people were much more willing to allow assertability and certainty to come apart than to allow assertability and knowledge to come apart. (shrink)
In the philosophical literature on the definition of lying, the analysis is generally restricted to cases of flat-out belief. This chapter considers the complex phenomenon of lies involving partial beliefs – beliefs ranging from mere uncertainty to absolute certainty. The first section analyses lies uttered while holding a graded belief in the falsity of the assertion, and presents a revised insincerity condition, requiring that the liar believes the assertion to be more likely to be false than true. The second (...) section analyses assertions that express graded beliefs, exploring how mitigation and reinforcement can alter the insincerity conditions for lying. The last section considers the case of lies that attack certainty (knowledge-lies), understood as attempt to alter the hearer's graded beliefs. (shrink)
This paper seeks to widen the dialogue between the “epistemology of peer disagreement” and the epistemology informed by Wittgenstein’s last notebooks, later edited as On Certainty. The paper defends the following theses: not all certainties are groundless; many of them are beliefs; and they do not have a common essence. An epistemic peer need not share all of my certainties. Which response to a disagreement over a certainty is called for, depends on the type of certainty in (...) question. Sometimes a form of relativism is the right response. Reasonable, mutually recognized peer disagreement over a certainty is possible.—The paper thus addresses both interpretative and systematic issues. It uses Wittgenstein as a resource for thinking about peer disagreement over certainties. (shrink)
This paper argues that we should assign certainty a central place in epistemology. While epistemic certainty played an important role in the history of epistemology, recent epistemology has tended to dismiss certainty as an unattainable ideal, focusing its attention on knowledge instead. I argue that this is a mistake. Attending to certainty attributions in the wild suggests that much of our everyday knowledge qualifies, in appropriate contexts, as certain. After developing a semantics for certainty ascriptions, (...) I put certainty to explanatory work. Specifically, I argue that by taking certainty as our central epistemic notion, we can shed light on a variety of important topics, including evidence and evidential probability, epistemic modals, and the normative constraints on credence and assertion. (shrink)
This radical reading of Wittgenstein's third and last masterpiece, On Certainty, has major implications for philosophy. It elucidates Wittgenstein's ultimate thoughts on the nature of our basic beliefs and his demystification of scepticism. Our basic certainties are shown to be nonepistemic, nonpropositional attitudes that, as such, have no verbal occurrence but manifest themselves exclusively in our actions. This fundamental certainty is a belief-in, a primitive confidence or ur-trust whose practical nature bridges the hitherto unresolved categorial gap between belief (...) and action. (shrink)
After describing Wittgenstein's notion of ‘certainty’, in this article I provide four arguments to demonstrate that no certainty can be acquired at will. Specifically, I argue that, in order to assimilate a certainty, it is irrelevant whether the individual concerned has found a ground that seemingly justifies that certainty; has a given mental state; is willing to accept the certainty on the proposal of a persuader; or tries to act according to the certainty involved. (...) Lastly, I analyse how each of these arguments is reflected in the way children acquire certainties. (shrink)
During the 1630s Descartes recognized that he could not expect all legitimate claims in natural science to meet the standard of absolute certainty. The realization resulted from a change in his physics, which itself arose not through methodological reflections, but through developments in his substantive metaphysical doctrines. Descartes discovered the metaphysical foundations of his physics in 1629-30; as a consequence, the style of explanation employed in his physical writings changed. His early methodological conceptions, as preserved in the Rules and (...) sketched in Part Two of the Discourse, pertained primarily to his early work in optics. By the early 1630s, Descartes was concerned with new methodological problems pertaining to the postulation of micro-mechanisms. Recognition of the need to employ a method of hypothesis led him to lower the standard of certainty required of particular explanations in his mature physics. (shrink)
What is the relation between legal certainty and correctness? This question poses one of the perpetual problems of the theory and practice of law—and for this reason: The answer turns on the main question in legal philosophy, the question of the concept and the nature of law. Thus, in an initial step, I will briefly look at the concept and the nature of law. In a second step, I will attempt to explain what the concept and the nature of (...) law, thus understood, imply for the relation between legal certainty and correctness. Here three issues will be considered: first, the Radbruch formula as an answer to the problem of extreme injustice; second, the special case thesis, which claims that legal argumentation is a special case of general practical argumentation; and, third, the problem of the judicial development of the law. (shrink)
Newton began his Principia with three Axiomata sive Leges Motus. We offer an interpretation of Newton’s dual label and investigate two tensions inherent in his account of laws. The first arises from the juxtaposition of Newton’s confidence in the certainty of his laws and his commitment to their variability and contingency. The second arises because Newton ascribes fundamental status both to the laws and to the bodies and forces they govern. We argue the first is resolvable, but the second (...) is not. However, the second tension shows that Newton conceives laws as formal causes of bodies and forces. This neo-Aristotelian conception goes missing in Kantian accounts of laws, as well as accounts that stress laws’ grounding in powers and capacities. (shrink)
Most philosophers, including all materialists I know of, believe that I am a complex thing?a thing with parts?and that my mental life is (or is a result of) the interaction of these parts. These philosophers often believe that I am a body or a brain, and my mental life is (or is a product of) brain activity. In this paper, I develop and defend a novel argument against this view. The argument turns on certainty, that highest epistemic status that (...) a precious few of our beliefs enjoy. For example, on the basis of introspection, I am certain that I am not in fierce pain right now. But if I am a complex thing like a body or a brain, then introspection might be a causal series of events extended in time. And any such process could go awry. So, if introspection is such a process, then I could gain good evidence that the introspective process has gone awry and that I am, contrary to appearances, feeling fierce pain right now. Therefore, the view that I am a complex thing like a body or a brain forces open the possibility that I cannot be certain that I am not feeling fierce pain right now. Since that is clearly not an open possibility, it follows that I am not a complex thing. I conclude by responding to three objections. (shrink)
Ludwig Wittgenstein's On Certainty was finished just before his death in 1951 and is a running commentary on three of G.E. Moore's greatest epistemological papers. In the early 1930s, Moore had written a lengthy commentary on Wittgenstein, anticipating some of the issues Wittgenstein would discuss in On Certainty. The philosophical relationship between these two great philosophers and their overlapping, but nevertheless differing, views is the subject of this book. Both defended the existence of certainty and thus opposed (...) any form of skepticism. However, their defenses and conceptions of certainty differed widely, as did their understanding of the nature of skepticism and how best to combat it. Stroll's book contains a careful and critical analysis of their differing approaches to a set of fundamental epistemological problems. (shrink)
According to epistemic fallibilism, we cannot be certain of anything. According to the Christian tradition, faith comes with certainty. I develop this dilemma from recent accounts of fallibilism and various representatives of the Christian tradition. I then argue that on John Henry Newman's account of faith the dilemma is merely apparent. Finally, I develop Newman's account of the certainty that accompanies faith and is compatible with fallibilism.
[Time, the fundamental dimension of our existence, has fascinated artists, philosophers, and scientists of every culture and every century. All of us can remember a moment as a child when time became a personal reality, when we realized what a "year" was, or asked ourselves when "now" happened. Common sense says time moves forward, never backward, from cradle to grave. Nevertheless, Einstein said that time is an illusion. Nature's laws, as he and Newton defined them, describe a timeless, deterministic universe (...) within which we can make predictions with complete certainty. In effect, these great physicists contended that time is reversible and thus meaningless. (shrink)
This paper defends a position that parts ways with the positivist view of legal certainty and reasonableness. I start out with a reconstruction of this view and move on to argue that an adequate analysis of certainty and reasonableness calls for an alternative approach, one based on the acknowledgement that argumentation is key to determining the contents, structure, and boundaries of a legal system. Here I claim that by endorsing a dialec-tical notion of rationality this alternative account espouses (...) an ambitious approach to rea-soning in law and conceives of the theory of legal argumentation as the vantage point from which to analyze legal systems and tackle the main problems connected with their existence. Next, I look at what this alternative approach does for the way we should go about treating certainty and reasonableness, considered singularly as well as in their recip-rocal relationship. I conclude on this basis that when argumentation receives its due emphasis in law we have to redefine certainty and reasonableness and recast their connection as non-conflictive. (shrink)
This paper presents the concept of ‘religious certainty’ I have developed by drawing inspiration from Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘certainty’. After describing the particular traits of religious certainty, this paper addresses two difficulties derived from this concept. On the one hand, it explains why religious certainty functions as such even though all its consequences are far from being absolutely clear; on the other hand, it clarifies why, unlike the rest of certainties, the loss of religious certainty (...) does not result in the collapse of the world-picture made up of all certainties. Subsequently, it analyzes to what extent the teacher can teach religious certainty by acting as a facilitator for its acquisition–if desired—particularly bearing in mind that religious certainty cannot be attained at will. These basic teaching guidelines have several advantages. First, they make it possible to know the nature of religious certainty even better. Second, and most importantly, the fact of having adopted the perspective of a teacher who tries inculcating a religious certainty contributes to detecting and preventing forms of indoctrination that, arguably, might go unnoticed even when attempting to properly present religious certainty—or rather, this way of being religious—in current schools to foster understanding thereof. (shrink)
Hume appeals to different kinds of certainties and necessities in the Treatise. He contrasts the certainty that arises from intuition and demonstrative reasoning with the certainty that arises from causal reasoning. He denies that the causal maxim is absolutely or metaphysically necessary, but he nonetheless takes the causal maxim and ‘proofs’ to be necessary. The focus of this paper is the certainty and necessity involved in Hume’s concept of knowledge. I defend the view that intuitive certainty, (...) in particular, is certainty of the invariability or necessity of relations between ideas. Against David Owen and Helen Beebee, I argue that the certainty involved in intuition depends on the activity of the mind. I argue, further, that understanding this activity helps us understand more clearly one of Hume’s most important theses, namely that experience is the source of a distinct kind of certainty and of necessity. (shrink)
Written over the last 18 months of his life and inspired by his interest in G. E. Moore's defence of common sense, this much discussed volume collects Wittgenstein's reflections on knowledge and certainty, on what it is to know a proposition for sure.
The paper focuses on the role of relativistic ideas in Wittgenstein’s philosophy. In particular, it focuses on On Certainty (1969), where in (305), Wittgenstein explicitly invokes Einstein’s theory of relativity: “Here once more there is needed a step like the one taken in relativity theory.” The aim of the paper is to establish a connection between Wittgenstein and Einstein that is both theoretically and exegetically sound. In particular, the paper argues that Wittgenstein’s reaction to scepticism closely resembles Einstein’s reaction (...) to the ether. (shrink)
This book explores a question central to philosophy--namely, what does it take for a belief to be justified or rational? According to a widespread view, whether one has justification for believing a proposition is determined by how probable that proposition is, given one's evidence. In this book this view is rejected and replaced with another: in order for one to have justification for believing a proposition, one's evidence must normically support it--roughly, one's evidence must make the falsity of that proposition (...) abnormal in the sense of calling for special, independent explanation. This conception of justification bears upon a range of topics in epistemology and beyond. Ultimately, this way of looking at justification guides us to a new, unfamiliar picture of how we should respond to our evidence and manage our own fallibility. This picture is developed here. (shrink)
Certain lines of reasoning common in evolutionary taxonomy have been termed viciously circular. They are quite obviously not logically circular. They do give the superficial appearance of epistemological circularity. This appearance arises from the method of successive approximation used by evolutionary taxonomists. It is argued that this method is not epistemologically circular, even when the only evidence that the taxonomist has to go on is the phenetic similarity of contemporary forms. The important criticism of evolutionary taxonomy is rather that in (...) the absence of fossil evidence phyletic reconstructions are not warranted. It is argued that this charge stems initially from a misunderstanding of the kind of certainty possible in empirical science. When this criticism is couched in appropriate terms, it may be seen to have some force. Many phyletic inferences are not as warranted as one might wish. However, there is a great deal of difference between arguing that a line of reasoning is unwarranted and arguing that it is viciously circular. (shrink)
In On Certainty, Wittgenstein’s reflections bring into view the phenomenon of basic certainty. He explores this phenomenon mostly in relation to our certainty with regard to empirical states of affairs. Drawing on these seminal observations and reflections, I extend the inquiry into what I call “basic moral certainty”, arguing that the latter plays the same kind of foundational role in our moral practices and judgements as basic empirical certainty does in our epistemic practices and judgements. (...) I illustrate the nature and significance of basic moral certainty via critical examination of contemporary philosophical “explanations” of the wrongness of killing. These pseudo explanations, as I show them to be, will be seen to founder in a similar manner to Moore’s “Proof” of an external world, that is, in a manner that discloses the phenomenon of basic (moral) certainty. (shrink)
Counterfactualism is a useful process for historians as a thought-experiment because it offers grounds to challenge an unfortunate contemporary historical mindset of assumed, deterministic certainty. This article suggests that the methodological value of counterfactualism may be understood in terms of the three categories of common ahistorical errors that it may help to prevent: the assumptions of indispensability, causality, and inevitability. To support this claim, I survey a series of key counterfactual works and reflections on counterfactualism, arguing that the practice (...) of counterfactualism evolved as both cause and product of an evolving popular assumption of the plasticity of history and the importance of human agency within it. For these reasons, counterfactualism is of particular importance both historically and politically. I conclude that it is time for a methodological re-assessment of the uses of such thought-experiments in history, particularly in light of counterfactualism's developmental relatedness to cultural, technological, and analytical modernity. (shrink)
This paper seeks to defend, develop, and revise Edward Craig's “genealogy of knowledge”. The paper first develops the suggestion that Craig's project is naturally thought of as an important instance of “social cognitive ecology”. It then introduces the genealogy of knowledge and some of its main problems and weaknesses, suggesting that these are best taken as challenges for further work rather than as refutations. The central sections of the paper conduct a critical dialogue between Craig's theory and Wittgenstein's claim–familiar from (...) On Certainty–that common-sense certainties cannot be known. It turns out that Craig's distinction between different stages in the development of our concept of knowledge can illuminate and make plausible Wittgenstein's claim. But it can do so only if Craig's traditional commitment to a central “core” in our concept of knowledge is replaced with the idea of knowledge as a family-resemblance concept. (shrink)
This paper examines Ian Hacking's arguments in favor of entity realism. It shows that his examples from science do not support his realism. Furthermore, his proposed criterion of experimental use is neither sufficient nor necessary for conferring a privileged status on his preferred unobservables. Nonetheless his insight is genuine; it may be most profitably seen as part of a more general effort to create a space for a new form of scientific and philosophical certainty, one that does not require (...) foundations. (shrink)
_ Source: _Volume 6, Issue 2-3, pp 120 - 142 This paper aims to contribute to the debate over epistemic versus non-epistemic readings of the ‘hinges’ in Wittgenstein’s _On Certainty_. I follow Marie McGinn’s and Daniele Moyal-Sharrock’s lead in developing an analogy between mathematical sentences and certainties, and using the former as a model for the latter. However, I disagree with McGinn’s and Moyal-Sharrock’s interpretations concerning Wittgenstein’s views of both relata. I argue that mathematical sentences as well as certainties are (...) true and are propositions; that some of them can be epistemically justified; that in some senses they are not prior to empirical knowledge; that they are not ineffable; and that their primary function is epistemic as much as it is semantic. (shrink)
Logical positivism and its derivatives cast a sustained philosophical shadow over religious faith and theological reflection. Any number of issues continue to surface in explicit and subdued forms, all of them relating to the status of religious beliefs. In fairly recent years, much fruitful discussion is dependent on the later writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein's last notes, collected in On Certainty, are still largely unmined by those wishing to gain clarity about religious belief. It turns out, however, that these (...) pages promise to be among the most helpful. In what follows, therefore, there is first offered a summary of the dominant themes of On Certainty – Wittgenstein's critique of G. E. Moore and his treatment of Moore's truisms of common sense. By a painstaking analysis, Wittgenstein shows that the truths defended by Moore are among any number of other fundamental propositions which have an extraordinary logical role in our language and judgements about the world. Next, partly by reference to Wittgenstein's lectures on religious belief and other collected notes, it is argued that many beliefs in Christianity share significant logical features with those fundamental propositions. Not least is the fact that, like the latter but unlike scientific hypotheses, Christian beliefs are removed from the ordinary traffic of verification and falsification. Despite the likenesses, notice is also taken of various dissimilarities which further set the peculiarity of Christian articles of faith into bold relief. The disparities, however, do not impugn the logically fundamental role which those beliefs have in the language and lives of those who embrace the faith. (shrink)
This paper examines the relevance of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty to the contemporary debate regarding the problem of radical scepticism. In particular, it considers two accounts in the recent literature which have seen in Wittgenstein’s remarks on “hinge propositions” in On Certainty the basis for a primarily epistemological anti-sceptical thesis—viz., the inferential contextualism offered by Michael Williams and the ‘unearned warrant’ thesis defended by Crispin Wright. Both positions are shown to be problematic, both as interpretations of Wittgenstein and as (...) anti-sceptical theses. Indeed, it is argued that on a reading of On Certainty which has Wittgenstein advancing a primarily epistemological thesis, there is in fact strong evidence to suggest that Wittgenstein thought that no epistemic response to the sceptic was available—at best, it seems, only a pragmatic antisceptical thesis is on offer. Such a conclusion is not without import to the present debate regarding radical scepticism, however, since it poses a general challenge for how the sceptical argument is conceived in the contemporary literature. (shrink)
This is a reply to Howard Sankey’s comment (“Factivity or Grounds? Comment on Mizrahi”) on my paper, “You Can’t Handle the Truth: Knowledge = Epistemic Certainty,” in which I present an argument from the factivity of knowledge for the conclusion that knowledge is epistemic certainty. While Sankey is right that factivity does not entail epistemic certainty, the factivity of knowledge does entail that knowledge is epistemic certainty.
This article shows how Hegel's 'Sense-Certainty' chapter fills in a gap in Kant's and Sellars's critique of empiricism by supplying an argument that even indexical reference presupposes and is mediated by a larger conceptual framework.
I argue that believing that p implies having a credence of 1 in p. This is true because the belief that p involves representing p as being the case, representing p as being the case involves not allowing for the possibility of not-p, while having a credence that’s greater than 0 in not-p involves regarding not-p as a possibility.
Empiricist theories of knowledge are attractive for they offer the prospect of a unitary theory of knowledge based on relatively well understood physiological and cognitive processes. Mathematical knowledge, however, has been a traditional stumbling block for such theories. There are three primary features of mathematical knowledge which have led epistemologists to the conclusion that it cannot be accommodated within an empiricist framework: 1) mathematical propositions appear to be immune from empirical disconfirmation; 2) mathematical propositions appear to be known with (...) class='Hi'>certainty; and 3) mathematical propositions are necessary. Epistemologists who believe that some nonmathematical propositions, such as logical or ethical propositions, cannot be known a posteriori also typically appeal to the three factors cited above in defending their position. The primary purpose of this paper is to examine whether any of these alleged features of mathematical propositions establishes that knowledge of such propositions cannot be a posteriori. (shrink)