Knowledge and Certainty

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In On Certainty, Wittgenstein subverts the traditional picture of basic beliefs. They are not indubitable or self-justified propositions, but animal certainties. With the word 'animal', he does not mean to reduce these basic certainties to brute impressions or to intuitions, but to say that they are nonreflective and nonpropositional. So that what philosophers like Descartes and Moore put forward as propositions susceptible of falsification and thereby of scepticism are in fact heuristic formulations of certainties whose status is logical or grammatical, and whose only occurrence qua certainty is in action – that is: in what we say (e.g. 'I'll wash my hands') and in what we do (e.g. we wash our hands). So that although they often look like empirical conclusions, our basic certainties constitute, not objects of knowledge, but the ungrounded, necessary, nonpropositional basis of knowledge. This paper delineates Wittgenstein's route to this conclusion, while countering the epistemic and/or propositional readings of 'hinge propositions' put forward by Michael Williams, Crispin Wright, Annalisa Coliva and Duncan Pritchard. It is argued that only a nonepistemic and nonpropositional reading of hinge certainty allows it to solve epistemology's core problem: the infinite regress of justification.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Companion to Wittgenstein
EditorsHans-Johann Glock, John Hyman
Place of PublicationMilton, QLD, Australia
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd
Editionnew edition
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-118-64116-3
ISBN (Print)1118641167
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2017

Publication series

NameBlackwell Companions to Philosophy
PublisherWiley & Sons


  • Wittgenstein
  • epistemology
  • certainty
  • knowledge
  • On Certainty


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