Wittgenstein and Scepticism

Wittgenstein and Scepticism

Wittgenstein and Scepticism

Wittgenstein and Scepticism


Wittgenstein is arguably the greatest philosopher of the last hundred years and scepticism is one of the central problems that modern philosophy faces. This collection is the first to be devoted to an examination of how that great philosopher's work bears on this fundamental philosophical problem.Wittgenstein's reaction to scepticism is complex, articulating both a sense that sceptical problems are ultimately unreal and a sense that scepticism teaches us something about the fundamental character of the human predicament.The essays, specially written for this collection by distinguished philosophers and commentators on Wittgenstein, explore that reaction, addressing, in particular, scepticism about the existence of the external world and of other minds. In doing so, it explores issues not only in theory of knowledge but also in metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, language, perception and literature, as well as raising questions about the nature of philosophy itself.Several of the papers address the work of Stanley Cavell, perhaps the most influential commentator on the work of Wittgenstein, and Cavell replies in the final pieces to four of those papers.This collection is essential reading for students and scholars of Wittgenstein and anyone interested in the debate surrounding scepticism.


This chapter will look sympathetically but not uncritically at Moorean responses to certain versions of epistemological scepticism about the external world, with a view to making them over into a more recognisably pragmatist response to such scepticism. Pragmatism-to some extent justifiably-has often been dismissed for not taking scepticism seriously enough and for not being respectful enough of traditional epistemological problems and the long history of scrupulous responses to such problems in the epistemological tradition. By arriving at pragmatist epistemological ideas via a consideration and transformation of a traditional and highly scrupulous response to traditional Cartesian scepticism, I want to correct this failing in pragmatist epistemology.

Section I expounds and analyses a Moorean response to Cartesian scepticism. Section II builds up a general pragmatist response to scepticism from a specific element in the Moorean response. Section iii explores the relations between such a pragmatism and Wittgensteinian responses to scepticism.


G.E. Moore famously responded to a certain understanding of Cartesian scepticism by offering a given belief, held under given circumstances, which was immune to Cartesian doubt, and which could be counted as true and as a bit of knowledge. I will not directly take up Moore's response to this version of scepticism about the external world. I will look very briefly instead at a much more recent elaboration of what is essentially Moore's strategy of response, by James Pryor (Pryor 2000).

Pryor focuses on that aspect of Moore's response which says that I can know some proposition without being able to prove it. a concession to fallibilism is therefore built into the response. Moore, as is well known, himself offers an example of such a proposition, held or uttered under certain circumstances-'Here is a hand' uttered when one (supposes that one) holds up one's hand in bright daylight and with one's visual and mental capacities functioning normally. Pryor's key claim on behalf of Moore is that for propositions such

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