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Wittgenstein's On Certainty in the making. Studies into its historical and philosophical background

04 December 2008

PhD ceremony: mw. M.J.J.M. van Gennip, 13.15 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Thesis: Wittgenstein's On Certainty in the making. Studies into its historical and philosophical background

Promotor(s): prof. M.R.M. ter Hark, prof. L.W.Nauta

Faculty: Philosophy


Kim van Gennip her dissertation provides a study into the philosophical and historical background of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On Certainty (1969), with the aim of firmly locating it in the continuous development of Wittgenstein's thinking. Posthumously edited and published, On Certainty is composed of fragments from five manuscripts written in the last two years before Wittgenstein’s death in 1951. In the literature, this publication is often interpreted as a reflection of the discussions Wittgenstein had with Norman Malcolm about G.E. Moore’s ‘Defence of Common Sense’ and ‘Proof of an External World’. In line with this interpretation, it has recently been proposed that On Certainty marks the beginning of a new phase in Wittgenstein’s thinking, which could be labelled ‘Wittgenstein III’ (complementing the Wittgenstein I of Tractatus and Wittgenstein II of the Philosophical Investigations). Drawing on an extensive investigation of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass, this dissertation both qualifies and extends the earlier interpretation, and criticizes the later proposal. It provides a detailed comparison of On Certainty and manuscripts from the late twenties, thirties and forties, showing that the central ideas from On Certainty have their roots in those early manuscripts. This dissertation further provides a philosophical analysis which shows that not only Moore and Malcolm, but also ideas from L. Brouwer and B. Russell are reflected in On Certainty. In doing so, it provides a nuanced re-evaluation of the place of On Certainty in Wittgenstein’s philosophy. It further shows the value of combining a historical approach with philosophical explication.


Last modified:15 September 2017 3.37 p.m.

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