Moore’s Proof

by Daniel A. Kaufman

If you were to pinch the nearest analytically trained philosopher and ask him for the worst, most obviously fallacious argument in his tradition, he might very well tell you that it is the so-called “proof” for the existence of the external world that G.E. Moore gives in his 1939 paper, “Proof of an External World,” originally delivered to the British Academy.  And if you tried to push back – and if your interlocutor was sharp – he might refer you to two papers by Crispin Wright – his 1985 “Facts and Certainty” (also delivered to the British Academy, interestingly enough) and 2002 “Anti-Sceptics Simple and Subtle” – which really put the boot in, as far as Moore is concerned.

This is not to say, of course, that there are no people in the business who think Moore was on to something.  I’m one of those who do, and if I find myself alone at a wine-and-cheese, surrounded by Moore-haters and feeling a bit vulnerable, I can always point out that Wittgenstein has my back, having thought Moore’s thesis so interesting that he was motivated to write an entire book – On Certainty – on the arguments and theses presented in “Proof of an External World” and “In Defence of Common Sense,” which, according to Elizabeth Anscombe, Wittgenstein thought was Moore’s finest work.  And who am I to argue?

________

Of course, Moore doesn’t always help himself.  He begins “Proof of an External World” by referencing Kant’s remarks in the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics (1783) that it is a “scandal” that no proof of the external world has been given.  What Kant is referring to, of course, is the skepticism of the Enlightenment and especially the kind articulated in Descartes’ (in)famous “Dreaming Argument.”  The trouble is that by evoking Kant in this way, Moore gives the impression that his proof will be relatively straightforward – that it will take on the skeptical challenge head-on, as it were.  And it is precisely this impression – and it is a misimpression – that has led so many people to think that Moore’s essay is little more than an embarrassment.

So, what does the proof consist of?  This is what Moore give’s us, verbatim:

I can prove now, for instance, that two human hands exist. How? By holding up my two hands, and saying, as I make a certain gesture with the right hand “Here is one hand” and adding, as I make a certain gesture with the left “and here is another.”

Now you might immediately think, “Wait a minute.  The statement ‘the external world exists’ is entirely absent from this proof, when it should be featured, prominently, as the conclusion,” but if you’ve read the entire article, you know that Moore addresses this point.  By showing that the individual member of a class exists, one has thereby demonstrated the existence of the class itself.  It does not require a separate proof of its own.  In this case, the class in question is the class of things that belong to what we are calling “the external world”; which have, as Hume called it, “continued and distinct existence”; and to which Moore refers as “things to be met with in space.”

If you have proved that two plants exist, or that a plant and a dog exist, or that a dog and a shadow exist, etc. etc., you will ipso facto have proved that there are things to be met with in space: you will not require also to give a separate proof that from the proposition that there are plants it does follow that there are things to be met with in space.

But this on its own is unlikely to make critics any happier.  “Wait another minute,” they will likely say.  “How does Moore know that he has two hands?  Wasn’t the entire point of Descartes’ Dreaming argument to show that we cannot justify beliefs like these?  Doesn’t  Moore owe us a refutation of Descartes, before he carries on with his proof?”

The criticism doesn’t stop there.  As already mentioned, Crispin Wright, in a number of essays, has absolutely skewered not just Moore’s proof, but any effort like it to demonstrate that the external world exists.

Consider the following apparently valid argument –

  1. Jones has just kicked the ball between the white posts.
  2. Jones has just scored a goal.

Therefore

  1. A game of soccer is taking place.

– as well as this one

1’.   Jones has just placed an X on a ballot paper.

2’.  Jones has just voted.

Therefore

3’.  An election is taking place.

A careful examination of both cases reveals a common, devastating flaw.  The first premise only counts as a reason for thinking the second premise is true, if one already has independent reason to believe that the conclusion is true.  After all, it’s only if a game of soccer is taking place that kicking a ball between two posts counts as scoring a goal.  And it is only if an election takes place that putting an ‘x’ on a piece of paper counts as voting.  So, one cannot justify the claim that soccer is being played or that an election is taking place, on the grounds of premises like 1 and 2.

Once we realize this, it’s a short step to seeing that Moore’s proof takes exactly the same form –

1’’.  My experience is in all respects as of a hand held up in front of my face

2’’.  Here is a hand

Therefore

3’’.  There is a material world (since any hand is a material object existing in space)

– and that consequently, the same result follows.  One cannot determine that the external world exists on the basis of sensory evidence, because sensory evidence only counts as a reason for thinking there are things “outside us,” if we already assume that there are.

_________

While these sorts of critiques are valuable in their own right – and Wright’s, I think, really does uncover the underlying structure and logic that makes arguments like the Dreaming argument so powerful – they are ultimately misapplied to Moore’s proof.  Now, of course, this is easy to say – “I was misunderstood” is the common excuse of many a scoundrel or fool – but in this case, I think the point can be sustained.  For Moore himself, immediately after delivering his proof, admits that he has not refuted the Dreaming argument and moreover, that he cannot refute it.   And it is precisely this that must make us stop and wonder whether what Moore is doing is as straightforward – as head-on – as it seems on first glance.  The unfortunate appeal to Kant notwithstanding, I think that the only conclusion one can reach is that Moore does not intend straightforwardly to prove that the external world exists; that in fact, his strategy for dealing with this most global of skepticisms is something much more subtle and indirect. And it is this that Wittgenstein picked up on and explored in far greater detail in On Certainty.  In a way, then, On Certainty can be read as developing the epistemological ideas that one finds in embryonic and often implicit form in “Proof of an External World” and “In Defence of Common Sense.”

The skeptic who doubts whether our belief in the external world is justified does so on the grounds that we might be making a mistake; indeed, that we often do make such mistakes.  Descartes’ appeal to dreaming in making this point is so strong, precisely because dreaming is such a common phenomenon.  But it is here that Wittgenstein makes an important observation.  What does the skeptic mean, exactly, when he calls something a “mistake” or says that we are “mistaken”?  For example, astronomers might have been wrong about the number of moons orbiting Saturn.  Instruments may have failed or images delivered from telescopes and probes may have been misinterpreted.  So, when an astronomer says “Saturn has 53 moons,” he might be making a mistake.  The number might really be 52 or 55.

But what about a slightly different statement — “There are moons”?  The skeptic wants to say that this also is something we can be wrong about; about which we can be mistaken.  He may even appeal to the Dreaming argument in order to make that very point.  But would we be wrong here in the same way that we might have been with respect to the previous case?  Would this be the sort of thing we would even call a “mistake”?  Consider the following bits and pieces from On Certainty.

  1. Can we say: a mistake doesn’t only have a cause, it also has a ground? I.e., roughly: when someone makes a mistake, this can be fitted into what he knows aright.
  1. If someone said to me that he doubted whether he had a body I should take him to be a half-wit. But I shouldn’t know what it would mean to try to convince him that he had one.  And if I had said something, and that had removed his doubt, I should not know how or why.

We only can understand something as a mistake, against a background of things that are not taken as mistaken.  It is because I know that Saturn has moons – and that there are such things as moons – that I can make sense of the notion of being mistaken about the number of moons it has.  Moreover, if I get the number of Saturn’s moons wrong, I have some idea of how I might go about correcting my mistake, with the hope of getting it right the next time.  But none of this is the case with respect to the proposition that there are moons.  If the skeptic tries to claim that this is mistaken, there is no backdrop of not-mistaken things concerning moons, against which the idea of its being a mistake makes any sense, and if it was a mistake I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of how to go about correcting it.

Wittgenstein makes the same point with respect to the common practice of calculation.  Certainly, I can make sense of the notion of making a mistake in adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and the like.  I can make an error in multiplication that leads me to believe that 6×7 is 48, rather than 42.   The notion of a mistake here makes sense, again, because it occurs against a backdrop of correct calculation, and because it’s quite clear how one would go about correcting it – i.e. one would “check one’s work” and do the calculation again.  When the skeptic suggests, however, that we might be mistaken about calculation generally – that we might never calculate correctly – the notion of a mistake makes little sense, because it is completely untethered, and what it would mean to correct it has become utterly obscure.  How would one check the checking and how many times would one have to do it, in order to be persuaded that checking works?  This is why, at one point, Wittgenstein says:

  1. Perhaps I shall do a multiplication twice to make sure, or perhaps get someone else to work it over. But shall I work it over again twenty times, or get twenty people to go over it?  And is that some sort of negligence? Would the certainty really be greater for being checked twenty times?

To say that something is mistaken or could be mistaken, then, only makes sense against the backdrop of a whole number of other things that not only are not mistakes but which are fixed – or which, as Wittgenstein puts it, “stand fast.”  And without those things, the notion of a mistake or being mistaken or of justification and being justified or unjustified, becomes obscure to the point of incoherence, because it is completely unmoored in any fixed point of reference.   Which is why Wittgenstein says:

  1. If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

and

  1. All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument.  [It is] the element in which arguments have their life.

What the skeptic demands is not just proof for a proposition, but proof for all proofs, and it is here that he goes off the rails; that he ceases to play the game that the rest of us are playing, which is why, rather than being wrong, his critique is, in fact, beside the point.  I can use a proof to justify an arithmetic proposition, and if I get it wrong, I can check my proof and try again.  But all of this only works, because it is done against a backdrop of beliefs that stand fast; that are beyond doubt; that are taken as certain; most important among them, the belief that arithmetic proofs, in general, work.  And that this is precisely what Moore is getting at is revealed at the end of the essay, where he says:

[A] reason why some people would feel dissatisfied with my proofs is, I think, not merely that they want a proof of something which I haven’t proved, but that they think that, if I cannot give such extra proofs, then the proofs that I have given are not conclusive proofs at all. And this, I think, is a definite mistake.

I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I have little use – or time – for skeptics.  Or at least, those who really mean it.

_________

References

G.E. Moore, “Proof of an External World” (1939)

http://www.hist-analytic.com/MooreExternalWorld.pdf

Crispin Wright, “Facts and Certainty” (1985)

http://www.britac.ac.uk/pubs/proc/files/71p429.pdf

Crispin Wright, “Anti-Sceptics Simple and Subtle” (2002)

http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/arche/old/pages/papers/(Anti)-Sceptics…pdf

Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (1969)

http://www.edtechpost.ca/readings/Ludwig%20Wittgenstein%20-%20On%20Certainty.html

Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics (1783)

http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/assets/pdfs/kant1783.pdf

Categories: Essay, Essays

30 Comments »

  1. Illuminating. “I can know things that I cannot prove”, kind of echoes the Platonic “the real is the object of knowledge”, which apparently has a corollary “then the object of belief must be something other than the real”. One might imagine the more recent fake hand experiments might have been inspired by Moore, though they actually come from stroke patients, who have hands they neither know about nor believe in.

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  2. When as a youth I was confronted with the contradictions between science and Biblical literalism, I mused at how much work God must be doing to introduce evidence that would make it appear that the things we had learned about physics must have always been true.

    Now, after a lifetime of trying to make sense of the world, I confront the skeptic with “What is true is not nearly as interesting as what is possible.” That I can apply the systems of deduction brought forth from the past to explain and control my actual experience – well, that seems to be a solid argument for the existence of the external world.

    Does that match your sense of Moore’s proposition, Daniel? In a certain sense, the final quote seems to suggest “You can challenge my axioms, but you cannot challenge my reasoning.” Moreover, to the disciplined thinker, the conclusions drawn by reasoning from our axioms are themselves the strongest test of the axioms. The skeptic, in refusing to do that work, becomes an intellectual barnacle.

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  3. The natural contrarian in me is trying hard to find some countervailing argument that would undermine your clear and persuasive reasoning(this is where we need DM, the resident contrarian on the other blog 🙂 ). So far I can’t do it, so let me instead outline what I think is a better argument for your position.

    The world I perceive is quite marvellous in its beauty, consistency, coherence, depth and complexity. If my brain had somehow created this world of the imagination it must be a brain of the most extraordinarily powerful, complex and imaginative kind, the kind that only an omniscient God could have.

    But this contains a fatal contradiction. I know, to my great sadness, that my brain is a very limited one, one that makes many mistakes, has a limited imagination and very limited processing power. Such a brain could not possibly imagine our vast, coherent, consistent and complex world. Therefore it must exist independently of my brain.

    There is an amusing corollary to this. The skeptic is required believe he is God since only God would have the omnipotence and omniscience to imagine the world we perceive. But your common and garden skeptic does not believe in God so he is guilty of a fatal contradiction. Though I might be wrong since Dawkins is frequently treated as a God-like figure. Perhaps then Dawkins is God and we are merely the creatures of his imagination. That would explain our inadequacy.

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  4. Good article.

    If course these days we are not asked so much to doubt the world exists as we are to doubt that we are conscious and to believe instead that we are experiencing a clever illusion or “caricature’ of consciousness.

    A similar issue seems to arise. It suggests that there is such a thing as really being conscious and that we are not in that state.

    What would they reply if I were to ask how I could tell I was mistaken, what would it be like if I were really conscious? Perhaps they would say that it would be just the same as I am currently experiencing, only it would be real and not, you know, a dreadful mistake.

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  5. The trouble is that the skeptic is not saying that we are mistaken, only that we don’t know whether it is the case or not. The skeptic does not denand proof, merely points out that there is none.

    Interestingly, Berkeley denied he was a skeptic. He didn’t doubt that there was a chair in the locked room with mo one in there to observe it, merely said that he did not know what such a claim could possibly mean.

    Mach didn’t doubt the existence of an external world, he called the concept meaningless.

    So someone offering proof of an external world would first have to explain what they mesn by an external world.

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  6. Dan,

    This was an amazing article, containing some real philosophical heavy lifting that you rarely see anymore. Thanks so much.

    I just had one question, in the essay you said,

    “We only can understand something as a mistake, against a background of things that are not taken as mistaken. It is because I know that Saturn has moons – and that there are such things as moons – that I can make sense of the notion of being mistaken about the number of moons it has. Moreover, if I get the number of Saturn’s moons wrong, I have some idea of how I might go about correcting my mistake, with the hope of getting it right the next time. But none of this is the case with respect to the proposition that there are moons. If the skeptic tries to claim that this is mistaken, there is no backdrop of not-mistaken things concerning moons, against which the idea of its being a mistake makes any sense, and if it was a mistake I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of how to go about correcting it.”

    Suppose we replace every instance of “moon” with “witches,” such that we get a paragraph like this:

    We only can understand something as a mistake, against a background of things that are not taken as mistaken. It is because I know that the earth has witches– and that there are such things as witches– that I can make sense of the notion of being mistaken about the number of witches it has. Moreover, if I get the number of Earth’s witches wrong, I have some idea of how I might go about correcting my mistake, with the hope of getting it right the next time. But none of this is the case with respect to the proposition that there are witches. If the skeptic tries to claim that this is mistaken, there is no backdrop of not-mistaken things concerning witches, against which the idea of its being a mistake makes any sense, and if it was a mistake I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of how to go about correcting it.

    Given that we do think it seems reasonable to say that we could be mistaken when we think that there are witches and, using the “class-generalizability” point made in the essay (that if you establish that there is a dog, since dogs are in the class of things that “are to be met with in space,” you have thereby established that there are things to be met with in space), we could say that we have established that it makes sense to say that we could be mistaken that moons exist, or that there are hands that exist.

    Does this pose any problem? Does it actually make no sense to say we could be mistaken that witches exist? Are witches ontologically different enough that there is a disanalogy here? Would love your thoughts, and really, thanks so much again for this essay!

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  7. Thanks Dan, This is great.

    I did pretty much know where you were heading based on previous essays, but this is very clear. Of course the idea that we need to start from some fixed ground in order to make any kind argument ( or to move assertively ) doesn’t imply that the ground our particular arguments or beliefs stand on isn’t shaky.

    So while radical skepticism is untenable, doubt is nevertheless a useful tool, and there are times when it is pragmatic to question the grounding that births our beliefs. I think this essay provides an important reminder of the limits of doubt, but also suggests the importance of an awareness of what it is that grounds our beliefs, actions, behaviors etc… in response to certain triggers. We need to stand on something, but we also need to be capable of adjusting our footing. I could use this in my tai chi classes 🙂

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  8. Hi Dan K, I want to walk into this one a bit slowly.

    In the past you have claimed to be an anti-realist. The overall argument here appears to support realism. Am I mistaken about this? If so, how does this lead to anti-realism? If not, do you have issues with this argument (which make you an anti-realist) that you are not mentioning here? Your concluding line left me a bit confused on this point.

    Outside of moral truths I am a realist and so should be happy enough with this argument. However, the opening gambit referred to as Moore’s proof feels like it is slightly moving around the point.

    When the question arises if there is an external world, it seems to me at heart the real question being asked is if our perceptions about the world we experience are accurate. Or how can we be certain they are accurate. In a way I agree with the conclusion of the piece as you have explained it, there is no meaningful proof for such a thing, but then why bother with the whole “this is my hand, etc..” beyond dramatics?

    Why not just say that at a certain point all things rest on an axiom, about which no further proofs are possible (until conditions regarding perceptions change)?

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  9. Hi Robin, I think within the linked piece Moore offers a definition (at least for himself) what he means by an external world. It seems roughly in keeping with how I would define it (mind independent).

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  10. Here is Wittgenstein:

    257. If someone said to me that he doubted whether he had a body I should take him to be a half-wit. But I shouldn’t know what it would mean to try to convince him that he had one. And if I had said something, and that had removed his doubt, I should not know how or why.

    It seems to me that Wittgenstein has merely conceded the skeptic’s point. We can imagine the exchange:

    Skeptic: “I do not know whether or not I have a body.”
    Wittgenstien: “I shouldn’t know what it would mean to try to convince you that you have one. And if I had said something, and that had removed your doubt, I should not know how or why.”
    Skeptic: “Yes, that is exactly my point”.

    Again:

    115. If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

    Which appears to be the entire point that Descartes was making. For example, that he cannot doubt everything because then he would be doubting that he is something which is doubting.

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  11. Except that Descartes thinks that this certainty is the result of certain beliefs having “super” warrant. For Wittgenstein, they are simply the things that have to “stand fast.” And these may differ, depending on the language game we are playing.

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  12. You know, I’ve never quite gotten the Dreaming argument, because I always know (and have known) when I’m dreaming. The only dream I remember feeling like reality – and I can remember it still – was a night-terror, with the devil bouncing on my chest while I was falling to hell. But even then I knew it wasn’t real, because I never believed in the devil.

    I think to some extent Moore is trying to resurrect Thomas Reid, and insist not only that we may we trust our senses but do so all the time; and that existence and knowledge about it would simply be incoherent if we did not. He is thus putting the burden of proof on the skeptic’s shoulders: ‘prove that I am only dreaming.!’ Which of course is impossible.

    I remember a story about the young Wittgenstein shouting at Russell: “You cannot prove there is no elephant under that desk!” Obviously, his thinking had clarified considerably by the time he wrote On Certainty.

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  13. The strange thing is that the dreaming argument is true, in an unexpected and counter-intuitive sense. Most of our life is indeed just a common dream. Yuval Noah Harari called it a common fiction and he credits this shared dream with making possible humankind’s stunning advances. From Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind


    …the truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions. Rather, it’s the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled.

    But fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively.

    How did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold[expansion into large societies], eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of fiction. Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.
    Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in peoples collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. Two Catholics who have never met can nevertheless go together on crusade or pool funds to build a hospital because they both believe that God was incarnated in human flesh and allowed Himself to be crucified to redeem our sins. States are rooted in common national myths. Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag. Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine efforts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights – and the money paid out in fees.
    Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.
    People easily understand that ‘primitives’ cement their social order by believing in ghosts and spirits, and gathering each full moon to dance together around the campfire. What we fail to appreciate is that our modern institutions function on exactly the same basis. Take for example the world of business corporations. Modern business-people and lawyers are, in fact, powerful sorcerers. The principal difference between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales.
    “. Harari goes on to elaborate on this theme and makes a powerful argument.

    To extend his argument. My memories of the past are also a fiction. They are not real. My plans for the future are similarly not real and right now my thoughts as I compose this reply have no independent reality.

    We have created the modern world by creating shared fictions and these shared fictions are in many ways more important than the underlying reality. These shared fictions are our common, shared dream. This trend is increasing as we rapidly create more and more shared fictions.

    But even more importantly, we are creating fictions that serve as a proxy for the physical world, commonly known as virtual reality. The gaming world is driving this but it is quickly extending to other aspects of life. In the next 100 years there will be stunning advances in virtual reality technology and then most of our life will be a fiction, or if you like, a dream.

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  14. The dreaming argument can be used as an argument against God’s existence. If an omnipotent and omniscient God existed, such a God would have no need to create. Why? Because God would know every possible outcome in complete detail, from beginning to end, and therefore the act of creation would be redundant. God could spend infinity exploring, in complete detail, every possible act of creation with all its myriad outcomes, without ever having to create anything.

    Why then create when the outcomes are known beforehand, in complete detail? And yet here we are, in all our splendid, multifaceted, manifest reality. Therefore God does not exist. So if you are an atheist skeptic you better believe in an external reality since its existence seemingly disproves God’s existence.

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  15. dan t:

    The point is that *if* we were involved in language games, in which we talked about varieties of witches, histories of witches, numbers of witches and the like, then the statement “there are witches” would have to “stand fast.” And to doubt it would not be to make a “mistake” in the sense that one would be mistaken if one counted 5 witches, rather than 6.

    Remember also that it’s not just ontological statements that will form the group of statements that must “stand fast.” I can doubt whether a particular serve in a tennis match was out and that McEnroe consequently lost the point — maybe the lineman made a bad call — but I cannot doubt that double-faults lose you the point. That’s one of the things that has to “stand fast” in order to play the tennis language game.

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  16. Dan-K
    it is a matter of necessity that there are things which cannot be proven. 67 It is evident in G.E. Moore’s claim that there are things we know with greater certainty than any proofs that can be given either against them or on their behalf. 68

    It is refreshing to read these words.

    Philosophy is extraordinary speech, but extraordinary speech derives its first and most important level of significance from ordinary experience and everyday life . . .

    Yes!

    It is my view that this metaphilosophical battle, between those who believe that the aim of philosophy is to transcend human nature and experience and those who believe that philosophy, indeed, inquiry as a whole, is only possible within the context of human nature and experience, is one of the most fundamental and important battles in human intellectual history. It is a battle that continues today, and it is one in which I have taken a decisive side. But it is a side which, beyond the metaphilosophical impressions of it that I have offered in the last part of this essay, will have to be articulated in greater detail and with more precision at some future time and place. 71

    Strong words 🙂 Have you made progress in articulating it in greater detail and with more precision?

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  17. Dan,

    Just want to say in case I don’t have time to comment further, I loved your article and found it super interesting.

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  18. Here’s an extended version of Moore’s “Here is one hand” argument:

    1. Moore’s colleague presents the argument to a deaf audience
    2. the colleague uses sign language
    3. (some among) the audience understand the signs and the conveyed message
    4. they conclude that Moore’s colleague has hands
    5. the radical skeptics that caught the conveyed message can’t explain/understand them catching it
    6. therefore there’s no sufficient reason to deny there are external objects, hands

    Note that the argument isn’t strictly deductive, which is what the usual objections rely on.

    [1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/MedslowALPHAsign.gif/120px-MedslowALPHAsign.gif
    [2] Here is one hand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_is_one_hand

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  19. Very interesting. Daniel Kaufman: Actions such as putting a ball between posts and writing X on a piece of paper mean what they mean because of the larger context. ‘This game is played.’ I think however the demonstration by Moore is fundamentally an expression of a transcendental postulate or how things must fundamentally be for such a demonstration to be possible. He is not really begging the question. He is speaking metaphysically so the apparent logical similarity (Wright’s objection) does not apply.

    He is putting that position against those who take one single element within the world (the game) illusion/delusion/confusion and make that undercut the world. As you say illusion has its place and sense because it can be discovered. As a totalising thing it is senseless. Dreaming takes its place as part of the spectrum of consciousness. To take it out of there is to render it senseless.

    The other thing is the division of the world into internal/external which seems to me to accept Idealism as a starting point. Maybe there is a world of dual aspect? Or something.

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  20. “So, one cannot justify the claim that soccer is being played or that an election is taking place, on the grounds of premises like 1 and 2.

    Once we realize this, it’s a short step to seeing that Moore’s proof takes exactly the same form…”

    As you suggest that “short step” is problematic.

    The soccer and election examples are crystal clear. Ordinary language is in play. The claims of the skeptic with respect to ‘the external world’ (and the anti-skeptic) are very different: they take us beyond ordinary language.

    My concerns relate mainly to issues raised in the comments and to the notion of ‘language games’ (which I think is an unfortunately imprecise term); and also to your notion of ‘extraordinary language’.

    Briefly, I think it makes perfect sense to say *in ordinary language* that witches don’t exist. Within the context of fictional worlds they can exist, sure. Within the context of a world of superstition and without a culture of reason and science maybe also you could not make a straightforward claim about their nonexistence. But in our world you can.

    “Philosophy is extraordinary speech, but extraordinary speech derives its first and most important level of significance from ordinary experience and everyday life… It is my view that this metaphilosophical battle, between those who believe that the aim of philosophy is to transcend human nature and experience and those who believe that philosophy, indeed, inquiry as a whole, is only possible within the context of human nature and experience, is one of the most fundamental and important battles in human intellectual history. It is a battle that continues today…”

    Philosophy maybe – but inquiry as a whole?? This is where I would want to take issue with you (but it takes us well beyond the OP).

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  21. Sorry, Mark, but I don’t see the relevant difference. I think Wright is absolutely spot-on in using these as analogies.

    As for ‘language games’, it is, of course a Wittgensteinian term. Given how often he uses it, however, I think it is quite clear.

    I never said that it doesn’t make sense to say “Witches don’t exist.” Indeed, I think the opposite is the case. (Meaning: it makes perfect sense to say this.)

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  22. Mark,
    Philosophy maybe – but inquiry as a whole?? This is where I would want to take issue with you (but it takes us well beyond the OP

    Hah! Good point. The whole point of the physical sciences is to work beyond human nature and experiences. Astronomy is a perfect example of that. On the other hand Dan-K might reply that astronomy is ultimately reduced to language and therefore it is limited by our nature.

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  23. Thank you for this excellent piece. Incidentally, one of Wittgenstein’s other influences regarding the idea of hinge propositions was apparently Newman’s Grammar of Assent. Wolfgang Kienzler argues that Newman is the “H. Newman” mentioned in On Certainty.

    Wolfgang Kienzler, “Wittgenstein and John Henry Newman on Certainty,” Grazer Philosophische Studien 71 (2006).

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