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Rulers, clocks and common sense: metrology as a key to Wittgenstein's On Certainty

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Valedictory Lecture

The paper suggests a new interpretation of Wittgenstein’s last notebooks that were published posthumously under the title On Certainty. I seek to show that the common-sense certainties at issue in these notebooks can best be understood on the model of metrological standards (like the prototype meter in Paris). Along the way, I defend Wittgenstein’s controversial claim that the prototype meter is not one meter long (against Kripke); illustrate the relevance of metrological analogies for many of Wittgenstein’s central concerns (in the philosophy of psychology and mathematics); highlight the influence of Einstein’s ideas on clock synchronisation; and explain the nature of Wittgenstein’s anti-sceptical argument. (The talk is non-technical and does not presuppose any prior knowledge of either Wittgenstein or metrology.)

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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