Why do some people believe that knowledge implies certainty?

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Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 06:14 pm
I don't believe that knowledge does imply certainty (infallibility or the impossibility of error). But why is it thought by some philosophers (let us call them "infallibilists", that knowledge does imply certainty? After all, Plato and Descartes both believed it, so it obviously is not because those who think it are dummies.

I have a number of explanations for why this (what I consider) false belief is held by so many, and I don't think they are exclusive. I think they all operated together. One is that some philosophers hold that certainty is knowing that we know, and that we always know we know, because knowledge is a mental state that we can know directly. Another is that the belief that knowledge implies certainty is the consequence of a modal fallacy. A third is that mathematics has always been considered the exemplar of knowledge, and the belief is that mathematics is certain. As I said, I think that these explanations operate together.

But the belief has consequences. One is that most of what we all think we know, we really do not know. Another is that science cannot afford us knowledge. A third is that we know no more today than we did 100 years ago. These consequences by themselves would seem to be be enough to show that the belief that knowledge implies certainty is false.
 
TuringEquivalent
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 07:31 pm
@kennethamy,
Because most philosophers in the pasts comes from a mathematics background. They are used to a a priori nature of mathematics, so it is easy for them to think that knowledge need to be certain.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 07:34 pm
@TuringEquivalent,
TuringEquivalent;156938 wrote:
Because most philosophers in the pasts comes from a mathematics background. They are used to a a priori nature of mathematics, so it is easy for them to think that knowledge need to be certain.


Well that is one explanation. But it isn't the only explanation. And, of course, math is not certain. I make many errors when I do sums, especially long sums.
 
TuringEquivalent
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 07:50 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;156940 wrote:
Well that is one explanation. But it isn't the only explanation. And, of course, math is not certain. I make many errors when I do sums, especially long sums.



why is math uncertain? What did you drink?


Philosophers of the past worship mathematics. Some of the best philosophers are mathematicians. The people that bring us rationalism are all mathematicians. The same people they bring us analytic geometry, and calculus. Descartes and leibniz

Empiricism comes from rich english people with too much time in their hands. Hume, Berkeley, locke

---------- Post added 04-26-2010 at 08:51 PM ----------

The reason why knowledge don `t imply certainty can be ofter. Imagine a infinite series of explanation, each explanation is explained by a preceding explanation. Suppose we live in a possible world where this series do not terminate. Now, if we suppose that any explanation implies a completion of the series, then we will never be able to provide any explanation at all. This is contrary to intuition, so explanation must end somewhere. Why not end in a preceding fact? Since such facts are contingent, we would always feel uncertain.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 07:58 pm
@kennethamy,
Plato, as we have discussed previously, asserted that there were different levels of knowledge - doxa (opinion/mere belief,) pistis (scientific/mathematica), and finally noesis (knowledge of the forms and Ideas), which was knowledge of the highest and best type.

Now I already know you will be inclined to say 'there is no such thing as "knowledge of the highest type", from our previous discussions on the matter. But if you're trying to understand why some philosophers attribute certainty to knowledge, then this, I think, is the reason. They are talking of a kind of knowledge, that when you know it, it is apodictic, undeniable. An analogy: is like discovering a sense of identity, or suddenly realising something about yourself, which you had not seen before, but, once seen, is undeniably certain.

Here is a previously-quoted definition of noesis from Wikipedia
Quote:
This is, as the quote says, rationally intuitive or instinctive rather than discursive. This is because it is, in a sense, a form of mystical awareness. This aspect of noesis was especially emphasised by Plotinus, after Plato, but is also indubitably present in Plato.
 
TuringEquivalent
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 08:07 pm
@jeeprs,
plato is another philosopher with a math fetish.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 08:12 pm
@TuringEquivalent,
TuringEquivalent;156944 wrote:
why is math uncertain? What did you drink?


Philosophers of the past worship mathematics. Some of the best philosophers are mathematicians. The people that bring us rationalism are all mathematicians. The same people they bring us analytic geometry, and calculus. Descartes and leibniz

Empiricism comes from rich english people with too much time in their hands. Hume, Berkeley, locke

---------- Post added 04-26-2010 at 08:51 PM ----------

The reason why knowledge don `t imply certainty can be ofter. Imagine a infinite series of explanation, each explanation is explained by a preceding explanation. Suppose we live in a possible world where this series do not terminate. Now, if we suppose that any explanation implies a completion of the series, then we will never be able to provide any explanation at all. This is contrary to intuition, so explanation must end somewhere. Why not end in a preceding fact? Since such facts are contingent, we would always feel uncertain.


I, don't see how math can be certain or uncertain. I thought it is people who are either certain or uncertain. And, as I said, I make mistakes all the time when I do arithmetic. Luckily, I use a calculator. Whether knowledge implies the impossibility of error is one thing. Why it is believed that it does, is another thing, and that is what I asked about.

That must be the explanation of why Empiricism comes out of England (actually, Aquinas was an empiricist too). It is the all the English are rich. What else could it be. And all the Continentals were impoverished. Neat.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 08:15 pm
@kennethamy,
You can argue that Plato (and platonism generally) regards the a priori certainty of mathematical reasoning as an analogy for the noesis which the soul recollects through anamnesis when it recalls its real identity. Nobody in modern philosophy talks like that any more, of course. The only philosophers that talk in these terms in the modern age are the (Indian) Vedantists.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 08:17 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;156947 wrote:
Plato, as we have discussed previously, asserted that there were different levels of knowledge - doxa (opinion/mere belief,) pistis (scientific/mathematica), and finally noesis (knowledge of the forms and Ideas), which was knowledge of the highest and best type.

Now I already know you will be inclined to say 'there is no such thing as "knowledge of the highest type", from our previous discussions on the matter. But if you're trying to understand why some philosophers attribute certainty to knowledge, then this, I think, is the reason. They are talking of a kind of knowledge, that when you know it, it is apodictic, undeniable. An analogy: is like discovering a sense of identity, or suddenly realising something about yourself, which you had not seen before, but, once seen, is undeniably certain.

Here is a previously-quoted definition of noesis from Wikipedia This is, as the quote says, rationally intuitive or instinctive rather than discursive. This is because it is, in a sense, a form of mystical awareness. This aspect of noesis was especially emphasised by Plotinus, after Plato, but is also indubitably present in Plato.


What I think I said was that "knowledge of the highest type" was just plain old regular knowledge, but knowledge of special high-type objects like the Forms. Of course, Plato thought that plain old regular knowledge had to be infallible. After all, "Man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's heaven for?" Robert Browning.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 08:23 pm
@kennethamy,
But Plato clearly distinguishes knowledge of different kinds, though. Noesis, pistis, doxa, and so on. What do you make of those distinctions? Do you think there is anything in them? Surely, also, knowledge of the Forms - leaving aside whether these are real - is of a different kind to knowledge of (say) the name of the capital of Equador.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 08:29 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;156956 wrote:
But Plato clearly distinguishes knowledge of different kinds, though. Noesis, pistis, doxa, and so on. What do you make of those distinctions? Do you think there is anything in them? Surely, also, knowledge of the Forms - leaving aside whether these are real - is of a different kind to knowledge of (say) the name of the capital of Equador.


Plato distinguishes knowledge in terms of what the knowledge is of. And Plato would not honor the true belief about the name of the capital of E. with the honorific, "know".
 
TuringEquivalent
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 08:59 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;156952 wrote:
I, don't see how math can be certain or uncertain. I thought it is people who are either certain or uncertain.



Yes, that is right. People are very certain of mathematics, because they are used to the type of a priori reasoning.

Quote:
And, as I said, I make mistakes all the time when I do arithmetic. Luckily, I use a calculator. Whether knowledge implies the impossibility of error is one thing. Why it is believed that it does, is another thing, and that is what I asked about.


I don ` t care if you can ` t add numbers. Mathematics as i know it are about theorems, and their proves. People are very certain of the theorems in mathematics, because their truth can be deduced by axioms, and accepted rules.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 10:43 pm
@TuringEquivalent,
kennethamay, can you give your preferred definition of knowledge please?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2010 06:18 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;156958 wrote:
Plato distinguishes knowledge in terms of what the knowledge is of. And Plato would not honor the true belief about the name of the capital of E. with the honorific, "know".


I would say this is because the main aim of platonist philosophy is sotereological, concerned with salvation.

Quote:
Knowledge, then, for Plato, becomes a means - in fact the only means - for salvation, sōtēria: a return to a place of unchangeable and authentic existence. Unlike Aristotle, for whom knowledge is a type of telos or 'goal' of human existence, Plato sees knowledge as a recollection or a return to a state of being that was lost through a fall; and so knowledge, which is the recognition of this primal state, becomes the salvific event par excellence. This idea, first introduced into philosophy by Plato, became the guiding ideal of that branch of Greek thought, that paideia, which found its end or telos in the Christian doctrine of apokatastasis or 'restoration of all beings,' exemplified in Origen, and mapped out 'metaphysically' in the system of Plotinus. I believe that the Christian doctrine owes its development to a more general Greek ideal of humanity, which rested upon the observation that the human being is essentially divided into two parts - a divine part and a merely 'animated' one. The tension between the two is what engenders temporal existence, as it were; and it is the philosophical and salvific struggle between these two parts that leads one to an unsullied vision of truth and goodness.
Salvation and the Human Ideal: Plato, Plotinus, Origen

And the reason this seems alien is because it is inimical to the secular outlook.
Quote:
The underlying assumption of the secularization thesis is that God does not exist and that religion is merely a human construction. The idea that modernization produces secularization rests on the the notion that modernization produces enlightenment, that enlightenment reveals the truth, and that the truth is that there is no God (or at least that there is no God that matters for the conduct of human life).
The Theological Origins of Modernity, Gillespie, p272.

So I think the question of 'the certainty of knowledge' reflects the context in which it is asked, the 'spirit of the times'. As we have seen in another recent discussion, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the basis of values and ethics, expressed as the debate between various types of relativism and (what is perceived as) the implicit absolutism of religion.

And, within that context, there may indeed not be an answer to this question.
 
ughaibu
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2010 06:41 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;156956 wrote:
But Plato clearly distinguishes knowledge of different kinds, though. Noesis, pistis, doxa, and so on. What do you make of those distinctions?
"Knowledge" doesn't describe anything consistent and definite, as far as I can see. Hintikka suggests that the notion of knowledge is best abandoned and replaced by ideas about states of information. I haven't read his relevant articles (unfortunately he's one of the few prominent philosophers who doesn't allow free access to pre-prints), but I suspect this might be one of the very few things about which I more or less agree with him.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2010 07:05 pm
@ughaibu,
ughaibu;157331 wrote:
"Knowledge" doesn't describe anything consistent and definite, as far as I can see.


You should consider the possibility that this is because you can't see very far.
 
ughaibu
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2010 07:14 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;157344 wrote:
You should consider the possibility that this is because you can't see very far.
Thanks for exceeding the bullshit level from yesterday, something that I hadn't seen was possible. Can you present a consistent and definite description of knowledge?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2010 07:28 pm
@kennethamy,
I wasn't being rude, so no need to resort to swearing. (Interesting to see how easy it is to push people's buttons in this area.)

Consistent definition - definitely not. What I am saying is very simple but hard to get. You need to consider the possibility that Plato (and many other sages from antiquity) actually knows something we don't know. Finding out what it might be takes a whole lot more than dumping your ideas into an online forum. Your ego won't like that, so you will probably resort to swearing again.

Really I am not trying to come across as arrogant. I honestly believe there is a whole perspective on life which has been forgotten or sacrificed in the rush to modernity. It is very simple in some respects, but very difficult to convey.
 
ughaibu
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2010 07:35 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;157352 wrote:
(Interesting to see how easy it is to push people's buttons in this area.)
It's a result of persistent pressure on "buttons", not by you, I admit, so I apologise if you found my response offensive.
jeeprs;157352 wrote:
You need to consider the possibility that Plato (and many other sages from antiquity) actually knows something we don't know.
I have considered the question of knowledge quite extensively, and the problems of reducing the notion to something consistent and definite appear to me to be intractable. And I see no reason to suppose that Plato, or anyone else, has solved these problems. Had they done so, the solutions would be recorded in the literature.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2010 07:54 pm
@kennethamy,
But it depends on where you stand. Archimedes said 'give me a lever and I will move the world'. But a lever requires a fulcrum. Similarly, I think insight into the nature of knowledge, and the limits of knowledge, has to come from some point beyond knowledge itself, or outside the scope of science, if you will. Now before about last century, this was never actually a problem, because it was understood by everyone, scientist and layman, that there was such a point, and that this was divine revelation. All throughout the old tradition, the various ideas of the Greeks and the Hebrews were combined and synthesized, but in the background, underlying all of the various permutations, there was the presumption of the unmoved mover, the first cause, and so on.

Now clearly as part of the movement towards secularization, this has been largely abandoned. "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold", said Yeats. But I really believe that in abandoning the grand tradition, modern philosophy looses all coherence. There are islands of meaning, and areas of discourse within it, that are perfectly meaningful to those participating, but overall, the rise of modernity and 'the death of God' has seen a complete abandonment of those very basic spiritual principles which underlay (for example) Platonism, and which were subsequently elaborated through Christian Platonism.

But I don't think many are aware what it is that has actually been abandoned in this movement. Everything kind of looks OK, on a surface level - we do after all have marvellous technology and have solved all manner of problems afflicting mankind through science and technology. But in my view these have to be interpreted against a background of a metaphysic, or spiritual philosophy.

The pinnacle, and the origin, of those principles in philosophy, do indeed lie outside the range of scientific discourse, but this is generally out of bounds in the modern world. This is why it is so problematic. In the traditional world, despite all our differences as Christians, Moslems, Jews, and so on, there was a common core of values which were beyond dispute. This is as near to certainty as we generally ever got, in terms of the social consensus. We respected 'the testimony of sages'. I think this is something deeply antithetical to democratic liberalism, in some ways. We are all supposed equal by it. One man, one vote, and so on. A chaos of opinions.

I understand what I am saying is challenging but I can't help but be drawn in this direction. I have been wresting with this question all my life, and still am. I don't want to suggest an answer so much as a question, if you know what I mean.

---------- Post added 04-28-2010 at 12:44 PM ----------

Book reference: The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited - John Carroll.

Quote:
Australian sociologist John Carroll turns received wisdom on its head in this brilliant, provocative, and sweeping book. Humanism is commonly credited with building Western civilization as we know it - bringing about democracy, universal rights, and prosperity. But Carroll argues that "the great five-hundred year Humanist experiment to found an entirely secular culture on earth" has been an abject failure.


Next book on my list.
 
 

 
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