Are You Absolutely Certain About Your Certainty?

Are you absolutely certain about your certainty?  If certainty was your criteria for knowing a genuine belief, would you ever be able to know or believe anything? There are many things in our day to day experience that we think we certainly know. Then upon closer investigation we found that we were wrong. Perhaps we didn’t have enough information about the thing in question, perhaps our perceptual understanding failed us, there are many factors that could cause is to be wrong about something that we were quite certain about.  Epistemic questions about certainty can get pretty dicey but they are deffinately important. As it turns out what ever someone believes to be the case epistemologically will ultimately determine that “facts” of their experience. Take Rene Descartes for example. He writes in the Meditations:    

“…in as much as reason already persuades me that I ought no less carefully to withhold my assent from matters which are not entirely certain and indubitable than from those which appear to me manifestly to be false, if I am able to find in each one some reason to doubt, this will suffice to justify my rejecting the whole.”  –Descartes, Meditations

In his work On Method, as well as the Meditations, Descartes appeals to a principle of epistemic certainty as  a prerequisite for genuine knowledge.  In other words Descartes’ project necessitates evidence that is indefeasible much like the types of evidences we find in mathematical proofs.  His major premise can be understood as: in order to know P one must be absolutely certain of P (we will refer to this as the “certainty principle” [CP]).  Thus, if there exists, even the smallest possibility that your knowledge of P is not absolutely certain then you are not in any epistemological state to know P

One example of this that has been give is The Lottery Argument.  No matter how strong your evidence is that your ticket won’t win (or in this case the odds of winning are against you) you’re never absolutely certain that your ticket won’t win.

This is the same principle being advanced in the skeptical thesis (ST). That is, if you cannot claim to know something absolutely then you cannot claim to know it at all.  When we take honest inventory of the beliefs we posses the number of those beliefs that we can be infallible about are very few and far between.  But does this warrant skepticism?  Some skeptical arguments leave us with no claim to knowing anything about the external world unless we have absolute certainty.  On this set of beliefs one could never truly know if she is walking outside in the sun or a brain in a vat.  Perhaps the question over the validity of the certainty principle as the only claim to knowledge is the wrong question to be asking.

A more desirable epistemic state would be one in which belief in P can be accepted as knowledge in spite of the absences of certainty providing that P is true.  This is called the fallibilist principle of knowing (FPK).  The key difference between fallibilism is the notion of certainty.  Epistemic fallibilism does not require your evidence for P to be indefeasible or infallible but it still treats knowledge as being factive.  For example you might look into the sky and notice a full moon.  You suddenly realize that every time you noticed a full moon in the past it was followed by a high tide.  You take your finding to the library and notice the phenomenon has been taking place centuries.  You further read about the moon’s gravitational pull on the earth causing high tides.  Based on this evidence you believe that a full moon always precedes a high tide.  However, there is a chance you might be wrong; moreover, your evidence is defeasible.  That being the case the fallibilist would say you are still in a desirable epistemic state to know that a full moon precedes a high tide.

Greece Defaults on IMF

Flag_of_Greece.svgThis story in the WSJ is fairly ironic because not only is Greece the first of the “developed countries” to default on IMF loan but Greece represents one of the first developed countries of the western world. How is it that a country with such a rich intellectual back ground find itself in such economic dire straights?

Interestingly there is a lesson here for America since we follow similar tax and spend practices. What made things more challenging for Greece was their low GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Having experienced quick economic growth from 2000 – 2007 (average 4% year over year) a blind eye was turned against large budget deficits caused by increased spending in areas such as government jobs, pensions, military and social benefits. Such increase in deficit spending was believed to prime the economic pump.

As the deficit spending continued to increase the country’s GDP was unable to keep pace. In fact it wasn’t even in the race. Without GDP the increase debt to GDP ratio sealed their economic failure. This lead to Greece borrowing money that it could never pay back and thus a downward spiral ensued. There are other factors such as a debt crisis, tax evasion indicating a general distrust of government, and etc. The answers for Greece aren’t easy and it will be interesting to see the outcome. But, as a general principle if the GDP drives the economy then the country ought to focus its efforts on growing it as opposed to continue to fund some of the more frivolous entitlement programs.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.


Should The Charleston Church Massacre Be Used For Political Gain?

Is it appropriate for the media, President, or any other legislator to capitalize on someones tragedy by using it as an opportunity to leverage a piece of legislation? I imagine there are numerous opinions each with good reason for or against. However, as I watched the news reports today on the Charleston Church killings I couldn’t help but feel a certain level of attachment to the victims and their families. Then I noticed their was an abrupt change in the reporting from the story at hand to gun control legislation. It was tacky and took away from the loss that these families are enduring. Timing is everything and I would have to say that was a classless move.

Jean-Paul Sartre & the Self-Deception of Bad Faith

sartreSelf-Deception in the Existential philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre takes the terminology of what Sartre calls bad faith. Below is an excerpt from Sarte’s Being And Nothingness.

“Good faith seeks to flee the inner disintegration of my being in the
direction of the in-itself which it should be and is not. Bad faith
seeks to flee the in-itself by means of the inner disintegration of
my being. But it denies that it is itself in bad faith. Bad faith seeks
by means of ““not-being-what-one-is”” to escape-from the in-itself
which I am not in the mode of being what one is not. It denies
itself as bad faith and aims at the in-itself which I am not in the
mode of ““not-being-what-one-is-not.”” If bad faith is possible, it
is because it is an immediate, permanent threat to every project of
the human being; it is because consciousness conceals in its being a
permanent risk of bad faith. The origin of this risk is the fact that
the nature of human consciousness simultaneously is to be what it
is not and not to be what it is.”

Here Sartre contrasts both “good-faith” and “bad faith”. According to Sartre there is a tension between GF and BF which is similar to what he means by “Being” and “Nothingness” (the title of the book) or to put it another way facticity and liberty.  Also, the “in-itself” refers to what man ought to be or facticity.

According to Sartre the tension between BF and GF becomes unbearable with the realization of BF that man has the liberty to self-authenticate or be what he wants. In such a case he will go so far as to lie to himself about GF in order to adopt the liberty in BF. Such is the reason Sartre says “… the nature of human consciousness simultaneously is to be what it is not and not to be what it is.

Such an attitude is what I referred to earlier as self-deception.


JIm Ryan’s Self-Evident Truths of Social & Political Philosophy

Below is a blog post by Jim Ryan where he lists several “self-evident truths of social and political philosophy.

Some Self-Evident Truths

A “self-evident” proposition is one that is obviously true to anyone who understands it. These truths are self-evident:

1. To support a free market does not mean to oppose the regulation of commerce. On the contrary, the concept of a free market without the rule of law hardly makes any sense.

2. It is not theocratic to argue that abortion ought to be as illegal because it is the wrongful killing of a human being. The civil rights movement, as deeply Christian as much of it was, was not theocratic. It is not obvious that the current moral support for abortion is not as foolish and wrongheaded as the moral support for slavery was in the early 19th Century.

3. To argue that big government welfare destroys self-reliance and prosperity and makes national bankruptcy inevitable should not be confused with arguing that one should not offer assistance to the poor.

4. There is a wide array of values we have inherited: liberty, hard work, justice, limited government, courage, charity, involvement in civil society, etc. It makes no sense to raise equality in property above these values.

5. It is not clear that equality in property is ever preferable to liberty, hard work, team work, charity, and self-reliance. It is not clear what would count as a good reason to say that a society in which liberty, hard work, team work, charity, and self-reliance were flourishing would be even better if the the government decreased the achievement of those values so that equality in property could be increased. For this reason it is not clear that equality in property is even a value at all.

6. It is hypocritical for a wealthy person to maintain his great wealth while advocating equality in property and holding that it is unjust for some to be rich while others are poor.

7. To advocate a system in which a small group of leftwing leaders and their technocratic experts maintain enormous political power and wealth while they keep the overwhelming majority of people in society relatively powerless and poor is to advocate kleptocracy and totalitarianism, not to take any sort of moral stance at all.

8. Leftism and totalitarianism both advocate the government’s having great control over individuals’ economic endeavors and property. If all the preceding truths are self-evident, then it is not clear how a leftwing government can maintain power without controlling speech and thought in order to stop those truths from being communicated, explained, discussed, and understood. If that is true, it is not clear how a leftwing government can avoid full totalitarianism if it is to maintain power.