On Certainty

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On Certainty
Banno
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Posted Feb 25, 2009 - 2:32 PM:
Subject: On Certainty
One can know things without being certain. One can be certain of things without knowing them.

Moore thought he knew he had hands, but Wittgenstein thought he was only certain. Wittgenstein was certain we could never walk on the moon. Turns out he was wrong.

What is the difference between certainty and knowledge?
Valent
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Posted Feb 25, 2009 - 3:03 PM:

I have always thought of certainty as knowledge which is maximally justified. But then certainty entails knowledge, and this is at odds with your assertions. Therefore, I would have to say that the statements which you employed to show that an agent can possess certainty without knowledge must be mistaken in some way.

I wonder in what sense Wittgenstein used the word "certain" when claiming that Moore was certain that he had hands, but he did not know that he had hands. It seems to me that this might turn on the truth condition. I might then argue the following from Wittgenstein's point of view: Moore is certain that he has hands because certainty is something like a belief which is unsurpassed in its rationalization (which does not imply truth, importantly). In effect, perhaps certainty (for Wittgenstein) is a belief which is maximally believable (ie maximally justified), if that makes any sense. But Moore could not know that he has hands because knowledge entails truth, and it could in fact be that he does not have hands, despite his maximally justified belief (certainty) to that effect. So, perhaps the main difference for Wittgenstein is that knowledge entails truth, whereas certainty does not.

If this analysis is correct, then it seems that Wittgenstein and I just have different opinions on the meaning of certainty, specifically whether it entails truth. The dictionary definition, as well as the small article on certainty in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, seem to suggest that the classical conception of certainty involves truth, and seems to be something akin to my own opinion stated above. But obviously, this alone does not definitively settle the issue.

Thoughts?
Banno
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Posted Feb 25, 2009 - 3:07 PM:

I was certain I left my glasses next to the bed. Turns out they were in the lounge.

Given that my belief was wrong, I did not know that the glasses were next to the bed. But I was still certain of it.

So I can be certain of untruths.
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Posted Feb 25, 2009 - 3:53 PM:

Then I would have to argue, from my position, that you are misusing or misconstruing the word "certain". Still, your original question - wht is the difference between certainty and knowledge - I believe I have addressed from both your and my viewpoints. From my viewpoint, certainty is knowledge of a certain kind, namely maximally justified knowledge, and from your viewpoint, the difference between certainty and knowledge would be the truth condition (ie, that knowledge entails truth, but that certainty does not).

So I suppose it is simply a matter of definition at this point?
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Posted Feb 25, 2009 - 5:11 PM:

It looks pretty straightforward to me, Banno -- am I missing a point? Certainty is taking yourself to be definitely right. I am certain of P iff I believe P and I believe that the probability of P is roughly 1. Knowledge is actually being right, for good reason. Not to take a controversial position, we can see a difference if we say that I know P iff I believe P and I have an argument for P that guarantees P's truth.
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Posted Feb 25, 2009 - 5:24 PM:

Banno wrote:
One can know things without being certain. One can be certain of things without knowing them.

Moore thought he knew he had hands, but Wittgenstein thought he was only certain. Wittgenstein was certain we could never walk on the moon. Turns out he was wrong.

What is the difference between certainty and knowledge?


I don't remember Wittgenstein making any kind of distinction between 'knowing' and 'being certain', and his "I know = I am familiar with it as a certainty" seems to be saying exactly the opposite. His objection to Moore was that we don't use the phrases "I know" or "I am certain" in the way Moore uses them. We say "I know" when we want to assure someone of our certainty, that we have good grounds for believing, etc. Saying "I know I have a hand" is wrong because it's not something we can doubt.

Wittgenstein wrote:
6. Now, can one enumerate what one knows (like Moore)? Straight off like that, I believe not. - For otherwise the expression "I know" gets misused. And through this misuse a queer and extremely important mental state seems to be revealed.

21. Moore's view really comes down to this: the concept 'know' is analogous to the concepts 'believe', 'surmise', 'doubt', 'be convinced' in that the statement "I know..." can't be a mistake. And if that is so, then there can be an inference from such an utterance to the truth of an assertion. And here the form "I thought I knew" is being overlooked. - But if this latter is inadmissible, then a mistake in the assertion must be logically impossible too. And anyone who is acquainted with the language-game must realize this - an assurance from a reliable man that he knows cannot contribute anything.

32. It's not a matter of Moore's knowing that there's a hand there, but rather we should not understand him if he were to say "Of course I may be wrong about this." We should ask "What is it like to make such a mistake as that?" - e.g. what's it like to discover that it was a mistake?

timw
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Posted Feb 25, 2009 - 7:02 PM:


Banno wrote:
One can know things without being certain. One can be certain of things without knowing them.

Moore thought he knew he had hands, but Wittgenstein thought he was only certain. Wittgenstein was certain we could never walk on the moon. Turns out he was wrong.

What is the difference between certainty and knowledge?


What would you like it to be? Without some preliminary checking about, shoving off into this discussion without some working definitions is like shoving off in a row boat from the dock without oars.

But what the hell, how's this: certainty is the suit ignorance wears to be admitted to the dance; knowledge is just certainty believing himself a dancer.
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Posted Feb 25, 2009 - 7:52 PM:

I think that know, knowledge, certain, and certainty are terms that people use loosely, vaguely, ambiguously, and inconsistently.

There is no unanimously agreed on usage of these terms.

People claim to know or to be certain of all manner of claims that other people know and are certain to be false. And sometimes people who themselves have claimed to know or be certain of something later say they had been wrong.

I think that people use them to mean that the claim at issue has met what they personally judge to be a high degree of epistemic warrant for that claim. (Akin to Valent's "maximally justified.") But what exactly that high degree of epistemic warrant consists in is very subjective and varies widely from person to person and from claim to claim. There is no agreed upon standard, (except in certain applications such as in a given technological or scientific field.)

Know and certain serve as bottom line summaries of a person's judgment that his particular epistemic criteria (whatever they happen to be) have been met. Often when we ask something like "How do you know that" or "Why do you think that" he will explain by telling some of the criteria he thinks the claim has met: "I saw it with my own eyes" or "My wife told me" or "It's in the Bible" or "There were several double-blind research projects that reported it" or "I did the math."
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Posted Feb 26, 2009 - 4:52 AM:

Was Wittgenstein certain we would never walk on the moon? Perhaps he only felt certain. He was convinced that we wouldn't. He spoke with certainty on the subject. He seemed certain. But because it ("Surely you know what it is, Alice") was not certain that we wouldn't walk on the moon (because we did), he couldn't have been certain.

On the other hand, perhaps Wittgenstein was certain that we would never walk on the moon. We can be certain that he was certain, because he told us so. He evinced certainty and, as long as he wasn't being insincere, then he was certain.

So perhaps the concept of certainty is ambiguous, because we can argue plausibly both that W was certain and that he wasn't.
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Posted Feb 26, 2009 - 10:38 AM:

Valent wrote:
Then I would have to argue, from my position, that you are misusing or misconstruing the word "certain".


I prefer Valent's definition of certainty as entailing knowledge.

Banno held the belief that the glasses were next to the bed with certitude, rather than certainty.
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