A thumbnail look at the history of certainty

I think the search for certainty is one of the key
elements of western civilization.
Let us return to the begining of humankind.
At the begining of time, existed a small band of human
beings who faced a short, nasty, brutish life, with
death a possibility every step of the way.
Life is as uncertain as you can get. How do you begin
the process of traveling from there to here. The first step
is probably the biggest. After a tough day of being chased
by dozens of bigger creatures who would love to have you
for lunch, what is something you might wish for? One might
come up with an idea of some great all powerful being watching
over us and protecting us. Wishful thinking never hurts when
having a tough day. Thus the begining of the idea of god.
Now what is one of the selling points of god? That he has
a plan for each and every single one of us. That is very
enticing in a uncertain world. It is a way to create certainty in
one’s life. The search for religion is a way to create certainty
in one life. It makes people feel better about themselves,
when things are going badly, that some super being has
a plan for you. Now over the years, many thousands of years
religions took many twist and turns, but still religions offer comfort
by creating certainty. If you offer the gods gifts, they might
give you what you want. Now which people seem to need
the least amount of certainty based on their religion?
It seemed to be the greeks. Their gods seemed to be humans
with special powers and sometimes even the gods could
not control events. A real lack of uncertainty exist with
greek gods. The greeks as we know created many things
we still have today, Philosophy, history, politics and science,
amoung other things. Looked at objectivly, isn’t each of these
things a way to create certainly. For example, philosophy.
Socrates was the greatest of the greek philosophers. What
was really trying to do? Who wee his opponents and what were
they trying to do? His opponents were, as Plato pointed out,
were the sophist, moral relativist. They could argue one
position and then turn right around and argue against that
position. How can one have certainty if any position can be
turn and twisted any which way? One way socrates tried to
create certainty was by his idea in Meno, which is
we already have certain idea’s in our head. It just
needs to be released. The slave boy and I believe its
geometry is one example given. This is an attempt at
certainty. Let us move on to St Augustine who wrote the
book “The City of God” and why did he write this book.
To reassure, to give certainty the believers after the sack of
Rome in 410 AD. It did not matter what we did in the city
of man, for the more important city is the city of god.
strive for the city of god and reach certainty says,
Augustine. Boethius book, " The Consolation of Philosophy"
is also an attempt to create certainty in a very uncertain world.
Descartes is the first attempt to understand uncertainty.
What can we know? If we take everything else away we
are still left with the idea, Cogito, ergo sum. And in the end,
Descartes got frighten by his idea and brought in
god through the back door to provide the universe with
certainty. Spinoza, berkeley, and Hume, carried
the idea of uncertainty to its logical conclusion,
that there is no cetainty because you cannot logical and
scientifically connect cause and effect. Hume takes out
certainty with one simple question, how do you know
the sun will rise tomorrow? You know because?
His conclusion was, you know by habit. It rose yesterday,
and the day before and the day before and by habit,
we assume it will rise tomorrow, but in fact we don’t
know if it will rise tomorrow. We hope so and assume so,
but we don’t actually don’t know if the sun will rise tomorrow
until we see the sun rising.
Kant understood what had happened and tried by
slight of hand to return certainty to philosophy,
but he failed, but no one truly understood what
he wrote for years and assume Kant actually did it.
Hegel tried to turn philosophy into a science.
That very tactic shows us the need for certainty
in philosophy. And we arrive at Nietzsche.
The first modern man. Nietzsche who was well
read in the greeks, saw that the greeks could
stomach a world without certainty. Nietzsche walked
away from certainty and into a new world. Nietzsche real
goal was to create a positive version of uncertainty.
“Not only to say no, but to say yes” A common motif
in Nietzsche. The new physics of the 20th century
was chapter and verse a study in uncertainty.
How the universe is really a uncertain universe.
We live in an uncertain world. Read the papers, see the news.
Our goal should be one of learning to understand and
deal with uncertainty, not rushing headlong into religions
and other means of creating certainty.
This is why belief in god and religions fail. They do
not reflect the known universe of uncertainty. Religion
reflects the wishful thinking of certainty, the reality
of uncertainty.
the history of the world. A history of certainty and uncertainty.

Kropotkin1

Pete,

Spinoza, berkeley, and Hume, carried
the idea of uncertainty to its logical conclusion,
that there is no cetainty because you cannot logical and
scientifically connect cause and effect.

That you put Spinoza with Hume in this conclusion is absolutely misguided. Spinoza stands antithetical to Hume regarding cause and effect.

Dunamis

Philosophy is a series of steps from one
to the next to the next. Spinoza does stand as
part of the series of steps for Hume. What one philosopher
does with the writtings of the previous writer is of course
their choice. What Kant wrote is antithetical to hume, but
so what? Without Hume, Kant never writes what he writes.
It is a step for a philosopher, nothing more.
Don’t mistake spinoza writtings for hume, they had
different goals and agenda’s but without Spinoza
Hume does not write what he writes.

Kropotkin

Pete,

but without Spinoza
Hume does not write what he writes.

Explain this connection for me. Spinoza claims that all knowledge is the knowledge of the cause of an effect, and also claims that intellectual intuition of causes is the highest form of knowledge. How does this position produce Hume’s position? Or is there some other part of Spinoza that demands Hume?

Dunamis

You must think of it differently.
Remember Descartes. The idea of uncertainty
scared him and he brought god in through the back door.
Spinoza studied Descartes very closely and in fact
wrote a book about descartes. For a long time, Spinoza was
consider the atheist philosopher. Spinoza kicked out one
of Descartes points of certainty, that of a god. What certainty
would descartes have had without god? Cogito…
That is the connection from spinoza to hume.
Not cause and effect, but their in the idea of god.

Kropotkin

Pete,

Spinoza kicked out one
of Descartes points of certainty, that of a god.

I don’t know what Spinoza you are reading. He “kicked out” the certainty of Descartes’ God by collapsing it into Nature itself, and made of the rational understanding of Nature/God the new, more certain certainty, through the knowledge of causes. In terms of Certainty and God, Spinoza actually took a far less skeptical position than Descartes. His entire Ethics is an edifice of Certainty and the knowledge of God.

Dunamis

Again, you are mistaking Hume with Spinoza.
For Hume or any philosopher, you follow
the path laid out by the previous philosopher,
but you never follow it that closely.
You are thinking direct drive from spinoza to
Hume, it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter
for Hume if Spinoza ethics is about certainty. I actually agree
with you about spinoza and descartes, but it doesn’t change
the point that without spinoza, Hume doesn’t write what he
writes. Remember Kant and Hume. They had nothing in common.
But you need hume to get Kant moving.

Kropotkin

Pete,

What I contest is your characterization:

“Spinoza (and then whomever)…carried the idea of uncertainty to its logical conclusion”; it just seems ludicrous considering Spinoza based his entire philosophy on the idea of certainty and the Adequate Idea. But if you like to tell the story this way, we all have our perspective.

Dunamis

Yes, we all have a perspective, a world view.
And which worldview is the correct one?
That is a post for later.

Kropotkin

its crap like this that has been keeping me out of this section, and will probably make me forever ignore it. the title word somehow seems a magnet for all the imaginable bs.

and for the record, spinoza and hume only have to say anything about uncertainity in retrospect (since heisenberg et co invented it) much like the greek atomists only had something to say about atoms in retrospect.

I suspect that a significant majority of American citizens believe there is absolute truth and that certainty is found in the Bible. I am convinced that belief in certainty is a very serious problem for the US and for the world since the US is so powerful and Christian fundamentalism is so politically influential in the US.

As a previous responder noted, anyone with a little bit of education in philosophy would not hold a conviction of the possibility of absolute truth. The problem is that only a very small segment of the population has any education in philosophy. I think that those who are members of the profession of philosophy should be ashamed of this degree of ignorance within the general population.

The educational system in the US is beginning to teach Critical Thinking in our schools and colleges but the effort is slow and difficult because it requires a great deal of reeducating teachers. I consider CT to be “Philosophy Lite”. If CT were taught well I suspect there would be a drastic curtailment of the belief in absolute truth and the world would be a safer place.

Chuck

Zeno, you’ll be short-changed by PK, who is incapable of making anything but the most vague, uninformed statements about philosophy. I doubt he’s read either Spinoza or Hume, since he clearly doesn’t understand either of them.

I generally find that the more potent observations aren’t on the philosophy board.

How is absolute truth supposed to be connected with certainty? One example of an absolute truth is that Harrisberg is the capital of Pennsylvania in 2005. But I don’t imagine there are a great many people who are certain that Harrisberg is the capital of Pennsylvania in 2005.

zenofeller: “its crap like this that has been keeping me out of this section, and will probably make me forever ignore it. the title word somehow seems a magnet for all the imaginable bs.
and for the record, spinoza and hume only have to say anything about uncertainity in retrospect (since heisenberg et co invented it) much like the greek atomists only had something to say about atoms in retrospect”.

T: “Zeno, you’ll be short-changed by PK, who is incapable of making anything but the most vague, uninformed statements about philosophy. I doubt he’s read either Spinoza or Hume, since he clearly doesn’t understand either of them.
I generally find that the more potent observations aren’t on the philosophy board.”

First of all, zeno, I was making a general observation, not
a indepth one. The point I was making and it still stands by
the way, that people engage in searching for certainty and
its the wrong search because we live in an uncertain world.
For an example, and plenty of examples exist,
born again christians are frighten by uncertainty and try
to flee into a pretend certainty. I personally would have no
problem with that except they are trying to drag the rest of us
into a certainty that does not exist. Now if you find that crap, be
my guest, my country is being ruined by idiots who
are afraid of uncertainty.

And as for tom. I have been hanging around for a while and
I see you are still simply insulting people instead of engaging
in discussion. I hoped you had grown up by now.
Soon perhaps and then we will reach the day when you will
renounce everything you ever wrote as youthful garbage.

Now back at the ranch, my point still stands. People still search
for certainty in a uncertain world.

Kropotkin

Only someone as wholly stupid as you could possibly think ‘X is the wrong search because we live in an uncertain world’ constituted a valid argument. If we live in an uncertain world then it isn’t up to you to define right and wrong as you just have. If you were capable of anything but contradiction and hypocrisy I’d gladly discuss this issue of logic with you but you know nothing of logic so I won’t bother.

Is there any discussion you won’t turn to some or other attempt at a criticism of born-again Christians? For someone who claims to be tolerant you sure hate Christians with everything you’ve got.

No, I insult the morons like you who can’t open their mouths without spewing out uninformed contradictory rot. I engage in plenty of discussions, but of course you are too stupid to realise that.

Funny, I’ve no hope for you at all. I don’t even know why you are here since you are incapable of making anything but vacuous, ill-informed comments.

When will you get it into your stupid, pig-ignorant head that I am not you. What happened to you will not happen to me. I’m not a depressed, relativistic alcoholic nor am I about to become one. Quit making predictions about my life and try working out why you’ve got nothing else to do except drink, make vague statements confusing Spinoza with Hume and daydream about fucking women other than your long-suffering wife.

You’ve not proven the world is uncertain, not by a long way. Here is a hand. Here is another one. GE Moore was the stupidest man Wittgenstein ever met, but I bet you can’t refute his argument.