Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quote of the Day: On certainty

To insist, as philosophers have done for centuries, that knowledge requires some kind of “timeless certainty” is not a search for certainty – it’s a refusal to be certain.  It makes knowledge an impossible ideal -- “the perfect being the enemy of the good.”

It is a way of always knowing less than you do know, and ensuring that you never know anything for sure.  To make yourself uncertain by means of the certain; what could be more ironic?

But as Tibor Machan discusses, Ayn Rand made what amounts to a unique achievement.  She validated common sense. “What Ayn Rand proposed is that human beings, if they do the hard work, can obtain knowledge just fine and dandy. And there is, of course, ample evidence of this in the sciences, in technology and—let’s not forget—ordinary life. But what is this human knowledge?
As the name of her system makes evident, the key to knowledge is objectivity. As Rand herself puts the point in her book, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology”:

Objective validity is determined by reference to the facts of reality. But it is man who has to identify the facts; objectivity requires discovery by man—and cannot precede man's knowledge, i.e., cannot require omniscience. Man cannot know more than he has discovered—and he may not know less than the evidence indicates, if his concepts and definitions are to be objectively valid.”
……………………………………………….Ayn Rand

To know. Not just to trust, but to know – to know down to the root, which you need to if you’re about to bet your life on it.  That’s what astronauts do – or adventurers—or new people taking new paths down new roads---or a woman riding seven-thousand tons of steel and freight thundering along at over one-hundred miles per hour like "a great silver bullet" through great cities and along narrow mountain trails – a train held above the precipice by just two strips of green-blue metal strung in a curve along a narrow rock shelf, strips of metal no wider than a woman's arm. . .  People, that is, like Dagny Taggart.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Brian Scurfield said...

PC,

Ayn Rand's focus is on concepts and definitions. However, it is through explanation and constant testing to find errors that engineers come to know that their spaceship will fly. So don't you think explanation and error correction should be at the heart of any theory of knowledge?

With regard to certainty, I think you are saying something like if a theory has been exhaustively tested without any errors being found then we can say we are certain. But what of it: our proclamation of certainty doesn't mean our theory is in fact without error, but it might very well discourage a young scientist from finding error when his research advisers tell him authoritatively that our theory is known to be certain and "you're wasting your time here". Proclamations of certainty foster authoritarianism.

9/01/2009 07:04:00 am  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Quote:
But it is man who has to identify the facts; objectivity requires discovery by man—and cannot precede man's knowledge, i.e., cannot require omniscience.

All of modern Physics has been driven not by facts but by (speculative) imagination. This means that things are theorized years ahead, before any factual or experimental observations confirmed that those imaginations are indeed facts that exist in nature. Therefore imaginative knowledge definitely precedes discovery.

9/01/2009 08:16:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

Brian

The Boeing 777 flies. I know that with complete certainty.

LGM

9/01/2009 09:31:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

BRIAN: "Ayn Rand's focus is on concepts and definitions. "

Well, know it's not. Her focus is on the observation that Man cannot know more than he has discovered—and he may not know less than the evidence indicate.

"With regard to certainty, I think you are saying something like . . . "

In fact, I'm saying nothing of the sort. I'm saying that what you do know, you know.

9/01/2009 10:24:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

"Proclamations of certainty foster authoritarianism."

What nonsense. Nonsense from beginning to end.

9/01/2009 10:27:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

"All of modern Physics has been driven not by facts but by (speculative) imagination."

And if I wanted to make a cheap shot, I would say so much the worse for modern physics. However . . .

"This means that things are theorized years ahead . . . "

Yes, but they are not theorised in a void, but in a context of earlier knowledge. So they in fact attempts to integrate earlier knowledge.

9/01/2009 10:29:00 am  

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