Under what circumstances can one be absolutely certain of anything? I had intended my previous post to be on that question, but the preliminary inquiries to it were significant enough that I thought they deserved their own post. I end that post, like the earlier “Certain knowledge” post, on a note of uncertainty; I don’t discuss any circumstances under which certainty is possible. So is it possible at all?
I generally lean toward saying no – and an uncertain no. I leave the possibility open that something will be revealed to me that I can be absolutely certain of; but I don’t think one exists. The happy thing about this kind of uncertainty is there’s no contradiction in it. While “there is no truth” is a contradiction because it asserts that the truth is there is no truth, and “we cannot know anything” is a contradiction because it implies that it can be known that nothing can be known, the same is not true about “we cannot be certain about anything.” The last can be asserted as a statement that is merely highly probable; it doesn’t need to be certain to be true, and therefore can be true without contradicting itself.
Still, I do think there’s one circumstance where real certainty is possible – though it is merely a hypothetical circumstance. Continue reading