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The question might initially startle you, but let me clarify what I mean. In our daily lives, we operate on a probabilistic model, making decisions based on what we perceive to be certain. For instance, when you receive a call from someone who sounds like your son, you assume it's him without any doubt. But are you truly 100% certain?

Consider this: your certainty is actually based on a probability metric. If the likelihood of something matching your expectation is over 80%, you essentially treat it as a certainty, even though there's still room for error. This metric essentially quantifies our confidence in our perceptions.

But true certainty, in the absolute sense, is unattainable. Achieving absolute certainty about anything would require omniscience, as only an all-knowing being could account for every infinitesimal detail.

This realization leads us to question the validity of many philosophical inquiries. When people demand irrefutable proof of concepts like the existence of God or the nature of rationality, they often apply a different standard than the probabilistic one they use in everyday life. This double standard suggests a discrepancy in how we approach certainty in different aspects/contexts in our life.

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    This is not startling, but well covered in epistemology. See Hume philarchive.org/rec/BOECNA
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Apr 27 at 23:50
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    @RabbiKaii Thank you for the resource. Commented Apr 28 at 4:09
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    Absolute certainty does not require omniscience, omniscient God can grant others absolutely certain knowledge of some things and not others. Many people do not demand irrefutable proof of God's existence, as the large number of believers attests, they are certain enough just as in the everyday life.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 28 at 5:12
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    @HAMDIABDERRAHMENE you are right. This is a gateway to true intellectual honesty and humility!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Apr 28 at 11:26
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    "When people demand irrefutable proof of concepts like the existence of God"... we could easily leave out the "irrefutable" and just go with the much lower bar "evidence". Something, anything... that isn't from the mouth of a human... Humans are notoriously unreliable and their stories and claims are wildly contrary. Commented May 30 at 7:32

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In the world of mathematics, certainty can be and is routinely achieved in practice- at least in the sense that when balancing your checkbook, there is only one correct answer for the closing balance. The rules of arithmetic are not probabilistic except in the sense that errors in their correct application might be.

But this opens up another interesting topic- that of misapplication of one's confidence in one field of inquiry to another in which one has limited or even no training or experience.

Hence we get management consultants and solid-state physicists writing books on racial differences in intelligence, postmodern deconstructivist philosophers explaining the applicability of quantum mechanics to film criticism, PhD thin film deposition engineers asserting the invalidity of special relativity, and so on.

Exactly NONE of those people are omniscient.

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  • Thank you for your reply. I frankly disagree because maths is great at using logic to do sound/complete entailements. However, everything is based on something else, say axioms. Can you be certain about them? Well, that leads you to my post. You can't be certain about anything. Commented Apr 29 at 11:05
  • @HAMDIABDERRAHMENE Do you have to be certain about the axioms to be certain about their implications? Like there might be no universe in which 1+1=2 but regardless of that if you posit such a universe than the result would follow, won't it?
    – haxor789
    Commented May 29 at 8:51
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    Reminds me of Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses (1929): "previously, men could be divided simply into the learned and the ignorant ... But your specialist ... is not learned, for he is formally ignorant of all that does not enter into his speciality; but neither is he ignorant, because he is "a scientist," and "knows" very well his own tiny portion of the universe. ... [He] is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line." Commented May 29 at 9:46
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    @TheThoughtDetective An axiom IS a certainty claim. It is accepting a statement as fundamental TRUTH without any preconditions. Now making axiomatic statements about the real world is problematic as it claims a certainty without having one. But as the question is just about any certainty, how about things derived from axioms? Unless they are self-refuting they should be pretty certain. Whether they are useful or in a meaningful relation to the real world is an entirely different question.
    – haxor789
    Commented May 31 at 9:00
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    @haxor789 That's an interesting question, actually. If a system only has one statement and we assume it to be true, I guess we are omniscient because we know 'everything' within that system Commented May 31 at 12:52
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This realization leads us to question the validity of many philosophical inquiries. When people demand irrefutable proof of concepts like the existence of God or the nature of rationality, they often apply a different standard than the probabilistic one they use in everyday life.

No. It's the same standard. But the standard is not: "Give me perfect evidence for every claim", or "I am fine with whatever evidence, I'll just believe anything", but instead the standard is: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". So the more improbable any claim is, the more evidence should be sought before believing. This is a reasonable standard in every day life.

If I say that I can life 1kg, you shrug. If I say I can lift 100kg, you demand to see it to believe it. If I say I can lift 10000kg, you will want to see it plus have many extra checks to see that I am not cheating in any way.

Any claim of the supernatural is the most extreme form of extraordinary claims. Such claims require incredible amount of evidence to be taken seriously. That is not a double standard.

Additionally, we know from various cults that people claiming there are gods and those gods want us to do something can be abusive, and cause people to commit mass murder or mass suicide. To protect ourselves from falling prey to such false beliefs, we need to have standards for what to believe, and requiring evidence is such a standard.

The additional problem around gods and other superstitions is that there are so many different opposing claims of what gods, devils, angels, demons, ghosts... exists and what they are supposed to have done. If one accepts any of those claims with low evidence but not another, that's inconsistent. If one accepts all of them with low evidence, then one has to believe in contradictory claims at the same time, which is also inconsistent. So the requested bar for evidence has to be so high that only the one true claim remains. Non-philosophers will typically not bother to compare and just stick with whatever their parents believed in, or what society around them expects them to believe, but that is not a truth-seeking stance, just carelessness (And I don't mean this in a bad, way, it's much better than zealotism).

This approach typically leaves people with just deism, some faith that some gods exist but cannot ever be seen to be working and we'll never see any evidence of them until maybe after death. Which has no evidence, but can also not be disproven either, and so it can be comforting to those wanting comfort.

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One cent.

One can be certain one is going to die sometime in the future, that one is not immortal.
One can also be certain that while alive one is going to be hungry.
One is also certain whether now one is hungry or not.
One can equally be certain of many other propositions, possibly for different reasons and/or in different ways each, without that requiring any omniscience.

You even need certainty in order to assert that you are uncertain about something (*).

There is more certainty in our lives than some would like to admit.

Ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα (I know one thing that I know nothing)

-- Socrates (*)

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    We can be sure of death and taxes, I think even Socrates would agree with that.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 31 at 1:56
  • @ScottRowe rich corporate tax-evaders seem also a certainty under the current state of affairs..
    – Nikos M.
    Commented May 31 at 4:27
  • I'm waiting for the death-evaders to show up.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 31 at 11:48
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    @ScottRowe some say we defy death every time we live life to the full..
    – Nikos M.
    Commented May 31 at 12:47
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    So the rich corporate tax-evaders have got that one covered! Someone finally solved the riddle of life.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 31 at 13:01
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Confidence is an internal feeling and conviction within a person regarding the correctness of their views, decisions, and actions. A self-confident individual knows precisely what they want to achieve and firmly believes they possess all the necessary qualities and capabilities to do so.

In psychology, confidence is considered an essential personal trait closely related to concepts such as self-esteem, willpower, and determination. A self-confident person exhibits the following qualities:

  • Adequately assesses their strengths and abilities.
  • Sets realistic goals and successfully achieves them.
  • Demonstrates initiative and decisiveness.
  • Is unafraid to take responsibility for their decisions.
  • Remains resilient in the face of stress and criticism.

The foundation of confidence lies in knowledge and experience. The more a person knows about a particular area and the greater their practical experience, the more confident they feel. Past successful experiences also reinforce confidence in the future. Support from others, approval, and encouragement from close individuals also contribute to self-assurance.

However, true absolute certainty remains unattainable. Achieving absolute certainty would require omniscience to explain every infinitely small detail. Therefore, we always operate within a probabilistic model, where our confidence is based on quantitative indicators.

This realization prompts us to contemplate philosophical investigations and the standards we apply. When we demand irrefutable evidence, we often employ a different standard than the probabilistic one we use in everyday life. This double standard can lead to discrepancies in how we approach confidence in various aspects of our lives.

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    Sounds AI generated Commented Apr 28 at 13:32
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    This is for sure generated. But it seems it's asserting what I am saying. Commented Apr 28 at 15:15
  • AI always sounds confident, because it knows so much about its subject and has a lot of experience writing stuff. People approve of it, which makes it feel better. And, it doesn't care if you criticise it!
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 31 at 11:40
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Surely you can see that your question boils down how you define certain words. I consider myself to be absolutely certain that I am awake, that I have two feet, that I am not a billionaire, that I do not look like Brad Pitt etc etc, and none of my many absolute certainties require omniscience. If you define 'absolutely certainty' to mean knowing everything is is possible to know about anything, then you have answered your own question, because yes, by your definition, absolute certainty requires omniscience.

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  • Thank you for yoyr reply. I don't think you understood my post actually, what I was saying is even if you claim you are certain you are awake, you are not 100% certain because simply you can't. Commented Apr 29 at 11:02
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    I did understand your post! That was exactly my point. If you define absolutely certainty as implying the need for omniscience (which is what you have done), then you need omniscience by definition. if you use an everyday definition of absolute certainty, you don't need omniscience. It is all pointless wordplay! Commented Apr 29 at 11:33
  • @MarcoOcram You are a billionaire if you visit Zimbabwe. :-) Commented May 30 at 7:42
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You're broadly right about a lot of the intuitions here, the general concept of 'certainty' seems to be oriented around absolute proof and it is unclear whether we have absolute proof for anything at all. Thus, our claims about things are usually uncertain. I would point to Peter Unger's treatment of this idea and his analysis of how it leads to general skepticism about most of the claims we make in everyday life.

I would not say it quite 'implies' omniscience, depending on how you classify omniscience. It also depends how far you push the scepticism. Some sceptics are happy to say that most things are uncertain but the laws of logic and math are certain. Some would say that even these are uncertain. If they are, then our logic around omniscience would also be broken.

Your final point, about our usage of certainty being context-dependent, is interesting. I'm not sure if the point you are making applies to our usage of 'certainty', but it definitely applies to the broad usage of words in epistemology and the complexity of the knowledge claims we make.

One position that adopts the idea you adopt is Contextualism, which says that our claims about what we 'know' are context-depedent. In a regular context, like a conversation over coffee, we can claim to 'know' a lot of things. In philosophical contexts, we have to be more careful and caveated about what we claim to 'know'. Lewis' version is a good primer.

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  • My father used to point out that I seemed to be assuming I knew way more than I actually did. But then, he was a lawyer :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 31 at 1:54

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