Can we have certainty?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Can we have certainty? 

I think there are powerful empirical and logical grounds for saying no. Empirically, psychologists have found that unconscious and subconscious needs, desires, feelings, and thoughts influence what we come to believe is true. How can we know whether our convictions represent accurate interpretations of data or reflections of unconscious biases? For example, among the many psychological studies that demonstrate this point, participants heard a strong argument and a weak argument both for and against a position that they held. When later asked to recall the arguments made, overwhelmingly they remembered best the strong argument for their previously held position and the weak argument for the position with which they had disagreed.
The only way to have certainty is to have an objective frame-of-reference. In other words, we need to be outside ourselves, regarding ourselves objectively and dispassionately, unmoved by the biases that color our convictions. Unfortunately, we cant have such a perspective. If we asked a person who said, I know X is true, the person might offer evidence, such as a personal experience or the experiences of others. However, we know that human perceptions are often inaccurate, and human interpretations of experiences are notoriously unreliable.
Another response to the question of how we know that X is true is to say that we accept X as true on faith. People are free to believe whatever they want, of course, but faith is hardly a solid ground for claiming certainty. Indeed, to an outside observer, a person who uses faith as a basis for claiming that something is true has not provided compelling evidence. A person can hold any belief, however fantastic, on the basis of faith.
I submit that certainty is a state of mind, and not necessarily a state of knowledge. It can be disquieting to live with uncertainty, particularly when it comes to the great existential questions mentioned last week. However, I would rather have greater truth even if part of that truth is an understanding of the limits of human knowledge than greater certainty. 

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