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iouswuoibev

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I arrived at this conclusion a while ago and then forgot all about it. There must be a principle that covers it. I noticed a mathematical and existential parallel: that you can't have a fraction of a zero. For example, when you say: "Noone can be 100% perfect" or: "Noone can be 100% certain", you are saying, analogically, that 100% of the unit in question is inconcievable, which means that what you are refering to is an anti-concept. I like to ask someone, if not 100% certain/perfect, then how much; 50%, 2%?

Is there a name for the principle that covers this?

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Nihilism.

Also I have no idea what made you say nihilism. I thought it was rationalism that made one say "100% perfection is impossible". Explain?

Edited by iouswuoibev

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Also I have no idea what made you say nihilism. I thought it was rationalism that made one say "100% perfection is impossible". Explain?
No, I wasn't calling you a nihilist. The basic idea is that you can't be certain of anything and therefore you can't know anything, you can only suspect it (weakly, strong, or very strongly). The inability to know anything is the hallmark of (epistemological) nihilism. Although, given the additional suicidal emotional baggage associated with nihilism, people sometimes prefer to think of epistemological nihilism as "skepticism". On the moral front, it says that it is not possible to be moral, one must always be immoral to some degree, this again being an aspect of ethical nihilism.

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No, I wasn't calling you a nihilist. The basic idea is that you can't be certain of anything and therefore you can't know anything, you can only suspect it (weakly, strong, or very strongly). The inability to know anything is the hallmark of (epistemological) nihilism.

Not really, its just a different way of defining terms. People who say that you cant be certain are using "certain" to mean 'incapable of being wrong'. Saying that you cant be certain is then just an admission of fallibility; that empirical theories can always be revised in light of future evidence. You can question the wisom of using these definitions (I think theyre pretty silly myself), but it isnt nihilism as such. Noone is saying that you cant be fairly sure about X or that you arent justified in believing X, they are just saying that theres always a possibility, no matter how small, that you could be wrong.

Its easy to show mathematically that literal, absolute, infallible certainty is impossible anyway (when you use Bayes Theorem, you cant get your posterior probability equal to 1 if your prior is less than 1, regardless of what evidence you have).

Edited by Hal

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Not really, its just a different way of defining terms. People who say that you cant be certain are using "certain" to mean 'incapable of being wrong'. Saying that you cant be certain is then just an admission of fallibility; that empirical theories can always be revised in light of future evidence. You can question the wisom of using these definitions (I think theyre pretty silly myself), but it isnt nihilism as such. Noone is saying that you cant be fairly sure about X or that you arent justified in believing X, they are just saying that theres always a possibility, no matter how small, that you could be wrong.

Ok, but I wasn't refering just to certainty. I gave perfection as another example. I had observed that just as you can't have a percentage of a zero, so you can't have a percentage of an anti-concept. I use this in response to people who assert that you "can't be 100% of something", but by implication can be another fraction of that concept. I'm not sure what my question was asking, so never mind.

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Noone is saying that you cant be fairly sure about X or that you arent justified in believing X

The skeptics and nihilists are saying just that.

they are just saying that theres always a possibility, no matter how small, that you could be wrong.

And with that, they are saying that certainty, as defined by Objectivism, is impossible. Certainty is when there is NO reason to believe in a possibility, big or small or tiny or infinitesimal, of your being wrong. The certainty of "2 + 2 = 4."

Its easy to show mathematically that literal, absolute, infallible certainty is impossible anyway (when you use Bayes Theorem, you cant get your posterior probability equal to 1 if your prior is less than 1, regardless of what evidence you have).

Do not confuse statistical probability with logical probability. For a brief "primer," see definitions 3a and 4 in Merriam-Webster.

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Its easy to show mathematically that literal, absolute, infallible certainty is impossible anyway

Be careful not to fall into the hole that is epistemological skepticism.

One can be 100% certain of something. Certainty is an aspect of knowledge which in and of itself is inseparable from a specific context. When I say I'm a certain of something I am saying, "In the context of my current level of knowledge I know this to be true."

Whether the context is drastically limited or encompasses the whole of existence the level of 'certainty' does not change.

Certainty is not a measure of the applicability of a statement, nor is it an inverse statement of the 'possibility' of error. Certainty is the measure of the truth of a statement and it's relation to reality, within a specific context.

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Is there a name for the principle that covers this?

I would say it is a subclass of the stolen concept. "Denying the whole while affirming a part" is how I would describe it, but perhaps there is a nicer and shorter name for it.

Sorry I couldn't be more helpful...

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The skeptics and nihilists are saying just that.
There are some sceptics/nihilists who make that argument. But not everyone who makes that argument is a sceptic/nihilist.

And with that, they are saying that certainty, as defined by Objectivism, is impossible.
No they arent, they are saying that certainty, as defined by them, is impossible. Just because 2 people disagree on whether certainty exists, it doesnt mean they necessarily have different epistemologies - they could just mean different things by 'certainty'. The Objectivist definition of certainty is not the one used by all other people (especially philosophers), since its possible to have Objectivist certainty yet still be wrong.

Objectivist certainty is relatively benign, and I dont think most people would have a problem acknowledging it exists. But this often has little to do with what philosophers are arguing about when they discuss whether certainty is possible. The correct response to someone who denies certainty isnt to jump down his throat and call him a sceptic, but to ask him what precisely he means. Depending on how he answers, calling him a sceptic may be justified.

edit: for the record, I think the Objectivist definition of certainty is sensible and the one which philosophers since Descartes have tended to use is fairly misleading and pointless.

Edited by Hal

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I would say it is a subclass of the stolen concept. "Denying the whole while affirming a part" is how I would describe it, but perhaps there is a nicer and shorter name for it.

Sorry I couldn't be more helpful...

No, that was helpful, thanks.

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...since its possible to have Objectivist certainty yet still be wrong.

Any meaning in this statement is reliant on a call for omnisence.

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they are just saying that theres always a possibility, no matter how small, that you could be wrong.

And with that, they are saying that certainty, as defined by Objectivism, is impossible.

No they arent, they are saying that certainty, as defined by them, is impossible.

Let's take an example.

Objectivist: "I'm certain that 2 + 2 = 4."

Probabilist: "But certainty is impossible."

Objectivist: "What do you mean?"

Probabilist: "Certainty is infallible knowledge. And we are all fallible. So certainty is impossible."

Objectivist: "Your definition of certainty doesn't make sense. Why form a concept to refer to something that doesn't exist? Certainty is when you have no reason to believe that you could be wrong."

Probabilist: "But there is always a possibility, no matter how small, that you could be wrong."

The Probabilist is implying that we always have a reason to believe that we could be wrong--because that "small possibility" is always there. If you always have a reason to believe that you could be wrong, your knowledge will never satisfy the definition of "when you have no reason to believe that you could be wrong."

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quotes
Actually, what you said was

Certainty is when there is NO reason to believe in a possibility."
And this is precisely not the definition that other people are using - its not about 'what you have reason to believe', its about whats true. In the early 18th century, there was no reason to believe that Newtonian mechanics or Euclidean geometry could be incorrect when describing the world, but things changed. I imagine youd say that the people back then were actually certain, but they just turned out to be wrong. Others would say they were wrong to feel certain (or that they werent actually certain).

The key issue here is whether being certain about something necessarily guarantees its truth. Objectivists say it doesnt have to, whereas other philosophers say it does. Youre all using different definitions.

Objectivist: "I'm certain that 2 + 2 = 4."

Probabilist: "But certainty is impossible."

This is a bad example, since the contrast with mathematical truth is precisely what led people to believe that empirical statements could never be known with absolutely certainty - ie, no matter how verified they were, they were always marginally less certain than the claims of mathematics. The idea was that even if there was no reason to think that an empirical statement could be false, it was possible that it could turn out to be false anyway (like newtonian mechanics). Howeve with mathematical statements like the theorems of Euclidean geometry or artihmetic, so the story goes, its impossible for them to be wrong.

The Probabilist is implying that we always have a reason to believe that we could be wrong
No he isnt, hes saying that its always possible that you could be wrong. Hes not saying that you should go around doubting everything for no reason, hes just saying that theres always a chance, however small, that you could be wrong. Its physically possible for my glass to pass through the table when I put it down due to subatomic particle fluctuations, but the odds of this happening are less than 1 in 10^1000. Noone is saying that you should seriously consider the possibility that your glass will pass through the table - they are just saying it isnt impossible (ie the probability is non-zero). Edited by Hal

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Its easy to show mathematically that literal, absolute, infallible certainty is impossible anyway (when you use Bayes Theorem, you cant get your posterior probability equal to 1 if your prior is less than 1, regardless of what evidence you have).
Wull, that's a whoppin' big can of question-begging! You can't be literally, absolutely, infallibly certain that Bayes Theorem is correct.

A propos the Newton problem, you have to distinguish the "feeling" of certainty from a rationally justified conclusion of certainty. There was plenty of reason to be non-committal about Newtonian mechanics in the form that he stated it, and relatively little reason to believe it was true.

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iouswuoibev, I have pondered this phenomenon too. (I have made some comments on it on an online forum, but am not able presently to locate those comments).

In short, it is a stolen concept fallacy, as was pointed out above. The idea that we can apply a limit to a quantity or quality, while denying the existence of that quantity/quality.

Skeptic: "We can't know reality with 100% certainty".

Oist: "How do you know? Wouldn't you have to have 100% certainty of reality in order to know what fraction of it remains unknowable?"

Skeptic: "Fascist!"

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And this is precisely not the definition that other people are using - its not about 'what you have reason to believe', its about whats true.

Truth is correspondence with reality. If an idea corresponds with reality, you have a reason to believe it; if you have a reason to believe an idea, then it is because it corresponds to reality. The two are equivalent.

In the early 18th century, there was no reason to believe that Newtonian mechanics or Euclidean geometry could be incorrect when describing the world, but things changed.

I must have missed the latest breaking news...

Either that, or you missed the countless rebuttals on this forum and elsewhere of the "Einstein disproved Newton" fallacy.

The key issue here is whether being certain about something necessarily guarantees its truth. Objectivists say it doesnt have to, whereas other philosophers say it does.

If you have reached your certainty objectively, without making a mistake, then your conclusion is true. "Guaranteed" true, if you like. This is precisely what certainty means: that you can be sure about your conclusion--that there is a guarantee it isn't wrong--that there is no reason for doubt--that there is no possibility of your being wrong, neither tiny nor microscopic nor infinitesimal nor negligible.

This is a bad example, since the contrast with mathematical truth is precisely what led people to believe that empirical statements could never be known with absolutely certainty - ie, no matter how verified they were, they were always marginally less certain than the claims of mathematics.

Mathematics is based on sense perception.

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Truth is correspondence with reality. If an idea corresponds with reality, you have a reason to believe it; if you have a reason to believe an idea, then it is because it corresponds to reality.
Not really. There can be good, rational grounds for believing false ideas. We dont even have to dip into exotic scientific refutations of common sense here; a legal trial can find good grounds for beliving that a person is guilty even when the person is innocent. I can have a justified belief that my girlfriend cheated on me, even if she never. And so on.

Either that, or you missed the countless rebuttals on this forum and elsewhere of the "Einstein disproved Newton" fallacy.
No, I just find them unconvincing. Certain parts of the Newtonian worldview, such as the absoluteness of space and time and the instantaneous propagation of gravitation, have been shown be false. People who want to say that Newtonian mechanics is 'true in context' generally mean that (eg) F=ma gives decent predictions in day to day life. And this is correct. But the Newtonian framework goes deeper than the mathematical statement of the laws. If I postutlated an elaborate theory of gravity which involved invisible goblins with long arms pulling objects towards each other, it may well be that my theory somehow gave rise to mathematical laws which were correct to within some margin of error. But this would not be sufficient to make my theory true, even if the predictions it made were correct, and it could put men on the moon. The truth of the theory would still hinge upon the existence of the entities which it postulated as existing, namely the invisible goblins.

Anyway, even if it Newtonian mechanics was just the laws themselves, it would still be odd to say that they were 'true in the context he stated them even if this context was later expanded'. It would be like saying the innocent man was 'guilty in the context of the jury who had seen strong evidence that he committed the crime'. This is just a longwinded way of saying that the jury had good reason to think he was guilty - but the objective fact of the matter is that he was innocent. Truth isnt about what its rational to believe - its about what is true.

If you have reached your certainty objectively, without making a mistake, then your conclusion is true.
If this were true, a rational legal system would never come to any incorrect decisions. Edited by Hal

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I can have a justified belief that my girlfriend cheated on me, even if she never.

But we are not talking about "justified belief." We are talking about certainty.

Certain parts of the Newtonian worldview, such as the absoluteness of space and time and the instantaneous propagation of gravitation, have been shown be false.

1. Aren't we talking about Newton's mechanics ? Newton's views about God have been "shown to be false" too, but that has no bearing on the truth of his mechanics, i.e. his three laws of motion.

2. I doubt Newton ever actually used the phrase "instantaneous propagation." You would have to look at his actual writings, consider them in the context of his time, in the way he actually meant them, and see if you can find a fault with that.

3. Absoluteness of space and time? Aren't you confusing Newton with Aristotle?

People who want to say that Newtonian mechanics is 'true in context' generally mean that (eg) F=ma gives decent predictions in day to day life.

Not only does it give "decent" predictions in "day to day life"--it gives exact predictions with regard to any precision of measurement that was available in Newton's time, and for all applications that were available in Newton's time.

If I postutlated an elaborate theory of gravity which involved invisible goblins with long arms pulling objects towards each other, it may well be that my theory somehow gave rise to mathematical laws which were correct to within some margin of error. But this would not be sufficient to make my theory true, even if the predictions it made were correct, and it could put men on the moon. The truth of the theory would still hinge upon the existence of the entities which it postulated as existing, namely the invisible goblins.

...Which Newton didn't do.

Truth isnt about what its rational to believe - its about what is true.

There is no intrinsic truth.

If this were true, a rational legal system would never come to any incorrect decisions.

The only ways a jury can come to an incorrect decision are: 1, through a logical fallacy; 2, due to false premises, such as a perjurious witness testimony. If all the premises they use are correct, and their reasoning is also correct, then their verdict is guaranteed to be true.

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@iouswuoibev and Hal - The mathematical concepts that you are both referring to in order to prop. up what seem to be your doubts about absolute certainty didn't just magically jump out of the imaginations of the ones whom first discovered them, they were based on real objects observed in the metaphysical universe, hense they were based upon the given observer's certainty of reality. Henseforth, in order to draw doubt upon reality's absolute existence, you have to utilize something that is dependent upon it. It's like trying to prove that chalk doesn't exist by using it to write an equation on a black board, which itself may or may not exist, it's completely absurd.

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@iouswuoibev and Hal - The mathematical concepts that you are both referring to in order to prop. up what seem to be your doubts about absolute certainty

Where did I give an indication of doubt? I have no doubts.

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