Everything posted by Cindy Lutz
Thanks for your response. A great deal here hinges on our definition of "certainty" and I'm sure you would agree that words like "certain" and "absolute" are tricky ones. That said, Peikoff's definition of certainty "...when the evidence in its favor is conclusive; i.e., when it has been logically validated. ...the total of the available evidence points in a single direction, and this evidence fulfills the standard of proof" seems to be a reasonable one to me, and given that definition then I would say that yes, we can be certain about things. However, even in that certainty, there should be caution. The certainty here is based on "the total of the available evidence" and we must admit that the evidence available today may not be the evidence available 100 years from now. In the moment, we can state a fact and be certain about it. But we have to acknowledge that our observations and the universe in which we make those observations are not static, and we may have to revise our certainties if the evidence changes. There is always a risk of seeing ourselves and our observations and our evidence today as the end-all-be-all, and that may be dangerous. I think Peikoff may go just a touch too far in this vein when he says, "there are no longer any grounds for doubt." I will check out the Peikoff - sounds interesting. And for your statement: "What is hard to attain is the discipline necessary to not make exciting but empirically unsupported claims." I am no longer teaching, but this is at the heart of what I tried to convey so often to my students. They always seemed to be seeking Nobel Prize winning discoveries in the lab. (Hardly likely in AP Biology!) I wanted them to see the clarity, the elegance, and the truth in demonstrating a simple principle clearly, with real empirical support for their claims. This wasn't exciting to them, and I worked hard to make it so.
The number of books left off of the program exceeds by thousands the number that are on it. Books that are chosen for inclusion are picked because of a number of reasons, but these include length. AS is a long book, and it would be a lot to read in 2 nights when you have a ton of other work to do! (And yes, that's how long you'd have to read it at SJC. The students there read an enormous quantity, and there's very little time to devote to long works. So sometimes, the best works are left out. I remember meeting someone once who looked positively disgusted that Moby Dick isn't included on the list either. Too long, sorry.) I would suggest that you not pick any single book and determine that its presence or absence is an indicator of the worth of the college. Rationality is very much appreciated at St. John's and there are many works that allow for exploration of reason and rational thought. St. John's is trying to cover a huge amount of material, and not everything is going to make it in.
I am the very Cindy Lutz who was quoted above. I recognize that this thread is quite old, but since I only just now came across it, I wanted to respond. To clarify the statement, I made it a point to emphasize to my students that our knowledge of science at any given time is simply our best understanding at that moment. We must recognize in science the potential that new information may become evident at any moment that may turn our understanding in a new direction. At St. John's we were certainly not taught that there are no facts. There are most definitely facts -- the wavelength of light emitted by an excited pure gas is MEASURABLE and is specific to that particular element, the speed of light is MEASURABLE and known to a high degree of accuracy, etc. We know with at least some certainty what we can measure, but we must admit for the possibility that 100 or a 1000 years from now that the tools with which we measure may be better, and that people in those times may look back on us as bumblers in the dark. I was taught as a student in high school that the facts in the book were TRUE, unquestionable, and unchanging. This is a mistaken picture of what science does, since it fails entirely to capture the idea that science is forever evolving, incorporating new information, adjusting theories to meet new evidence, or discarding theories alltogether if the evidence and the theory fail to match each other. One of the things that I truly enjoyed and found to be enlightening about the historical approach to science at St. John's College was that it strongly emphasized the evolving nature of Science, and made it very clear that even now we are still learning. The individual who quoted me seemed quite concerned that I was skeptical about our ability to acquire absolute knowledge. Absolute is a loaded word if ever there was one! However I would continue to stand by my statement that there are no absolutes even in science. I think even established facts (eg. the speed of light, etc.) are not absolute, since we may yet learn more about them -- we may refine the speed to a higher level of accuracy, we may learn someday that there are exceptions to the rule that "c" is the speed limit of the universe, etc. I just don't think that we as humans can ever know it all. We can know a great deal, we can continue to build on our knowledge, but we will never know it ALL, therefore I do believe that we will never have absolute knowledge. This does NOT mean that I think that we know nothing, it just means that I believe we should maintain a humility about our knowledge and recognize that there is always, always more to learn.