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Two Different Types of Certainty?

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Something is metaphysically possible when the nature of an entity allows for and does not contradict something being true. Thus, it is possible for an acorn to become an oak tree but not to become Hillary Clinton.

Something is epistemologically possible when we have some evidence for it being true and no evidence that it is false, but that the evidence we have is not conclusive.

When you speak of "metaphysical possibility" you are speaking of an entity's inherent capabilities. Under certain conditions, an acorn is capable of becoming an oak tree, but that doesn't mean that we have some evidence for the conclusion that a particular acorn became a particular oak tree.

When you speak of "epistemological possibility" you are speaking of actual possibility, and not the mere capabilities of something. In this discussion, which is concerned with achieving certainty, I don't think it is productive to confuse an entity's capabilities with that which is possible. The same basic argument was used when it was asserted that Mr. X might possibly be a liar, because free-willing men are capable of lying. Free-willing men are also capable of cheating on their wives. Is it therefore possible that Mr. X, who has been a loving and devoted husband for fifty years and has never been seen with another woman, is cheating on his wife? Maybe he runs down to the whorehouse when nobody is looking? Should Mrs. X epistemologically doubt Mr. X's loyalty, simply because it is metaphysically "possible" for him to cheat?

We know what people and acorns can do. But this does not tell us what they have done. Mr. X and the acorn are capable of a million different actions. Should we hold on to some doubt for one conclusion simply because an acorn or human is capable of doing the opposite? It does us no good to cling to the belief that a certain acorn might possibly have fallen from a tree in the distance, when we have conclusive evidence that it fell from the tree directly above. Likewise, it is illogical to believe that a certain individual might possibly be a liar, when we have conclusive evidence that he is honest. The fact that an entity can do something is not evidence that it did do something.

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I think that this distinction is thoroughly opposed to Objectivist epistemology. Nowhere in OPAR is such a distinction raised.

These assertions need to be justified by evidence.

There are some important philosophical distinctions not raised in OPAR that were made by Miss Rand or Dr. Peikoff. In order to prove that a distinction is opposed to Objectivist epistemology, you have to show where and how.

For an assertion to be metaphysically possible means that it is epistemologically possible.

Actually, it is the other way around. For an assertion to be epistemologically possible you have to point to what in reality (metaphysically) justifies and serves as evidence for the assertion. Thus, for an assertion to be epistemologically possible means that it is metaphysically possible -- but not necessarily the other way around. There are millions of real things (metaphysically) that might serve as evidence for an assertion that nobody has ever asserted and no mind has ever considered. Thus, while they are what they are, metaphysically, they have no epistemological status whatever.

What Betsy is urging is that there exists a standard of omniscience by which to judge metaphysical possibility.

Definitely not! Just look at my example. You don't have to know everything -- or even everything about acorns -- to know that an acorn can't turn into Hillary. All you need to know are some things about acorns and Hillary.

Otherwise, all she is doing is saying the same thing two different ways, i.e. for the nature of an entity to allow for and not contradict something being true means exactly that we have some evidence for it being true and no evidence that it is false, and that the evidence we have is not conclusive.

The difference is between what something is (existence) and what we know about what it is (consciousness).

For all things in existence -- with one exception -- metaphysical possibility does not apply. These things either are or they are not with no "probability" or "possibility" in between. The one exception is the future choices of volitional beings. It is possible for a given man to be in focus or out of focus, honest or dishonest, tomorrow. It is in the metaphysical nature of volitional beings that such a possibility exists.

Epistemological possibility exists whenever there is some, but not conclusive, evidence of an idea's truth and no evidence that it is false -- regardless of the entity in reality we are considering. Thus, in our current state of knowledge, we can say that some physical law or historical event is possibly true. The physical law applies to reality or it does not and the historical event happened or it did not. Metaphysically there is no "possibility" at all.

Either way, the distinction is invalid.

It is a real -- and sometimes useful -- distinction. (See the reasons above.) Why do you say it is invalid?

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When you speak of "metaphysical possibility" you are speaking of an entity's inherent capabilities. Under certain conditions, an acorn is capable of becoming an oak tree, but that doesn't mean that we have some evidence for the conclusion that a particular acorn became a particular oak tree.

By making the metaphysical/epistemological distinction I am trying to distinguish what is a fact from what is a known fact. Metaphysical facts exist whether or not anyone knows them, while epistemology deals with human knowledge of metaphysical. Metaphysical facts include what was and what is and what might be -- i.e. the potentials of entities. The metaphysically possible means the potential.

When you speak of "epistemological possibility" you are speaking of actual possibility, and not the mere capabilities of something.

Actually, by "epistemological possibility" I mean what is known about entities including their actual and potential metaphysical characteristics. Thus, in reality (metaphysically) someone did or did not commit a murder. There is no metaphysical possibility/potentiality involved in past events. Epistemologically, however, we may not have sufficient evidence to know conclusively whether someone did or did not commit the murder, so we look at the evidence and say that it is (epistemologically) possible he did it.

We know what people and acorns can do. But this does not tell us what they have done. Mr. X and the acorn are capable of a million different actions. Should we hold on to some doubt for one conclusion simply because an acorn or human is capable of doing the opposite? It does us no good to cling to the belief that a certain acorn might possibly have fallen from a tree in the distance, when we have conclusive evidence that it fell from the tree directly above. Likewise, it is illogical to believe that a certain individual might possibly be a liar, when we have conclusive evidence that he is honest. The fact that an entity can do something is not evidence that it did do something.

Quite right. That it why certainty is not essentially an issue of doubt. It is an issue of how much evidence (and the kind of evidence) we have. Sometimes we should hold off declaring something certain (like some else's character) because we don't yet have enough evidence and not because we have doubt.

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Observe also that Peikoff says " There are, therefore, no longer any grounds for doubt. That means there is no evidence that the conclusion could be otherwise -- to doubt without evidence would be arbitrary -- but he does not say that there is no longer any possibility of doubt.
Actually there are two kinds of possibility and they both require evidence. They are metaphysical possibility and epistemological possibility.
I don't know if the foregoing contradiction was unintentional or if the latter post was intended to amend the former. If so, I don't know what the former was supposed to mean in regards to "possibility of doubt", particularly since the explanation devolved into a discussion of metaphysical possibility versus epistemological possibility, with the former being used to escape from the evidentiary requirements of the latter (would that then refer to "metaphysical doubt"? What is such a thing?) I am completely lost at this point. I don't know what use is served, in discussing the possiblity of doubt, to say there is no evidence, but metaphysical possibility covers that case, but requires evidence. I guess Betsy's point is that metaphycial possibility, while not grounds for doubt, is grounds for doubt.
Quite right. That it why certainty is not essentially an issue of doubt. It is an issue of how much evidence (and the kind of evidence) we have. Sometimes we should hold off declaring something certain (like some else's character) because we don't yet have enough evidence and not because we have doubt.
If you have enough evidence to remove the assertion from the realm of the arbitrary, but not conclusive evidence, then you ought to have doubt. I agree that doubt is a consequence, but it is co-extensive, and the point is that you are wrong to use "certain" when doubt remains. Edited by Seeker
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Something is metaphysically possible when the nature of an entity allows for and does not contradict something being true. Thus, it is possible for an acorn to become an oak tree but not to become Hillary Clinton.

For all things in existence -- with one exception -- metaphysical possibility does not apply. These things either are or they are not with no "probability" or "possibility" in between. The one exception is the future choices of volitional beings.

I am thoroughly confused now. You offer an acorn as an example of metaphysical possibility, but claim that metaphysical possibility applies only to the future choices of volitional beings. I am compelled therefore to ask: which Objectivist concept of volition applies to acorns? It must be the one that wasn't discussed in OPAR.

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I would actually support the distinction, with the identification that the "metaphysically possible" is precisely the Aristotelian potential. The "epistemologically possible" is drawn from the potentials of things regarding which we do not yet have full knowledge. When one does have full knowledge of some particular fact, the epistemologically possible is the metaphysically possible.

I would support the distinction because we do actually use "possible" in those two senses, equally validly.

Okay, I take your point. But how then does the concept of metaphysical possibility apply in the context of the following?

Observe also that Peikoff says " There are, therefore, no longer any grounds for doubt. That means there is no evidence that the conclusion could be otherwise -- to doubt without evidence would be arbitrary -- but he does not say that there is no longer any possibility of doubt.

Betsy opines that there is a possibility of doubt when Dr. Peikoff says, in the context of explaining what certainty is, that there is no longer any grounds for doubt, and justifies it on the basis of metaphysical potential. This vividly shows the confusion that results from her "two certainty" concept. For there to be metaphysical potential implies that not all facts needed to meet the standard of proof are known, and thus she is right to raise the spectre of doubt, but wrong to say that this constitutes any form of "certainty".

Edit - I suppose I should add, if it is not already blazingly apparent, that I am reading Betsy's statements as having philosophical significance, i.e. I read her "possibility of doubt" as "possibility of rational doubt". I can see in hindsight that that may have been a mistake, but then you have to ask yourself why Betsy is injecting the arbitrary into the discussion. After all, she's the one claiming that we can't know someone else's character. I certainly hope her argument doesn't boil down to the excuse that she was referring to arbitrary doubt the whole time.

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I would venture that the word in red is to be taken as epistemological possibility, not metaphysical possibility.

(To say that it is possible for a seed to become a tree is an expression of certain knowledge about a metaphysical possibility. To say that some particular tree is an oak tree is an expression of epistemological possibility, or uncertain knowledge.)

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I would venture that the word in red is to be taken as epistemological possibility, not metaphysical possibility.

Then the conclusion is not certain and we shouldn't be calling it "certain". What Betsy wants to do is to say that evidence need only meet a "highly probable" standard of proof to say that a conclusion is "certain". I disagree. I argued that "highly probable" implies that doubt remains, and pointed to Dr. Peikoff's statement that when a conclusion is certain, there are no longer any grounds for doubt, to which Betsy replied that a lack of grounds for doubt does not foreclose a possibility of doubt. In other words, she is trying hard to make her idea of "highly probable" doubtful certainty fit inside OPAR's description of certainty, but you can see the absurdities that result. So let me be crystal clear: "highly probable" implies that grounds for doubt remains - and thus, the concept of "highly probable" certainty that Betsy urges upon us is contrary to Objectivism as given in OPAR.

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By the way, lest any doubt remain as to what OPAR says on this point, I refer you to Chapter 5, p. 178:

"Probable" indicates a higher range of the evidential continuum. A conclusion is "probable" if the burden of a substantial body of evidence, although still inconclusive, supports it. In this case, there are not merely "some" supporting data, but a relatively extensive amount, although these data have not yet reached the standard of proof. Because they have not, there are still objective grounds to remain in doubt about the final verdict.

This passage is discussing conclusions that are probable. It says very plainly that, with such conclusions, the evidence is inconclusive and has not reached the standard of proof.

What Betsy does is change the standard of proof to something that is itself merely highly probable so that the conclusion can be called certain. I contend that to do so is contrary to Objectivism, which treats probable and certain as mutually exclusive concepts in this context:

The concept of "certainty" designates knowledge from a particular perspective: it designates some complex items of knowledge considered in contrast to the transitional evidential states that precede them.
(emphasis added)

One can admire the ingenuity of Betsy's attempt. It takes some creativity to see standard of proof as a variable into which to plug another concept of "certainty" so as to ostensibly agree with Dr. Peikoff while completely eviscerating the concept he describes. It also takes chutzpah. But it is doomed to fail, because, as we can see here, it inescapably contradicts the explanation given in OPAR. Betsy's only hope is that Dr. Peikoff is wrong about what Ayn Rand thought of epistemology - but that would require a great deal of evidence, none of which has been provided thus far.

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I disagree with Betsy Speicher on the issue of two senses of the word certain. I only mentioned that I agree with her that there are two proper senses of the word possible, one in the field of metaphysics and one in the field of epistemology, but even there it seems we disagree on just what are those senses of the word.

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I finally got my computer at home back up and running again, as well as two computers at work (which makes my boss really happy). He had an old IBM ThinkPad which has the operating system in Korean, and I have to tell you it was an adventure getting that thing up and running with me not understanding Korean and him not understanding geek. At one point, I wanted to put a short cut onto the desk top, so I asked him what the options presented meant in English. However, none of the options said "short cut." He did eventually get across to me that one of the options meant "straight path" and that is how "create a short cut" translated to from the Korean operating system.

While I have to agree that understanding some people's motives can be difficult, especially if they are scoundrels and hiding their evil intents from oneself, I mention my boss because he and I have a significant language barrier, a significant philosophy barrier, a significant psycho-epistemological barrier, etc. However, I have no difficulty understanding his motives to run a profitable business.

I think one has to be careful in applying the idea of metaphysical possibility when assessing someone's character. It is metaphysically possible for Hillary Clinton to become a really good President, since she is a human being and it is possible for her to become a staunch supporter of Individual Rights -- it would require her doing a lot of intellectual work, but it is not impossible. However, given her character, there is no evidence that she would make such a turn-around. Likewise, it is metaphysically possible for Dr. Peikoff to become a raving Kantian, say if he got tired of spending years of work presenting Objectivism without getting rich because of it, and so decided that it would be more profitable changing his ways so as to become wealthy by presenting the status quo. However, given his character, there is no evidence that he would make such a turn-around.

The same idea applies to assessing someone's virtue. Yes, it is metaphysically possible for someone who is virtuous to become a skank. He has free will and can chose to change his ways. But metaphysical possibility in and of itself is no grounds for having any doubt about someone's virtue. If one takes the attitude that an honest man (given the evidence) could become a cheat, and therefore one has to assess his honesty as only probable because of this metaphysical possibility, then one is cheating him of his virtue of remaining honest. If one has evidence that he is honest, and none to the contrary, then one has to assess his character as being virtuous -- without any doubt.

To say, in effect, I'm going to withhold my moral evaluation on the positive side until I discover he has done something dishonest (for how long? A year, twenty years, a thousand years?) is to belittle his accomplishment. If you have evidence that he was dishonest, then, OK, you can call him a skank; but if the only evidence you have is that he is honest, then one's assessment, based on the facts, must be that he is virtuous.

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I don't know if the foregoing contradiction was unintentional or if the latter post was intended to amend the former.

I don't see any contradiction here because we are discussing two different propositions here: 1) the possibility that something is true and 2) the possibility that a conclusion is not true (doubt).

There are many situations where you have evidence that something is true, but not sufficient evidence for forming a conclusion, and no evidence that it is not true. In such a situation you would say "It is not certain, but it is possibly true, and I have no reason to doubt it."

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I am thoroughly confused now. You offer an acorn as an example of metaphysical possibility, but claim that metaphysical possibility applies only to the future choices of volitional beings. I am compelled therefore to ask: which Objectivist concept of volition applies to acorns? It must be the one that wasn't discussed in OPAR.

I was using metaphysical possibility, as y_feldblum pointed out, to mean a potentiality. Whether a potentiality will be actualized depends on the nature of the entities acting. Where human action is not involved, the results are totally deterministic and, if we understood the entities well enough, totally predictable.

Where human action is involved, whether a potentiality will be actualized depends on volitional choices. In the case of the acorn, whether it grows into an oak tree might depend on whether someone chooses to plant it in fertile soil or not.

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Betsy opines that there is a possibility of doubt when Dr. Peikoff says, in the context of explaining what certainty is, that there is no longer any grounds for doubt,

That is not what I was saying at all.

In the indicated post I was making the case that Dr. Peikoff's definition of "certainty" was a positive definition based on what certainty IS -- i.e., having conclusive evidence. I was contrasting this to other definitions of "certainty" that define it negatively in terms of what it IS NOT - i.e., it does not have any doubt.

When I wrote that Dr. Peikoff "does not say that there is no longer any possibility of doubt," I meant just that literally. He doesn't make any claims whatsoever about the possibility (or impossibility) of doubt. I did not mean to say or imply that there was a possibility of doubt at all. As Dr. Peikoff wrote, there is no grounds for asserting that possibility.

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There are many situations where you have evidence that something is true, but not sufficient evidence for forming a conclusion, and no evidence that it is not true. In such a situation you would say "It is not certain, but it is possibly true, and I have no reason to doubt it."

I believe that this description contradicts OPAR, which finds the basis for doubt in the fact that the supporting evidence has not yet reached the standard of proof. See, e.g., p. 178-179 ("...these data have not yet reached the standard of proof. Because they have not, there are still objective grounds to remain in doubt about the final verdict. ... these grounds, to repeat, are defined by reference to the standard of proof ..." - and when the standard of proof is fulfilled, "... there is nothing to suggest even the possibility of another interpretation. There are, therefore, no longer any grounds for doubt.")

As presented in OPAR, when evidence does not reach the standard of proof there is grounds for doubt. I would respectfully suggest that you are overlooking the fact that in merely entertaining the assertion to build evidence to reach a standard of proof, that there must be an alternative that you are considering. A standard of proof does not exist in a vacuum; there is always some alternative. For example, in a murder case, even if you have identified only one suspect, you cannot conclude guilt without reaching the standard of proof, but the alternative is an unidentified person (setting aside a desert island scenario where Smith is stabbed in the back and the only person there besides you is Jones - in such a scenario, the very fact that no one else is around forecloses any alternative, and you wouldn't need to inquire into whether Jones had motive, means, and opportunity to be certain that he did it). The standard of proof helps guide us to the correct conclusion in the face of alternatives in a given context. That alternatives are known to exist is the grounds for doubt, so you should never say "it is not certain, but it is possibly true, and I have no reason to doubt it".

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In the indicated post I was making the case that Dr. Peikoff's definition of "certainty" was a positive definition based on what certainty IS -- i.e., having conclusive evidence. I was contrasting this to other definitions of "certainty" that define it negatively in terms of what it IS NOT - i.e., it does not have any doubt.

When I wrote that Dr. Peikoff "does not say that there is no longer any possibility of doubt," I meant just that literally. He doesn't make any claims whatsoever about the possibility (or impossibility) of doubt. I did not mean to say or imply that there was a possibility of doubt at all. As Dr. Peikoff wrote, there is no grounds for asserting that possibility.

My preceding post explains why inconclusiveness of evidence and doubt are necessarily co-extensive. Given two known non-arbitrary alternatives, to have doubt you merely need a lack of conclusive evidence for one in particular. Since doubt and inconclusiveness of evidence are co-extensive, a claim that grounds for doubt no longer exist is a positive claim about having conclusive evidence. Thus, defining certainty as freedom from doubt is more than just one dictionary definition; in this context, it describes the essence of the concept.

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As presented in OPAR, when evidence does not reach the standard of proof there is grounds for doubt.

Only in the sense that "Considering that I don't know enough about this, maybe there's something I don't know that would disprove it." That does not mean there is specific, identifiable grounds for a specific, identifiable doubt.

I would respectfully suggest that you are overlooking the fact that in merely entertaining the assertion to build evidence to reach a standard of proof, that there must be an alternative that you are considering.

That doesn't follow. When Ayn Rand refused to endorse Darwin's theory, it did not mean she had any reason to doubt it or that she had an "alternative" explanation but only that she didn't know enough about it to be sure it was true. The basic doubt is that one does not have enough evidence for a conclusion and not that one has any specific, identifiable alternative.

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Since doubt and inconclusiveness of evidence are co-extensive, a claim that grounds for doubt no longer exist is a positive claim about having conclusive evidence.

Is it, or is it the other way around? Having conclusive evidence is what causes doubt to be dismissed because the conclusive evidence contradicts the doubt.

The opposite is not necessarily true. The fact that you have little knowledge of, and no reason to doubt, the theory of relativity does not establish it as conclusively true.

Thus, defining certainty as freedom from doubt is more than just one dictionary definition; in this context, it describes the essence of the concept.

I don't think so nor do I see Dr. Peikoff defining it that way. An essential definition is in terms of causes rather than consequences. Having conclusive evidence causes and results in the dismissal of doubt as contradictory. Observe that Peikoff defines certainty positively as having conclusive evidence and then mentions lack of doubt afterward as a consequence.

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Only in the sense that "Considering that I don't know enough about this, maybe there's something I don't know that would disprove it." That does not mean there is specific, identifiable grounds for a specific, identifiable doubt.

Actually no, in the OPAR example there are multiple suspects in a murder case, each of whom at least partially fulfill the standard of proof. But the principle applies in answer to the question of why further investigation is ever needed. Were it not for the possibility, however generally arrived at in light of what you know, that your preferred conclusion might actually be wrong, you most assuredly ought not be holding out for more evidence.

That doesn't follow. When Ayn Rand refused to endorse Darwin's theory, it did not mean she had any reason to doubt it or that she had an "alternative" explanation but only that she didn't know enough about it to be sure it was true. The basic doubt is that one does not have enough evidence for a conclusion and not that one has any specific, identifiable alternative.

What you describe is a different thing altogether. One obviously cannot consider a claim if one doesn't know with sufficient precision what the claim even is. But once you have detailed the claim with particularity and have garnered sufficient evidence to consider it as something non-arbitrary, a proper standard of proof derives from the reasons you have to doubt, i.e. alternative explanations. Such reasons assuredly exist, or you wouldn't be withholding your endorsement. There is not, repeat NOT, a freestanding hurdle serving as an arbitrary standard of proof that tells you when you know "enough". It is contextual and rooted in alternative explanations that form your reasons for doubt. See, e.g. my desert island scenario above. Were it otherwise, your chosen standard of proof would not apply.

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What you describe is a different thing altogether. One obviously cannot consider a claim if one doesn't know with sufficient precision what the claim even is. But once you have detailed the claim with particularity and have garnered sufficient evidence to consider it as something non-arbitrary, a proper standard of proof derives from the reasons you have to doubt, i.e. alternative explanations. Such reasons assuredly exist, or you wouldn't be withholding your endorsement.

I don't know if this is necessarily true. I personally don't know of any alternatives to evolution, though there is some debate as to whether the changes take place slowly (Darwin) or quickly (based on the more modern understanding of DNA changes). I think there is no scientific debate that living beings evolve, but the debate is more centered around precisely how these changes take place; and that Darwin's idea of evolution occur after the fact that the living beings have changed (the parents giving birth to an offspring that is different enough from the parents to either have an advantage or a disadvantage). However, I haven't heard of this being called anything other than "evolution;" so there is currently no scientific alternative. But, just because there is no alternative, this does not make evolution the correct idea. In other words, just because evolution is the only theory, this in and of itself does not make evolution necessarily correct.

I don't see this as being different from the debate about certainty. If you don't know the facts or don't know how to integrate them together, then you can't be certain about their scientific conclusions. This is similar to discussions about black holes and other new scientific discoveries for which some scientists claim they are certain that the standard of proof has been met. They seem to be very certain about their conclusions, but if you, the viewer of a science show, don't know about it as clearly, then you can't be certain just because they make a claim and have translated it down into laymen terms. I have a background in physics, but I can't say that I am certain black holes exist, because I haven't studied that area of physics, even though it seems reasonable that they have found something that seems to be a black hole given the evidence they present -- and I have no idea what the alternative explanation would be. (I'm leaving aside whether or not black holes can actually be infinitesimally small -- i.e. point-like.)

In short, one doesn't necessarily need an alternative explanation in order to have doubt about a conclusion; one may simply not know enough to reach certainty on a given topic.

And taking this back to the discussion on someone's virtue, one may not know enough to come to a conclusion about someone's virtue (or lack thereof) based on the evidence that one does have. But this is why we have the concepts possible, probable, and certain. And I don't think the fact that he has volition is any grounds for doubt one way or the other. If you don't know enough about him, then you can't come to a conclusion about his virtue (or lack thereof). Not because there is an alternative -- he is either virtuous or not -- but because you don't know the context and why he made the decision that he made. However, saying that we can't read his mind is not sufficient grounds for doubt. If one doesn't have the evidence or know how to integrate the evidence together to form a conclusion, then one can't form a conclusion. I see this as being very similar to the issue of evolution and black holes.

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Tom,

how would you define "enough" in this context? By what standard?

I think the standard would be the standard of proof for a given topic or item, but one would also have to be in a position to accept the standard of proof or reject it.

For example, given the science shows I have watched and given my background, I know that scientists have found things in deep space that give off extremely high x-rays and gamma rays. I don't doubt those facts. But in order for me to confirm as certain that they have found black holes, I would have to know about the theory in some details -- i.e. past what point of x-ray emission or gamma ray emission would the theory say that it was a black hole definitively? I personally don't know, though their explanation that gases falling into the black hole would definitely radiate x-rays and gamma rays due to their high temperature makes sense.

Likewise with evolution. I can say that scientists have definitely found links between extinct living beings and current living beings, and it is presented as if those changes took place over millions of years of changes -- say from specific dinosaurs to birds. But I haven't studied the evidence first hand, nor do I know personally that this particular dinosaur is definitely related to this particular bird because I haven't personally studied the fossils. So, I am not in a position to say that they are right or wrong, but only that given the evidence they presented that it makes sense.

So, given my particular knowledge and the fact that man's mind is individual rather than collective, I can say that the existence of black holes and evolution make sense; that, to me, both theories are highly probable -- but not certain due to my lack of knowledge. Some scientists claim they have reached the standard of proof, but some others say they haven't. In general terms, I can say that I think both evolution and black holes are real, but I'm not absolutely certain. I don't know of an alternative in either case, but I don't have the knowledge of either specific field to say, with absolute certainty, that black holes exist or that birds came from dinosaurs.

Similarly, for a given individual, one might have a standard of proof for virtue or vice, but not know enough about a given individual to say with certainty that he has met the standard for either conclusion. One could say, given the evidence, that he is probably virtuous; but if one lacks the facts then one cannot integrate it up to a definitive conclusion.

So, knowing enough means having both the facts and the integration (say a theory) to come to a definite conclusion one way or the other. But the facts are primary, and if one doesn't have those facts, then one cannot come to a definitive conclusion even if the theory is logical. In other words, one would have to be in a position to judge both the facts and the theory one is applying those facts to, in order to say with certainty that the standard of proof has been met.

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I think the standard would be the standard of proof for a given topic or item, but one would also have to be in a position to accept the standard of proof or reject it.
How is the standard of proof for a proposition established? What are its characteristics -- how do you know when you have it? I want to avoid an infinite regress of responses of the type "It depends on what you are investigating", but at the same time I'd also like to avoid highly concrete-bound examples that don't generalize. The problem is that the "standard of proof" isn't given ad hoc for each case by a deity, and I don't think it helps to propose something like "whatever does yield true conclusions" since that amounts to saying "flop around without guidance until you hit on something that works".

So I propose that the standard of proof for all questions is: that there is undeniable evidence that points to a particular conclusion, which can be integrated with the totality of knowledge, and that the totality of knowledge does not also provide unrefuted support for an alternative conclusion. Accordingly: if propositions A and B are fully consistent with the known facts, then you cannot chose A over B, because the standard of proof for distinguishing the propositions has not been met, even if you can be certain that "It's either A or B". Furthermore: a proposition for which there exists undeniable counterevidence -- even if that evidence does not support any existing alternative proposition -- fails to satisfy the standard of proof. Finally: a proposition for which there is no evidence one way or the other is not even "possible", much less "certain" ergo proven.

But in order for me to confirm as certain that they have found black holes, I would have to know about the theory in some details -- i.e. past what point of x-ray emission or gamma ray emission would the theory say that it was a black hole definitively?
I don't see how that helps you, unless you have first established that the underlying theory is certain. It isn't sufficient to establish that gases falling into a black hole would radiate x-rays: that would only establish that black holes are possible. We know, from visits to the dentist's office, that there exist other means of generating x-rays besides black holes. To move x-rays into the category of proof, you would have to show that the x-rays could not possibly arise from some other means.

You're right that "just because evolution is the only theory, this in and of itself does not make evolution necessarily correct". What does it is the fact that there exist evidence -- vast amounts of evidence -- that support the theory, and no evidence against it. If you were in the position that you don't know what the theory of evolution actually says, or were unaware of any of the evidence, they you might be personally uncomfortable in reaching a conclusion. But assuming you do have basic training in science and an "ordinary non-Baptist's understanding" of the evidence for evolution, then I maintain that you cannot reasonably deny that evolution has met the standard of proof.

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If you were in the position that you don't know what the theory of evolution actually says, or were unaware of any of the evidence, they you might be personally uncomfortable in reaching a conclusion. But assuming you do have basic training in science and an "ordinary non-Baptist's understanding" of the evidence for evolution, then I maintain that you cannot reasonably deny that evolution has met the standard of proof.

It's not an issue of being uncomfortable with the theory of evolution. You might know what it says in general terms, but not have the evidence personally to either affirm it or deny it. Knowledge does not exist out there somewhere other than in some particular person's head -- i.e. in his consciousness. For example, one could not take the position that since you neither affirm nor deny evolution, that therefore you are not rational. Evolution is a very specific theory that requires specific investigation into the facts in order to reach a conclusion.

With that said, however, I most certainly did not present Creationism as an alternative explanation. I am not personally uncomfortable with the idea that we probably evolved from microscopic organisms. I merely haven't seen all the evidence in order to come to that conclusion first hand; that is, I haven't studied that field of science.

On the other hand, those who want to claim Creationism have no facts on their side, since they would have to first prove that God exists, which they haven't done. It's an arbitrary assertion to claim that we were created out of dirt by God, as it claims in the Bible.

When Miss Rand offered no affirmation and no denial of the theory of evolution, she was simply saying that she didn't know enough about that particular field of science to have an informed opinion one way or the other. She was most definitely not saying that therefore Creationism was plausible. Creationism does not rise up to the level of a scientific theory. It is hokum through and through.

It would be like me asking you if it is proper to use wood product backing when framing a very expensive piece of art. If you don't know about picture framing, then you can't form an opinion about that particular field. But it wouldn't mean that you were not rational. Similarly, one doesn't have to have an opinion about evolution one way or the other to be rational.

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Actually no, in the OPAR example there are multiple suspects in a murder case, each of whom at least partially fulfill the standard of proof. But the principle applies in answer to the question of why further investigation is ever needed. Were it not for the possibility, however generally arrived at in light of what you know, that your preferred conclusion might actually be wrong, you most assuredly ought not be holding out for more evidence.

If you haven't determined the cause yet, you should be holding out for more evidence.

For instance, it was noted when I was studying finance, that every time womens' hemlines went up, so did the stock market and vice versa. All the evidence confirmed it and no evidence contradicted it. There was no evidence to the contrary to raise a doubt. The only problem was, there was no reason to believe hemlines were causally related to stock prices or how.

What you describe is a different thing altogether. One obviously cannot consider a claim if one doesn't know with sufficient precision what the claim even is. But once you have detailed the claim with particularity and have garnered sufficient evidence to consider it as something non-arbitrary, a proper standard of proof derives from the reasons you have to doubt, i.e. alternative explanations.

That begs the question What is "sufficient evidence to consider it as something non-arbitrary?"

Such reasons assuredly exist, or you wouldn't be withholding your endorsement. There is not, repeat NOT, a freestanding hurdle serving as an arbitrary standard of proof that tells you when you know "enough".

But there is a real, non-arbitrary standard of proof that tells you when you know "enough". The standard is, "Have I found the cause yet?"

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