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The concept of "certainty" has been used to mean different things by different posters. For what I mean by certainty, see this post.
For the third time, I will ask you, what is the difference that you are invoking between "100% certain" and "certain beyond reasonable doubt"? The definition which you gave in #52 for '"certainty" or 'absolute certainty'" simply restates Peikoff's definition. If you agree with his definition, as you did in #82, then validating a proposition beyond resonable doubt is being certain; and if you are certain, you are 100% certain (the idea of 1% certain is ridiculous -- such a low level of evidentiary support cannot possibly be called "certainty"). To say that you are 99% certain is a misuse of the term "certain". It means that you are very firmly convinced and that there is almost no reason to doubt the truth of the claim, but still there does remain some small reason to doubt, something that still needs to be checked. That means if you are "99% certain", you are not certain beyond a reasonable doubt -- there still exists a reason to doubt.

You do not define the difference between "100% certain" and "certain beyond reasonable doubt" in post #52. Maintaining that there is a difference between "100% certain" and "certain beyond reasonable doubt", as you have done here, is meaningless unless you reject Peikoff's characterization of the concept "certain" (which is why I asked you if whether you rejected Peikoff's definition). If knowledge could be acquired by some other means besides using reason and your axiomatic knowledge, then it would be possible for a person to be "beyond reasonable doubt" but not be "100% certain". Since man has no other means of acquiring knowledge, the notion of something that is "beyond beyond reasonable doubt" makes no sense.

So what, in your opinion, is the difference between "100% certain" and "certain beyond reasonable doubt"?

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Perhaps I was unclear. Simply put, the law uses this principle ("beyond a reasonable doubt") as the standard of GUILT, as you correctly say. But you are using it as a standard of INNOCENCE.
That too. "Innocent" means "without guilt." That's why the principle is innocent until proven guilty. "Innocent" does not mean "virtuous." Virtue is a positive quality of character and not merely the absence of vice.
So, if i told a lie once in the last seven years then i am not moral? or does it have to be in the last seven days? 7 hours?
It is contextual. Telling a lie to force-initiators is not wrong, but telling a lie to gain or keep a value you have no right to is dishonesty. How much dishonesty and whether dishonesty rises to the level of a character trait is also contextual. If the worst thing someone ever did is tell a lie seven years ago which he corrected and regretted ever since, he is definitely an honest man as compared to, say, Bill Clinton.
As i argued earlier, by this kind of epistemology, we are not certain of anything except things that are directly before us, perceptually.
Yes! plus the Laws of Logic and all proper logical inferences from sense perception. Sense perception is the base, reference point, and gold standard of all knowledge. If an idea cannot be reduced to sense perception it is suspect. If it contradicts sense perception it is WRONG.
Thus, even when I address you as Ms Speicher, I shouldn't be totally certain that that's your name because you could have changed it in the last two hours. A woman can't even be totally certain that her husband loves her or that he is happily married to her (it could have changed in the last two minutes, or perhaps it's false because he didn't love her for a moment last week?). All this strikes me as odd epistemology. But even stranger is the idea that if you just do ONE wrong action then you are immoral (or at least not moral).
The principle here is that you go with the evidence you DO have and don't question it until and unless you have a reason to -- which means until and unless you have evidence that contradicts your conclusion. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Let's accept that a person has to act moral all the time to be moral, but to be immoral he has to be immoral occasionally.So, what happens when a person acts immoral once and only once? Since by your standard he has not been moral all the time, he is not moral. But also, he is not immoral OCCASIONALLY, since it is only once, so he is not immoral either. So, the person is not moral and he is not immoral. Contradiction?
Nope. If a person was immoral occasionally but has reformed and is now 100% moral, the correct conclusion is "the person was not moral and he is (now) not immoral." No contradiction.
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For the third time, I will ask you, what is the difference that you are invoking between "100% certain" and "certain beyond reasonable doubt"?

100% certain means certain beyond ALL doubt. It means that for it to be otherwise would be a contradiction.

The following is 100% certain.

Whatever you choose to consider, be it an object, an attribute or an action, the law of identity remains the same. A leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and all green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A. Or, if you wish it stated in simpler language: You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

Absolutely nothing will ever contradict that.

On the other hand, there have been criminal cases where all 12 members of the jury justly decided that there was sufficient evidence to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant had the motive, means, and opportunity to commit a particular crime and, therefore, convicted him. Years later evidence surfaced proving he could not have committed the crime, and he was acquitted.

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You do not define the difference between "100% certain" and "certain beyond reasonable doubt" in post #52.

This is what I wrote. The first paragraph refers to "100% certainty" and the second to the kind of knowledge that might be "certain beyond reasonable doubt."

I use the term "certainty" or "absolute certainty" to describe direct sense perception, axiomatic truths, and causal explanations that can be shown to reduce to sense perception and logical inference (using axiomatic truths).

I use "degrees of certainty," "possibilty," and "probability" to describe the epistemological status of knowledge -- but knowledge that is not absolutely certain.

Maintaining that there is a difference between "100% certain" and "certain beyond reasonable doubt", as you have done here, is meaningless unless you reject Peikoff's characterization of the concept "certain" (which is why I asked you if whether you rejected Peikoff's definition).

The problem is that there are two different meanings being used here for the word "certainty." One is what some refer to as "100% certainty" or "absolute certainty" for a truth that, by its nature can never be contradicted.

It is also used, as Peikoff does, to mean certain enough to form a logically valid conclusion.

A conclusion is "certain" when the evidence in its favor is conclusive; i.e., when it has been logically validated. At this stage, one has gone beyond "substantial" evidence. Rather, the total of the available evidence points in a single direction, and this evidence fulfills the standard of proof. In such a context, there is nothing to suggest even the possibility of another interpretation. There are, therefore, no longer any grounds for doubt

Thus, I don't think I am disagreeing with Peikoff because his concept is a different -- and wider -- concept than my "100% certainty."

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100% certain means certain beyond ALL doubt. It means that for it to be otherwise would be a contradiction.
Ah! Now I get it. Peikoff characterizes certainty in terms of evidence -- if all evidence points at the conclusion and no evidence points away from the conclusion, if there is no reason to doubt, then the conclusion is certain. Peikoff's account of certainty reduces the notion to "lack of reasoned doubt". But you just said that certain means lack of doubt, with no qualifications. Not just no reasoned doubt, but no doubt at all, not even unreasoned doubt.
Absolutely nothing will ever contradict that.
That is, only so-called 'analytic truths' are 100% certain.

For example, if you were to cut yourself with a kitchen knife, you could be "certain beyond a reasonable doubt" that you had done so, because of the compelling evidence of the senses, but you could not be "100% certain" of it, since you could imagine it being the case that the visual evidence was a clever holographic trick and feeling of pain might possibly be caused by some external mind-control device. Even though you have no reason to believe in this alternative explanation, you could still choose to doubt your senses, since the claim that you cut yourself if not an analytic one.

If unreasoned doubt destroys absolute certainty, then absolute certainty would have no role in man's cognition, which is based only on reason, so I had not expected you to find any grounds for distinguishing "certain beyond a reasonable doubt" and "100% certain". But admitting arbitrary alternatives is a way of creating doubt. It is self-defeating, since I can't be absolutely certain that a stone cannot be a leaf at the same time (disregarding this kind of case). Although I have no reason to think that there is such a thing as a stone-leaf, I cannot be absolutely certain, certain with no regard to knowledge context, that there can be no such thing.

I agree that your notion of "100% certain" is the narrower one. It includes everything that is in Peikoff's -- conclusions that enjoy full evidentiary support and no counter-evidence (that is, "at least beyond reasonable doubt") -- and further restricts the concept by eliminating from the "full evidentiary support" conclusions, any for which there is doubt that is not based on reason. I argue though that the narrower concept is not valid for human cognition.

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The problem is that there are two different meanings being used here for the word "certainty." One is what some refer to as "100% certainty" or "absolute certainty" for a truth that, by its nature can never be contradicted.

But there are two different meanings within this reference also. If someone is using "100% certainty" as a meaning for the word "certainty", then to that person "100% certainty" must mean "100% 100% certainty" just as "absolute certainty" must mean "absolute absolute certainty". The qualifiers are redundant and unhelpful if the same person uses "certainty" and "100% certainty" interchangeably. Therefore, I am still unsure of what you think "certain" means, or why you would say something like "100% certainty" rather than just "certainty", given your definition. So yeah, it's a problem all right.

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That too. "Innocent" means "without guilt." That's why the principle is innocent until proven guilty. "Innocent" does not mean "virtuous." Virtue is a positive quality of character and not merely the absence of vice.

I can't imagine how a person who has no vice can be anything but virtuous, but I guess we'll just have to leave that one there.

It is contextual. Telling a lie to force-initiators is not wrong, but telling a lie to gain or keep a value you have no right to is dishonesty. How much dishonesty and whether dishonesty rises to the level of a character trait is also contextual.

Well, this contradicts what you said earlier, and which I was questioning: that one act of immorality necessarily means a person is not moral. But I guess the important thing is that we are now in agreement.

I agree that it is contextual. But this then brings a problem to your position. If you accept that it is contextual, then you should see why your application of certainty is wrong on this issue. In Objectivism, knowledge is contextual. So, 100 per cent certainty is always subject to context.

So, if i ask you if you are alone in your room, you will look around, and since you trust your perceptions, you will say with certainty that you are alone in your room. But immediately after saying that, a man could appear behind you and inform you that he's been there all along except that he's found a way of becoming invisible, and detectable only by infra-red light. So, you were in fact wrong when you said that you were alone in your room. Which means that by your standard, even perception can't give you 100 per cent certainty, only certainty "beyond a reasonable doubt" right?.

But in my epistemology, I can still say you were right to be (100 per cent) certain when you said you were alone in your room, simply because knowledge (and certainty) is contextual. So, if what you see is that you are alone in your room (after checking all the closets, etc), then you should be 100 per cent certain that you are alone. What we subsequently discover does not change the fact that you were RIGHT to be totally certain (given the evidence before you and a rational evaluation of it).

Similarly, if this was the type of evidence presented before a jury to show that you were alone in a room at a time a certain crime was committed, the jury could convict you on that basis. If you were certain (because you did not know of the secret invisibility technology), then even the jury will be certain that you were alone. If after five years they discover that there has been this invisibility technology that criminals have been using to frame others, and which was used in your case, does this mean they should not have been certain? As i said, your epistemology means we should not be certain with just about anything, not even what we perceive with our senses, just because we could subsequently be proved to be wrong.

The principle here is that you go with the evidence you DO have and don't question it until and unless you have a reason to -- which means until and unless you have evidence that contradicts your conclusion.

And this is what I've been saying all along. Remember this discussion came from my earlier proposition - which you rejected - that if someone already has evidence that someone is honest (Ms Hsieh was the subject in this case), then one should "go with that evidence - which means until and unless you have evidence that contradicts your conclusion".

And what does "go with that evidence" mean, if not to be certain? (see my argument above).

Edited by blackdiamond
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Let's say that I have never caught my friend in a lie, and he has displayed remarkable truthfulness in a variety of significant situations. Can I at least be 100% certain that he is 99% honest? Or, if you prefer, maybe I should be 99% certain that he is 100% honest?

What is it about my scenario that should prevent me from evaluating my friend as certainly honest? Put another way: what exactly would be required in order to evaluate someone as certainly honest?

Edited by MisterSwig
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Ah! Now I get it. Peikoff characterizes certainty in terms of evidence -- if all evidence points at the conclusion and no evidence points away from the conclusion, if there is no reason to doubt, then the conclusion is certain. Peikoff's account of certainty reduces the notion to "lack of reasoned doubt".

No it doesn't. Here's what Peikoff said with my emphasis added to show his basis for certainty.

A conclusion is "certain" when the evidence in its favor is conclusive; i.e., when it has been logically validated. At this stage, one has gone beyond "substantial" evidence. Rather, the total of the available evidence points in a single direction, and this evidence fulfills the standard of proof. In such a context, there is nothing to suggest even the possibility of another interpretation. There are, therefore, no longer any grounds for doubt

What is unspecified, and what may differ depending on the context, is what constitutes conclusive evidence, how one logically validates the conclusion, and what is the standard of proof. Conclusive proof in a criminal case requires a different standard of proof than in a civil case and is different from the standard of proof in physics.

But you just said that certain means lack of doubt, with no qualifications. Not just no reasoned doubt, but no doubt at all, not even unreasoned doubt.That is, only so-called 'analytic truths' are 100% certain.

I disagree. There are plenty of truths of which we can be 100% certain (and not just beyond a reasonable doubt) ranging from direct sense perception to complex abstract propositions like "It is only the concept of life that makes the concept of value possible."

For example, if you were to cut yourself with a kitchen knife, you could be "certain beyond a reasonable doubt" that you had done so, because of the compelling evidence of the senses, but you could not be "100% certain" of it, since you could imagine it being the case that the visual evidence was a clever holographic trick and feeling of pain might possibly be caused by some external mind-control device. Even though you have no reason to believe in this alternative explanation, you could still choose to doubt your senses, since the claim that you cut yourself if not an analytic one.

As someone (Dr. Peikoff?) put it, "Fantasy is not a form of cognition." The ability to imagine something grants it no cognitive status. The senses are valid and that is self-evidently, axiomatically true.

If unreasoned doubt destroys absolute certainty, then absolute certainty would have no role in man's cognition, which is based only on reason, so I had not expected you to find any grounds for distinguishing "certain beyond a reasonable doubt" and "100% certain".

The grounds are that, with certain entities (those with free will) our knowledge must be inferred from limited evidence and we must form our conclusions with that in mind. With other entities, we can directly perceive the entities and all their relevant causal properties by direct sense perception or introspection.

But admitting arbitrary alternatives is a way of creating doubt.

So don't do it.

I agree that your notion of "100% certain" is the narrower one. It includes everything that is in Peikoff's -- conclusions that enjoy full evidentiary support and no counter-evidence (that is, "at least beyond reasonable doubt") -- and further restricts the concept by eliminating from the "full evidentiary support" conclusions, any for which there is doubt that is not based on reason. I argue though that the narrower concept is not valid for human cognition.

I think it is when you are dealing with principles, generalizations, and other truths that can be reduced, by identifying causes, to statements of identity. Any idea that can be stated in the form of "A is A," is 100% certain.

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But there are two different meanings within this reference also. If someone is using "100% certainty" as a meaning for the word "certainty", then to that person "100% certainty" must mean "100% 100% certainty" just as "absolute certainty" must mean "absolute absolute certainty". The qualifiers are redundant and unhelpful if the same person uses "certainty" and "100% certainty" interchangeably. Therefore, I am still unsure of what you think "certain" means, or why you would say something like "100% certainty" rather than just "certainty", given your definition. So yeah, it's a problem all right.

The problem is that the word "certainty" is used for two different, but related concepts. It is similar to the way "value" is used to mean both rational values and anything a person seeks to gain and/or keep regardless of whether it is rational.

The only way I see around this is to define one's terms and qualify one's use of the terms ("100% certain" vs. "certain beyond a reasonable doubt"), as necessary, to maintain clarity.

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What is it about my scenario that should prevent me from evaluating my friend as certainly honest? Put another way: what exactly would be required in order to evaluate someone as certainly honest?

If I could read his mind and be as aware of his every action as I am of my own, I would know whether he ever tells little white lies when I'm not around, says things he knows aren't true to avoid blame or embarrassment, shades the truth to give people the wrong impression, lies to himself about his true motives, etc. I would know that, despite what I have seen, he isn't totally honest. On the other hand, if my mindreading reveals he is so cognitively conscientious that, for him, it is a matter of pride and his own self-interest that he verifies his statements carefully before he ever utters a word, I would know that he is a totally honest man.

Unfortunately, I am not a mindreader, and unlike many I have encountered, I don't pretend to be. While I can see and appraise another person's statements and actions, I cannot access what causes them -- the inner operations of his mind.

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The problem is that the word "certainty" is used for two different, but related concepts. It is similar to the way "value" is used to mean both rational values and anything a person seeks to gain and/or keep regardless of whether it is rational.

The only way I see around this is to define one's terms and qualify one's use of the terms ("100% certain" vs. "certain beyond a reasonable doubt"), as necessary, to maintain clarity.

It seems that what you are really doing is distinguishing conclusions that are axiomatic versus those that require proof. That's fine. A is A is axiomatic. Why not just say so? That doesn't make it any more proven, because one cannot prove an axiom. Yes, you are certain of it. You are also certain of propositions that have been sufficiently established in a given context. Certainty is binary. A conclusion is either certain or it isn't. There are no degrees of certainty, any more than there are degrees of arbitrariness, or degrees of impossibility.

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To embellish that last point: certainty refers to a single concept. What differs is the nature of the proposition. I am certain that I am myself, axiomatically. I am also certain that day will follow night, because all of the evidence points in that direction. Those are not two different kinds of certainty though.

To bifurcate certainty into greater axiomatic and lesser non-axiomatic certainty does real violence to the concept "certainty" and to human cognition by introducing unwarranted doubt. Why? Because that consequence follows from the bifurcation. The only way there can be two different kinds of certainty is for one to include doubt while the other remains doubtless. Otherwise, the bifurcation is meaningless.

This is a basic epistemological issue. If the only truths of which we permit ourselves to be certain are axiomatic, then we will never be free of groundless, arbitrary doubt. But if we can be certain (as we must) of propositions having full evidentiary support, then there can be only one concept of certainty. It's either-or. There is no in-between.

Edited by Seeker
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It seems that what you are really doing is distinguishing conclusions that are axiomatic versus those that require proof. That's fine. A is A is axiomatic. Why not just say so? That doesn't make it any more proven, because one cannot prove an axiom. Yes, you are certain of it. You are also certain of propositions that have been sufficiently established in a given context. Certainty is binary. A conclusion is either certain or it isn't. There are no degrees of certainty, any more than there are degrees of arbitrariness, or degrees of impossibility.

I am using certainty to mean more than axiomatic truths. I am also using it with regard to sense perception and anything that follows from it without contradiction.

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This is a basic epistemological issue. If the only truths of which we permit ourselves to be certain are axiomatic, then we will never be free of groundless, arbitrary doubt. But if we can be certain (as we must) of propositions having full evidentiary support, then there can be only one concept of certainty. It's either-or. There is no in-between.

I think it is necessary to distinguish between two different concepts both denoted by the word "certainty."

C1 is what is called 100% certainty, absolute certainty, or something that could not be otherwise without contradiction.

C2 refers conclusions that may or may not be C1, but have such a high degree of probability that they are considered conclusive because they have met the epistemological standard of proof for the particular class of entities that are the subject of the conclusion. This is what I think you mean by conclusions having "full evidentiary support."

My view is that one can have C1 about axioms, sense perception, and many conclusions derived and inferred from sense perception using rules of logic to preserve identity throughout. It is also legitimate to speak of C2, and I believe that is what Dr. Peikoff is referring to in the passage we have been quoting where he talks about conclusive evidence, logically validated, that fulfills a standard of proof. In some contexts, like judging a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the applicable standard of proof allows for C2, but not C1.

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I think it is necessary to distinguish between two different concepts both denoted by the word "certainty."
To clarify, when you say one cannot be 100% certain, are you referring to certainty about another person's intent?

Take the case of a thief. One might look at the facts: the broken window, the disabled alarm, the surveillance video, his past history of stealing, the testimony of two friends to whom he confessed, and so on. With all this evidence in hand, one knows beyond reasonable doubt that he has stolen. If he denies it, I do not see how that changes our certainty. To my mind, if we have enough evidence, we can be 100% certain that he did a certain act, since that act is done "in the external world", so to speak. Further, there may also be enough evidence to counter his claim that it was a mistake. Even claims like "I was high and did not know what I was doing", might be countered with evidence that he was not.

Are you speaking, then, of a situation where the person does not deny stealing, but denies doing so volitionally? E.g. a claim that he is of unsound mind.

It is true that one might act against a thief -- fire him or arrest him -- even without evidence approaching certainity. However, in principle, if one has the right set of evidence, then the only possible doubt could be that the person has some brain malfunction which we do not understand.

If the person in question is a normal, sane adult, then -- at least in principle -- we can have enough evidence to be 100% in our judgement of him. If we exclude unknown brain disease, I cannot see why one cannot be certain. Are you saying that, in practice, it is extremely difficult to get the required evidence; or, are you saying that it is impossible in principle?

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I am using certainty to mean more than axiomatic truths. I am also using it with regard to sense perception and anything that follows from it without contradiction.

Then you would have to say that you can be certain of someone's moral character based on the evidence that you do have; which is no different than being certain of anything else. You go by the evidence, continuously. By saying that someone is moral, one is not saying that tomorrow he may change his mind and decide to become immoral tomorrow; to come to that conclusion, one would have to have the evidence for an immoral act. While it is true that a man has free will, saying that he is moral, at least in part, means that he goes through the effort to remain true to reality; since being rational is not the default.

I don't think predictability is the primary issue, at least not in the sense of predictability regarding non-volitional matter. I don't know specifically how someone is going to reply to this post, but given this thread, I can make a good guess. And I haven't seen any posts in thread that would indicate a breach of morality.

And I don't understand why a long-term advocate of Objectivism would be claiming that we can't be morally certain of someone's character based on the available evidence. If someone were trying to get away with something, I could understand them taking such a position; to say, "You can't be certain!" But if you are moral by a rational standard, then why would you advocate uncertainty with regard to morally judging others? As some have already pointed out, if we take your position as it has been expressed in this thread, then none of us can be certain of your moral character based on what we know about you.

Why in the world would you do that?

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C1 is what is called 100% certainty, absolute certainty, or something that could not be otherwise without contradiction.
Contradiction of what? Take a volume of plain unadultrated H20 at sea-level atmospheric presure: it will freeze at 0 C. Could that be otherwise without contradiction, and thus only C2?
C2 refers conclusions that may or may not be C1, but have such a high degree of probability that they are considered conclusive because they have met the epistemological standard of proof for the particular class of entities that are the subject of the conclusion. This is what I think you mean by conclusions having "full evidentiary support."
Well, no, this is too weak. As Peikoff points out, when a conclusion has been so well supported that there is no basis in reason to doubt the conclusion, it is "certain". That would be more appropriately labeled C2. What you are describing should then be called C3, the "high degree of probability" notion, and this is not strictly speaking being "certain", it is being "very, very probable". He makes a clear categorial distinction between "certain" and the lesser degrees of evidentiary support.

I am compelled to object to your constant injection of the ridiculous legal "beyond reaonable doubt" phrase. It is well known that the conduct of jurors in the legal system is a complete mockery of the notion of "reason", "doubt" and "certainty". You may want to read some of the threads here on the problem of juries, and more genreally, it is well established that jurors do not correctly understand the concept of reasonable doubt (this is the topic of a very large area of legal research), and they do not reliably apply anything like that standard in reaching verdicts. If you are drawing an analogy between the conduct of juries in criminal cases (for example the Peterson case), that is a clear error, since we're dealing in the actual concept of doubt based in reason, and not the emotional reaction that passes for logic for many criminal juries. What juries do is not what "reasonable doubt" means. Reasonable doubt means "a doubt which is based in reason" -- the integration of an entire knowledge context, using logic.

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I think it is necessary to distinguish between two different concepts both denoted by the word "certainty."

I think it's not, because certainty is a single concept meaning freedom from doubt. There are different ways to arrive at certainty, depending on the nature of the proposition. It may even be necessary to distinguish them sometimes. That does not mean that the word "certainty" denotes multiple concepts. That's like saying there are two different kinds of cars: cars purchased on credit, and cars bought with cash. It really has nothing to do with what a car is. Nor does the way in which certainty is established have anything to do with what certainty is.

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What is it about my scenario that should prevent me from evaluating my friend as certainly honest? Put another way: what exactly would be required in order to evaluate someone as certainly honest?

The fantasy of mindreading has absolutely nothing to do with the human context of my scenario. If absolute knowledge of my friend's every thought and action is required for certainty about his honesty, then such a standard is necessarily beyond my reach. It cannot possibly apply to me. So why raise the issue?

I'm not interested in some sort of supercertainty only achievable to a mindreader who spies on his friend 24/7. I'm interested in the kind of certainty that is actually possible to me, a human being.

I presented a scenario to you in which I have never caught my friend in a lie, and I have witnessed his honesty in numerous significant situations. You said I could evaluate him as "probably honest." So, again, I ask: short of mindreading and nonstop spying, what is required for me to evaluate my friend as certainly honest?

Or, is it your position that I cannot be certain of someone's honesty no matter how much evidence I have, because maybe they tell lies when I'm not around? If so, then shouldn't we reject the notion of certainty in every case where we can arbitrarily imagine evidence against the position in question? For example, despite all the evidence in her favor, how can I be certain that my girlfriend is still loyal to me? After all, she could be sleeping with some other guy when I'm not around.

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To clarify, when you say one cannot be 100% certain, are you referring to certainty about another person's intent?

Yes, which would be true of anyone whose minds we cannot directly access and whose intent we must infer from their actions.

Take the case of a thief. One might look at the facts: the broken window, the disabled alarm, the surveillance video, his past history of stealing, the testimony of two friends to whom he confessed, and so on. With all this evidence in hand, one knows beyond reasonable doubt that he has stolen. If he denies it, I do not see how that changes our certainty. To my mind, if we have enough evidence, we can be 100% certain that he did a certain act, since that act is done "in the external world", so to speak. Further, there may also be enough evidence to counter his claim that it was a mistake. Even claims like "I was high and did not know what I was doing", might be countered with evidence that he was not.

I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it, the prosecution has to prove motive, method, and opportunity.

Are you speaking, then, of a situation where the person does not deny stealing, but denies doing so volitionally? E.g. a claim that he is of unsound mind.

It is more than that. I have heard that to be convicted of a crime, a person has to have criminal intent -- i.e., have the motive to do something that violates rights. People who are not of sound mind may not be able to have a criminal intent because they don't have what it takes to know the difference between right and wrong.

It is true that one might act against a thief -- fire him or arrest him -- even without evidence approaching certainity. However, in principle, if one has the right set of evidence, then the only possible doubt could be that the person has some brain malfunction which we do not understand.

It might also be that the act was an accident and the defendant never intended to hurt the victim. It could also be an act of self defense where the motive was to protect oneself rather than initiate force.

If the person in question is a normal, sane adult, then -- at least in principle -- we can have enough evidence to be 100% in our judgement of him. If we exclude unknown brain disease, I cannot see why one cannot be certain. Are you saying that, in practice, it is extremely difficult to get the required evidence; or, are you saying that it is impossible in principle?

I think it is possible to be 100% certain that a person did a particular act, especially if you are an eyewitness to it, but you can't have the same certainty about someone else's motives. You'd have to get inside his head to know for sure whether he had criminal intent, was able to understand the nature of his act, was trying to defend himself, etc.That is why, in this context, the required evidence is not 100% certainty but "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Edited by Betsy
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It might also be that the act was an accident and the defendant never intended to hurt the victim. It could also be an act of self defense where the motive was to protect oneself rather than initiate force.

It might also be that the moon is made of green cheese. But we have dispensed with arbitrary claims, or so I thought.

I think it is possible to be 100% certain that a person did a particular act, especially if you are an eyewitness to it, but you can't have the same certainty about someone else's motives.

Certainty means one thing only. If it isn't "the same certainty", then it is not certain and that word should not be used.

That is why, in this context, the required evidence is not 100% certainty but "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Since certainty means freedom from doubt, this statement is self-contradictory.

Edited by Seeker
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The fantasy of mindreading has absolutely nothing to do with the human context of my scenario. If absolute knowledge of my friend's every thought and action is required for certainty about his honesty, then such a standard is necessarily beyond my reach. It cannot possibly apply to me. So why raise the issue?

I didn't. it was raised by those claiming that 100% certainty was possible when it comes to assessing the honesty of others.

In my view, to have 100% certainty, you need to be able to identify the cause of something. When it comes to another person's behavior, the causes are his motives and his knowledge, but these are not directly perceivable and must be inferred from the behavior of someone who is capable of trying to deceive you.

I'm not interested in some sort of supercertainty only achievable to a mindreader who spies on his friend 24/7. I'm interested in the kind of certainty that is actually possible to me, a human being.

Me too!

I'm 100% certain of my observations of the behavior of others. I am 100% certain of my own motivation and other things I can introspect about. I am 100% certain of many principles of human psychology that I have learned or developed over the years. What I am not certain of are exactly what may cause or motivate a given person to take a particular action. All I can do is use the 100% certain, but limited, knowledge I do have to make the best judgment I can.

I presented a scenario to you in which I have never caught my friend in a lie, and I have witnessed his honesty in numerous significant situations. You said I could evaluate him as "probably honest." So, again, I ask: short of mindreading and nonstop spying, what is required for me to evaluate my friend as certainly honest?

Estimating someone else's honesty with 100% certainty can't be done. Estimating as carefully as you can with all the information you you actually have should be done.

Or, is it your position that I cannot be certain of someone's honesty no matter how much evidence I have, because maybe they tell lies when I'm not around? If so, then shouldn't we reject the notion of certainty in every case where we can arbitrarily imagine evidence against the position in question? For example, despite all the evidence in her favor, how can I be certain that my girlfriend is still loyal to me? After all, she could be sleeping with some other guy when I'm not around.

It is not arbitrary to assume that people can be honest or dishonest, since that is possible given free will. It is not arbitrary to assume that someone is probably honest or dishonest based on available evidence. It is arbitrary to assume that someone else is 100% honest because that requires evidence that is just not available to us.

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