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Rated: 13+ · Essay · Philosophy · #969810
Philosophical inquiry on the development of truth
What are the differences between “I am certain” and “it is certain”, and is passionate conviction ever sufficient for justifying knowledge?

Certainty is a little like light – you take it for granted, but when you think about what it actually is, you probably couldn’t describe it too much in detail, even if you knew it was a congregation of photons. You can’t exactly pinpoint one spot in the air where light is a tangible object, and yet it affects everything you do. For thousands of years, the particularly wise people sought to discover just what can be known with certainty, that is to say, what can fit into the sentence, “it is certain that...” Certainty in the passive voice meant universal certainty, which everyone was out to find. Nobody ever thought of a personal validation of their knowledge until Rene Descartes, who performed a 2000 year revolution by meditating on his existence. This resulted in the phrase “I am certain,” now as equally profound to be said as “it is certain.” Each phrase has a completely different meaning and a subjective truth which can’t be taken for granted.

I know that the American Revolution occurred in 1776, that my heart pumps about 7000 liters of blood throughout my body per day, that there is a country named Spain, and that my tongue responds to chocolate particularly well because of taste buds. In fact, I claim to know these with certainty. None of these things, however, could I describe why or how it happens in enough detail to the point that a doubtful person would believe me. All these things I know by authority, including the fact that there are obscure things called “taste buds,” and this knowledge constitutes everything I’ve learned sitting in a classroom. Someone more erudite in the subjects of history, biology, or geography may be able to explain them better, but it proves that, since I was old enough to think, I have relied on authority for roughly 95% of my knowledge.

If I were to doubt everything I couldn’t prove with absolute certainty, I would find that my knowledge actually rested on not much at all. Descartes, doing the same thing and using his senses, his ability to be persuaded, and an interesting analogy to wax, found that he existed because he was able to think. All the certainty he had known was thrown away, yet it boiled down to one innate certainty he didn’t have to prove. By this method, he saw that by saying “I am certain,” other things around him became certain.

The fact that passive certainty is translated from personal certainty is demonstrated another way as well. Consider an educated, elite, scholarly man in the 15th century who researches a topic of his interest, say, the possible curvature of the Earth. This man might study and research all the beliefs and “proofs” of a flat Earth and make his own judgment of a round Earth, of which he personally is now certain. This might be accepted by the other educated men, which in time will be accepted by children and uneducated men through authority. Indeed, no child now questions the spherical nature of Earth. The first man didn’t come up with a random theory and promulgate it, but became certain of his belief in order to make it a fact. In that way, “I am certain” can eventually evolve into “it is certain.”

The existence of God is something everyone has debated, challenged, or “proven” at some point in their life, whether with another or within themselves. It is just one example of a situation in which “I am certain” cannot become “it is certain,” even with logical evidence. If one believes that God exists, they may say “I am certain.” As long as the truth is not undoubtedly known, no one may say “it is certain that God exists.” St. Thomas Aquinas set out to prove God’s certainty in Summa Theologica, but people can still refute that work by their own evidence and contradict Thomas Aquinas. Someone may personally accept God, but cannot say it is a fact for all mankind. Areas of knowledge like ethics are often relative to a culture or religion, and therefore are subjectively moderated. Therefore, those who believe in certain ethics, morals, and religions can address their own personal certainty, but may not say “it is certain” because others will not agree. Although certainty is not vitiated by disagreements between two groups, it is affected by these disagreements. Religious beliefs are not provable, and therefore to say that one man’s is correct over another’s is invalid.

This brings me to another point: is passionate conviction sufficient for justifying knowledge? For millennia, reality was everything that people could touch, smell, see, and hear. They were convinced of certain truths and values that today are questioned and some proven false. Before 1500, the Earth was the center of the universe. Each and every European at that time was more or less convinced of that belief, yet today we realize its falseness. In cases like this, where other options are there but not considered, passionate conviction cannot be sufficient.

One way passionate conviction can be disproven to be sufficient in all cases is to consider an argument. To use another cosmological analogy, I will say that Venus is a rocky planet, while Jack argues that it is one of the gas giant planets. Jack is passionately convinced that he has learned and seen through his telescope Venus, which is most certainly a gas giant. There are only two possible outcomes in an argument where two sides are both passionately convinced – one man is correct or no man is correct. In this case, we know that Jack’s perception of the planet Venus is wrong, even though he is passionately convinced. I could even change my argument that Venus was a star, in which case neither of us would be correct. This furthermore proves that passionate conviction does not determine truth.

However, there are times when ardent conviction does produce truth. To be convinced of something by empathy or introspection is valid because emotion dictates these ways of knowing. Emotion also dictates one’s passionate conviction. Therefore, matters concerning one’s emotions, cannot be contradicted by another because that person will never know the true emotions of another. This method is not fool-proof, however, because one’s own emotions may be incorrect. For example, a girl who thinks she in love with a boy by introspection may only feel that way because of physiological reasons, like pheromone emission. She may or may not be in love with the boy, but this cannot be determined by another. In this manner, passionate conviction can sometimes be sufficient.

Another demonstration is in scientific theoretical matters where, although there is ambiguity in a matter’s certainty, one can know empirically or logically. The smallest particle known to us 100 years ago was divided and divided until we discover the smallest particle we know today. What was known 100 years ago was the certain truth because men were passionately convinced of the particle’s properties. As particles kept getting divided, new truths arose. Passionate conviction in each case leading down to the currently smallest particle was the truth, as everyone accepted its existence.

In finding the differences between “I am certain” and “it is certain,” it is evident that the passive and the personal assertions of certainty are not the same and cannot be applied to the same issues in all cases. “It is certain” is usually attained first through “I am certain,” because for all men to believe something, one man must have believed it. The transition is not flawless, however, because where matters are not accepted by all, two conflicting statements of “I am certain” cannot both be correct. Ethics and religion, subjective and often contradictory matters, are a perfect example of this. Passionate conviction is rarely sufficient, and never necessary for justifying knowledge. Only through emotion can zeal for a cause justify truth, and even then only a part of the time. Passionate conviction, by eliminating all other doubts, may turn an “I am certain” into an “it is certain.” Each claim has a separate axiom that is in each area of knowledge. Passionate conviction connects the personal with the passive assertions of certainty and sometimes justifies this certainty. Through every way certainty is determined, there is only one solid conclusion about it: “I am certain” may be to anyone, but “it is certain” must be to everyone.
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