What are the differences between “I am certain” and “it is certain”, and is passionate conviction ever sufficient for justifying knowledge? This essay aims to discuss the differences between the more personalized phrase “I am certain” and the more generalized term “it is certain”. After this, I will discuss whether the passionate conviction of an individual is enough to justify knowledge without the use of logical reasoning. However, passionate conviction, even though one person may perceive it, may not be proven false. Empiricism can be defined as ‘the practice of medicine that disregards scientific theory and relies solely on practical experience’. In contrast, rationalism is defined as ‘reliance on reason as the best guide for belief and action’. Finally, knowledge is defined as the ‘psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning’.
In the above context, we first need to define what we mean by “certain”. The first ‘certain’ means I am convinced. The second ‘certain’ means it is indisputable. “Certainty is the acceptance of fact without a doubt. When should one be certain? When all knowledge supports the conclusion, and no one denies it. If one has a valid reason for doubting something, one should not be certain. Certainty is contextual. It is based on one’s current knowledge. It is possible to be certain and still be wrong. They can form conclusions, but there is the possibility of error. Humans need knowledge, though, and need a basis for accepting knowledge as true. They cannot live constantly doubting every piece of knowledge. To survive, they must be able to accept knowledge as true and act accordingly.”
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After giving a bit of background information about what certainty is as a whole, now I feel I can discuss the limitations of the word “I am certain”. “Only when we know little can we be certain; doubt grows with greater learning.”1 This quote from the German philosopher Goethe demonstrates that with the use of the “I am certain”, you are restricting yourself to only the knowledge that you have acquired. For example, today, I am certain it is going to rain. I am making this judgment because of the dark clouds in the sky, and this information was passed down to me from my mother. However, the dark clouds could be moving to the west, and in the end, it won’t rain but based on that little piece of information, which I received from my mother, I was able to conclude.
A quote can further expand this idea from Eric Hoffer, who states, “We can be certain only about things we do not understand.” By this, he means that since we do not understand a topic or theory from our assumptions, we can make a personal justification. For example, I am certain that if I do not do well in my assessments, my parents will be disappointed. I can tell this because I know from experience that my parents were disappointed in me. “For a belief to become justified, it has to be compared with a fixed theory or belief that is dependable. As humans, our strongest belief is our emotions and memories. For example, no one is more certain than me whether I am in love or not, and passionate conviction will only strengthen this belief. In these cases, ‘I am certain’ is a better way of expressing knowledge (it will be less convincing if someone says, “It is certain that I love you,” since science cannot tell why you are in love, but only what happens after you are in love).
Moreover, personal belief is less likely to change because their emotions and memories constantly refresh one’s belief.” Furthermore, I am certain that my name is Nishane; I am of Sri Lankan origin and was born on the 8th of December 1988. I know that all of this is true because it was passed down from my parents and my birth certificate states all of this in writing. But can I be really certain that all of this information is true? Whether it is true or not, I can never really know for sure and only have my parents words for it. I could have been picked up in a ditch or adopted from an orphanage in Sri Lanka. As ‘I am certain’ can be defined as subjective certainty ‘, it is certain’ can be classified as objective certainty, according to Sï¿½ren Kierkegaard’s theory. I am certain that killing somebody is wrong.
I have come to this conclusion due to my upbringing because my parent influenced me, and if I did commit this, it would clash with my morals and my religion, which considers killing someone a sin. In the previous paragraph, I discussed the how I could be certain it was going to rain by looking into the clouds and noticing that they were dark. I could say ‘it is certain’ that it will rain if I watched the weather forecast on TV and the weatherman said that we could expect showers since the meteorologists carried out tests and did experiments to gather this information. “Human beings are not purely rational; we cannot stop ourselves from including our values and judgements in our interpretations. This affects historical knowledge, for example: if History intends to be an objective study of the past, there must exist a line between fact and opinion, leaving all personal matters aside.”
“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality” The passionate conviction was seen during the Roman Catholic Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, and more recently apartheid in South Africa, the JVP uprising of 1971, also the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie. If we are generous to George W. Bush II, we could say that he was passionately convinced of the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and that, that ‘knowledge’ prompted him to bring that country to ruin. Again being generous to Bush II, we can say that it is the ‘passionate conviction’ of the Shias and the Sunnis, of each one’s better ‘knowledge’ of the Koran and Hadith, which makes them want to blow each other to Hell.
The Catholic Church was certain (passionately convinced) that God created the Sun, the moon, the stars and the Earth just 4250 years ago. Anyone who thought otherwise risked being burnt at stake on the charge of heresy. Joan of Arc was burnt as a witch for taking up arms against the English. The priests convinced each other that an ordinary mortal woman could not lead an army. 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 perfect examples 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. By eliminating all other doubts, a passionate conviction 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.
- http://www.amyscott.com/WAYS%20OF%20KNOWING%20LInking.pdf (Goethe)