Response to “looking to science for certainty and answers”

Steven Steed

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I share the common concern my fellow scholar hold regarding certainty in science, however, I would like to believe that science, in most cases, does in fact grant certainty.

We must not get confused about the distinction between certainty and knowledge. My following words on certainty will be emanating from the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher of language, and a minute amount from Baron Reed.

Certainty, quite generally, is an epistemic property of a belief or beliefs, which can be challenging to conceptualize.

In other words, certainty is a property of “knowing” within a belief. What my fellow peers worry about today, much as I do too, is whether or not we can ever know anything. If we can ever attain knowledge.

The definition for knowledge predates us, and reaches as far back in time as when scholars like Plato were writing. Plato stipulated that knowledge is a justified and true belief, and even then, Plato still had doubts about this definition.

This general definition, provided by Plato, has been used to make claims about knowledge in various domains of inquiry. The main issue here is how we as a group of peoples in the world can deem something as unquestionably “true,” as opposed to certain, which loosely entails a justified belief that is “true” within the context we invoke it in.

In other words, a person can be certain of something without it being qualified as knowledge, because of the “true factor.” A belief can be “true” in the context of a community that upholds particular systems.

Certainty depends on the view one takes, and I will now offer a view that can help illuminate what I mean by a “community that upholds particular systems” of understanding. Larry Laudan, a contemporary philosopher of science, shares his own skepticism of true knowledge and critiques the popular view that in science, progress is measured in terms of rationality.

Laudan wants to push back and say rationality should be measured in terms of progress, instead.

More generally, for Laudan, the aim of science is to get better at solving problems and to better secure theories. Solving problems does not exactly mean we have acquired knowledge, but it is knowledge that helps us understand the world in some capacity.

If we take this is a viable way to view science, it seems as if we can be certain about our beliefs in many ways.

Empirical observations and confirmations do not constitute the trueness of scientific advancement, instead they help us understand more and we can be certain of that understanding with the advancements we interact with every day.

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