Certainty and Fallibilism
The issue I wish to discuss is whether we can ever be certain of anything in the strict sense intended by philosophers. One who holds that we can is an infallibilist while one who denies it is a fallibilist. Certainty has probably been claimed for every type of proposition at one time or another, including the pronouncements of politicians (of one’s own party, of course), religious utterances (again of one’s party), and even the messages in tea leaves. But careful infallibilists like Descartes, Locke and Prichard have accepted a rather short list. This has usually included (1) some (but not all) logical and necessary truths, (2) our own existence, and (3) propositions describing our sensations, ideas or sense data. I will examine the first two in this chapter and the third in chapter 3. Although I think the best case can be made for (2), I will argue that even here there is no reason to think that we have certainty.
KeywordsSocial Security Number Major Premiss Epistemic Possibility Direct Knowledge Ontological Argument
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- 6.More exactly, the view is that ‘p’ and ‘q’ express the same proposition if and only if, necessarily, anyone who believes what ‘p’ expresses also believes what ‘q’ expresses and vice versa. Problems about the synonymy of sentences thus translate into problems about the individuation of beliefs. See Chisholm, 1976, pp. 1–3. For doubts about the entire enterpriseGoogle Scholar
- 6a.see Quine, 1960, pp. 206–209. Quine’s view is discussed in Meyers, 1978b.Google Scholar