The Theory of Certainty Secularized

  • Henry G. Van Leeuwen
Part of the Archives Internationales D’ Histoire des Idees/International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 3)


Having dealt in the last chapter with the problem of certainty as it arose in religious controversies, we now turn to the formulation of the problem in the context of secular affairs. The views of John Wilkins and Joseph Glanvill, two early members of the Royal Society, will be examined; though not remembered for their scientific accomplishments they had an interest in certainty relative to scientific theory. An attempt will be made to show that the views concerning the certainty of knowledge developed by Chillingworth and Tillotson are so reformulated as to be applicable to the results of scientific inquiry as well as to religious belief. In their writings there is an explicit recognition of the limitations of knowledge, but also an insistence that so long as one tries not to overstep these bounds, a creditable theory of science can be developed. Involved in this is the claim that knowledge is limited to the description of observed phenomena, and that science is not an account of the inner structure of nature, as proposed by Bacon. In particular, it will be pointed out in some detail that two levels of uncertainty are recognized and dealt with. There is first the extreme view that one thing is no more probable than another, which justifies suspension of judgment altogether. This radical doubt, since it would make science impossible, is rejected.


Royal Society Seventeenth Century Reasonable Doubt Sense Experience Absolute Certainty 
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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry G. Van Leeuwen

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