Living in the Real Uncertain World

I have previously outlined why we can’t know any 100% certain truths. Also we all can remember some more embarrassing cases where we have rather crassly leap to totally unjustified belief. But what can we do about this reality of our existence? We can’t know the certain truth about most things.

I believe that, far from being a problem, it is liberating. Let’s consider what we can know:

  • We can know that preposterous statements are untrue, for example: “the moon is made of blue cheese and I know this because I had some for supper.”
  • We can also know a thing is 100% true by definition, like “My dog is a canine.” Perhaps most of mathematics falls into this category.
  • We can never know with anywhere near 100% certainty another’s motivations.
  • We can know, with large probability many things, such as this Universe exists. But not with 100% certainty

By acknowledging our limitations we can more sensibly order our life. We will be less likely to leap to wrong conclusions in our personal life, as we relate to others. We will be sceptical about anyone (especially politicians, sales people and religious preachers) who claims 100% certainty about anything.

We should avoid actions that are not reversible. For example we should accept that any legal verdict is at best a “best efforts” at determining the most likely “truth”. So we will not adopt any death penalties, such an outcome would be truly irreversible.

This is not to say anything goes. We would not survive very long if we truly doubted the presence of the Universe and all its contents. So we take such assertions as highly probable and conduct ourselves likewise until conflicting evidence emerges.

Moreover we would adopt those parts of morality and ethics that are essential for humans to live together. In the Christian canon this would be

“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

But either reject or be much more sceptical of the other parts, such as, again in the Christian cannon:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength”.

The reason for this is that the societal morals and ethics are essential for humans to live and thrive together, and have been shown to work in the past. they have an evidence base. However we would be open to changes.

We will also be sceptical about any claims that are not supported by evidence of a convincing nature. We would accept most of established science as there is a large amount of evidence in the form of experiments to support it.

However, we would, in all matters, apply a level of scepticism about all knowledge. That level will vary from subject to subject. Perhaps very low scepticism (but some) for established science with quite high for non-humanist ethics and morality for example.

The moral is: Be sceptical about everything until you are comfortable with the evidence that supports it, then only provisionally accept it pending further evidence.


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