Reason as the Leading Motive

Uncertainty and Objectivism

Posted by Jerry on November 28, 2005

I am clearly at variance with traditional and official Objectivist philosophy as far as the issue of certainty in knowledge is concerned (and actually, that is not the only one issue on which I part ways with them).

Briefly, the Objectivist stance is that since all knowledge is hierarchically connected and related, they all have logical and necessary relations with each other. All knowledge is ultimately and fundamentally traced down to the most rudimentary tool of sensing the externals, upon which all higher forms of knowledge is linked and constructed.

According to Leonard Peikoff, an Objectivist philosopher, “nothing is a completely isolated fact, without causes or effects; no aspect of the total can exist alternatively apart from the total. Knowledge, which seeks to grasp reality… must also be a total; its elements must be interconnected to form a unified whole reflecting the whole which is the universe.” (from Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 123)

Hence, gaining knowledge or grasping reality according to Peikoff is a matter of tracing the logical precedent or antecedent links that form the chain for that concept. Since all knowledge is related and not isolated, if one can gain certain knowledge of some facts, then it is at least possible in principle to be able to gain certain knowledge of ALL facts (since they are all interconnected through necessity).

Hence, Objectivism holds that certainty is fully possible and attainable. Uncertainty is merely human failure, lack of important contextual facts, or a temporary handicap. Note, this view does not mean that humans can and should have certainty of all things at the same time – like Omniscience. That is clearly rejected by Objectivism. It agrees that knowledge can extend into an infinity of logical and necessary connections. It also concedes that holding all of that knowledge at the same time or at any duration of time is impossible.

My own view at variance with this position is that certainty is possible and achievable only in some respects, some situations, in relation to some facts. I think the crucial link that Objectivism is blind to is the subjective nature of much of the facts and realities out there. Knowledge cannot only be seen as a logical tree growing interrelatedly and suspended objectively “out there” merely for us to grasp and perceive.

I believe that in the process of grasping realities and gaining knowledge, each one of us introduces our own subjective influences to the body of interconnected knowledge, such that some aspects of this knowledge “tree” is certainly and continuously changing due to our influences. Knowledge is actively influenced by subjective acts of apperception, intergration, creation, etc. And as a causal result of our subjective apprehension of facts and realities, we have an additional variable on the heirarchical tree of knowledge — that of the influence of the human consciousness.

And as such, I believe in some respects then, uncertainty is as objectively a part of reality as certainty in some respects is.

UPDATE 10/18/2006: As my understanding of Objectivism has grown since the time I wrote this post, I have come to realize that my so-called “variant position” or “criticism” of Objectivism is in fact properly and logically integrated within the concept of “certainty” in knowledge according to Objectivism. My insight into the “subjective” influences on the body of knowledge is already an aspect of what Objectivism calls “contextual certainty,” that is, certainty acheivable only under the facts of reality knowns to a person at a particular moment in time. Since omniscience is impossible, it is also rejected as a standard of “certainty.” Therefore, the only meaningful standard of certainty possible humans–given our individual consciousness–is one of contextual certainty that applies only to the context of a person’s knowledge of reality. This knowledge may be erroneous, but once something has been established as certain knowledge, then it implies that it is not only factual but also true, i.e., factual metaphysically and truely perceived epistemologically.


6 Responses to “Uncertainty and Objectivism”

  1. Ergo Sum said

    Note: This post came about due to various influences — which simply strengthens my argument of the subjective nature of active-influence of knowledge.
    It came about with a discussion with Inommable about my theory of MPR and how he found the element of uncertainty as one of the most enlightening aspects my understanding of human relationships.
    It primarily, however, came about through my previous posts, “Musings on Metaphysics” and “Doing Philosophy”, which kept bothering me at the back of my head… I knew there was something to explore there… and I wasn’t able to put my finger upon it, until now.
    The whole idea of thinking about the process of thinking made me think about how we think of ideas that are almost always and certainly influenced by others’ ideas.
    Invention, is in many ways, merely a re-creation of reality… like art is.

    I’m sure there are philosophers out there who may have already expounded this idea of the subjective-objective relation of knowledge. But I’m glad to have arrived upon it independently. I wonder if I am right about it. I don’t know… but I seem to be pretty sure that I am right.

  2. Semperviva said

    hey hey hey! haven’t talked in ever! how you doing? yup, as evidenced, thanksgiving was great fun lol miss u!

  3. So, Ergo, who’s the one with all the “free” time now?

    I can’t wait until I eventually have some leisure to read your latest, and comment intelligently.

  4. Ergo Sum said

    Rubicund Y. Logorrhea, do you have dysentry and gonorrhea?! heeheeeehee!

  5. Tyrel said

    So I noticed lots of laughter in your comments lately. Glad to see your coming out of your “depression”!

  6. No no, Ergo. The gono is gone, and dysentery never made an entry.

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