“The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, #115.
Our syntheses of the four categories of concern in the meaningful life – metaphysics, experience, ethics, and the ultimate – can now be integrated into a more comprehensive table (see Appendix, Table 6; posted 8/10/20 http://philosophicalguidance.com/table-of-certainty/). Obviously this roster is subjective, and of course the reader may take issue with my choices and designations. If you feel I am far off, I encourage you to synthesize your own list. For this blog, I will refer to my table.
We see that in general the most certain propositions are metaphysical (the top 5); likely because they are based on pure reason and also serve as axioms for later propositions. Empirical propositions make up a second tier, but I emphasize that these are phenomenologic conclusions of internal and proximate reality and demonstrate the limit of our individual ability to identify highly certain truths beyond our immediate sphere.
Propositions regarding ultimate reality come next although such items are very limited and God can only be asserted by a circumscribed definition, many persons may deny as defining ‘God’ at all. For those who accept this tautology, we cannot escape the disappointment that God’s characteristics are otherwise uncertain. Religion then is extremely speculative and caution must be exercised in following it to a purposeful life. The ultimate propositions of moderate certainty – the universe as creative (#20) and directional (#45) however yield some hope of cosmic meaning for those who seek it.
Surprisingly we are least confident of ethical propositions, in part because free will is itself not certain, but also because good and evil are intangible and elusive concepts. Here we hope that Immanuel Kant’s argument – moral deliberation proves the existence of free will and the possibility to be worthy to be happy – emboss ethical truths with sufficient certainty.
I also wish to point out that the modern foundational approach of science comes in at #34, making many beliefs more certain than scientific facts and laws. On the other hand, since me must accept these for any modern existence in the world, I believe those rated higher should be considered effectively as factual.
As we begin to move from our preparatory work to a formulation of the meaningful and flourishing life, the table of certainty will serve as a yardstick for guidance. Each reader should be prepared to defend his or her own version of trusted beliefs when confronted with the big questions.