“Only the infinite self, the problem solver, the complete thinker, the one who knows…only his existence, I say, is perfectly sure.” – Josiah Royce.
This final review blog on this site’s preparatory work covers the topic of certainty and offers a final summation.
An earnest analysis reveals that very little if anything is certain for our species. A few metaphysical concepts such as the existence of something, basic logic, and simple mathematics exhausts the list of absolute truths. Our individual ‘knowledge’ is largely opinion and prejudice plus a lesser fraction of reasonably justified belief. Thus it is perilous to assume even our deepest ‘truths’ are certain. Still the skeptical denial of the truth of any proposition is impractical; action is necessary for a meaningful existence and forces us to rely on principles of the highest degree of certainty while mitigating for those of lesser certainty. Nonetheless healthy doubt is an excellent tool by which to increase the confidence we have in our views.
Science remains the best foundation for interpretation and manipulation of the physical world, but subjective truth is more trustworthy for personal understanding and action. Objective and subjective truth are not only different, but to some extent mutually exclusive. From a position of humility and wariness, we can lay out a table of principles ranked by our degree of certainty as a practical guide for action in a world of stubborn uncertainty. The practical philosopher’s goal then is not absolute truth, but rather sufficient confidence for meaningful action.
Our final conclusions come down to the following points. Reality and ethics must be understood at multiple levels. Internal reality and self-examination are particularly important to the meaningful life while cosmic and ultimate reality are more central to an enduring purpose. An understanding of good and evil underpins ethics while the metaphorical conflict between them gives context to human life. God, defined as the eternal or necessarily existent originating force behind the universe, permeates the realm of human existence. The immaterial depth and spiritual capacity of man, traditionally called the ‘soul,’ supports ethics, art, science, hope, brotherhood, love, and contemplation of the divine.
Humans are mortal, but by virtue of their unique characteristics have transcendental and metaphorical access to eternity in addition to an unparalleled access to infinitude and nothingness. We also have free will, but, being finite, are limited in bringing about our desires making fatalism understandable, though unworthy of acquiescence. Human destiny is about equally likely to be limited and unlimited, and thus our goal should be to work for the latter. The universe, like man himself (or woman herself), is self-designed and self-defined, although in our case, this imposes total responsibility for our actions and the possibility of guilt. Suffering is a key part of the human condition, but can be managed, even used to increase the meaning of our lives. And while none of this is certain, practicality requires us to accept this best picture of human and cosmic reality in order to move forward and find the dual summum bonum of happiness and meaning.