Monday, August 10, 2009 Augustine, Husserl, and Certainty
In his magisterial Augustine of Hippo, Peter Brown writes of Augustine, "He wanted complete certainty on ultimate questions." (1st ed., p. 88) If you don't thrill to that line, you are no philosopher. Compare Edmund Husserl: "Ohne Gewissheit kann ich eben nicht leben." "I just can't live without certainty." Yet he managed to live for years after penning that line, and presumably without certainty.
I would say that the ability to tolerate uncertainty without abandoning the quest for certainty is a mark of intellectual and spiritual maturity. A truth seeker who can tolerate uncertainty is one who will not seek false refuge in dogmas that provide pseudo-certainty. I cannot help but think of Islamo-terrorism in this connection. Had Muhammad Atta and the boys entertained some doubts about the bevy of black-eyed virgins awaiting them at the portals of paradise, they and three thousand others might still be alive. The trick is to tolerate uncertainty without becoming either a skeptic or a dogmatist. [...]
I conclude that there are some propositions the truth of which can be grasped with objective certitude even though these propositions are not about such mental data as pleasures and pains. The mind has the power to transcend its own states and not only to know, but to know with objective certitude, truths whose truth is independent of mind. That is amazing.
One some days, existence strikes me as the deepest and most fascinating of philosophical topics. On other days, I give the palm to time: "What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know." (Augustine, Confessions, Bk. 11, Ch. 14) But today, the honor goes to knowledge. Posted at 08:12 PM in Augustine, Certainty, Husserl Permalink .. Maverick Philosopher: In Praise of Blogosophy by Bill Vallicella 9:31 AM 9:54 AM