The Problem of Cartesian Certitude

The root of skepticism is neither rational nor intellectual in nature. It ultimately originates not from any philosophical axiom or deduction nor any epistemological approach to ascertain existential realities. Rather, its genesis proceeds forth from two existential realities apart from reason. It is the chasm resulting between the human condition and humanity’s psychological aspirations, perhaps pathological need, for unassailable certainty which provides absolute material and psychological security. In the absence of complete willingness to trust a Deity who is Himself the fount of all knowledge, wisdom and goodness, humanity must seek its material and psychological security elsewhere; in order to trust in its own ability to navigate the caprice of existence.

The human condition is lack of omniscience, an attribute which is self-evident and easily substantiated. It undermines any possibility of attaining unassailable certainty; Cartesian Certitude for short. The sophists of old and the sophist tradition to which the legal profession adheres, exploit this fact. Because we can only know in part, the sophist can organize one set of arguments proving a proposition is true today, while organizing another set of arguments disproving it tomorrow; bringing doubt to any true belief and hope; and discredit to the project that humanity can really know anything at all with full and incontrovertible assurance.

Under the regime of absolute certainty, every “i” must be dotted and every “t” crossed before we can be sure of anything. Under this philosophical regime of proof; since humanity is incapable of knowing all things, he cannot categorically know anything.  For, in the unknown may lay a germ of data which potentially and significantly falsifies an aspect, a paradigm or perhaps everything that he believes he currently knows.

The underlying philosophy girding science is founded on this philosophical standard of proof; suggesting that all facts, truths and laws are, at best, contingent and tentative. Everything is theory and hypothesis. But if the scientific community was actually consistent with this underlying philosophy, science would remain a theoretical hobby with no real practicable application. Scrupulous honesty would suggest that we could not reasonably depend on those truths that undergird our technological creations.

The Cartesian standard of proof is not one by which judiciaries incarcerate and execute criminals. It is, however, a standard which contributes to the creation of criminals. For, it undermines and precludes any rational and moral justification for the concept of law and justice themselves. Law itself becomes hereby a mere artificial contrivance, which has no objective and sound foundation; but is deemed perhaps a self-serving tool of the powers-that-be. A superior mind will not allow itself to be subject to this artificial artifice of and for Lilliputians; these “noble” lies meant for the masses.

The meandering logic of this Cartesian standard of proof invariably leads to total philosophical skepticism and unbelief; as it has in both the Hellenist-Roman past and the Modern present. The psychological ramifications are enervation of true belief and courage, for better or worse, and an undermining of a sound basis for civil society and civilizational survival, as has and is happening also in both the Hellenist-Roman past and the Modern present..

Cartesian certitude is the perfect granddaddy of all sophistries and circularities; rigging the rules of inquiry and setting up humanity for automatic failure in its quest and ascertainment of truth. It guarantees skepticism, an unwillingness to commit or assent to any truth. The problem lies not so much in our inquiry, but in the unreasonableness of this standard of knowledge, which the various strains of Hellenist thought presumed and adopted and the moderns formalized. It is standard of proof for gods and the omniscient; not for the limits of mortal minds. It is a sophistic device, hypocritically promoted by those with a self-serving agenda against dogmatic belief, judgment, social opprobrium and legal sanctions.

Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1)

Can one know in the absence of perfect knowledge? And herein lies where the Biblical standard of proof points to a more sensible and prudent standard of truth for sentient beings, who lack omniscience; a standard of long-standing and one which has sufficed for legal judgments, even judicial executions; even if fallible. It is a more rational approach for the limits of humanity than to eternally suspend belief, assent, commitment and decision on the unattainable capacity to know all things before one can know anything.

When it comes to matters of pivotal significance, one should aspire to acquire hundreds, perhaps thousands of artifacts to justify primary beliefs. We should seek a level of proof in which the artifacts of evidence and reason are of such number and caliber and from different epistemological ‘senses’, failing to assent, to commit, to live on the basis of or to rely upon, is inordinately more irrational than to commit and rely.

Because we, as humans, are not omniscient gods, we cannot consider every jot and tittle of data to reach a conclusion. We cannot guarantee ourselves infallibility. There shall exist a certain leap of faith. However, that ‘leap of faith’ is not of the kind that Søren Kierkegaard preaches; a leap apart from all rationality. Rather, it is the leap of faith between reasonable proof and actionable certainty and commitment. And it becomes more of a step than a leap the more we close the gap between what is evidenced and that which we conclude, by gathering more and disparate forms of proof to buttress our contentions.


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