The very idea of knowledge itself brings the question of whether or not we may believe it. It is a natural thing to question knowledge and not to be entirely sure whether or not one can really trust what one has found out or what one has been told. Indeed, some people may claim that knowledge itself creates doubt, meaning that the more we know the more that we doubt. At the same time, however, it is possible to show that sometimes an increase in knowledge gets rid of doubt. What is most important when understanding this question is that certain kinds of knowledge lead to certainty in themselves, but that they may also lead to doubt if they are compared with other ways of knowing. It is possible to show this by considering areas of knowing associated with art and also with natural science.
Natural science is often thought as being an area of knowledge that is completely concerned with generating certainty. Not only this, but it is also the case that the more information that a science gathers, the more likely it is that it will appear to be certain. The experimental method, where hypotheses and theories are tested in reality and more and more information is gathered in order to produce more and more certainty, is at the base of natural science. There is a large amount of evidence that such methods generate certainty, as is shown, for example, by the existence of large engineering projects, space flight and medical science. It seems to be clearly the case that such could not exist if knowledge did not lead to certainty, or that people did not feel as if they could be confident about the knowledge that they get from experimentation. In these cases discussed, therefore, it seems that when ways of knowing such a reason and abstract calculation and thinking are used, knowledge leads to certainty and not to doubt.
At the same time, however, it is possible to see that such certainty only comes about when using one way of knowing. If one looks at the effect of science of ways of knowing such as emotion or language it is clear that, while science may increase confidence in abstract scientific hypothesis, it may also create doubt when it comes to understanding whether or not life has a meaning. Many people note that even thought the world is now much more technologically advanced than it was, many more people suffer from depression and from mental conditions that may be argued to stem from a loss of faith in whether or not there is a meaning or a purpose to be found in their life (Schrobsdorff, 2016). As such, it is clear that the increase in scientific knowledge does produce an increase in doubt from this perspective. Importantly, however, it is important to note that this increase in doubt only takes place when the ways of knowing associated with science are combined with ways of knowing such as emotion, which are associated with other areas of knowing.
As well as science, history is often thought of as being an area of knowledge that deals with objective truth and that makes sure that increases certainty the more that it increases knowledge. Indeed, many people may argue that the only reason that people study history and write books about it is so that they are able to know with more certainty what has happened at a certain time. If it was not thought that we could know more about something the more that we studied it then it would not make sense to study it at all. Indeed, it would apparently be as good as simply making up stories and deciding that something had happened in a certain way simply because we preferred that to be.
While history uses reason, language and sense information to come to conclusions, it is important to note that the use of imagination may be seen as being an important factor in writing history, and that this may be used in order to show how knowledge actually creates doubt and not certainty. For example, historians such Christopher Hill insist that it is not enough to simply discover facts about something but that one must also understand the way in which the facts are presented and what facts are chosen. Often one must make an effort to understand what has happened from the perspective of the people who did not make the records or create the history themselves (1991, 7). As such, although collecting knowledge and facts about a particular event may lead to an increase in a certain kind of certainty, it also may lead to doubt as it does not enable a person to understand what purpose facts are serving. Once again, it is necessary to combine one way of knowing with another way of knowing in order to try to solve this problem.
In conclusion, considering the example of history and science show that there are certainly cases when increasing knowledge increases certainty. At the same time, however, it is also the case that certain ways of knowing may be shown to produce doubt when they are considered from the view of other ways of knowing. As such, it is clear that if certainty is to really useful, it must be one that makes use of as many ways of knowing at once, and can therefore relate itself to areas of both certainty and of doubt.
- Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down. London & New York: Penguin, 1991.
- Schrobsdorff, Susanna. “There’s a Startling Increase in Major Depression Among Teens in the U.S.” Time Magazine. Nov, 2016. Web. 9th December, 2017.