What are the differences between "I am certain" and "it is certain", and is passionate conviction ever sufficient for justifying knowledge?

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Candidate name:        Tam Wai Kit, Jonathan

Candidate code:        001225-020

School:                Yew Chung International School

International Baccalaureate Diploma – Theory of Knowledge (ToK)

What are the differences between “I am certain” and “it is certain”, and is passionate conviction ever sufficient for justifying knowledge?

The difference between “I am certain” and “It is certain” deals with the difference between subjectivity and objectivity, in terms of expressing and justifying knowledge. “I am certain” involves personal interpretation in a particular event (subjective), whereas “It is certain” tries to avoid such a problem. To the observer, subjective observations are equally as real as objective observations, with the fact that objective observations are common to all subjects where subjective ones vary among different observers. Subjectivity often involves personal emotion, and therefore it is likely to be affected and misled by the subject thus it differs from the reality.

In Economics, we have a similar concept: positive and normative statements. Positive economics are objective, and therefore can be tested by available evidence. Normative statements are subjective and express an opinion. Normative statements are subjective. For example, an economist might say, “I am certain that the cyclical employment is due to the low efficiency of the government in terms of its fiscal policies”. We do not classify the statement as truth, but rather as a personal opinion. It is because such statements do not involve a thorough processing of information received (e.g. in this case government expenditure, time lags involved and so forth.) and such statements are very likely to originate from a passionate conviction. For example this economist might have a very different point of view in economics from the government i.e. the difference between keynesians and monetarists. Then, such statements cannot be considered as knowledge because they cannot be justified. Using the same example, an economist saying, “It is certain that a rise in unemployment rate is directly related to the high inflation rate” is a positive and objective statement. It is because in this statement it is less likely that either keynesians or monetarists views affect the economist. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that he is affected by his passionate conviction. Also, from the statement we can expect that this economist has done some research on the data of unemployment and inflation rate, which can be justified by mathematical means. Therefore this statement can be considered as knowledge (given that the sources of both data are trustable and data is justified).

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From the above example, we are engaged in problems of language. The use of different phrases in language leads us to correctly/incorrectly interpret information received. However, it is likely that the way and habit in which we use these two phrases are affected by other factors, and one important factor is our culture. Linguistic determinism tells us that the language we use determines part of our thinking. The language we speak will influence our thinking to follow that culture. If the culture emphasizes individualism, then it is more likely that the people will use, “I am certain” since their cultural ...

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