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 background teaches them to put personal emotions as the first priority; whereas people from a different culture who put the community first before their personal emotions would use more “It is certain”. Therefore the meaning of “I am certain” and “It is certain” is also dependent on cultural differences, since in the example above both are merely a reflection of their respective cultures and not about subjectivity or objectivity.
Passionate conviction can obstruct the process of obtaining knowledge. One form of objectivity is operationalism (the view that all theoretical terms in science must be defined only by their procedures or operations). This requires experimental method to prove new concepts. They are operationalized by specifying the observations that will distinguish their referents, by subjecting them to controlled experiments, and by trying to find results that are maximally independent of place, time, observer or means of observation. Moreover, subjective interpretation is minimized by formalization of the theories and concepts. However, scientists will still tend to prefer those that may bring fame and fortune, and coherent with what they already know. In addition, the social system of science more readily accepts ideas that are widely supported and advocated, benefit the community, and are supported by the majority, or by authoritative experts.
It seems that passionate conviction, in some ways, hinders our path of acquiring knowledge, and moreover, such emotional attachment is related to the use of “I am certain”. However, in other areas of knowledge this is not always the case. Sometimes we need conviction in order to justify knowledge. Cyberneticians agreed that in the nervous system there is no fundamental distinction between perception and a hallucination: both are merely patterns of neural activation. However, subjectively most people have no difficulty distinguishing dreams or fantasies from perceptions. Then, the areas where objectivity is unable to classify will then be dependent on conviction. However, how do we distinguish between subjectivity and objectivity? How can science, being classified as the means of justifying knowledge objectively, be demarcated from other knowledge-producing systems, such as religion? Science is a way of people explicitly promotes the following: invariance, distinctiveness and controllability. However, is science always reliable, even in areas that are not bounded by science itself? How can science investigate the existence of God, if God himself is above such a system? Therefore we come to one conclusion: science might be able to prove some phenomena in the world, but it is not necessarily the only way for us, as knowers, to acquire knowledge. Passionate conviction can also be a way for us to do so. For example, Christians claim that they know God exists because they can sense that God is with them.
The importance of passionate conviction is most easily seen in literature study. When writing literature analysis, it is best to avoid the use of “I feel that” or “I am sure the author feels”. Objectivity helps when scrutinizing the text. However, most literature professors will agree that being subjective allows the reader to sympathize the persona of the text, and, therefore, have a better understanding of the text. Therefore passionate conviction is a tool and the key to successful literature study.
Passionate conviction is useful in another sense. Newton came up with the entire Newtonian physics laws (e.g. universal law of gravity, 1666) wholly out of his passionate conviction (his curiosity in natural sciences). His theories were not proven for some time. Even when he said, “there is attraction forces between all planets and stars in this universe as long as there is mass, because F = Gm1m2 / r2”, no one was willing to believe. It was until he did experiments in order to prove his laws were true (1687, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia). In this case, passionate conviction might not have justified knowledge, but it helped the development of knowledge in the first place (since emotion drives us into our destiny we want to be in).
Passionate conviction can also be a means of knowing (emotion in our four ways of knowing). The more important issue thus becomes, it is ever sufficient? The simple answer is no. In ToK, we have other three ways of knowing: logic, language and perception. Logic and emotion seem to contradict themselves in some occasions (as illustrate above in terms of subjectivity and objectivity), and both of them are as equally important as the other in many cases. The above examples, however, only proved that both are important when trying to explain knowledge, but we have to be alert to the fact that passionate conviction itself cannot be proven. As mentioned above, knowledge can be proven by controlled experiments, and by trying to find results that are maximally independent of place, time, observer or means of observation. How can conviction be proven? One reason of that is conviction is generated by human mind, and perspectives of the believer can be constantly changing since knowers are constantly being exposed to information. In order for knowledge to be justified, it must have the quality and ability to be repeated by others. Yet it is impossible to perfectly imitate one’s thinking. Therefore logically passionate conviction itself can never be sufficient to justify knowledge.
This can be further explained with the use of an example. Passionate conviction can come from a scientist (passionate in succeed in his field), and conviction is more likely to be objective as well, since scientists learn science through objective ways. But what if this passionate conviction originates from a psychopath? His conviction might be even more consistent than any scientist on the planet, and his belief will not alter. In this case the reason suggested above will not stand but is this strong evidence we could base on when we are trying to justify his words? If he says, “I am certain that I am GOD.” and he believes he has the power of controlling the world, then undoubtedly this is not knowledge Since it cannot be justified by the other three ways of knowing. For example, how can it be logical that GOD lives on this planet and unable to free himself from a psychiatric hospital? That certainly does not make sense, and in these examples passionate conviction will lead us to nowhere. Although this is an extreme case, it is also applicable to people who ignores all objective evidence on certain “facts” and struggle to keep their opinions in place.
I am certain that there is sufficient evidence to prove that being engaged in subjectivity will not necessarily lead to knowledge and to have a better description of reality, objectivity is a more approachable way of knowing. However, it is also certain that being conviction-driven, although some occasions emotion being a hinder to knowing, can also be a tool to justifying knowledge.
Bibliography and references:
- Jason Stuart Ratcliff; “Foundation: Essays Concerning Ontology - Subjectivity and Objectivity”; 2004
- University of Pennsylvan, Penn Language Center, Prof. Harold F. Schiffman; 1997
- Free University of Brussels, Prof. Francis Heylighen, "Object, Subjective and Intersubjective Selectors of Knowledge”; 1997
- Steve Campsall, “Englishbiz - GCSE English Revision - KEY TERM!”; 2004
- Stephen Holroyd, “IB Economics Revision Guide”, Oxford Study Courses; United Kingdom, 2003
- Nicholas Alchin, “Theory of Knowledge”, John Murray (Publishers) Ltd, 2004
- Richard Walding, Greg Rapkins, Glenn Rossiter, “New Century Senior Physics”, Oxford University Press; New York, 2002
Word count: 1595
Stephen Holroyd, “IB Economics Revision Guide”, Oxford Study Courses; United Kingdom, 2003 P.6
Passionate: showing or expressing strong emotion; Dictionary.com/passionate
Conviction: an unshakable belief in something without need for proof or evidence Dictionary.com/conviction
Keynesian theory: Economists who believe that the market is imperfect and the government has to intervene the market in order to make a balance
Monetarist theory: Economists who believe that the market mechanism (supply and demand) is able to operate and government’s role in the economy is to provide public goods (e.g. police force, street lights, etc.)
Nicholas Alchin, “Theory of Knowledge”, John Murray (Publishers) Ltd, 2004, P.205
Francis Heylighen, "Object, Subjective and Intersubjective Selectors of Knowledge”, ; 1997
Richard Walding, Greg Rapkins, Glenn Rossiter, “New Century Senior Physics”, Oxford University Press; New York, 2002 P. 131