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Black, Max - Certainty and Empirical Statements

Black, Max - Certainty and Empirical Statements

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Certainty and Empirical Statements
Max Black 
 Mind 
, New Series, Vol. 51, No. 204. (Oct., 1942), pp. 361-367.
 Mind 
is currently published by Oxford University Press.Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/about/terms.html. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtainedprior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content inthe JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/journals/oup.html.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to and preserving a digital archive of scholarly journals. Formore information regarding JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.http://www.jstor.orgSun Jun 17 04:54:13 2007
 
CERTAINTY AND EMPIRICAL STATEMENTS.
MR.
MALCOLM'Saluable paper, which appeared under this titlein the January
1942
issue of MIND, uses a method which deservesmore explicit formulation. When this has been done it will appearthat in one respect his conclusions have a mistaken emphasis. Thepurpose of this postscript is to show that it may be misleading todescribe the argument between Mr. Malcolm and his opponents asconcerned with the choice of language, and to suggest what remainsto be done to persuade those who might remain unconvinced by thearguments of his paper.Mr. Malcolm uses a number of quotations to illustrate his con-tention that some philosophers have used words which suggest thatthey dispute familiar claims, constantly made by philosophers andothers in the course of everyday affairs, to have knowledge concern-ing matters of fact. Such criticism is often expressed by saying
"
wecan never be completely certain" that a proposition about mattersof fact is true.
It
is better to say that the words used
"
suggest
"
that claims to knowledge of the truth of empirical statements aredisputed, since it appears on examination that there is no disputeabout any question of empirical fact. The words of the critic ofcognitive claims may suggest doubt concerning the existence of hisown body, but he does not make less provision for the needs of
the
flesh than anybody who has no inclination to profess scepticism.Nor is there
"
any sort nor any amount of empirical evidence whichcould be submitted to the philosopher in the face of which he wouldgive up his contention
"
(p.
20).
So far Mr. Malcolm has established his case, nor would the philo-sophers whom he is criticising disagree with him in his contentionof the non-empirical character of the dispute.
It
is when he assumesthat the differences between the contending parties arise from aclash between opposite
"
recommendations
"
for the use of terms,that his account becomes less plausible. He urges that his opponentswish to
"
restrict the application of
'
it is certain that
'
to
a priori
statements and to sense-statements
",
and proceeds to show thatsuch a
"
recommendation
"
would contlict with familiar applicationsof the same phrase to empirical statements and tend to producegratuitous confusion beside.
It
may be said, more generally, thatfor Mr. Malcolm the
appearance
of a dispute arises from a tendencyto
"
stretch
"
certain terms and restrict the use of others. Thus onemay seem to be contradicting empirical statements when merelyexpressing a preference for a favourite set of definitions.
I
say that this view of the nature of the philosophic dispute
24

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