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- A related article is titled uncertainty.

- For statistical certainty, see probability.

Certainty can be defined as either (a) perfect knowledge that has total security from error, or (b) the mental state of being without doubt. Objectively defined, certainty is total continuity and validity of all foundational inquiry, to the highest degree of precision. Something is certain only if no skepticism can occur. Philosophy (at least historically) seeks this state. It is widely held that certainty is a failed historical enterprise.

- Rudolph Carnap viewed certainty as a matter of degree (degrees of certainty) which could be objectively measured, with degree one being certainty. Bayesian analysis derives degrees of certainty which are interpreted as a measure of subjective psychological belief.

After several schools of the philosophy of mathematics ran into difficulties one after the other in the 20th century, the assumption that mathematics had any foundation that could be stated within mathematics itself began to be heavily challenged.

One attempt after another to provide unassailable foundations for mathematics was found to suffer from various paradoxes (such as Russell's paradox) and to be inconsistent: an undesirable situation in which every mathematical statement that can be formulated in a proposed system (such as 2 + 2 = 5) can also be proved in the system.

Various schools of thought on the right approach to the foundations of mathematics were fiercely opposing each other. The leading school was that of the formalist approach, of which David Hilbert was the foremost proponent, culminating in what is known as Hilbert's program, which thought to ground mathematics on a small basis of a formal system proved sound by metamathematical finitistic means. The main opponent was the intuitionist school, led by L. E. J. Brouwer, which resolutely discarded formalism as a meaningless game with symbols . The fight was acrimonious. In 1920 Hilbert succeeded in having Brouwer, whom he considered a threat to mathematics, removed from the editorial board of Mathematische Annalen, the leading mathematical journal of the time.

Gödel's incompleteness theorems, proved in 1931, showed that essential aspects of Hilbert's program could not be attained. In Gödel's first result he showed how to construct, for any sufficiently powerful and consistent finitely axiomatizable system – such as necessary to axiomatize the elementary theory of arithmetic – a statement that can be shown to be true, but that does not follow from the rules of the system. It thus became clear that the notion of mathematical truth can not be reduced to a purely formal system as envisaged in Hilbert's program. In a next result Gödel showed that such a system was not powerful enough for proving its own consistency, let alone that a simpler system could do the job. This dealt a final blow to the heart of Hilbert's program, the hope that consistency could be established by finitistic means (it was never made clear exactly what axioms were the "finitistic" ones, but whatever axiomatic system was being referred to, it was a *weaker* system than the system whose consistency it was supposed to prove). Meanwhile, the intuitionistic school had failed to attract adherents among working mathematicians, and floundered due to the difficulties of doing mathematics under the constraint of constructivism.

In a sense, the crisis has not been resolved, but faded away: most mathematicians either do not work from axiomatic systems, or if they do, do not doubt the consistency of ZFC, generally their preferred axiomatic system. In most of mathematics as it is practiced, the various logical paradoxes never played a role anyway, and in those branches in which they do (such as logic and category theory), they may be avoided.

There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life. — John Stuart Mill

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. — Voltaire

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. — Benjamin Franklin

- Skeptical hypothesis
- Almost surely
- Infallibility
- pragmatism
- Fideism
- "justified true belief" -A common alternative to certainty

- certainty, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Bartleby.com
- "certainty vs. doubt".
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Last updated on Saturday September 20, 2008 at 06:33:38 PDT (GMT -0700)

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Last updated on Saturday September 20, 2008 at 06:33:38 PDT (GMT -0700)

View this article at Wikipedia.org - Edit this article at Wikipedia.org - Donate to the Wikimedia Foundation

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