Certainty vs. Truth

In the first chapter of his Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel discusses the concept of sense certainty.  Like Kant, Hegel maintains that the process of obtaining knowledge is not purely sensory (Empirical) nor purely in our minds (Rational) but instead a cooperative act between mind and matter, one always mediating the other. Unlike Kant, Hegel discusses the implications of this duality and thus makes the distinction between certainty and the truth.

“The force of its truth thus lies now in the ‘I’ .”(Phenomenology of Spirit 61).

Hegel presents sense certainty as a sort of weak individual truth, completely dependent on the “here” and “now”, which is all relative to the individual or the “I”. In this way two individuals can be certain of conflicting things where both individuals experienced authentic sense certainty and both certainties are equally true to “now” and “here” of each individual (Phenomenology of Spirit 63).

Although Hegel does discuss universals(real truth), which are more enduring pluralities of truth, this does not entirely make up for indefiniteness of truth presented by sense certainty. It is kind of weird to think that on an individual level we all have our own truths that can deviate from any absolute truth— or that we are under the illusion that we encounter the world through these immediate truths. The universal truths might be different from an individual’s truth but can we really discredit their truth?

I keep thinking about a news article I read the other day about a bunch of drunken soccer fans vandalizing the Fontana della Barcaccia in Rome. The article described the tears of art experts and the outrage citizens and, most memorably, the outrage of a certain art historian who called the soccer fans “idiots” who are “are incapable of understanding the beauty of art and of Rome”. The name of the fountain literally translates to “the fountain of the old/ugly boat” and it is apparent why. Initially, I was upset over the vandalism of the historic fountain but after a while I kept wondering if it was justified to throw people in jail and charge them outrageous fines because they chipped a Bernini fountain rather than some fountain at the local mall. Many people are certain of the fountain’s value and beauty but what is that worth to a bunch of individuals with different certainties? Is that old boat truly art? And even so, how can we prosecute based on something as ambiguous as truth?

story: Dutch Soccer Fans Vandalize Rome’s La Barcaccia Fountain

4 responses to “Certainty vs. Truth

  1. I really like how you compared what Hegel was talking about to the news article that you read. I don’t know fully if this was the point you were trying to make, but I’m gonna take a go at it. I think that what you said about throwing people in jail because they vandalized a Bernini fountain rather a fountain at the mall correlates to what you said about “two individuals can be certain of conflicting things where both individuals experienced authentic sense certainty and both certainties are equally true to “now” and “here” of each individual”. I would say that they two individuals in this case are the people who think that vandalizing the Bernini fountain was horrible and disrespectful, like the art historian did, and the people who think that the Bernini fountain is just another fountain, and that people shouldn’t go to jail just because they vandalized it. Those two perspectives are the “here” and “now” of those two individuals. If this is not what you were trying to say or get at at all, then sorry I misunderstood! This is just something that I took from what you wrote.

  2. Perspective does hold an important claim to truth. If I show apathy towards an object, I would not care if it got destroyed or vandalized. If, however, I shows appreciation for an object, I would be offended if it got vandalized. Hegel’s view of sense-certainty plays an important role because it recognizes that different views can be considered “truths” for different people. I applaud the use of this article because it presents two radically different views on the destruction of the monument. To further this conversation, I would ask if it is possible to form a synthesis based of the two truths provided by the people.

  3. I think you bring up an interesting point. How can fines or imprisonment for a crime be defined based upon something as subjective as taste or appreciation? In this situation, I believe that the authorities are more concerned with the implication of the vandalism. I think that because this fountain is so famous and was created by an internationally renowned artist, they are concerned that if the people who vandalized the fountain went unpunished, others would believe that they could get away with vandalizing other forms of art just because they do not think it is beautiful. A fountain at the mall is normally built to make the surrounding area prettier not to be an artistic work. In the situation of the Fontana della Barcaccia, an artist worked towards creating something. He put time and effort, and concentration into producing the fountain. I play the devil’s advocate to your argument. Just because some people do not find something beautiful or valuable does not mean that they can defile and then get away with it. Whether a fountain at the mall or a famous fountain, people should not expect to get away without paying a fine just because they do not consider the fountain aesthetically pleasing. Vandalism is vandalism no matter the object; however, in the case of the Fontana della Barcaccia, an artist expended much effort into creating something, and his creation should not be infringed upon just because some do not appreciate it.

  4. Perspective does contribute to truth as we see, However, is truth really truth if it can change? If it is truth, why isn’t it absolute? I’m not advocating for universal truth between all organisms, but seeking for a truth that is absolute, such as the Earth rotates, or there is day and night. Have we always been hypocritical towards other beings and ourselves by claiming that we have found some sorts of truth? It is an interesting topic to discuss, but I doubt that we will ever find that final answer, that “truth:,

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