Is Certainty a Virtue?

Epistemology studies how you use your mind to handle life. Ethics, or morality, applies the insights of epistemology to the actions of everyday life. Virtues are actions which improve man's life. If you live by the use of your mind, then the basic virtue is using your mind in a way that conforms to your nature in reality, thus improving your life. As a method, that is called objectivity. As a virtue, it is called rationality.

What are the everyday ways of being rational? To figure that out, you can analyze the basic virtue of rationality into the kinds of actions that add up to it, and the skills needed. That will also show how any lack of skill here can be made up there to keep full rationality. To ignore skill when considering the virtues would be to pretend that virtue requires only intent, and not method.

Productiveness is earning your own way. It is easy to see that a genius inventor and his janitor are not equally productive, but they are equally moral if each earns his own way.

Pride is moral ambitiousness, so one skill involved is the skill of identifying and heading off moral slips. The proud man might say, "I know I tried to tell the truth, but did I fully succeed? Did I lose my nerve, and if so how can I avoid losing my nerve next time?"

Independence, making up your own mind, is equally a virtue for the novice and for the expert epistemologist. The novice is helped to learn this skill by being productive, and by having pride.

Integrity, loyalty to your convictions, is an especially useful virtue if your convictions are mistaken. Integrity means you will act on the convictions, with whatever skill you have, and thus discover any mistakes involved.

Honesty, the rejection of unreality, involves the skill of detecting unreality. It is a skill many find hard to learn. But independence and integrity will help in learning it.

Justice is rationality in judging people. Many fall down badly on this one, not knowing how to detect unreality soon enough. But integrity leads one to find, and pride leads one to correct, such mistakes.

When you practice on purpose the various virtues that add up to rationality, using whatever skills you have, then the emotional result is moral certainty—confidence that your actions improve your life as a rational being. You know you are able to live, and worthy of living.

The purpose of being virtuous is to be happy. Since happiness tends to breed more happiness, it also can be thought of as a virtue. In the same way, certainty can be thought of as a virtue, since mental confidence results in applying reason to life.

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