Topic: skepticism about knowledge

topics > Group: philosophy

meaning and truth
philosophy of science

knowledge representation
law of nature
limitations of formalism
metaphysics and epistemology
philosophy of mind
private language argument for skepticism about meaning
problems with analytic truth
problems with empirical truth
problems with information retrieval
science as experiment
what is truth


If something is unknown is it knowable or is it inherently unknownable? Is it unknown because we are not smart enough or have not worked hard enough, or is it unknown because there is no answer?

Some problems are inherently unknowable. For example, it is unknowable whether an abitrary Turing machine will halt. You can run a Turing machine and see if it halts. But if it hasn't halted up to now, will it halt in the future or continue to run forever? While you may be able to prove that a Turing machine must halt eventually, you can also prove that you can not always prove whether or not a machine halts.

Is knowledge itself unknowable? Clearly somethings can be known, but what about everything? To know something is to place it in a framework. The framework itself requires knowledge, leading to a regress. Is an absolute framework? Is the framework predetermined by a higher being, or defined by a higher authority. Does the framework depend on the observer?

What can we know? What should we doubt? The scientific method starts with an assumption that knowledge is incomplete. Ideas must be tested by experiment. Results must be duplicated by others. Every theory may be wrong. "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts" [Feynman 1969]. (cbb 7/06)

Subtopic: universe as random up

Quote: Euripides--does random careless chance and change, alone control the world? [»euri_425]
Quote: to assert that a unique and unrepeatable phenomenon occurs according to plan is gratuitous and otiose; e.g., the wave of evolution [»thomR_1975]
Quote: in dharma theory, all things are made of instantaneous, multiply interacting events called dharmas [»joneTC6_1977]
Quote: the Chinese decomposed Pali and Sanscrit texts into dharmic form before translating to Chinese; worked well [»joneTC6_1977]
Quote: suppose there were 60 billion chemical elements uniformly distributed; there would be no science and perhaps no thought and life; every pebble would be new

Subtopic: unknowable up

Quote: knowledge of an unconditioned necessity must itself be an unconditioned necessity and hence unknowable
Quote: knowledge through pure reason about 'What can I know?' lies beyond our reach [»kantI_1781, OK]
Quote: the certitude and perfect reason of contingent truths is known only to God, who grasps the infinite with one intuition
Quote: necessary truths and contingent truths differ as rationals differ from irrationals; the former reduces to identity while the later leads to infinite regress [»leibGW_1679]
Quote: it is impossible to understand the true and internal essence of natural substances [»drakS_1978]
Quote: ultimately, nothing can be said about the nature of knowledge [»plat_368]
Quote: Plato thought it impossible to find a common definition for sensible things; they change too much
Quote: psychology must posit internal representations, but something is a representation only for or to someone; i.e., a homunculus that leads to an infinite regress [»dennDC_1978a]
Quote: free and contingent things furnish an infinite series of reasons, which God alone can see through; e.g., of space and time
Quote: analyze categories to their indefinable terms; Aristotle--we must not seek a definition of everything
Quote: extensive knowledge is as nothing because understanding a thousand intelligibles is nothing to the infinity that exist [»galiG_1632]

Subtopic: skepticism up

Quote: before Galileo, the study of motion was based on ideas and arguments; Galileo was skeptical; he measured how far a ball rolled in how long a time [»feynRP_1963]
Quote: every idea can be wrong
Quote: science is the belief in the ignorance of experts; the greatest teachers of preceding generations are not infallible; need balance [»feynRP9_1969]
Quote: Galileo's father was skeptical about authority
Quote: my having experienced a thousand times the ease with which one is deceived removes my confidence
Quote: Descartes starts with a skeptical attitude; God is an evil genius that deceives us through our senses, like dreaming [»descR_1641]
Quote: even though God deceives me, I must exist because I am aware of the possiblity of deception [»descR_1641]
Quote: errors occur because the will extends beyond the intellect and our understanding; also sin and deception [»descR_1641]
Quote: while senses may be false, thoughts must exist; so I am a thing that thinks, doubts, understands, imagines, senses [»descR_1641]
Quote: the senses can be deceived because the body effects the mind indirectly through other parts of the body [»descR_1641]
Quote: Stoic theory of error--false ideas are part of external reality but they can't mature into clear and distinct ideas (science) [»lakaI_1976]
Quote: the life of man is vulnerable to errors regarding particular things because of the need to get things done [»descR_1641]
Quote: can know things because a perfect God is not a deceiver; similarly, our willing and understanding is perfect when it comes from God [»descR_1641]

Subtopic: illusion and reason up

Quote: human reason stands in need of discipline to expose the illusions which it originates; this discipline is exercised by reason alone [»kantI_1781, OK]
Quote: men measure all things by themselves; e.g., since we grow weary of motion, all things seek respose of its own accord
Quote: all philosophy of pure reason is purely negative; it guards against error but does not lead to the discovery of new truth
Quote: in science, we cannot define anything precisely; we have to agree that we are talking about roughly the same thing; avoids paralysis of thought [»feynRP_1963]
Quote: freedom of will and causality are idealizations; both concern the relation between subject and object which forms the core of the problem of knowledge [»bohrN_1934]

Related Topics up

Group: meaning and truth   (18 topics, 634 quotes)
Group: philosophy of science   (10 topics, 406 quotes)

Topic: knowledge representation (41 items)
Topic: law of nature (28 items)
Topic: limitations of formalism (93 items)
Topic: metaphysics and epistemology (99 items)
Topic: philosophy of mind (78 items)
Topic: private language argument for skepticism about meaning (34 items)
Topic: problems with analytic truth (20 items)
Topic: problems with empirical truth (21 items)
Topic: problems with information retrieval (51 items)
Topic: science as experiment (38 items)
Topic: what is truth
(67 items)

Updated barberCB 7/05
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