Is True Knowledge Attainable?: Part 1

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Skepticism is the questioning of knowledge, fact, or opinion.  Skepticism is an interesting view because it can take form in many different ways.  We are all skeptical, or doubtful, of many things in life.  For instance, if somebody came up to you and claimed that the grass was no longer green, but purple, you should be very skeptical of this assumption.  However, what I want to focus on is philosophical skepticism.  Can we really “know” anything at all?  Does it really matter if we know anything at all?  Now, there are a couple of important things that we need to establish before we dive into the problems with this view.  

 

First, we need to define the term “knowledge.”  Knowledge is the information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education.  There are really two levels that we can know certain things on.  You can know something beyond a shadow of a doubt, and you can know something beyond a reasonable doubt.  If I know something beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know it with absolute 100% certainty.  There are only a couple of things that I can actually know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I can know that I exist, because I can think (“I think therefore I am”).  I can also know that truth exists.  I may not be able to know what is true for certainty, but I can know that truth in it of itself exists, because even if truth didn’t exist, that would still be a true thing.  And the final thing that I MIGHT be able to say beyond a shadow of a doubt is that God exists, because without God I don’t think there could be anything at all.  That is really it.  Everything else is subject to knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt.  Two movies that come to mind when discussing this issue are The Matrix and The Truman Show.  Both of these movies are centered around one or more people that think they are living in the real world, but it turns out that the world they are living in is not necessarily what they think it is.  Now, we can watch a movie like The Matrix and not really think anything of it.  But is there a logical possibility that the Matrix is true for us?  Yes.  There is a logical possibility that it is true, but there is not a reasonable possibility that it is true.  We have absolutely no reason at all to assume that it is true.  So, now that we have established the difference between reasonable possibility and logical possibility, I want to answer the big question that separates skeptics from non-skeptics.  Can knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt be counted as real knowledge, even though there is a logical possibility that we could be wrong?  The skeptic says that there is no way to know something unless you can establish it beyond a shadow of a doubt, the non-skeptic says otherwise.  I will answer this question in Part 2 of this post.

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5 thoughts on “Is True Knowledge Attainable?: Part 1

  1. I’ve been enjoying your writings, and I hope you continue in your intellectually honest approach to these issues. However, I’m going to raise some objections.

    Firstly, “—I— think therefore —I— am” seems not logically sound on the face of it. The “I” of the conclusion, is also present in the premise. The more accurate phrasing would be “Thought exists, therefore I exist.” But this exposes the unproven link between the two statements.

    Secondly, the idea that truth exists because even if truth didn’t exist, that itself would be true, is also problematic. Its basically the same thing as the liar paradox. The problem here is that when we use language, all our sentences have an unstated “it is true that…” embedded at the onset of the sentence. It is impossible to use language to describe a state of affairs without truth. Really when you point out that even the statement “truth does not exist,” is a claim about truth, you are making explicit the implicit truth claim embedded in every linguistic expression. This doesn’t mean that such a state of affairs could not exist, only that human language isn’t capable of claiming it in a non-contradictory manner. Which is a point very closely related to my third…

    Thirdly, the above two points rely on the validity of deductive logic. But since deductive logic is what we ultimately use to prove everything else, it itself cannot by syllogistically proven.

    Fourthly, to use any of the above arguments as a proof for God requires the use of inductive logic. Induction, to be 100% true, requires assuming a universal relationship between two factors which always holds true. Due to the very tiny amount of information we have access to in relation to the total sum of information in the universe, it is impossible to establish universal relationships. So conclusions reached by inductive reasoning cannot be certain.

    I look forward to part 2 of your post!

    • Thank you for the feedback! I always enjoy debate in a civilized manner. I’ll address each of your points.

      1. I agree with your first point that “I think, therefore I am” is not the best wording. The reason why I stated it like that was to credit Descartes. However, I’m not in full agreement with the way you stated it. I think the proper way to word it is “MY thoughts exist, therefore I exist.” I think this wording also takes care of the issue of the unproven link, because if I were to assert that my thoughts exist, at least part of me would HAVE to exist. You could make the argument that my physical body and even my senses are not 100% certain, but I find it logically impossible for me to say that I myself do not exist, at least in thought form, I have to exist because of my thoughts.

      2. If I understand you correctly (and please correct me if I’m wrong) you claim that, in the realm, of language, truth has to exist because we are not capable of claiming otherwise, but outside of that, we cannot make the assertion that truth has to exist. Imagine just for a moment that nothing at all exists. And I mean absolutely nothing at all. You still have a problem that it is true that nothing exists. Yes, humans can only reason with one another by means of language, whatever form that may take place in, but I do not think that we are unable to think beyond that. Even if we had no language at all, there is still an issue of truth here because, it is true that language doesn’t exists. I do not think that you could ever escape the reality of truth.

      3. Yes, you are correct. Syllogistically, deductive reasoning cannot be proven. However, I do not think it matters. Deductive reasoning is something that I do not think we can get away from in any manner whatsoever. By simply saying that deductive reasoning cannot be proven, I assume that you are making a deductive statement, and if you aren’t then I think your argument is logically inconsistent because you are arguing against deductive reasoning using something other than deductive reasoning, and that is subject to being false. To go into further detail, you are making the argument that deductive reasoning could be true, but there is also a possibility that it could not be true, and that very statement would either have to be deductive (falsifying your original argument) or the statement isn’t deductive (making your argument inconsistent, because you are making an absolute statement and that can’t be anything but deductive). Again, I don’t think that it is something that you can get away from, because without knowledge of some absolute truth we have no basis to say anything at all.

      4. The point of this post isn’t really to argue for the existence of God, but primarily to argue against skepticism as a viable form of logic. I said that we MIGHT be able to say that God exists for sure, but I am not entirely convinced of this. There may be a logical possibility that He doesn’t exist, but I would have to go into further study on the subject to say this for certainty. Overall, most arguments for God are extremely inductive, so yes, they are not for certain.

      Again, thank you for commenting! Feel free to reply back and comment on any of my other posts!

      • I’ll try to respond to these points

        1. Fair enough. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the whole “I think therefore I am” argument, so I’ll let it rest.

        2. You seem to understand the point I’m driving at, but then you also seem to ignore it in the example you give. The example you give is ” Imagine just for a moment that nothing at all exists….You still have a problem that it is true that nothing exists.” But my whole claim is that this is tautological. In language there is always the unstated truth claim, which if we state in this case, would read: “Imagine just for a moment that [it is true that] nothing at all exists….You still have a problem that it is true that nothing exists.” Of course! Its just a restatement of what language has already smuggled in. That is why I brought up the liar paradox.

        I’m tempted to say: “Imagine that we have a language in which rather than smuggling in a truth claim, we smuggle in a non-truth claim. So the sentence ‘nothing exists’ would then implicitly read ‘[it is neither true nor false that] nothing exists.’ This sentence (and all sentences in this language) would have no truth value.” But based on your prior response I’m afraid that you’ll bring the example back into our existing language system and create another implicit truth claim to make it read “(it is true that[it is neither true nor false that] nothing exists,” which is indeed how the sentence appears to our brains.

        The concept of truth is a logical or linguistic one. It may correspond with reality, but there is no way of knowing that *a priori* because the concept of truth is already *A posteriori.* I disagree with you when you say that we are able to think beyond our linguistic limits. We aren’t capable of thinking beyond logical or linguistic concepts. There is fundamentally no way to get *a priori* because the way in which it is possible for us to think is already constrained by virtue of being human. In other words, just because its impossible for us to conceive of or express the possibility that truth does not exist, does not mean that such a state of affairs is impossible. If you haven’t already read Ludwig Wittgenstein and questions surrounding skepticism, logic, and language, I highly recommend him.

        3. I’m a little confused by this point so maybe you could clarify. You agree that that the validity of deductive logic is unverifiable, but you don’t think it matters. Well, why not? If all your claims about truth, self, and God rest on deductive logic, then doesn’t its validity matter? Otherwise, you have to just assume the validity of logic and move on from there, which makes all truth claims garnered via logic non-absolute.

        4. Fair enough. So you are an agnostic Christian?

      • I’ll throw point one aside since we have found some common ground

        2. I think you have a problem of, if we can’t think beyond our own linguistic abilities, then how can we know that anything does exist beyond them. Regardless, you still have a problem of truth existing in one form or another. I’ll check out Wittgenstein sometime.

        3. What I’m saying is, even if you say that deductive arguments aren’t valid, you are saying that with certainty, which means you are using a deductive argument. And if you aren’t saying it with certainty, then you are being inconsistent with your argument because you are saying that it is highly probable that deductive arguments don’t exist, and you are still making a deductive statement with that. Deductive arguments matter, but proving them syllogistically does not matter. Deductive reasoning is evident and not something you can even get around with the laws of logic. Again, you and I are going to disagree on this point because we are taking different approaches to it.

        4. No, I am not an agnostic Christian. That would be saying “I don’t know if God exists, but if He does then he’s the Christian God.” I do not take that approach. Now, it also depends on how you define agnostic. If you define it as not being able to know something for certainty based off of empirical data, then everybody is an agnostic in that sense. However, if you define it as simply taking the position of not knowing something and being content with that, then no I am absolutely not an agnostic. I believe Christianity is the most logical viewpoint, but again, this post isn’t really about that.

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