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Philosophical Frameworks

Knowledge is negligible

Some people believe that "there is some absolute truth," others say that "there are no absolute truths," the real story is that we just do not know. Moreover, we cannot know. Human knowledge is limited and the best we can ever say is that some claims are more probable than other claims. We might even say that some claims are very probably true, but that is different from saying that we know them for certain. We cannot be certain about anything. The human condition is basically a state of ignorance. Everything is open to doubt. For example, it is possible that everything I am experiencing now is a vivid dream from which I will soon wake up. That may not sound very plausible, but there is no way to prove it false, so it remains possible. A lot of what we take to be knowledge depends on our senses. But our senses can be fooled. In the desert, people see mirages. Most people have probably seen a kind of mirage on the highway in summer. Way up ahead, there appears to be a large pool of water on the road. Little children are surprised when they get to the spot and the "water" has vanished. These are just a few examples of the many ways we can be tricked into thinking something exists or is real when it is only an illusion (or appearance). If we are to have any genuine knowledge, we have to be able to distinguish appearance from reality. There is no completely reliable way to so because we can always be mistaken. Genuine knowledge is forever out of our grasp. Of course, science provides a sound method for approximating truth. By scientific study we can determine what is most probable. But a necessary part of science is that every claim it makes is open to doubt. People used to believe that the earth was flat. We believe it is round. Science gives us some good reasons to think so, but it is possible that another theory will come along and show that the earth is a four-dimensional hypersphere instead of a round ball. The case is never closed on any issue, doubt is always possible, and final knowledge is forever out of our grasp. This view will probably upset people who believe in "an absolute truth" and people who believe "there is no absolute truth." After all, both claim to know something. But the only thing we can know is that we know nothing.

  2003 © Jon Dorbolo