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Religion and Spirituality, Science and Philosophy Use this forum to discuss what you believe in. This is a place where everyone may share their views freely.

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Epistemology: If Skepticism is self-defeating; is knowledge possible? - May 21st 2010, 07:08 AM

I've been thinking about a lot of epistemological issues recently and I want to record my thoughts and I wish for everyone on all beliefs comment on this because quite frankly I'm tired of being a skeptic. I am going to start very briefly explaining what we claim "truthful knowledge" (since knowledge can be false but we'll save that for another thread) actually is, how skepticsm defeats itself, and based on these two I want your opinions on if knowledge is even possible. Please read the post and don't just answer, "Yes it is because I believe it is." Actually consider my thoughts on this before you answer abruptly, if you could be so kind as to respect this thread

What is Truthful Knowledge?

If I asked you, "Can you raise your right hand at this moment?" Chances are the lot of you will respond, "Yes, I can." Okay, well then I'll proceed to ask, "How do you know?" If we are being honest with ourselves we will say, "I didn't (or don't) know, I just believed I could."

Truthful knowledge is nothing more than a probability. Something i court that is called, "beyond a reasonable doubt." Or if we consider a more simplistic term, we'd say, "I am 99% sure I can raise my right hand." In essence this knowledge is nothing more than a mere belief. For example, I raised my right hand in the past, so I can raise it now. It's an analytical induction that in the past it was possible and there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to now, so chances are you can in fact raise your right hand.

However, notice that being beyond a reasonable doubt is only being 99% sure. It is never 100% sure because we are basing our judgment on the probability or likelihood that we are right. Therefore, it seems when we get to this point of 99% we seem to say, "I have knowledge." When in fact you've possessed no knowledge at all. You've discovered the probability that you are in fact right to the best of your judgment. This does not mean you ARE right, just that chances are in your favor.

The problem is that you are a mortal, finite being, with a finite mind. Your mind is limited (and in fact is probably a very minuscule in the grand scale of things). Therefore, because you have a finite mind, you are not omniscient and do not KNOW all things. Therefore, because you do not possess a knowledge of every aspect, how can you claim to have knowledge?

Well for all practicality we usually determine knowledge by using different factors of judgment. One factor is the Law of Non-Contradiction (two things can't contradict another i.e. Yes can't be yes and no at the same time or a human cannot be a human and a rock at the same time) and the other factor is Law of the Excluded Middle (something either is or isn't i.e. I either exist or I don't, even if I existed I do not exist any longer so I do or I don't). This is how we determine if an argument for truth is true. However, these two must also be accompanied with observation of the world.

A "True Knowledge" Logical Argument:
All Mortals Die + All Men Are Mortal = All Men Die

Now this is logical in that it does not go against the two laws and through observation the argument appears to be true.

A Logical (but false) Argument:
All Reptiles Can Fly + Men Are Reptiles = All Men Can Fly

Now, this argument is actually a VALID logical argument, but because it was not accompanied with observation, it's false.

Therefore, the first argument is logical and likely true due to our observations.

"Ok so knowledge is possible?"


Not really, no. Just because our observations tell us that all mortals die and all men die doesn't make it true. We have observation on a LOT of men and on a LOT of mortals but we have not observed every mortal, nor have we observed every man die, therefore it takes faith to say that, "All men (or mortals) die."

What can we say then?

We can say according to our observation that all men and mortals die and due to OUR observation solely we are 99% certain that all men die (yet even that percentile is scued). Therefore, beyond a reasonable doubt all men will die. However, we're still 1% uncertain.

So then knowledge is never possible?

I can't really say that either. In order for a skeptic to claim that knowledge isn't possible, they are contradicting their beliefs. They are stating that they believe that their skepticism is true. Therefore, in stating that skepticism is true they have defied their logic and have contradicted themselves because they believe skepticism is true. In other words, when they say, "We can know nothing." Well, technically they can't even know the sentence that they know nothing is true. But in fact even by stating they know nothing, they know something. They know that they know nothing, which is in fact something.

Now, we can say that we are even skeptical of our skepticism. Yet this is self defeating too. If we were skeptic of skepticism we are then implying that we believe knowledge is possible. And therefore, if we are skeptics we must maintain a constant skepticism about our skepticism thereby stating that knowledge in everything is in fact possible.

Therefore, skepticism defeats itself in its own logic.

So we go back... is knowledge possible?

Well, even someone who claims knowledge is possible is only 99% certain (again a scued percentage) or sure beyond a reasonable doubt certain that knowledge is in deed possible. Yet, they will never be 100% certain.

Therefore, what's true? Both are self defeating.
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Re: Epistemology: If Skepticism is self-defeating; is knowledge possible? - May 21st 2010, 09:24 AM

I love it when people get tangled up in the philosophy of knowledge and certainty versus probability. As you say; perfect knowledge is impossible. The concept of perfect knowledge however is also totally irrelevant to daily life, so most people just accept that we use "knowledge" to mean "what we consider to most likely be the case." That kind of knowledge is perfectly possible, and were anyone to disagree with that I'd ask how much they were money willing to wager on the sun not rising next morning. Induction is rather funny in that philosophers can't find any reason concrete justification for why it should work, and yet it clearly does. Hume had plenty to say on the matter, if you're interested in doing some reading.

As for the numbers you use, 99% and 1% are a little misleading. You'd be better to say "as close to 100% as makes little difference" and "essentially 0%". To illustrate the point; what kind of odds would I have to give you to make you willing to wager on some endlessly improbable but philosophically probable thing happening? You certainly wouldn't do it at 100 to 1, at least.


The atoms that make up you and me were born in the hearts of suns many times greater than ours, and in time our atoms will once again reside amongst the stars. Life is but an idle dalliance of the cosmos, frail, and soon forgotten. We have been set adrift in an ocean whose tides we are only beginning to comprehend and with that maturity has come the realization that we are, at least for now, alone. In that loneliness, it falls to us to shine as brightly as the stars from which we came.
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Re: Epistemology: If Skepticism is self-defeating; is knowledge possible? - May 21st 2010, 09:46 AM

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Originally Posted by Xujhan View Post
I love it when people get tangled up in the philosophy of knowledge and certainty versus probability. As you say; perfect knowledge is impossible. The concept of perfect knowledge however is also totally irrelevant to daily life, so most people just accept that we use "knowledge" to mean "what we consider to most likely be the case." That kind of knowledge is perfectly possible, and were anyone to disagree with that I'd ask how much they were money willing to wager on the sun not rising next morning. Induction is rather funny in that philosophers can't find any reason concrete justification for why it should work, and yet it clearly does. Hume had plenty to say on the matter, if you're interested in doing some reading.

As for the numbers you use, 99% and 1% are a little misleading. You'd be better to say "as close to 100% as makes little difference" and "essentially 0%". To illustrate the point; what kind of odds would I have to give you to make you willing to wager on some endlessly improbable but philosophically probable thing happening? You certainly wouldn't do it at 100 to 1, at least.
Yeah I debated a lot of using the 99% and 1% chances. I've read a little bit of Hume and Kant, I seem to agree with them (I suppose with Kant more-so)... but in the same regards agreeing with them has defeated their arguments in fact their logic defeats their own arguments. Even a lot of Hume's justification for empirical data defeats itself (in that his reasoning doesn't even fit his means for justification). I'm just really lost on this epistemological issue and I can't get past it... heh.
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Re: Epistemology: If Skepticism is self-defeating; is knowledge possible? - May 21st 2010, 04:19 PM

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Originally Posted by mewithoutYou View Post
I can't really say that either. In order for a skeptic to claim that knowledge isn't possible, they are contradicting their beliefs. They are stating that they believe that their skepticism is true. Therefore, in stating that skepticism is true they have defied their logic and have contradicted themselves because they believe skepticism is true. In other words, when they say, "We can know nothing." Well, technically they can't even know the sentence that they know nothing is true. But in fact even by stating they know nothing, they know something. They know that they know nothing, which is in fact something.

Now, we can say that we are even skeptical of our skepticism. Yet this is self defeating too. If we were skeptic of skepticism we are then implying that we believe knowledge is possible. And therefore, if we are skeptics we must maintain a constant skepticism about our skepticism thereby stating that knowledge in everything is in fact possible.

Therefore, skepticism defeats itself in its own logic.
The rest of the post is a simple uncertainty argument, I won't bother with it much. This bit though is a bit odd - you seem to take skepticism as meaning the denial of all that isn't entirely proven, when it's in fact the denial of that which isn't sufficiently proven (think of Occam's Razor). The denial of all that isn't entirely proven without a shred of doubt is probably better described by the word "cynicism"
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Re: Epistemology: If Skepticism is self-defeating; is knowledge possible? - May 21st 2010, 08:40 PM

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Originally Posted by Union Of V View Post
The rest of the post is a simple uncertainty argument, I won't bother with it much. This bit though is a bit odd - you seem to take skepticism as meaning the denial of all that isn't entirely proven, when it's in fact the denial of that which isn't sufficiently proven (think of Occam's Razor). The denial of all that isn't entirely proven without a shred of doubt is probably better described by the word "cynicism"
http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=skepticism

"S: (n) agnosticism, skepticism, scepticism (the disbelief in any claims of ultimate knowledge)"
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Re: Epistemology: If Skepticism is self-defeating; is knowledge possible? - May 22nd 2010, 09:47 AM

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Originally Posted by mewithoutYou View Post
http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=skepticism

"S: (n) agnosticism, skepticism, scepticism (the disbelief in any claims of ultimate knowledge)"
I seem to have mis-defined skeptiscism, so I consulted the expert (Carl Sagan) on the matter:

Quote:
As I've tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes - an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter-intuitive, and the most ruthlessly skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new... The collective enterprise of creative thinking and skeptical thinking, working together, keeps the field on track....
To tie into your post, Sagan goes on to explain (using basic logic) that the closest we will ever get to supreme knowledge of the universe is by using a perfect balance of skepticism and credulity - however since we don't know what the "perfect" balance is, but as we get closer to it we get closer to the perfect "skeptical approach" (my terminology). In conclusion, skepticism works perfectly when used alongside other methods - it is on it's own that it is self-defeating.
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Re: Epistemology: If Skepticism is self-defeating; is knowledge possible? - May 23rd 2010, 01:12 AM

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Originally Posted by Union Of V View Post
I seem to have mis-defined skeptiscism, so I consulted the expert (Carl Sagan) on the matter:



To tie into your post, Sagan goes on to explain (using basic logic) that the closest we will ever get to supreme knowledge of the universe is by using a perfect balance of skepticism and credulity - however since we don't know what the "perfect" balance is, but as we get closer to it we get closer to the perfect "skeptical approach" (my terminology). In conclusion, skepticism works perfectly when used alongside other methods - it is on it's own that it is self-defeating.
It appears to me that knowledge is possible, just not plausible (I know it can be argued this statement is contradicting -- let me explain). However, what I mean is that truths do exist, it's a matter of discovering them I suppose as Sagan says. But more or less, how do we ever know that we've accomplished an ultimate truth or as you say, "supreme knowledge" without even knowing what supreme knowledge is. In essence, we can always be skeptic. It just seems to me to say that "there is no truth" is outlandish, while claiming to KNOW something also seems to be not possible (even though I say this I'm not really sure my claims are truth -- they're just observations -- or perhaps even less likely I've discovered a truth).
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Re: Epistemology: If Skepticism is self-defeating; is knowledge possible? - May 23rd 2010, 11:46 AM

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It appears to me that knowledge is possible, just not plausible (I know it can be argued this statement is contradicting -- let me explain). However, what I mean is that truths do exist, it's a matter of discovering them I suppose as Sagan says. But more or less, how do we ever know that we've accomplished an ultimate truth or as you say, "supreme knowledge" without even knowing what supreme knowledge is. In essence, we can always be skeptic. It just seems to me to say that "there is no truth" is outlandish, while claiming to KNOW something also seems to be not possible (even though I say this I'm not really sure my claims are truth -- they're just observations -- or perhaps even less likely I've discovered a truth).
The most plausible theory is that there is a supreme truth, just that we will never be able to observe it well enough to find out what it is (Observer Effect etc). Saying there isn't a supreme truth is like saying evolution is disproved by gaps in the fossil records - as time goes on, the gaps become smaller and smaller and we move towards a "complete" (yet unobtainable) timeline. Similarly as our knowledge of the world improves with more accurate measurements and a better understanding of it, we move closer and closer to supreme knowledge. We're proving that knowledge is possible on smaller and smaller scales; you can still argue that on tiny scales "truth" ceases to exist, but we have yet to reach that boundary and the way things are going we can only expect to work our way gradually downwards.

tl;dr
It's possible that there is no truth, but extrapolating leads to the conclusion that there probably is such thing as truth.
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