Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Knowing Nothing

Might a pseudo-philosopher take himself to be a god amongst men? For how is it that he might claim to describe the world beyond his own mind by claiming that no man may describe the world beyond his own mind? Does such a claim bespeak a true megalomania, or is it rather a carelessness, a confusion, a deliberate deception? But then who knows what species of madness or world-weary disappointment lies behind it! What we know for certain is that it is an ancient pox of thought. Gorgias of Leontini maintained that,

(a) “nothing exists”; (b) “even if it exists it is inapprehensible to man”; (c) “even if it is apprehensible, still it is without a doubt incapable of being expressed or explained to the next man.”

Cited by Sextus Empiricus, Against the Schoolmasters, VII, 65, in The Older Sophists, ed. Rosamond Kent Sprague (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1972), p. 42.

The modern intellectual is more sophisticated – or less open – than the ancient sophist. He might couch his nihilism in the language of science, though it is no less absurd:
The chances that our brain experiences resemble some mind-independent truth are remote at best, and those who would claim otherwise must surely explain the miracle.

Donald Hoffman, “A Spoon is like a Headache”, The Edge Annual Question — 2006: What is Your Dangerous Idea? Edge, 1st January 2006.
The chances that this statement resembles some mind-independent truth are—by its own lights—remote at best, and the author must surely explain the miracle of knowing it.

1 comment:

John Hustings said...

It's the old trick, isn't it?

Any time someone claims "nothing can be known", you can always retort, "how do you know?"