Many great philosophers doubted their knowledge. The Paradox of Induction touches on this skepticism

Skeptics say that all knowledge and scientific progress is based on inductive logic, which is fallible. That it is arrogant to presume we know anything or we’ll ever comprehend the growing complexities of the world around us. That even if we conduct experiments and analyze the results 10, 100, 1000 times, there is no guarantee the 1001th result will be the same

Is there no objective or absolute knowledge? No foundational, fact of the matter or right answer? Is the knowledge we have, about what happened in the past, what the universe is made of, who we are, etc, just conviction, just convention, just ideology, just a badge of power, just the rule of the language game we play, just the product of an irrepressible disposition to lie to ourselves that we have discovered out there in some external, objective, mind-independent world what we invented ourselves, out of instinct, imagination and culture? Or is there an objective or absolute knowledge? What evidence is there for the existence of objective, absolute knowledge?

Are there any arguments against the belief that all we know is that we know nothing?

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    Who knows..? ;)
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 4, 2023 at 20:32
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    Everything is indeed uncertain, and if you think knowledge demands perfect certainty, you could say you don't know anything. But, then you have lost a formerly useful word, "know," because you can never apply it. In light of that, it's better to simply define the word "knowledge" to mean a justified level of confidence above a certain threshold (where the conclusion is true and the justifications correctly support it). If you use that definition - which allows us to "know" things while still admitting some everpresent doubt - then the word remains useful and compatible with prior usage.
    – causative
    Jul 4, 2023 at 21:09
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    By the way, the resolution to the Gettier problem is that the conclusion should be true and the justifications should correctly support it. That means the premises are true, and support the conclusion without making any incorrect implicit assumptions.
    – causative
    Jul 4, 2023 at 21:14
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    @MatthewChristopherBartsh: Yes people can make a request for references/texts/thinkers that relate to their question, it's a common type of question on here
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 4, 2023 at 23:28
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    You have to be careful to the distinction between certainty and knowledge: we have no certainty at all, but we have a lot of knowledge. Skepticism is about the first one, while epistemology is about the second one. Jul 5, 2023 at 8:11

7 Answers 7


Your question presents an example of a false dichotomy, namely the suggestion that knowledge is either absolute or it is 'just conviction, just convention, just ideology, just a badge of power, just the rule of the language game we play, just the product of an irrepressible disposition to lie to ourselves' which is nonsense. It also presents an example of a non-sequitur, in suggesting that because induction is fallible all knowledge derived from induction is unreliable.

The scope of human knowledge (I will modestly skip over my own) is vast. I suppose you know how to dress yourself, that Australia is the name of a country in the Southern Hemisphere, that apples grow on apple trees, that pressing the keys on your computer makes letters appear on the screen, that iron rusts in certain conditions, that the Titanic sank, that electrons are different from motor cars, that the Sun is further away than Moscow, that Jimi Hendrix played guitar, that Elvis did not win an Olympic gold medal, that a bulldozer is more powerful than a fly, that... well, hopefully you get my drift. You have a great deal of knowledge, and if you read back over the contrived list of examples I typed, I would challenge you to explain in what meaningful sense they cannot be considered absolute. Yes it is true that we cannot theoretically rule out the possibility that your brain is in a vat and has been programmed to believe all those things by a malevolent giant pink rabbit, but put it to you that only a philosopher or an idiot would take such a proposition seriously.

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    Great answer. Postulating a brain in the vat scenario to anyone not immersed in philosophy would immediately call it instinctually ridiculous. It’s almost like we have a built in instinct to not trust wild scenarios that can’t be demonstrated and yet the more we delve into philosophy, the mere mention of these ideas seem to give it more credence than they actually deserve
    – user62907
    Jul 5, 2023 at 7:17
  • @thinkingman Cheers! Your comments definitely chime with the frame of mind I was in when I typed the answer. Jul 5, 2023 at 7:54
  • "The scope of human knowledge (I will modestly skip over my own) is vast." That had me laughing out loud. That's a good one. "Elvis did not win an Olympic gold medal". That produced a chuckle. Also, I think the answer contains much truth. +1 Jul 5, 2023 at 22:10
  • @MatthewChristopherBartsh you are far too kind! If ever you need a chuckle, consider looking at theawfulauthor.com Jul 6, 2023 at 10:13
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    "only a philosopher or an idiot would take such a proposition seriously" - well, this is philosophy stack exchange. Appealing to ordinary common sense can never work as a philosophical argument. "In what meaningful sense they cannot be absolute" - absolutely that can be questioned, just read Hume's argument for doubting something as foundational as cause and effect. Feb 24 at 0:22

For starters, “all we know is that we know nothing” contains a contradiction. With that being said, that is demonstrably false, since we can know some things with certainty. For example, we know that a square circle cannot exist. We also know that we exist as a matter of experience through consciousness.

In terms of the question of whether we can ever have absolute knowledge about other things, it is impossible. However, this may be a practically useless notion, since all we know is what we know. For example, we’ve only ever observed natural causes for things, so there is no point worrying about whether or not supernatural causes exist. This is because even if they did exist, we cannot know this until evidence presents itself.


This question amounts to a mockery of Socrates' Apology (of course not intentionally)

Socrates who is on trial is under multiple dilemmas:

  1. He is being convicted of impiety when he is actually pious though not in the usual vulgar way
  2. He is being convicted of spoiling the youth when he actually has good intentions
  3. Incidentally but crucially, the God (oracle of Apollo) has pronounced that he is the wisest of men. This puts him in a fix! He cannot accept the oracular word since it contradicts his humility. He cannot reject it without falling into impiety.

Finding himself under these cross-cutting pulls he ponders calmly on a way out...


The solution he comes to lies in his objective state of self-knowledge (opposite to the Dunning-Kruger effect): He reconciles his humility and his compulsion to believe/follow the God by affirming that the recognition of his own ignorance perhaps is what makes the pronouncement of the oracle true.


Those of us who are not Socrates and are not on trial and upon whom there is no oracular diktat need not worry ourselves with this question. It is specific to a context. What is universal and applicable to all is the calm and philosophical way in which he extricates himself — assuming that drinking hemlock is extrication!


There is a natural uncertainty that is part of any system. There also is an uncertainty due to ignorance. No amount of knowledge can overcome the natural uncertainty. For example:

The natural uncertainty of a fair coin flip is 50%. A completely ignorant person and an expert in probabilities have the same 50% uncertainty when predicting the next coin flip. So here is an example that even with 100% knowledge of probabilities, my predictive ability is 50%.

So absolute knowledge may be possible, but it can't guarantee a 100% accurate prediction.


Yes, there is no absolute or objective knowledge. As humans all we have is perspective hence complete subjectivity, but again the idea of knowledge itself is a human construct so saying no absolute knowledge would be a contradiction (but this too is a result of our mind) what I want to say is that in a weird sense we are stuck within our mind, bodies and senses, but through these things and working together we have expanded enough to get to see and subjectively know parts of this 'objective' reality around us that is what every human trial has been since the beginning. If you look at the beginning of humans we had religion that would relegate the 'unknown'/'absolute' to a God; and now in modern times Science is just a 'subjectivizing' outlook/observation and trial to explain the 'objective' reality before us. I will say this again our senses, mind and the tools we have developed over the years will take us only far, by the end of the day such a thing as an 'absolute' would be completely out of the reach of humanity. We do know one thing for sure; that there is something.


Can we know anything.

Yes. Through methods that can include reconciliation, cohesion, and other means of validation and confirmation...

... about some topics, certain levels of information and knowledge can be attained.

So certainly that further discussion on the matter is relegated to the ranks of loonies and crackpots.

We do not question our knowledge of the shape of the Earth.


And those that do... they ain't practicing philosophy... that is for sure.

So yes. Conclusively. Certain knowledge is attainable, and we can certainly know it.


Is knowledge possible? Strictly speaking, we don't know -- this concept is known as Cartesian doubt. However, we should assume that we can know things. Specifically, we should assume that our Reality and everything in it can be understood as a deterministic machine -- understood by visualizing a model of how it works.

A beautiful verse in the opening of John's Gospel might well be describing this concept:

All things were made through it [the Logos]; and without it was not any thing made that was made.

The Logos in this context would refer to the plan, to the design of the reality-as-a-machine. This Greek word might also refer to its simulation -- a simulation that we, humans, visualize in order to understand how this machine works. This Logos -- this simulation -- is knowledge.1

And while, again, this is only an assumption -- that we can know things -- there are rational reasons why we should assume just that. The main reason is that knowledge is useful. That's why we have evolved this capacity -- to know, to understand -- in the first place. It gave our ancestors a tremendous evolutionary advantage, it lifted them to the top of the food chain "and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26)

In other words, humans would not exist if this assumption didn't hold true.2

Why we doubt it then? Well, there are a few reasons. Socrates uttered his famous words, "For I was conscious that I knew practically nothing..." during his trial by the jury of 501 citizens of Athens, the trial that ended in his death sentence. We want to believe that we are rational individuals living in a rational, predictable world. The truth is that we are not -- not when it comes to human interactions -- because while knowledge is possible, it is also optional. It is also hard to obtain -- it's hard to piece together one's understanding, one's map of the Reality. And the hardest part is to start.3

It's not unusual for a person to have very little of the map completed. But even when we think we figured out a few things about this world, a day may come when the life forces us to question even a most deeply held belief. And when that happens, it makes us feel as if we know nothing at all. We walk the same streets, we see the same people, but it feels like we just landed on a different planet.

Verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)

1 You can also think about it as a map of the Reality -- we need knowledge to find our way around. Without it we are walking in the blind.

2 Which also makes it a scientific theory in its own right.

3 And because no matter how knowledgeable a person is, their choices are still intuitive -- and human intuition is only partly based on knowledge. Rather, it is based on the lifetime of experience, the knowledge being only a part of it (if even).

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