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 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 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 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 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 at 8:11

2 Answers 2


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.

  • 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 Jul 5 at 7:17
  • @thinkingman Cheers! Your comments definitely chime with the frame of mind I was in when I typed the answer. Jul 5 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 at 22:10
  • @MatthewChristopherBartsh you are far too kind! If ever you need a chuckle, consider looking at theawfulauthor.com Jul 6 at 10:13

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.

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