Could you please explain your reasoning. I thought the whole point of this trilemma was that you can't know anything for certain, yet they propose with certainty that you end up in one of these states,

Thank you.

  • There are really only two states for most of us: 1) God did it, 2) no reason at all (accident of randomness). However, there are species of humans than just us on the path of knowledge. The Aryans for example might have a different answer.
    – Marxos
    Commented Jan 11 at 19:49
  • @Marxos: Wat. Why are the Indo-Iranians different? Your 1) is just the 'dogmatic argument' tine of Munchausen's trident. If 'God did it' where did god come from? You have posted an exceptionally non-elucidatory comment.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 9 at 10:35
  • @Marxos where is your logical proof of god in your bio? The link isn’t working Commented Mar 10 at 5:01
  • @ayylien: The logical proof goes something like this: given eternity or boundless time and infinite boundless space, the appearance of "GOD" has probability approaching 1.0 of appearing. You can counter-argue that so would anything and this is true. But sustainable (self-defending) structures will have more persistence and eventually that structure became GOD.
    – Marxos
    Commented Mar 10 at 20:34

4 Answers 4


If we keep asking "why" are we guaranteed to end up in one of the three states of the Münchhausen Trilemma?

The ultimate why-question is why is reality what it is. Reality is by definition the whole of what exists. If something is outside reality, it just doesn't exist. So, why is reality what it is? To explain something, we need something else to explain it with. However, there is nothing outside reality, so there is nothing we could explain reality with. Thus, there is just no possible logical explanation as to why reality is what it is. We have to accept that our best answer is that reality is just what it is.

This isn't a problem. We don't need any explanation. Any explanation would make no sense. However, it does show that we cannot pursue why-questions ad libitum. Reality is the ultimate reason for everything. At this point, it is no longer reasonable to even ask a why-question.

The Münchhausen Trilemma is also not a problem. Humans possess an innate knowledge of some things. For example, I know pain whenever I am in pain. I know redness whenever I have the impression that I am looking at something red. Nobody even needs to justify knowledge. When we know something, we just do, and we make the best of it, including smart philosophers like the German philosopher Hans Albert, who in 1968 coined the phrase "the Münchhausen Trilemma".


Who is "they" who say the three horns of the Munchausen Trilemma are "certain"?

The knowledge that we have to live with the Munchausen Trilemma is empirical. Some apparent logic problems end up being solved generations later. Maybe someday somebody will find a way out of the Munchausen Trilemma. but so far, nobody has, and in every case we have ended up in one of the three legs.

Until they do, we have to get by with pragmatism. Truth is only tentative, not certain, and is our best guess, including the limitations on our knowledge imposed by the Trilemma.

See this answer: Is the Münchhausen trilemma really a trilemma?

  • Is every truth "tentative", can you explain this idea, I like it. Is there anywhere I can read about this? Will we ever know a concrete "truth"?
    – Fraser Pye
    Commented Jan 7 at 1:18
  • Charles Pierce was the first recent advocate of this view, and it was picked up by William James and Karl Popper. Poppers autobiography, Unended Quest, is the easiest entry point to his thinking.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 7 at 2:07
  • @FraserPye Popper noted that all science thinking is tentative hypotheses. We accept them as useful working theories. All “facts” are hypotheses we have a lot of confidence in, but no fact is certain.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 7 at 2:09
  • what books are there too read, or is it just online articles? Does any of these investigate the nature of truth in general or just scientific truth, since I already had that view on scientific truth.
    – Fraser Pye
    Commented Jan 7 at 2:16
  • Pierce founded pragmatism as a philosophy movement, and James built on it, as well as founding Psychology as a science. Both wrote on a lot of subjects, both articles and books. Not online, they mostly wrote in the late 1800s. I had included Poppers autobiography, which is also a book. Popper wrote on his political philosophy, Thr Open Society and its Enemies, and also wrote the best defense of dualism I have found, The Self and Its Brain. Both books. You will find uncertainty laced thru all of Poppers work. He died in the 1990s, so not much online either.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 7 at 14:20

Please read first my answer to the Muenchhausen question:

Has Münchhausen's trilemma been solved?

The Muenchhausen trilemma shows the aporia when one attempts to find by continued reasoning an ultimate justification for a general statement. According to the trilemma one ends up in one of the three dead ends (horns of the trilemma). None of the three horns is satisfying and provides an ultimate legitimation of the original general statement, i.e. a reason which can no longer be questioned.

Added: Please note that the Muenchhausen trilemma applies to general statements, which conver infinitely many cases. The problem of an ultimate legitimization does not arise for singular statements like "Today it rains in Manhattan". In particular, it does not say "you can't know anything for certain".

Concerning the question of applying the Muenchhausen trilemma to itself: I agree that the Muenchhausen trilemma applies to itself. Hence I consider it a hypothesis which - up to now - has not been falsified but always confirmed.

  • A few references for possible rethinking -- Popper, whose methodology you advocate in your answer on the Trilemma, explicitly argues that we can never know anything for certain. Popper initially made an exception for falsifications, but eventually agreed with Quine, that we cannot even know if something is falsified for sure. See this answer: philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/108804/29339
    – Dcleve
    Commented Mar 9 at 0:27

Munchausen's Trilemma is not a proof, but a disproof. It says if you seek an ultimate grounding of knowledge, it will be unsatisfying because it will rely on: dogmatic arguments, circular reasoning, or an infinite regress of justifications.

That is not at all the same as 'If we keep asking "Why?" '. You are sneaking in the assumption that the question must lead to pursuit of an ultimate grounding. But consider some of the things that militate agsinst that. The Problem of Induction. The Halting Problem. Godel Incompleteness.

All you have to do for your "Why?" sequence to not end up on one of the three tines of the trilemma, is to abandon the assumption an ultimate grounding is necessary. For instance science copes with the Priblem of Induction by accepting that all scientific knowledge is tentative, and in proportion to the evidence from which it is derived. The justifucation for this comes from practical utility not any ultimate grounding.

I see the problem as being the assumption that there is one single 'ultimate' external world. But such a place cannot be accessed except by a universal mind, ie 'the mind of god'. It's like the converse of the Homunculus fallacy. A perfectly viable solution is to accept the idea that reality is a peer-to-peer network, like the metaphor of Indra's Net.

We can shift from making assumptions about the 'ultimate nature' of what asking "Why?" means, to observing how we use it in practice, following ghis advice about it:

"In this sort of predicament, always ask yourself: How did we learn the meaning of this word ("good", for instance)? From what sort of examples? In what language-games? Then it will be easier for you to see that the word must have a family of meanings."

-Wittgenstein, in Philosophical Investigations

We can look at "Why?" as being not simply like "How?" which looks at the subject/s, but as about situating ourselves to the subject of investigation. That is, about constructing a tentative, for-now, cosmology that locates us and the subject of investigation, and forms a fabric justified by Coherentist qualities, such as utility. A human mind is not like a computer which can get stuck forever in logic-loops, we can simply choose to halt when we feel like it. This is the quality of a Strange Loop, and this building of Coherentist fabrics is the creating of Tangled Hierarchies. See further discussion here:

Does the snake bite its own tail: "Philosophy of philosophy"

Why does Man ask Why questions?

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