Socrates was blamed of this by being wrongly interpreted of saying: "I know that I don't Know." or other variants. What he really said was: "I neither know nor think that I know."

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_that_I_know_nothing

I then began to wonder which other philosophers have been wrongly charged with this fallacy (even implicitly), or have not been charged, yet are guilty of it?

  • 3
    As Diogenes Laertius tells us, "[Thales] said that there was no difference between life and death. ‘Why, then,’ someone asked, ‘do you not die?’ ‘Because,’ he replied, ‘it makes no difference.’" A recent example is logical positivists whose anti-metaphysical core principle that all claims that are neither empirically verifiable nor tautological are meaningless comes out as meaningless according to itself, see verificationism.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 17:19
  • What gets Socrates out of trouble isn't replacing "I know that I don't know" with "I neither know …", but realizing the scope of his assertion. The Wikipedia article makes a good case that he says, of some things, that he does not pretend to know them. His wisdom consists in knowing what he is ignorant about. The "I know" in "I know that I don't know" makes explicit something implicit in "I don't know", so the performative contradiction does not disappear along with the phrase "I know". That is at least one understanding of what assertions involve, and so of performative contradictions. Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 9:31
  • @conifold Your comment really should be an answer : Thales is amusing and the LP is spot on. [Selfish reason for asking: Easier for quoting in answers😈] Whether "performative-contradiction" should be a tag is a different question.
    – Rushi
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 14:16

1 Answer 1


Habermas is quite famous, and forceful, with the claim:

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  • M. Jay, “The Debate over Performative Contradiction: Habermas versus the Poststructuralists” in A. Honneth et al., eds., Philosophical Interventions in the Unfinished Project of Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992)

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