A common objection to the statement "no form of human knowledge can justify metaphysical absolutes" is that the statement itself is a metaphysical claim.

One response is that the statement says only that no form of human knowledge can justify metaphysical absolutes, and there might be unknown other forms of knowledge.

Another response is that this is an epistemic claim, not an absolute claim.

Are these responses sufficient? If not, are there better ones? Otherwise, is this claim actually self defeating, as its critics believe?

  • True according to whom? Invitations to discuss controversial claims is not what this site is for. – Conifold Apr 22 at 5:13
  • @Conifold changed the title – Brytan Apr 22 at 5:35
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    What does "justify," in the abstract, mean? We can talk about when a human can be persuaded that A justifies B; that's a concrete, well-defined subject. And there are humans who are persuaded that some human knowledge justifies certain metaphysical absolutes. – causative Apr 22 at 6:21
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    If so (and in a very specific sense, I think this to be the case), how could this question have an absolute answer? – Philip Klöcking Apr 22 at 6:36
  • Maybe "logical" is not the best word: "reasonable" will be better. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 22 at 10:53

According to the question , It says that "no form of human knowledge..." To me it seems that when a knowledge is embodied within a boundary of physical nature every property of a absoluteness is hence adopted by a partial uncertainty. So in my opinion yes no form of human knowledge (that mean knowledge embodied within us) can justify anything absolutely or can justify metaphysical absoluteness . But the justification that we deal with to define the metaphysical absoluteness to be justifiably true is not completely absolute but is a partial possibility of being closer to certainty of those claims..


Let me paraphrase the sentence:

Even if there are metaphysical absolutes as we understand the term, our knowledge about them would still be human knowledge.

In this form, I think it is clear that this indeed is an epistemological argument. It is not a claim about metaphysics per se, it is a claim about what we can ultimately know regardless of the subject.

Now, many people object that this would state that human knowledge was (as a matter of fact) defective in some way, in the sense that we lack the cognitive abilities to fully understand ultimate Reality. Kant was a famous proponent of this view. But that is not the claim here.

Basically, the claim is rather about what Heidegger and Gadamer called the hermeneutic circle and Plessner, more broadly, the anthropological circle: Every reflection on existence is, by necessity, a reflection of human beings through human minds. This means that even though we have very good reasons to assume that our understanding of the world is broadly accurate and one way to map ultimate Reality (whatever that may be, given it exists), it still may well be that there are other layers and aspects which simply elude our (current?) abilities and way of understanding things. Think of it like the relation between a map and the actual terrain: no matter how good the map is, making claims about the map is very different from making claims about the terrain itself. Knowing this, absolute positive claims about metaphysics are necessarily dubious.

This is not to say that absolute metaphysical claims are wrong, nor that there are other forms of knowledge - that is why it is not self-refuting. It just says that a) strictly speaking, what we say about metaphysics is about how the world is to us, it is about "our" world, ie. we simply cannot know what it is like independent from our understanding, ie. in an absolute, objective way, and b) even if this kind of nitpicking is completely irrelevant for most of human lives and practices, it matters to keep that in mind when doing metaphysics. Doubting that the car rushing at you is real and pondering ways in which coexistence of different corporal objects in the same space would be possible does not exactly prolong your life, yet when you do philosophical metaphysics, dealing with sceptical objections is your bread and butter.

Long story short: It is an epistemological claim which bids not to pretend we had some divine ability to transcend human existence when it comes to metaphysics. This includes the possibility that this kind of (human) thought itself is unnecessarily cautious and everyday metaphysical claims are indeed spot-on, we simply cannot know: Who's to judge if not some form of intelligent being which has a 'higher' point of view from outside existence as we know it? And even if that existed (obviously in a way different from how we and the world do), it would obviously transcend our existence and thus wouldn't be able to tell us since otherwise, it would share existence with us which would in turn prevent it from having said higher standpoint....well...at least as far as we are able to think about these kinds of things 😉

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