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This House Supports Epistemological Nihilism!

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 5/4/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,536 times Debate No: 74733
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (13)
Votes (3)





So Shaun messaged me over Facebook requeting a debate, and we have wanted to debate this for a while so I'll leave my hiatus for a short amount of time. I really hope this debate gets good votes-or votes at all since it will be a bit philosophically challenging.

Resolution: This House Supports Epistemological Nihilism!

For this debate "epistemological nihilism" is defined as: an extreme form of skepticism in which all kmowledge is categorically denied. And knowledge is defined as justified true belief.

1. My opponent will start immediately and must forfeit the last round.
2. The first rounds of debate will be for positive material only.
3. A single ff warrants a full loss.
4. There are 4 rounds with 10, 000 characters each, 72 hours to post a round, and a Select Winner option.

Looking forward to a fun debate!


I accept this debate, best of luck.
Debate Round No. 1


I thank Shaun for posting his round accepting this debate, even though he had to post his round. I have as requested delayed my round as much as possible.

As the resolution is being affirmed by my opponent, and since s/he is the one trying to prove a philosophical view point, the burden of proof falls solely on my opponent.

The debate to be sure can be reduced to one question: does justified true belief exist? My opponent claims that justified true belief cannot exist, so by that logic I only need to show that some form of justified true belief exists, while my opponent must prove that no form of jusitified true belief exists. Envisage's burden is to show necessarily not justified true belief. As shown in logic to be []~T. It is worthy to remember that epistemic nihilism is the categorical denial of all knowledge. This is the burden that Envisage took upon himself.

Before I begin allow me to explain the definition of knowledge. When we say that knowledge is justified true belief, we understand that knowledge is a form of belief which has been verified by the principles of objectivity, reason, and/or innate intuition.

I shall not present my lines of arguments.

Argument 1: Paradox of Epistemic Nihilism
My opponent is attempting to argue that there is no justified true belief. He will hold that all knowledge is subjective. However the statement that there is no justified true belief is being attempted to be shown to be justified true belief. In essence my opponent is trying to prove a philosophical principle which would be valid, but if that principle would be valid, then it would be a justified true belief.

Hence it is clear that my opponent's position of radical skepticism is self-refuting, and my opponent can never prove his claim, without self-refuting it. This is an important paradox which defeats my opponent's position, by my opponent's position.

In logic, my opponent is saying necessarily no true belief []~T, but this principle in itself, if shown to be true would be a true belief T, therefore there is an inherent contradiction in my opponent's position.

Argument 2: Ta Mathesis (Mathematics and Apodictic Thought)
It is clear that all apodictic systems such as Mathematics possess not only objectivity, but also a priori truth which cannot be denied. Let us consider the Mathematical proposition which states that 7+5=11. It is simple enough to understand that this proposition is the same for all rational beings. All beings capable of Mathematical knowledge can a priori reach the conclusion of 11 when they add the concept of five to the concept of seven.

Similarly one thinks of logic, consider the simple syllogism:
all A is B
all B is C
therefore all A is C

Everyone who understands the logic behing this syllogism, or attaches it with an analogy will understand that they reach the same conclusion that I did. It is universal, categorical, and rationally justified that all A will be C, if all A is B, and all B is C. In example think of this: all men are mortal, all mortals need oxygen, therefore all men need oxygen.

These are all examples of justified true belief. All Mathesis which is the Heideggarian term of apodictic thought, or in simpler terms thought which follows a set of conceptual principles allows you to reach the same rational conclusions, and so justifies itself as truth.

Argument 3: Analytic Knowledge

Immanuel Kant understands analytic as that which is self -contrdictory to deny. Since all analytic knowledge is self contradictory to deny, it is then ex ve termini or by definition justified true belief because stating that is isn't true belief goes against itself.

In example let us consider the statement: all bodies are extended. This is Kant's own example and what it means is that all bodies occupy space. Consider also the example all bachelors are unmarried. The knowledge statement that all bachelors are unmarried, is self evident because the definition of bachelors includes the concept of unmarried-ness. This is by necessity justified true belief.

Other important examples for knowledge which is self contradictory to deny is: A=A or that an object is that object which it is. These statements which seem so obvious (because they are!) are all justifiedly true. Consider also the statemtn by the (I say this only for bossy) "brilliant" writer Ayn Rand: that existence exists. This is definitely true, as it is contradictory to deny.

Similarly all analytic knowledge is justifiedly true. Other examples include: orange is orange, or Ajab is a genius (haha :P).

I must admit that I have been put an a disadvantage. Since I am the opposition, and do not hold any burden of proof my first round will be short.
I now await Envisage's round.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this proves to be a stimulating debate.


Thank you Ajab for your round. I apologise for the briefness of this round – via. sheer laziness I decided to write this in the last 80 minutes. *Crosses fingers* - hopefully this will turn out semi-legit.

Note to voters – Ajab and I did agree that I could postpone my round – and if Ajab peruses this then I will just send a screenshot of the relevant portion of out conversation affirming this. But then… we can never know *evil laugh*.

Also note, rebuttals are not allowed in our opening rounds as per the rules, thus Con’s complaints of having a short round are unfounded, since his position is the same regardless.

Knowledge is by definition “justified true belief”, thus I need to negate one of these supersets, or show that an amalgamation of these are incoherent. For the purposes of this debate I will forward two main contentions:

1. It is impossible to fundamentally justify one’s beliefs
2. “Truth” is arbitrary, and at best subjective

I assert that truth as a subjective concept is entirely coherent, and thus one can reasonably accept what I am saying as a generalised principle if I am working from the same implicit assumptions as my opponent/voting audience are – which is something I am pretty sure we will all agree must be the case. Thus it is not incoherent to agree with and vote for Pro if I demonstrate that “truth is impossible” or “truth is meaningless” etc. since language is merely a communication tool - of which we are conveying general concepts.

1. Impossibility of the justification of beliefs
When we look to justify beliefs, we do so necessarily in increasingly fundamental steps. We can justify mathematical truths by well-established mathematical principles, we justify well-established mathematical principles with mathematical laws, etc. etc. We keep going until we hit bedrock – which are commonly so named as axioms. Justification goes no deeper. This presents a problem to those who hold that fully justified belief is possible, since we necessarily wind up with something that is not itself justified – aka the axioms themselves (if you are a foundationalist).

Agrippa presents the problem in a form of a trilemma (AKA Munchhaussen Trilemma), there are three epistemologically possible methods for having justified belief, and I argue that none of them are sound.

1. Justification via. an infinite regress (infinitism)
2. Justification via. circularity (coherentism)
3. Justification via. basic beliefs (foundationalism)

To formalise, I present the argument in a form of a reduction:

1. Justified belief is possible (Assumption for reductio)
2. If justified belief is possible, then belief is fundamentally justified
3. If belief is fundamentally justified, then justification via. infinitism (I), coherentism (C) or foundationalism (F) must be possible
4. I, C & F are impossible
5. Justified belief (and therefore knowledge) is impossible

Note that the conclusion would also entail that it itself is also not a justified belief, which is true, given the parameters and definitions this conclusion is made in. I will address this pre-emptive objection later.

Defence of P2 –
This needs very little justification. Any probability chain, for example Pa x Pb x Pc x Pd… ad infinitum can only ever yield a probability of one if and only if every single link in the chain has a probability of 1. If any link is uncertain, then the entire link is uncertain.

Similarly, any unjustified link in a chain of justification would entail the entire chain being unjustified. Thus, the chain must be fundamentally justified.

Defence of P3 –
This is easily justified via the mathematics of infinite chains:

1. Either the chain is infinite, or finite (law of excluded middle)
2. If the chain is infinite, then infinitism (definition)
3. If the chain is finite, then it either has a beginning or the chain intersects with itself
4. If the chain has a beginning, then foundationalism (definition)
5. If the chain intersects with itself, then coherentism (definition)

To defend P3, either the “continuation” of the “beginning” of the chain leads from another chain (hence infinitism), or it leads from its own chain (hence coherentism), or it doesn’t continue (hence foundationalism).

Ergo, the trilemma is inescapable, one of the three horns, or at best a mixture of them must be grappled.

Defence of P4 –

Against Coherentism
Circular arguments by definition do not have justification for itself. While statements may be consistent, it entails the “Raft Problem” – where regardless of how pretty your web of interconnected beliefs is – there is nothing within that web that tethers it to reality (otherwise it would cease to be circular, and thus rule itself out by definition).

Moreover, it blatantly begs the question if one does claim it has any ties to reality. Thus beliefs are not fundamentally justified with regards to “truth”.

Against Infinitism
Besides being widely rebuked in philosophical circles, it also runs into exactly the same problems are coherentism. There is nothing that inherently ties it to reality, ergo the raft problem is no closer to being solved. If it was tied to reality, then it would no longer be infinitism, but foundationalism.

Against Foundationalism
Finally you are trapped in foundationalism, which relies on making basal assumptions, or axioms. However I don’t feel I need to make my case any louder, that these assumptions are exactly that – assumptions. Hence we have no reason to believe that have anything to do with reality. These assumptions are themselves without justification – and ultimately the best one can do is appeal to coherence of the assumptions in justification. However that leads to problems already discussed.

Moreover, even if one did have a sound basic belief, for the sake of argument, then it follows there is no way for that person to know that he possessed a basic belief, since he the subject is still trapped within the trilemma. Thus we are gambling on sheer luck whether or not our basic beliefs are indeed “true”.

2. Impossibility of objective truth
We are subjects, and as such, we only have access to our own mental contents. Everything we postulate fundamentally comes back to our incorrigible experiences. However this is problematic for the notion of “truth” since:

1. The subject is inherently divorced from the objective
2. Even if the subject is not inherently divorces from the objective, it is impossible for him/her to know that
3. His beliefs are at best grounded in his incorrigible experiences

Because beliefs, and indeed anything we postulate is grounded in our incorrigible experiences, it follows that the contents of these is inherently subjective. We therefore operate on the assumption that:

1. Other subjects are working from a similar/same framework
2. Our experiences are tied to the objective

However, of course, neither of these can be fully justified. At best, a subject can state that something is “true for me”, however that is insufficient for knowledge as defined.

I hope to expand more in later rounds, :-p.
Debate Round No. 2


I thank the honorable Envisage for his round. May I remind him that he was only allowed to accept the deabte in the first round if he did so in the first 24 hour period. To be precise I told him to either publish his round or accept that (first 12 hours) night.

I am however very tired so I will post a link and my round will be up within 12 to 16 hours. I thank Envisage for his patience. :P


Con has yet to submit his round at the time of writing of this round. While it doesn’t matter to me due to the format, I was only going to rebut his 1 arguments anyway, in either case I fully expect Con to have completed his round before the next round.

Please note, the definition of knowledge within this debate is justified true belief, thus for Con’s arguments to negate, then he needs to affirm exactly this. This is a common problem in Pro’s arguments since he abusively uses the blanket label of “knowledge” whilst running in danger of equivocating between definitions. I will discuss these when appropriate.

When Con asserts that “we understand that knowledge is a form of belief which has been verified by the principles of objectivity, reason, and/or innate intuition”he is hiding a massive implicit jump here, since he presupposes that the principles of “objectivity, reason and innate intuition” are themselves both justified AND true. With reference back to my previous round, there is now way any of these sources of knowledge escape the trilemma I outlined. Con would need to assert they are axiomatic (and thus bare assertions), or appeal further back (entailing foundationalism or infinitism).

Reason presupposes that we have a grounding that leads to truth. Thus when we reason from Point A to Point B, we are presupposing that process is “true”. The so called laws of logic are themselves axiomatic, and therefore unjustified. I have no idea what Pro means by “objectivity”, and innate intuition is a blatent appeal to subjectivity. Intuition is necessarily subjective (since it is first person), thus it is open for intuition to vary among subjects. Thus, truth would become subjective and epistemic nihilism entails.

There is no problem in simply defining “truth” in terms of subjective concepts/terms, however this entails nihilism by the impossibility of “truth” as required by the original definition of knowledge. One could define the colour qualia, and the fact they are having colour qualia sensations from the computer screen they are reading from as “true”, it would just follow we are now ditching the original truth concept (and hence the original knowledge concept). Ergo, nihilism entails.

Paradox of Epistemic Nihilism
Con’s argument is that, I am demonstrating that I know epistemological nihilism is true, hence a contradiction entails. However contradictions are only possible IF the concepts the labels of “justified” and “true” are exactly the same, otherwise it commits the fallacy of equivocation. To make this explicit, I will provide the general concepts of knowledge below:

True (Objective): That which corresponds to reality
True (Subjective): That which corresponds to the subject

Justified (Objective): A proposition that is fundamentally justified
Justified (Relative): A proposition that is justified in relation to other propositions

The paradox only occurs when one takes the definitions of objective truth & justification and equivocates them with subjective definitions. Thus, the conclusion “epistemological nihilism is justifiably true” is coherent once a subjective & relative concept of knowledge is used. No contradiction entails since the concepts discussed are not the same (A=/=A*)

Furthermore, just because a statement cannot be fundamentally justified, doesn’t mean one statement cannot be more/better justified than other statements. Given that we have a general concept of what we accept to be “true”, if epistemological nihilism is a proposition which fits within that concept, then we are relatively justified in accepting it is true, albeit without it being fundamentally justified. Thus, the proposition “Epistemological nihilism is true” would not be categorised as knowledge, however voters would be sound enough in the belief that it is true.

Furthermore, the proposition of epistemological nihilism doesn’t necessarily entail that knowledge is in principle impossible, only that said knowledge is in principle impossible to justifiably know you have access to. Thus, I do not need to demonstrate that necessarily no true belief to hold the resolution. Furthermore, even if I did show it to be “objectively true”, it would at worst show that our notions of justified true belief are inherently incoherent (since a paradox/contradiction entails), which also upholds the resolution. One can only uphold the latter by privileging the hypothesis, which is absurd, especially given that I presented my argument in a reductio ad absurdum format, which outlines an internal inconsistency.

Mathematics and Apodictic Thought
Con’s argument here commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent, where he argues that the consequences of objective truth are observed, therefore truth is objective. His argument can be structured in the following format:

1. If Knowledge is possible, then apodic systems will possess apparent objectivity
2. Apodic systems possess apparent objectivity
C. Knowledge is possible

The only way Con could oppose this is to formulate it in a valid modus tollens formulation:

1.If knowledge is impossible, then apodic systems will not possess apparent objectivity
2.Apodic systems possess apparent objectivity
C.Knowledge is not impossible

Note my use of “apparent objectivity” in the premises, since Con has only appealed to this much in order to sustain his argument. Con cannot assert that such systems are inherently objective, as that would blatently beg the question. Here, I would like to postulate three assumptions under which a subjective epistemology would give identical observations to a fully objective epistemology:

1. The assumption of the uniformity of nature
2. The assumption that we inhabit a shared reality with fellow subjects
C. The assumption that we make the same assumptions as our fellow subjects

Ergo, if we are subjects, with a subjective epistemology and grounding of “truth”, then we would arrive at generally the same conclusions if these assumptions were true. I don’t think I need to expand much to demonstrate that we actually do accept these assumptions are true even if truth was objective. If these assumptions are correct, then we will generally behave and think in similar ways, and have a similar subjective experience of our reality. Ergo, our conclusions and ability to communicate would be essentially the same – thus apodic systems will give a strong illusion of objectivity.

Furthermore, a more serious problem is that it doesn’t in any way escape the trilemma, and in fact embraces the horn of foundationalism. Apodic systems are axiomatic, and as such, they arbitrarily define “truth” according to their axioms. Thus, the notion of 7+5=11 [sic] is arbitrarily assigned as “true” within these systems purely on grounds of utility. Mr. Ajab can rightly declare that mathematical propositions are “true” beliefs, but he would not be able to declare that such beliefs are fundamentally justified, since they are predicated on axioms. He is simply begging the question by arbitrarily defining certain concepts as “true”, regardless of whether he is explicit or not. At some point he would have to just accept something as “just true”, which is exactly where the horseman is trying to pull himself out of the mud by his own hair.

Furthermore, such abstract systems are necessarily divorced from reality, and hence suffer from the raft problem – one could argue that apodic systems are fully internally coherent, but yet have no reason to believe they have anything whatsoever to do with reality. Given that the generally accepted definition of “truth” is “what comports with reality”, this is a problem for those who hold to the objectivity of truth.

Analytic Knowledge

Pro’s argument here blatantly assumes that the laws of logic are objectively true, hence when he argues for justified true belief by the law of non-contradiction, he is actually just asserting that this specific law of logic is “true”. Again, these laws of logic are inherently axiomatic, and therefore do not have self-justification.

Moreover, contradictions are simply concepts which are incoherent – thus the statement “there are no married bachelors” cannot be “true” since an incoherent concept cannot “not exist”, as it would presuppose that the concept of it “existing” in the first place is coherent. One might as well say “a beeboo doesn’t exist” with exactly the same meaning, the concept of a beeboo is incoherent since it lacks any meaning.

Furthermore, this runs into exactly the same problems I outlined in the previous section, namely that analytical “knowledge” is necessarily divorced from reality (and therefore cannot be said to be knowledge), and similar observations are perfectly possible from a subjective epistemology.

Lastly, Pro appeals to something being "self-evident" to be true - which is a bletent appela to subjective opinion. If Pro needs to make an argument that something is "self-evident" then he is conceding any objective justification, and essentially furthering the thesis of episemological nihilism.

Additional Argument – Brain in a Vat
It is epistemologically possible, that we are actually brains suspended in a vat, with our experiences and thoughts fed to us externally by a mad scientist. If we accept such a scenario as epistemologically possible, then we lose the ability to know anything, since we cannot justifiably say we know that we know something. This is important because if you know something, then you know you know that fact. However, if we are uncertain about whether or not reality is real, and our thoughts are genuine, then we cannot build a castle on top of a pile of sand.

Back to Con, I do hope he finishes his round.

Debate Round No. 3


Ajabi forfeited this round.


Sadly, my opponent has posted neither of his rounds. Consequently, I will have to give the baton back to Con.

Thank you for your time.
Debate Round No. 4
13 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Ajabi 3 years ago
We need to re-do thid debate.
Posted by CorieMike 3 years ago
@Yassine Muchhausen's trilemma is not a proposition, theory or statement. It is a conjunction of inconsistent but intuitive propositions. So it cannot be true or false since it is a set of propositions. Also, epistemological nihilism is the equivalent of Philosophical skepticism so it shoudnt be restricted to Academic Scepticism. Pyrrhonian Skepticism avoids self refutation because there is a difference between stating something, believing it, and asserting that it is known. Therefore when someone states "I don't know anything" that does not mean that they believe that statement, or it is known. Simply that they are stating it. There is no reason to assume that anyone believes everything that they say. The true skeptic does not believe anything. This is a state that requires no beliefs and hence, no infinite regress. This addresses the problem stated here under Philosophical skepticism.
Posted by Yassine 3 years ago
- Although I agree with Envisage, it looks that both positions are self-refuting. I can't predict how this would end, maybe a kritic is the only way to win this debate.
Posted by CorieMike 3 years ago
Great round Envisage! Looking forward to the end of this debate. Hopefully no one forfeits
Posted by CorieMike 3 years ago
Great round Envisage! Looking forward to the end of this debate. Hopefully no one forfeits
Posted by Ajabi 3 years ago
I get it. -.-
Posted by tejretics 3 years ago
"... the mathematical proposition which says 5+7=11" - umm ... it's 12, lolol
Posted by Ajabi 3 years ago
Oops :P lol
Posted by Yassine 3 years ago
- Ajab, it's 5 + 7 = 12!
Posted by tejretics 3 years ago
You were supposed to present your case in Round 1 and waive the last ...
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by tejretics 3 years ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture.
Vote Placed by Nac 3 years ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: Ff
Vote Placed by Romanii 3 years ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: FF. I think I support epistemological nihilism now.