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This house believes that "Knowledge is impossible"

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/10/2016 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 519 times Debate No: 91000
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (3)
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My stand is that knowledge is possible.
Before I begin my argumentation: Knowledge shall be defined by the traditional "justified true belief" analysis of knowledge, that is an agent knows a proposition only if the agent holds a belief in the proposition that is justified, and that the proposition turns out to be true. For simplification matters, since we are assuming the truth of justified true belief, let us not drag in the matter of Gettier Cases. Belief is defined as having a propositional attitude that is true, such that S believes that P, only if S thinks that P holds a true truth-functional value

I will present arguments that attempt to prove that knowledge can be gained through a transcendental idealistic manner as Kant proposes, before moving on to critiquing the most common form of argumentation against the possibility or knowledge (henceforth referred to as skepticism for conciseness), known as the "deception argument"

All references used are presented in APA format at the back

In order for knowledge to be possible, the criterion of knowledge must be possible to be achieved.
S knows P ONLY IF:
(i) S believes in P
This is possible, because S, an agent, is inherently capable of rational thought, and therefore as he is capable of thinking, he is able to think that something is true, making him able to believe something is true.

S is justified in believing that P is true.
This is possible, as S lives in a plane of reality, from which justification can arise. I for example, can form a belief that the sky is blue, my justification of which is that I saw that sky above my head is blue, and this sky exists in the reality plane I live in. If this reality plane does not exist, I will not sense anything, but as I do sense something, like the computer in front of me, this reality plane exist, and with it comes an infinite amount of sources to justify my beliefs.

P is true
Truth is just something arbitrarily predicated upon a proposition, with "true" predicated upon propositions that describe something that exists in the reality plane. For example, the proposition "The sky is blue", describes the sky of Earth as having the color blue, which is true, as the sky of Earth in the reality plane does have a color of blue in the reality plane. By this logic, if a reality plane exists, that reality plane would be able to make at least one proposition true, that is "there is a reality plane". Truth, and therefore now knowledge is possible, as I have argued how each necessary and sufficient condition of knowledge can be fulfilled

One counter-argument that I might face is the "deception argument" It argues that all that we experience are entailed by deceptive sources, making all our beliefs deceptive, and with no way to pull out of this deception, it is therefore impossible to form true beliefs or satisfy concurrently criterions (ii) and (iii), therefore making knowledge impossible.
For example, I might just be a brain floating in a vat of chemicals on Alpha-Centauri, with my brain being stimulated electrically to believe that I am on Earth, typing debating fervently against a stranger on Epistemology. All my beliefs are about my reality on Earth, and as they are virtual, all my beliefs are false, and as there is no way for me to know whether or not I am real or just a brain in a vat (much like as if I am in a dream) , I, therefore, cannot know anything.

My counter-argument is that even if it is impossible to form any propositions about my reality, or about the brain in a vat reality in separate or in conjunction, I can still form true beliefs about this in exclusive disjunction. (where either P and Q hold opposite true value)
As proved earlier that I can form beliefs, I can, therefore, form this belief:
"Either I am a brain in a vat XOR I am a real person"
My justification for this is that I am experiencing some form of reality through my senses

This proposition is always true since I can experience the reality to me, I must be a real person, but if this isn"t the case, the fact that I am still experiencing something means that my mind must be artificially stimulated making the former true. And if I was not a brain in a vat, and as I am experiencing reality through my senses, I must be a real person. I cannot be both a real person and a brain in the vat at the same time as they are contradictory, and it is also impossible to not be either a brain in a vat or a real person, as I am experiencing something.

Therefore, I can form a belief that "I am a brain in the vat XOR I am a real person", I can justify that belief by saying that I can perceive some form of reality, and "I am a brain in the vat XOR I am a real person" is always true, and therefore, it is at least possible for me to know that "I am a brain in the vat XOR I am a real person" and therefore, knowledge is possible.

References (up to this point):
Putnam, H. (n.d.). Brains in a vat. Reason, Truth and History, 1-21. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511625398.003

Chapter Five. Humean Skepticism. (n.d.). Kant and Skepticism. doi:10.1515/9781400824403.21

Stroll, A. (n.d.). Scepticism And The Problem Of The Criterion. Sceptics, Millenarians and Jews, 1-14. doi:10.1163/9789004246669_002


Knowledge is usually seen as doing the function of thinking of or acting upon something mentally retained, if it is a sapient organism with the Earthly organ of a brain in question or even a solipsist cosmos where that one being is the whole of the surrounding physics. I argue that whether a claim is logically proven or not logically proven it is the behaviour of the sapient being that is what makes that "knowledge" or claim of fact have a point to it.

For logically proven knowledge it does matter, something as simple as happiness is good and sadness is bad.

Knowledge that is not logically proven yet still matters. There actually can be knowledge that is not logically proven. Where a statement of claim turns out to be fact.

It is all down to the sapient being behaving according to the knowledge that makes knowledge itself matter.
Debate Round No. 1


Firstly, before any further digressions arise, allow me to (once again) clarify a few things. This debate is on knowledge in the philosophical sense. As such for matters of simplification, I respectfully request my opponent to use the most widely used philosophical definition of knowledge, that of justified true belief, where the agent believes a statement, has sufficient evidence for his belief, and that the statement is true.

I would request my opponent to clarify his argumentation, as I do not understand how statements such as "happiness is good and sadness is bad" will make knowledge impossible. The moral value of happiness and sadness does not factor into knowledge.

My opponent"s very unclear argument can be summed up to be that whether a knowledge is logically proven, or, not so, if the agent (sapient being) behaves according to his knowledge, then the knowledge matters.
However, this does not seem to support the claim of "Knowledge is impossible" In fact, by my opponent"s analysis of knowledge, it is quite possible for me to act in accordance to what I know, and make that knowledge matter, making Knowledge possible. My opponent seems to be contradicting his position here and not answering to the motion.
I would request my opponent to clarify his argumentation, as I do not understand how statements such as "happiness is good and sadness is bad" will make knowledge impossible. The moral value of happiness and sadness does not factor into knowledge.

My next argument will focus on how we all have some form of internal knowledge that is metaphysically necessary. What is firstly undeniable is the fact that we experience some form of reality, whether this reality is true or deceptive. The fact that I can see two hands typing on this keyboard shows that I have sense-experience. I also understand that my hands are in motion, that is they change locations over time. In order to fully understand that my hands are moving however, I must have a recognition of how space works. I must know that my hands as I sense it are further apart from me than my forearm. This concept of space is internalized. Even if all that I experience is deceptive, the fact that I still experience and understand space, however deceptive the space might be, shows a knowledge of the concept of space. The same applies for time. We only ever experience time indirectly, relative to the motion of say a clock. However, in order to understand that as a car passess my window, time is passing, I must have some innate sense of time, I must know internally a concept of time. The fact that I understand that when the clock hands move, time is passing, shows that I have an internal knowledge of the concept of time. Even if I am a brain in a vat on Alpha Centauri, the brain will still have to have a knowledge of the concept of time. Therefore, the knowledge of the concepts of time and space are internal and universal to us, and therefore as this knowledge exist, it must be possible to have knowledge.

References (as of now):

Putnam, H. (n.d.). Brains in a vat. Reason, Truth and History, 1-21. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511625398.003

Chapter Five. Humean Skepticism. (n.d.). Kant and Skepticism. doi:10.1515/9781400824403.21

Stroll, A. (n.d.). Scepticism And The Problem Of The Criterion. Sceptics, Millenarians and Jews, 1-14. doi:10.1163/9789004246669_002

Kant, I., & Meiklejohn, J. M. (1884). Critique of pure reason. London: G. Bell.


1. The idea of using evidence in terms of repeat testing. The same outcome may come for endless tests but this does not mean it is meant to forever be the outcome.

2. Probability is used with the acceptance that it is just an estimate, yet it is still used. Why can it not be the one red ball each time over the five yellows? The entire drakes equation is refuted apart from it explaining what the conditions for Asian life WOULD be without accepting that estimates based on probability can also have the opposite unlikeliest result.

If your taking the content of what the piece of knowledge is as what it materially represents then it is impossible as it is not that absolute thing. For example a diagram of a network of roads is not the actual roads. It is possible to visualise a diagram of the roads but not the entirety of the actual road network from ground level, that understanding of seeing the whole number of roads is impossible.

This kind of knowledge, the knowledge of how something feels which is limited to a humans sensory capabilities.
Debate Round No. 2


Firstly, my refutations:

I do not see how this is linked to knowledge or the lack of such. While I do agree that there is a problem with induction, induction is not assumed or required in knowledge. This first argument does not disprove the possibility of knowledge.
Yes, probability is an estimate, but I do not see what the conditions of Asian life has to do with probability, nor do I see what the conditions of Asian life has to do with the possibility of knowledge
My opponent here is treating knowledge as truth. Knowledge is not the same thing as truth. Knowledge in this debate as agreed is justified true belief, the definition of knowledge that is most widely accepted. A diagram of roads relates to the actual roads, and if the diagram of roads represents accurately the roads, then it is true, that is, by showing you a diagram of roads, you have an accurate idea what the roads are like. I in fact do not even need to visualize the actual roads. As long as I have a justified belief of the diagram, and that diagram is an accurate representation of the roads, then I have a knowledge, not of the actual roads, but of the diagram. That is still a knowledge.
As I proved in my previous argument surrounding time and space, not all knowledge is limited to a human"s sensory capabilities. You might argue even successfully that empirical knowledge (knowledge gained through sense-experience) is impossible, but it will be much harder to refute the a priori knowledge (knowledge that is innate) that I propose exists.
My opponent digresses often and rarely answers to the motion. May I request my opponent to clarify just how the induction problem factors into the impossibility of knowledge, and just how the conditions of Asian life, probability, and Drake"s equation (an equation answering to why there might not be aliens), make knowledge impossible? Without these clarifications, I am afraid your arguments are a loosely connected bunch of floating irrelevant sweeping statements at best.

My first argument is to try and prove that we always have a knowledge of our existence. Consider for a moment that we are in constant deception, and that whatever we sense or think are false. Perhaps, in Descartes" words, we are in the constant deception of an evil genius whose sole purpose is to falsify all of our beliefs, such that justified true belief and therefore knowledge can never be achieved. However, in order for the evil genius to deceive me, I must be there in the first place. If I do not exist, the evil genius has nothing to deceive. My existence is irrefutable if I possess the rational ability to form beliefs, which as proved earlier I can. In other words, since my existence is always true given that I can think, and given that I can form beliefs and use the above line of thought to justify this belief, I can always know that I exist, regardless of whether my existence takes the form of a real person, a brain in the vat, or a subject under the evil genius"s deception. This knowledge is irrefutable, making knowledge therefore possible.

My next argument will focus on tautologies. Since there seems to be no argument that we are all capable of belief, and that we are all capable of justification, my major argumentation goes into proving that there are truths. Most skeptic arguments argue that we are in constant deception and therefore whatever we are in touch with can never be true. A simple refutation to this is logical tautologies. Certain logical statements are always true, as the individual propositions that they involve are linked in such a way that regardless of the individual truth values of the individual propositions, the logical statement as a whole is still true.
For example:
(P => (Q =>P)) is always true, regardless of the truth value of P and Q
not(P && not(P)) is also always true, regardless of the truth value of P.

( && is logical AND)
( => is logical material implication)
(P and Q are any proposition that bears a truth value)

From this truths, we can then form justified beliefs of these truths, creating knowledge of these statements that are always true. This makes knowledge possible.

A possible refutation of the above is that truth is impossible, or some other form of refutation of the law of excluded middle, or some form of refutation of logic.
My counter argument is that since I exist, in order to accommodate my existence, there must be some form of a reality plane. All objects in this reality plane can therefore be related to propositions, making truth possible, and therefore making knowledge possible

TLDR of this post:

My opponent"s argument falls as it does not answer to the motion
My opponent"s argument also falls as truths are just representations of things in the reality plane
Even if I am constantly deceived to have false beliefs, the fact that I exist cannot be refuted, as I need to exist in order to be subject to deception. From this irrefutable truth and given that I can form beliefs which I can justify, I can at least have knowledge that I exist, whatever form "I" might take, making knowledge possible
Certain truths are always true as they are logical tautologies, making knowledge possible as I can, as proved earlier form justified beliefs.
Summary of all my arguments:

I am a rational being, and therefore I can form beliefs, and as I can sense reality, I can form propositions based on this reality to justify my beliefs, and since there is this reality, there are certain propositions which are accurate descriptions of this reality, making knowledge possible by the definition of justified true belief that we agreed on in this debate
Even if I am subjected to constant deception, for example even if I am a brain in a vat on Alpha Centauri, I will still be able to form beliefs and justify them as the brain is still rational. The problem is truth. However, there are certain truths which as a brain in a vat I can still form, such as "I am a real person XOR I am a brain in a vat". This is always true, as I cannot be both a brain in a vat and a real person at the same time (that is contradictory), and I cannot be neither of them, because if I am neither of them, I would have no sensory input, but as I do have sensory input, I cannot be neither of them. I can form a true belief on this proposition. I can justify this belief with the above line of thought, giving me a justified true belief, which is knowledge, therefore making knowledge possible.
I have sensory input such as the moving of cars and the moving of the clock hands. I can also understand these sensory input, as I know that the car is moving away from me and that the time is passing as the clock hands move. The ability to comprehend these sensory input requires innate knowledge of time and space, and these knowledge shows that knowledge is possible.
Even if I am subject to constant deception, such as in the case that an evil genius is making all my beliefs false, I must exist, if not the evil genius will have nothing to deceive. My existence is always true, and I can form a belief on it as I am a rational being. Furthermore, using the above line of thought I can justify my belief in my existence, therefore giving me a justified true belief which is knowledge, making knowledge possible.
There are certain logical tautologies that are always true no matter what. I as a rational being can form beliefs on them, justify them with an understanding of logic and therefore giving me justified true belief, which is as we agreed in this debate knowledge, making knowledge therefore possible.


Complete list of references in APA:

Putnam, H. (n.d.). Brains in a vat. Reason, Truth and History, 1-21. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511625398.003

Chapter Five. Humean Skepticism. (n.d.). Kant and Skepticism. doi:10.1515/9781400824403.21

Stroll, A. (n.d.). Scepticism And The Problem Of The Criterion. Sceptics, Millenarians and Jews, 1-14. doi:10.1163/9789004246669_002


There was a time when people accepted that the world was flat. One day we will look back on what we knew now and see that it's just as stupid if not even more drastically. I mean where was the 20th dimension in their texts, no where.

Is a human capable of knowledge whether solipsism is real or not. Does am ant have knowledge? It's meaningless so would it even be knowledge, no. A being from an advanced future would do the same thing about whether current knowledge is possible. They would say it's pointless so it's not knowledge.

You can't even say that futuristic knowledge is possible because it's not confirmed.
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by George_DZ 2 years ago
It is I who have got you. You see, you never showed that knowledge is absolutely impossible. Just when certain knowledge is impossible.
Posted by George_DZ 2 years ago
However, how does happiness being good and sadness being bad make knowledge impossible? Quite conversely it makes knowledge possible, as it creates a truth, which we as rational beings can then have a justified belief upon.
Posted by solar145254 2 years ago
Come on man I got you on happiness=good

what's gonna say that ain't a universal fact and therefore knowledge is possible
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