Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge


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II. The Goal of Eliminating One Kantian Limit by Surpassing Another

Nicholas Rescher, This book, one of the earliest by Christos Yannaras, was first published in and has become a contemporary classic. Christos Yannaras, Andrew Louth, Georg Northoff, Denys Turner, But before doing so, we need to set in place an implacably negative and skeptical position, that of the great Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem , which is however not without its own concomitant ethical Fredric Jameson, At this level, the task would be to determine the relation between the "absence and unknowability " of God within the classic theological traditions and the " absence and unknowability " of God ensuing from the "death of God.

Thomas A. Carlson, On closer inspection however, theological agnosticism seems to slip into logical incoherence under Kant's strictures. How can we take Kant seriously regarding the radical unknowability of all things noumenal and still hold out hope for some Chris L. Firestone, Question-illegitimacy represents a limit that grows out of science itself—a limit on appropriate questions rather than on available solutions. Insolubilia, however, are something very different: they are legitimate questions to which no answer can possibly be given—now or ever.

Any claim to identify insolubilia by pinpointing here and now scientific questions that science will never resolve is bound to be problematic—indeed,. For to identify an issue as insoluble, we would have to show that a certain scientifically appropriate question is such that its resolution lies beyond every possible or imaginable state of future science.

This is clearly a very tall order—particularly so in view of our inevitably deficient grasp on future states of science. After all, how could we possibly establish that a ques- tion Q will continue to be raisable and unanswerable in every future state of sci- ence, seeing that we cannot now circumscribe the changes that science might undergo in the future? And this would gravely compromise the legitimacy of the question as a genuinely scientific one.

For if the question is such that its resolution lies in principle beyond the powers of science, it is dif- ficult to see how one could maintain it to be an authentic scientific question. After all, that aspect of the future which is most evidently unknowable is the future of invention, of discovery, of innovation—and particularly in the case of science itself.

As Immanuel Kant insisted long ago that every new dis- covery opens the way to others, every question that is answered gives rise to yet further questions to be investigated. We certainly cannot foresee what we cannot even conceive. Having never contemplated electronic computing machines as such, the ancient Romans could also venture no predictions about their impact on the social and economic life of the twenty-first century.

Clever though he un- questionably was, Aristotle could not have pondered the issues of quantum electrodynamics. The question of just how the cognitive agenda of some future date will be con- stituted is clearly irresolvable for us now. Not only can we not anticipate fu- ture discoveries now, we cannot even pre-discern the questions that will arise as time moves on and cognitive progress with it. And in consequence it lies in the nature of things that present science can never speak decisively for future science, and present science cannot predict the specific discoveries of future inquiry.

In this regards, as in others, it lies in the inevitable realities of our condition that the details of our ignorance are—for us at least—hidden away in an impene- trable fog of obscurity. Not only do the theses and themes of science change but so do the very questions.

In inquiry, as in other areas of human affairs, major upheavals can come about in a manner that is sudden, unanticipated, and often unwelcome. Ma- jor scientific breakthroughs often result from research projects that have very different ends in view. While studying chicken cholera, Pasteur accidentally inoculated a group of chickens with a weak culture. The chickens became ill, but, instead of dying, recovered. Pasteur later reinoculated these chickens with fresh culture—one strong enough to kill an ordinary chicken.

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Vagrant predicate

Pasteur then shifted his attention to this interesting phenom- enon, and a productive new line of investigation opened up. In empirical inquiry, we generally cannot tell in advance what further questions will be en- gendered by our endeavors to answer those on hand. New scientific questions arise from answers we give to previous ones, and thus the issues of future sci- ence simply lie beyond our present horizons.

One would certainly like to be in a position to have prior insight into and give some advance guidance to the development of scientific progress. But grave difficulties arise where questions about the future, and in particular the cognitive future, are involved. When the prediction of a specific predefined occurrence is at issue, a fore- cast can go wrong in only one way: by proving to be incorrect.

The particular development in question may simply not happen as predicted. In the first case, one forecasts the wrong thing; in the second, there is a lack of completeness, a failure of pre- vision, a certain blindness. In cognitive forecasting, it is the errors of omission—our blind spot, as it were—that present the most serious threat. For the fact is that we cannot sub- stantially anticipate the evolution of knowledge. We cannot tell in advance what the specific answers to our scientific ques- tions will be. It would, after all, be quite unreasonable to expect detailed prognostications about the particular content of scientific discoveries.

It may be possible in some cases to speculate that science will solve a certain prob- lem, but how it will do so lies beyond the ken of those who antedate the dis- covery itself. If we could predict discoveries in detail in advance, then we could make them in advance. It is a key fact of life that ongoing progress in scientific inquiry is a process of conceptual innovation that always places certain developments outside the cognitive horizons of earlier workers because the very concepts operative in their characterization become available only in the course of scientific discov- ery itself.

Short of learning our science from the group up, Aristotle could have made nothing of modern genetics, nor Newton of quantum physics. An ironic but critically important feature of scientific inquiry is that the unforeseeable tends to be of special significance just because of its unpre- dictability. The more important the innovation, the less predictable it is, be- cause its very unpredictability is a key index of importance.

Science forecasting is beset by a pervasive normality bias, because the really novel of- ten seems so bizarre. Whitehead has wisely remarked:. If you have had your attention directed to the novelties in thought in your own lifetime, you will have observed that almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.

Before the event, revolutionary scientific innovations will, if imaginable at all, generally be deemed outlandishly wild speculation—mere science fiction, or perhaps just plain craziness. At the level of loose generality, various inductions regarding the future of science can no doubt be safely made. We can, for example, confidently pre- dict that future science will have greater taxonomic diversification, greater theoretical unification, greater substantive complexity, further high-level uni- fication and low-level proliferation, increased taxonomic speciation of subject-matter specialties, and so on.

And we can certainly predict that it will be incomplete, that its agenda of availably open questions will be extensive, and so on.

But of course this sort of information tells us only about the struc- ture of future science, and not about its substance. With respect to the major substantive issues of future natural science, we must be prepared for the unexpected. We can confidently say of future science that it will do its job of prediction and control better than ours; but we do not—and in the very nature of things cannot—know how it will go about this.

The reality of past scientific revolutions cannot be questioned, and the prospect of future scientific revolutions cannot be pre- cluded. Yet it lies in the nature of things that we cannot pinpoint them. The substance of future science inevitably lies beyond our present grasp. If there was one thing of which the science of the first half of the seven- teenth century was confident, it was that natural processes are based on con- tact-interaction and that there can be no such thing as action at a distance. Newtonian gravitation burst upon this scene like a bombshell.

For we cannot hold the science of tomorrow bound to the standards of intel- ligibility espoused by the science of today. The cognitive future is inaccessible to even the ablest of present-day workers. The inherent unpredictability of future scientific developments—the fact that no secure inference can be drawn from one state of science to another— has important implications for the issue of the limits of science.

It means that present-day science cannot speak for future science: it is in principle impossi- ble to make any secure inferences from the substance of science at one time about its substance at a significantly different time. The prospect of future sci- entific revolutions can never be precluded. We cannot say with unblinking con- fidence what sorts of resources and conceptions the science of the future will or will not use.

Given that it is effectively impossible to predict the details of what future science will accomplish, it is no less impossible to predict in detail what future science will not accomplish. Complete predictability at the subatomic level, he argued, was thus exiled from science. In natural science we cannot erect our structures with a solidity that defies demolition and reconstruction. The long and short of it is that no one claims with confidence that the science of to- morrow will resolve the issues that the science of today sees as intractable.

Pre- sent science can issue no guarantees for future science. If we could set limits to the shape and substance of science, then it would also be possible to set limits to what science can and cannot accom- plish. But this is simply impracticable. For while we can indeed say with confidence what the state of science as we now have it does and does not allow, we cannot say what science as such will or will not allow.

The boundary between the tenable and the untenable in sci- ence is never easy to discern. We certainly cannot defensibly project the pres- ent lineaments of science into the future. Future science can turn in unexpected and implausible directions. Natural science is simply too opportunistic to be fastidious about its mech- anisms: eighteenth-century psychologists ruled out hypnotism; nineteenth- century biologists excluded geophysical catastrophes.

Many contemporary scientists give parapsychology short shrift—yet who can say that its day will never come? The pivotal issue is not what is substantively claimed by an assertion but rather whether this assertion whatever its content! There is, to be sure, rough wisdom in scientific caution and conservatism: it is perfectly appropriate to be skeptical about unusual phenomena-con- structions and to view them with skepticism.

But, of course, to hew this line dogmatically and rigidly, in season and out, is a mistake. The untenable in science does not conveniently wear its un- tenability on its sleeves. The exotic is simply something foreign—something that does not fall into the range of what is known but does not clash with it either.

It lies in what would otherwise be an informational vacuum, outside our cur- rent understanding of the natural order. Hypnotism and precognition are perhaps cases in point. The counterindicated, however, stands in actual con- flict with our current understanding of the natural order action at a distance for seventeenth-century physics; telekinesis today.

Now granted, one would certainly want to apply rigid standards of recog- nition and admission to phenomena that are counterindicated. But if and when they measure up, we have to take them in our stride. In science we have no alternative but to follow nature where it leads. And new theories can be ruled out even less than new phenomena, for to do so would be to claim that science has reached the end of its tether, something we certainly cannot and doubtless should not even wish to do.

The task of specifying the limits of sci- entific capability in the production of knowledge is itself one that transcends the limits of our cognitive powers. That contingent future developments are by nature cognitively intractable, even for God, was a favored theme among the medieval scholastics. II Notre Dame, Ind. The scientist sets forth over an uncharted sea and the scribe, left behind on the dock is asked what he may find at the other side of the waters. Quoted in Philip Handler, ed. To begin with, there is the question of just what it means for there to be an- other science-possessing civilization.

Accordingly, a scientific civilization is not merely one that possesses intel- ligence and social organization but one that puts this intelligence and organ- ization to work in a very particular way by cultivating the enterprise we call science. This pens up a rather subtle issue of priority in regard to process ver- sus product. The matter of substantive content turns on the issue of how similar their scientific beliefs are to ours, which is clearly something on which we would. We would do better to give prime emphasis to matters of process and purpose. Only if they are pursuing such goals as description, explanation, prediction, and control of nature will they be doing science.

In reflecting on this question and its ramifications, one soon comes to realize that there is an enormous potential for diversity. To begin with, the machinery of formulation used in expressing their science might be altogether different. Specifically, their mathematics might be very unlike ours.

Their dealings with quantity might be entirely anumerical— purely comparative, for example, rather than quantitative. Digital thinking might be undeveloped, while certain sorts of analog reasoning might be highly refined. In any case, given that the mathematical mechanisms at their disposal could be very different from ours, it is clear that their description of nature in mathematical terms could also be very different not necessarily truer or falser, but just different.

Secondly, the orientation of the science of an alien civilization might be very different. All their efforts might conceivably be devoted to the social sciences— to developing highly sophisticated analogues of psychology and sociology, for example. In particular, if the intelligent aliens were a diffuse assemblage of units comprising wholes in ways that allow for overlap,1 then the rile of social concepts might become so paramount for them that nature would throughout be viewed in fundamentally social categories, with those aggregates we think of as physical structures contemplated by them in social terms.

Then, too, their natural science might deploy explanatory mechanisms very different from ours. Again, the aliens might scan nature very differently. Electromagnetic phe- nomena might lie altogether outside the ken of alien life forms; if their envi- ronment does not afford them lodestone and electrical storms, the occasion to develop electromagnetic theory might never arise. The course of scientific de- velopment tends to flow in the channel of practical interests. A society of por- poises might lack crystallography but develop a very sophisticated hydrodynamics; one comprised of mole-like creatures might never dream of developing optics or astronomy.

As is illustrated by the difficulties we ourselves have in bringing the language of everyday ex- perience to bear on subatomic phenomena, our concepts are ill attuned to facets of nature different in scale or structure from our own. The interests of creatures shaped under the remorseless pressure of evolu- tionary adaptations to very different—and endlessly variable—environmental conditions might well be oriented in directions very different from anything that is familiar to us.

Laws reflect detectable regularities in nature. But detection will of course vary drastically with the mode of observations—that is, with the sort of re- sources that different creatures have at their disposal to do their detecting. Everything depends on how nature pushes back upon our senses and their in- strumental extensions. Even if we detect everything we can, we will not have gotten hold of everything available to others. And the converse is equally true. In our own case, for example, the fact that we live on the surface of the earth unlike whales , the fact that we have eyes unlike worms and thus can see the heavens, the fact that we are so situated that the seasonal positions of heavenly bodies are in- tricately connected with agriculture—all these facts are clearly connected with the development of astronomy.

The fact that those distant creatures would ex- perience nature in ways very different from ourselves means that they can be expected to raise very different sorts of questions. Indeed, the mode of em- placement within the nature of alien inquirers might be so different as to fo- cus their attention on entirely different aspects of constituents of the cosmos.

If the world is sufficiently complex and multifaceted, they might concentrate upon aspects of their environment that mean nothing to us, with the result that their natural science is oriented in directions very different from ours. Different cultures and different intellectual traditions, to say nothing of different sorts of creatures, are bound to describe and explain their experience—their world as they conceive it—in terms of concepts and cat- egories of understanding substantially different from ours.

They would diverge radically with respect to what the Germans call their Denkmittel—the concep- tual—instruments they employ in thought about the facts or purported facts of the world. The taxonomic and explanatory mechanisms by means of which their cognitive business is transacted might differ so radically from ours that in- tellectual contact with them would be difficult or impossible.

Epistemologists have often said things to the effect that people whose expe- rience of the world is substantially different from our own are bound to con- ceive of it in very different terms. Dif- ferent sorts of creatures are bound to make use of different conceptual schemes for the representation of their experience. Supporting considerations for this position have been advanced from very different points of view. One example is a Gedankenexperiment suggested by Georg Simmel in the last century, which envisaged an entirely different sort of cognitive being: intelligent and actively inquiring creatures animals, say, or beings from outer space whose experiential modes are quite different from our own.

Such intelligent creatures, Simmel held, could plausibly be supposed to operate within a largely different framework of empirical concepts and categories; the events and objects of the world of their experience might be very different from those of our own: their phe- nomenological predicates, for example, might have altogether variant de- scriptive domains. In a similar vein, Williams James wrote:.

Were we lobsters, or bees, it might be that our organization would have led to our using quite different modes from these [actual ones] of apprehending our experiences. It might be too we cannot dogmatically deny this that such cate- gories unimaginable by us to-day, would have proved on the whole as service- able for handling our experiences mentally as those we actually use. The science of a different civilization would inevitably be closely tied to the particular pattern of their interaction with nature as funneled through the particular course of their evolutionary adjustment to their specific environ- ment.

The constitution of alien inquirers—physical, biological, and social—thus emerges as crucial for science. It would be bound to condition the agenda of questions and the instrumentalities for their resolution—to fix what is seen as interesting, important, relevant, and significant. Because it determines what is seen as an appropriate question and what is judged as an admissible solution, the cognitive posture of the inquirers must be expected to play a crucial role in shaping the course of scientific inquiry itself.

To clarify this idea of a conceptually different science, it helps to cast the is- sue in temporal rather than spatial terms. The descriptive characterization of alien science is a project rather akin in its difficulty to that of describing our own future science. It is a key fact of life that progress in science is a process of ideational innovation that always places certain developments outside the in- tellectual horizons of earlier workers.

The very concepts we think in terms of become available only in the course of scientific discovery itself. Like the sci- ence of the remote future, the science of remote aliens must be presumed to be such that we really could not achieve intellectual access to it on the basis of our own position in the cognitive scheme of things. The most characteristic and significant difference between one conceptual scheme and another arises when the one scheme is committed to something the other does not envisage at all—something that lies outside the conceptual range of the other.

This whole set of relevant considerations remained outside their conceptual repertoire. The diversified history of our terrestrial science gives one some minuscule inkling of the vast range of possibilities along these lines. As long as the fundamental categories for the characterization of thought—the modes of spatiality and temporality, of structural description, functional connection, and explanatory rationalization—are not seen as nec- essary features of intelligence as such, but as evolved cognitive adaptations to particular contingently constituted modes of emplacement in and interaction with nature, there will be no reason to expect uniformity.


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And when one turns outward toward space at large, the prospects of diversity become virtually endless. It is a highly problematic contention even that be- ings constituted as we are and located in an environment such as ours must inevitably describe and explain natural phenomena in our terms. And with differently constituted beings, the basis of differentiation is amplified enor- mously.

Our minds are the information-processing mechanisms of an organ- ism interacting with a particular environment via certain particular senses natural endowments, hardware and certain culturally evolved methods cul- tural endowments, software. With different sorts of beings, these resources would differ profoundly—and so would the cognitive products that would flow from their employment.

The more one reflects on the matter, the more firmly one is led to the real- ization that our particular human conception of the issues of science is some- thing parochial, because we are physically, perceptually, and cognitively limited and conditioned by our specific situation within nature. We have mathematics in common, and physics, and astron- omy. With respect to his hypothet- ical Planetarians, the ingenious Christiaan Huygens wrote, three centuries ago:.

Well, but allowing these Planetarians some sort of reason, must it needs be the same with ours? For the aim and design of the Creator is every where the preservation and safety of his Creatures. Now when such a reason as we are masters of, is necessary for the preservation of Life, and promoting of Society a thing that they be not without, as we shall show would it not be strange that the Planetarians should have such a perverse sort of Reason given them, as would necessarily destroy and confound what it was designed to maintain and defend?

But allowing Morality and Passions with those Gentlemen to be some- what different from ours,. With the exception of a timely shift from a theological to a natural-selec- tionist rationale, this analysis is close to the sort of thing one hears advanced today. Minds with different concerns and interests and with different experiential backgrounds can deal with the selfsame items in ways that yield wholly disjoint and disparate result because different features of the thing are being addressed. The things are the same, but their significance is altogether different.

Intelligent alien civilizations have in common with us the problem of cognitive accommodation to a shared world. Natural science as we know it is our solution of this problem. Therefore, it is likely to be theirs as well. The problem- situation confronted by extraterrestrials is not common with ours. Their situa- tion must be presumed substantially different exactly because they live in a sig- nificantly different environment and come equipped with significantly different resources—physical and intellectual alike. The common problems, common so- lutions line does not work: to presuppose a common problem is already to beg the question.

Science is always the result of inquiry into nature, and this is inevitably a matter of a transaction or interaction in which nature is but one party and the inquiry beings another. We must expect alien beings to question nature in ways very different from our own.


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On the basis of an interactionist model, there is no reason to think that the sciences of different civilizations will ex- hibit anything more than the roughest sorts of family resemblance. Our alien colleagues scan nature for regularities, using at any rate, to be- gin with the sensors provided to them by their evolutionary heritage. They note, record, and transmit those regularities that they find to be useful or in- teresting, and then develop their inquiries by theoretical triangulation from this basis.

Where these key parameters differ, we must expect that the course of scientific development will differ as well. Admittedly, there is only one universe, and its laws and materials are, as far as we can tell, the same everywhere. We share this common universe with all life forms. However radically we differ in other respects in particular, those relating to environment, to natural endowments, and to style or civilization , we have a common background of cosmic evolution and a common heritage of natural laws.

And so, if intelligent aliens investigate nature at all, they will investigate the same nature we ourselves do. All this can be agreed. And the sameness of the object of contemplation does nothing to guarantee the sameness of ideas about it. The universality and intersubjectivity of our science, its repeatability and investigator-independence, still leave matters at the level of human science.

Peirce was wont to insist, the aim of scientific inquiry is to allay our doubts—to resolve the sorts of questions we ourselves deem worth posing. Different sorts of beings might well ask very different sorts of questions. No one who has observed how very differently the declarations of a single text the Bible, say, or the dialogues of Plato have been interpreted and un- derstood over the centuries—even by people of a common culture heritage— can be hopeful that that study of a common object by different civilizations must be lead to a uniform result.

Yet, such textual analogies are oversimple and misleading, because the scientific study of nature is not a matter of de- coding a preexisting text. Like other books, it is to some extent a mirror: what looks out depends on who looks in. Things cannot of themselves dictate the significance that an active intelligence can attach to them. Human organisms are essentially similar, but there is not much simi- larity between the medicine of the ancient Hindus and that of the ancient Greeks.

The shift to an extraterrestrial setting is bound to amplify this diversity. There is no categorical assurance that intelligent creatures will think alike in a common world, any more than that they will act alike—that is, there is no reason why cognitive adaptation should be any more uniform than behavioral adaptation. Thought, after all, is simply a kind of action; and as the action of a creature reflects its biological heritage, so does its mode of thought. These considerations point to a clear lesson. Each inquiring civilization must be expected to produce its own, perhaps ever-changing, cognitive products—all more or less adequate in their own ways but with little if any actual overlap in conceptual content.

Natural science—broadly construed as inquiry into the ways of nature—is something that is in principle endlessly plastic. Its development will trace out an historical course closely geared to the specific capacities, interest, environ- ment, and opportunities of the creatures that develop it. It would be grossly unimaginative to think that either the journey or the destination must be the same—or even substantially similar.

Factors such as capacities, requirements, interests, and course of develop- ment are bound to affect the shape and substance of the science and technology of any particular space-time region. It seems that in science, as in other areas of human endeavor, we are prisoners of the thought-world that our biological and social and intellectual heritage affords us.

Our science is bound to be limited in crucial respects by the very fact of it being our science. A tiny creature living its brief life span within a maple leaf could never recognize that such leaves are deciduous—themselves part of a cyclic process. The processes of this world of ours even unto its utter disap- pearance could make no cognitive impact upon a being in whose body our entire universe is but a single atom.

No doubt the laws of our world are part of the laws of its world as well, but this circumstance is wholly without prac- tical effect. A deep question arises: Is the mission of intelligence in the cosmos uniform or diversified? Two fundamentally opposed philosophical views are possible with respect to cognitive evolution in its cosmic perspective. The conflict between these doctrines must in the final analysis be settled triangulation from the empiri- cal data. This said, it must be recognized that the whole tendency of these present deliberations is toward the pluralistic side.

It seems altogether plausi- ble to see cognition as an evolutionary product that is bound to attune its practitioners to the characteristic peculiarities of their particular niche in the world order.

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It would be comforting to reflect that however estranged from them we are in other ways, those alien minds share science with us at any rate and are our fellow travelers on a common journey of inquiry. Our yearning for companionship and con- tact runs deep. It might be pleasant to think of ourselves not only as colleagues but as junior collaborators whom other, wiser minds might be able to help along the way.

Even as many in sixteenth-century Europe looked to those strange pure men of the Indies East or West who might serve as moral ex- emplars for sinful European man, so we are tempted to look to alien inquirers who surpass us in scientific wisdom and might assist us in overcoming our cognitive deficiencies.

The idea is appealing, but it is also, alas, very unrealistic. Life on other worlds might be very different from the life we know. It could very well be based on a multivalent element other than carbon and be geared to a medium other than water—perhaps even one that is solid or gaseous rather than liquid. Life, even cellular life, may exist out yonder in the dark.

But high or low in na- ture, it will not wear the shape of man. That shape is the evolutionary product of a strange, long wandering through the attics of the forest roof, and so great are the chances of failure, that nothing precisely and identically human is likely ever to come that way again. What holds for the material configuration of the human shape would seem no less applicable to the cognitive configuration of human thought.

The physics of an alien civilization need resemble ours no more than does their physical ther- apy. We must be every bit as leery of cognitive anthropomorphism as of struc- tural anthropomorphism. With respect to biological evolution it seems perfectly sensible to reason as follows:.

What can we say about the forms of life evolving on these other worlds? The same situation will surely obtain with respect to cognitive evolution. And the concept-scheme they use in their scientific endeavors may be wholly inaccessible to us. The point of these deliberations is straightforward. And the facts that are acces- sible to a given species in its contexts will not be—and cannot be expected to be—available to another.

In this regard we cannot but expect that the facts available to one intelligent species will be identical with those of another. Undoubtedly some of the facts known to the intelligent creatures of an alien civilization—if such there are— are bound to lie outside of our cognitive reach. Their experience of the world will deliver facts about it into their possession that are bound to remain un- known to us. Note: This listing is confined to those relevant materials that I have found particularly interesting or useful.

It does not aspire to comprehensiveness. A much fuller bibliography is given in MacGowan and Ordway, Allen, Thomas Barton. Philadelphia: Chilton Books, An imaginative survey of the issues. Anderson, Paul. Is There Life on Other Worlds? New York and London: Collier- Macmillan, Ball, John A.

Aliens are absent because the Intergalactic Council has designated Earth a nature reserve. Beck, Lewis White. A thoughtful and very learned discussion. Bracewell, Ronald N. San Francisco: W. Freeman, A lively and enthusiastic survey of the issues. Breuer, Reinhard. Contact with the Stars. Payne-Gaposchkin and M. New York: W. Maintains that we are the only technologically developed civilization in the galaxy. Cameron, A. New York and Amsterdam: W. Benjamin, A now somewhat dated but still useful collection. Dick, Steven J. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, A lively and informative survey of the historical background.

Dole, Stephen H. Habitable Planets for Man.

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New York: Blaisdell, ; 2nd ed. A painstaking and sophisticated discussion. A more popular version is S. Dole and Iassc Asimov. Planets for Man. New York: Random House, Drake, Frank D. Intelligent Life in Space. New York and London: Macmillan, A clearly written, popular account. Ehrensvaerd, Goesta. Man on Another World. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, Firsoff, V. New York: Basic Books, A detailed study of the biochemical possibilities for extraterrestrial life. Gavvay, Allen. Paris: J. Vrin, 33— A stimulating philosophical discussion.

Hart, M. A perceptive survey of this question. Herrmann, Joachim. Leven auf anderen Sternen. Guetersloh: Bertelsmann Verlag, A thoughtful and comprehensive survey with special focus on the astronomical issues. A useful overview of key issues. Hoyle, Fred, Of Men and Galaxies. Seattle: University of Washington Press, Speculations by one of the leading astrophysicists of the day. Huang, Su-Shu. A useful discussion of some of the astrophysical issues. Huygens, Christiaan.

London, ; reprinted London F. A classic from another age. Dick, Jeans, Sir James. Shapley et al. Readings in the Physical Sciences. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, — A stimulating analysis. Kaplan, S. Extraterrestrial Civilization: Problems of Interstellar Communication. Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translations, A collection of Russian scientific papers that present interesting theoretical work.

Lem, S. Summa Technologiae. Krakow: Wyd. To judge from the ample account given in Kaplan, , this book contains an extremely perceptive treatment of theoretical issues regarding extraterrestrial civilization. I have not, however, been able to consult the book itself. MacGowan, Roger A. Just as there may be actual knowledge of what is counterfactually the case, there may be counterfactual knowledge of what is actually the case. Let us see why. The lesson is this. Since this knowledge cannot be actual, E-knowability requires non-actual knowledge of what is actually the case.

The paradox is blocked without it. This by itself poses a problem for EKP.

Translation of «unknowability» into 25 languages

Anyone who is likely to endorse the knowability principle is likely to think that it holds of all truths, not just those necessary truths involving the actuality operator. EKP appears to be a very limited thesis failing to specify an epistemic constraint on contingent truth Williamson a. Further criticisms emerge when we attempt to say something informative about what constitutes non-actual knowledge of what is actually the case.

If there is such non-actual knowledge, there is non-actual thought about an actual situation. So the non-actual thinker somehow has a concept of an actual situation. But how is it possible for a non-actual thinker to have a concept that is specifically about situations in this the actual world. Therefore, it is unclear how there might be non-actual knowledge about what is actually the case. Of course actual knowledge about the non-actual is no better at singling out worlds. Being in the actual world we are able to single out this world uniquely.

But how this is possible is precisely the problem. Kvanvig accuses Fitch of a modal fallacy. The fallacy is an illicit substitution into a modal context. Consider a familiar modal fallacy. Even Ben Franklin, the actual inventor of bifocals, might not have invented them. Therefore, there is a possible world in which the inventor of bifocals is not the inventor of bifocals. We can represent the argument formally. Consider the argument:. Although anyone might not have been the inventor of bifocals, it does not follow in fact it is false that it is possible that the inventor of bifocals is not identical to the inventor of bifocals.

After all, it is necessary that the inventor of bifocals is the inventor of bifocals. The lesson is that we may not substitute unrestrictedly into modal contexts. Substitution into modal contexts, we might say, is permitted only if the substituting terms are rigid designators. We would expect that the lessons of quantified modal logic carry over to quantified propositional modal logic. And when we do, the paradox evaporates. Kvanvig proposes that quantified expressions are non-rigid.

The reason he gives is that quantifiers designate different objects in different possible worlds. Were Sussie to have taken the class, the expression would have been about her. But she decided not to take the class, so actually it is not about her. But embedded in a modal context, e. The quantified expression is, on this view, a non-rigid designator.

Uttered in the actual world, it is about actual beings and times. But, it is argued, embedded within the scope of a possibility operator the designation varies to be about possible beings and times. Moreover, on this reading of the conjunction, the paradox dissolves. It is possible to know that the reinterpreted conjunction is true.

The paradox dissolves. Further discussion of modal fallacies and non-rigid statements appears in Brogaard and Salerno and Kennedy The reason Williamson gives is this. An expression is non-rigid if, when uttered in a fixed context, it varies its reference with the circumstances under which it is evaluated. At best Kvanvig has shown that the conjunction varies its reference when uttered in varying contexts, since his argument is that a quantified sentence, when uttered at different worlds, will be about different objects.

To think that this is sufficient for non-rigidity, Williamson complains, is to confuse non-rigidity for indexicality. Importantly, indexicality does not imply non-rigidity. The sentence might have been false. Had I gotten enough sleep, I would not be tired. That is, even though, had it been uttered in a different context by somebody else, it would have been about somebody other than me.

Analogously, even if quantified expressions are indexicals, it does not follow that they are non-rigid. If this is correct, then we have no grounds for thinking that Fitch has committed the modal fallacy in question. Kvanvig replies and develops other interesting themes in the Knowability Paradox , which is the only monograph to date dedicated to the topic.

The foregoing restriction strategies involved semantic reasons for limiting universal quantification. In those cases, KP was restricted in light of considerations about situations, possible worlds, or rigid designation. Another kind of restriction strategy is syntactic. It limits the scope of universal quantification to those formulas that have a certain logical form or stand in a certain provability relation. Most generally,. Accordingly, he restricts the principle of knowability to Cartesian statements. Call this restricted knowability principle T-knowability or TKP:.

Notice that T-knowability is free of the paradoxes that we have discussed. In effect, TKP offers the most tolerant restriction needed to prohibit the bothersome substitution. For it only prohibits substituting those statements for which it is logically impossible to know. And he agrees that the restriction should be syntactic. For Dummett,. It restricts the class of statements that are subject to knowability. The paradox is consequently averted. The relative merits of these two restrictions are weighed by Tennant Tennant also points out, if the knowability principle is the primary anti-realist motivation for revising classical logic, restricting that principle to basic statements can undermine arguments against a classical treatment of complex statements.

The main objections to the restriction strategies fall into two camps. In the first camp we find the charge that a given syntactic restriction on the knowability principle is not principled. From the second camp arise formulations of Fitch-like paradoxes that are not averted by the syntactic restrictions on knowable truth.

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From the first camp Hand and Kvanvig protest that TKP has not been restricted in a principled manner—in effect, that we have been given no good reason, other than the threat of paradox, to restrict the principle to Cartesian statements. Tennant b replies to Hand and Kvanvig with general discussion about the admissibility of restrictions in the practice of conceptual analysis and philosophical clarification. By drawing analogies between his own restriction and others that are clearly admissible, he maintains that the Cartesian restriction is not ad-hoc.

He also points out that TKP, rather than the unrestricted KP, serves as the more interesting point of contention between the semantic realist and anti-realist. The realist believes that it is possible for truth to be unknowable in principle. But is there a more substantial kind of unknowability, for instance, unknowability that is a function of the recognition-transcendence of the non-logical subject-matter?

A realist decrying the ad hoc nature of TKP or DKP fails to engage the knowability theorist at the heart of the realism debate. Hand offers a way of restricting knowability in a principled manner. These concerns may be waived upon noticing versions of the paradox that do not violate the proposed restrictions on the knowability principle.

Williamson a asks us to consider the following paradox. Knowing it, apparently, does not entail a contradiction. If he is right, we can apply to it TKP, giving. Here is why. A conjunction is known only if its conjuncts are known. And only truths can be known. Now, 4 is a theorem, and so, holds in all possible worlds. So its consequent is possible if its antecedent is possible:. It follows then that line 6 yields. Paradox regained. Brogaard and Salerno develop other Fitch-like paradoxes against the restriction strategies.

So Brogaard and Salerno begin with the following strengthened knowability principle:. One other resource is used, namely, the closure principle which says that the antecedent of a necessary conditional is possible only if the consequent is possible. And these substituends do not violate the Cartesian restriction. Nonetheless, the anti-realist is forced absurdly to admit that no truth is unknown. But that depends on whether we have applied the principle to basic statements only. Brogaard and Salerno demonstrate other paradoxes against the restriction strategies. Those further results do not presuppose a commitment to the KK-principle.

A response to Brogaard and Salerno appears in Rosenkranz

Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge
Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge
Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge
Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge
Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge Unknowability: An Inquiry Into the Limits of Knowledge

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