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The Profound Limitations of Knowledge

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Fred Leavitt

The Profound Limitations of Knowledge explores the limitations of knowledge and argues that neither reasoning nor direct or indirect observations can be trusted. We cannot even assign probabilities to claims of what we can know. Furthermore, for any set of data, there are an infinite number of possible interpretations. Evidence suggests that we live in a participatory universe—that is, our observations shape reality.
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9. Pillar 3: Reasoning

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CHAPTER NINE

Pillar 3: Reasoning

 

What sets humans apart from other animals is neither our senses nor our other physical abilities. Our specialty, humanity’s crowning achievement, is ability to reason. Many philosophers believed that knowledge can never be attained with certainty through what our senses tell us. In their view, the only path to certain knowledge is through reason. But reasoning abilities are greatly overrated (which presents a paradox, since this entire book attempts to persuade through reasoning).

Human Reasoning Is Imperfect

If reason were so powerful, people would more often be persuaded to change their views. Yet illustrious philosophers have written carefully reasoned arguments about what people can know, and illustrious others have rebutted them. So, many or all were wrong. Did they fail to understand the laws of reason? Did Plato screw up? Descartes? Wittgenstein? Then the laws must be difficult to follow.

Every year, brilliant lawyers argue before the United States Supreme Court. Every year the nine justices, chosen in large part because of their exceptional powers of reasoning, listen attentively. But whenever the dust settles on arguments concerning gun control, abortion, first amendment rights, and so forth, the votes of most judges are highly predictable. Brilliant Samuel Alito draws one conclusion, ← 67 | 68 → brilliant Ruth Bader Ginsburg draws the opposite, and brilliant Clarence Thomas is mute. Andrew Martin and colleagues developed an equation based on six factors to predict how...

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