forum 1, week of Jan 8, Dretske
If one can be reasonably confident that any statement of certain knowledge that one may, at present,claim to be true will be disproved and held to be false at some future time,given our track record so far,has one then admitted to an absolutely skeptical position? The question occurred to me when I read the reference to Wittgenstein,depth,and language ambiguities.I'm new to the language of philosophy and to Wittgenstein for that matter,so I hope I will be forgiven if I illustrate my thoughts by way of a detour through literature with a few theological organ notes thrown in.James Joyce made a career out of playing with people's misunderstandings of language.He presents an image,through his writing, of The Fall (as in Original Sin) as being misunderstood in that it is typically seen as an account of a one-time-only event which has happened at the beginning of human experience,and has resulted in our present 'fallen' state. According to Joyce, the Fall is better understood as an ongoing experience.(the concept of Original Sin it will be remembered, is consequent on,and enjoined with,the quest for knowledge.Our Father,we are told, apparently had an issue with this)That is to say, or so the story goes,we are in the midst of falling.In this allegory,involving gravity,we know that we move, always,toward knowledge,and this movement toward it is perhaps the only certainty outside of immediate sensation,that we can have.We don't know if its a bottomless fall,but its certainly been deep, and it has a direction,more or less certain, which is to say it continues on into depth. When we invest in a belief,and consequently act upon it, we can reasonably expect from our past experience that there will be surprising side effects.These unforeseen developments are corrective and have the ultimate effect of changing,somewhat paradoxically,our initiating belief.Even so,the initiating belief still stands as the foundation for its replacement.The question I have is whether we actually achieve progress in this pursuit (eg Columbus pursued an ever receding horizon in the expectation that he would find India and found America instead.He pursued an intended and expected goal and instead achieved an unintended one,which in a very real sense changed the meaning of the experiment)or whether the pursuit is circular,as Joyce seemed to believe,influenced as he was by the ricorso theory of Giambattista Vico,who saw history and the pursuit of knowlege as a recurring cycle with progressive stages within an evolving circular transit.