Cool Logic

Jonathan Sippel (ILLC)

The Impossibility of Scientific Theories (and How we Know Things all the Same)

February 26th at 17:30, in F1.15 (ILLC Seminar Room)

There is a strong tradition in philosophy that doubts our means to find and justify objective knowledge - scepticism. I will first introduce the goal, strength and impact of several sceptical ideas, leading to paradoxes that may or may not be solved. This historical setting will climax in contemporary scepticism concerning the possibility of knowledge in general, with focus on scientific theories; this focus on science gives raise to more fundamental examples while weakening the sceptical thesis. These sceptical ideas have their root in the work of David Hume and are radically opposed to an ideal of objectivity that haunts philosophy of science - this ideal being derived from mathematics, logic and euclidean geometry. The main issue will be Nelson Goodman's new riddle of induction that is concerned with the underdetermination of knowledge - after an analysis of the logical structure of his riddle, I will show how ideas from mathematics can help us get some clarity. The main idea of my approach will be that the logical structure of the riddle (and scepticism in general) can lead to paradoxes. But these paradoxes do not necessarily need solving. Rather they inform us about human cognition - for example that cognition is essentially a social, cultural and historical process. The goal of this talk is thus to draw a picture in which the riddles and paradoxes accompanying scepticism are not things that need to be either solved or dissolved - rather they can teach us something about the world in general and a human being's place in it.