What can we know? By Manuel Pelegrina

This post is also available in: Spanish

Again, I believe it’s not the same to know something than to be certain about it. If what we whish is to know and to be sure of it, then we have to assume there are some objects which can be known, which are accessible to knowledge and of which we can know something specific.

Once we accept this, knowledge in principle has no limits. It only has our limits: those of our intelligence and those of the technology created by our intelligence.

It also has the limits that society or ethical principles enforce on it.

If we agree with the above statements, then knowledge requires theories, but theories keep being replaced with new information, so the surest piece of knowledge we can have about a theory is that it’s false.

While we accept a given theory, it is explanatory, that is, it explains the reality it refers to. It establishes causes, effects and relationships between variables. The theory, together with reason and data, increases our knowledge.

Therefore, the answer to “what can we know?” is the following: we can know that which is observable. That which is not observable can be deduced and induced by means of mathematical proof or by establishing models. Models evaluate reality, but they are not explanatory as theories are.

In observation we have to take into account the reactivity of the object when being observed. When we accept a demonstration, we must accept an ordered Universe. Therefore, we know by observation or by deduction. We know what we can observe without it reacting to observation, and that which we can subject to demonstration because it follows an order. Everything else is probable or does not exist in an ordered form.

Summarizing, we can know many things (very few, relatively speaking) but we are certain of almost nothing.

See more papers from this author.

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