What is knowledge? By Armando Massarenti

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Mister Chicken (a fictitious character who appears in one of your books) could ask himself about the validity of knowledge or, if you prefer, what can we know?

In order to answer this question Woody Allen may also be of some help. “Is knowledge knowable? And if it’s not, how can we know?” The ways of knowing do not have an ultimate, unmovable foundation. Science, to put it like Karl Popper, stands on frail pillars. In my book, the adventures of Mister Chicken are a way of illustrating, in a humorous way, what the paradoxes that emerge when we try to justify our knowledge are. Hume already asked himself whether it is justified to expect the sun to rise tomorrow, just because until now we’ve observed it’s always been like that. The first adventure of Mister Chicken, the smartest chicken in the coop, related to the inductivist turkey of Russell and Popper, illustrates this point. Everyday Mister Chicken identifies the sequence which brings it his nourishment (farmer + bag at a given time x) and is always the first to get there. Until, in Christmas’ eve, that same sequence leads him straight to the oven. However, poor Mister Chicken was very smart and had no motives to expect evil just for being an inductivist. It’s just that this principle, like any other which tries to “give foundations” to our knowledge or our scientific method, is not absolute. It is, at best, reasonable. Should we be sorry? Should we despair? No. Let’s assume the fact lucidly. Because knowledge increases thanks to the principles of rationality, of intellectual honesty, of active cooperation between the human minds which have characterized scientific activity in these last centuries. And also moral activity, the universe of values, as I try to prove in my paper “Fatti e valori a prova di imbecille”.

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