Historically, there has been great deliberation about the limits of human knowledge. Isaac Newton, recognizing his own shortcomings, once described himself as “a boy standing on the seashore . . . whilst the great ocean of truth lay all underscored before me.”
In Ignorance, Nicholas Rescher presents a broad-ranging study that examines the manifestations, consequences, and occasional benefits of ignorance in areas of philosophy, scientific endeavor, and ordinary life. Citing philosophers, theologians, and scientists from Socrates to Steven Hawking, Rescher seeks to uncover the factors that hinder our cognition.
Rescher categorizes ignorance as ontologically grounded (rooted in acts of nature-erasure, chaos, and chance-that prevent fact determination), or epistemically grounded (the inadequacy of our information-securing resources). He then defines the basis of ignorance: inaccessible data; statistical fogs; secreted information; past data that have left no trace; future discoveries; future contingencies; vagrant predicates; and superior intelligences. Such impediments set limits to inquiry and mean that while we can always extend our existing knowledge-variability here is infinite-there are things that we will never know.
Cognitive finitude also hinders our ability to assimilate more than a certain number of facts. We may acquire additional information, but lack the facility to interpret it. More information does not always increase knowledge; it may point us further down the path toward an erroneous conclusion. In light of these deficiencies, Rescher looks to the role of computers in solving problems and expanding our knowledge base, but finds limits to their reasoning capacity.
As Rescher's comprehensive study concludes, ignorance itself is a fertile topic for knowledge, and recognizing the boundaries of our comprehension is where wisdom begins.
Immanuel Kant: The Very Idea of a Critique of Pure Reason is a study of the background, development, exposition, and justification of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Instead of examining Kant's arguments for the transcendental ideality of space and time, his deduction of the pure concepts of the understanding, or his account of the dialectic of human reason, J. Colin McQuillan focuses on Kant's conception of critique. By surveying the different ways the concept of critique was used during the eighteenth century, the relationship between Kant's critique and his pre-critical experiments with different approaches to metaphysics, the varying definitions of a critique of pure reason Kant offers in the prefaces and introductions to the first Critique, and the way Kant responds to objections, McQuillan is able to highlight an aspect of Kant's critical philosophy that is too often overlooked—the reason that philosophy is critical.
This provocative volume, one of the most important interpretive works on the philosophical thought of the Renaissance, has long been regarded as a classic in its field. Ernst Cassirer here examines the changes brewing in the early stages of the Renaissance, tracing the interdependence of philosophy, language, art, and science; the newfound recognition of individual consciousness; and the great thinkers of the period—from da Vinci and Galileo to Pico della Mirandola and Giordano Bruno. The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy discusses the importance of fifteenth-century philosopher Nicholas Cusanus, the concepts of freedom and necessity, and the subject-object problem in Renaissance thought.
“This fluent translation of a scholarly and penetrating original leaves little impression of an attempt to show that a ‘spirit of the age’ or ‘spiritual essence of the time’ unifies and expresses itself in all aspects of society or culture.”—Philosophy
An ambitious new model of experimentation that will reorient our understanding of the key features of experimental practice.
What is experimental knowledge, and how do we get it? While there is general agreement that experiment is a crucial source of scientific knowledge, how experiment generates that knowledge is far more contentious. In this book, philosopher of science James Mattingly explains how experiments function. Specifically, he discusses what it is about experimental practice that transforms observations of what may be very localized, particular, isolated systems into what may be global, general, integrated empirical knowledge. Mattingly argues that the purpose of experimentation is the same as the purpose of any other knowledge-generating enterprise—to change the state of information of the knower. This trivial-seeming point has a non-trivial consequence: to understand a knowledge-generating enterprise, we should follow the flow of information. Therefore, the account of experimental knowledge Mattingly provides is based on understanding how information flows in experiments: what facilitates that flow, what hinders it, and what characteristics allow it to flow from system to system, into the heads of researchers, and finally into our store of scientific knowledge.
Information and Mind explores questions of consciousness that Fred Dretske addressed in his philosophical career. Ranging from one of the earliest problems Dretske analyzed—the nature of seeing an object—to epistemological issues that he began working on mid-career, to matters he focused on in later years, including information, mental representation, and conscious experience, this volume investigates and engages with a spectrum of his prolific works. These papers, written by former colleagues and students from the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University, were inspired by talks given at the Center for the Explanation of Consciousness at Stanford in 2015 to celebrate Dretske’s life and work. In addition to scholarly essays, the authors also recount stories of personal interactions with Dretske that transformed their views or changed their professional trajectory. A bibliography of Dretske’s publications rounds out the volume. This generous volume includes contributions by Fred Adams, John A. Barker, John Perry, Paul Skokowski, and Dennis Stampe.
For the past fifty years anxiety over naturalism has driven debates in social theory. One side sees social science as another kind of natural science, while the other rejects the possibility of objective and explanatory knowledge. Interpretation and Social Knowledge suggests a different route, offering a way forward for an antinaturalist sociology that overcomes the opposition between interpretation and explanation and uses theory to build concrete, historically specific causal explanations of social phenomena.
This comprehensive study of Husserl's phenomenology concentrates on Husserl's emphasis on the theory of knowledge. The authors develop a synthetic overview of phenomenology and its relation to logic, mathematics, the natural and human sciences, and philosophy. The result is an example of philology at its best, avoiding technical language and making Husserl's thought accessible to a variety of readers.