Kay Herrmann
Technische Universität Chemnitz-Zwickau
Nelson's Proof of the Impossibility of the Theory of Knowledge -/- In addressing the possibility of a theory of knowledge, Leonard Nelson noted the contradiction of an epistemological criterion that one would require in order to differentiate between valid and invalid knowledge. Nelson concluded that the inconsistency of such a criterion proves the impossibility of the theory of knowledge. -/- Had the epistemological criterion had a perception, then it would presume to adjudicate on its own truth (thus epistemological circular argument). However, if one were to assume that the criterion is not knowledge, one would then have to justify how this is a criterion for truth - yet this would only be possible when it may be considered as an object of knowledge. One would equally have had to predetermine the criterion in order to determine the truth of this knowledge, thereby providing another circular argument. Ostensibly, every criterion of truth fails at its very own test since it cannot guarantee its own truth, just as Munchausen, contrary to his assertion, could not draw himself out of the swamp by tugging on a tuft of his own hair. -/- Nelson proposed a solution of the epistemological problem (the question of the differentiation between valid and invalid knowledge), that based on Jakob Friedrich Fries' differentiation between proof and deduction. Proof, according to Nelson (in reference to Fries), can be defined as derivation of truth from one statement from another statement. Thus, from the truth in the statement that "all men are mortal", one is then able to say that "Socrates is a man" and thence extrapolate from the truth of the statement that "Socrates is mortal." If knowledge were to be considered somewhat judgmental (in a statement), then an attempt at proof (i.e. recourse to previous judgments) would inevitably lead to an infinite regression in justification, since each judgment would necessitate a further justification from another judgment. Every attempt to prove an epistemological criterion is thus also confronted by this regression in justification. -/- Nelson's attempt at a solution rests on the assumption of the existence of an immediate knowledge as a justification of the truth (mediate) of knowledge. Nelson considers immediate knowledge to be non-judgmental knowledge. These include intuitions (e. g. seeing-the-red-roof) and also philosophical knowledge that pre-exists in his opinion before a judgmental reflexion (immediate) in our reason (e. g. the principle of causality). -/- Proof of the truth of mediate knowledge can be effected by showing its compliance with attendant immediate knowledge (rational truth = correspondence of mediate knowledge with their immediate knowledge). Nelson considered this as a resolution of the circular epistemological argument. In regard to philosophical knowledge, Nelson sees these as subject to deduction and not proof. The following example illustrates the goal of deduction: -/- An approach for deducing the principle of causality: A) Every change has a cause. (The principle of causality) A´) A is a reiteration of an immediate knowledge. (Meta-assertion following A) -/- "A" may not be provable, but A´ may justified, and thus Nelson identified it as a deduction following from A. // reference:
Keywords Nelson  Theory of Knowledge  immediate (non-judgmental) knowledge  theory of truth  epistemological criterion
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