Fallibilism


Fallibilism

Fallibilism is the philosophical doctrine that all claims of knowledge could, in principle, be mistaken. Some "fallibilists" go further, arguing that absolute certainty about knowledge is impossible. As a formal doctrine, it is most strongly associated with Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey, and other pragmatists, who use it in their attacks on foundationalism. However, it is arguably already present in the views of some ancient philosophers, including Xenophanes, Socrates, and Plato. Another proponent of fallibilism is Karl Popper, who builds his theory of knowledge, critical rationalism, on fallibilistic presuppositions. Fallibilism is also been employed by Willard Van Orman Quine to, among other things, attack the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements.

Unlike scepticism, fallibilism does not imply the need to abandon our knowledge - we needn't have logically conclusive justifications for what we know. Rather, it is an admission that, because empirical knowledge can be revised by further observation, any of the things we take as knowledge might possibly turn out to be false. Some fallibilists make an exception for things that are axiomatically true (such as mathematical and logical knowledge). Others remain fallibilists about these as well, on the basis that, even if these axiomatic systems are in a sense infallible, we are still capable of error when working with these systems. The critical rationalist Hans Albert argues that it is impossible to prove any truth with certainty, even in logic and mathematics. This argument is called the Münchhausen Trilemma.

Moral fallibilism

Moral fallibilism is a specific subset of the broader epistemological fallibilism outlined above. In the debate between moral subjectivism and moral objectivism, moral fallibilism holds out a third plausible stance: that objectively true moral standards exist, but that they cannot be reliably or conclusively determined by humans. This avoids the problems associated with the flexibility of subjectivism by retaining the idea that morality is not a matter of mere opinion, whilst accounting for the conflict between differing objective moralities. Notable proponents of such views are Isaiah Berlin (value pluralism) and Bernard Williams (perspectivism).

elected reading

*"Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings", ed. by Philip P. Wiener (Dover, 1980)
*"Charles S. Peirce and the Philosophy of Science", ed. by Edward C. Moore (Alabama, 1993)
*"Traktat über kritische Vernunft", Hans Albert (Tübingen: Mohr, 1968. 5th ed. 1991)

ee also

* Probabilism
* Infallibility
* Logical holism
* Underdetermination
* The Problem of induction
* Perspectivism


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