Artwork: “ignorance” by Conin.
I know that i know nothing is Socrate’s consagrated dictum but whilst there are a lot of wisdom in this short sentence, it’s still one of the most misunderstood philosophical phrase ever written – people still don’t really know what it really means and therefore appears the question: how can we really know what Socrates meant? Is it even possible? Some philosophers such as Kant and Schopenhauer have already pointed out in their transcendental idealism that reality is divided into noumena and phenomena, that is, in a part that is knowable through the senses, perception and reason, and other that is not. Its implication for epistemology is that everything possibly conceivable of reality is necessarily partial, biased and conditioned by own’s own a priori forms of knowledge (space, time,), etc, therefore we simply can’t get the gist, the essence of the reality, of the world in its essence.
This ideology in itself could actually answer why it’s not possible to really know anything at all, and that would create a serious problem which would be: how is it even possible then to create true knowledge? And that is a question which could have several different answers, for instance, modern science would ensue the threefold method of 1) experiment of theories, hypothesis, thesis, etc, 2) direct empirical results, 3) discussion of the newborn “facts” within a scientific community. So if we join both ideologies now, we would be able to have “more probable”, “more stable”, and more “trustable” knowledge through the modern scientific method, but, if it’s still knowledge of the phenomena, it’s still not absolute knowledge.
If then, we go to Plato, his “true justified belief” would become problematic as well, as it has been demonstrated in his “Theaetetus”, when each component of this structure would become circuitous to define and prove: i mean, what is “knowledge”, what is “true”, what is “belief”, and what is “justified”? For Plato, truth would be akin of “knowing”, or having direct cognition of the metaphysical “Forms” of reality, belief then would be the psychological inclination one would have to connect given “knowledge” to given “Form”, and justification would be the account of linking a “necessary and sufficient” causal relationship between beliefs and truths. What we learn from this is that knowledge is not something as naive as just perceptions or opinions of something, which most people even nowadays still believe is enough. When Plato first started this investigation he encountered the nightmarish problem of defining each subsequent concept and term related to this famous dictum, so, if truth is “to find the metaphysical form of a thing”, then what is this metaphysical form?, and therefore, how can we know it? Moreover, how can we justify the justification of any epistemological connection of knowledge? I’m here with Nietzsche’s “rigor of unfinishable thoughts” so i’m not proposing any specific answers and inquiries for these questions, i shall leave them to those analystics for that matter.
Finally, the mystics such as of buddhism would say that to have absolute knowledge of reality, one would have to “know” the thing-in-itself within own’s own subject of inner being, that is, one would have to meet the utmost layer of being of one’s own – The “Supreme Identity”, “Atman”, etc. For them the traditional epistemological division of subject x object, or subject x predicate is illusory and therefore, through enlightment and liberation it would be possible to merge both to know the utmost dephts of object within one’s own subject, as that would be the supreme way of justification between knowledge and truth. But even if you achieve Nirvana, the quality of the experience would be so “mysterious” to reason, that we can only wonder if that would be akin to know the essence of reality in absolute, and in this i believe that the dictum “i know that i know nothing” will, perharps, forever hunts us, and so maybe all we really know will always be just pieces and bits of Plato’s forms that will determine our level of ignorance and wisdom.