Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Limitations to Philosophy and our Ways of Knowing
Marty Morrissey & Hannah Varn


Summary by Michael DeLone


  1. From Certainty to Uncertainty (Peat) Chapter 4: Language.
  2. Bernhard Williams and the Nature of Moral Reflection (A. W. Cragg)
  3. Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on the Nature and Limits of Philosophy (Daniel Touey)
  4. The Limits of the Mental and the Limits of Philosophy: From Burge to Foucault and Beyond (Todd May)

Hannah and Marty began their presentation on the limits of philosophy by giving a few brief definitions and ideas on the topic. Hannah defined philosophy as the general study of all knowledge about the physical world and human purpose. These two areas deal with empirical science as well as philosophical studies. At one point, physics, biology, and psychology were also considered philosophy. Marty continued to say that philosophy is a love affair with knowledge and from this branched ethics (general morals) and aesthetics (arts and beauty). Hannah concluded with two questions:

  1. How can philosophy be limited?
  2. Does it aim at human truths or is it a method to finding a higher truth?

Following their introduction, Marty and Hannah gave a brief PowerPoint presentation to the class. During the presentation, they touched upon the Enlightenment, a philosophical movement in the 18th Century. The two basic principles they wanted to convey to the class was that before the Enlightenment, people focused on and developed religious beliefs. However, after the Enlightenment, people believed all knowledge could be sought by scientific methods. They went on to name a few important philosophers, and quoted one of the major philosophers of the 18th Century, Immanuel Kant.
               "Have courage to use your own understanding." (Kant 1784)

The presentation continued as Hannah and Marty named a few more philosophers and their main ideas or contributions to the philosophical world.

Hume/Kant - Believed the majority of philosophy can be perceived as what we know, how we know it, and how we use that knowledge.

Hegel - Believed the analysis of a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis can be used as a tool to understanding a higher power.

Nietzsche - Believed in conceptualization, which is viewing the world in terms of one's own ideas and thoughts.

Adorno - Believed that we do have the ability to realize conceptualization but there are limitations to this.

Yoda - Believed in the force.

The PowerPoint presentation finished as Marty and Hannah informed us about Bernard Williams, who was a British philosopher. He debated and wrote about moral philosophy, and believed that Socrates' question, "How does one live?" is a question that leads to too many moralistic issues and cannot be answered.

A minor point they concluded with was the idea of mysticism, which can be described as a belief in the existence of realities beyond the observable reality that are vital to life and can be accessed directly by personal experience. Some people say they have had one or many mystical experiences that are just as real, if not more real as reality. The major question involving mysticism was, “How far can we or should we attempt to test mystical experiences because we don't know if it is possible to test them?”


Dr. Davis posed the question, "Is metaphysics part of science?" Metaphysics is defined as the philosophical study of being and knowing. Thus brought up the question, "Does God exist?"

Hannah said that metaphysics can be considered a part of physics, which is a part of science, but it can't be used to answer the question if God exists. However, metaphysics is a theoretical principal, which does not deal with empirical data and therefore cannot be part of physics. Professor deVries said there are different branches of metaphysics just like there are different branches of philosophy, where different positions are taken, such as dualism and realism. These two positions deal with whether mind and body function together or separate. Mind is metaphysical, dealing with abstract thought and speculation, which is what the brain does, meaning it’s realistic. This is empiricism because mind is the way a person's brain works to determine. The brain is how we observe the world and is therefore a filter since every brain perceives things differently. One person may see, hear, feel, smell, or taste differently than the next person. A filter is a device in which to strain or gather material, since every brain perceives the world differently, the brain acts as a filter. Without a brain, there would be no observation.

Marty then transitioned from different filters and different modes of inquiry. We find different forms of truth or the One Truth. This began with Socrates and Plato, who asked the question can we fathom a superior being, discover a higher power, or be certain about one Truth. It was then brought up that there are too many definitions of God, too many problems and conflicts with the idea of one general perception of a higher power and it must therefore be thrown out. In order to use empirical analysis about ourselves and the world, we need to extend our sensory capacities. The use of tools such as the telescope, microscope, and computers bring about greater access to the universe, but these tools are limited. This idea of limited tools brought up the idea that we must ask questions that are within human intellectual boundaries. Anything beyond that is a "stupid" question because at this point in time, they are impossible to answer. We all borrow tools from others, which is the only way to advance technology and gain knowledge.