On What Is Entirely Hopeless [chapter]

Karl Svozil
2018 Physical (A)Causality  
According to his own narrative, and totally unaware of Saint Augustine of Hippo's as well as Nicholas of Cusa's (aka Nicolaus Cusanus') notion of learned ignorance (Latin: docta ignorantia), the Baron Münchhausen pulled himself (and his horse) out of a mire by his own hair [88, Chap. 4]. (This story is not contained in Raspe's earlier collections [427].) In the following we shall be concerned with the question exactly why it is entirely hopeless to pursue the strategy suggested by the Baron
more » ... hhausen; and why one should be concerned about this. More generally, is it (im)plausible to attempt to reach out into some external domain with purely intrinsic means; that is, by operational (from the point of view of intrinsic, embedded observers) capacities and means which cannot include any "extrinsic handle," or Archimedean point? Most likely everyone pursuing that kind of strategy -with the sole exception of the Baron Münchhausen -has drowned. But maybe something general can be learned from this flawed attempt of self-empowerment? And Münchhausen's vain attempt to lift himself entirely (and not only parts of himself, such as his hair) indicates that some internal means -tactics which rely entirely on operations referring to, and movements within himself, with rare exceptions 1 -are useless. Epistemic issues resembling this metaphor have been called Münchhausen trilemma: as Albert has pointed out that, "if one wants a justification for everything, then one must also require a justification for those findings and premises which one has used to derive and justify the respective reasoning -or the relevant statements." 2 With regards to the trilemma there seem to be only three alternatives or attempts of resolutions: either (i) an infinite regress in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum; or (ii) circularity in which theory and proof support each other; very much like the ouroboros symbol, serpent or dragon eating its own tail; or (iii) a 1 Interesting though that if, instead of on a horse, Münchhausen would have ridden a loaded cannon, then by firing the cannon ball towards the ground might have helped. 2 German original [10, Chap. 2, p. 15]: "Wenn man für alles eine Begründung verlangt, muss man auch für die Erkenntnisse, auf die man jeweils die zu begründende Auffassung -bzw. die betreffende Aussagen-Menge -zurück geführt hat, wieder eine Begründung verlangen".
doi:10.1007/978-3-319-70815-7_5 fatcat:w2pfvzt3iba3viy2rh2evsptem