Steve Patterson’s book Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge begins with the bold claim: “Truth is discoverable. I’m certain of it.” The rest of the book is an attempt to prove that there are certain truths for which there is not a sliver of doubt.
I am, to say the least, unconvinced. Universal fallibilism – the claim that all knowledge leaves room for doubt – is, ironically enough, a view I’m particularly confident of (though, obviously, not certain of). Indeed, I did a two-part podcast on this topic (Against Certainty: Knowledge and Experience and Against Certainty: Logic). In this interview, I challenge Steve’s claims to certainty with my skeptical doubts. The conversation takes us through the Münhhausen Trilemma, the nature of justification, subjective experience, and, of course, the ever-popular liar paradox.
0:41 – The goal of certainty
2:59 – Agrippan trilemma
6:37 – Certainty v. necessity (epistemology v. metaphysics)
19:08 – Justification (grounds for belief)
25:42 – Certainty about experience v. certainty about logical truths
29:03 – Meditating on experience
31:40 – Presuppositions of skepticism?
41:50 – Negation
43:32 – “Logic and existence are inseparable”
47:28 – Philosophy of language
49:50 – Liar paradox, negation, and the possibility of contradiction
Independent philosopher Steve Patterson became disillusioned with academia during his time in college and has since decided to pursue philosophy full time outside the academy. He doesn’t mince words when it comes to his views on academic philosophy. For Steve, the university system is perverted by poor incentives, which has resulted in badly written, dogmatic work on irrelevant subject matter with unexamined premises. After recounting his journey to becoming an independent philosopher (which starts with discovering the Santa lie), he lays out his arguments against academia, citing economics, “fandom”, false axioms, religiosity, and arguing over strands of leaves without first settling on the trunk of the philosophical tree.
0:20 – Intro to Steve Patterson
2:30 – Roots of doubt: Santa, religion, libertarianism, economics
14:20 – Experience w/ university and professors
20:44 – Economics of academia
23:49 – Quality of academic work
28:32 – Philosophy of mathematics (Euclid v. ZFC)
32:40 – Missing the philosophical forest for the trees?
40:23 – Alternatives to peer review and the market for alternatives to academia