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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What We Can't Know

A while back, philosopher Daniel Dennett has called for a new term known as a "Bright", which would be a very broad label for anyone with a naturalistic view of the world, free of supernaturalism, whose ethics are based solely on that worldview. Note that this doesn't rule out people who may think the supernatural is possible, but who don't particularly hold such beliefs. This means a Bright could be an atheist, agnostic, Freethinker, Religious Humanist, Secular Humanist, and so on.

In an article criticizing Dennett's notion of the "Bright" in the Wall Street Journal, Dinesh D'Souza inexplicably focused on atheism and atheists thinking they're "brighter" than everyone else. Defending belief in the supernatural, D'Souza recalls Kant, saying,

Kant persuasively noted that there is no reason whatsoever for us to believe that we can know everything that exists. Indeed what we do know, Kant said, we know only through the refracted filter of our experience. Kant argued that we cannot even be sure that our experience of a thing is the same as the thing-in-itself. After all, we see in pretty much the same way that a camera does, and yet who would argue that a picture of a boat is the same thing as a boat?

Kant isn't arguing against the validity of perception or science or reason. He is simply showing their significant limits. These limits cannot be erased by the passage of time or by further investigation and experimentation. Rather, the limits on reason are intrinsic to the kind of beings that humans are, and to the kind of apparatus that we possess for perceiving reality. The implication of Kant's argument is that reality as a whole is, in principle, inaccessible to human beings. Put another way, there is a great deal that human beings simply will never know.

I completely agree with Kant, as I have written here. But if that's true, then why does D'Souza claim to know them? Doesn't the above quote of his specifically say he can never do this?

The concept of the Brights and D'Souza's article are summed up here:

The homepage for the Brights is here:


  1. Dinesh is a he, FYI.

    Yours truly,
    Mr. X


  2. Oh! Good to know, thanks. I'll make the appropriate corrections :)