An Amateur’s Attempt At A Brief Rhyming Dialogue

There is a philosophical theory that is quite interesting and it is called fallibilism.  Fallibilism, while not an idea that is original to Charles Sanders Peirce, is a term coined by him, who also constructed its argument.[1]  The idea that Peirce has is not too different from the Cartesian question of the fallibility of knowledge—though Peirce does reject the Cartesian methodological doubt insofar as it takes away from positive inquiry of knowledge since “nothing new can ever be learned by analyzing definitions.”[2]  Peirce’s argument is that all truths are provisional and that any statement, or belief, made is at best probable.  Unlike skepticism, fallibilism does not demand that the subject suspends judgment; rather, through either empirical or scientific induction, the subject is able to know, but only to acknowledge that that which he knows is always revisable.  This position is made quite evident when Peirce accuses metaphysicians of being “addicted” to blockading the path towards truth by defining definitive truths.

Here, I attempt a dialogue between the fallibilist and the realist.  It isn’t the most comprehensive or academically sound dialogue, but it’s something I had going in my head for awhile that just needed to be written down:

F is for the fallibilist
R is for the realist

F: What but corrigible is our knowing
Since it is but the senses sensing
Therefore we cannot affirm definite
A knowledge which is all intimate

R: Then you must answer this inquiry:
How it is that not to be is not the same as to be?
How it is that nothing cannot be something?
Or how it is that from nothing shall come nothing?

F: How certain can we be when we affirm to be?
How certain is it always that one and two be three?
What we know this day may be viewed as definitive
Only to find the future affirms the negative.

R: But what of this being which you affirm to know?
The objects to which our knowledge owes?    
How can you affirm existence only to deny its absolute
When you affirm that corrigibility the mind pollutes?

F: The object of knowledge, I do not deny;
At the definitive claim, however, we cannot arrive
What we know at the comment can be affirmed immediately
But we cannot affirm it as always necessarily.

R: What you have not addressed is the provenance for your assertion of being
The source of things for your theory of knowing
Even to affirm corrigibility you’d still have to admit
That something exists, and to the mind submit.

F: Positionis causa that being qua being is affirmed
Knowledge still cannot reality definitively confirm
For if this desk should be pointed at later to simply not be
‘Tis that corrigibility of my knowledge that misled me.

R: I shall concede to some knowledge as being provisional
But I stand firm that some knowledge is definitively knowable
For being qua being is necessarily presupposed
Otherwise nothing to knowledge can be imposed
Since knowledge is unable to think of nothing
As it can only grasp nothing in relation to being.

[2] Robert Ackermann, Theories of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction

[3] Peirce writes that “to set up a philosophy which barricades the road of further advance towards the truth is the one unpardonable offence in reasoning, as it is also the one to which metaphysicians have in all ages shown themselves the most addicted.”


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