The Correct Answer is Maybe.


It seems that ‘maybe’ is generally regarded as a stand in to an answer until further information is available. E.g. one might answer ‘maybe’ in response to the question, “Will it rain tomorrow?” In this case, maybe is not the answer to the question, it is a statement that the question will be answered when the information becomes available, i.e. over the course of the next day.

However, there are questions to which the information is not going to become available. In these cases ‘maybe’ is simply the correct answer to the question. It will not be replaced by a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Consider Sally who chose not to have children, and in their old age she asks herself, “Would I have been happier if I had had children?” the only accurate answer is maybe. There is not a situation, so far as anyone knows, in which Sally can manifest that alternative reality, and so she cannot know whether children would have made her happier. It seems to remain the case that they may have, however, and so the correct answer to her question is maybe.

This is no small matter, but there are even greater questions to which the only correct answer may be ‘maybe’. For example, do I, or any of us, possess knowledge? Descartes suggested that all of the universe may be a hallucination set upon us by a demon, and in reality nothing actually exists outside of our mind and that demon. Replace ‘demon’ with ‘computer program’ and you have the contemporary argument against the possibility of knowledge, outside of the knowledge of one’s own existence.

Here is a way out. We define knowledge such that Paul has knowledge of the proposition ‘Paul has hands’ when he believes that proposition, has justification for that proposition, such as that Paul can see his hands, and that the proposition is true, and Paul does in fact have hands. The skeptic will say Paul cannot know whether he has hands, because he can’t know if it is true that he has hands. The thing is, that doesn’t actually defeat any of the conditions we have for knowledge. If it is the case Paul does have hands, he believes he does, and he has justification, then he knows he has hands. What the skeptic has demonstrated is that Paul cannot know that he knows he has hands. Identifying as Paul, and applying the same argument to every proposition covered under the skeptical paradox, and we find that the answer to the question, “Do I have knowledge?” is maybe.

Am I right?


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