Why There Is Trouble Over Knowledge

  • Mary Midgley


Knowledge is now an awkward topic, but it is not one we can avoid. The trouble is that, since the 16th century, the standards by which we in the West judge knowledge have risen enormously, making it look doubtful whether we know things about which people used to be perfectly confident. The dawn of modern science was accompanied by an intense, genuinely enquiring scepticism because it involved a quest for a new kind of certainty—for guarantees of security in knowledge of a kind no other culture has ever looked for. This did involve raising the standards of evidence required for the answers, and therefore rejecting many that had formerly been accepted. Descartes, the 17th-century philosopher who chiefly shaped this movement, instituted his systematic doubt—a relentless sifting of the credentials of all kinds of knowledge—in order to make possible this quest for absolute scientific certainty.


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Works quoted in this chapter

  1. Sir John Davies, “Man”, included as No. 191 in The Oxford Book of English Verse 4250–4984, Second Edition, ed. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1939) p. 218.Google Scholar

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© Mary Midgley 1993

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  • Mary Midgley

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