Some Reflections on Knowledge [1971e]

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 21)


In setting up as a principle the apparently banal observation that “man is the measure of all things”, Protagoras freed philosophy from the impasse into which Parmenides had led it by opposing the eternal immutability of a rational truth of divine origin to the “fragile opinions of mortals.” Moreover, his religious scepticism suited the moderation of his theory of knowledge: as to the gods, he said further, we do not really know whether they exist or not. because we lack the data to decide the question. It would be tempting (if such a comparison were not far too artificial) to compare the epistemological discussions of physics in our own century to this ancient debate. It is not by chance that the dominant ideas of contemporary scientific thought are those proposed and defended by Niels Bohr and Max Born, two physicists whose attitudes are distinguished as much by their balanced approach to questions of epistemology as by the humanism inspiring their views on the social relations of science. They conceived of the rational analysis of phenomena in a forthright way, free of any dogmatism, and their very mastery of formal methods clearly showed them their limits. As for the younger generation, although for the last few years it has appeared to be in the throes of a new Parmenidean delirium, it too will eventually find its Protagoras who will break the spell of fruitless formalisms and lead it back to a human measure of things.


Statistical Causality Rational Thought Scientific Thought Deterministic Causality Cosmic Scale 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. Rosenfeld, L., ‘Newton and the Law of Gravitation’, Archive for History of Exact Sciences 2 (1965), 365. [See this volume, p. 58.]Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See T. Gold, ed., The Nature of Time ( Cornell University Press, Ithaca. 1967 ), p. 145.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bernoulli, Jac., Ars conjectandi ( Thurnisi, Basileae, 1713 ), p. 210Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel

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