Two Sides to Every Question

It was the Greek Sophist Protagoras who first hypothesized that there were two sides to every question.

Anything and everything can be proven. That’s relativism, taken to its extreme.

Nothing can be proven and everything can be disproven. That’s skepticism, taken to its extreme.

And if that doesn’t grab you, consider that both propositions and systems can actually both be true as well as contradictory.

When we’re in political season, people tend to forget the very training that they had as college or professional students, namely that there are always two sides of looking at everything, and the very arguments of the ancients, the relativists like the sophists, and the skeptics, of very smart fellows like Protagoras, to take a relativist example, or Diogenes of Sinope, to take a skeptical example, seem to get lost.

And yet even science, in which I am trained, is not exempt from this. Hume dissected the causal argument a long time ago, and the modern empiricists like Popper and Reichenbach were reduced to arguing that scientific laws were no more than immense probabilities of the next thing happening in association with the previous–if I drop this ball the 5,001st time, it will fall to earth as it did 5,000 times before.

And then you have Thomas S. Kuhn, with his deconstruction of empiricism with the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, claiming that everything is just a paradigm, or that the reigning theory is just an agreement to agree.

That’s a kind of weird way to explain science, if you think about it–it’s a kind of Matrix way of explaining reality. After all, as the sci-fi/philosophy question goes, if we all agree this is reality, and it actually isn’t, and we’re all dreaming this, and it’s just the matrix, a computer program, then it’s not empirical at all, is it? That’s not satisfactory in terms of Kuhn and his paradigms.

Kuhn’s theory would have us believe that the reality of the Matrix was real because everyone agreed it was real–without any independent method of verification test added.

So I’ll just retreat back, if you don’t mind, to the sophists and skeptics, and say that I don’t really buy into paradigms as much as a lot of modern scholars do–give me some experimental verification any old day and maybe then, I might buy into your theory.

After all, the reality is this. There is no spoon.

–art kyriazis, philly



  1. so Sophists see more than one side to things – and they are not relativists – hmm – I agree but I think it’s more complex than that – their positions on either side are argued out and they include being aware (hopefully) of their own assumptions – as you point out Hume thgt on that – if they are transparent abt their own assumptions, does that exonerate them from relativism? how?

    1. yes, obviously.

      this would not be the forum, but i would refer you to the online Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophia for detailed discussions of ancient sophistry, ancient arguments that nothing was real, ancient skepticism, and the modern such arguments embodied in Kuhn & Rorty.

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