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There are no significant facts about human beings

By Charles Foster

A few days ago, at dinner, I sat next to a well-known literary biographer. As you’d expect, we fell to talking about the biographer’s obligations, and as you’d also expect, she said that the biographer should be neither advocate nor prosecutor – indeed should strive to keep herself out of the book as much as possible, aiming for objectivity. I heard myself saying that, worthy though this aspiration may be, it was so obviously doomed to failure that it probably wasn’t worth trying. When I reviewed that conversation later, I squirmed. On re-reviewing it I think that the response was right. And here’s why.

There are no significant facts about individual human beings. Or, to wrap it up in philosophese, a human has no qualities which partake of factness sufficiently to make it sensible to treat those qualities in the same way that one would treat, say, the weight of a brick or the length of a stick. Yes, I have physical and chronological dimensions, but in themselves they don’t indicate anything very significant about me. If you told me your date of birth, I could say how long, according to the conventional metrics, you had been alive on the planet: but so what? Your cells age at a different rate from anyone elses, and neither of us knows with which juggernaut the mischievous universe has planned to flatten you, or when. ‘You are as young as you feel’, you will say, and who but you knows how you feel? No one at all thinks that significance lies in the mere accumulation of years, or the mere number of inches from the ground to the top of your head. Where does it lie, then? In the events that fill the years? They, or their corollaries, are the interesting parts of biographies. But what are the events? Yes, a few people have lives marked significantly by their association with undoubted facts: leave the undoubted fact of the double helix out of a biography of Crick or Watson and there would be a serious gap; but even Crick and Watson were infinitely more than their Eureka moment and its prologue and epilogue.

I can know, in a scientific sense, almost nothing about myself. I have no real insight into my motives or influences. I say that I have views and desires, but I have no way of saying whether they are really mine, rather than parroted. It’s immensely unlikely that I’ve ever had a remotely original thought. Nothing that I say is mine really is: my genes and my preferences are all bequests from unnamed and unnameable donors. Those close to me probably know me better than I know myself. At least they constantly surprise me by telling me things about me that I would never have suspected, or never had the psychological ability to identify or acknowledge. But, although their view of me is more accurate than my own, it’s still woefully incomplete and distorted.

I know very little of my children. I know less of my neighbours. I suspect that what I think I know is deeply inaccurate.

What should all this agnosticism mean for the way we think? And in particular about how we do moral philosophy? Four immediate thoughts:

1.         We should approach humans with awe

The Judaeo-Christian tradition insists that humans are made in the image of God. God, in that tradition, is unknowably vast. Unknowability and vastness generate a vertiginous awe whenever we look at God and they should, by extension, generate a similar awe when we look at creatures moulded in his/her/its image. You don’t have to accept the notion of the Imago Dei or any other theological principle to conclude that human beings should be viewed this way. You just have to be baffled. I’m unfathomable, you’re unfathomable: stand back in wonder, confusion and reverence.

2.         We should be suspicious of any philosophical systems or notions which purport to know things about people

If it’s neat, it’s wrong. Take the hegemony of autonomy in modern philosophical discourse. It views human beings as simple bundles of clearly identifiable preferences –or at least, if it’s not that dogmatic, sees respect for those preferences as the light which guides the ethical ship easily into the most foreign and outlandish of harbours. I’ve criticised that position at length elsewhere: there’s a short, polemical example here. For the moment it will do simply to say that I have no idea what it means to say that ‘I’ have a preference. Which ‘I’ are you talking about? The doting father? The doubting son? The selfish careerist? The self-mocking hypochondriac? The lover of utilitarian calculus? The lover of waves, woods and beer? I oscillate wildly between these and many other identities. And I’m a simple soul. Goodness only knows what it means to talk about the preferences of a Shakespeare or a Joyce.

All that can be said is that we are stories. Ethics is the business of trying to make the stories good ones. We can and should argue about whether ‘good’ means anything, and if so what (try looking, I suggest, in a communitarian account of dignity): but a good story isn’t necessarily one suffused with normative sweetness and light.

3.         Our ethics should be communitarian, not atomistic

This follows from the ‘Which ‘I’?’ comments, and from the observation that objectivity is impossible. If we’re stories, the teller is part of what we are. The medium and the message are, if not indistinguishable, entangled. Part of what I am is part of what you say I am. And (here’s the ethical bit) part of what I should be is what you say I should be. My boundaries blend indistinguishably with those of the other entities in the nexus in which I exist and of which I consist.

Anything approaching a faithful account of a single human life will be composed of tales from many tellers. Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet has the right idea.          

4.         Beware the lure of reductionism

Those who think that we can identify significant facts about humans are in, or edging near, the reductionist camp. That’s a grim place to be, and no serious philosophy goes on there. Indeed over its gate is the sign: ‘There is no sophos to love, and in any event love is a boring set of chemical reactions.’ Of course there is a difference in principle between identifying facts about humans and concluding that the facts are all there is, but in practice the line between saying ‘there are these facts, and they are incontestable and definitional’ is close to nothing-buttery.

Which brings us back to the question of biography. There’s nothing remotely reductionist about the books or the philosophy of the biographer with whom I ate dinner. What I’d ask of her, I suppose, is:

(a) an acknowledgment that she is as much of an actor on the stage she erects as is the subject of the biography; and

(b) an acknowledgment that this is an inevitable and wholly desirable consequence of the way that human beings are.  

The sticking point, I suspect, would be the ‘wholly desirable’ part of that formulation.

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47 Comment on this post

  1. I would point out that your #2 directly contradicts the title and purpose of this post.

    Then I would point to sites like,, and and say that yes, it is possible to know some of the motivations that you and I possess. In fact, we learn more and more about ourselves and the universe in which we live every single day. We are not the unknowable mysteries that you purport human beings to be (and I’d wonder why you special plead for us and forget the entire animal kingdom of which we are apart.)

    1. Thanks Airin. Does it? Don’t see that, I’m afraid. Unless you’re saying that to assert that one can know no significant facts about human beings is itself to assert a significant fact about human beings.
      I write here about humans because, being human, I’m more confident in my agnosticism insofar as it relates to them. I’m not special pleading for humans: I’m just not pleading here for animals. As a matter of fact the book I’m working on at the moment is all about the question of what we can know about animals. And, for the reason I’ve just acknowledged, I’m writing it terribly tentatively.
      I’m afraid I get no help from your websites. Nor should you.

      1. “I’m afraid I get no help from your websites. Nor should you.”

        Your certainty on this matter if fascinating. Could you care to explain your fundamental skepticism to these sites or sites like this in general? Thanks.

      2. “I’m afraid I get no help from your websites. Nor should you.”

        Your certainty on this matter if fascinating. Could you care to explain your fundamental skepticism to these sites or sites like these in general? Thanks.

        1. Frederic: thank you. These sites are helpful if we are trying to identify the biases in our thinking – the defaults to which our software is set. But unless you think that we are our software, and don’t really have the dignity of causation, the sites don’t tell us anything terribly interesting about ourselves. So, for instance, we’re naturally appalling statisticians, and therefore compute risk in a ham-fisted way. It is what we do with the computations and with the outcome of our decisions that is interesting and mysterious.

      3. I’m not Airin, so I can’t say what specifically was the criticism concerning inconsistency, but I think it goes along the lines of you adducing in #2 that you are a father and a son, at least. Those also seem to be significant kinds of data about you in particular, especially since you go on to use this information in the course of your argument as if though the use is meaningful enough to make the point.

        If it is also the case that “All that can be said is that we are stories,” then it also seems to be a kind of claim about humans that they are stories. Whether or not it is a fact, in the sense concerning how we treat information regarding dimensions of bricks or sticks, that a human is a story or that all humans are stories, it does seem a fact in the sense concerning how we treat fiction books as comprising stories.

        Perhaps it’s also not significant as a fact to attach your name to the comments or to this site, at least not significant in the sense that brick masses are significant as fact in the way you’re arguing for this. But if it’s not a fact that you’re making these claims and standing by them, arguing for them in the course of developing some better idea of what it meant to say there are no significant facts about people rather than stick by the terribly tentatively written idea, then I’m not sure why attaching a name, or making this argument, or telling us about the book writing that prompted this tentatively, is in any sense giving others information about you.

        If humans are stories, but the stories are not factual, then it’s something else to say that you’re a father and a son, something very unlike a brick’s mass.

        If it’s not like a brick’s mass, then what does it mean to say you reproduced another human being, if it’s not a fact that you have?

        1. Charles R: thank you.
          Biological fatherhood and son-ness are facts. But they in themselves signify nothing. Some of their corollaries are undoubtedly significant, but none of the significant corollaries can be classified as a fact.

    2. A part. A space part. The entire animal kingdom of which we are a_part. If we are apart from the animal kingdom then we are not a_part of it. Don’t you hate it when you make a grammatical error while trying to sound smart?

  2. This immediately reminded me of “Reality Hunger” by David Shields, and the artificial difference between reality and fiction/narrative. The choices a biographer makes regarding the life-events she mentions are a judgement in itself. Maybe she shouldn’t try to have no perspective but as many perspectives as possible. The true house is the house seen from every perspective (Merleau-Ponty).

  3. Anthony Drinkwater

    Charles, thank you for your interesting post.

    You are right, of course : human beings are more complicated than bricks (but I guess that to a civil engineer, the weight and dimensions of a brick are not alone sufficient to describe it) .
    To go on to to claim that there are no significant facts about individual human beings is however a huge logical leap !
    No one fact, or even group of facts, can describe a life completely, or even accurately. But I would make two comments and add an observation :

    First, some facts about humans seem clearly more significant than others – those concerning physical appearance being generally less important (though there are plenty of exceptions – there aren’t too many 120kg footballers playing in the premier league). We would disagree on the details, but I think that if we considered a particular life, you and I would agree broadly on what was significant or not.

    And second, grouping seemingly disparate and simple facts can lead to pretty significant and accurate descriptions, as you pointed out yourself in March (« Your ‘Likes’ can be assembled by an algorithm into a terrifyingly accurate portrait. »)

    Nothing in this should be read as disagreeing with your four points, which make me think that in aesthetics the same rules (should) apply : no detailed musicological/mathematical/physical study of every bar of Schubert’s Quintet Op 163 can ultimately explain or justify its status as a masterpiece. (Let’s leave aside for now what constitutes a masterpiece !) But the analysis could for all that remain significant.

    Finally, I could (uncharitably ?) conclude that a significant fact about Charles Foster’s blog posts is that he makes excellent humanistic points but sometimes abuses them to construct unwarranted conclusions. (But of course this may make me as much an actor on this particular stage as you – though I doubt it).

  4. Anthony: many thanks. Touche re the March post!
    Re your final para: nothing uncharitable about it: but the blog posts aren’t me, and their relationship to me is mysterious.

  5. I find it enough to know that I am an animal, inseparable on a planet of animals and plants and bugs, and that my subjective experience is poor at knowing much about anything, because we apes are apparently just not very bright. We try hard, and it’s not all in vain. Within that framework, I find it’s easier to at least learn something about humans as animals, nothing very deep of course, but it still sheds much light on us, just as it does to learn about any other animals. With practice, I’ve even got used to watching myself in the zoo of life, look at the monkey go. I find it sufficient much of the time, and it makes it a little easier to let go the self-importance of being a human; I am just one of seven billion apes, so who cares? The world, my fellow apes included, is perhaps all the more amazing for the added humility.

    And so I say, it is significant, that at long last we can know ourselves for the apes we are. It’s something, no matter how small. And it is scientific, with the ability to predict at least a few useful things about us. Those things may not be profound, but I still find it useful to be able to recognize aspects of my ape nature. An example: we know with fair certainty that jealousy over a sexual partner is usually met with a strong animal physiological response, that we will feel it. But recognizing it for the animal response it is, can help us avoid confusion when we experience these feelings, and help us find the mental space to inject more rational decision into our feelings and actions. Perhaps we can laugh at our own severe jealousy reaction when it hits us, instead of being trapped by the feelings, and remaining convinced that we must kill for them. This is surely not precise knowledge, but it is heading down the right track, and it surely helps.

    Of course there’s ever so much more about humans than all that, and claiming otherwise would be like an electrician saying that because computers run on electricity, that makes him a software expert too, when he doesn’t even know what a data structure is. I strongly suspect the mind is essentially a large part software, and thus mind means whatever we write code for it to mean. Mathematics is not dictated by the chalk board it’s written on, any more than the logic of photoshop is dictated by transistors on the chips; and so I say neither is the meaning of mind dictated solely by neurons. This idea cuts much confusion for me; I feel no need to reduce all of behavior and thought to animal hardware and chemistry, and can better appreciate the almost arbitrary nature of what we can make up. We are animals unavoidably, but wrapped nonetheless in rich and deep software that is re-written by the world around us, and which we can re-write ourselves to some degree. At which point it is possible to know something of ourselves, because we can consciously write the program and make ourselves knowable, at least in some small degree.

    1. Exploderator: thank you. We’re not far apart, I expect. But see my response to Frederic. Yes, I’m an ape with software, some of the functions of which are to some extent describable. That observation doesn’t take me far down the road of self-description. Picking up a picture I used in the post, The Alexandria Quartet is not a four volume computer manual; nor is it four volumes with the same essential content, each written in a different style.

  6. In your ‘wondering’, you humans are wonderfully entertaining. That may not be a significant fact, but it appears so, from this perspective, at this ‘present’ moment, from this particular limb of the tree (until the attention is diverted to another source of nourishment, and we lose the thread, and the recording fades) . .
    But thanks to Charles, and to all of you – it may be that the teller of our tale has absorbed an iota of insight. Definitely worth navigating back to this branch again.

  7. Only when i got to the comments section did I realize that your post is not ironic.
    And it made me sad. This is the kind of post modernist bullshit that I really think stops us from getting ahead in our knowledge about the human mind.
    Are you really saying that all psychology and cognitive science are bullshit?

  8. I wonder whether you’re looking for is a change in terminology. I don’t think it’s hard to grant that the “fact” of a brick’s dimension (or hardness or composition or age) is different in kind than the “fact” of, say, my temper. The first fact is measurable, largely immutable and useful (if you’re interested in engineering or construction). The second fact defies objective measurement, seems constantly mutable but, and this is where I want to press my point, also useful.

    In your opening example of biography, it is not objective or immutable to, say, describe the tumultuous home environment of an author and draw connections to her famously short temper and explore possible manifestations of that in her fiction. That the biographer has not established a “fact,” or noted something original and true about humanity (or any particular human) doesn’t seem to reduce the utility of the information they’ve presented. It would be a mistake to read such information as definitive or reductive; surely, that’s the conventional temptation. But that’s not the same thing as reducing the information to meaninglessness, which is what I read you to be arguing?

    I’ll press just a little bit further with one more example. You state “you know very little of your children” and this fits the theme of your post. I don’t know the ages of your children specifically, but I would consider it some failure of parenting if you would still argue this into their teens. There are identifiably tendencies and preferences which have biological/physiological/neurological bases, which is surely the closest human behavior comes to “facts.” Would you argue, for instance, that there is no such thing as a spectrum of addictiveness of personality? I would presume the parent of an adolescent with a strongly addictive personality might have a different conversation about drugs and alcohol than the parent of a weakly addictive child might. Doesn’t that count as a “significant fact about a human?”

    I’d propose replacing the idea of a “fact” with something more akin to the probabalistic circles that describe the positions of electrons. We need a notion that communicates the multiplicity and mutability of humanity, surely, but scrapping the whole idea of knowledge about ourselves or others seems maybe a bridge too far.

  9. Greg: many thanks.
    I repeat my comments in response to Frederic and Exploderator.
    A tendency to addiction isn’t a fact about a person. It is a fact about the environment in which a person exists and acts.
    I’m attracted by your notion of probabilistic circles, and I suspect that it is worth wondering harder than I have about whether this is really all semantics. But even so, probabilistic circles don’t capture (although some other quantum mechanical language might), the crucial interdependence of the observer and the observed. I think you need the febrile convolutions of Lawrence Durrell for that.

  10. Then give us/me more examples of signifying facts. Or, help me understand what is a corollary of an insignificant fact that is itself significant.

    1. Thanks Charles R. Just so that others can follow the conversation, what I wrote was: ‘Biological fatherhood and son-ness are facts. But they in themselves signify nothing. Some of their corollaries are undoubtedly significant, but none of the significant corollaries can be classified as a fact.’
      Remember that the post itself was about the impossibility of classifying significant things about human beings as facts because of the multi-facetedness of humans and hence of all significant things about them.
      Thus, and in direct answer to your question:
      (a) A significant fact about a brick is its mass, as you will appreciate if you drop it on your foot.
      (b) An insignificant fact about a human is the mere fact that he has reproduced – as per my example. The corollaries of reproduction have to be described from many angles, in the form of stories, rather than propositions. They will differ (that’s a lot of the point of the post) for everyone, and hence examples aren’t really helpful: but they might include love, disgust, pride, relief, disappointment, etc, etc – question-begging words, all of them (which is the rest of the point of the post). You really do need to get Lawrence Durrell on the case.

      1. A brick’s mass is multi-facetedness in the sense that there are also stories to be told for how this individual brick came to have that mass at some particular time, where the clays were unearthed, where it was fired, how it circulated in trade, how often it has shed pieces to lose some of itself, and so on. Why, then, isn’t a brick’s mass “a mere fact” if such a fact is actually part of the larger narratives one can read or tell or speak or share about this brick, where it seems human significance (the corollaries of mere facts told in stories and not propositions) arises in your account? Either you do not allow for a brick to be described from many angles in the form of stories, or you do allow it but don’t acknowledge those stories are comparable to the ones you’re suggesting for humans. If the former, I’m surprised; if the latter, my perspective is that does a disservice to the capacity for storytelling, since some truly great stories are not about humans at all, and there’s no accounting for taste anymore.

        But if a brick’s mass is significant in the sense that it can cause me pain when it falls on my foot, then it seems your mass is a significant fact about you when you fall on my foot. It does tell me something about you how much mass you are, something similar to what I learn about a brick as that particular brick possibly striking this particular foot. But if the point is that such a something-about-you doesn’t capture appreciably who and what you are as someone embedded in time and stories, narratives and promises, then my response is that it’s a certain kind of short-sightedness grounded in prejudice that thinks nothing of the mysteries and infinite networks of relationships found in the life of a brick. After all, at some points in human history to include today, one needn’t think anything of a human slave other than its utility for labor or sexual purposes. That a brick’s story is not significant to a perspective just says something about the perspective that only sees it for its utility.

        I have this sense you’re creating an elaborate joke whose punchline escapes me because I’m unfamiliar with your sense of humor and the contextual dinner party where we’d laugh together. I’ll admit I just followed a link from reddit to get here, and I admit this is your space I’m invading, so of course there’s no requirement or obligation to clue me in on the joke.

        I will say, on the other hand, that I’m very sympathetic, even an adherent, to the idea that any one human is the construction of stories and narratives told from various perspectives by storytellers of different competencies. I’ll even go on to say someone so told is not the intersection of the claims made in the stories nor the union of them, and readily acknowledge the inconsistencies and actual contradictions are themselves true with regard to a person, since humans are inconsistent, contradictory things (I consider myself a fond student of Pascal). I disagree this means there are no significant facts about them, I guess because we differ on what it means “to signify” an individual.

  11. I don’t understand your post, Sir Foster. Can you state the contradictory of your thesis and say why, even though they are reasons to regard it as true, you think that overall the reasons to regard it as wrong prevail?

  12. Adrien: I’m sorry that I have made it insufficiently clear, and can’t do any better, I’m afraid. The antithesis is that there are significant facts about human beings. I have set out the reasons why I think that is wrong.

        1. Okay, can you give an exemple of a fact about a humain being that is apparently very significant (in your use of the term) and yet is not? And can you tell us why you think this appearence is just an illusion in this case?

          1. …and can you please state the principle that justifies the generalization for this exemple to any other apparently significant but in reality insignificant fact about humain beings?

            1. Adrien:
              (a) to repeat: ‘…to wrap it up in philosophese, a human has no qualities which partake of factness sufficiently to make it sensible to treat those qualities in the same way that one would treat, say, the weight of a brick or the length of a stick.’
              (b) Mass. Parenthood.
              (c) See discussion both in the body of the post and in the comments.

          2. Adrien:
            (a) to repeat: ‘…to wrap it up in philosophese, a human has no qualities which partake of factness sufficiently to make it sensible to treat those qualities in the same way that one would treat, say, the weight of a brick or the length of a stick.’
            (b) Mass. Parenthood.
            (c) See discussion both in the body of the post and in the subsequent discussion.

            1. I am sorry if this sounds a bit agressive, but if what you have to offer is either Derrida-like jargon (“…partake of factness sufficiently to make it sensible to treat those qualities in the same way that one would treat, say, the weight of a brick or the length of a stick?” bless you!) or unexplained, unproblematized and unanalysed theses (“there are no significant facts…”), I will simply stop visting this post.

              I prefer posts where the author tries her best to make her point concise and clear, i.e. explains the concepts she uses, and problematizes her arguments, i.e. embed her arguments in a body of rival arguments working in favour of incompatible conclusions.

              This is the only way I know of talking “philosophese”.

  13. I don’t see a clear statement of what makes a fact significant (or not). The weight of a brick is significant; is the weight of a human being not likewise significant? That Hitler ordered the murder of millions of nonviolent people is not a significant fact about Hitler? woah

  14. I don’t see a clear statement here of what makes a fact significant (or not). The weight of a brick is significant; is the weight of a human being not likewise significant? That Hitler ordered the murder of millions of nonviolent people is not a significant fact about Hitler? woah

  15. Charles R: thank you again.
    You write: ‘ Either you do not allow for a brick to be described from many angles in the form of stories, or you do allow it but don’t acknowledge those stories are comparable to the ones you’re suggesting for humans. If the former, I’m surprised; if the latter, my perspective is that does a disservice to the capacity for storytelling, since some truly great stories are not about humans at all, and there’s no accounting for taste anymore.’
    I do allow a brick to be so described, and, as you suggest, don’t acknowledge that those stories are comparable to human ones. No doubt you are right to imply that a brick has some sort of story independent of a human teller. But since, as I argue in the original post, the medium and the message are intimately entangled, a brick’s story told by anything other than a human would be a story of a very different kind from a human story told by a human.
    There’s no joke, elaborate or otherwise, so far as I’m concerned. I’m trying, more or less incoherently, to make sense of some pretty weird yet foundational things. And I’m genuinely grateful for your help.

    1. I don’t think they are all that weird, to be honest, just a little lacking in clarity, but then that’s the point of all this dialogue, right? So far as I’m concerned, what we are doing in asking and responding, sharing and critiquing, is what you say is what we do in signifying a human: telling the story of a thing from different perspectives.

      My thought is, why restrict such an insight into the composition of what makes for an individual’s significance to humans when there are persons of many different kinds other than human? As you point out, adopting an attitude where story-telling is a means of constructing the significance of a being makes our ethics communitarian and blurs boundaries towards greater and greater inclusiveness, or at least entanglement in ways a reductionist physics that isn’t authentic about itself tends to not acknowledge (that is, rather than think of the falling airplane as a point particle in a free body diagram, treating the airplane as a singular object, one has to acknowledge authentically from the standpoint of physics that the airplane is in the process of exchanging force carrier particles with the entirety of the universe, though attenuated). Such an awareness that the stories of many things are being told, if it moves us towards respecting and holding in awe those things, will do much towards encouraging and driving people into respecting mountains, streams, oceans, forms of life, deserts, antarctic wastelands, space debris, stars, &c and holding those things in awe.

      Humans, being stories, also tell stories, of one another and of the world around them. Maybe bricks do tell stories, as the trees and arachnids and woodpeckers tell stories with one another; maybe the little, chemically-constituted stories passing between our T-cells and gut bacteria form a community grounded in table fellowship. Maybe expanding the notion of what things are worth seeing as constructed by stories, while weird though foundational, gets us awe, community, irreducibility, and unfathomable/inexhaustible mystery for the whole of the world and all the wonderful individuals, particular and compositional, it comprises.

  16. If humans are the youngest, yet the oldest blend of everything under the sun, then that would be something promised, and never seen before or after. Of course, those who are only partly human would take that kind of view.

    I would say humans are interesting in the sense that most think that the space they play in follows some linear narrative, in time. That is really funny.

  17. hmmmm….

    I noticed Crick took LSD which facilitated his vision of the double helix. Perhaps that was significant?


  18. I think the author, Charles, is actually having a zen moment…or a dark night of the soul
    experience…when he…looks around and sees nothing significant. I am not saying this
    is incorrect at all. This suggests an opportunity for ‘turning’ deeper within.
    What did Siddartha say? “To the unborn, undying” which is…beyond human
    signifigance…in my experience and opinion…

    1. SAK: thank you. But I can’t dignify my wandering wonderings by comparing them to the crises associated with the really dark nights of the soul. Those nights surely involve a questioning of much more, or at least a much more emotionally traumatic questioning of what I’m questioning. For most of the time, like most people, the sorts of concerns expressed in this blog hardly impinge on me at all. I just get on with the business of missing deadlines and buses and picking up the children from school.

  19. D'Lynn Waldron, PhD, FRGS

    Biographies are written to tell stories and/or teach lessons and can never recreate the reality of a life because the biographer has only partial information. From the information they do have, biographers choose what to present and how to present it, and that is a mainly subjective, goal-directed process.

  20. Here is a spanner for the works

    The mass of a brick is also not significant, because it’s mass cannot be determined exactly. Neither two bricks exist that are equal or any individual brick equal to itself, due to mass and energy being the same thing and dynamic. It’s only formal logic and for convenience sake that we say a brick is equal to whatever.

    I am reasonably sure I have not added to the discussion, but it may be important.

  21. I find this an interesting thesis; and have to say that I agree. We’re dynamic being, and so what may seem to be fact in one moment can be entirely inconsequential the next. I would also like to point out, in response to “2: We should be suspicious of any philosophical systems or notions which purport to know things about people” that one of the most consistent philosophical statements in history is that in order to be philosophical, we must first accept that we don’t truly know anything. However; to honestly follow this “rule” is nearly impossible: we love the search for knowledge; and thus we also like to think that we’re able to obtain such knowledge, especially when it comes to ourselves and fellow human beings. The idea of not knowing makes us insecure, which is why it’s so difficult to separate ourselves enough to avoid categorizing others when we try to share our “knowledge” through stories/ biographies.

    The discussion already seems pretty thorough; so I’m not sure if I really added anything new or not, but thanks for the interesting read.

  22. Many thanks Shauna. Yes: both the starting point and the finishing point of worthwhile reflection is: ‘I know nothing;.

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