Agnosticism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, as well as other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable.

Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist, coined the word agnostic in 1869. However, earlier thinkers and written works have promoted agnostic points of view. Protagoras, a 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher was agnostic about the gods.

Contents

Early history

Greek philosophy

Agnostic thought, in the form of skepticism, emerged as a formal philosophical position in ancient Greece. Its proponents included Protagoras, Pyrrho, Carneades, Sextus Empiricus and, to some degree, Socrates, who was a strong advocate for a skeptical approach to epistemology.

Such thinkers rejected the idea that certainty was possible.

Hume, Kant, and Kierkegaard

Many philosophers (following the examples of Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas, and Descartes) presented arguments attempting to rationally prove the existence of God. The skeptical empiricism of David Hume, the antinomies of Immanuel Kant, and the existential philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard convinced many later philosophers to abandon these attempts, regarding it impossible to construct any unassailable proof for the existence or non-existence of God.

In his 1844 book, Philosophical Fragments, Kierkegaard writes:

Let us call this unknown something: God. It is nothing more than a name we assign to it. The idea of demonstrating that this unknown something (God) exists, could scarcely suggest itself to Reason. For if God does not exist it would of course be impossible to prove it; and if he does exist it would be folly to attempt it. For at the very outset, in beginning my proof, I would have presupposed it, not as doubtful but as certain (a presupposition is never doubtful, for the very reason that it is a presupposition), since otherwise I would not begin, readily understanding that the whole would be impossible if he did not exist. But if when I speak of proving God's existence I mean that I propose to prove that the Unknown, which exists, is God, then I express myself unfortunately. For in that case I do not prove anything, least of all an existence, but merely develop the content of a conception.


See also





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