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The Ignorabimus Controversy

The Ignorabimus Controversy

(p.97) 3 The Ignorabimus Controversy
After Hegel
Frederick C. Beiser
Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the controversy generated by the August 14, 1872, lecture of Emil Du Bois-Reymond, Rector of Berlin University and one of the most prominent physiologists of his age. Du Bois-Reymond declared that there are two insurmountable limits to all scientific knowledge: the nature of matter; and the connection between consciousness and the brain. All scientific knowledge oscillated between these two limits—matter and mind—which served as impassable border posts. About these two topics, Du Bois-Reymond maintained, we would forever remain ignorant. To emphasize the point, he concluded his speech with the solemn and emphatic Latin word: “Ignorabimus!” We will be ignorant. The reaction to his lecture was as tumultuous as its content was controversial. It was the starting point for an intense discussion about the limits of natural science that would last for decades.

Keywords:   German philosophy, Emil Du Bois-Reymond, scientific knowledge, matter, consciousness, mind

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