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After studying philosophy, I am now so skeptical of everything that I no longer

After studying philosophy, I am now so skeptical of everything that I no longer know what I should believe in. I have no idea whom I should vote for in election or whether I should be voting at all, what religion I ought to believe in if any at all, why I should bother getting married, or even why I should bother getting out of bed in the mornings. Have you found that philosophy leads to more skepticism and knowing nothing rather than clarification?

This is a terrific question/problem, and Stephen's response is a very good one. I merely want to point out that it's possible to have another kind of response to the situation you're confronting. I would characterize the situation as one where you realize that everything is ultimately connected to everything else, every belief has infinite implications that require exploring before they are rationally affirmed, to every position there is an objection, to every objection there is a response, and the whole process never ends ... Now if you believe that in order to know anything, or act in some rational way, the process of inquiry that produces that knowledge or action must be "completed", then you'll be in the bind you describe. But maybe THAT is the belief to be given up (and maybe the bind you describe is itself a key argument for giving up that belief). Instead recognize that deliberation and explanation must always come to a temporary end at some point -- and that you should always believe/act with the best set of principles that are available to you, with the information that is available to you, at the time of believing/acting, w/o pretense that the process is complete. Then, rather than feel frustrated, you might even feel exhilarated by realizing that the process of inquiry never ends: the world is infinitely richer, deeper, more interesting than we can possibly realize. (By way of rough analogy: if you find "life" interesting, beautiful, exhilirating, then when you discover that the number of possible life forms may be infinite, is that a source of frustration or exhilaration? Frustration if you believe that unless the process of cataloging life forms is complete then something is missing; exhilarating if you celebrate the infinite set of possibilities.)

Or from another direction. Suppose you realize that you have no better reason (ultimately) to get out of the bed in the morning than to stay in bed. If so, then that infinite process of deliberation is neutral with respect to whether you get out of bed. So don't bother undertaking it, at least not every morning. Instead do your ordinary, limited deliberation: "well sleeping is lovely, but so is keeping my job. So I better get out of bed." That is pretty darn good reasoning, if you ask me, even if it isn't "ultimate" or "completed" reasoning -- but it's also the only kind of reasoning that matters on a day-to-day basis. (And when you realize how awesome is the infinite set of deliberations that you could ultimately undertake, you might find it quite exhilarating to get out of bed -- because after you get off work today you can get home and do a little philosophy ....)

best,

ap

This is a terrific question/problem, and Stephen's response is a very good one. I merely want to point out that it's possible to have another kind of response to the situation you're confronting. I would characterize the situation as one where you realize that everything is ultimately connected to everything else, every belief has infinite implications that require exploring before they are rationally affirmed, to every position there is an objection, to every objection there is a response, and the whole process never ends ... Now if you believe that in order to know anything, or act in some rational way, the process of inquiry that produces that knowledge or action must be "completed", then you'll be in the bind you describe. But maybe THAT is the belief to be given up (and maybe the bind you describe is itself a key argument for giving up that belief). Instead recognize that deliberation and explanation must always come to a temporary end at some point -- and that you should always believe/act with...

I was wondering if Nagel's argument in "what it is like to be a bat" or the

I was wondering if Nagel's argument in "what it is like to be a bat" or the Qualia "Knowledge argument" can be used to prove that certain non physical knowledge can only be attained through experience? For example, could I say that I could read about being an enterpeneur, learn everything there is to know about running my own business but that there is certain knowledge I will only attain when I actually start my business? Thank you Mike

Good question. Of course we'd have to be very careful re: what we mean by 'non-physical' knowledge. For sometimes what people mean when they suggest 'you can't know everything about being an entrepreneur until you actually try it' is merely that there are various facts, bits of advice/wisdom, etc., that no one is likely to teach you in advance, that cannot be anticipated, etc., that you'll only come across and learn when you're acquiring experience in the activity -- but that on its own entails nothing about whether those facts are "non-physical." For a rough example, you might not be able to fully understand just how difficult the local tax code is for business until you try navigating it yourself for your own business, but that doesn't mean those facts about the tax code are non-physical in any way. In short: sometimes experience is necessary simply to acquire perfectly "physical," factual knowledge. But then again, there remains room for something else, the 'what's it like'-ness of it all. One of the early waves of response to Nagel's argument was precisely this, viz. just how far does that "what it's like" locution extend -- it's one thing to suggest there's something it's like to be a bat that we humans can never fully grasp or conceive, but is there something it's like to be one specific bat v. another? to be you, v. me? to be a golfer v. entrepreneur etc.? Perhaps -- or perhaps that locution just isn't/shouldn't be so fine-grained as to distinguish between individuals int his way, and is best applied across large types such as species. So this is a long-winded way of NOT answering your question -- only to suggest that perhaps there's nothing really "non-physical" to learn about pursuing various activities and that the "what it's like" idea isn't meant to be so fine-grained ...

hope that's useful!

ap

Good question. Of course we'd have to be very careful re: what we mean by 'non-physical' knowledge. For sometimes what people mean when they suggest 'you can't know everything about being an entrepreneur until you actually try it' is merely that there are various facts, bits of advice/wisdom, etc., that no one is likely to teach you in advance, that cannot be anticipated, etc., that you'll only come across and learn when you're acquiring experience in the activity -- but that on its own entails nothing about whether those facts are "non-physical." For a rough example, you might not be able to fully understand just how difficult the local tax code is for business until you try navigating it yourself for your own business, but that doesn't mean those facts about the tax code are non-physical in any way. In short: sometimes experience is necessary simply to acquire perfectly "physical," factual knowledge. But then again, there remains room for something else, the 'what's it like'-ness of it all. One of the...

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us yesterday that "we constantly rely on inductive reasoning all the time in our lives, such as when we assume that the floor won't suddenly collapse beneath our feet if we walk forwards." This struck me as odd. Is it accurate to say we "assume" such a thing? It seems to me that we don't even think about these things at all, much less try to justify any such assumptions - saying we're relying on some kind of argumentation seems like a stretch, but perhaps it isn't. Is everything we do, then, the result of certain processes of reasoning? Or are there things we just do without any reasoning to support them?

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....)

ap

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....) ap

Would a materialist and reductionist have to reject the phenomena/noumena

Would a materialist and reductionist have to reject the phenomena/noumena distinction? I saw a clip of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson in which Hitchens seems to claim that one could reject the supernatural without rejecting the noumenal. To truly believe in a hidden "thing in itself" wouldn't you have to take a leap of faith, so to speak? You would have to assert that we should believe in something unprovable, which would seem to be the antithesis of Hitchens' normal position. Thanks!

Very interesting question, but as a non-kant specialist I would answer this. It's not clear to me that the p/n distinction is a metaphysical one, i.e. one between two different kinds of objects, one 'out there in itself' and one 'in here, as perceived by our minds." Rather it seems to me more an epistemological one, ie two different ways of thinking about one and the same objects: there's the sun-in-itself, and the sun-as-it-appears, but that is one object (the same sun) thought about two different ways, not two distinct objects. (Perhaps Kant scholars interpret the distinction differently ....) But on htis understanding, the noumenal doesn't seem so exotic or supernatural or require a leap of faith, etc.; it just seems a reflection of the (perhaps obvious) fact that in thinking and perceiving about x we cannot but employ the cognitive apparatus we have, and that that apparatus will influence the process in various ways ... Moreover, "to reject the supernatural" could also be understood purely within the phenomenal realm: one who rejects the supernatural so construed denies that the world-as-it-appears contains any beings or phenomean that override the various laws of that world .... So in both cases (where the p/n distinction is epistemic and where we restrict supernatural to the p world) we could reject the supernatural w/o rejecting the noumenal ....

hope that's useful--

ap

Very interesting question, but as a non-kant specialist I would answer this. It's not clear to me that the p/n distinction is a metaphysical one, i.e. one between two different kinds of objects, one 'out there in itself' and one 'in here, as perceived by our minds." Rather it seems to me more an epistemological one, ie two different ways of thinking about one and the same objects: there's the sun-in-itself, and the sun-as-it-appears, but that is one object (the same sun) thought about two different ways, not two distinct objects. (Perhaps Kant scholars interpret the distinction differently ....) But on htis understanding, the noumenal doesn't seem so exotic or supernatural or require a leap of faith, etc.; it just seems a reflection of the (perhaps obvious) fact that in thinking and perceiving about x we cannot but employ the cognitive apparatus we have, and that that apparatus will influence the process in various ways ... Moreover, "to reject the supernatural" could also be understood purely...

Is knowledge produced just to be sold? If not, then why are there ubiquitous

Is knowledge produced just to be sold? If not, then why are there ubiquitous tuition centres that are situated even within the tutors' houses, assessment books that encompass the many subjects students study for and take up the most space in most book stores (a generalisation),and sky-rocketing tuition and scholastic fees? Why do people perceive that the more knowledge you have, the higher the chances of you being successful and happy? And why do schools give difficult examinations? Is knowledge produced just to be sold, to be keep in secret, and will be only disclosed to the people who could afford to pay?

There's a lot of interest here, and a lot that's problematic in your questions! ... There are empirical studies in the U.S. at least that show things such as that college degrees increase average earning power over the course of your life -- now whether that means 'the more knowledge you have' leads to 'more success and happiness' I don't know, but it's the kind of statistic that might be relevant to your concerns .... I am not inclined to think that (all) knowledge is 'produced just to be sold' -- it's produced for many reasons, including the inrinsic interest of producing it -- but if it turns out that (much) knowledge is in fact useful, and valuable, then why would it be surprising that it would also be sold, even if it isn't produced for that purpose? Now if you're concerned about more political/sociological issues -- like what sorts of societies choose to have their education be so expensive, etc., that I can't say -- I too would prefer that education be far less expensive, be seen as a public right and not a privilege etc., but then that becomes an issue for politicians and not for philosophers ...

hope that's useful --

best, ap

p.s. the philosophers on this site don't get paid anythign for participating -- so not ALL knowledge is sold! :-)

There's a lot of interest here, and a lot that's problematic in your questions! ... There are empirical studies in the U.S. at least that show things such as that college degrees increase average earning power over the course of your life -- now whether that means 'the more knowledge you have' leads to 'more success and happiness' I don't know, but it's the kind of statistic that might be relevant to your concerns .... I am not inclined to think that (all) knowledge is 'produced just to be sold' -- it's produced for many reasons, including the inrinsic interest of producing it -- but if it turns out that (much) knowledge is in fact useful, and valuable, then why would it be surprising that it would also be sold, even if it isn't produced for that purpose? Now if you're concerned about more political/sociological issues -- like what sorts of societies choose to have their education be so expensive, etc., that I can't say -- I too would prefer that education be far less expensive, be seen as a public...

When we learn something, generally speaking, we have acquired some kind of

When we learn something, generally speaking, we have acquired some kind of knowledge. But what about when we forget things? It seems intuitive to say that we don't know the thing in question anymore. Yet often, we will suddenly remember things we forgot without learning them again - spontaneously, so to speak. So during the period between the forgetting and the remembering, do we know the information and not have access to it, or do we not know it? How should we conceptualize spontaneous remembering in such cases?

great question. one small part of the answer would rely on how we conceptualize the non-forgotten, stored knowledge itself -- does it exist as propositions or discrete entities somehow tucked away somewhere in the mind (or brain)? if so, then if forgetting means deleting, then such things shouldn't count as known. But more plausibly stored knowledge would be conceived dispositionally -- as a disposition to re-create a given thought (and more generally beliefs shouldn't be conceived as individual units either ...) -- and once beliefs are conceievd that way then it's much easier to think of forgetting as just some (temporary) flaw in the mechanism that triggers the disposition -- in which case the way is more open to treating the 'forgotten' bit as 'really there, if temporarily inaccessible' ....

hope that helps --

ap

great question. one small part of the answer would rely on how we conceptualize the non-forgotten, stored knowledge itself -- does it exist as propositions or discrete entities somehow tucked away somewhere in the mind (or brain)? if so, then if forgetting means deleting, then such things shouldn't count as known. But more plausibly stored knowledge would be conceived dispositionally -- as a disposition to re-create a given thought (and more generally beliefs shouldn't be conceived as individual units either ...) -- and once beliefs are conceievd that way then it's much easier to think of forgetting as just some (temporary) flaw in the mechanism that triggers the disposition -- in which case the way is more open to treating the 'forgotten' bit as 'really there, if temporarily inaccessible' .... hope that helps -- ap

Without considering the arguments that there was ever a Jewish Holocaust can I

Without considering the arguments that there was ever a Jewish Holocaust can I be certain that such a thing happened just because I've read about it in my history books in school?

Why mention the Holocaust example specifically? Any worries about the "certainty" of historical knowledge would equally apply to every single piece of historical knowledge. Of course, what makes the Holocaust example stand out is that it does get challenged -- by people who have typically deeper agendas -- so perhaps what you should be asking is this: whenever you read about any historical event, and whenever you find people challenging conventional historical events, can you distinguish what is driven by "agenda" and what is driven by actual consideration of the available "facts"? (An excellent general book on the subject is the recent book "Voodoo Histories", which is a study of various conspiracy theories (including Holocaust denial and others), trying to articulate how/when people with agendas choose to selectively apply ordinary standards of reason and evidence ......)

best, Andrew

Why mention the Holocaust example specifically? Any worries about the "certainty" of historical knowledge would equally apply to every single piece of historical knowledge. Of course, what makes the Holocaust example stand out is that it does get challenged -- by people who have typically deeper agendas -- so perhaps what you should be asking is this: whenever you read about any historical event, and whenever you find people challenging conventional historical events, can you distinguish what is driven by "agenda" and what is driven by actual consideration of the available "facts"? (An excellent general book on the subject is the recent book "Voodoo Histories", which is a study of various conspiracy theories (including Holocaust denial and others), trying to articulate how/when people with agendas choose to selectively apply ordinary standards of reason and evidence ......) best, Andrew

If we apply nihilism to all knowledge, how is the paradox it creates overcome,

If we apply nihilism to all knowledge, how is the paradox it creates overcome, as to deny an existence of knowledge is to stand by something known to oneself? Wittgenstein's idea to kick away the ladder seems to some what fill the void but it isn't exactly a satisfying filler!

hm. why can't we methodically critique the possibility of knowledge in various domains w/o ever explicitly addressing the question of whether we can 'know' that knowledge (in general) is impossible? or, is it really self-contradictory (a paradox) to claim that all knowledge is impossible, even this -- for when one denies 'knowledge' one typically replaces it with something less prestigious (like belief, maybe) -- and so one can coherently say I believe that no knowledge is possible (and that belief is the most we can get) .....?

ap

hm. why can't we methodically critique the possibility of knowledge in various domains w/o ever explicitly addressing the question of whether we can 'know' that knowledge (in general) is impossible? or, is it really self-contradictory (a paradox) to claim that all knowledge is impossible, even this -- for when one denies 'knowledge' one typically replaces it with something less prestigious (like belief, maybe) -- and so one can coherently say I believe that no knowledge is possible (and that belief is the most we can get) .....? ap

Hi my question is about what we know about things we know because they are what

Hi my question is about what we know about things we know because they are what they are or we know because they are what we perceive them to be. I came to thinking about this when I was thinking of spinning a cube fast enough to appear to be a sphere. The problem I had was that if what we know about things is gathered by how we perceive them, i.e. through empirical investigation, then the sphere/cube problem would lead to a contradiction in conclusions as one group of people (those that see the cube in motion) would say that it is a sphere whilst another group of people (those that see the stationary cube) would say that it is a cube. So our knowledge of things cannot have come from how we perceive them as our perceptions are obviously misleading and can lead to contradictions. This leads me to think that what is is separate to what our minds perceive or what our minds think is but then I come across the problem of the gap between reality and our minds. How do our minds detect what actually is in reality...

Wow, fantastic email -- getting at the heart of some major philosophical ideas and movements. Empiricists tend to stress the role of perception/experience in producing knowledge, while rationalists tend to promoe the role of reason, often arguing on the basis of such considerations as those you mention. A couple of quick thoughts about the specifics of your message. Your example of a problematic perception (spinning cube looks like sphere) doesn't quite/fully show that perception is problematic, partly because some other perception is relevant to getting at the truth, ie seeing the cube not spinning. The rationalist might say that reason is needed to process these otherwise conflicting perceptions, but even if this so, it does seem that perception is playing a key role in generating our knowledge of the world (that a cube exists, and that, when spun, it looks spherical) -- so what you've raised is a kind of problem for perception, but not one which obviously (to me anyway) undermines the importance of eprception in generation knowledge. Second, you mention the 'gap' between reality and minds -- and probably need to say more there. Even if everything we come to know about the empirical world were ultimately, in some way, derived from perception, it remains possible that perception is 'veridical' -- gives us true information about the world -- so the sheer fact that our access is mediated via perception does not entail that perception isn't veridical, or even direct .... This doesn't fully answer your excellent question -- how do we know we have knowledge not just perception? but aims to suggest that perception may well play important roles in generating knowledge despite the two kinds of worries you raise ....

hope that helps!

best,

Andrew

Wow, fantastic email -- getting at the heart of some major philosophical ideas and movements. Empiricists tend to stress the role of perception/experience in producing knowledge, while rationalists tend to promoe the role of reason, often arguing on the basis of such considerations as those you mention. A couple of quick thoughts about the specifics of your message. Your example of a problematic perception (spinning cube looks like sphere) doesn't quite/fully show that perception is problematic, partly because some other perception is relevant to getting at the truth, ie seeing the cube not spinning. The rationalist might say that reason is needed to process these otherwise conflicting perceptions, but even if this so, it does seem that perception is playing a key role in generating our knowledge of the world (that a cube exists, and that, when spun, it looks spherical) -- so what you've raised is a kind of problem for perception, but not one which obviously (to me anyway) undermines the importance...