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In the light of the current state in philosophy, do skeptics still get an upper

In the light of the current state in philosophy, do skeptics still get an upper hand? Can we really know anything with certainty?

I'm going to refer you to two websites. At the PhilPapers Survey, you'll discover that only 4.8% of "target faculty" said that they accept or lean toward skepticism. Among specialists in epistemology (the theory of knowledge), that figure increases to 9.4%, but it's still small enough to suggest that philosophers in general don't think of skepticism as having the upper hand once the reasons for and against it are examined carefully.

For detailed discussion of your second question, you might start with the SEP entry on "Certainty". I hope you find these resources helpful.

I'm going to refer you to two websites. At the PhilPapers Survey , you'll discover that only 4.8% of "target faculty" said that they accept or lean toward skepticism. Among specialists in epistemology (the theory of knowledge), that figure increases to 9.4%, but it's still small enough to suggest that philosophers in general don't think of skepticism as having the upper hand once the reasons for and against it are examined carefully. For detailed discussion of your second question, you might start with the SEP entry on "Certainty" . I hope you find these resources helpful.

what are the requirements for knowledge?

what are the requirements for knowledge?

You'll find your question very thoroughly taken up in the SEP entry on the analysis of knowledge . As you'll see there, some philosophers go so far as to reject your question on the grounds that knowledge can't profitably be analyzed into other concepts. Enjoy!

Is it possible for someone to produce knowledge simply based on reason alone,

Is it possible for someone to produce knowledge simply based on reason alone, without any emotion?

I see no reason, in principle, why not. If knowledge were not possible without emotion, then no emotionless computer could achieve knowledge, which would come as a shock to the proponents of artificial intelligence (AI). Nor do I see anything in the concept of knowledge itself that rules out knowledge based on reason alone without any emotional content or associations. I don't mean to say that emotion can't play an essential role in some kinds of knowledge, only that I can't see how emotion would be essential to every kind of knowledge.

I see no reason, in principle, why not. If knowledge were not possible without emotion, then no emotionless computer could achieve knowledge, which would come as a shock to the proponents of artificial intelligence (AI). Nor do I see anything in the concept of knowledge itself that rules out knowledge based on reason alone without any emotional content or associations. I don't mean to say that emotion can't play an essential role in some kinds of knowledge, only that I can't see how emotion would be essential to every kind of knowledge.

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

You asked, "Have you found that philosophy leads to more skepticism and knowing nothing rather than clarification?" It may be that you didn't sacrifice any knowledge that you previously had. Your philosophical reflection may have revealed to you that you didn't in fact know what you took yourself to know before you engaged in it. Maybe you had confident beliefs about whom you ought to vote for, etc., and even the confident belief that you knew whom you ought to vote for, etc. Examining your grounds for those beliefs caused you to lose confidence in them. In Plato's dialogues, Socrates is portrayed as frequently showing people that they didn't in fact know what they confidently took themselves to know. That's an important discovery one can make about oneself. Even if your philosophical reflection has made you question some of your previously held beliefs, it doesn't follow that you ought to become a wholesale skeptic. Philosophical reflection should include scrutinizing the grounds for...

I'm completely new to philosophy so please excuse my simplistic question - is it

I'm completely new to philosophy so please excuse my simplistic question - is it really possible to 'know' anything (aside from apriori knowledge if this exists)? I'm not convinced that it is. PR

You've asked a venerable question in epistemology, the area of philosophy that investigates knowledge and related concepts. My short answer would be "Why not?" In ordinary life, we confidently take ourselves to know things. I'm confident that I know I have hands. I'm confident that I know I'm now awake and typing at a keyboard. I'm confident that I know the surname of the current U.S. president. And on and on. What reason do I have to abandon that confidence? Now, over the centuries, various skeptical arguments have been offered that challenge the claim that we know the things we take ourselves to know. Those arguments are well worth investigating. You might start with the SEP entry on skepticism, available here.

You've asked a venerable question in epistemology, the area of philosophy that investigates knowledge and related concepts. My short answer would be "Why not?" In ordinary life, we confidently take ourselves to know things. I'm confident that I know I have hands. I'm confident that I know I'm now awake and typing at a keyboard. I'm confident that I know the surname of the current U.S. president. And on and on. What reason do I have to abandon that confidence? Now, over the centuries, various skeptical arguments have been offered that challenge the claim that we know the things we take ourselves to know. Those arguments are well worth investigating. You might start with the SEP entry on skepticism, available here .

Although I can experience feelings of fear, pride, and shame in my dreams, I

Although I can experience feelings of fear, pride, and shame in my dreams, I cannot experience the sensation of sharp pains in my dreams. Right now, I am pinching myself and I am experiencing pain. How does this fail to prove that I am awake?

If I'm genuinely skeptical about whether I can know I'm awake, then I can't properly take as given the data you cite in your question, namely, that I can experience fear, pride, and shame while dreaming but not sharp pain. Trusting those data would presuppose that I can tell when I'm awake and when I'm dreaming. So the proof would be persuasive only if I can already know when I'm awake, in which case why would I need or seek a proof?

By the same token, however, I can't properly appeal to the convincing dreams I've had in order to conclude that I can't know I'm not dreaming right now. For when I claim that I've had convincing dreams -- i.e., non-waking experiences that I mistook for waking experiences -- I also presuppose that I can tell when I'm awake, which runs counter to the skeptical conclusion of the dream argument.

If I'm genuinely skeptical about whether I can know I'm awake, then I can't properly take as given the data you cite in your question, namely, that I can experience fear, pride, and shame while dreaming but not sharp pain. Trusting those data would presuppose that I can tell when I'm awake and when I'm dreaming. So the proof would be persuasive only if I can already know when I'm awake, in which case why would I need or seek a proof? By the same token, however, I can't properly appeal to the convincing dreams I've had in order to conclude that I can't know I'm not dreaming right now. For when I claim that I've had convincing dreams -- i.e., non-waking experiences that I mistook for waking experiences -- I also presuppose that I can tell when I'm awake, which runs counter to the skeptical conclusion of the dream argument.

On 'Cogito Ergo Sum'

On 'Cogito Ergo Sum' If this statement means that the only thing I can know to be true is that I exist, then that means I don't know if the reasoning used to deduce this statement is logically sound. What evidence do we have that our reasoning is to be believed? The only reason that we trust our reasoning is because have reasoned that it is trustworthy. We trust our reasoning because we trust our reasoning. I know that I came to this conclusion with the same human logic as cogito ergo sum, so this conclusion must be equally invalid. Humans are imperfect-> humans 'invented' logic-> logic is not necessarily perfect. "I do not know if I know anything." Please fix any broken logic I have, or point me in the direction of relevant articles on how my thinking was outdone hundreds of years ago. Thanks

I don't mean to criticize Prof. Reid's excellent scholarly response on behalf of Descartes. But it's worth pointing out that the reasoning from the Second Replies that he attributes to Descartes is more complex and dubitable than the inference from 'I think' to 'I exist' is to begin with. In the quoted passage, Descartes seems to make a universal generalization about human psychology based on a single known case, his own. That generalization can't be more reliable than inferring 'I exist' from 'I think', or else we wouldn't need an empirical science of psychology. Likewise, the psychological claim that a two-step inference is always less reliable than a one-step thought is a claim that's got to be more dubitable than inferring 'I exist' from 'I think' or calculating the sum of 2 and 3. It would have been better had Descartes denied the very intelligibility of doubting the simplest inferences we make -- or at least had he challenged a skeptical opponent to make sense of such doubt.

I don't mean to criticize Prof. Reid's excellent scholarly response on behalf of Descartes. But it's worth pointing out that the reasoning from the Second Replies that he attributes to Descartes is more complex and dubitable than the inference from 'I think' to 'I exist' is to begin with. In the quoted passage, Descartes seems to make a universal generalization about human psychology based on a single known case, his own. That generalization can't be more reliable than inferring 'I exist' from 'I think', or else we wouldn't need an empirical science of psychology. Likewise, the psychological claim that a two-step inference is always less reliable than a one-step thought is a claim that's got to be more dubitable than inferring 'I exist' from 'I think' or calculating the sum of 2 and 3. It would have been better had Descartes denied the very intelligibility of doubting the simplest inferences we make -- or at least had he challenged a skeptical opponent to make sense of such doubt.

My question concerns epistemology and "post-modernism". Why do philosophical

My question concerns epistemology and "post-modernism". Why do philosophical books on epistemology fail to discuss the problem of how one knows what a text means? Postmodernism have raised various questions about the possibility of how one knows what a text means, but the only books on epistemology I've seen talk about things like foundationalism, coherence, Gettier counter-examples, etc, but miss talking about Derrida's deconstructionism, and the positions of people like Fish and Foucault. Furthermore, who are the philosophers working on epistemology "answers" to postmodern thinkers? Is there a must read rejection of postmodern scepticism? I am aware of important critiques amongst Christian thinkers (e.g. D.A. Carson's "The Gagging of God") but I suspect there must be more philosophical responses.

I discern the following meaning in your text: You're asking why epistemology books generally don't cover postmodernist arguments for skepticism about our knowledge of a text's meaning.

One reason might be this: Arguments for skepticism about our knowledge of a text's meaning are merely applications of more general skeptical arguments about, for example, our knowledge of other minds. If so, then it's probably best to focus on the more general skeptical arguments to see if they're good enough to warrant applying them to specific cases such as textual meaning.

A second reason might be this: Arguments for skepticism about our knowledge of a text's meaning arise mainly from philosophical issues outside epistemology per se -- for example, issues in philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. If so, then you'd be more likely to find them discussed in books on those topics.

Some analytic philosophers have engaged with postmodernist thinkers in detail. Two examples come to mind: (1) John Searle's extended critique of deconstruction in the pages of the New York Review of Books in the 1980s; (2) Paul Boghossian's book Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism (Oxford University Press, 2006). No doubt there are others I'm now forgetting, but you might start with those.

I discern the following meaning in your text: You're asking why epistemology books generally don't cover postmodernist arguments for skepticism about our knowledge of a text's meaning. One reason might be this: Arguments for skepticism about our knowledge of a text's meaning are merely applications of more general skeptical arguments about, for example, our knowledge of other minds. If so, then it's probably best to focus on the more general skeptical arguments to see if they're good enough to warrant applying them to specific cases such as textual meaning. A second reason might be this: Arguments for skepticism about our knowledge of a text's meaning arise mainly from philosophical issues outside epistemology per se -- for example, issues in philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. If so, then you'd be more likely to find them discussed in books on those topics. Some analytic philosophers have engaged with postmodernist thinkers in detail. Two examples come to mind: (1) John Searle...

Do you think that there are things humans cannot understand because our brains

Do you think that there are things humans cannot understand because our brains are limited? Philosopher Thomas Nagel was recently quoted as saying that there are surely truths that people cannot understand (and will never be able to understand), as "nine-year olds cannot understand Maxwell's equations". I don't think this is a good example: after all nine-year olds are very smart, and it seems to me that they just don't have the time and information to "understand Maxwell's equations" while they are still nine years old. Is there any reason why nine-year olds wouldn't understand those equations if they had a nine-year old brain (physically speaking) forever (always adding new information)? And what if such equations were explained to them? Anyway, I would like you to answer not about the example, but about the general issue. Of course there are things we will never know and cannot know (for instancel, many things that happened before humans existed, or in distant parts of the universe, or things people...

I'm inclined to think that there are, and perhaps must be, things that humans can't understand because of the limitations of our brains. Now, the term 'understand' might mean (i) 'understand at all (i.e., at least partly)' or (ii) 'understand completely'. On interpretation (ii), it's pretty clear that there are things we can't understand, because our finite brains can't grasp all of the infinitely many facts there are about even as ordinary a thing as my car. What's my car's exact mass right now? (No rounding allowed!) Even on interpretation (i), there may be things that humans can't understand.

The only organ with which we can hope to understand something is our brain. Why wouldn't our brain's finite capacity for information storage, calculation, and so on, be accompanied by a finite capacity for understanding things? Indeed, Colin McGinn has conjectured that some of the central problems of philosophy have endured for so long because, although they have solutions, our species lacks the ability to understand those solutions. See his Problems in Philosophy and this later paper. Jonathan Bennett sounds a similar theme in his article 'Descartes's Theory of Modality', Philosophical Review 103 (1994): 639-667, at 656.

I'm inclined to think that there are, and perhaps must be, things that humans can't understand because of the limitations of our brains. Now, the term 'understand' might mean (i) 'understand at all (i.e., at least partly)' or (ii) 'understand completely'. On interpretation (ii), it's pretty clear that there are things we can't understand, because our finite brains can't grasp all of the infinitely many facts there are about even as ordinary a thing as my car. What's my car's exact mass right now? (No rounding allowed!) Even on interpretation (i), there may be things that humans can't understand. The only organ with which we can hope to understand something is our brain. Why wouldn't our brain's finite capacity for information storage, calculation, and so on, be accompanied by a finite capacity for understanding things? Indeed, Colin McGinn has conjectured that some of the central problems of philosophy have endured for so long because, although they have solutions, our species lacks the ability...

Has the Gettier Problem been given too much credit? Take the man looking out the

Has the Gettier Problem been given too much credit? Take the man looking out the window and sees a mechanical sheep 200 yards away and forms the proposition "There is a sheep out there"...and in reality there is a sheep under his window. Don't you think the man really said "There is a sheep 200 yards out there"? Take the same scenario but instead of the sheep being under the window the sheep is "out there" two counties away. Isn't this easy to see the misrepresentation of the "true proposition" the man really means to express? Please tell me where I am wrong with this critique, Thanks!

You take issue with the way the content of the man's belief is being described in this case: you suggest that the content of his belief is the more specific (1) 'There is a sheep 200 yards out there' rather than the less specific (2) 'There is a sheep out there'.

If we're worried about the actual content of the man's belief, then (1) strikes me as unrealistically specific: 200 yards rather than 201 yards? But never mind that. We can easily use (1) to generate a Gettier case: suppose that the man validly deduces that (2) from his belief that (1) and thereby comes to believe that (2). Valid deduction is one way in which we come to believe things. If he's justified in believing that (1) even though (1) is false, then presumably he's justified in believing that (2) by validly deducing (2) from (1). So he's justified in believing that (2), and (2) is true because of a sheep he can't see. So he has a justified, true belief that (2) yet doesn't know that (2).

You take issue with the way the content of the man's belief is being described in this case: you suggest that the content of his belief is the more specific (1) 'There is a sheep 200 yards out there' rather than the less specific (2) 'There is a sheep out there'. If we're worried about the actual content of the man's belief, then (1) strikes me as unrealistically specific: 200 yards rather than 201 yards? But never mind that. We can easily use (1) to generate a Gettier case: suppose that the man validly deduces that (2) from his belief that (1) and thereby comes to believe that (2). Valid deduction is one way in which we come to believe things. If he's justified in believing that (1) even though (1) is false, then presumably he's justified in believing that (2) by validly deducing (2) from (1). So he's justified in believing that (2), and (2) is true because of a sheep he can't see. So he has a justified, true belief that (2) yet doesn't know that (2).

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