Skep Essay, Research PaperAn Answer to Skepticism about Induction and the External WorldThe jobs of initiation and the external universe do so portion a common construction. Both narrowly define what we & # 8220 ; straight & # 8221 ; or & # 8220 ; instantly & # 8221 ; know. They so note that we normally assume that we know much more than that, even though what we know straight does non logically imply most of what we assume we know.
Therefore, much of our & # 8220 ; knowledge & # 8221 ; is unfounded.This paper will set about three undertakings. First, it will sketch the general construction of this kind of disbelieving statement. Second, it will demo how the jobs of initiation and the external universe tantrum precisely into this common construction. Third, it will indicate out the most questionable measure in the two statements & # 8212 ; which turns out to be the same in both cases.2.
The Common Structure of the ProblemsThe jobs of initiation and the external universe, as we shall see subsequently, both fit elegantly into the undermentioned, more general disbelieving argument:1. Ten is known directly.2. Y is non known directly.
3. Ten does non logically connote Y, even though we normally assume that it does. ( 4. Nothing else straight known implies Y either. ) Therefore, we don & # 8217 ; t cognize Y.How does this statement work? Basically, it creates a & # 8220 ; split & # 8221 ; ( in Prof.
Stroud & # 8217 ; s words ) between what we know straight and what we don & # 8217 ; t cognize straight. Hence, in order to cognize the latter, we would hold to logically deduce it from the former. Sometimes, this International Relations and Security Network & # 8217 ; t a job: even though I don & # 8217 ; t know that the Pythagorean theorem is true straight, I do cognize the belongingss of squares and trigons straight, and the Pythagorean theorem can be logically derived entirely from cognition of squares and trigons. But suppose that I don & # 8217 ; t straight know that something is true, and what I know straight does non logically connote it either. I would hold to reason that what I believed was cognition was merely an indefensible assumption.3. The Structure AppliedI contend that this is precisely what happens with the jobs of initiation and the external universe. In both instances, we start with a premiss about what we know straight.
Naturally, this is ever bantam compared to the entireness of what we assume we know. Our following disposition is to seek to infer, to logically deduce, the truth of our other beliefs from the little sum that we know straight. But upon review, we see that our other beliefs do non follow logically from what we know straight. So we don & # 8217 ; Ts have any ground to accept these beliefs.Consider how the job of initiation tantrums into the preceding construction. First, it is admitted that we have direct cognition of what we presently observe.
Second, it is claimed that we don & # 8217 ; Ts have direct cognition of what we do non presently observe. Third, current observations ne’er logically connote anything about the presently unseen. As Hume explains, the statement would merely work if we knew the jurisprudence of cause-and-effect.
But the latter is non known straight either, and to establish it on initiation would be round. So even though we assume that we can establish cognition of the unobserved on our cognition of the ascertained, we can & # 8217 ; t. Therefore, we have no ground to believe anything about unseen affairs of fact. ( This statement is non really complete. To do it valid, one would besides necessitate to cognize that we couldn & # 8217 ; t deduce our cognition of unseen affairs of fact from anything besides our cognition of ascertained affairs of fact.
After all, even if X does non connote Y, another premiss, X & # 8217 ; , could connote Y. Presumably, Hume did non see this possibility because he took the differentiation between dealingss of thoughts and affairs of fact to be thorough. ) It will be easier to see how the job of initiation tantrums into the construction outlined in subdivision two by saying the job of initiation more formally:1. Presently ascertained affairs of fact are known directly.2.
Presently unseen affairs of fact are non known directly.3. Propositions about presently observed affairs of fact do non logically connote propositions about presently unseen affairs of fact, even though we normally assume that they do. ( We normally invoke the jurisprudence of cause-and-effect, which is itself neither known straight nor logically deducible from aynthing known directly. ) ( 4. Nothing else straight known implies any propositions about presently unseen affairs of fact. ) Therefore, we don & # 8217 ; Ts know ( i.e.
, have no ground to believe ) anything approximately presently unseen affairs of fact.Now allow us compare this to the job of the external universe. Following Descartes, most people will normally state that we straight know merely that we have experiences of certain sorts. We straight know that & # 8220 ; I feel as if I have a organic structure & # 8221 ; or & # 8220 ; It looks as if I am seeing green. & # 8221 ; So what don & # 8217 ; T we straight cognize? We don & # 8217 ; t straight cognize anything about objects, approximately existent, physical things. We don & # 8217 ; t straight know that & # 8220 ; I have a organic structure & # 8221 ; or & # 8220 ; I see green. & # 8221 ; To cognize & # 8220 ; physical object & # 8221 ; propositions at all, we would hold to logically infer them from cognition of our experiences.
But this is impossible. Since we could be woolgathering or holding psychotic beliefs, the mere fact that I know that I am holding a certain experience does non logically turn out that existent, physical objects exist. And once more, presuming that nil else known straight logically implies anything about the existent, physical universe, the decision that we ne’er have any ground to believe anything about the physical universe follows.Let us province the statement officially to see how it fits the general statement in subdivision two:1. Our experiences are known directly.2. The existent, physical universe is non known directly.
3. Our experiences do non logically connote anything about the existent, physical universe, even though we normally assume that they do. ( 4. Nothing else straight known implies anything about the existent, physical universe either. ) Therefore, we don & # 8217 ; Ts know ( i.e. , have no ground to believe ) anything about the existent, physical world.We are now ready to see that the construction of the jobs of initiation and the external universe are precisely parallel at every measure of the manner.
In both instances, premiss # 1 characterizes what we know straight in really narrow footings. In the job of initiation, it states that we straight know presently observed affairs of fact ; in the job of the external universe, it states that we straight know ourexperiences. In both instances, premiss # 2 provinces something important that we don & # 8217 ; t cognize straight. In the job of initiation, it states that we don & # 8217 ; t straight cognize anything about currently unobserved matters of fact; in the problem of the external world, it states that we don’t directly know anything about real, physical objects. Then premise #3 blocks an inference from premise #1 to premise #2: in the case of induction, it says that we can’t deduce anything about the currently unobserved from the currently observed; in the case of the external world, it says that we can’t deduce anything about the external world from our experiences. Premise #4 just makes the argument valid by denying that there are alternative sources from which to derive premise #2. Finally, both arguments lead to parallel conclusions: in the first instance, we never have any reason to believe anything about currently unobserved matters of fact; in the second instance, we never have any reason to believe anything about the external world.
Details aside, it turns out that the problems of induction and the external world share a common structure because they are both instances of the general argument spelled out in the second section.4. A Common SolutionThe arguments sketched above — the general one as well as its two applications — are clearly valid. Given the premises, the skeptical conclusions follow inexorably. Hence, any solution would have to question the validity of the premises — but which ones?In both cases, premise #1 is hard to doubt; and if we did doubt it, we would reach a deeper and more protracted skepticism, not the solution to the problems of induction and the external world.
Premise #3 is likewise true in both cases. Propositions about the currently observed don’t logically imply anything about the currently unobserved, and propositions about our experiences don’t logically imply anything about the external world. Hume’s and Descartes’ thought experiments, in which the antecedent is true while the consequent is false, suffice to demonstrate this.
Premise #4 is problematic: it is difficult to prove that no substitute premise exists, but unfortunately it is also difficult to positively produce a substitute premise.So premises #1,3, and 4 are unlikely escape routes from the problems of induction and the external world. What about premise #2? This one says that (in the case of induction) we don’t have direct knowledge about currently unobserved matters of fact, and (in the case of the external world) that we don’t directly observe real, physical objects. I don’t think that either is true. While it would be hard to offer conclusive proof here, at least let me point out two plausible substitute premises in order to inspire doubt among convinced skeptics.Consider first this alternative premise about induction: The law of cause-and-effect can be directly known by reflective reason alone. We just turn our intellects to the law, and if we are sufficiently intelligent, honest, and open-minded, then we directly see its truth. The denial of the law isn’t a contradiction, but perhaps reason does more than merely locate the presence or absence of contradictions.
1 If this view is right, then premise #2 is false, since it states that we do directly know something about unobserved matters of fact — namely, they will obey the law of cause-and-effect. And once we know, by reason alone, that the law of cause-and-effect is true, then we could argue from the law of cause-and-effect (major premise) plus knowledge of the observed (minor premise) to valid inductive conclusions. If this position is coherent, then we have one possible solution to the problem of induction.Now take the problem of the external world.
Premise #2 states that we don’t directly know anything about real, physical objects. Consider this plausible alternative: We directly see real, physical objects. (This view is called naive realism.
) When I reflect on my observation, I realize that I don’t see my experiences. I see real, physical objects. There is no inference involved.
And if I do see real, physical objects directly, the “problem” of the external world collapses. John Searle, one modern naive realist, explains the theory succinctly: “Since I do not infer that there is a car there but rather simply see it+it is not correct to say that the visual experience is the ‘basis’ in the sense of evidence or ground for knowing that there is a car there. The ‘basis’ rather is that I see the car+”2 Descartes would object that I might be dreaming; but if you could never know for sure that you directly saw the real world, how would you know that dreams existed in the first place?3 Once again, if this position is at least coherent then we have a viable solution to the problem of the external world.
5. ConclusionIt is doubtful that anyone will be convinced in so short a space. Nevertheless, a solution like mine is the only likely escape route from skepticism. The other premises, as I noted, are very sturdy and hard to doubt. But isn’t is plausible to think that we might have made a mistake in our initial characterization of what we directly know? When our premises about causality and perception imply absurd conclusions — like total skepticism about induction and the external world — we should re-examine them. When and if we do choose to re-examine them, we will find that a rationalist theory of the law of cause-and-effect plus a naive realist theory of perception are plausible alternatives that will never lead us to radical skepticism.Notes1: As I argued in my previous paper, (Bryan Caplan, “An Enquiry Concerning Hume’s Misunderstanding” unpub.
ms.), it is quite possible that reason does more than locate the presence or absence of contradictions. And if it doe, then knowledge of the law of cause-and-effect based on reason alone is quite conceivable.2: John Searle, Intentionality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p.
73.3: If you find this one-line refutation implausible, let me elaborate. If you could never know for sure that you were right, then you couldn’t know that you had ever made a mistake. And if you could never know that you were awake, you could never know that dreams existed. After all, only when you were conclusively awake and observing the real world could you know if there were really dreams. And similarly, if you could never know that an evil genius weren’t deceiving you, then you could never know that, so all your claims about the evil genius would be unjustified too. In general, all of Descartes’ skeptical arguments assume precisely what the argument denies, so they couldn’t be valid.