• Thales
    8
    Is it possible that there is something logically unsound with the following proposition – a proposition that some skeptics embrace?

    “We can never know anything about an external world because all we have when we make such an assertion is our perceptions and reasoning, all of which occur in our minds. We can not get ‘outside of our perceptions’ to make any claims about the external world.”

    Perhaps another way to formulate this skeptical argument is:

    1. All knowledge comes either from sensory perception (e.g., visually perceiving a mountain) or reasoning (e.g., solving an algebraic equation).

    2. Both perception and reasoning occur in our minds.

    3. The external world is, by definition, “external,” which is outside our minds.

    Therefore:

    4. Because everything we know exists in our minds, we can not have any knowledge about the external world.


    I’m no logician, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve somehow bungled the argument and I welcome anyone’s help in formulating it correctly. However, if this argument essentially satisfies the skeptic’s point, then it seems that the skeptic is contradicting him/herself by making a claim about the external world.

    For if one is unable to know anything about the external world, then one can not make any claims about it at all – even claiming that knowledge about it is impossible, because that too is knowing something about the external world – namely, that it is unknowable.

    In fact, wouldn’t you need to bypass your own perceptions and go outside your own mind in order to make such a claim? After all, according to the argument, your own perceptions and mind are unable to determine anything about the external world. Given that argument, you would need to employ some means – other than your own perceptions and mind – to be able to verify whether or not an external world can be accessed by your internal perceptions and mind.

    Because isn’t it possible that our perceptions are a dependable means of obtaining knowledge of the external world? Again, how would the skeptic know they are not dependable if she/he only has access to her/his own perceptions and mind, which she/he has already argued are unable to determine anything about an external world?

    There is something else I find odd when the skeptic asserts that we can know nothing about the external world. Here’s the issue:

    If we are to know anything, then don’t we need to (somehow) have access to that object of knowledge? And to have access, don’t we need a means by which we access it? When we go on a journey by automobile, we need a road to access our destination. So too with knowledge; we need a “road” (or a way) to get it.

    Take another example: We solve algebraic problems by adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. This is the means by which we access – or gain knowledge about – the answer. Note that we do not identify the process of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing with the answer to the problems – they are merely the means by which we access the answer. Without adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, we can not have knowledge about (answers to) the problems.

    Is it not similar with sensory perceptions and knowledge about the external world? Aren’t sensory perceptions the means by which we gain access to – and knowledge about – the external world? Skeptics misrepresent their critics as identifying perception with the world itself. Rather, aren’t skeptics the ones conflating process with result; confusing the road with the destination; and identifying addition, subtraction, multiplying and dividing with the solutions of algebraic problems?

    And one final observation: It seems to me that the skeptic is rigging the game from the start – taking away the means by which we can have knowledge of the external world in order to prove it is impossible to know anything about it. Which actually reveals another logical issue – that of assuming what is to be proven and then “proving” it (the fallacy of begging the question):

    The skeptic assumes and asserts that we do not have the means by which we can have knowledge of the external world and, therefore, we can not have knowledge of the external world. Surely there’s something wrong with that argument. Just because I assume and assert that all black cats bring bad luck, it doesn’t (really) follow that bad luck befalls anyone who gets a black cat… does it?!
  • Vera Mont
    3k
    We are biological entities, engendered and evolved in a physical environment, governed by and dependent for survival on the same physical laws as are all the inanimate and animate entities in that 'outside world'. Being delimited by a thin layer of dermis and epithelium does not truly divide us from the physical world of which we are a product and in which we live.

    Before we evolved to the point of being able to perceive and reason, we received sensory input and nourishment from that same physical outside; we responded to it, interacted with it, injected waste products into it, manipulated and altered it.

    Why should be we not be able to say how we experience it, now that we can enhance, measure and articulate our sensory input?
  • Pantagruel
    3.2k
    Before we evolved to the point of being able to perceive and reason, we received sensory input and nourishment from that same physical outside; we responded to it, interacted with it, injected waste products into it, manipulated and altered it.Vera Mont

    Stating it thus for me identifies the organism-environment system as the basic unit of comprehension and explication.
  • Vera Mont
    3k

    That's how I see it: indivisible. But then, I'm a simple-minded biped, not a philosopher.
  • Angelo Cannata
    330
    For if one is unable to know anything about the external world, then one can not make any claims about it at all – even claiming that knowledge about it is impossible, because that too is knowing something about the external world – namely, that it is unknowableThales
    I think that you are right from your own perspective.
    Actually, what makes a lot of confusion in these discussions about external reality, metaphysics, truth, and so on, is the fact that perspectives are ignored. Instead, perspectives, and the way how they develop and interact in the debate, are essential.
    Let’s try to clarify this question.
    Let’s start from realists’ perspective. They say “Reality, meant as an external world that exists independently from our subjectivity, exists”.
    Non-realists’ perspective starts from agreeing with realists. Non-realists say “Let’s agree. Let’s think that reality exists”.
    Next step taken by non-realists is to aknowledge the existence of subjectivity: whatever we say about reality comes from our subjectivity.
    Until this point, the two perspectives coincide.

    Now let’s go forward: if everything we say about reality comes from our subjectivity, we have no way to have any contact with reality.

    Last paragraph, that I have highlighted in italics, is where you find the logical inconsistency. The inconsistency is produced because this point forces us to create a new perspective, that is the non-realist perspective. At this point we have an inconsistency because the new perspective is actually not fully created yet: we realize that we don’t have contact with reality, but we are still thinking in a mentality that assumes the existence of reality, or, at least, assumes it as possible.

    In order to solve the problem of this inconsistency, we need to complete the creation of the non-realist perspective. To make it complete, we need to realize that, given the described situation, we not only don’t have any contact with reality, but actually, as a consequence, we have absolutely no idea about what the word “reality” means. We need to realize that thinking that it is possible to think of the concept of “reality” is an illusion. If whatever we think comes exclusively from a contact with our own subjectivity, then the very idea of “reality” is an illusion. It is like those who have been born blind and, nonetheless, that try to figure some ideas about what colors are. They do it, they say that they have tried and they have been able to produce some ideas, but it is clear that, whatever idea they have been able to produce inside themselves, it can only be an illusion.

    At this point we can reinterpret and make clear what non-realists say to realists: they actually say “What you call reality must be considered something we cannot have any contact with”. To make it better, they should say “What you call reality is just an illusion produced by imagination”.

    Now you can see that there isn’t inconsistency anymore, because we have clearly separated the two perspectives. We don’t say “Reality cannot be reached”, but “What you call reality cannot be reached”.
  • Vera Mont
    3k
    Now you can see that there isn’t inconsistency anymore, because we have clearly separated the two perspectives. We don’t say “Reality cannot be reached”, but “What you call reality cannot be reached”.Angelo Cannata

    And there discussion ends. Forever.
  • Angelo Cannata
    330

    I don’t think so: I think that, at that point, an infinite number of questions, perspectives, horizons, hypotheses, come up, waiting for us to explore them.
  • Vera Mont
    3k

    I can't imagine. But, as long as someone can, by all means, carry on!
  • Joshs
    5.1k
    To make it complete, we need to realize that, given the described situation, we not only don’t have any contact with reality, but actually, as a consequence, we have absolutely no idea about what the word “reality” means. We need to realize that thinking that it is possible to think of the concept of “reality” is an illusion. If whatever we think comes exclusively from a contact with our own subjectivity, then the very idea of “reality” is an illusion. It is like those who have been born blind and, nonetheless, that try to figure some ideas about what colors are. They do it, they say that they have tried and they have been able to produce some ideas, but it is clear that, whatever idea they have been able to produce inside themselves, it can only be an illusion.Angelo Cannata

    This last option is from Berkeley? It would seem to just reverse the roles that subject and object play in a realist account, by placing an idealist subject in the position of the really real object. What you left out is a relativism which eliminates the distinction between reality and appearance. This allows for the existence of that which is outside of or other than the subject without claiming any foundational status for what appears.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    :100:

    That's how I see it: indivisible. But then, I'm a simple-minded biped, not a philosopher.Vera Mont
    :smirk:
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    For if one is unable to know anything about the external world, then one can not make any claims about it at all – even claiming that knowledge about it is impossible, because that too is knowing something about the external world – namely, that it is unknowable.Thales

    This strikes me as entirely a claim about the mind, and not about the external world. It's, in fact, rejecting any notion(as in any.. not any particular, but any) of an external world on the basis of a claim about our mind. "The external world is unknowable" is better formulated as "Our minds are unable to directly interact with the external world, and therefore, our minds cannot know anything about hte external world" which says nothing about the external world, to me, but entirely something about our mind's limitation in relation to it. Its unknowable to our mind, not in and of itself.
  • Vaskane
    643
    Because everything we know exists in our minds, we can not have any knowledge about the external world.Thales

    Except muscle memory doesn't exist in the mind, and many feel you've not learned something until it's within the muscle memory.

    And honestly, the interior of our bodies are part of the external world, merely bound up internally within a biological machine.
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    I don't think that's true - muscle memory is still an activity of hte brain with extremely low processing time. Its more like a pre-record in the mind.
  • Vaskane
    643
    Put it this way then the entire body is part of the externality of the world. This whole internal world bs is a fallacy. Just like a computer just like a TV. There is no intradimensional space that separates the mind from the external world.
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    The first: I don't disagree (including, and I can't see why this needs pointing out, but there we go, the internal part of our body).

    The second: I'm unsure I necessarily get what you're trying to reject. There is obviously an internal world, and it seem empirically true that our internal world (sense) can't access the external. Are you able to pinpoint what about that you're rejecting?
  • Vaskane
    643
    It's just the mind body dualism view. When in fact the mind rises from the body. Since the mind rises from the body and the body is made from materials of the external world ... I'd say there's quite a lot of knowledge about the external world a person can acquire.
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    Ah, i see, cool, thank you. While I don't intend a debate about it, for closure, I agree that dualism is probably a bad conception, but I am unconvinced the mind arises from the body (rather than appears through the lens of the body - in some sense).
  • Vaskane
    643
    Well, when you figure out how to escape your body, come visit me in whatever metaspace you live in. I'll be interested in the technique!

    I find that the mind and the body are a unity, a singular composition.
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    My only retort, in jest, as seems the case, would be that If you can alert me to a Radio signal without hte use of a receiver, i'll be interested in the technique ;)
  • Vaskane
    643
    Is that like a Spinoza style of influence? Could make for an interesting story mechanic: people as antenna.
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    My conception of it is derived from a Huxleyean type of idea of brain-as-receiver. Its (as you'll probably quickly note) used by Huxley to understand apparently inexplicable psychedelic experiences. So, that's where I found it too but i feel it, at least allows, if not encourages, a non-reductionist view of Mind/Consciousness without having to reject any of hte physical/bodily/neural indications of consciousness.
  • Vaskane
    643
    Suggest a book. It sounds like to me Huxley wasn't one who believes in the mind/body dualism.
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    It comes from The Doors Of Perception and Heaven and Hell (one book, two essays) but its essentially trip reports from a Mescaline experience or two.

    Apparently, it goes to C.D Broad's Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy which im unfamiliar with.
  • Angelo Cannata
    330
    This last option is from Berkeley?Joshs
    Yes, it is very similar to Berkeley.

    It would seem to just reverse the roles that subject and object play in a realist account, by placing an idealist subject in the position of the really real object. What you left out is a relativism which eliminates the distinction between reality and appearance. This allows for the existence of that which is outside of or other than the subject without claiming any foundational status for what appears.Joshs
    I think that your point shows again the essential importance of taking perspectives into account.
    I agree that, until what I said, we have just replaced the external reality with our subjectivity. We can call it solipsism.
    But we need to go further.
    Once we realize that the very idea of “reality” is a creation of our mind, it needs just a step forward to realize that anything we think is a product of our mind. This means that the very idea of being and any logic that we use to structure our thoughts cannot be trusted, because they are products of our mind. The conclusion is that, at the end, we can never know what we are talking about, we have no idea of what the verb “to be” means and we even have no idea about what “having no idea” means.
    At this point, many people object that, this way, philosophy itself becomes simply impossible, because we never know what we are talking about. This objection is, essentially, what produced the creation of analytic philosophy. Analytic philosophers say something like this: “In the middle of the great confusion of perspectives, criticism, interpretations, let’s concentrate on making clarity, precision”.
    I would notice that, when those people say that “this way philosophy itself becomes simply impossible”, it is not philosophy that becomes impossible, but what they think philosophy is, or must be, that becomes impossible.
    They keep an essential idea of philosophy as “understanding”, or “finding truth”. I think that, for any philosopher, it should be obvious to ask “who established or establishes what philosophy is or must be?”.
    At the end, the remedies and objections of realists and analytics seem to be very similar to the funny story where some people lost their keys in a dark place, but they look for them in another place, because in the other place there is light.
    If our research takes us into difficult and uncomfortable places, what is the point of rejecting our research just because it makes us uncomfortable?
    My conclusion is that we are forced to accept that philosophy needs to consider a concept of itself as art, rather than as science. If this makes difficult to understand each other and to distinguish serious research from rubbish, we just need to have patience and to work on the problem, rather than reject it.
    Actually, if the objection about understanding each other and about rubbish was serious, how is that art is possible? Is art itself entirely just a lot of rubbish, confusion and misunderstanding?
    I think this is what makes some philosophers adopt sorts of middle ways, by saying that external reality might exist and so on.
    I think that the hypothesis that external reality might exist is a nonsense: the hypothesis that reality might exists ignores that this hypothesys conceives reality in a subjective way, of course. So, what’s the point of supposing that reality might exist the way we imagine it? It cannot be the way we imagine it, because any imagination is a mirror and any mirror can never be the reality it mirrors: it is always a distortion of what we call “reality”. This means that we have no idea about reality, mirrors, mirroring, being; we have no idea about anything and we cannot escape this conclusion.
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    This means that we have no idea about reality, mirrors, mirroring, being; we have no idea about anything and we cannot escape this conclusion.Angelo Cannata

    I simply don't see how this is the case, unless you are restricting this claim to sensible 'idea's. The 'external world' hypothesis, in any reasonable form, to my mind is based on acknowledging that fact and using reason and logic to get past the obstacle of sensory perception. The hypothesis wouldn't be required if we didn't understand that we can never conclude, from sense, one way or the other.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    There is obviously an internal world, and it seem empirically true that our internal world (sense) can't access the external. Are you able to pinpoint what about that you're rejecting?AmadeusD

    How could there be an internal world if there were no external world? It seems obvious that our imaginations are constrained in their ability to imagine by the sensory effects upon our bodies of what lies beyond them. We can only imagine what we have seen heard, smelled, tasted and so on. We live in and are familiar with, a shared external world, the notion 'external world' has no meaning beyond that.

    We know the external world as it appears to us. Our binary, dialectical reasoning enables us to posit an existence which is independent of that appearance, and of course it is true that we cannot know the nature of what might exist beyond our capacity to sense as appearance.
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    How could there be an internal world if there were no external world?Janus

    Here i'm using 'internal' to mean "confined to mentation" I guess. I personally take there be an external world. I wasn't meant to be an actual descriptor.. just trying to use the common words.

    We know the external world as it appears to usJanus

    It doesn't appear to us. It appears to our sense organs. Our sense organs then present something which is not the external world to our mind. We don't know the external world.

    we cannot know the nature of what might exist beyond our capacity to sense as appearance.Janus

    Exactly why the above is true. I'm not seeing an objection other than the issue of my, probably, illegitimately using 'internal' there.
  • Angelo Cannata
    330
    using reason and logicAmadeusD

    What makes you trust reason and logic?
  • AmadeusD
    1.3k
    They do not rely on empirical considerations, which at the very least, removes the problem of my own judgement mattering. I guess I could still be worried that, despite logical consistency, my judgement is wrong - but that seems to be not all that possible unless im being dishonest - which is another mater.

    Though, having had a peruse of your book I would assume you have an objection to that somehow...
  • Janus
    15.3k
    It doesn't appear to us. It appears to our sense organs. Our sense organs then present something which is not the external world to our mind. We don't know the external world.AmadeusD

    Your idea that something is presented "within the mind" is based on an interpretation of the objective sciences of perception and neuroscience. I agree that the evidence seems to indicate that we are precognitively affected by the external world, by things that exist beyond the boundaries of our skins, and that we cannot be conscious of that affection. But it is tendentious to think of our perceptions and judgements as being somehow separated from those precognitive processes, which, as far as we can tell, are both within and without us. In this sense the external/ internal divide would seem to be an artefact of human binary thinking; a metacognitive illusion.

    we cannot know the nature of what might exist beyond our capacity to sense as appearance.
    — Janus

    Exactly why the above is true. I'm not seeing an objection other than the issue of my, probably, illegitimately using 'internal' there.
    AmadeusD

    It does not follow from the fact that we can consciously know only that which appears to us, that it is illegitimate to say that there is a world of existents external to our bodies. Prior to the science of perception people probably just assumed that things are, as they appear to be, external to our bodies. The notion that things are all in our minds trades on the assumption that the science of perception is not all in our minds, but rather shows us an objective picture of how our senses are affected by the things in the world, so there is a performative contradiction involved in that interpretation.
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