## What is Scepticism?

• 36
I'm not seeing how either of these examples are not a matter of degree. Our faculties can be quite reliable, very reliable or completely unreliable, no? Likewise we can consider our belief completely unprovable to others, quite convincing or virtually impossible to refute (but retaining some small doubt). In each case our actions (or other response) are surely more guided by our beliefs about the extent of our skepticism than by its existence or not.

I see your point. They are a matter of degree, but the challenges posed by sceptical writings have typically been absolute. So the thought is that we have no reliable means at all of establishing that things exist unperceived. Sense perception is reliable to a degree with respect to things observed, but it is not reliable at all when it comes to beliefs about things we have not observed. Stace argues in his refutation of Realism that its actually contradictory to suppose that sense perception is reliable even in the slightest concerning unobserved entities. Similarly, whether we can prove our beliefs to others is a matter of degree. I might be able to prove them to people who accept certain assumptions, but be incapable of proving it to someone who doesn't. Ancient sceptics thought you couldn't, ultimately prove anything to someone who was prepared to doubt far enough. They might have agreed that some things can be proven given this or that assumption. Thanks for making this point, which I had failed to see.

If I took the skepticism about the unperceived world seriously, then wouldn't I doubt whether those issues even exist when I'm not perceiving them?

Not necessarily. I might maintain that we have no reliable means of establishing that things exist unperceived, but I might still continue to believe it. I might admit that I have no rational basis for the belief, but still believe it, just because I can't help it. Of course, that's not the route the Idealist takes, but it is a possible route.

As long as I'm not perceiving starving kids in Africa, terrorist cells, or the rainforest being cut down, then why should they be of any consequence? For all I know, they only exist when they come into view.

Maybe the better approach would be just to avoid seeing those issues so as to keep them nonexistent, if esse is percipi.

If I were to take the Idealist route, I would likely answer you like this. The Idealist view is not that nothing exists unperceived by me, but that nothing exists unperceived by some mind. The starving kids in Africa obviously perceive themselves and their starvation, so the Idealist need not say they don't exist. The same with terrorists. The rain forest being cut down is obviously being perceived by the people cutting it down.

But we do have cases where we open our eyes and see that the laptop is frozen up instead of delivering a result. So we have different possible scenarios upon opening our eyes:

The laptop displays a finished computation.

The laptop is frozen up.

The laptop is out of power.

The laptop has overheated.

The laptop is gone!

And so on. Brutely speaking, we can't say why any of the above happened. We open our eyes, and there's a new experience to be had. But we can provide realist explanations. The laptop is gone because someone else took advantage while our eyes were closed. Perhaps philosophical skepticism at a busy bus stop is a bad idea.

The explanation in terms of 'someone taking advantage' is available to the Idealist. Since the 'someone else' perceives the laptop as it is being stolen by him.

PA
• 1.6k
If I were to take the Idealist route, I would likely answer you like this. The Idealist view is not that nothing exists unperceived by me, but that nothing exists unperceived by some mind. The starving kids in Africa obviously perceive themselves and their starvation, so the Idealist need not say they don't exist. The same with terrorists. The rain forest being cut down is obviously being perceived by the people cutting it down.

Sure, but the idealist knows about other perceivers the same way they know about laptops. I see you. I close my eyes and then open them. I see another you.

The rain forest being cut down is obviously being perceived by the people cutting it down.

I don't really understand caring about a rainforest that only exists as perception.
• 36
You would need to ask an Idealist how he knows that there are other minds, and why he cares about a rain forest which only exists when people perceive it. I'm new here and I don't know if there are any Idealists around. Since I am not one, let's just concede that he has no answer to either question. The fact that Idealism has consequences which sound strange to us isn't a reason to think that Realism is true. Strange as Idealism is, we never found any reason to think that things exist unperceived.

PA
• 1.6k
Strange as Idealism is, we never found any reason to think that things exist unperceived.

What do you mean by never having found any reason? Do you mean any reason the idealist would accept? I think there are good reasons for being a realist. They might not be good enough to convince an idealist or skeptic, but that's their problem.
• 4.9k
You would need to ask an Idealist how he knows that there are other minds, and why he cares about a rain forest which only exists when people perceive it.

A relevant passage from Bryan Magee's book on Schopenhauer's Philosophy, which addresses this point:

I have often heard professional philosophers in Britain, including gifted ones, assert that according to transcendental idealism 'everything exists in a mind, or in minds, or 'existence is mental'.

This is a radical error. It is not what Kant or Schopenhauer were saying, nor is it what they believed. On the contrary, both of them believed that the abiding reality from which we are screened off by the ever-changing surface of our contingent and ephemeral experiences exists in itself, independent of minds and their perceptions or experiences.

If reality had consisted only of perception, or only of experience, then it would presumably have been possible for us to encompass it exhaustively in perception or experience, to know it through and through, without remainder. But that is not so, and the chief clout of transcendental idealism is contained in the insight that while it is possible for us to perceive or experience or think or envisage only in categories determined by our own apparatus, whatever exists cannot in itself exist in terms of those categories, because existence as such cannot be in categories at all. This must mean that in an unfathomably un-understandable way whatever exists independently of experience must be in and throughout its whole nature different from the world of our representations. But because the world of our representations is the only world we know ‚ and the only world we can ever know ‚ it is almost irresistibly difficult for us not to take it for the world tout court, reality, what there is, the world as it is in itself. This is what all of us grow up doing, it is the commonsense view of things, and only reflection of a profound and sophisticated character can free us from it.

I think what the realist does, and this is something Schopenhauer is explicit about, is that s/he forgets to take account of him or herself, the sense in which all of our knowledge of the world is mediated by the senses, assimilated by the understanding, and represented in the intellect. Realism, generally, doesn't critically reflect on the nature of experience, and the contribution the mind makes to it.
• 361

You posit the evil daemon to be inconsistent to realism—the latter, by your definition, being the stance that one or more things can hold presence when not perceived or thought about.

To understand your “skeptical” point of view better:

Does the evil daemon hold presence when not perceived or thought about?

Secondly, is everything that one thinks true (here, correspondent to what is real)?

BTW, it wouldn’t make much sense for me to answer your questions when mine are not first answered … since I’d have little if any understanding of your own stance.
• 1.6k
think what the realist does, and this is something Schopenhauer is explicit about, is that s/he forgets to take account of him or herself, the sense in which all of our knowledge of the world is mediated by the senses, assimilated by the understanding, and represented in the intellect. Realism, generally, doesn't critically reflect on the nature of experience, and the contribution the mind makes to it.

Also known as Stove's worst argument?
• 4.9k
Also known as Stove's worst argument?

I studied Hume under David Stove. He was a great guy, and a terrific teacher. Very sympathetic to me, who was kind of a rebel without a clue. But I don't think Stove 'got' Kant at all.
• 1.2k
Since we can't step outside, there's no reason to suppose we're inside a simulation. It's merely a philosophical exercise in what sort of wild scenarios we can imagine which aren't incompatible with our experiences. Brains in vats, evil demons, computer simulations, God's dreaming are flights of fancy. Something being merely possible isn't saying much. Maybe a cosmic unicorn farted and started the Big Bang.

Since we can't step outside of our perceptions, there's no reason to suppose we're inside an objective reality. It's merely a philosophical exercise in what sort of wild scenarios we can imagine which aren't incompatible with our experiences.

I'm not playing games here. I'm serious.

You're asking this question by starting out saying the Matrix exists. We're not in a situation were we can do that. We can only imagine the possibility.

You're asking this question by starting out saying objective reality exists. We're not in a situation were we can do that. We can only imagine the possibility.

Still serious. I think you are a victim of a failure of imagination. It is a common intellectual malady to believe that words and the world are the same thing.
• 299
This is not skepticism, this is apathy.
— charleton

But this was what scepticism was for the ancients, and certainly for Sextus.

No, I do not think so.I think this is more like the case of Catholics calling Protestants "atheists", failing to describe their thinking.
Skepticism was also for many years in the modern period (late Medieval) a term of abuse directed from those that were happy with their certainty, especially about God, against those that preferred to ask questions.
By the religious establishment a good dose of healthy skepticism was seen as a major danger and was traduced as a "burning issue" in a literal sense.
But those self identifying as skeptic would have a more positive view of their position, as do I.
• 361

Hold on a bit there. Change the referent from one of perceivable world/reality to one of logical inference. As regards logical possibilities, either a) there is an objective reality or b) there isn’t. Here, the law of excluded middle holds … and A and B are contradictory positions—so only one of the two can be true. All this has no bearing on what this objective reality actually is; one can be strictly spiritual about it (such as in upholding the neo-Platonic presence of “the One”, for example, as being thee only true objective reality) or strictly materialistic about it (upholding the vacuum field as the true objective reality? or at least something to the like … pick your stuff). Nevertheless, the same logical conundrum holds all the same: either we dwell within an objective reality (that is even when not perceived or thought of) or we don’t.

So, now, there’s an unavoidable contradiction to claiming the absence of an objective reality: to uphold the absence of objective reality is, in and of itself, to affirm what reality consists of when objectively appraised … i.e., is to uphold the presence of an objective reality.

Therefore, I’m quite comfortable with the logical conclusion that we dwell within an objective reality … details of what it actually is here set aside, it nevertheless is.
• 1.2k
Of course it's proponents believe it provides some privileged outlook, if they didn't they wouldn't have chosen to think within such constraints. They've selected it from the range of possible beliefs because they think it might work better. This is surely no less true for idealists, solipsists, theists, or agnostics. They've all selected their ways of looking at the world because they think it offers them some privileged insights, but none have any convincing proof that this is the case, why single out naturalism for criticism?

I think that views of the world are not right or wrong, they are more or less useful in a particular situation. I like science and I've always been good at it. I'm an engineer. Science makes up a large part of my understanding of the world. It can be very useful, but in a lot of situations it's not. The metaphor I like is a tool box. When you have something to do, you pull out the tool that works best.

As to why I'm picking on science - If I may personify, science thinks highly of itself and ridicules ways of seeing that are different. It claims it is the only valid way of seeing the world. The only institutions
I can think of that are similar are some brands of religion.

There are only three positions - an objective world exists, an objective world does not exist, an objective world may or may not exist. None provides the proponent any greater insight or privileged outlook. There seems to be an implicit assumption that being 'open to the possibility' of some spiritual or non-physical dimension confers some advantage such that choosing one of the other two options is reprehensibly narrow minded, but I'm not seeing any convincing argument to that effect.

Let's see if I can come up with more than three.

[1] No opinion. Until you brought it up, I never even considered it. I can't see any reason to decide.
[2] It's neither true nor not true. It's metaphysics. As I said, it is more or less useful in a particular situation.
[3] It doesn't matter whether or not it's true, because there is absolutely no way of knowing.
[4] I don't care. The existence of objective reality has no impact on my life.

Maybe it's a bit imposing for the materialist to scoff at the spiritualist and say they have no proof for their beliefs, but is it any less imposing for the agnostic/skeptic to scoff at either and say they have no reason to be so convinced?

I've said this before - agnosticism and skepticism are pointless, useless, cowardly when a decision has to be made. When it matters.
• 1.2k
Hold on a bit there. Change the referent from one of perceivable world/reality to one of logical inference. As regards logical possibilities, either a) there is an objective reality or b) there isn’t. Here, the law of excluded middle holds … and A and B are contradictory positions—so only one of the two can be true.

"Objective reality" is a name we give to a set of perceptions, observations, ideas. Do countries exist? Do minds exist? Does the stratosphere exist? Does love exist? Do rainbows exist? The answers - Yes. No. I don't know. It doesn't make any difference. I don't care. There is no way I can prove one way or another. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I can choose to act as if it exists. I can choose to act as if it doesn't exist.
• 1.2k
This one wasn't directed at me, but I disagree. Realism says that the objects which I perceive exist when I am not perceiving them. The evil demon hypothesis says that the objects which I perceive do not exist when I am not perceiving them. It also says that the evil demon exists even when I am not perceiving him, and he is the explanation of the existence of the things I perceive. If 'metaphysically' is read in the usual way as concerning 'what there is', it is clear that these two hypotheses are not equivalent at all. I imagine that you mean equivalent for practical purposes, given your later remark, 'what difference would it have made'?

I'm going to think about his some more. I'm not expressing myself clearly enough and I'm trying to think of another angle.
• 361
"Objective reality" is a name we give to a set of perceptions, observations, ideas.

Objectivity—the state of being objective—holds multiple definitions (confer with Wiktionary, for instance). One of which is that of being just/impartial and, hence, unbiased. Objective reality is then either a repetition of synonyms (objective objectivity; the really real) or, to my mind, the affirmation of a reality not clouded by, hence impartial to, hence independent of, personal preferences (etc.).

All the same, how does the logic I’ve previously expressed not hold?

(Should clarify: since, as previously illustrated, to uphold a lack of objective reality is an instance of contradictory reasoning—one where both X and not-X occur at the same time and in the same way—it is a fallacy of reasoning.)
• 1.2k
Objectivity—the state of being objective—holds multiple definitions (confer with Wiktionary, for instance). One of which is that of being just/impartial and, hence, unbiased. Objective reality is then either a repetition of synonyms (objective objectivity; the really real) or, to my mind, the affirmation of a reality not clouded by, hence impartial to, hence independent of, personal preferences (etc.).

All the same, how does the logic I’ve previously expressed not hold?

By the logic you've previously expressed you mean the law of the excluded middle, correct? Well that's easy. The law of the excluded middle only applies if there is objective reality, so you've got a circular argument.

I wonder if I really believe what I just said. I might. I need to think about it some more.
• 361
I wonder if I really believe what I just said. I might. I need to think about it some more.

Cool. I'll take a breather too.
• 36

What do you mean by never having found any reason? Do you mean any reason the idealist would accept? I think there are good reasons for being a realist. They might not be good enough to convince an idealist or skeptic, but that's their problem.

Let me distinguish two different conceptions of reason, and I say you have supplied neither of them in favour of Realism.

Reliability

Humans have two reliable sources of belief about the world. Sense perception and inference from sense perception. Sense perception is not reliable with respect to things unperceived, since sense perception is, obviously, only a reliable source of belief about things sensed. The property of unperceived existence cannot be sensed. Therefore sense perception is not a reliable source for the belief that Realism is true. (I think this is the very least that should be said. W.T Stace thought that the very idea of sense perception is reliable with respect to the unperceived was contradictory). This leaves inference. But the only inferences which you tried to make were question begging; they assumed what was to be proven, and question begging inferences are unreliable. This is one sense of 'reason'. S has a reason for believing that P if and only if S has some reliable means of acquiring the belief that P.

All one needs to 'have a reason' in this sense is to locate some reliable source for the belief, regardless of whether or not an Idealist or a Sceptic would believe that that source is reliable. Can you even locate a reliable source for the belief which even a Realist would accept is reliable? Sense perception and inference have been ruled out since sense perception is reliable only about what is sensed and the only inferences we have found so far have been fallacious.

Dialectical

You mentioned the power of reasons to convince, and you said that Realism has good reasons in its favour, just not reasons 'good enough to convince an idealist or a sceptic'. Well, as I pointed out, the only reasons you gave for believing Realism to be true were question begging and so powerless to convince any sensible person who does not believe Realism already. What is the point of a 'reason' which cannot convince someone who is not already convinced by the doctrine you are attempting to prove?

You posit the evil daemon to be inconsistent to realism—the latter, by your definition, being the stance that one or more things can hold presence when not perceived or thought about.

To understand your “skeptical” point of view better:

Does the evil daemon hold presence when not perceived or thought about?

Secondly, is everything that one thinks true (here, correspondent to what is real)?

BTW, it wouldn’t make much sense for me to answer your questions when mine are not first answered … since I’d have little if any understanding of your own stance.

The evil demon hypothesis does posit the existence of a demon which exists when unperceived. The contrast between this hypothesis and Realism is that Realism maintains that the objects which are perceived by us exist when unperceived, and the evil demon hypothesis denies that. (I should mention that there is also what goes by the name 'indirect Realism' according to which the objects we perceive are 'mental' and exist only when perceived, but there are other objects which these mental objects are pictures of and which exist unperceived).

I do not think that everything that I think is true, although I am not sure I have understood your second question correctly.

No, I do not think so.I think this is more like the case of Catholics calling Protestants "atheists", failing to describe their thinking.
Skepticism was also for many years in the modern period (late Medieval) a term of abuse directed from those that were happy with their certainty, especially about God, against those that preferred to ask questions.
By the religious establishment a good dose of healthy skepticism was seen as a major danger and was traduced as a "burning issue" in a literal sense.
But those self identifying as skeptic would have a more positive view of their position, as do I.

I am not sure what the point of this is. Are you merely insisting that the word 'scepticism' describes your position and your position only? If so, that ignores the evident fact that philosophers have used the word 'scepticism' to refer to many different things. I am not sure why you insist on it being used in only your sense.

I think what the realist does, and this is something Schopenhauer is explicit about, is that s/he forgets to take account of him or herself, the sense in which all of our knowledge of the world is mediated by the senses, assimilated by the understanding, and represented in the intellect. Realism, generally, doesn't critically reflect on the nature of experience, and the contribution the mind makes to it.

Perhaps, although one needs to be very careful about what the minds 'contribution' is supposed to be. I am looking at my laptop right now and as a result having a certain sort of sense experience - I am sure you know roughly what it is like. What, exactly, does my mind contribute to that experience? What I am tempted to say is just that I look and I see the laptop. My mind isn't adding anything. The laptop is there before my consciousness. But I recognize that this is likely far too simple to be true.

PA
• 4.9k
What, exactly, does my mind contribute to that experience? What I am tempted to say is just that I look and I see the laptop. My mind isn't adding anything. The laptop is there before my consciousness. But I recognize that this is likely far too simple to be true.

I suppose what I'm getting at, is that the human mentality provides a sense of scale, and a perspective, through which any judgements about 'what exists' are made. Even the sense of time and location is provided by the mind; when you look at your computer, it is something that exists in a location proximate to yourself, and is intelligible in terms of how you use it and what it means to you.

In a more general sense, the mind implicitly provides the scale and perspective within which we make any judgements about what exists. The moon, for example - I can picture it now - but I see it from a perspective, or rather, from within a perceptual framework, which is furnished by the mind. Also, recall that Kant said he was an empirical realist, as am I; I am not doubting the reality of the moon, but the notion of its mind independent reality.

There's a thought-experiment I sometimes offer here. Imagine that mountains are conscious beings, and you're a mountain. To you, humans are of such tiny magnitude, and their life-spans are so short, you can't even be aware of them. Rivers, you're aware of, because they last for hundreds of thousands of years, and cut ravines in your flanks. On the other end of the scale, if you're a microbe, then humans are to all intents a solar system from your point of view, and immensely long-lived, as your lifespan is hours or days.

Actually there's another passage in that McGee book that is useful in this respect:

[Kant once remarked] 'If I take away the thinking subject, the whole material world must vanish, as this world is nothing but the phenomenal appearance in the sensibility of our own subject, and is a species of this subject's representations.' … [An] objection would run: 'Everyone knows that the earth, and a fortiori the universe, existed for a long time before there were any living beings, and therefore any perceiving subjects. But according to what Kant has just been quoted as saying, that is impossible.' Schopenhauer's defence of Kant on this score was twofold. First, the objector has not understood to the very bottom the Kantian demonstration that time is one of the forms of our sensibility. The earth, say, as it was before there was life, is a field of empirical enquiry in which we have come to know a great deal; its reality is no more being denied than is the reality of perceived objects in the same room. The point is, the whole of the empirical world in space and time is the creation of our understanding, which apprehends all the objects of empirical knowledge within it as being in some part of that space and at some part of that time: and this is as true of the earth before there was life as it is of the pen I am now holding a few inches in front of my face and seeing slightly out of focus as it moves across the paper.

This, incidentally, illustrates a difficulty in the way of understanding which transcendental idealism has permanently to contend with: the assumptions of 'the inborn realism which arises from the original disposition of the intellect' enter unawares into the way in which the statements of transcendental idealism are understood, so that these statements appear faulty in ways in which, properly understood, they are not. Such realistic assumptions so pervade our normal use of concepts that the claims of transcendental idealism disclose their own non-absurdity only after difficult consideration, whereas criticisms of them at first appear cogent which on examination are seen to rest on confusion. We have to raise almost impossibly deep levels of presupposition in our own thinking and imagination to the level of self-consciousness before we are able to achieve a critical awareness of all our realistic assumptions, and thus achieve an understanding of transcendental idealism which is untainted by them.
• 1.6k
I studied Hume under David Stove. He was a great guy, and a terrific teacher. Very sympathetic to me, who was kind of a rebel without a clue. But I don't think Stove 'got' Kant at all.

Really? That's interesting. What would be Kant's response to Stove's worst argument critique?
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