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Its aim was to discredit reason on the old grounds of contradiction and of the impossibility of proving anything. Huet, Bishop of Avranches, and others sought to argue from the bankruptcy of reason to the necessity and sufficiency of faith. But for the most part, faith , understood in the Catholic sense of belief in a system of revealed doctrines capable of intelligent expression and rational interpretation, so far from being exempt from the attacks of the Sceptics, was rather as it still is the chief object against which their efforts were directed.

The Refutation of Scepticism

Faith, as they understood it, was blind and unreasoning. The diversity of doctrine introduced by Protestantism had rendered all other faith , in their view no less contradictory than philosophy and natural belief. In Hume Scepticism finds a new argument derived from the psychology of Locke. These the mind connects in various ways, and these ways of connecting things become habitual.

Thus the principle of causality , the propositions of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra, physical laws etc. They have no objective validity, and their alleged "necessity" is but a psychological feeling arising from the force of habit. We undoubtedly believe in real things and real causes; but this is merely because we have grown accustomed so to group and connect our mental impressions.

The arguments of Pyrrho and other Sceptics are unanswerable, their Scepticism reasonable and well-founded; but in practical life it is too much trouble to think otherwise than we do think, and we could not get on if we did. Kant's answer to Hume was embodied in a philosophy as eminently subjective as that of Hume himself. Consequently it failed, and resulted only in further Scepticism, implicit, if not actually professed. And nowadays physical science , which in Kant's time alone held its own against the inroads of Scepticism, is as thoroughly permeated with it as the rest of our beliefs.

Balfour, who in his "Defense of Philosophic Doubt" seeks to uphold religious belief on the equivocal ground that it is no less certain than scientific theory and method. There is, he says, no satisfactory means of inferring the general from the particular c. Again, of the popular philosophic arguments which are "put forward as final and conclusive grounds of belief " p.

Similarly the original "deliverances of consciousness", to which Scottish Intuitionists appeal, are of no avail because it is impossible to determine what deliverances of consciousness are original and what are not. Returning to the question of science , Mr. Balfour finds that it contradicts common sense in that e. Its method, too, is inconclusive, for there may always be other hypotheses which would explain the facts equally well c.

Lastly the evolution of belief tends wholly to discredit its validity, for our beliefs are largely determined by non-rational causes, and, even when evidence is their motive, what we regard as evidence is settled by circumstances altogether beyond our control c. Critical examination of scepticism A reply to the copious arguments of the Sceptic enumerated above, might take the following line: The Sceptic fails to distinguish between practical moral certainty which excludes all reasonable grounds for doubt , and absolute certainty which excludes all possible grounds for doubt.

The latter can be had only when evidence is complete, proof wholly adequate, obvious, and conclusive, and when all difficulties and objections can be completely solved. In mathematics this is sometimes possible, though not always; but in other matters "practical certainty " as a rule is all we can get. And this is sufficient, since "practical certainty " is certainty for reasonable beings. Axiomatic, or self-evident, truth must be insisted on.

The truth of an axiom can never be proved , yet may become manifest, even to those who for the time being doubt it, when its meaning and its application are clearly understood. Perceptual judgments refer qualities not sensations to things, but they do not declare what is the nature of these qualities, and hence do not contradict scientific theory.

We do not often mistake a spade for a table-knife or a turkey for a hippopotamus. The senses do not pretend to be accurate in detail unless assisted by instruments or in abnormal circumstances. In his own book, Strawson does not try to answer such criticisms, but neither does he give in to them. Dissatisfied with direct common-sense, scientific or theological arguments against Scepticism as well as with indirect transcendental refutations, Strawson argues that Scepticism cannot, and need not, be refuted. The way to deal with Scepticism about the external world the ancients, we should note, seem to have lacked this concept altogether is simply to turn our back to it.

This is, in fact, according to Strawson, what we do in any case, though, unfortunately, not always with as clear a conscience as we should. Fogelin offers a detailed, though not systematically structured, account of the various sceptical arguments in the Treatise. He can then turn, with perfect justification, to the factual question of how humans are able to form beliefs despite the skeptical arguments that can be brought against them.

The end of Book One of the Treatise already suggests that the logical and isolated individual who has ended up a sceptic at this stage of the argument is beginning to see himself as a rational and committed social being. To such a being, more mechanisms of belief-formation than he had earlier envisaged might be available. Belief, that is, may have a social basis.

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The contrast between the logical and the causal may involve an intermediate term. Strawson, we have seen, believes that Scepticism about the external world cannot ever be serious; this is what is meant in saying that it is idle. In other cases, however, the situation is more complicated. Visual objects, for example, are smooth and coloured.

Yet science says that they are collections of minute colourless particles separated by immense relative distances from one another. In a different context, we usually have direct moral reactions to other people.

We cannot help seeing them as endowed with moral features and characteristics. Which of these opposed attitudes is correct in each case? Are there perceptual and moral properties, or is their existence, as a sceptical position would urge, merely an illusion? Furthermore, are there mental features beliefs, say, or desires which account for our behaviour, or is all human action to be explained in neurophysiological terms?

Strawson supports his answer by providing a general philosophical approach about which he is openly and disarmingly tentative. He is not sure that it applies in the same way to each case, and he doubts whether it applies at all to the last. But there is no such superior standpoint. Relative to our normal standpoint, human action really possesses moral features; relative to our less usual, though sometimes necessary, objective standpoint, it really has only natural properties. Relative to our perceptual standpoint, physical objects really have visual properties; relative to our scientific standpoint, they really have only physical characteristics.

And so on. This programmatically-described general approach is promising and exciting — work in progress in the best sense. It ties together many of the issues with which Strawson has been occupied over the years, and the direction of its future development is already charted. A specific issue worth considering further may be whether the apparent contradiction regarding perception can be resolved without appealing to relative standpoints. Instead, we might argue that the microstructure of physical objects, supplemented by a theory of perception, accounts for their phenomenal properties.

But since such an explanatory relation between natural and moral features can hardly be said to exist, the parallel between the two cases may appear even weaker than Strawson suggests. One of the intuitive hallmarks of reality is just the fact that it transcends all points of view, that it exists by itself. But does it show that physical objects really are coloured from the standpoint of ordinary perception and really are colourless from that of science?

Or does it, much more radically and in accordance with the second type of the ten modes, undermine the very idea that things are really anything, that there are real properties? But what he skirts, Anthony Grayling attempts to engage directly. His short and terse essay contains a sustained frontal argument against Scepticism. In broadest outline, the argument holds, first, that our perceptual beliefs about the world presuppose other beliefs to the effect that the objects of our experience exist independently of our perception, that there is an external world.

These, Grayling claims, are transcendental beliefs; they are basic to our conceptual scheme. Secondly, relying on the views of Donald Davidson, Grayling argues that there is only one conceptual scheme: anything we recognise as such must include similar beliefs.

If all this is so, Scepticism might be refuted by showing that our belief that things exist which are independent of our perception is necessary for us, not by showing that it is actually true. Its success is conditional upon their truth. And, the merits of the argument notwithstanding, it is difficult to say whether this condition has been met. But can Scepticism be refuted? Contrary to many recent authors, Stroud takes philosophical Scepticism very seriously. He draws a sharp distinction between two questions. The second is its philosophical counterpart, which is expressed in the very same words, but which concerns all knowledge in general.

The philosophical question is asked by Descartes. Seated comfortably before his fire and having no specific reason to doubt that this is the case, Descartes still asks whether this is something he knows to be true. After all, he claims, he cannot immediately exclude the possibility that he is dreaming. And if he is, no matter what else is true, he does not know that he is seated comfortably before his fire.

Stroud thinks that this case is typical of all our claims to have any knowledge whatever. He also thinks that Descartes is right to insist that in order to know anything we must know that we are not dreaming. If that is right, then indeed we can never know that we are not dreaming, since whatever tests we use to determine that we are not may always simply be part of our dream. We must therefore conclude that we know nothing of the world. Our experience can be just as it is, and yet nothing might exist outside us.

Though he does not advocate Scepticism, Stroud does not believe that it has been effectively disarmed. Much of his text discusses what he finds unsatisfactory in the anti-sceptical positions of Austin, Moore, Kant, Carnap and Quine, as well as in the diagnoses of its sources in Stanley Cavell and Thompson Clark. But the book is engaging because it is unusual to find a philosopher who is not so concerned with offering the final word on a problem, and who is trying to keep a sense of the importance of that problem alive.

There is something philosophical just in that.

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I don't think that could be done successfully in isolation form cognitive science, neuroscience and related disciplines; and I don't think it would be possible even if one took into account what is known in these areas today. We can begin, of course; but our efforts as armchair philosophers are likely to be fruitless. What I can hope to achieve by my stumbling explanations is to convince you that the questions you ask are either scientific or else unimportant.

I would call a question unimportant if it turns out that what it asks for is a decision between two approximately equally good conceptual frameworks, neither of which is likely to serve any scientific purpose. A debate about such a question is a debate about words. The decision to explicate our previous usage so as to fit one of these conceptual frameworks may have some consequences, but the issue is unimportant compared to the cosmic and metaphysic significance which philosophers have traditionally attached to such questions. It seems to me that any analysis of the word "knowledge" that assigned to it a meaning according to which it would be impossible to know any ordinary empirical proposition would be highly suspect, to say the least.

I think it should rather be viewed as a reductio ad absurdum of the analysis if it had such a consequence. And if the analysis turned out to be correct after all, then we should immediately define a new concept of knowledge and reject the old notion as a useless confusion and try to forget it. None of this shows that my particular analysis of knowledge is correct, although it suggests that radical skepticism is false.

I included 4 to allow for intuitions according to which we do not have knowledge in so called Gettier cases. It has been argued that justified true belief isn't knowledge; for if I hear voices outside my door, I will believe that there is somebody there, and this belief is justified and it may be true too, but it won't count as knowledge if the voices I hear come from a tape recorder, while the people outside my door are silent.

For people whose concept of knowledge is such that I won't know that there is somebody outside my door in this example, I have added clause 4. Suppose that my reasoning occurs in separate steps: First I think "There is a very high probability that I hear voices as if they came from outside my door.

Then we might make clause 4 a little more precise by saying that it means that every step and every premise in the reasoning whereby I justify my belief in p should still be valid given full knowledge of the actual case. This would mean that we would not have to say that I knew that there were somebody outside my door, because one of the step in my justification for that belief namely "If voices almost certainly emanate from outside my door, then there is a very high probability that there is somebody there.

One could go on to elaborate this in more detail, but I don't think that is necessary for my purposes The point is that there is no reason to suppose that a correct analysis of "knowledge" would have to show that it is impossible for us to know that we are rational, even if rationality is defined to be anchored in truth. Such a connection would no more make knowledge impossible than the obvious connection between knowledge itself and truth "knowing p implies p" need make knowledge impossible. Skeptic : Well, so you say that we can know that we are rational.

We can also know ordinary empirical propositions, although it may always turn out that we were mistaken. So it would make perfect sense to say: "I know the sun will rise tomorrow. Maybe the sun won't rise tomorrow. Dogmatist : Yes, it sounds peculiar, but that is only because you normally say "The sun will rise tomorrow.

I am sure that much more could be said about the nuances of different utterances involving claims to knowledge and possibilities of being mistaken, but I don't think that is essential for my point; which is that skepticism is false.


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Skeptic : But why do you assume that there is some "strict sense" of the word "knowledge" over and above what it is commonly used to indicate and convey? Dogmatist : Because I think that it clarifies matters if one separate different aspects of a word, and call one aspect its "force", another its "logistic meaning", a third its "reference" and so forth. But my argument in no way depends upon that being so. Even if it is a mistake to speculate about language in those terms and concepts, even if we should stick to direct manifestations of use, it still holds true that knowledge of ordinary empirical things is possible!

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Your skepticism, indeed, presupposes an analysis of the word "knowing" that deviate from its ostensible use. For if we just look at how that word is used, it is evident that we often use it to ascribe knowledge to people, and these ascriptions are often accepted and there is nothing in the plain speech behavior of speakers that would indicate that knowledge of empirical matters is impossible. Therefore I assume the worst-case scenario for my anti-skepticism and admit a semantic theory that distinguishes the "strict sense" of the word "knowledge" from its superficial appearance in our language behavior.

You can surely not object to that policy! Skeptic : Okay, I accept that, but I still think it strange to say that one can be wrong about what one knows. Dogmatist : One cannot! If S knows that p, then p. He can't be wrong, if he actually knows that p. Skeptic : But you said earlier that it was no contradiction to say: "I know the sun will rise tomorrow.

If the sun doesn't rise tomorrow, then I'm wrong in my claim that I know it will rise. So when I say: "Maybe the sun doesn't rise tomorrow", I thereby imply that I may be wrong. But you just said that I can't be wrong if I actually know that the sun will rise tomorrow. So when I claim that I know that the sun will rise tomorrow, I imply that I can't be wrong about that. Hence the above statement both implies that I can be wrong and that I cannot be wrong. So it is a contradiction. Dogmatist : No. It is true that when I say "Maybe the sun doesn't rise tomorrow", I thereby imply that I may be wrong when I say that I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.

It's no contradiction to say: "p, but I may be wrong to believe that p. When I say "I know that p", I am not saying that I can't possibly be wrong about p. Now, this sounds as if it contradicts what I said earlier, that S "can't be wrong about p if he actually knows that p", but the contradiction is unreal. In the present context, the modal operator "can't" operates on ordered pairs consisting of a proposition and a set of evidence. I suspect, however, that in order to get to the root of the confusion, we have distinguish two senses of "knowing".

In one sense of the word, let's call it the "ordinary sense", we commonly know such things as that the sun will rise tomorrow. Knowing, in this sense, does not imply absolute certainty. Maybe the sun won't rise tomorrow, and in that case I will be wrong now if I say that I know that the sun will rise tomorrow. But if the sun indeed rises, then I will presumably be right now to claim that I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.

But this would be a mistake. I can know now that I now know that the sun will rise tomorrow, for I have sufficient grounds for believing that and, of course, the sun will rise tomorrow. These sufficient grounds are basically the same as my grounds for my claim that I know that the sun will rise, and these grounds are presumably sufficient for that is what we mean by "sufficient grounds". When I said that "knowing" in the ordinary sense does not imply absolute certainty, what I meant was that there is no rational method that would guarantee that one never made a mistake and still permit one to claim to know at lot of things about everyday matters.

One can know, and one can know that one knows, but sometimes one will mistakenly believe that one knows when, in fact, one doesn't: even if one is perfectly rational all the time. But then there is another sense of "knowing", the sophisticated sense. Knowing, in this sense, implies absolute certainty.

A perfectly rational being will never be wrong about p when he claims to have sophisticated knowledge of p. It is easy to see that one could never rationally claim to have this sort of knowledge about ordinary empirical propositions. Perhaps one can know that one exists and thinks, and perhaps propositions of logic and mathematics are also possible to know in this sense; but one could not thus know that the sun will rise tomorrow. What one can have sophisticated knowledge of, however, is a proposition like "The probability that the sun will rise tomorrow, given my evidence, is p.

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I use a fanciful terminology like "box with evidence" to indicate that what goes on here is not a psychological construction; it is just a way of saying something about what "rationality", "probability" etc. To be rational means to assign such and such probabilities to those and those propositions to believe those propositions with such and such levels of confidence. If I am perfectly rational, I will assign the probability 0. It is possible for me to know that the probability that the sun will rise tomorrow is 0. Even if the sun stays down tomorrow, it will remain true that the probability that it would rise, given my present evidence, is 0.

Sophisticated knowledge implies absolute certainty, albeit certainty about a probabilistic proposition. Let me be the first to say that this "theory" is not a fruitful one. The only reason why I explain it to you is that I think it reflects certain intuitions that get confused into our other notion of knowledge, what I called "knowledge in the ordinary sense". Such a confusion is, I suggest, the cause of your feeling that it is strange to say that one can be wrong about what one knows.

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In one sense of the word knowledge one can, in another one can't. Or else your misgivings were caused by the logical mistake about not recognizing that the truthhood of "Can't p " is relative to a set of evidence, as I pointed out a minute ago in response to your purported discovery of a contradiction in my doctrine.

Skeptic : Well, I guess you can escape the contradiction, but haven't you subscribed to my skepticism when you admit that there is a sense of "knowledge" -the sophisticated sense, you call it- in which it is impossible to know such things as that the sun will rise tomorrow. For this is the important version of knowledge: we can't really know, we can't be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow!

At least you have offered me a draw. Dogmatist : By no means! It was clear all along that absolute certainty was not to be had about such issues. If that was all you wanted to claim, then there was no need to waste our time: that sort of epistemic limitation has been recognized ever since the dawn of empirical science, and probably before. Skeptic : But you said yourself that there was a sense of "knowing" in which we can't know that this night will de followed by a morning etc.

Why isn't that radical skepticism? Dogmatist : First of all because that sense is contrived and sophistic; it is not what we usually mean by "knowledge" and it is definitely not what we think about when we become shocked and perplexed in those moments when skepticism presents itself as a serious possibility when we have that feeling of general unreality or dreamlikeness.