far we have considered ordinary doubts that people may suffer from
in the course of their everyday existence. However, we now come
to the thorny question of to what extent it is possible for there
to be such a thing as "global" scepticism - that is, doubt
about everything which we experience.
To illustrate this it
is necessary to distinguish between ordinary doubt and what is called
"philosophical doubt". We all experience ordinary doubt:
"Did I leave the iron on?", "Is Jim in a mood with
me?", etc. These doubts are doubts about facts. If I go back
home, I can check if the iron is still on; if I talk to Jim, I may
find out if I have done something to offend him.
are different. In the above situations, examples of philosophical
doubts would be: is it possible to really tell if the iron is on;
can I really find out if Jim is angry with me - or even more radically,
if Jim is actually there (and not some figment of my imagination
- or a robot!).
(also called "ordinary doubt")
||Is that a bird or
(also called "philosophical doubt")
||Are my senses mistaken
all the time?
Before moving on, have
a think about this difference and try to get it clear in your head.
Ordinary doubt - or local scepticism - can usually be tested - and
even when it can't, there may well come a time when it can. So,
I may currently have doubts about whether there is life on some
distant planet; however, in the future, technology may eventually
allow me to actually find out (the development of a more powerful
telescope, for instance).
doubt - or global scepticism - seems to deny the possibility of
there being any conclusive way of finding out. For instance, if
in regard to the question of life on some other planet someone argued,
"We can never really know that there is not life on
another planet because it may be undetectable to us," then
that person is a sceptic.
This sort of doubt is
largely responsible for the reputation which philosophy seems to
have in some quarters of being absurd and unrealistic. "Do
you think that table is really there?" the philosopher asks.
"You think you are talking to me, but what proof do you have?"
However, the underlying point is a serious one: how can we ever
really know something with absolute certainty? Remember,
no matter how certain we are, there is always room for doubt. Even
something like science, which uses experiment to prove theories,
sometimes finds new truths which seem to contradict old ones (Einstein's
theory of Relativity, for example).
In summary, scepticism
attacks certain beliefs that most of us hold to be true:
- It is sometimes possible
to be certain about something.
- Our senses
are mostly trustworthy.
can eventually find out whether we have been mistaken or not.
- It is possible
to experience reality as it really is.
Before moving on to the next section, I want you to do two things.
Firstly, make a list of what you think are sceptical arguments (you
can base them on the examples I have already given, but try to think
of your own - 3 or 4 should do). Secondly, try to identify answers
that you think a non-sceptic could use to show that these problems
do not exist. Is it possible to do it?