Does Russells Argument Successfully Refute External World Skepticism?

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 258
  • Published : August 20, 2006
Open Document
Text Preview
The follow paper deals with the idea of scepticism that we do not have knowledge of our external world. I will discuss this particular version of scepticism called ‘Cartesian Scepticism'. I will then discuss Bertrand Russell's view concerning our knowledge of external objects as posed in "The Existence of Matter" in The Problems of Philosophy. I will provide a clear exposition of Russell's' thoughts in order to examine if he is successful in overcoming sceptics arguments. I maintain that although it is weak, Russell's view is plausible in refuting the difficult problem of external world scepticism.

There are many different kinds of scepticism. This essay will focus mainly on Cartesian Scepticism thusly called because of the doubt raised by Descartes in his method of doubt which I will allude to later.

Scepticism arguments appear in many different forms and argue different points, i.e. infallibility, certainty. The following is a sceptic's argument for infallibility:

1)If you know something, then you can't be wrong about it.
2)You can always be wrong about anything
So, you never know anything

This argument can be interpreted in many ways, I will consider one possible way:

1)If you know p then not possibly ( you believe p and p is false) 2)But it is possible( that you believe p and p is false)
Therefore you don't know p.

In attempting to find fault with this argument, I could attack premise 1) however by contradicting premise 1).I risk falling into the trap of then affirming premise 2) So rather I will focus my attention on premise 2.

Premise 2) implies that nothing is indubitable. Descartes however establishes that there are some things that are indubitable. He re-assesses all his previous beliefs and finally comes to the conclusion that even though many things can be doubted, the fact that he exists cannot be indubitable. He has knowledge of his own mind and nothing can convince him otherwise.Likewise, we are all certain of our own existence. In addition, Bertrand Russell shows that mathematical truths cannot be doubted. The proposition 2+2=4 is necessarily true, and necessary truths are indubitable, even though indubitable truths are not necessary truths. My existence is not necessary.Nevertheless, the point being here that this argument fails because there are some things that are indubitable.

The problem the sceptics might raise however is how certain we are about our external world, and this is exactly the core of the Cartesian scepticism's argument. They do not say that an external world does not exist, but merely that we cannot be certain that it does exist. Bertrand Russell aims at replying to this.

In the "Existence of Matter", Russell sets out to decide whether we can sure that matter exists. He maintains that the criterion for our certainty is the independent existence of physical objects since if this is not established we cannot be sure of existence of bodies nor of other minds. He explains that if we are uncertain of this "it may be that the whole outer world is nothing but a dream, and that we alone exist."

He then proceeds to establish the existence of a table he sees before him. He maintains that the sense-data of the table cannot be doubted as we establish a colour, a shape and a sensation. The sense-data is not the issue; the physical existence of the table is being doubted.

If the table is real, then our confidence in our senses is well placed and we may have reasonably inferred reality from the appearance of the table. This view affirms our common-sense view of reality.However, if we find that the table does not exist, and then we are being deceived in some way. This second view however reiterates Descartes concern mentioned earlier. We can be sure that we exist but cannot be sure that we aren't being deceived by an evil demon. Descartes considered that the evil demon was possible just as Russell similarly maintains that it is possible we are dreaming. Russell...
tracking img