Denying Premise 2- Philosophy Essay, Research Paper
The quest to find out who we are, where we came from, where we will go after we die and what, if anything, controls our world has fascinated mankind throughout the centuries. Famous philosophers have devoted their whole lives to developing theories, and yet the closest any have come to success has been to not have their theories disproved. With the knowledge that no theory has been proven to fact, I don t know may be the only true answer to one of civilization s oldest questions.
The idea that we can never know the answers to these and many other questions leads to the theory of Skepticism. This theory maintains that we must doubt every single one of our empirical beliefs, as they are from our perceptions like our material body. We doubt them because they are seen from the lens of our own prejudices. For example, just as our senses can deceive us, or our dreams seem real, our experiences can also deceive us. Therefore, we cannot with certainty say that anything is true, and we have no knowledge and we live in the unknown.
However, Skepticism is contrary to one of the most basic of human instincts: the fear of the unknown. The desire to define the world and make order out of chaos and the refusal to accept I don t know as the answer has motivated both scientists and philosophers. Rene Descartes (1596-1650 was one such man. Though brilliant, and the author of Mediations, feared being skeptical of the external world.
Descartes wanted to disprove the skepticism theory. To do so, he first developed two premises for the skepticism theory, and then rejected it by disproving one premise. The first premise is that of Na ve Empiricism. This premise states that all knowledge rests on our perception, our own experiences, and therefore all our knowledge is true. The second premise is the method of Doubt. Descartes claims knowledge is something that is indubitable. That is, for each body of evidence, only one conclusion can be reached. With those two premises, Descartes derives the sub-conclusion that if we do have unique knowledge, then the evidence of our senses must rule out all other possibilities. In short, truth is derived entirely from the empirical evidence we collect.
However, Descartes also had a third premise which undermined the first two. This premise is that of the Evil Demon. This theory states that even with all our empirical knowledge, that there is still no material world. There can exist a omnipotent supreme being who controls all our experiences, leading us to believe what we do. For example, an Evil Demon makes us think that we have hands and are sitting watching television and laughing with our friends, but in reality all that is false. This Evil Demon set everything up to manipulate us in believing in the material world as we know it today.
What a scary thought: to know that we don t know anything and our entire world might be false. This disturbed Descartes greatly. He tried to develop a way to make the skepticism theory or the premises used to develop the skepticism theory false. He believed that he could negate the Evil Demon possibility by finding something wrong with the logic of the skeptical argument. This can be done either by assuming that the conclusion developed using the Evil Demon theory does not follow its own premises, or by denying one of its premises altogether.
Descartes contemplated on this issue intensely. He decided to reject premise 1, that of Na ve Empiricism. He concludes that basic knowledge does not come from experience and perception, but rather by pure and rational thought. Therefore, the power of reason can be used as the foundation of all knowledge. Furthermore, this theory of rationalism and pure thought disproves the Evil Demon theory and supports a God being that is good and true to us humans.
Descartes starts by saying that he has knowledge of himself. He cannot doubt that he has a mind and he believes he is a thinking thing. He then states that his ideas of God and a supreme being come from God himself. He doesn t believe he can develop these ideas by himself. There must be some outside source that allows him to develop such thoughts. But now Descartes must figure out how this supreme being is a good God and not the Evil Demon. Descartes says that in every case of trickery or deception, some imperfection is to found. God gave us the ability to believe that our ideas of material objects are produced by those same material objects. Material objects do exist and contain all the properties we perceive them do have, because God is good and will not let us have wrong perceptions. Therefore our knowledge of the world must be correct. He denied premise 1 in order to resist his conclusion. He did so because he didn t think he could deny premise 2. He strongly believed that knowledge had to be indubitable and therefore couldn t be denied.
Could the skepticism argument be proven false by denying premise 2? Descartes thought knowledge had to be indubitable and therefore he had chosen to keep premise 2 as true. However, premise 2 can be denied just as easily as premise 1 is denied. There are two ways to deny premise 2. The first way goes back to Socrates question. The second way deals with the definition of knowledge.
Socrates asks the question: What is the difference between knowledge and mere true belief? Socrates answers that knowledge is true belief for which the believer has adequate justification. Then Aristotle questions: how is knowledge possible given that beliefs can only be justified by appeal to other beliefs that are themselves justified? This leads to the idea that all knowledge is justified by other knowledge and the chain continues backward until there are basic foundational beliefs that don t need justification.
Descartes builds from the idea that these basic foundational beliefs don t need justification, and that they are indubitable. These basic beliefs are assumed to be true. However, since there is no concrete proof of knowledge, it can be doubted. Furthermore, knowledge, even basic knowledge, is often developed from one s experiences. For example the knowledge that the world is round comes from an explorer traveling around the world and returning to the same point. But different people attain different experiences and would develop different conclusions. Another explorer may travel around the world but keep landing in different destinations and conclude the world is ever lasting. Both ideas lead to knowledge of the world, yet they are different. Descartes argues that knowledge is justified by true belief and therefore the second explorer doesn t have knowledge of the world because he has justified his knowledge by a false belief. But we know his belief is false, yet there is some knowledge that is justified by beliefs that could be true or false. We don t have any proof to conclude that our belief is true and therefore the knowledge caused by this belief is real knowledge.
Of course, one can argue that certain knowledge cannot be doubted and that 5 + 5 will always result in 10. This is true in our known reality, our dreams and thoughts. But this is one type of knowledge that is argued to be indubitable. This does not prove that all knowledge is indubitable. Moreover, the knowledge of our external world as we perceive it is not proven, and therefore can be doubted.
Originally, Descartes denies premise 1 and concludes that God is good and would not deceive us. Therefore there is no Evil Demon and our external world as we know it is true. However, we can also reject the Evil Demon theory by doubting knowledge. Since we all have different experiences, our perceptions, which, according to premise 1, are the basis for knowledge, will differ. To coincide with the Cartesian Construction of Knowledge, assuming that Descartes would still use the same path of thinking, God is allowing us to attain such different perceptions. He is allowing each individual to maximize their experience on this world and develop their own characteristics. That is why humans are an intelligent race and very unique creatures. God has done us a favor by allowing us different perceptions, which lead to different knowledge. As we continue with the Cartesian Construction of Knowledge, we know that although we have different knowledge and knowledge can be doubted, God allows it, but God isn t a deceiver and therefore we still have knowledge of the external world.
Since we have different experiences that leads us to have different knowledge, knowledge can be doubted. But that is how the good God wants it. We can disprove the Evil Demon theory by denying premise 2 just as easily as we deny premise 1. Furthermore Descartes can deny either theory and still use his same thought process. He can use the Cartesian Construction of Knowledge to disprove the Evil Demon theory by denying one of either premises.
Another way to deny premise 2 is by the way one defines knowledge. Descartes claims that knowledge must be indubitable. And it must hold true for all other theories and ideas. This is why the Evil Demon theory still exists. However, if Descartes defines knowledge as a proven fact from one s perception, then the Evil Demon theory can still be false. For example, we have no perception of this Evil Demon and since knowledge is from our perceptions, according to premise 1, there is no Evil Demon.
But these are just a couple ways to show that premise 2 can be denied to disprove the Evil Demon theory. There are still other ways to break the argument of the Evil Demon theory because the Evil Demon theory is exactly just that, a theory. Through out time, philosophers have tried to develop theories and then disprove them and they will continue to do so. They all wish to find some believable conclusion about the external world. However, they must remember that a theory believable to them, may only be believable to them until it is proven. And because of that, the I don t know answer, may still be the best one.