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Essay: Can G.E. Moore's Argument Disprove Skeptical Possibilities?

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Paste your essay in here…Certainty and Skeptical Possibilities

N10795395

Response 1

7/8/18

In, “Proof of An External World,” G.E. Moore discusses skeptical possibilities and their credibility. A skeptical possibility is any situation that makes us question our knowledge of the world we live in. For example, some people believe that we live within a computer simulation or that everything we experience in life happens inside of a dream. For the sake of this essay, the term skeptical possibility will be used as a general catch-all phrase that represents all of these situations. The reason for using this term is that when trying to prove or disprove a skeptical possibility each one of these individual possibilities has their own limitations. For example, we may be able to logically disprove the dream possibility with a simple thought experiment, but the same thought experiment may not apply to any of the other skeptical possibilities. Our goal is to prove or disprove all of the possibilities simultaneously and therefore we cannot focus on just one at a time. Moore argues that he can know there is an external world and that this knowledge of the external world can disprove any skeptical possibility. The basis of his argument revolves around this quote, “By holding up my two hands, and saying, as I make a certain gesture with the right hand, 'Here is one hand', and adding, as I make a certain gesture with the left, 'and here is another'. And if, by doing this, I have proved ipso facto the existence of external things.”  But in this paper I will argue that Moore’s argument is false.

Before I explain why I disagree with Moore, I must first explain the thought experiment that argues why there can be a skeptical possibility.  The argument says, 1) if I do not know whether I live in a skeptical possibility or not, then I cannot know any piece of knowledge about the world for certain, and since 2) I do not know that a skeptical possibility does not exist, therefore 3) I cannot know any piece of knowledge for certain.

Moore does not agree with this argument. In trying to disprove the skeptical argument, Moore refutes the second step with his two-hands example.  He says that he can know a piece of knowledge of the world for certain – that his two hands exist – and thus that a skeptical possibility does not exist.  In what is known as Moorean shift  his argument thus becomes, 1) If I do not know whether I live in a skeptical possibility or not, then I cannot know any piece of knowledge about the world for certain, but 2) I know a piece of knowledge about the world for certain, therefore 3) I know a skeptical possibility does not exist.

In analyzing these three steps, there seems to be two ways to disprove Moore’s argument though. The first way to disprove Moore is by refuting Moore’s second step and proving that I cannot actually know anything about the external world. This is what Stroud did in, “Problem of the External World.” In the simplest terms, Stroud’s argument goes like this: Imagine I am skeptical that my entire life isn’t a dream, so I devise a test to determine if I am in a dream or not. The test results come back and say that I’m awake. Now the question is, how can I be sure I didn’t dream up those results?  Now apply that principle to any skeptical possibility. In that example Stroud shows that one cannot know knowledge of the world to be certain, and successfully disproves Moore’s second step.

Though Stroud has claimed Moore’s second step to be impossible, let’s suppose that there is no way to disprove step two. Does this mean that Moore is correct and there are no skeptical possibilities?  I do not believe so because Moore’s third step cannot be drawn from the second one. In other words, just because we know something about the external world, does not mean we can conclude there is no skeptical possibility. I hope to prove my point with my own thought experiment:

For one moment, I want you to ignore any doubts and suppose we are in fact living in a skeptical possibility. If you were to throw an apple out the window, we can be certain it will fall toward the ground. Unless something is blocking its path, or some other force is acting upon it, the apple will always fall to the ground.  Just because we are certain of this specific piece of knowledge about the world, doesn’t disprove the fact that we are living in a skeptical possibility.  What if we were living in a pre-programmed computer simulation?  In the simulation every time I throw the apple out the window it will fall to the ground. In this scenario, the falling apple represents something we can know about the world, just like Moore’s hands did, but in this case, just because I know a piece of knowledge to be true does not mean I know a skeptical possibility does not exist. Therefore, we know the third step of Moore’s argument cannot be drawn from step two.

Works cited:

Moore, G.E. "Proof of an External World." Proceedings of the British Academy 25 (1939): 273-300.

"Here Is One Hand." Wikipedia. July 03, 2018. Accessed July 07, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_is_one_hand.

Preston, Aaron (2004). "From the Ontology of Cognition to Criteriology". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. George Edward Moore (1873—1958).

B. Stroud, The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), ch. 1.

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