Is it possible to defeat all sceptical doubts relating to our knowledge of the external world?

The debate about if it is possible to defeat sceptical doubts have been debated in Philosophy for long time since. The reason claims that we cannot know for sure about all the things that surround us. This essay will discuss Is it possible to defeat all sceptical doubts relating to our knowledge of the external world?

At a first view everything I do appears to be real. I define real all the things I do while I am awake. Reality is therefore defined as everything we can have an idea of. For example If I tell than an object have 4 legs we imagine or tend to imagine a wide range of objects or animals with 4 legs; but if I say chair then you picture any kind of 4 leg element with this description. In reality the same happens; reality is showed as a picture that I can sense, smell, touch, and hear but never ever be sure that is real. The reason is we don’t know. And the more we dig in the more certainty we can assure this acknowledge.

“ for anything anyone believes there are equals powerful reasons for believe the opposite” So live without opinions”   -Pyrrho

The term “sceptic” is generally used of a person who claims that we cannot know anything for certain, and that one view is likely to be as valid as any other. People tend to be sceptical about particular things. Scepticism claim that we do not have as many justified beliefs or as much knowledge as we think we do. Some claim that we do not have knowledge of particular kinds of fact: perhaps we cannot know things about the future, whether or not other people have minds, morality or God.[1] So it can be argued that the more we claim the more uncertainty we have about this understanding. In this area Descartes[2] illustrate with the Cartesian argument the sceptical doubt. Descartes experience of sitting by the fire is indistinguishable for the experience he might have of dreaming that he was doing so. The experience I would be having if I were now asleep and dreaming of work. I cannot therefore tell whether I am awake or dreaming. When we are dreaming, all our senses are being deceived at once, and most dreams are undetectable as such. The sceptical conclusion is that since I do not know that I am not dreaming, I am not justified in believing that I am presently sitting in my study.[3] So, according to this knowing is a creative activity and always involves an element of interpretation. We know nothing with absolute certainty, except those things which are true by definition. On the other hand we can gradually build up a degree of reasonable certainty of the things around us. However, this knowledge may not be ‘true’ as the certainty of things is not completely understandable.

The conclusion of the Cartesian argument is that we cannot know for sure about all things. Here, then, we have contexts constituted not by the distinct physical features of the environment but rather by the features of the conversational context. Furthermore, Descartes has argued that from our perspective the sceptical scenario is indistinguishable from that of common sense. I cannot therefore have justified thoughts about the world since I cannot provide reasons in support of the claim that there is a world of coffee cups and paper clips.[4]

Having done this, Descartes reaches the conclusion that the only thing he cannot doubt is that he exists as a thinking being, for the very act of doubting requires him to think. Hence his famous starting point of knowledge ‘ I Think therefore I am’. In the external point of view we may not be aware-indeed, perhaps cannot be aware of the reliability of our own thoughts. I do not, therefore, know that I know that my cup of coffee exists. The externalist, however, claims that such second order knowledge is not required, and that reliability account of first order knowledge. To understand more clearly was this is all about the movie The Matrix (1999) illustrates the Cartesian theme and we have references to Descartes arguments, particularly to the one of concerning dreams. When Morpheus says to Neo: ‘Have you ever had a dream that you were so sure it was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?’  In resume the main characters feel that there is something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but is there.  At a deeper level it is also arguable false conclusions from valid premises: it is possible to make mistakes in mathematics or even in logics. It is also possible to believe a priori statement to be true when it is not. It may be objected that the only reason that we have for concluding that any given a priori statement is false is that its contradicts some other which is true.[5]  In this case is belief that we are humans therefore we mislead things; we hesitate and may have doubts, so we get wrong.  And its also belief that we get wrong because we don’t know. Consequently, an error is a derivation and errors presuppose true.

In philosophy there is also three conditions to real knowledge; they are truth, belief and justification. In this case radical scepticism denies the possibility of knowledge and justification because according to this scepticism is deniable that we can know anything or even have a justification in any of our beliefs. Furthermore, there is also the Agrippa Trilemma which relates that is impossible for anyone defending knowledge against scepticism not to fall into the Agrippan Five Modes: (1) Discrepancy (2) Relativity (3) Infinity (4) Assumption (5) Circularity.[6] In Addition Gettier’s[7] justified true belief cannot be sufficient for knowledge; he argued that there are situations in which one’s belief may be justified and true, yet fail to count as knowledge.So according to Gettier there are certain circumstances in which one does not have knowledge, even when all of the above conditions are met. Moreover truth, belief and justification are still not sufficient for knowledge. As a result knowledge is impossible because we cannot ever get to the point of having justified beliefs, nevermind beliefs that are well-enough justified to count as knowledge.

Besides; the sceptic wonders whether we know anything whatsoever, in certain very broad domains. This is why philosophical scepticism is formulated in terms of the possibility of knowledge. Certainty, arguments for philosophical scepticism have often made great play with the fact that even in the best circumstances, the possibility that we are in error can never be entirely excluded.[8] Since acknowledging the possibility of error seems incompatible to claim absolute knowledge.

In conclusion Pyrrho defy us to live without opinions; because as a matter of fact is not possible for us to have certain knowledge, so if we live without opinions we live happier under the common good of society. We live happier because our ignorance. But is it possible to live without opinions? I find it hard. After analyze several books and different theories related to knowledge and scepticism it is not possible to defeat all sceptical doubts relating to our knowledge of the external world. There are many implications that makes knowledge not possible I mean we cannot not for sure anything; our senses may cheat us sometimes, our perceptions may be wrong and we may not know about this because we perceive the same; the same system Neo and Morpheus were talking about; the system that seems to be ‘wrong’ and the system that blind us in the quest of real knowledge. Furthermore, there cannot be knowledge without justifications, it is not enough to be true or belief in and the problem is: justification is not possible in several and different ways when we talk about knowledge and scepticism even when we try to be explitics about justifying. We cannot justify everything that is around us. To sum up the Philosophical question to which scepticism and philosophical common sense are competing answer, cannot be answered either way negatively or affirmatively without paradox. So there is not way of knowing and maybe there never will.


-An introduction to the theory of knowledge; Dan O Brien (2006) PART IV : Scepticsm

Knowledge and its limits; Timothy Williamson; Oxford University press (2000); Chapter 8: Scepticism

The problem of Knowledge; A.J Ayer; London ;Mc Millan; (1956) Chapter II : scepticism and certainty

– Understanding Human Knowledge; Barry Stroud; Oxford University press Chapter I : Scepticism and the Possibility Of Knowledge and Chapter 3: doubts about the legacy of scepticism.

– Problems of Knowledge; Michael Williams; Oxford University press (2001) Chapter 5: Agrippa trilemma and Chapter 16 : scepticism and epistemic priority.

[1] An introduction to the theory of knowledge p.101

[2] Early modern philosopher who rejected religious authority in the quest for scientific and philosophical knowledge.

[3] Theory of knowledge p.102

[4] Idem p.113

[5] The problem of Knowledge.p.42

[6] The Agrippan Trilemma, Problems of Knowledge p.58

[7] Edmund L. Gettier in From Analysis 23 ( 1963)

[8]  Problems of knowledge p.61


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