Posted: Dec 04, 2021 10:36 pm
by Frozenworld
zoon wrote:
Frozenworld wrote:Skepticism is the default.

I’m beginning to wonder whether the ancient philosophical problems around knowledge, justification and scepticism may not be social in origin? This would be by analogy with consciousness, which is a weird and slippery concept if I’m following Descartes’ introspection and wondering what exactly the “I” that I’m so much aware of might be, but which makes much more sense in the context of humans as social animals which have evolved to use the similarities between brains to guess what others are likely to do? Imagining the world as another sees it is a good first step to predicting, with a fair chance of accuracy, what they might be likely to do about it, and the internal model, the imagined world from the other person’s point of view, is easily reified as that other person’s consciousness. When I am living in a group of people who are likewise seeing me as a conscious being, it also makes sense to have a model of myself as others see me, the better to manage social life. This model of myself as a conscious being is then internalised and reified, and then sets up all sorts of philosophical problems when it fails to slot into the scientific model of the world.

Similarly, the need to justify a belief makes a lot of sense if I’m trying to persuade someone else to do something; they may be resistant, and start asking why they should do this, on what grounds is it sensible for them to accept the beliefs on which I’m suggesting they act. In social life, I need to be ready to defend my beliefs if I want other people to act on what I say, if I want to be a functioning member of society.

If we were not social animals with our unique form of sociality, we would be unlikely to feel the need to justify knowledge or belief? – we would just go ahead and act according to our thoughts. Our bodies are an extension of our thoughts, with muscles attached directly to the nervous system.

As with consciousness, the philosophical problems start to look intractable if the social model is internalised to oneself. I can see another person’s consciousness as a mere imagined model easily enough, but it’s not so easy to see my own in the same light (one of the reasons Descartes’ cogito feels compelling)? Similarly, I can understand without confusion that attempting to justify my beliefs to another person may or may not work, but if I feel that all my beliefs should be justified to myself before I can reasonably do anything, then I may start to spiral downwards into doubting everything (Descartes’ original problem)?

From the scientific point of view, seeing ourselves as social animals with ongoing cooperation, the ongoing need to be ready with justifications for our beliefs makes sense, as an aspect of that cooperation. Without the social context, justifying beliefs becomes unnecessary and irrelevant, in the same way that a non-social animal would be unlikely to think of itself as a conscious “I”?


we begin to see that existence doesn?t seem to include the qualities we usually assume. I think the three points I laid out help to appreciate this. 1) Things are constantly changing, 2) they have to be understood relative to some background, and 3) they are utterly dependent on other conditions for their ?existence.? When we normally say something exists, it implies some sort of autonomy and consistency for that thing- but the things that we imbue with existence actually have none. So we arrive at the idea of conventional truth- these things we acknowledge as existing exist only by convention rather than in actuality. Denoting ?things? is an act of the mind.

Now you might be saying,

?Yes, yes of course. We don?t directly perceive reality- the mental models we create of reality are not perfect. But our models do somehow correspond to the underlying objective reality though. Objective reality in some way is different here and there- it goes in and out, something here but not over there- this underlying reality is what our perceptions are somehow tied to.?

BUT, the implication of conventional existence is that it applies not just to these individual objects that we acknowledge, but also to the idea of reality itself, an object. Objective reality is just a convention as well.

The correspondence (or realist) theory of truth is deeply ingrained in most humans. It basically says that a belief is true if it corresponds with a fact. This idea is definitely part of our folk psychology and probably innately programmed in us. A drawback of this view is that there is no way to show that our beliefs do actually correspond with reality. Of course, just because there is no way to prove that a belief is consistent with reality does not mean that there is no objective reality. True. And so we could just go on and think that these theories that have stood the test of rational thought and empirical criticism, that we hold to be true, are at least ?moving toward? reality. OK. But still there is no way to reasonably argue for this reality (except for what appears below).

On the other hand, the pragmatic theory of truth basically says that what is true is what works and what is consistent with the wider system of beliefs. There is not necessarily a real reality behind things according to this view. Whereas a realist might say ?this theory is or is getting us closer to what is actually going on? the pragmatist would say ?this theory is useful as means to our goals and consistent with other experience.? Buddhism is a pragmatic view.

Guess how we validate correspondence theory or realism?! Not through correspondence theory. Pragmatism! How else could we? Realism does work- it helps us achieve our goals, it?s consistent with what just about everyone else believes, and it appears to be easily adopted by the human organism. We use it because it is pragmatic, not because it corresponds with reality. So the whole idea of an objective reality is simply a convention.


If you really think about it the foundation of knowledge is fragile indeed.