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Critically Evaluate Moore's Proof Of The External World (Complete Paper)

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Q: Critically evaluate Moore's proof of the external world.

A: This being a critical evaluation, we will follow the traditional Indian format for such an undertaking in that we state Moore's position (purva-paksha) followed by a refutation of his position (khandan) and conclude with stating our position (siddhant). There are a two points to be bought to attention in this regard:

a. the purva-paksha includes Ms. Alice Ambrose's views in support of Moore's position

b. since Moore is a realist, a siddhant would possibly be an idealist position and for this we merely state Berkeley's viewpoint in brief in this regard


Moore's position

Moore attempts at giving a proof of an external world for which he starts with stating that Kant was the first person who thought that it was scandalous that such a proof had not been given up to his time. Moore then states that, though Kant had said he had the only possible proof for this, he would try to attempt another one. His first task then is to make clear certain terms which seem to him ambiguous. Among these, the major ones are:

a. "things to be met with in space" (henceforth called TMWS)

b. "things to be presented in space" (henceforth called TPIS)

c. "things external to our minds" (henceforth called TETM)

TMWS can be defined as those things which can be perceived by us by use of one or more of the five senses and that possess extension. It includes things like tables, chairs, etc. but excludes things like the sky or reflections in mirrors of which extension might be a debatable property.

TPIS can be defined as those things which in addition to being perceived by the senses also include those that are "available only to the mind". These, therefore, include things like seeing double images, ghost images, feelings of pleasure and pain, etc.

TETM can be defined so that it includes TMWS + such things that are "available only in the minds of being's other than ourselves" e.g. pain felt by other animals, etc.

Now, Moore says that things like shadows which are part of TMWS may not be in TPIS (since the former includes things that might be perceived but are not necessarily perceived at any time and hence do not belong to the latter). Clearly, TPIS is wider than TMWS by its very definition. Of these, to prove the external world, Moore is concerned with TMWS and TETM.

Moore's wants to show that there are things that they Ð''external to us' or in other words, things that exist independently of anyone having any specific experience of them. He takes various examples such as his body having existed independently even when he was in deep sleep and hence was not "consciously experiencing it". He also gives the example of soap bubbles exhibiting the same behavior such that they don't depend on anyone's experience to exist. Now, his task becomes simple in that all he has to do it point out two (or more) things that can Ð''exist independently of experience' and belong to TMWS. This would mean they automatically belong to TETM. Therefore, it would show that there are things belonging to the external world. He chooses to use the proof of the kind Ð'- Ð''here is my left hand, here is my right hand and now here are two hands. This establishes that they belong to the external world. QED'

Alice Ambrose's position (From: Philosophy of G E Moore, Editor P A Schilpp)

Ambrose fully supports Moore's proof of the external world and her focus is on showing that the skeptic's position is untenable. The skeptic refutes Moore's position by stating that "s/he can never be sure there are hands because s/he may be hallucinating or dreaming". Ambrose has multiple lines of attack against the skeptic and we can broadly divide her attack into four parts.

I: First, Ambrose asks what proof the skeptic would require in order to be satisfied that there are hands present and are external to us? Would the fact that one can see, touch, taste, etc. hands be sufficient proof for their existence? When the skeptic replies in the negative, she concludes that she can provide no empirical evidence for their existence that would satisfy the skeptic. She explains her predicament by the alluding to a negative statement such as Ð''I cannot know there are mountains on the other side of the moon'. This statement precludes knowledge due to some known obstacles which, if surmounted, would establish its opposite. On the other hand, the position of the skeptic with regard to the statement, Ð''I cannot know hands exist' is such that, since it excludes all empirical evidence, makes it practically impossible to establish its opposite! In other words, the statement, Ð''I know that hands exist' can never be empirically demonstrated and therefore is logically impossible. Hence the statement, Ð''I do not know that hands exist' must be necessarily true. This appears to make the skeptic's position unbreakable but she subsequently shows that this is really not so.

She does this by addressing herself to the use of the English language in which both statements Ð''I knowÐ'...' and Ð''I do not knowÐ'...' are statements concerning me and hence are contingent and not necessary statements. In fact, it is common practice to use the expression about the existence of hands as is, without doubt, done by the skeptic too. Therefore, one cannot say the Ð''I do not knowÐ'...' is necessarily true. Undoubtedly, Ð''I do not knowÐ'...' is also not empirically true i.e. it is not a matter of fact. Since it is neither a matter of fact nor a necessity, what then can be the skeptic's position? She concludes that the skeptic then needs to say, Ð''It should be the case that I do not know that hands exist'. However, she feels that the skeptic is disguising his or her claim and covertly overlooking the Ð''should' in it.

Ambrose finally makes an attempt to expose the aforementioned disguise by considering what would happen if she were to take the skeptic's position as a necessary truth. If one were to make a statement like Ð''There are no round squares' and say that it was a necessary truth, it implies that Ð''round



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