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Does Russells Argument Successfully Refute External World Skepticism?

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The follow paper deals with the idea of scepticism that we do not have knowledge of our external world. I will discuss this particular version of scepticism called Ð''Cartesian Scepticism'. I will then discuss Bertrand Russell's view concerning our knowledge of external objects as posed in "The Existence of Matter" in The Problems of Philosophy. I will provide a clear exposition of Russell's' thoughts in order to examine if he is successful in overcoming sceptics arguments. I maintain that although it is weak, Russell's view is plausible in refuting the difficult problem of external world scepticism.

There are many different kinds of scepticism. This essay will focus mainly on Cartesian Scepticism thusly called because of the doubt raised by Descartes in his method of doubt which I will allude to later.

Scepticism arguments appear in many different forms and argue different points, i.e. infallibility, certainty. The following is a sceptic's argument for infallibility:

1) If you know something, then you can't be wrong about it.

2) You can always be wrong about anything

So, you never know anything

This argument can be interpreted in many ways, I will consider one possible way:

1) If you know p then not possibly ( you believe p and p is false)

2) But it is possible( that you believe p and p is false)

Therefore you don't know p.

In attempting to find fault with this argument, I could attack premise 1) however by contradicting premise 1).I risk falling into the trap of then affirming premise 2) So rather I will focus my attention on premise 2.

Premise 2) implies that nothing is indubitable. Descartes however establishes that there are some things that are indubitable. He re-assesses all his previous beliefs and finally comes to the conclusion that even though many things can be doubted, the fact that he exists cannot be indubitable. He has knowledge of his own mind and nothing can convince him otherwise.Likewise, we are all certain of our own existence. In addition, Bertrand Russell shows that mathematical truths cannot be doubted. The proposition 2+2=4 is necessarily true, and necessary truths are indubitable, even though indubitable truths are not necessary truths. My existence is not necessary.Nevertheless, the point being here that this argument fails because there are some things that are indubitable.

The problem the sceptics might raise however is how certain we are about our external world, and this is exactly the core of the Cartesian scepticism's argument. They do not say that an external world does not exist, but merely that we cannot be certain that it does exist. Bertrand Russell aims at replying to this.

In the "Existence of Matter", Russell sets out to decide whether we can sure that matter exists. He maintains that the criterion for our certainty is the independent existence of physical objects since if this is not established we cannot be sure of existence of bodies nor of other minds. He explains that if we are uncertain of this "it may be that the whole outer world is nothing but a dream, and that we alone exist."

He then proceeds to establish the existence of a table he sees before him. He maintains that the sense-data of the table cannot be doubted as we establish a colour, a shape and a sensation. The sense-data is not the issue; the physical existence of the table is being doubted.

If the table is real, then our confidence in our senses is well placed and we may have reasonably inferred reality from the appearance of the table. This view affirms our common-sense view of reality.However, if we find that the table does not exist, and then we are being deceived in some way. This second view however reiterates Descartes concern mentioned earlier. We can be sure that we exist but cannot be sure that we aren't being deceived by an evil demon. Descartes considered that the evil demon was possible just as Russell similarly maintains that it is possible we are dreaming. Russell brings up this point to show that things perceived by the senses can be doubted, it is improbable but not impossible to doubt. He also mentions this to point out that subjective things are most certain.

He explicitly states the problem , "Granted that we are certain of our own sense-data, have we any reason for regarding them as signs of the existence of something else, which we can call the physical object?" The issue is that while we may have the correct sense-data, is there really a physical table there that exists even when we are not around to perceive it? Russell disputes the existence of the table over and above sense-data. He maintains that common-sense would say that there is a table that exists even when we are not present. If sense-data was all there is, then putting a tablecloth would hide the table and since it is not perceived by sense-data it would mean the table does not exist. Russell maintains that this seems absurd.

He examines the idea of public experience versus private experience. He mentions that in order to believe that a physical object exists, we want to believe that other people also perceive that same object. If a group of people are sitting together at a dinner party around the table, then it is reasonable to assume that they all see the same forks and knives, the same tablecloths, and glasses. However since the sense-data is private to each person, "what is immediately present to the sight of one is not immediately present to the sight of another," such that each person will see the objects from a slightly different point of view.

Russell suggests that there are "public neutral objects" which can be known to many different people. In order for these objects to exist there must be something that transcends the private experience of sense-data. Russell answers that even thought we all experience the object from a slightly different point of view, there are evident similarities especially considering the fact that their different views will follow the same scientific principles such as perspective and reflection. So ultimately, we will perceive roughly the same object and thus can suppose that there is a permanent public object that exists.

Russell then retreats from this position maintaining that he has made a mistake by admitting to the experiences of other people. Supposing that other people exist, begs the question at stake, since the existence



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