Skepticism (Septicism) and Refutation of SkepticismJune 29, 2021
Skeptics have gone so far as to argue that we can know nothing, that is, have no justified knowledge of anything.
To have such knowledge, according to skeptics, we must justify it using a method, that is, by following a certain criterion. However, knowledge gained by this criterion would be justified knowledge only on the condition that we know in advance that the criterion applied by us is a reliable criterion, one that never leads to error but always leads to truth. In order to find out whether our criterion is a reliable criterion, we will need to use another criterion, which must be examined in a critical way, before we trust the criterion itself, and this ad finitum will go on. Thus, it is not possible to find a way to lead us to a made-up knowledge about anything.
Anyone persuaded by the skeptics will have to admit that we cannot obtain justified knowledge about anything, that we cannot say that something exists (or fact), and that as a result we cannot claim that an idea is justified, that it agrees with reality. If the skeptics’ argument were accepted, we would have to admit that we would never be able to obtain justified knowledge of the fact that an opinion was true, provided we understood the word ‘true’ according to the classical definition of truth.
The difficulties posed by the skeptics are not merely those of the classical conception of truth; they affect equally strongly other definitions of truth that describe the truth of an idea as conformity with criteria. If, as the skeptics argue, there is indeed a possibility that we may not get justified information about anything, then it is by no means possible for us to get that information about the fact of agreement between considerations and criteria. Therefore, there is no reason to avoid the difficulties arising from the arguments that skeptics bring against the classical definition of truth, and there is no reason why we should accept the definition of truth, which equates the truth of a thought with agreement with criteria, instead of the classical definition of truth. By abandoning the classical definition and accepting another definition of truth, we are once again faced with the objections that truth defined in one way or another cannot be known to the same extent.
However, do the skeptics’ arguments justify this terrible thesis? If we answer this question in the affirmative and accept that the skeptics’ arguments are valid, we are in conflict with accepting the skeptic’s thesis. On the one hand, we will argue that nothing can be justified by accepting the skeptic’s thesis; On the other hand, we will admit that something (or at least the skeptic’s thesis itself) can be justified against the skeptic’s thesis by acknowledging that the arguments of the skeptics justify their thesis. Skeptics themselves are aware of this difficulty. To avoid this difficulty, they pointed out that their thesis about the impossibility of a justified knowledge was not categorically asserted, but merely expressed how it seemed to them, while suspending judgment as to whether it was indeed the case. The skeptics did not feel compelled to justify any view, except being conscious of what was going on in their minds. They portrayed themselves as seekers of truth but who have yet to find it.
If we put aside the difficulties of the skeptical viewpoint that we have just discussed, and if we direct ourselves directly to the skeptic’s argument itself, we can easily see an error contained in this argument. Skeptics argue that in order to obtain justified information, it must be arrived at using a criterion that we must know in advance to be reliable. In other words, in order to obtain justified information of any kind, according to skeptics, it is not enough for skeptics to simply have at our disposal a reliable criterion by which we can justify this information, but we also need to know that this criterion itself is reliable.
Here lies the mistake of the skeptics. This is the point that to justify a claim it is sufficient for us to arrive at it by applying a reliable criterion, whereas we do not need to know that the criterion used is itself reliable. Knowledge of whether our criterion is reliable is not necessary to justify an argument reached in accordance with the criterion. We only need to be sure that we have justified the argument in question.
To justify an argument is one thing, to know that the argument has been justified is quite another. It’s one thing to do something properly and completely, it’s another thing to know that it was done that way by someone. So don’t justify an argument.