The Problem of the Existence of the Outside World

The Problem of the Existence of the Outside World

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

The philosophical approaches that Moore and Russell found themselves in and opposed in the early 20th century can be broadly termed as idealism. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in England, the views of idealist metaphysicians influenced by Leibniz and Hegel, such as F. H. Bradley or John Mc Taggart, predominate. Both Moore and Russell rejected such idealism and became the founders of what is now called the analytic philosophy tradition. The position that Moore advocates is commonly referred to as common sense realism.

The problem that Moore is trying to solve can be expressed as follows: Our knowledge of the outside world is based on sensations and sensory experiences. However, sensory experiences are special events that occur in the consciousness of the perceiver. In contrast, our knowledge of the external world is knowledge of objects that are publicly available to other perceivers. Thus, there is a gap (a chasm) between the property of sensory experience (experiential specificity) and the publicity (independence from the experiencer) of the knowledge we have based on this particular evidence. How will this gap be overcome?

The problem that Moore is trying to solve can be expressed as follows: Our knowledge of the outside world is based on sensations and sensory experiences. However, sensory experiences are special events that occur in the consciousness of the perceiver. In contrast, our knowledge of the external world is knowledge of objects that are publicly available to other perceivers. Thus, there is a gap (a chasm) between the property of sensory experience (experiential specificity) and the publicity (independence from the experiencer) of the knowledge we have based on this particular evidence. How will this gap be overcome?

Moore later maintains this common sense stance in his 1939 article entitled “Proof of an External World”. One argument he presents in this article is particularly interesting. “Here’s a hand,” Moore said, raising his right hand. and raising his left hand, “And here’s another hand.” and from this point of view, he can conclude that there are at least two objects in the world that exist outside me. So there is the outside world. Although skeptics do not find such an argument very convincing, Moore states that the arguments presented by skeptics to support their philosophical assumptions are based on weaker foundations than his own.

Wittgenstein was influenced by Moore’s hand proof and tried to develop a different approach to this proof. There are interesting views on this subject in Wittgenstein’s posthumous work On Certainty.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook