Thursday, March 19, 2015

A brief note against skepticism

This is from Moreland's Kingdom Triangle.
A skeptic, to oversimply, is someone who does not believe we can have rational justification for our beliefs. 

The problem of criterion: let’s pretend we would want to put all our beliefs in two categories: the true or justified ones, and the false or unjustified ones. We have a problem, though. Before we can answer our question about the extent of our knowledge, we must first answer the question about our criteria of knowledge. Yet, to answer our question about criteria, we must first already know the extent of our knowledge (139).

So we are back to an old foundationalist problem: if we don’t know how we know things, how can we know anything at all or draw limits to human knowledge? There are three attempted solutions:

skepticism: no good solution exists and there is no knowledge.

methodism: Before I can know some specific proposition P, I must first know some criterion Q, and I must know that P measures up to Q. But this is problematic. It leads to a vicious infinite regress. The skeptic can then asks, “How is it that we know Q and R?” The methodist will have to offer a new criterion Q’ that specifies how he knows Q and another new criterion R’ that tells how he knows R. And the same problem will arise for Q’ and R’.

Particularism: we start by knowing specific, clear items of knowledge. I can know some things directly without needing to know how I know them. Does this beg the question? Not really, for the particularist can turn it around and ask the skeptic to give reasons for his skepticism. If he does that, then the same problem of criterion can be used against him. And we can only doubt if we have prior knowledge--otherwise, exactly what are we doubting? Finally, just because it is logically possible I am in error (or, e.g., I was born five minutes ago with pre-programmed memories) does not mean there are good reasons for believing that. 

Further, I can rebut the skeptic by showing he hasn’t shown his own position to be adequately true. I place the burden of proof on the skeptic.

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