I have a philosophy essay to write. As such, I have been reading and thinking a bit. Also, it means that I will do almost anything else that might possibly be considered useful, such as writing this blog post.
As you may know and certainly care about, I tend to find myself cast as 'a sceptic'. Sometimes I am even referred to as 'the sceptic'. That makes me feel important, yet alienated.
Generally, what this is taken to mean is that I am 'a difficult fool who doesn't believe in anything and why don't you just kill yourself then if everything's so meaningless and shut up'. While this seems to be a common response, to me scepticism is merely a suspension of judgement and an unwillingness to assert or accept that things are 'true', 'certain', etc. This seems to be difficult for many to understand – often what I am suggesting seems to be empty, cold and essentially unbearable. So, since I am thinking about it right now and am determined to not write this essay, I thought I would just outline what I think about 'knowledge'.
Here it is, roughly:
• All universal 'knowledge' claims are merely theories, until falsified. That is, it's not possible to 'prove' a universal claim (all swans are white, all men are mortal, etc.), rather, such claims can only be disproved (by a black swan, a dead man, etc.). This basically is in accordance with Popper's thoughts about science and induction.
• These theories are 'prioritized' or 'believed' based on pragmatic effectiveness and value – that is, we believe in and prioritize theory X because it enables us to achieve practical things, like building bridges.
• Therefore, 'knowledge' is not based on 'truth' or 'proven facts' but on acceptance of (ideally falsifiable) theories as a result of their practical success. That is, Newtonian physics became 'knowledge' over Aristotlean physics because it enabled us to solve more practical problems and was more in accordance with our evidence. Similarly, Einstein's theories became 'knowledge' over Newton for the same reasons – neither is more 'proven' than the other but one is more 'falsified' and the other it more practically useful. By my understanding, this is a bit like what Paul Feyerabend thinks, mixed with some pragmatism.
So there it is.
From this, it is hopefully clear that when I say things like 'knowledge doesn't exist', I mean that I don't think the comfortable, sure and certain type of 'knowledge' that we philosophers so want, exists. Rather, a constantly falsifiable and uncertain set of theories that enable us to accomplish practical things takes its place. As such, I have a tendency, due to my own laziness, to express this as 'there is no such thing as knowledge'. This is because I believe (and cannot seem to shake) that the word 'knowledge' necessarily implies certainty, truth and all that jazz – ideally, I would come up with a new word.
Also, I should come clean and point out that, as I am THE sceptic, I am suspicious even of existential knowledge claims – claims like, 'this swan is white' are reliant on our proven-to-be-inconsistent-and-at-times-unreliable senses – however, I generally try to avoid backing myself into that particular corner. As such, existential claims based on at-hand evidence are 'knowledge', I guess, just not very powerful. That is, because induction doesn't exist, to get from 'this swan is white' to any useful, general 'knowledge' (such as 'all swans are white'), the 'knower' has to make an additional claim that their particular, existential knowledge-nugget somehow extends to the universe.
Another thing in this realm that annoys me is the idea of Fallibilism. Basically, as far as I can tell, fallibilists are self-loathing sceptics – they don't believe in 'knowledge' either and are aware that everything they 'know' might be wrong (falsified), but keep using the word, 'knowledge', as if it implies certainty. I think this is because they are scaredy-pantses. To support this view, I have uploaded a flowchart I made a couple of years ago which, I believe, clearly marks the difference between sceptics and fallibilists.
That's all for now. Going to bed.
I'm trying to go to bed earlier and get up earlier at the moment, by the way. Also, I am trying to not eat badly. Further, the essay that I am 'doing' is not even due until Thursday yet I am already 'doing' it!
I know. I am 'reformed'.
I would love it if you left a comment here for me. Not to be desperate, but it would be nice. As I have an essay to write, I would almost-certainly respond to any comments left. What a gratifying experience it would be for both of us!