Skepticism and Knowledge
The “brain-in-a-vat” (BIV) hypothesis is a classic example of how a skeptic argues about any knowledge of the real world we may possess. According to this hypothesis, the fact that we possess certain knowledge A about something (for example, that we have two arms and two legs) entails that we must also possess another piece of knowledge B (in our case, that we are not a mere brain in a vat). Furthermore, if we know that we are not a mere BIV, than we must also possess certain evidence which could rule out every single possibility that we might be a brain in a vat.
However, a skeptic reasons, it is impossible for us to have any sufficient evidence that all such possibilities can be ruled out as we can’t rely on any empirical knowledge or experiences which may be manipulated by computers or a group of scientists. Therefore, a skeptic concludes, it is not possible for us to know anything at all and knowledge A that we believe to have is false (Pritchard “Contemporary Skepticism”). In my opinion, this conclusion is false because at least the first two premises of the skeptic’s argument are false, and the third premise is not relevant to the skeptic’s conclusion about knowledge.
According to premise 1 of the argument, if we possess one particular piece of knowledge A (that we have two arms and two legs), then we automatically must possess another piece of knowledge B (that we are not a BIV) (Pritchard “Contemporary Skepticism”). My opinion is that this premise is false as the mere fact that we have knowledge A about the real world does not mean that we necessarily have knowledge B. The fact that we know that we have two arms, two legs, ten fingers, are reading at this moment, etc may entail that we know that we do not have three arms, three legs, eleven fingers, are not singing at this moment, etc.
But this practical knowledge has nothing to do with theoretical knowledge whether our life is manipulated by a group of scientists or not, whether there is life on Mars or not, etc. It is important to discern that there are different categories of knowledge which are not at all interrelated and may exist apart from each other. After all, we do not know a lot even about our own world, let alone about life on other planets, but that lack of knowledge does not prevent us from having some knowledge about certain verified things that are part of our everyday life.
According to premise 2 of the argument, if we know that we have knowledge B (that we are not a BIV), then we must have some evidence that supports that knowledge (Pritchard “Contemporary Skepticism”). I believe that this premise is false as we may know some things about the external world without being able to provide any evidence. The second premise is based on the same claim as the first premise, but just as in the first premise, the first part of the second premise must not necessarily be relevant to its second part.
Regardless of whether we are right or wrong, we may still know somehow that we are not manipulated by a group of scientists or computers (that we are not a BIV) without possessing any evidence supporting that knowledge. After all, humanity uses a lot of axioms that are generally accepted as true without being proved to be so. It is, therefore, possible to possess a piece of knowledge without evidence and the mere fact that we are unable to prove or deny whether we live in a real or imagined world (whether we are a mere brain in a vat or not) does not necessarily mean that we are unable to believe that our world is real.
According to premise 3 of the skeptical hypothesis, we can be sure to possess any knowledge of something only after we refute every single objection to this knowledge. But as we are unable to prove anything we know about the external world (and that we are not a BIV), then we possess no real knowledge (and knowledge A is false) (Pritchard “Contemporary Skepticism”). My opinion is that it is impossible to provide any clear evidence which could support or deny the BIV hypothesis and I will not try to refute it.
However, this premise suggests that any knowledge is real only when it has evidence that is irrefutable and absolute. On the one hand, absolute concepts and things can’t, in fact, be 100% absolute although we usually think that they are. For example, we can say that a box is absolutely empty because it does not contain any objects. But, upon reflection, we conclude that even though the box at issue contains no visible objects, it is still full of air, and the proposition that it is absolutely empty is thus false.
On the other hand, as it was mentioned above, we do not have to possess any absolute and irrefutable evidence to prove certain categories of knowledge. Consequently, a skeptic’s argument that in order to really know something we must rule out all possibilities of error and which means that only absolute knowledge of something can be considered as true knowledge is, in fact, false (Pritchard “Contemporary Skepticism”). As a result, the mere fact that we do not know whether we are a BIV does not mean that we do not know how many arms and legs we have or what we are currently doing.
In other words, we come to know certain everyday truths because we know their relevant entailments and which do not depend on other irrelevant conclusions such as whether we are a BIV or not as skeptics maintain (Pritchard “Contemporary Skepticism”). After having carefully examined these arguments against the dependence of some basic knowledge on our abilities to eliminate all the possibilities of error, a skeptic might object that all our everyday knowledge is based on empirical experiences and evidence which are often deceitful, are not trustworthy, and can easily mislead us in our beliefs and knowledge of the real world.
Our knowledge that we have two arms and two legs, or that we are currently singing and not dancing, is based on our senses which are an unreliable source of whatever knowledge of the reality we come to. A skeptic might cite a compelling example of a stone, a stick, or other objects that are in water and at which we are looking. Although in reality these objects may be straight, we see them slightly bent or distorted which does not reflect their real appearance.
It is, therefore, wrong to make conclusions about the real world or to come to any knowledge of it using empirical evidence and experiences which are deceitful and unreliable. As a result, a skeptic might conclude, we are unable to have any true knowledge of the external world regardless of whether it concerns the question whether we are a brain in a vat manipulated by others, or whether we know how many arms and legs we possess or what we are doing at a particular moment.
As a result, any knowledge that we believe we may possess is based on conclusions derived from our senses which are an unreliable source, and does not reflect the reality (Klein “Skepticism”). At first glance, this skeptic argument against the possibility of having any knowledge is reasonable and seems to undermine the anti-skeptic conclusions reached above. However, it should be noted that our senses may indeed deceive us when we are faced with experiences such as a distorted image of a straight stick in water for the first time.
But as we gain more and more experience and reach some conclusions about ordinary propositions that this experience confirms to be true, we become able to discern cases when our senses may deceive us and can’t be a reliable source of our knowledge and cases when empirical evidence is a reliable base for certain knowledge we possess. A skeptic counterargument, therefore, can’t be applicable in all cases and is a weak one to refute the anti-skeptic argument that we do possess a lot of knowledge which is based on empirical evidence and experiences (Klein “Skepticism”).
All in all, a skeptic hypothesis that we are unable to have any knowledge of the external world on the grounds that we are unable to confirm or refute the fact that the world we live in is not real and may be manipulated by others, proves false since some of our knowledge is not dependant on whether our world is a real or imagined one. Works Cited Klein, Peter. “Skepticism. ” 05 March 2009 ? http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/skepticism/? Pritchard, Duncan. “Contemporary Skepticism. ” 05 March 2009 <http://www. iep. utm. edu/s/skepcont. htm>Sample Essay of PapersOwl.com