Reasonable Skepticism about Radical Skepticism
By Hendrik van der Breggen
Radical skepticism about the external world is the idea that we cannot have accurate knowledge about the physical world outside of our minds. That idea, if true, would block the truth-seeker’s attempt to gain knowledge of God based on God’s revelation in the physical world. We can, however, examine four types of radical skepticism concerning the external world—funky/pop skepticism, sensory skepticism, Kantian skepticism, and linguistic skepticism— and show that they fail.
According to funky/pop skepticism, our knowledge of the external world is blocked because various logical possibilities can be raised—that we are in a dream or are living in a computer-generated virtual reality, for example. This type of skepticism confuses possibility with plausibility.
According to sensory skepticism, we do not know the external world because we cannot trust our senses, since they have deceived us in the past. This skepticism fails, however, because from the fact that our senses sometimes deceive us, it does not follow that they always do.
According to Kantian skepticism, we do not know the world because the mind’s structures are a distorting influence on our knowledge of what is real. This view, however, seems to require at least some accurate, i.e., undistorted, knowledge of the reality and influence of the mind’s structures. But this requirement contradicts the core of Kantian skepticism (that the mind’s structures are a distorting influence on our knowledge of what is real), rendering its broader skeptical claims dubious.
According to linguistic skepticism, we do not know the world because language refers only to other language, it is a “prison” that keeps us from the world. This view of language, however, is false, because the existence of ostensive definition (definition by pointing) makes it possible for people to get out of the dictionary and to the world.
Other reasons also render the radical skepticisms seriously problematic. One significant reason is that the burden of proof rests on the shoulders of those who would deny the obvious; when radical skeptics fail to provide such proof, the obvious—the idea that we can know the external world—remains…
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