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  • Are our senses reliable?

    I have given this issue, probably less thought then it deserves, but have come across an idea, that I hope you all could further articulate and/or critque. Essentially, claiming that your senses arent reliable, is a self-refuting statement, because in order to affirm your senses aren't reliable, you must have reliable senses. For, atleast in this case, to make a claim about the empirical world, you must have some knowledge of it, which can only be gained through sense experience. Let me know what you think.

  • #2
    Originally posted by ClassicalLiberal.Theist View Post
    Essentially, claiming that your senses arent reliable, is a self-refuting statement, because in order to affirm your senses aren't reliable, you must have reliable senses.
    Others have discovered this too. Basically, how can you reliably claim that the senses are not reliable when it takes verification of the senses to make the claim? And the verification must be reliable to some reasonable degree, in order for the claim to be serious.

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    • #3
      Since you've explicitly asked for criticism, I'll (briefly) disturb the waters:

      The ancient skeptic would reply that he's not committed to the reliability of the senses. You (or whoever he's arguing against) are. He's just showing how your position leads to incoherency. (He's trying to force you to suspend judgment over whether the senses are reliable.)

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      • #4
        Originally posted by John West View Post
        Since you've explicitly asked for criticism, I'll (briefly) disturb the waters:

        The ancient skeptic would reply that he's not committed to the reliability of the senses. You (or whoever he's arguing against) are. He's just showing how your position leads to incoherency. (He's trying to force you to suspend judgment over whether the senses are reliable.)
        He is, however, commited to his own arguments and to his position that one ought to suspend judgment in these matters. And if so, he is implicitly commited to the belief that his acceptance of that position is justified to some degree. But his belief will ultimately be based on appearances - how it seems to him that his arguments are correct and how it seems to him that one should suspend judgment, and how it seems to him that he knows the concepts he is using, and that his memory isn't failing, and so on. But that would require some form of phenomenal conservatism; and phenomenal conservatism can in turn justify belief in an external world, contra skepticism.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Atno
          He is, however, commited to his own arguments
          The ancient skeptic is going to reply the same way for all his arguments. His whole enterprise is ad hominem. That is, his arguments to his interlocutor are only meant to apply to that interlocutor. (I don't mean that he assumes people are wrong because of facts about them.)

          and to his position that one ought to suspend judgment in these matters.
          The skeptic doesn't think that one ought to suspend judgment in these matters. He thinks that one simply does. I think that he's wrong. But I could have rephrased the point by saying that the skeptic is trying to force his interlocutor into a state of evidential equipoise and avoided the problem.

          But his belief will ultimately be based on appearances
          The skeptic will say that he doesn't have any belief. He'll say he's just acting according to appearances, responding to stimuli, etc. This has led to controversy among scholars of ancient skeptics over how exactly they thought they acted or did anything without beliefs, and conflicting interpretations of the main surviving skeptical texts (especially Sextus).

          how it seems to him that his arguments are correct
          The ancient skeptic (the Pyrrhonian, in this case) doesn't think that his arguments are correct. Rather, he sees himself as like a doctor trying to purge an ailment in a patient and engages in acts of rhetoric towards that end.

          and how it seems to him that he knows the concepts he is using, and that his memory isn't failing, and so on.
          The skeptic will say that he's just following how his concepts seem without committing himself, defeasibly or otherwise, to the reality of how or whether they are. Likewise memory. He doesn't think that how things seem is a guide to how they are, and gives the ten modes of Aenesidemus (of which you can find the first five here) to show this.
          Last edited by John West; 03-03-2019, 01:10 PM.

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          • #6
            I feel like I should include something to keep people from getting the wrong idea. I actually have a pretty harsh opinion of the ancient skeptics, but I don't think they have much to fear from CL's argument. Sextus makes much the same point when he tries to show the circularity of proving the senses' reliability in the Outlines.
            Last edited by John West; 03-03-2019, 01:42 PM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by John West View Post

              The ancient skeptic is going to reply the same way for all his arguments. His whole enterprise is ad hominem. That is, his arguments to his interlocutor are only meant to apply to that interlocutor. (I don't mean that he assumes people are wrong because of facts about them.)



              The skeptic doesn't think that one ought to suspend judgment in these matters. He thinks that one simply does. I think that he's wrong. But I could have rephrased the point by saying that the skeptic is trying to force his interlocutor into a state of evidential equipoise and avoided the problem.



              The skeptic will say that he doesn't have any belief. He'll say he's just acting according to appearances, responding to stimuli, etc. This has led to controversy among scholars of ancient skeptics over how exactly they thought they acted or did anything without beliefs, and conflicting interpretations of the main surviving skeptical texts (especially Sextus).



              The ancient skeptic (the Pyrrhonian, in this case) doesn't think that his arguments are correct. Rather, he sees himself as like a doctor trying to purge an ailment in a patient and engages in acts of rhetoric towards that end.



              The skeptic will say that he's just following how his concepts seem without committing himself, defeasibly or otherwise, to the reality of how or whether they are. Likewise memory. He doesn't think that how things seem is a guide to how they are, and gives the ten modes of Aenesidemus (of which you can find the first five here) to show this.
              The skeptic therefore is revealed to have no clothes. His position is at best unjustified and self-defeating; at worst, meaningless. We have a succesful retorsion against the skeptic, and a rational justification for belief in the external world.

              I don't know if CL's argument works on its own. But phenomenal conservatism does refute the skeptic. And we should remember that PC is not a principle of inferential justification; it requires no previous beliefs; including belief in phenomenal conservatism. It's just the seeming that internally justifies belief.
              Last edited by Atno; 03-03-2019, 02:15 PM.

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              • #8
                But the skeptic doesn't have a position in this scenario. He's showing how his interlocutors' positions fail entirely by their own lights. He would say that he doesn't have a broader position either, that he can't lack justification for something he doesn't have, and that it begs the question against him to assume that he has a position. (The skeptics called this living beliefless or adoxastos.) Even the replies the interpreters bicker over are typically taken to be ad hominem gambits in this way by believers in the radical interpretations of the Pyrrhonians I've been defending.

                The skeptic does, in spite of himself, end up committed to various things, I think, like his views about how to achieve ataraxia (tranquility) and the law of noncontradiction. But I don't see how any of those commitments help CL without further theses the skeptic would call into question.
                Last edited by John West; 03-03-2019, 02:43 PM.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by John West View Post
                  But the skeptic doesn't have a position in this scenario. He's showing how his interlocutors' positions fail entirely by their own lights. He would say that he doesn't have a broader position either, that he can't lack justification for something he doesn't have, and that it begs the question against him to assume that he has a position. (The skeptics called this living beliefless or adoxastos.) Even the replies the interpreters bicker over are typically taken to be ad hominem gambits in this way by believers in the radical interpretations of the Pyrrhonians I've been defending.

                  The skeptic does, in spite of himself, end up committed to various things, I think, like his views about how to achieve ataraxia (tranquility) and the law of noncontradiction. But I don't see how any of those commitments help CL without further theses the skeptic would call into question.
                  That's the "meaningless" part to me. They are skeptics, not vegetables; they cannot "show" anything without having some arguments, beliefs, positions, epistemic seemings of contradiction, of what they're dealing with, of how one should act or have justification for his own views, of the meanings of terms, and so on. Meaningless.

                  Again I don't know whether CL's argument works, but phenomenal conservatism does, and the skeptic presupposes it.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Atno
                    That's the "meaningless" part to me. They are skeptics, not vegetables; they cannot "show" anything without having some arguments, beliefs, positions, epistemic seemings of contradiction, of what they're dealing with, of how one should act or have justification for his own views, of the meanings of terms, and so on. Meaningless.
                    I think the skeptic will raise the same two standard responses: (i) the skeptic will say that he only appears to himself to have those things, and that he's just living by those appearances and (ii) that, anyway, he only needs you to think that he has those things to show that by your lights your views are incoherent. He doesn't need to himself think that he has those things. He might reiterate the first response ad infinitum if you ask about his beliefs about those appearances.

                    Again I don't know whether CL's argument works, but phenomenal conservatism does, and the skeptic presupposes it.
                    That may be, but you haven't shown that here.
                    Last edited by John West; 03-03-2019, 06:09 PM. Reason: To replace an earlier draft of the post with the one that was meant to go up.

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                    • #11
                      This latest really boils down to a version of the apraxia charge, which is well-trod ground in the literature. Rather than act as a mouthpiece for that literature, I recommend The Original Sceptics: A Controversy. It compiles some of the major papers for and against. I also liked Katja Maria Vogt's taxonomy of versions in “Scepticism and action”. I wanted to blog about this topic at one point, but I realized that I simply have nothing to add to the mountains of literature already out there on it. The charge was apparently popular and much disputed in ancient times as well.

                      I'm happy to bow out and leave this here if apraxia is where you want to go. It's a good topic. I just have other things to do and don't really feel like covering old ground right now.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by John West View Post

                        I think the skeptic will raise the same two standard responses: (i) the skeptic will say that he only appears to himself to have those things, and that he's just living by those appearances and (ii) that, anyway, he only needs you to think that things are that way to show that by your lights they're incoherent. He doesn't need to himself think they're meaningful. He might reiterate the first response ad infinitum if you ask about his beliefs about those appearances.



                        That may be, but you haven't shown that here.
                        (i) is valid through phenomenal conservatism, which can be used to refute skepticism. The skeptic is trusting how things appear to him and is living by these appearances; the same could be said for anyone. He cannot justifiably doubt or suspend judgment unless he simultaneously trusts a number of appearances relevant to the subject, otherwise skepticism is simply unjustified, without any epistemic probability, nothing challenging to any belief (ii) it doesn't work because the objection he proposes to me could only possibly be justified if phenomenal conservatism were true; if his objection to X is only justified if X is true, then the objection is self-defeating. He needs to trust the appearances behind his own arguments in order to justify any force to them (perhaps in trying to convince me) to object to phenomenal conservatism.
                        Last edited by Atno; 03-03-2019, 06:12 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Atno
                          (i) is valid through phenomenal conservatism, which can be used to refute skepticism. The skeptic is trusting how things appear to him and is living by these appearances; the same could be said for anyone.
                          But, unlike the phenomenal conservative (and probably the ordinary man), he's not saying that things actually are the way they seem or operating on a defeasible presupposition that they are. He draws a sharp distinction between appearance and reality.

                          (ii) it doesn't work because the objection he proposes to me could only possibly be justified if phenomenal conservatism were true; if his objection to X is only justified if X is true, then the objection is self-defeating.
                          This is false as a point of logic. We suppose other people's positions without really believing them to reduce them to absurdity all the time. This stands out especially in symbolic logic where we have little notations that we use to let people know when we're doing that. He only wants you to suspend judgment. He presumably has already reached ataraxia independently and thrown away the ladder that got him there.
                          Last edited by John West; 03-03-2019, 06:28 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by John West View Post

                            But, unlike the phenomenal conservative (and probably the ordinary man), he's not saying that things actually are the way they seem or operating on a defeasible presupposition that they are. He draws a sharp distinction between appearance and reality.



                            This is false as a point of logic. We suppose other people's positions without really believing them to reduce them to absurdity all the time. This stands out especially in symbolic logic where we have little notations that we use to let people know when we're doing that. He only wants you to suspend judgment. He presumably has already reached ataraxia independently and thrown away the ladder that got him there.
                            But the skeptic isn't properly offering a reductio; it's not that he assumes the PC theorist's position to show it doesn't work (how exactly he would do this without begging the question I don't know; PC is about internalist justification; if he assumes our seemings gives us justification to believe then PC is correct, the most he could do would be to try to concoct defeaters for common beliefs, but not an argument against PC itself; PC is not a principle of inferential justification), somehow revealing an internal inconsistency or an absurd consequence of PC itself. He cannot give an argument that arguments do not work, in any case; and he cannot attempt to justify suspending judgment (instead of believing in a claim, say) without opening the doors to a PC that allows one to justify the beliefs he wants to argue cannot be justifiably held. And if he doesn't do anything then he simply fails to engage PC as a potential self-evident principle of justification.

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                            • #15

                              Originally posted by Atno
                              But the skeptic isn't properly offering a reductio; it's not that he assumes the PC theorist's position to show it doesn't work (how exactly he would do this without begging the question I don't know; PC is about internalist justification; if he assumes our seemings gives us justification to believe then PC is correct, the most he could do would be to try to concoct defeaters for common beliefs, but not an argument against PC itself; PC is not a principle of inferential justification), somehow revealing an internal inconsistency or an absurd consequence of PC itself. He cannot give an argument that arguments do not work, in any case; and he cannot attempt to justify suspending judgment (instead of believing in a claim, say) without opening the doors to a PC that allows one to justify the beliefs he wants to argue cannot be justifiably held.
                              Well, the thread wasn't originally about phenomenal conservatism. It was about the reliability of the senses. The skeptic argues that assuming the reliability of the senses, we arrive at the conclusion that they're unreliable. But they can't be both reliable and unreliable, so we must suspend judgment about whether the senses are reliable.

                              You're trying to plonk down a piece of theory to save the day. You, however, need to do two things. (i) You need show how that theory actually sorts out the conflicting appearances. The Aenesideman modes never actually leave the ground of the naive experiences PC presumably aspires to justify and so it's not immediately obvious that it has any bearing on them at all. (The point of the Aenesideman modes is that if we just trust our naive experience, we run into contradictions among the givings of that same experience.) (ii) You need to show that the theory itself is justified and doesn't just beg the question against one of the two conflicting appearances. (So, for example, just asserting that viewing things from certain angles or distances is preferable to viewing them from others isn't enough. You need actual reasons for preferring some spatial positions to others.)

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