Progress beyond radical skepticism
Wednesday July 12, 2023
Radical skepticism claims that nothing is knowable, but such a claim is not itself knowable. The solution is to remove all claims, and then choose to build.
The traditional argument for radical skepticism is from doubt. For any claim, an inconsistent alternative can be introduced that cannot be disproved, leaving the original claim less than perfectly justified. In this way, all knowledge can be removed, meaning made uncertain.
An analytic argument for radical skepticism is that if all knowledge requires sufficient reason, and arguments are neither circular nor infinite, there can be no knowledge because there is no “first” knowledge, which would be knowledge without sufficient reason. In this way, no knowledge can be built up.
The arguments for radical skepticism are good, but it is difficult to then state exactly what the claim of radical skepticism is.
The so-called Socratic paradox is the statement that “I know that I know nothing.” Read strictly, this is not a paradox, but simply a false statement, regardless of whether Socrates knows anything.
If Socrates says instead “I know that I know nothing, including this,” he has contradicted himself, as he says both that he knows and he doesn't know. A contradiction cannot constitute knowledge, and variants like “I am uncertain about everything, including this,” sound less problematic only superficially.
If Socrates says, “I know that I know nothing, other than this knowledge of my limitation,“ he is still incorrect. Either he knows some reason to hold this belief, in which case he knows more than he says, or he knows without reason, which is not knowledge but assumption.
The trouble is that if we manage to know anything, then radical skepticism is falsified. The radical skepticism that makes a claim is not the true radical skepticism.
The most defensible expression of radical skepticism is silence, and in this form it is correct. Nothing comes from nothing, and anything can be doubted.
True radical skepticism is in a sense pre-rational. Even to reason about radical skepticism requires assuming the ability to reason. Any thought is outside the pure domain of radical skepticism.
From the primordial void of radical skepticism, thought can grow. At every stage of this evolution, what is known is contingent on what developed prior. Every addition is a choice.
Socrates could say, “I assume that I know nothing other than this one assumption,” but this would be a dead end.