In all honesty I think this part of philosophy is one of the main reasons many people dislike philosophy in general. Imagine you're an ordinary student attending an ordinary college and you bump into a doctoral student who's sitting at the college coffee shop and you strike up a conversation. This student is doing some sort of doctoral work in epistemology and is working on skepticism. What student would enjoy being grilled with such questions as, "How do you know that's true?" And, even after giving what a regular person would accept as a common sense answer to that question. The philosopher asks, "Well, how do you know that's true?" The student gives another different explanation of justification, to which the philosopher asks again, "How do you know that's true?" After only a few times most regular people would give up, shaking his or her head walking away from such conversations wondering why some people are so wrong in the head. Here's another tack. When I asked my wife some questions about justification and epistemology, after pressing the idea a bit she finally gave up and responded, "people need to think less and go to the beach more." (We live on a sub-tropical island in the South Pacific.) Epistemology, especially justification and skepticism can eventually devolve into an infinite regress. Now, these questions may make for interesting movie ideas like The Matrix and Inception, but it's more akin to irritating to an ordinary non-philosopher. So, let's talk about three different approaches to skepticism and how/why justification is such a hard topic.
Despite the character Cypher’s opinion that deception is better than the truth, I’m going to have to side with (well Morpheus and) Plato that it is much better to seek the truth and when one has at least caught a glimpse of it, pass it along so that everyone tries to unhook from the matrix or break the chains binding them in the cave. Though we can never get to that point, it’s better to live as if that isn’t the case and seek out knowledge than to slog on or stick one’s head in the sand doubting that we even have heads. Much like Professor Kreeft says of Aquinas building a huge philosophy on a single small foundational point. (Kreeft, 2009) We can rest on Descartes’ cogito ergo sum and build our epistemology from there. Even if we’re just brains in vats, at least we’re somebodies. Even without a body, our minds still exist. If this is some elaborate dream someday we’ll wake up. We should build our noetic structure a bit like this dome:
|If only everyone could hang out in places like this.|