Skepticism in Russel´s The Problems of Philosophy

505 Words3 Pages
Of course it is not by argument that we originally come by our belief in an independent external world. We find this belief ready in ourselves as soon as we begin to reflect: it is what may be called an instinctive belief. We should never have been led to question this belief but for the fact that, at any rate in the case of sight, it seems as if the sense-datum itself were instinctively believed to be the independent object, whereas argument shows that the object cannot be identical with the sense-datum The first sentence of Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy expresses his skeptical roots: "Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it?" (Russell 7). His answer to the question is clearly no, and before we come to the end of the second page he claims that "anything. . . may be reasonably doubted" (Russell 8). He questions everything from the existence of the table to whether other minds exist. He asserts that reality is not what it appears and that "even the strangest hypothesis may not be true" (Russell 16). Regardless of this fact, Russell proceeds to explain which things are self-evident truths for him; i.e. that which is certain knowledge for him. He claims that the most certain kind of self-evident truths are the "principles of logic" (Russell 112). The only other kinds of self-evident truths for Russell "are those which are immediately derived from sensation" (Russell 113). These are what Russell calls sense-data. Examples of sense data are things like "brown colour, oblong shape, smoothness, etc." all of which are associated with external objects (Russell 12). The immediate perception of a patch of blue is, therefore, intuitively certain according to Russell. Despite all this certain knowledge, Russell still admits that the possibility "that [the] outer world is nothing but a dream and that [I] alone exist…cannot be strictly proved to be false" (Russell 17). I find it astonishing that he concedes that all knowledge is ultimately uncertain and then goes on to proclaim some semblance of certainty for himself. Also, he concludes by saying that it is the process of asking skeptical questions that is important to philosophy, not whether an answer can be found. Thus, Russell’s doubt is not evidently driven by the sense of separateness that Cavell refers to. He is by no means despairing.

More about Skepticism in Russel´s The Problems of Philosophy

Open Document