The only way for us to know that other finite objects exist, is by referencing our sensations. Consequently, human beings’ ability to know about the external world is subject to the examination of various arguments. The scope of knowledge in human beings is relative to the things that they can actually know. The concept of human knowledge applies to various philosophical theories including epistemology, realism, and skepticism. Knowledge can either be externalized or internalized depending on its genesis. Internal knowledge is governed by the sensual abilities of a person while external-knowledge goes beyond these capabilities. Nevertheless, it is safe to argue that knowledge among human beings is largely limited to sensory abilities. Therefore, it is unlikely that human beings have any knowledge concerning the external world.
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Generally, human beings have no knowledge concerning the availability of things and existences that are beyond their mental comprehension. For instance, it is safe to assume that a person can only know about the existence of a certain object in relation to parallel existences. For example, as human beings we know about the road in relation to our feet or the spoon that is related to food. Therefore, all our knowledge as human beings is relative to another piece of knowledge. For instance, we only know about spoons in relation to the knowledge of mouths and we know roads because we are aware of other relative objects like cars and feet. Human knowledge is therefore related to “facts about sensations and other mental phenomena” (Davidson 192).
Most of the facts that human beings know about are merely plausible arguments. In most situations, human beings use these plausible arguments to appeal to their sensations. The parallels between the internal and external worlds are useful in examining the scope of knowledge. For example, various philosophers have used the concepts of reality and dream world to examine if human beings have knowledge of the external world. When human beings dream, the events that unfold during these episodes are only separated from the internal world when the dreamer wakes up. On the other hand, if a dreamer does not wake up and continues to dream for a longer period, the dream would constitute his/her internal world. The hypothesis of the dream world conjures up elements of ambiguity when it comes to external knowledge. For all we know, what we as human beings perceive as reality could be just an unending dream. The possibility of a scenario where the dream world cannot be distinguished from reality eliminates the likelihood of ‘beyond-doubt’ knowledge of an external world.
The ability to ‘know something’ is connected to ‘basic beliefs’. Basic beliefs refer to the fundamental truths that are held by human beings without the possibility of them being challenged. In addition, because human beings lack a basic belief that encompasses the existence of an eternal world, it is impossible for them to know about the availability of such a world. Consequently, all basic beliefs are considered to be knowledge. Before another outside belief is accepted as knowledge, it has to pass the test of ‘basic beliefs’. An example of basic belief in context is when someone is having a visual experience where he/she is watching a newscaster on the television screen. Consequently, it is prudent to explore how this situation may be replicated when the external world is involved. Any knowledge that is held by human beings is in relation to basic senses like eyesight and hearing. Therefore, human beings can only use their senses to perceive an external world. In the process of proving the existence of an external world, human beings end up “trying to prove the reliability of their impressions by appealing to the same impressions” (Vogel 659). This makes the argument about an external world a circle that leads to nowhere. Any attempts by human beings to prove the existence of an external world only takes them back to relying on their sensations. For us to be able to illustrate the existence of an external world, we would have to use sensations that directly make contact with this outside existence. The overall argument against the knowledge of an external world is that “every proposition we know must either be a basic belief…a belief that we are sure cannot be mistaken…or the conclusion of a valid argument which has only basic beliefs as premises”( Stroud 347).
Knowledge of an external world should also be accompanied by a comprehension of the existence of other minds. All those who are skeptical about the existence of an external world wonder if it is possible to know about the reality of the “existence and sensations and other mental events belonging to creatures other than themselves” (Davidson 193). If the answer to this question is no, then it is unlikely that human being have knowledge concerning an external world. For example, it is almost impossible for human beings to feel the pain of other people. On the other hand, human beings are unable to perceive the contents of other minds but can only perceive bodies. Those who lay claim to the knowledge of an external world only rely on their ‘perception of other beings’ bodies as their evidence for existence of other minds’ (Neta 5). Given that the evidence about the existence of other minds is unsatisfactory, it is prudent to assume that it cannot be known for sure that other minds exist out there. Human beings assume that the contents of their own mind are replicated in the minds of others. This hypothesis shows that the premise of external knowledge cannot be scientifically proven.
Nevertheless, proponents of the existence of a physical world propagate the argument that it is possible to establish the existence of other minds using simple logic. For instance, human beings claim to observe and ascertain that there is a relationship between the occurrence of some physical manifestations and specific mental incidences. For example, whenever a human sees another human crying he/she can conclude that the latter is experiencing mental distress. This argument supports the knowledge of an external world but bears signs of basic generalization. This form of inductive reasoning cannot be relied on in explaining the external world.
The question of whether human beings have the knowledge of the external world can be answered using basic philosophical principles. Knowledge of the external world can only be proved by human beings using their ‘basic-beliefs’ mechanism. However, people do not enlist the concept of an external world as part of their basic beliefs. Consequently, there is no way for human beings to prove their knowledge of an external world. In addition, because it is impossible to distinguish between reality and dream world, it cannot be known whether an external world exists.
Davidson, Donald. “Epistemology externalized.” Dialectica 45.2 (1991): 191-202.
Neta, Ram. “Contextualism and the Problem of the External World.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66.1 (2003): 1-31. Print.
Stroud, Barry. “Epistemological reflection on knowledge of the external world.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 12.1 (2006): 345-358. Print.
Vogel, Jonathan. “Cartesian skepticism and inference to the best explanation.” Philosophical studies 70.3 (2009): 658-666. Print.