Skepticism is a philosophical doctrine the aim of which is to question the things that are regarded as simply acceptable by the others. Skepticism can be scientific, religious, and philosophical. Considering skepticism as a philosophical doctrine is the most interesting because it gives an opportunity to acquire a new perspective on the perception of life. With regards to philosophy, skepticism avoids making truth claims. However, skeptics do not deny truth because stating that truth is impossible would be a truth claim by itself. Among the most well-known skeptics there is Rene Descartes who is believed to have developed global skepticism trying to find absolute certainty to base his philosophy on. His argument that absolute certainty exists bred external world skepticism, or the idea that human senses are deceptive and that, in reality, none of the people can know for sure that they live in a definite place and have a definite appearance. One of the most compelling arguments for skepticism about the external world concerns the existence of material objects; this argument can be considered with regards to qualitative illusion, the reality of these objects, and the questions about their qualities.
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First of all, according to the external world skepticism, the objects surrounding people are a result of qualitative illusion. For instance, Butchvarov mentions that qualitative illusion can be regarded as “unreality of a perceived perceptual expanse, and thus the problem of its distinguishability from qualitative vertical perception can be understood as a special case of the problem of the distinguishability of unreal objects of perception from real ones” (57). This, of course, is possible only if the real objects do exist. All the material objects are perceived by people the way they are only because their consciousness makes them believe that these objects really look like this. A bright example of this argument is the movie The Matrix according to which all the people live in virtual reality and the objects that surround them have the qualities that the system allows them to have. Therefore, owing to the qualitative illusion, people perceive the material objects incorrectly and can never be sure that something they hold in their hands is indeed what they think it is.
Secondly, as stated by the external world skeptics, it is not the qualities of the objects that should be questioned, but their reality as such. The greatest question here is whether the object a person holds in his/her hands really exists or whether this person is made to believe that he/she holds this object. A perfect illustration of this is an episode from The Matrix where Neo watches a little boy bending a spoon by only looking at it. In this episode the reality of the objects surrounding people is questioned. The boy convinces Neo that bending the spoon is possible and that it is not necessary to possess paranormal abilities to be able to do this. One has only to believe that the spoon does not exist because it is so indeed. Similarly, the external world skepticism questions the reality of all the material objects surrounding people prior to questioning the qualities of these objects, such as shape, smell, taste, etc. Therefore, it is typical for the external world skeptics to state that the material objects may not be real.
And finally, the qualities of the material object are worth questioning only if one makes sure that the object is real. Taking into account this belief of the external world skepticism, “questions about what qualities a perceived material object really has can arise only if we have answered affirmatively the questions whether the object is real” (Butchvarov 57). This further creates an idea that an unreal (or hallucinatory) object is perceived by people in a definite way because the system makes the person believe that this object has these qualities. With regards to this, one of the most frequent questions asked by the external world skeptics is which qualities the material objects have indeed. However, asking this question does not make any sense, as long as a person is not sure that the object (even though with hallucinatory qualities) exists at all or its existence is dictated by the system as well. Thus, before asking the questions about the qualities of the material objects, the real existence of these objects has to be questioned.
In conclusion, skepticism makes people consider the issues they have never paid attention to before. For instance, external world skepticism makes it possible to question the existence of the objects people are surrounded by. External world skepticism states that these objects are perceived by people in a definite way due to qualitative illusion. However, even though the qualities of the objects around us should be questioned, it does not make sense doing so until the reality (and the existence) of these objects is proven. In this way, people should not believe everything around them because their senses are deceptive; thus, people do not know anything about the external world.
Butcharov, Panayot. Skepticism about the External World. Oxford: Oxford University Press US, 1998.