Rigour, Scepticism and Positivism
An analysis of radical scepticism and its relation to positivist ideas in preparation for consideration of epistemic retreat and degrees of trust.
Some observations about usage of the concept of knowledge, which have a bearing on the arguments presented here.
The virtues of rigour its connection with scepticism.
Some arguments against the possibility of Knowledge, and the substantive content of those arguments.
The Meaning of the Word "Know"
Some observations about usage of the concept of knowledge, which have a bearing on the arguments presented here.
Knowing how and knowing that
We are here concerned primarily with knowledge of the truth of propositions, rather than with other kinds of knowledge such as that of some skill. The following discussion should be understood to concern only that (rather broad) special case.
What is Knowledge?

The usage of the word "know" is diverse and inconsistent. To know a proposition, it often seems, one must have conclusive grounds for believing it to be true. Even in the absence of grounds for reasonable doubt in the truth of the proposition may not be sufficient if the grounds for its affirmation are subject to any doubt whatsoever.

hBy contrast, in some contexts it suffices to be in possession of certain information to be said to know, without consideration of the strength of the grounds, provided only that those grounds are sufficient to induce belief.

In the discussion which follows here, it is that former sense, which is mainly at stake, for this seems to be the sense in which radical sceptics consider knowledge.

Doing Without Knowledge

Difficulties with the word "know" are not dissimilar to those with the concepts "hot" and "cold", whose significance is equally fluid, context sensitive, or uncertain. For scientific purposes, the concepts "hot" and "cold" are displaced by numerical measures of temperature. Though it may be very important whether something is hot or cold, it is not important that those worlds be used in describing it. For many purposes that terminology can be discarded.

Similar considerations apply to the concept of knowledge. Instead of the binary consideration "Do we know proposition p or not?" we may in some contexts prefer the consideration "What confidence can we have in the truth of p?", more so perhaps if the concept "confidence" here can be made precise.

The virtues of rigour its connection with scepticism.
The value of Knowledge

Much (if not all) knowledge has some utility. Some kinds of knowledge allow us to predict what the conseqences of some of our actions or possible actions. This permits choice betweem actions based on the desirability or otherwise of their consequences.

If some of our beliefs are incorrect, then we risk mistaking the consquences of some of our possible actions, and coming to incorrect conclusions about what course of action is optimal and suffering less desirable outcomes.

For this reason it is desirable putative knowledge be rigourously tested in some way with a view to discarding any supposed knowledge which might be incorrect. This we might describe as exercising a prudent skepticism.

Though I have phrased the above considerations as if we were considering science and engineering, to most people it is less exalted kinds of knowledge which prudence dictates be treated with scepticism. Thus, when approaching an election, a degree of scepticism about the claims and promises made by politicians may be prudent, for even the most honest politicians may be mistaken in crucial matters, and the rest will be even more likely to mislead us. Perhaps of even greater personal significance, the claims made or implied about financial products or assets are important to us in chosing how to invest our savings, but may not be correct.

Radical Scepticism
Some arguments against the possibility of Knowledge, and the substantive content of those arguments.

The arguments put forward by the academic and Phyrrhonean sceptics were extensive and varied. Rather than a presentation of those arguments, I put forward some very general arguments which are helpful in explaining the aspects of scepticism which we carry forward.

A case against the possibility of knowledge can be made in the following way. First we take knowledge to involve absolute certainty (conferred by absolutely conclusive justification), and then we argue that no such thing is to be had.

The latter part comes in two stages. First we suppose that deductive reason yields certain truth. Then we argue that reasoning to empirical truths fails of that standard, Then we turn to scepticism concerning logical entailment.

Regress of Justification
The Philosophy of David Hume
Degrees of Assurance or Trust

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