Skepticism and Subjectivism

Skepticism and Subjectivism

When I get time, I'd like to do a more full fisk of "The Death of Skepticism", by Steve Pavlina. This exam season, when I really should be doing other things, might work. In the meantime, here are some quick points:

If you want to be a true skeptic, then you also need to be skeptical about skepticism. You wouldn't want to be so gullible as to swallow a whole thought system without proof, would you?

No, you certainly wouldn't want to be so gullible. It's a good thing, then, that there is proof that materialistic skepticism works. Hint: it's called Science.

If we truly live in an objective universe, then skepticism is an intelligent choice. If external reality is completely independent of our thoughts, then we can safely study it from a position of doubt.

These propositions are probably true. But Pavlina quickly goes on to deny the antecedent, which is an invalid argument form.

That is, he asks us to accept p ⊃ q [ p : "external reality is completely independent of our thoughts", q : "we can safely study reality from a position of doubt" ], but then uses ~p to claim ~q.

To see why this doesn't work, consider:

  • If I'm nice to everybody then I'm nice to you
  • I'm not nice to everybody. (I'm only nice to some people)
  • Therefore, I'm not nice to you. (Invalid)

Another way to talk about this argument's invalidity is using the concepts of necessity and sufficiency. Pavlina claims independent external reality is sufficient for us to be able to safely study reality from a position of doubt. We'll accept that claim. But that doesn't mean being able to study reality from a position of doubt is neccessary for an independent reality (objectivism), and it doesn't mean that subjective reality is sufficient to say we're no longer able to study reality from a position of doubt.

If we harbor thoughts of doubt, and they manifest in some way through the physical world, then we will end up co-creating a reality that is far more limited and confusing than necessary. And when we go to study it, we'll merely be observing the results of our skeptical attitude rather than what's really out there.

This begs the question. Here's a breakdown to make it clear:

  • If the world is subjective then we won't be able to study it.
  • If we can't study it then skepticism doesn't hold.
  • So, the world is subjective.
Unfortunately, testing for subjectivity is an oxymoron. You can't actually test for a subjective universe.

If we assume you can't test for a subjective universe, then we have to assume you can't test for an objective one either. For, consider if you could test for an objective universe: say, by repeatedly checking the height of Mt. Everest to see if it's changed because you shut your eyes. Well, then subjectivism could be falsified. And if something is falsifiable we can test for it. So, this statement doesn't actually argue for (or against) subjectivism.

As previously noted though, if you take skepticism far enough, it eventually leads you to question the nature of reality, and that's where it finally self-destructs. Most skeptics don't go nearly this far, however.

Previously noted, yes. But previously noted just means "I said it earlier". That's a long way from previously shown or previously proved. So, Pavlina is just saying this, without giving us a reason to accept it.

Pavlina's arguments for the death of skepticism are lazy. You would at least expect he could come up with valid arguments, that require us to refute premises, rather than ones we can discount by just examining their structure. I think I could come up with arguments against skepticism that are at least valid, and I don't even believe in subjectivism.