Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Philosophy for Groups


MP believes he has spotted a gap in the philosophical market. That gap is a series of short philosophy articles, designed to fit together conceptually, for use in small casual discussion groups, such as a philosophical or church discussion group.

MP is involved with several friends in just such a discussion group. This posting is a short exerpt from just such a series. I would appreciate any feedback you might have! The initial subject, the problem of skepticism, is about 4 pages long, and will be posted in sections over the next few weeks.
Session One -- The Problem of Skepticism

How do we know that the external world exists? The most common response is – how can we not? One of the most fundamental ideas shared by people everywhere is the idea that we are right to assign a lot of importance to the world around us. By this is meant our relationships with other people, morality, history, the state of matters. But when we look at the justification for that importance, we often find that we are working with ideas that don't fully make sense, or are in some sense arbitrary.

In “The Matrix ”, humanity is enslaved in an entirely illusory world. To some extent, many religions also require a belief that the world around us is of a mystical nature, including many things which are not real in the everyday physical sense of the word.

How is it that we can identify what things we should be skeptical about, and what things we should believe? The answer is justification. Before we can know something, we need to be able to identify the reasons we have for saying we know it.

This is made clear by considering the reverse case – the rambling claims of someone who is insane, or has a strong belief in an absurd idea, without that idea having a basis in truth or reason. A modern-day false prophet, if you will.

A key question for many people who adopt religious faith is whether their faith falls into the same category of unjustified beliefs. Some people are profoundly uncomfortable that the root of their beliefs appears to have little wider justification, and many atheists level precisely that accusation against those who adopt religious faith.

Like most hard problems, there is a lot of disagreement about how reasonable it is to adopt religious faith, or indeed many other kinds of belief about the world which are non-religious. This section aims to give an overview of how philosophers have tackled this problem, which is what they have termed “The problem of skepticism.”


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