The problem of external world has been many times approached by famous philosophers including Rene Descartes and George Moore. In his writings, Descartes argues that human knowledge is not certain, and this is the reason why every truth should be subjected to a doubt including the truth that the world is really the way it appears. George Moore made attempts to respond to Descartes perception on certainty. He made arguments to display equivalent logical viability of Descartes arguments on dreaming whereby he managed to make conclusions on his own perceptions regarding certainty and uncertainty of knowledge. However, Moore failed to clearly alleviate his skeptical thoughts on certainty. In the following paper, Descartes’ and Moore’s vision of the problem of the external world will be addressed and assessed with the purpose of identifying the replies concerning this problem that are more reliable. Overall, the evaluation of the two visions of the problem of external world, the one by Descartes, and the one by Moore, suggests a conclusion that Moore’s concept does not provide satisfactory replies whereas Descartes’ concept of the external world seems to be rational.
Descartes’ Argument Concerning the Problem of External World in his “First Meditation”
In the First Meditation, Descartes resorts to the use of a systematic doubt method to present his beliefs and thoughts on certainty to defeat skepticism. Descartes doubts the truth about the external world due to his fundamental reasoning process and presumption culture. According to Descartes, one must first doubt everything they know since it is the only means through which they can determine whether their beliefs are certain or not certain (Descartes 88). This form of doubt presented by Descartes might appear unreasonable, but Descartes did not mean that people should doubt everything they believe in. According to Descartes, in order to find out if your beliefs are doubtable, you should pretend and question everything you know (Descartes 89). In order to take this pretense seriously, Descartes makes suggestions about formulating a good argument which will make one justify their doubts. The arguments made should contradict our experiences and suppositions to enable us to distinguish between dreaming and being awake. They should also contradict our own abilities to reason out.
Descartes is certain about human sense of experience being deceitful thus the reason why one cannot form one’s basis of knowledge on posteriori claims. Descartes describes his vision in the following words:
Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true I have acquired either from the senses or through the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once (Descartes 88).
Humans are not certain whether their senses are true or false; thus, they cannot affirm that their senses gave them a correct report on the manner in which things really are for that period of time. This is the reason why Descartes believes that it is best to doubt our knowledge especially the one based on our sense experiences.
Descartes is trying to point out that humans are not in a position to distinguish whether they are dreaming or are awake. To support this way of reasoning, Descartes mentions a number of illustrations showing that people may feel that they are awaken when they dream. The following comment by Descartes helps have a deeper understanding on what he is speaking about:
I am like a prisoner who is enjoying as imaginary freedom while asleep; as he begins to suspect that he is asleep, he dreads being woken up, and goes along with the pleasant illusion as long as he can. In the same way, I happily slide back into my old opinions and dread being shaken out of and that I shall have to toil not in the light, but amid the inextricable darkness of the problems I have now raised (Descartes 89).
This therefore means that we may not be aware of the reality of the things occurring to us in the external world. Descartes also argues that human suppositions might be false since our minds are guided by evil power. Instead, he says that humans should revert back to the God Almighty as the source of the universal understanding and the absolute truth of the external world because he cannot be mistaken (Descartes 88, 89). All in all, in the end of the First Meditation, Descartes is still filled with doubts and is left wondering whether all our knowledge is certainty.
Moore’s Vision of the Problem of External World in “Certainty”
George Edward Moore made attempts to respond to Descartes perception on certainty. He made his own skepticism refutation on certainty which inspired and directed his arguments in large. He made arguments to display equivalent logical viability of Descartes arguments on dreaming whereby he managed to make conclusions on his own perceptions regarding certainty and uncertainty of knowledge. Moore took skeptic modus ponens which he used to make his argument on the problem of external world. Besides, Moore states that human mind is by no means corrupted by evil power as evil power does not exist (Moore 31).
Moore’s main argument is that if a person cannot differentiate between being awake and dreaming, then he or she cannot be sure if they have a body; on the contrary, if one is sure that he or she has a body, then they can easily differentiate between being awake and dreaming (Moore 30). Moore’s proof on the existence of external world is based on the assumption that he is aware that he can view, see and feel his hand. Moore’s main grounds for his argument is that here is a hand, and here is another hand which enables him make his conclusions on the existence of external world despite not having enough proves to make his claims (Moore 29).
Moore’s “Logical Inversion” of Descartes Argument
Moore tries to address every piece of doubt that Descartes speaks about in the First Meditation including the nature of senses, uncertainty of whether an individual is asleep or is awaken, the saying that human minds are corrupted by the evil, and the necessity to respect the one who is above, the God Almighty as a higher source of wisdom and the true vision of external world. According to Moore (30),
Those philosophers who say it is possible that I am now dreaming, certainly mean to say also that it is possible that I am only dreaming that I am standing up; and this view, we now see, entails that it is possible that I have not the evidence of my senses that I am. If, therefore, they are right, it follows that it is not certain even that I have the evidence of my senses that I am; it follows that it is not certain that I have the evidence of my senses for anything at all.
This statement by Moore shows that he rejects the very basis of Descartes vision of senses and a dreamlike nature of human knowledge. Similarly, Moore rejects Descartes’ saying that human mind is corrupted by evil powers simply saying that there exist no evil powers including demons and the devil; however, Moore does not provide any facts that prove such statements of his.
Moore’s “Inconsistency” Criticism
Moore’s argument can be hardly named trustworthy because many of his saying are simply sayings, and they are not supported by any particular evidence. For example, if a person says that there is no electricity because no one can see it, such saying is not accepted as a true one because it has no facts proving it. Similarly, if an individual says that there is no evil that makes human minds imperfect and incapable of valid reasoning, this does not mean that it is so. One must prove his or her sayings by particular facts. However, Moore’s inconsistency criticism does not provide such evidences. Moore cannot proof that he is dreaming despite the fact that he had evidence of the act. There is no way in which a person can know something without any form of proving one’s believes. This makes Moore’s arguments on the existence of external world irrelevant. Moore’s main notion was not to think, but to look and feel what was happening around them (Moore 31).
Moore is not addressing skepticism directly, but instead he is trying to demonstrate that skepticism is not necessary. According to Moore, despite the fact that we may not have evidence of the reality concerning the existence of external world, we are however in a position to determine its existence (Moore 30).
Critical Assessment of Descartes’ and Moore’s Positions concerning the Problem of External World
Descartes’ approach to the problem of external world seems to be more reasonable and rational which can be proved a number of evidences discussed below. First, in trying to solve the problem of external world existence, Moore failed to give skeptical facts on his arguments against experience and logic which were greatly required and acted as a necessity. Secondly, skepticism criticizes such positions as that of Moore since humans use both actions and language to prove a fact. Thirdly, Moore’s arguments and facts on external world existence therefore leave skepticism meaningless due to lack of human language and action.
In conclusion, in an attempt to solve the problem of external world, Descartes used systematic doubt method to present his beliefs and thoughts on certainty to defeat skepticism. George Edward Moore made attempts to respond to Descartes perception on certainty, and on his arguments on dreaming. Moore’s proof on the existed of external world is based on the assumption that he is aware that he can view, see and feel his body. However, Moore failed to give skeptical facts on his arguments against experience and logic which made his response to external world existence unsatisfactory as compared to Descartes’ concept of external world vision.
Descartes, Rene. Meditation on First Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
Moore, George. Certainty, New York: Collier Books, 1962. Print.