I closed the examination of pragmatic ethics in the previous article by saying that this time I would talk about “the one and only sense in which it is reasonable to maintain skepticism of the external world.” So I’m going to do just that. But before reaching that explanation, I need to make a few remarks about why it is important to minimize assumptions when forming beliefs. After all, prior to saying that universal skepticism is not generally as useful or compelling as it seems, I’d like to first make it clear that skepticism in general is a vital and healthy part of one’s intellectual life.
As René Descartes famously observed, it is always striking how very much of what any given person claims to know (and so believe) rests upon a network of baseless or near-baseless assumptions, assertions, and heuristics so densely matted together that the person fails to realize that there is no actual solidity to its foundation whatsoever. An important feature of this nebulous nest of guesses and half-considered notions is the redundant and overlapping (if occasionally contradicting) nature of its constituent elements. It is just such a nest to which I aim to provide a superior alternative.
But where do we draw the line? There are folks online (like Eliezer Yudkowsky) who have built a serious following out of espousing fervent adherence to certain forms of skepticism and rationality. So, am I in support of such efforts, or against them? That, too, I will answer in the course of this article.
The Least Assumptions: