Instructions [1 - 4 ]
The passage below is accompanied by a set of questions. Choose the best answer to each question.
It has been said that knowledge, or the problem of knowledge, is the scandal of philosophy. The scandal is philosophy’s apparent inability to show how, when and why we can be sure that we know something or, indeed, that we know anything. Philosopher Michael Williams writes: ‘Is it possible to obtain knowledge at all? This problem is pressing because there are powerful arguments, some very ancient, for the conclusion that it is not . . . Skepticism is the skeleton in Western rationalism’s closet’. While it is not clear that the scandal matters to anyone but philosophers, philosophers point out that it should matter to everyone, at least given a certain conception of knowledge. For, they explain, unless we can ground our claims to knowledge as such, which is to say, distinguish it from mere opinion, superstition, fantasy, wishful thinking, ideology, illusion or delusion, then the actions we take on the basis of presumed knowledge - boarding an airplane, swallowing a pill, finding someone guilty of a crime - will be irrational and unjustifiable.
That is all quite serious-sounding but so also are the rattling of the skeleton: that is, the sceptic’s contention that we cannot be sure that we know anything - at least not if we think of knowledge as something like having a correct mental representation of reality, and not if we think of reality as something like things-as-they-are-in-themselves, independent of our perceptions, ideas or descriptions. For, the sceptic will note, since reality, under that conception of it, is outside our ken (we cannot catch a glimpse of things-in-themselves around the corner of our own eyes; we cannot form an idea of reality that floats above the processes of our conceiving it), we have no way to compare our mental representations with things-as-they-are-in-themselves and therefore no way to determine whether they are correct or incorrect. Thus the sceptic may repeat (rattling loudly), you cannot be sure you ‘know’ something or anything at all - at least not, he may add (rattling softly before disappearing), if that is the way you conceive ‘knowledge’.
There are a number of ways to handle this situation. The most common is to ignore it. Most people outside the academy - and, indeed, most of us inside it - are unaware of or unperturbed by the philosophical scandal of knowledge and go about our lives without too many epistemic anxieties. We hold our beliefs and presumptive knowledges more or less confidently, usually depending on how we acquired them (I saw it with my own eyes; I heard it on Fox News; a guy at the office told me) and how broadly and strenuously they seem to be shared or endorsed by various relevant people: experts and authorities, friends and family members, colleagues and associates. And we examine our convictions more or less closely, explain them more or less extensively, and defend them more or less vigorously, usually depending on what seems to be at stake for ourselves and/or other people and what resources are available for reassuring ourselves or making our beliefs credible to others (look, it’s right here on the page; add up the figures yourself; I happen to be a heart specialist).