Skepticism in simple terms refers to the attitude of questioning or doubting the truth about certain facts, opinion, knowledge or beliefs. Skepticism has been a subject of study for many philosophers throughout the years. Consequently, a wide range of arguments about skepticism has been developed. In this essay, the text “An Argument for Skepticism,” written by Peter Unger will be used to show that the author’s definition and characterization of the term “absolute certainty” has been misconstrued.
Peter Unger presents a very interesting point about skepticism. He argues for an extreme form of skepticism. He argues that there is a great connection between knowledge and certainty. According to Unger, human beings can never be fully sure of or “certain” of anything because “certain” is actually an absolute term. An absolute term is one that applies without any form of qualification. Such a term is explained by appealing to its relative term negatively, for instance, something is considered certain, if they “no doubt associated with it”. Unger suggest that knowledge requires certainty, However, there is nothing that the human race can be sure or certain of because some doubt will always be available or possible.
Unger’s argument for Skepticism is sensible to some point. However, it leaves more questions than answers. There are many possible objections to his thesis. His first premise on the aspect of certainty and knowledge is quite reasonable. He states that “If someone knows something to be so, then it is all right for the person to absolutely certain so” (Unger, 140). The meaning is any person who holds a belief about something without any doubts has the right to that belief. His second major premise is that “It is never all right for anyone to be absolutely certain that anything is so” (Unger, 140). From the two premises, he makes a universal conclusion of skepticism where he states: “Nobody ever knows anything is so” (Unger, 140).
It is from the second premise that it emerges that Unger has totally mischaracterized the term “certainty’ nature in his article. His account of “absolute certainty” idea requires something that seems impossible to achieve in real life. According to him, being certain of something involves means that an individual harbors a severe negative attitude towards relative things that may oppose that certainty. It involves an attitude that no new experience, evidence or information that one might come across will be considered seriously by the individual to be in any way relevant to a change in one’s thinking or one’s opinion of the issue. This is something that does not happen in everyday life. When someone says that he or she is sure of something, there always exists a conception within the individual of something that could change his or her mind. For instance, if someone was to tell another “I am certain that my son is at home,” he or she harbors a conception that if they met their son on the road, then he or she will be forced to discredit the “absolute certainty” that the son was at home. What Unger could maybe argue, is that while knowledge indeed requires some form of absolute certainty, this absolute certainty is only temporal. When, he states that no experiences, evidence or information can change’s one minds, he should mention that this is only in reference to a particular time when one is seeing or experiencing something, for instance when the individual mentioned previously is seeing the son in the house.
In conclusion, Unger arguments are significantly reasonable. There is no doubt that every kind of knowledge requires some certainty. However, his definition of uncertainty is very inaccurate because the final implication is that certainty is impossible and therefore so is knowledge. This would mean that knowledge does not exist in the world whatsoever. He has totally mischaracterized the notion of absolute certainty by claiming that no new experiences, evidence, information can derail an individual from his certainty in something. On a practical level, this is not possible in real life. However, his assertion is not wrong on a moral level and in any case, Unger is entitled to self-opinion.
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