In this week’s reading, G.E. Moore explores the concept of certainty in a direct attack on skepticism. He begins his argument with the supposition: “I know for certain that I am standing up” (Moore 361). Using this claim as an example, he goes on to highlight the fallacy of the justified true belief account of knowledge, suggesting it is impossible to establish true sureness over the supposition that one knows for certain when they are standing up. Moving broader, he offers that if one can never know for certain that they are standing up, they also can never truly know that they are conscious and not dreaming. As we human beings define our vitality by our ability to be self-aware, he essentially throws our entire existence into question.
As Moore further blurs the lines between dreams and reality, uncertainty and certainty, he proves that these concepts may not actually exist as the purely dichotomous entities that we usually assume. Instead, it is entirely possible that we can be deceived by “the evidence of our senses” (Moore 363). He states: “For if it is not certain that I am not dreaming, it is not certain that I even have the evidence of my senses that I am standing up” (Moore 363). In other words, if one lacks definitive evidence that they are not dreaming, that uncertainty can be extended over any supposition such as whether or not one is actually standing up.
Although this destruction of certainty would seem to upset and disturb most people (perhaps even send a philosophy student to the hospital), Moore handles this notion with relative tranquility. He accepts that we may never know anything for certain yet remains comfortable with the idea that it is highly unlikely that we are all constantly in a dream-like state. By looking at the matter from a quasi-probabilistic perspective, rather than an emotional one, Moore is able to withhold passing judgments and is more successful in dismissing skepticism.
If everyone lived as a skeptic, constantly refuting the idea of any truths including a “real world”, there would simply be no motivation or accountability. Moore would agree that while it is important to grapple with the notion of certainty, attempts to absolutely destroy it are neither productive nor factual-based. Trying to prove that one is not conscious is just as fruitless as searching for conclusive evidence that one is in fact dreaming. As frustrating as that notion may seem at first, Moore accepts it with relative ease and perhaps we all should too in order to survive in this uncertain world.
(I found this cartoon to be a perfect illustration of the frustrating and redundant nature of skepticism that Moore touches on)