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Skepticism Philosophy Essay

Skepticism: • It comes from the Greek word skeptikoi which means “seekers” or “inquirers. ” • It refers to the critical attitude wherein a man questions different things including the well-known absolute truth or knowledge. • Note that skepticism (philosophical that is) should be contrasted with philosophical dogmatism wherein the latter is the direct opposite of the former. Philosophical dogmatism refers to an attitude wherein a man believes to have absolute truth/knowledge (“dogma,” meaning strict rules). Short History of Skepticism Classical Skepticism.

Gorgias • A Sophist who believed that nothing really exists. • He lived from 483-376 B. C. (Leontini, Italy). He went to Athens to fulfill his mission as an ambassador. He was a student of Empedocles. • In Greece, he was the mentor of Thucydides (author of the Peloponnesian War) and Isocrates. • His issue with regard to the philosophy of existence can be understood by having a full grip on the logical contradiction. • His whole idea of existence commences from the premise that nothing exists. Or, if something exists, it must come from another beginning.

The origin of the existence of “something” is said to be unknowable. • Also, Gorgias postulated that a “being” should come from another being. It is impossible for this being to come from nothing. • We can regard Gorgias as a Sophist rather than a skeptic. It should be noted, however, that early skepticism came from the early perceived philosophy, and that is Stoicism. Philosophical Skepticism The following are the philosophical inquiries of the skeptics: 1. Epistemology • Can man attain absolute knowledge? • Where does the absolute knowledge come from?

• How does sense perception operate in the service of achieving knowledge? 2. Metaphysics • What is/are the composition/s of the universe? • What are the distinguishing features of human nature? • Does God exist? 3. Ethics • What should be the qualifying factors to assess human conduct? • Is it possible for man to determine whether an action is morally right or wrong? 4. Metaphilosophy • Is Philosophy significant to human life? • What are the proper aims and goals of philosophical inquiry? Phyrro and Stoicism • He is considered as the earliest philosophical skeptic in Western philosophy.

He lived from 360 to 270 B. C. • Some scholars find a political origin of Phyrro’s skepticism in this: on the theory that traumatic periods produce disillusionment and resignation, the souring and obsolescence of traditional beliefs, a tenacious relativism of beliefs, virtues, and habits that will not assign absolute superiority to any, and a need for new methods of coping in a hectic world. • Taught that peace of mind was the highest end of life and that knowledge of truth was required to attain and maintain it.

• Phyrro accordingly sought truth, however for every philosophical question that the Stoic philosophy answers; it is being contradicted by several other schools of thought. • What was worse was that each position had reasons and evidence to support itself and to subvert and refute its opponents. • He gave up in despair and admitted to himself that he could not decide among them and did not know what was true. The Stoics were accused by the Greeks as proponents of dogmatism: • It is the direct opposite of skepticism. • A dogmatist is certain that knowledge is possible, because he is certain that he have some.

• A person is still a dogmatist even if he is not certain, but still asserts something to be true, whether on a hunch, an intuition, and a perceived plenitude of evidence, mystical impulses, blatant prejudice, or idiotic repetition. A. Academic Skepticism • Asserts that at least some truths are completely unknowable. • Cicero postulated that: “Nothing could be known except the position that nothing else could be known. ” B. Empirical Skepticism • An empirical skeptic is someone who refuses to accept certain kinds of claims without first subjecting them to a series of scientific investigation.

• Difference between an empirical skeptic and philosophical skeptic: a philosophical skeptic denies the very existence of knowledge while an empirical skeptic merely seeks for proof before accepting a claim. C. Scientific Skepticism • A branch of empirical skepticism that addresses scientific claims. • It uses scientific techniques in order to validate the acquired knowledge. D. Religious Skepticism • It refers to incredulity towards faith. • Religious skeptics based their claims according to immortality, providence and revelation.

• A religious skeptic is not necessarily an atheist or an agnostic. David Hume: • He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. David was only two years old when his father died. • He was fond of studying Mathematics, History, Ancient and Modern Philosophy and Science. • His major philosophical works are: o A Treatise of Human Nature (which he completed from 1739-1740) o Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding (1748) o Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) o Dialogues Concerning Religion (1779) • He is also considered as one of the best British empiricists along with George Berkeley and John Locke.

• His philosophy was partially influenced by Adam Smith (his close friend) and Cicero (ancient philosopher). David Hume’s Skeptic View on Reality and Human Belief • David Hume is one of the greatest skeptics in the history of Philosophy. He also influenced the development of the two philosophical schools of thought: empiricism and skepticism. Hume’s View on Reality • According to Hume, there are two distinctions of mental concept, to wit, impressions and ideas. Impression – refers to the direct, vivid, and forceful products of immediate experience. Ideas – these are merely feeble copies of these original expressions.

• It should be emphasized that these two distinctions should be treated separately with each other. • Hume’s View on Human Belief • Relations of Ideas/Priori – beliefs grounded on associations formed within the mind. • Matters of Fact/Posteriori – beliefs that claim to report the nature of existing things. _____________________________________________________________________________ GROUP FOUR: UTILITARIAN PHILOSOPHY Basic Concepts (Formal Definitions) • Etymologically speaking, the word “utilitarianism” comes from the Latin word utilis, which means “useful.

” • In Ethics, utilitarianism is a doctrine that what is useful is good, and consequently, that the ethical value of conduct is determined by the utility of the result. • Utilitarian philosophers believe that it is normal for human beings to perform activities which lead towards happiness (that is, to maximize happiness and to avoid pain). • This theory is under the normative political theory. Normative Political Theory – this theory asks a particular question as “what is ought to be” as compared to the question “what is” in political life.

It is not confined on the setting or constructing moral theories, however, it analyzes the effects of the constructed moral theories in the political life of an individual and how it is being applied/practiced in the actual political arena. This approach of the normative political theory is spearheaded by Jeremy Bentham. He is a radical 19th century social reformer, who is apparently a utilitarian. • Bentham argues that the nature of human beings is to obtain happiness (self-satisfaction) and to avoid pain. In this regard, the morally correct political decisions are based on the collective happiness of the society.

• This collective happiness may be characterized in the form of utility. This utility could be of any kind that would bring happiness to the society (i. e. property, advantage, opportunity, goods, services etc. ). • Bentham did not provide theories or methods on how to attain social utility or maximization of happiness. According to him, the attainment of happiness depends on how an individual defines his/her happiness. In connection to this, every member of the society which comprises the whole society should consolidate their definition of happiness in order to obtain social utility.

• It should be emphasized that Bentham was focused on the interest of community/group. • The supreme objective of moral action and the foundation on which all morality should be grounded is the achievement of the greatest happiness/satisfaction of the greater number. • Nature of Utilitarianism • Because this philosophy is greatly focused on the achievement (or maximization) of happiness, it doesn’t matter whether the result of the consequence is good or bad. Recall the famous maxim of Niccolo Machiavelli: “the end justifies the means. ” · Hedonism • It refers to an ideology wherein happiness can be found between pleasure and pain.

• Utilitarian philosophers also use “hedonistic calculus” wherein they believe that a moralist could easily determine the unit of pleasure and of pain. O Bentham’s “hedonistic calculus” has similar concept with the theory of Epicurus. O The hedonistic calculus is used to determine the total amount of pleasure and pain of an individual. O Moral agent –person who conducts hedonistic calculus. Historical Traces of Utilitarian Philosophy • It is believed that Utilitarian philosophy flourished in England. We can presuppose the fact that utilitarianism came from English philosophy.

• Some historians argued that Richard Cumberland originally perceived the idea of utilitarianism. He was an English philosopher and theologian (bishop of Peterborough). • Afterwards, a British “moral sense” philosopher clearly defined the utilitarian philosophy. Francis Hutcheson did not only explain the philosophical perspective of utilitarianism which is “the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers” but he also provided for a mechanism for calculating the appropriate consequences of the activities to attain such happiness. This mechanism is called “moral arithmetic.

” • Jeremy Bentham, a prominent figure in utilitarian philosophy, admitted that he found the principle of utility from the writings of the following 18th century thinkers: o Joseph Priestly – a priest who was known for his discovery of “oxygen. ” o Cesaria Beccaria – an expert in legal matters (Italian legal theorist). o Claude-Adrien Helvetius – author of a philosophy of “mere sensation. ” • John Gay (biblical scholar and philosopher) – he considered God’s will as the greatest qualifying factor for virtue. Furthermore, he argued that God’s goodness is the source of human happiness.

Utilitarian Philosophers 1. Jeremy Bentham (Developer of Utilitarian Philosophy) Life: • Bentham was a legal theorist, linguist, social philosopher and political activist. • He came from a wealthy family from England. • Bentham was sent to Westminster School (one of the prestigious school in England) and Queen’s College Oxford. He was also a practicing lawyer; however, he showed an unwavering interest in philosophy. o He examined the philosophical works of David Hume, Helvetius and Beccaria. Eventually, he started to form his own idea of utilitarianism.

o Bentham argued that the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure are the natural drives of human activity, as recognized by the “principle of utility. ” 2. William Paley Life: • Paley was born in July, 1743 (Peterborough, England). He attained his religious degree (Anglican priesthood) at Christ’ College in Cambridge. • He became a tutor of Christ College three years after he graduated from the stated school. • According to Paley, utilitarianism is a combination ofindividualistic hedonism (mean between pleasure and pain) and theological authoritarianism. 3. James Mill Life: • Mill was born in April 6, 1773 (Forfarshire).

• He was a son of shoemaker in Montrose. He was sent to the University of Edinburgh in 1790 and his education was financed by Sir John Stuart. • James Mill received his M. A. degree in Edinburgh. He was a full pledged preacher. However, Mill gradually lost his faith and decided to transfer in Scotland until John Stuart invited him to live in London. • He became a writer of the Literary Journal in London. It can be said that the closure of the Literary Journal had made him write various essays, articles and other literary works such as his review on the history of Corn Laws and etc.

• He was the father of John Stuart Mill, another utilitarian philosopher. • According to Mill, the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure are the two primary motivating forces behind human actions. • He also justified the existence of the government in the society. He stated that the institution of the government exists to ensure these twin aims (maximization of pleasure and avoidance of pain) are fulfilled for the greatest number of people possible. Effects of Utilitarianism in Other Disciplines • Utilitarian philosophy has been so important to the fields of politics, law and economics.

• Its theories are still relevant in the contemporary times especially in rendering important political decisions, maintenance of social stability (pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain) and etc. A. Law • For instance, some viewed punishment as tantamount to “retributive theory. ” This theory simply states that a criminal (i. e. convicted rapist, murderer or robber) should be punished to pay for his crime. • According to the utilitarian philosophy, punishment is served not to facilitate retribution/retaliation but to reform the criminal and insulate the society from him. B.

Politics • v According to the utilitarian philosophers, the best form of government is democracy. Social contract, natural rights and natural law are the bases of government authority and importance of individual rights. • v “Democracy” comes from the Greek word demos which means “people. ” It coincides with the philosophical aim of utilitarian philosophy wherein the general interest of the people (and maximization of their happiness) should be the basis of the government’s political decisions. • v Utilitarian philosophy is also known for its relative views on socio-political issues.

• According to this philosophy, a strong government should be needed to restrain the selfish interests of its subjects. As mentioned before, one of the main responsibilities of the government is to maintain the stability of political order. Based on this principle, the utilitarian argument is on the side of conservative/authoritarian position. § Nazi Germany (Adolf Hitler) § Soviet Union (Joseph Stalin) § Cuba (Fidel Castro) • On the other hand, William Godwin (founder of philosophical anarchism) had an optimistic view of human nature (parallel to the philosophical theory of John Locke with regard to human nature).

According to him, the pursuit of greatest happiness may lead into “philosophical anarchism. ” • Philosophical anarchism – Godwin emphasized that values must be deeply imbibed in every individual. Furthermore, he argued that sufficient supply of goods (economic resources) should be equally distributed to ensure that the economic needs of the society are properly fulfilled. He hoped that government authorities must formulate laws to equalize the unfair distribution of wealth. Furthermore, Godwin stated that the government should minimize its involvement to promote academic freedom. C. Economics.

• Early utilitarian philosophers argued that the government should not meddle on economic affairs of the society. • Later on, they admitted that the government has a significant role in the economy. Jeremy Bentham’s Mode of Thinking Theory of Psychological Hedonism • According to Bentham, human behavior can be explained by reference to the primary motives of pleasure and pain. • Pleasure and pain – it is believed that nature has placed mankind under the governance of these two motives. • Utilitarian philosophers always ask questions involving “what we ought to do” and “what we shall do.

” • Bentham argued that the human individual is the basic unit of social sphere. An individual’s relation with others is unnecessary of being what he is. • He defined “relation” as a fictitious reality. Community, on the other hand, refers to the sum of the interests of the individuals who composed it. • However, there are some instances that the interests tend to clash with each other. Such occurrence diminishes the main concept of “community” (sum of the interests of the individuals). Bentham argued that the government and legislation should work together to harmonize the aforementioned conflict.

• Bentham’s Moral Theory The following are the characteristics of Bentham’s moral philosophy: · Principle of utility • It is synonymous to the “greatest happiness principle. ” • It concerns the interests of the people who are in question; it can be the whole community, an individual or a small portion of the group. • Bentham enumerated the advantages of the principle, to wit: • O The principle should not be consulted to metaphysics philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Thus, the main essence of the principle can be easily grasped.

• O The utilitarian principle offers objective criterion of right and wrong – application of hedonistic calculus · Universal egoism or altruism • Assuming that the said institutions (government and legislation) successfully harmonized the interests of every individual in the community, the people may tend to work altruistically to pursue the common good. • O Altruism – it refers to the unselfish concern to the general welfare of others. • Determination of common interest • Hedonistic Ethics • Utilitarian ethics can be defined as an art in which man’s action is geared towards maximum quantity of happiness.

Bentham’s Political Theory According to Jeremy Bentham, one can understand law and politics if he/she has a good grasp of human nature. On Liberty • Bentham defined liberty as a freedom from any external control. A person can be considered as “free” if he/she is not under the influence of another person. • In his theory on liberty, Bentham argued that there is no such thing as a “state of nature” and social contract. He postulated that the latter is only historical and novel literature. On Law • Bentham viewed law as a restriction/limitation of liberty.

It can be considered as pain (a prima facie evil) to those whose freedom is restricted. • The governing law within the society cannot be considered as a “natural law” because it is according to the will of the Sovereign (ruler). • Bentham proposed that the law should be in accordance with the natural law, that is, it should be paralleled with the common interest of the people. • The following are the positive functions of good laws (although Bentham still regarded laws as restriction to liberty): § Good laws are essential to good government. § Good laws are necessary to maintain social stability.

§ Good laws develop and protect the people’s personal and material resources. On Rights • Bentham’s view on rights can be rooted on his philosophy about natural law. According to Bentham, rights are produced by laws, and as affirmed before, laws can be attributed to the will of the Sovereign. • Socio-political organization must be formed in order for these two to exist. • Bentham related his view on the social contract theory with the existence and use of rights. According to him, it is impossible that rights exist before the establishment of the government.

• According to Jeremy Bentham, the theory of social contract is impossible (if not historical) because in order for the said contract to bind, there must be an established government to enforce such contract. • § In reverse, the government must exist before the definition of different rights. This would again, lead into the issue with regard to law and liberty (where the Sovereign dictates the amount of liberty and rights that should be given to the people).

John Stuart Mill’s Mode of Thinking Moral Theory • J. S. Mill’s two distinct approaches to moral theory: • Intuitive Approach – knowledge is attained without having an appeal to experience. • Inductive Approach – knowledge is gained through observation and experience. J. S. Mill’s Utilitarian Philosophy • Mill believed that actions are right if they tend to promote happiness and wrong if they tend to deliver the opposite of it. • For him, happiness can be associated with intellectual and sensual pleasure. He also stated that everything we desire can be considered as happiness. The following are some of the examples of happiness:

• Virtue • Love of money • Power • Fame • He also enumerated two kinds of motivation: • External Motivation – this arises from hope of pleasing or fear of displeasing God and other humans. • Internal Motivation – this arises from duty. • Duty – it refers to the subjective feeling which develops through experience. Furthermore, humans have an instinctive feeling of unity which guides the development of duty towards greater happiness. Mill’s Proof of the Principle of Utility: · The only way to prove that general happiness is desirable is to show that people actually desire it.

§ For instance, if X is the only thing desired, then X is the only thing that ought to be desired. General happiness is the thing desired. On Justice • Apparently, J. S. Mill’s concept of justice is paralleled to the utilitarian philosophy. • There are two essential elements on justice, to wit: • Punishment – it is a combination of social sympathy and vengeance • Violation of someone’s rights – infringement of rights. • There are disputes in the notion of justice when examining theories of punishments, fair distribution of wealth and etc.

¦ Political and Social Philosophy • On Individuality – J. S. Mill prescribed two criteria to determine the best kind of individual, to wit: • Someone who is individually responsible for his own beliefs and actions. • Someone who will not only be happy in his own case but will be concerned with and contribute to the happiness of others. • Social Institutions that Contribute to Individuality: • Free and uncensored debate. • J. S. Mill regarded liberty as a fundamental human right. • Democracy and representative governments encourage freedom and speech.


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