Essay one: skepticism | Philosophy homework help


The purpose of this assignment is to demonstrate your comprehension of one of the central

topics covered this semester – either the problem of skepticism or the problem of personal



This assignment will help you practice the following skills:

• Reading comprehension.

• Working with abstract concepts.

• Assessing philosophical idea.

• Presenting philosophical ideas in writing.


This assignment will help you become familiar with the following content.

• Epistemology

• Skepticism

• Metaphysics

• Logic

• Personal Identity

Essay One: Skepticism


At college, Descartes was taught a philosophy called “scholasticism,” the dominant

philosophy of late-medieval Europe. Describe some key theses of scholastic philosophy

(like geocentrism) that Descartes rejected. (20 points.)


Because he rejects scholasticism, Descartes decides to tear down his entire worldview

and start over with fresh foundations. Descartes therefore sets his standard for belief

very high. How high? – what does Descartes require of knowledge beyond justification

and truth (starts with a “C”)? How does Descartes decide whether or not he will keep

believing something he previously believed or discard it (starts with a “D”)? (20 points.)


Explain what it means to be certain of a belief, using the concept of “sentence

competitors.” Use an example of something most people think they know that they can’t

actually know because they can’t rule out all of that belief’s competitors. (20 points.)


Describe the reasons found in Descartes’s first meditation that lead to the skeptical

conclusion that we can’t know that we inhabit a shared physical, 3-D world. Describe the

idea of the malicious demon that is central to the skeptical argument. How does it

supposedly demolish any hope of knowing anything about the world around us? Explain

why this outlandish scenario need not actually be true, nor need we believe that it is true,

for it to have this effect. (If you’d like you can compare the evil demon to a brain in a vat

or The Matrix). (40 points.)

Whereas Descartes’s argument leads to the conclusion that our evidence is never good enough to

know that an external world exists outside our mind, David Hume’s argument leads to the

conclusion that, even if we know the world exists, reason and observation can never tell us how

the world works. This is not because we are just too dumb, it’s because there’s no way to justify

our beliefs in the laws of nature.


Explain what it means that laws of nature, if knowable, are knowable a posteriori. Since

the laws of nature are not themselves directly observable, how is our purported

knowledge of them based on observation? (20 points.)


Explain why Hume thinks we can’t justify our belief in the laws of nature. What

assumption does our belief in the lawfulness of nature depend on that, according to

Hume, cannot be justified a priori, by valid deduction, by direct observation, or by

induction? Why can’t any of these methods justify the assumption? (30 points.)


Describe what you’ve concluded about the possibility of a posteriori knowledge of the

world, in light of Descartes and Hume’s arguments. Do you believe we can know

anything about the world outside our own mind? If so, which of their premises do you

reject, and why? If you accept their skeptical conclusion, do you believe that you have

taken this class? Does your acceptance of skepticism entail that every belief is just as

good as any other belief, and you might as well believe whatever you want regardless of

your evidence? Why or why not?  (30 points.)

Criteria for Success

Your paper must be in double-spaced 12-point font, Times New Roman, Vani, Georgia, Libre

Baskerville, or Calibri. Give it an appropriate title and bold and/or underline the title. Make sure

your name and date are on it, but don’t put the name of the professor.

• Every step of the task is completed, and in the proper order.

• Every step is written in your own words. You may quote Descartes, Hume, Locke, Parfit,

or any of the course material, but if you do be sure to use proper attribution, and don’t go

overboard with it. You should not be citing or quoting outside sources.

• The paper does not contain any “filler,” i.e. sentences unrelated to the prompt or their

paragraph’s main idea.

• The paper is turned in on time.

• The paper has the proper typesetting spelling, grammar, paragraph structure and


Correctly following these criteria is worth 20 points.


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