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Epistemology / Philosophy

Skepticism and the Blank Slate

In my previous post, I explained that we should not solve the problem of skepticism by beginning with a method or with a representative selection of truths. We begin instead with a knowledge of appearances. If our minds are blanks slates, then this knowledge is not sufficient to solve the problem of skepticism.

There are three possible ways to view the mind. The first way is that our mind contains inbuilt rules or an inbuilt awareness of which kind of theories are better than other theories. The second way is that our mind never contains rules or an awareness of which theories are better than others. We must simply exercise an act of choice to prefer one theory to another. This way of viewing the mind is sometimes referred to as a “blank slate”. The third and final way claims that our mind does not begin with inbuilt rules, but neither do we create rules. The rules appear with the appearances, but are not caused by the appearances.

If the mind is a blank slate, then there is no solution to skepticism. There are many theories that we could construct to explain the appearances. When we experience something most of us describe as “seeing a sunset”, there are a potentially infinite number of theories that could explain the experience. For example, maybe the sunset is really gremlin fireworks, a thermonuclear weapon or an illusion. Further experience can always be explained so that the original theory is maintained. We all know that sunsets happen regularly. Perhaps our memories are false, gremlins set off fireworks daily or we secretly desire regular illusions. If the mind is a blank slate, then there is no way to know that our world really is as we describe it.

If the mind is not a blank slate, then there needs to be some kind of explanation of where the awareness of mind comes from. If the mind has inbuilt knowledge, then the mind is preprogrammed. If this is true, then the knowledge either covers all possible situations, or only common situations. If it only covers common situations, then there is no solution to skepticism. The knowledge is only good enough to rule out certain kinds of theories. But the theory that gremlins cause sunsets is not common. Neither is the theory that the entire world is an illusion. But then skepticism cannot be refuted. The other possibility is that the rules cover all possible circumstances.

There is no reasonable way to suppose that our minds contain an infinite number of rules. This is not biologically possible. The only possible way to maintain this theory is to declare that our minds are immaterial and the operation of our minds is immaterial as well. This has problems that I will not get into right now.

Next, I will discuss the blank slate and the difference between knowledge and imagination.

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