On Intellectual Skepticism: A Selection of Skeptical Arguments and Ṭūsī's Criticisms, with Some Comparative Notes

Pirooz Fatoorchi
2013 Philosophy East & West  
We have first raised a dust, and then complain, we cannot see. In epistemology there are, typically, three main questions: (1) What is knowledge? (2) Can we have knowledge-and if so, what is its scope and extent? and (3) What are the sources of knowledge?2 Skeptics answer the second question from a negative and pessimistic standpoint. In other words, they either deny that we can know anything at all or consider the dominion of knowledge to be very limited. Since ancient times, skepticism has
more » ... , skepticism has been based largely on arguments for doubting the reliability of our various belief sources. The importance of the "skeptical arguments" is not only because of the challenge they offer in lieu of the possibility of gaining knowledge, but also because they help us to deepen our understanding of knowledge. Thus, skeptical arguments have been a central concern of epistemology, as Laurence Bonjour interestingly points out: " ... if skeptics did not exist, one might reasonably say, the serious epistemologists would have to invent them.") Although the history of skeptical arguments goes back to the ancient Greeks, Descartes is often thought to be the first philosopher who articulated and formulated the new and modern version of the skeptical argument. Here I shall not discuss whether or how much Descartes' skeptical arguments were new or novel; rather I confine myself to focusing on a pre-Cartesian version of the debate. I wish to introduce and consider a rich skeptical debate provided by two earlier Persian philosophers/theologians: RazT (Fakhr al-DTn al-RazT, 544/1149-606/1210) and TOsT (Na~ir al-DTn al-TOsT, 597/1201-672/1274).4 Both are among the eminent figures who have had a profound influence on Islamic philosophy and theology. In section one of his book al-Mul)a$$al (The compendium), Razi devotes a preliminary chapter to a discussion on different views of the possibility and ultimate sources of knowledge. He extensively cites, restates, and classifies various arguments in which three distinct groups of skeptics have tried to weaken the foundations of our reliance on intellect and/or sense perception. Here, we find Razi, as a historian of skepticism, reporting various skeptical arguments without mentioning his acceptance or non-acceptance except in one place, at the end of one section of his book, ture of human knowledge as well as in epistemology. In this respect, Avicenna is very explicit in saying that "the end [and purpose] of conception is [achieved] in assent; and assent is the perfection of conception, since conception is needed for [achieving] assent. And further, the purpose of [granting] definitions is [the attainment ofl assent."17 This, however, is not to say that conceptions are altogether unimportant epistemically. In fact, having conceptions is a requirement and constituent factor for obtaining assent, so that without conception one cannot have assent. The privileged status of "assent" in classical Islamic epistemology finds its parallel in the centrality of "propositional knowledge" in contemporary epistemology. For example, Louis Pojman writes: "epistemology is primarily interested in propositional knowledge."18
doi:10.1353/pew.2013.0023 fatcat:7n26bs7w5jgurjz7eqkk3hxqzq