Archive for the ‘Scepticism’ Category



Think you’re open-minded? This interesting discussion of open-mindedness, the burden of proof and supernatural beliefs might interest you…

This review essay of two recent books provides a useful introduction to some of the philosophical problems surrounding the compatibility of religion and science.  Prof. Coyne thinks that religion and science can never really be made compatible – but is this right?  How might one form an ‘indirect’ response to this kind of  view? It […]

As mentioned in a previous lesson, Wittgenstein is noted for having developed two distinct philosophies. In the early work (like the Tractatus) Wittgenstein tried to spell out precisely what a logically constructed language can (and cannot) be used to say. Its seven basic propositions simply state that language, thought, and reality share a common structure, […]



We normally think of zombies as flesh-eating soulless automations animated by evil forces or radioactive waste. In philosophy of mind, ‘zombies’ are hypothetical creatures that share all the physical characteristics of human beings – including behaviour – but are entirely devoid of consciousness. This can even extend to sharing neurological and biochemical structures. Zombies are […]



Another direct response to this form of skepticism is behaviourism, which in philosophy is associated with Skinner, Carnap and Ryle. In psychology, behaviourism is the view that all human activities (including inner mental life) are exhaustively described by accounts of behaviour. In philosophy of mind behaviourism is the thesis that when we refer to psychological […]

The ‘Problem of Other Minds’ is an epistemological problem. It is based on the difference between the way we experience our own selves and the way we experience the selves of others. Consider the kinds of mental states that we have ourselves such as beliefs, desires, emotions and feelings.We have direct access to these for […]

Like Heidegger, Wittgenstein wants to show that scepticism about the external world does not make sense. How does he go about this? It is important to note that Wittgenstein is unusual among philosophers in having presented two significantly different philosophies (referred to as ‘early’ (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the only book published in his lifetime) and ‘late’ […]

Heidegger was a student of Husserl, founder of phenomenology. Husserl was a ‘transcendental phenomenologist’ who thought that there was a direct correlation between our experiences and the world around us. As such, conscious experiences (phenomena) could provide a reliable basis for scientific knowledge. Unlike Heidegger, he retained the subject/object distinction and the transcendental ego.In his […]

Transcendental Idealism differs from standard (empirical) idealism in that it does not claim that the objects of our experiences would be in any sense only within our minds. Whenever we experience something, that experience is necessarily personal. The object experienced exists independent of our minds, but our perception of it is corrupted by the categories […]

In what way is Kant’s ‘transcendental idealism dependent on ‘things-in themselves’? What problems are there with the doctrine of things in themselves? How might Kant defend this doctrine?

How can we tell when we are dreaming? Some people have such lucid, everyday dreams that they believe they are awake. When they are truly awake, however, they realize their mistake… how?

Is it possible that you are nothing more than a brain in a vat, cleverly linked up to a machine that stimulates your brain in such a way as to make you believe that you are a person with a body who can walk around, talk to other people and do all of the other […]

Kant, like Descartes and Berkeley, asks the following question: how can we distinguish appearances from reality? Rationalists (like Descartes) tried to escape the epistemological confines of the mind by constructing knowledge of the external world, the self, the soul, God, ethics, and science out of the simplest, indubitable ideas possessed innately by the mind while […]

George Berkeley, an anglican Irish bishop, was another of the great philosophers of the early modern period. He was a critic of his predecessors, including Descartes, and advocated a rather extreme form of Idealism.Idealism is the view that everything that exists is either a mind or depends for its existence upon a mind. Berkeley took […]

One of the primary representatives of this kind of skepticism about the external world was René Descartes, who is often regarded as the first modern philosopher for his break with the scholastic, medieval tradition that preceded him. Descartes was a mathematician, and wanted to find a basis for truth that was as reliable as the […]

Bertrand Russell was one of the most well-known of British philosophers of the 20th century.  Here’s what he had to say about Nietzsche in his History of Western Philosophy.

Nietzsche gives his account of the origins of our moral prejudices in Zur Genealogie der Moral (‘On the Genealogy of Morals’).  You can find the whole text online at:  

 You might be interested in this BBC documentary about Nietzsche…  You can see striking footage of Nietzsche on his death-bed on my other website at 

May I be forgiven the discovery that all moral philosophy hitherto has been boring – and that ‘virtue’ has in my eyes been harmed by nothing more than…by this boringness of its advocates; in saying which, however I should not want to overlook their general utility. It is important that as few people as possible […]

A word now against Kant as a moralist. A virtue must be our invention; it must spring out of our personal need and defense. In every other case it is a source of danger. That which does not belong to our life menaces it; a virtue which has its roots in mere respect for the […]