Are Your Hands Really There?
Two Hands (1884–1885) by Vincent van Gogh.
Analytic philosopher G.E. Moore took a stand against the idealism and scepticism that emerged before him and advanced a more-common-sense philosophy. To understand Moore’s epistemology we can look to his famous ‘Here is one hand’ argument. It goes as follows:
P1: Here is one hand.
P2: And here is another.
C: Therefore, there is an external world.
The argument is simple but effective. Why? For if anything, it seems too simple! Well, it passes a logical triad: (i) the premises differ from the conclusion, (ii) they are both known to be true, and (iii) the conclusion follows from them.
However, many idealists and sceptics would, of course, at least doubt (ii). My senses could be deceiving me, for example: I could be in a simulation or a dream. Furthermore, beyond ‘common sense’, I don’t have a compelling theory of knowledge to be able to claim I know my hands exist outside of myself and are therefore really there.
Instead of rooting existence in the external world, sceptics such as Al Ghazali, Michel de Montaigne, and René Descartes centred knowledge in the self, over and above it.
But Moore put the following riposte to them: Why should I have more confidence in a sceptical conclusion than a common-sense one? You say my hands don’t really exist; I say your argument against them isn’t more compelling than my common sense!
Aldous Huxley, in The Divine Within: Selected Writings on Enlightenment, poses a counterthought:
Viz, in sum of his sharp and compelling take, Huxley claims that ‘I’ and the world are very much intertwined.
Who do you agree with?