Is it possible to be a radical skeptic and still believe statements to be true in a way that is internally consistent? Why or why not?

The definition of "Radical Skeptic" I'm using is as follows. A person is a radical skeptic if and only if that person believes that knowledge is impossible to attain.

The definition of knowledge I'm using is the classical definition. For the purposes of this question, knowledge is true justified belief.

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    They can have a set of internally consistent pragmatic beliefs – IsThatTrue Apr 24 '18 at 12:47
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    @R.Rincón A definition of “radical skeptic” would assist readers who are interested in answering the question. Can you give examples of statements that might be difficult to make consistent. – Mark Andrews Apr 24 '18 at 17:35
  • Is this a HW question? We only answer those if the poster gives their own reasoning and describes a specific difficulty. "Radical skeptics" are those who reserve judgment on everything, so they do not have any beliefs, at least in theory. – Conifold Apr 24 '18 at 21:28
  • @Conifold This is not a homework question. Regardless of what the true definition of "radical skeptic" is, my question stands. I've edited the question to include the definition I'm using. For the purposes of answering the question, it may be helpful to agree on the definition of radical skeptic. Or, if that doesn't suit you, feel free to give the kind of person I'm referring to a different label. Restated without the use of "radical skeptic," my question is the following. Is it possible for a person to believe that knowledge is unattainable and have an internally consistent set of beliefs? – R. Rincón Apr 25 '18 at 13:18
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    @Conifold for the purpose of the question, knowledge is justified true belief. – R. Rincón Apr 26 '18 at 15:28

Trivially yes. One can believe something which is internally consistent and yet not know that it is internally consistent. The only issue would arise if, for some reason, the radical skeptic felt they needed to know that belief was internally consistent, which would indeed violate the spirit of radical skepticism.

  • This is very close to answering my question. Please refer to the definition of radical skepticism used for this question. It might help to restate the question in your answer to confirm your understanding of what I'm asking. – R. Rincón Apr 27 '18 at 22:30
  • Indeed, mathematicians believe that arithmetics is consistent, but they don't know it (even more, according to Gödel, if it is consistent they will never know it). – celtschk May 26 '18 at 9:25

This turns out mostly to be a linguistic trick of a question. The trick is hiding in three things:

  1. a definition of belief
  2. a definition of knowledge
  3. "in a way that is" ...

Probably, the most important piece is working out what "belief" means here.

There's several different ways of relating belief to knowledge, but you helpfully tell us that your radical skeptic believes knowledge is unattainable. This means that belief and knowledge are viewed as distinct acts rather than spectrum. Presumably, the difference is going to be that knowledge possesses a type of certainty (justification?) that differs.

The next thing to thing about given this background for "belief" is whether an agent needs to be aware of his beliefs to believe them? Here, I don't see any reason why this must be so.

Assuming the answer is no, then finally we can turn to "in a way", can someone by coincidence have beliefs that are internally consistent? Yes, absolutely, why not.

Now, things change a bit if we say that someone must be aware of their own beliefs (here, I want to avoid saying they "know" their own beliefs -- because that sense of awareness does not have a perfectly clear relation to "knowledge"). Here, the definition of knowledge is going to be a problem ...

tl;dr - define belief, knowledge, "in a way" very clearly and the answer should appear automatically.

  • I can't define belief except to give synonyms, which doesn't help at all to define the word. For the purposes of the question, one does not have to be consciously aware of their own beliefs, but they must be able to confirm or deny having a belief of a statement if prompted. I edited the post to define knowledge. Having internally consistent beliefs by coincidence counts as having internally consistent beliefs for the purposes of the question. – R. Rincón May 26 '18 at 7:58

A person is a radical skeptic if and only if that person believes that knowledge is impossible to attain.

That is not a skeptical position, which would withold judgement on that.

Unless, you implicitly define 'knowledge' as consisting of provable truths in a way analogous to mathematics, or as emerging from some foundation which somehow resolves the nature and origination of meaning. These are we think we have strong evidence, not possible.

Science is tentative and proceeds only by hypothesees. It has been argued, that science must remain fundamentally incomplete, that is if all true axioms are known and unified, all truths will still not be recursively enumerable http://www.hawking.org.uk/godel-and-the-end-of-physics.html

So is science radically skeptic? No, it simply doesn't bother to be. The scientific positiin is agnosticism, not atheism, because the metaphysical speculation is just irrelevant without relating it to specific evidence.

I know of two well established schools of thought which can reasonably be described as radically sceptical. The first is the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism. The acknowledged core of this is the demonstration of the futility of metaphysical speculations.

The second is postmodern antifoundationalism, which is approximately the view that knowledge must be understood with a behavioural context and reference to power, which places fundamental limits on the possibility of objectivity (though it can be achieved by degree). This does not view knowledge as impossible, only redifines it as not having the transcendental qualities which might wish it to have, which are fundamentally revealed as a power-play.

So. Your definition is essentially absurd, self contradictory. Radical skeptics can and do place limits on the definition and especially objectivity or universality of knowledge. It is a perspective widely, and convincingly held, which allow many metaphysical quandaries to be discarded, including whether we can have fundamental or transcendentally true knowledge. The only reason this is not more widely recognised, is that radical skeptics exactly have no interest anymore in whether their view is fundamentally or transcendentally true. Lol

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