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Skepticism and Unreliable Knowledge Sources

Skepticism is associated with doubts about knowledge and its reliability. Skeptics stress that it is impossible to make sure that any source of knowledge is reliable enough, so people are likely to be mistaken all the time (Vaughn, 2018). The best illustration of this perspective is Plato’s assumption that the only thing he can know for sure is that he knows nothing. Skeptics believe that people can be deceived through all the sources of their knowledge, including memory, introspection, reason, and perception (Hasan, 2017). This paper includes a brief discussion of the reliability of the sources mentioned above and answers to skeptics’ major claims.

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Skeptics note that human perception is one of the least reliable sources of knowledge due to various reasons. For example, a boy can think he sees a red apple on a table in dim light. However, when he comes closer, he sees that it is a small ball, so his sight was not a reliable source of knowledge. However, as a response to skeptics, it is possible to state that people’s perception can be trusted if it is facilitated by other types of perception or if certain empirical steps are undertaken (Hasan, 2017). Thus, after taking the object in his hands, the boy sees it is not an apple. He could switch on the light and see that it was an apple.

Of course, some skeptics may use the argument mentioned in The Matrix that people can hardly know what the actual taste of chicken is. Children are told that what they eat is chicken, but they can, in fact, be eating turkey or even pork or salmon. This argument is also connected with the concept of introspection. Each person actually knows how they feel through self-analysis. At the very least, a child will understand that different kinds of foods taste differently, and other sources of knowledge (memory or reasoning) may help them know the truth. Through trying other types of meat and seeing the corresponding animals, a person can infer that some forms (like chicken legs) can help in finding the correct name for the meal. Even if the person is deceived by another human (or machine), it can seek other people’s help and use reasoning.

The reason is also quite an unreliable source of knowledge, according to skeptics. In terms of this philosophical paradigm, people cannot rely on their reason as they cannot find sufficient criteria to check hypotheses due to their limited ability to understand. However, this is the weakest argument as opponents make a justifiable note that if a person finds criteria to claim that reasoning lacks credibility, they are able to set the standards to verify their claims. Finally, memory is also unreliable, as seen by skeptics, since no one can guarantee that memories have not been “injected” or passed to a person rather than being true experiences. People can also feel they remember something instead of actually remembering things. Hasan (2019) uses an example of song lyrics justifying the reliability of people’s memory. The researcher states that if the person has true memories, this individual will expect certain words in the following lines. So, if a man remembers a song, he will know some words. Moreover, it is possible to argue that reasoning and trying to prove something requires remembering arguments, the basics of some concepts, and so on.

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that it is possible to doubt something, but complete disbelief in all possible sources of knowledge is irrelevant. In order to make sure that something is true, a person can simply use several sources of knowledge. Experiences and memories of other people can be regarded as another source of knowledge that can help in finding the truth as objective reality does exist.


Hasan, A. (2017). Critical introduction to the epistemology of perception. London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Hasan, A. (2019). The reliability of memory: An argument from the armchair. Episteme, 1-18. Web.

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Vaughn, L. (2018). Philosophy here and now: Powerful ideas in everyday life (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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