G.E. Moore’s Argument for the Existence of an External World

1. Introduction

In this essay, I will be discussing the philosophical problem of the external world, and in particular, G.E. Moore’s response to it. I will firstly explain what is meant by the problem of the external world and how it was first posed by René Descartes in his Meditations on First Philosophy. I will then go on to discuss Moore’s response to Descartes and finally, present Moore’s own argument for the existence of an external world, which he gives in his famous paper, “Proof of an External World”.

2. The philosophical problem of the external world

The philosophical problem of the external world can be stated as follows: how can we know that there is an external world (i.e. a world beyond our own minds) that we are perceiving? It might seem like a very simple question to answer at first glance, but upon closer inspection, it is actually quite a difficult problem to solve. In order to answer this question, we need to first understand what is meant by “knowledge”.

There are two main types of knowledge: empirical knowledge and a priori knowledge. Empirical knowledge is knowledge that is based on experience, observation and experiment (i.e. it is “knowing from observation”). A priori knowledge is knowledge that is not based on experience, but instead on reason alone (i.e. it is “knowing from thinking”). The problem of the external world is a philosophical problem because it cannot be solved empirically; that is, we cannot know for certain that there is an external world simply by looking around us and observing our surroundings (as we would if we were trying to solve a scientific problem). Instead, we need to use our reason to try and determine whether or not there is an external world.

3. Descartes’ arguments for the existence of an external world

René Descartes was one of the first philosophers to tackle the problem of the external world head-on. In his Meditations on First Philosophy, he set out to provide a proof for the existence of an external world that was beyond all doubt. He begins by doubting everything that he knows (or thinks he knows) in order to see if there is anything left that he can be certain of. He initially doubts his senses (i.e. he doubts that what he sees, hears etc., are really happening), but then realizes that even if his senses are deceiving him, he must still exist in order to be deceived. From this, he arrives at what is known as his famous “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) argument:

“I think, therefore I am.” (René Descartes)

This argument states that the act of thinking itself proves our own existence; even if everything else in the world is an illusion, we know for certain that we exist because we are doing the thinking!

However, just because we exist does not mean that there necessarily is an external world too; after all, maybe we are just dreaming and there is no such thing as an external reality at all! In order to try and prove that there definitely is an external world, Descartes needs to find something within this dream-world that cannot be doubted; something that he can be certain of. He eventually arrives at the conclusion that the only thing he can be absolutely certain of is that he is thinking. From this, he arrives at his famous “clear and distinct” perceptions argument:

“I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it.” (René Descartes)

This argument states that our perceptions (i.e. what we see, hear etc.) are clear and distinct when we think about them; they are not just random thoughts or images floating around in our heads. This means that they must come from somewhere else; they cannot just be products of our imagination because they are too clear and too distinct to have been created by us. Therefore, Descartes concludes that there must be an external world that we are perceiving through our senses.

4. Moore’s response to Descartes

Although Descartes’ arguments for the existence of an external world seem quite convincing at first glance, they actually contain a number of flaws. The first flaw is that Descartes’ starting point is to doubt everything that he knows; but surely if we doubt everything, then we can never know anything for certain! If we cannot know anything for certain, then how can we know for certain that there is an external world?

The second flaw is that even if we accept Descartes’ clear and distinct perceptions argument, all it proves is that there is something outside of our minds that we are perceiving; it does not prove that this something actually exists (i.e. it could just be an illusion). In order to prove that there definitely is an external world, we need to find something within this world that we can be certain of; something that cannot be doubted.

It was these flaws in Descartes’ arguments that led G.E. Moore to develop his own argument for the existence of an external world, which he presented in his famous paper “Proof of an External World”. In this paper, Moore set out to provide a proof for the existence of an external world that was beyond all doubt; an argument that would not suffer from the same flaws as Descartes’ arguments.

5. Moore’s own argument for the existence of an external world

Moore’s argument for the existence of an external world is based on the following premises:

P1: I know for certain that I exist.
P2: I know for certain that my hand exists.
P3: Therefore, I know for certain that there is an external world.

The first premise (P1) is based on Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” argument; the fact that we exist is something that cannot be doubted because it is self-evident (i.e. it is something that we know just by thinking about it). The second premise (P2) is based on Moore’s own experience; he simply reaches out and touches his hand to know for certain that it exists (i.e. this is empirical knowledge). The third premise (P3) follows logically from the first two premises; if I know for certain that I exist and I know for certain my hand exists, then it must be the case that there is an external world (i.e. a world beyond my own mind).

Moore’s argument is therefore a sound argument; it is an argument that is valid (i.e. the premises lead logically to the conclusion) and the premises are true (i.e. they cannot be doubted). This means that it is an effective response to the problem of the external world; Moore has managed to provide a proof for the existence of an external world that does not suffer from the same flaws as Descartes’ arguments.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, the problem of the external world is a philosophical problem that cannot be solved empirically; that is, we cannot know for certain that there is an external world simply by looking around us and observing our surroundings. In order to try and answer this question, we need to use our reason to try and determine whether or not there is an external world.

René Descartes was one of the first philosophers to tackle the problem of the external world head-on. In his Meditations on First Philosophy, he set out to provide a proof for the existence of an external world that was beyond all doubt. However, his arguments contain a number of flaws; in particular, they do not prove that there definitely is an external world, but only that there is something outside of our minds that we are perceiving (i.e. it could just be an illusion).

It was these flaws in Descartes’ arguments that led G.E. Moore to develop his own argument for the existence of an external world, which he presented in his famous paper “Proof of an External World”. Moore’s argument is based on the following premises:

P1: I know for certain that I exist.
P2: I know for certain that my hand exists.
P3: Therefore, I know for certain that there is an external world.

Moore’s argument is therefore a sound argument; it is an argument that is valid (i.e. the premises lead logically to the conclusion) and the premises are true (i.e. they cannot be doubted). This means that it is an effective response to the problem of the external world; Moore has managed to provide a proof for the existence of an external world that does not suffer from the same flaws as Descartes’ arguments.

FAQ

The problem of the external world affects our everyday lives by causing us to question the reality of what we see and experience. We are constantly bombarded with information from the media, advertising, and other sources that can distort our view of the world. This can lead to a feeling of isolation and anxiety, as well as a sense of being disconnected from others.

Some possible solutions to this problem include: seeking out accurate information sources, spending time in nature, connecting with others who share similar views, and meditating or practicing mindfulness.

The implications of this problem for our future are far-reaching. If we do not find ways to solve the problem of the external world, it could lead to further disconnection from each other and from nature. This could eventually lead to a breakdown in society as we know it.

One way to better understand and solve the problem of the external world is by looking at it from different perspectives. We can start by looking at how different cultures view the world and how they deal with problems similar to ours. We can also look at how animals interact with their environment and what lessons we can learn from them about living in harmony with nature