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Hi everyone, and welcome back to 【Let's Philosophize】.欢迎回来《知乎哲也》。
It’s been a long time. Welcome back to our studio. Hi, TJ.
Hi, Lulu. Great to be back.
I cannot wait to talk about more philosophical issues and philosophical topics that always give us a lot of food for thought. So what are we going to talk about today？
Well, I have a little bit of a weird question for you.
Have you ever seen a happy fish？
A happy fish?
I don't know. I’ve never really paid that much attention to fish.
When you look at a fish, you see them in restaurants and in ponds, you look at them, do you think that's a happy fish? that fish is having a good time？
I don't think fish in restaurants would be happy, but in pond, sometimes maybe, when they're like just swimming around, yeah, perhaps I feel like they're very at ease. Why？
I'm sure that you and a lot of the listeners already know this story, but there's a famous story from Chinese philosophy in the Zhuangzi, in this book where they talk about the happiness of the fish, right？
就是子非鱼, 安知鱼之乐, 对吧？
And Zhuangzi when he sees the fish, he says this is a happy fish. The fish looks happy today or there's several different translations of this. But and then Huishi he says no, right, he’s like how do you know? You're not a fish.
And Zhuangzi’s reply is how do you know that I don't know, because you're not me. So he goes round and round as philosophy turns to. As philosophy does, he goes round and round.
But this is a question of doubt, right？And knowing these are two sides of the same coin. If you can doubt something, then you can know it.
Basically, how do we know what we know. Right. Or what we don't know？How do we make sure that what we know is what is true.
By the way, you mentioned Zhuangzi, obviously there're lots of Chinese philosophers have talked about this, but what about western philosophers? Any theories relating to doubts and believing truth？Knowing？
Well, as you'd imagine, there's a lot, you know, but we can start with the most classic example, the most famous example, which is from Descartes.
This is the way the English normally pronounce it.
He wants to question what can we know, so he starts off and he starts off with simple things like sometimes I think I see somebody, but then I realize maybe somebody else, this kind of examples, simple errors in our everyday life.
So we can doubt those things. And then he goes onto more examples. We have dreams, we have hallucination. He goes on to more and more complex examples until we reach something like mathematics.
Can we doubt that 1+1 equals 2？Could we be mistaken about that？Maybe, maybe not, that we won't go into the details of this, but eventually… and he says I could be being fooled about almost everything. That could be an evil demon.
That's the famous Descartes’ demon, right？
Right. So you have this evil demon, he's fooling you, you know? He is constantly making you believe things that are not true. The whole world is a lie.
So in the modern world, we would think of films like the Matrix; or just the idea of a scientist that can trick you into believing things that are not true. And we see this in real science, people poking people's brains and making them do all kinds of strange, and believe all kinds of strange things.
So he gets to this very bottom, so he's doubted everything. And then he thinks well, there is one thing I can’t doubt, and that is I am doubting, because I'm actually doing it right now.
So there's some thought happening, right？And then the Latin for this is Cogito ergo sum.
I think therefore I am. 我思故我在。
So by doubting everything, what he is sure of is his doubts.
Maybe some people would say he could be tricked that he's doubting. But there's definitely a thought there even if the thought is wrong, he's doing something, right? He's definitely doing some… probably doubting, but he's definitely doing something.
So what Descartes does and this is the first answer to the problem of doubt is what we call foundationalism.
Right. And this is trying to build something from a foundation. You have some belief, for Descartes, it is this, I think therefore I am. And then you try to build up from that.
Foundationalism is more about you have something that you are quite sure about. And then you build on from that foundation.
Yeah, and I think this is quite natural, right？Even if you argue with your friend, you think okay, I know my friend is not trying to cheat me because they're my friends.
That's the foundation, the bond between you two that you firmly believe in.
Exactly. And then you think if they don't want to cheat me, they don't hate me, then why are they angry or why are they doing this? That you have some foundation of belief.
But Descartes is not looking for a foundation of a friendship; he's looking for a foundation of everything, the whole universe.
The problem is where do you go from this？I think therefore I am. How can you use this to prove that mathematics is real, the sun is in the sky？It’s quite difficult.
Descartes, he tries to use God to do this. He thinks that he can prove that God exists and if you prove God exists, that means that everything is okay.
Okay. So like a superpower, basically it’s a power above human.
Once that is established then everything can be explainable.
Yeah. So the very very quick version of the argument is I think therefore something must have made me. And if something made me, it must be better than me. This is a belief that Descartes had, which maybe is a bit strange now.
And then the thing that made me or made everything, they must be the best thing and the best thing would be nice. And if the best thing is nice, it wouldn't trick me, therefore everything is real. This is like a very long book in like five sentences.
Yeah, but this is kind of similar to religion, like religious belief.
Well, Descartes is religious, for him, this is an important part of his philosophy is that God exists as far as he's concerned.
All right. So you just explain to us about foundationalism and Descartes’ doubt. What about some other ways to find the truth or other theories about doubts and knowing?
So the other big answer that we have in the West to the question of doubt is pragmatism.
Well, my favorite person is this philosopher called Agrippa. I think he summarizes all of these really difficult philosophical problems about doubt really, really well in his five tropes, in his five fundamental questions about doubt that we have to answer if we really want to understand the world.
And what are these five tropes? Basically like the five mountains or five fundamental questions have to ask yourself if we want to know more about doubts and knowing.
The first one is about the disagreement of experts, and some people call this dissent.
We see this in the modern world, where we look at any question, even scientific questions, we see a lot of disagreement, what people should do, how we should treat our husbands and wives, the relationship between the student and the teacher.
There's a lot of different agreements, especially when you look in different places in the world. So this is the first thing that Agrippa would say. If the experts can't agree, then how can the normal people survive？
It’s such a difficult and profound question because if experts people who actually know a lot of knowledge and have a lot more experience and training, they disagree, that makes us think are there any actual truth in the world?
Is it just their own leanings? Is it just because they are speaking for different groups of people. Maybe that explains their different opinions.
Exactly. I remember one of my philosophy teachers said to me when I was very young. They said whatever you believe, somebody smarter than you believes the opposite. That's true.
That's actually a depressing thing to think about. I think nowadays especially with social media given everyone a voice, so we tend to obviously gravitate towards people we agree with.
So we eventually just feel like we hold the truth. Because, see people I talk to on the internet, they agree with me; but then it's scary to start thinking like what you just said. Am I really that smart？What I believe in, what I hold to be the ultimate truth, how could the other person, how could other people who are much smarter than I am, how could they not know or not think the way I do？
Exactly. And it works either way because if you change your belief, then somebody smarter than you still has the opposite belief because they disagree too. So it's one of those. Okay, so I think that's enough of that.
So that was the first one. It's about the disagreement or the dissent.
What about the second, you said there were five.
Right. The next one is that things appeared differently to different people. So this is kind of relativism.
Yeah, I don't know how many people in the audience like movies, but so there's a famous Kurosawa film called Rashomon where they look at the same story from different perspectives.
《罗生门》, 黑泽明的《罗生门》其实是非常有名的一部电影了, 相信很多的小伙伴也看过。So different points of views.
Right. And there's another one called Crash, there’s a more modern American one that has a similar premise. But the idea is when you look at the story from a different perspective, then it seems very very different.
You can see this when you are in your local area. And there's an argument between your grandma and one of the other grandmas in the local area. And you hear the story from your mother and your brother and your …all these different people, you know, tell you the story; and the story is a little bit different every time, right？
This couldn't be more true. If you think about the world, different countries would see exactly the same international affair, international event in completely different lights.
So what is the truth？
Exactly. I'm sure our listeners see the news and… Right, every country has a completely different story, even countries that are closed to each other. So like…
In Europe here, you can see the history of Europe is very different, if you're a French person, an English person, or a German person.
And even inside our country, when we look at England 100 years ago, that most English people say England 100 years ago is not very good. They made a lot of mistakes of the way they treat women, the way they treat people who aren't white. They would say definitely not great. But 100 years ago, they would say 100 years before that, England had some problems, they needed to change the ideas.
Even in your own country, you have this problem too. So in 100 years’ time, they will say the same thing about us. I'm sure, this is the second problem.
Yeah. Depends on the context, depending on what you represent, depending on the historical limitations, geographical limitations, cultural limitations, political limitations you see, kind of like a relative fact or relative truth. So this is the argument of whether there is ultimate truth in the world.
In today’s 【Let’s Philosophize】, we talked to TJ about doubts, and how we know what we know we know. In the next episode, we are going to continue this interesting yet very confusing topic.