Does the fact that we might be deceived by an evil demon mean that we actually do not know anything?

Essay by tonyhUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, October 2005

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It is the main task of epistemology to deal with some of the most fundamental and difficult questions of philosophy, namely those concerning the problem of knowledge. What, if anything, can we know and how can we justify this knowledge as being actual knowledge? In attempting to give answers to these questions, epistemology finds itself in a permanent battle with scepticism which often rejects possible solutions on the grounds of not being satisfactory. "The sceptic", as Nozick puts it, "argues that we do not know what we think we do. Even when he leaves us unconverted, he leaves us confused. Granting that we do know, how can we? Given these possibilities he poses, how is knowledge possible?" (1)

The sceptic's reasoning is underpinned by a number of powerful arguments often based on various hypothetical situations. We could imagine, for instance, that "there is someone who is extremely powerful and ...

malicious and cunning, who employs all his efforts and industry to deceive [us]." (2) It is also perfectly reasonable that we are only dreaming our whole life, since there is no way for us to tell whether we are awake or asleep and only dreaming we are awake. In all of these cases we would then have no guarantee that what we believe to be knowledge is actual knowledge, or that we are justified in knowing something.

It seems, however, that we still can have certain knowledge without being set right by the sceptic. But before examining this possibility, a definition of knowledge has to be given. Furthermore, a distinction between two different types of knowledge has to be drawn, whereby each will undergo the test of whether it is actual knowledge.

The traditional conception of knowledge is a tripartite one. In order for someone S to 'know that p',