I imagine that I am in a tiny submarine with no doors, drifting in a giant ocean. All that I know about the ocean comes to me through the various screens and microphones situated in my cockpit. I have no way of knowing whether those are giving me an accurate portrayal of the world, but it is all I have.
How could I go about gaining knowledge of the ocean? I can't just go outside and experience it directly. I can just give up, and just navigate using what works, not worrying about whether I am right. That doesn't seem like the best route though. I am curious about the ocean, and I think it worthwhile to understand it. Plus, I don't want to run into something unknown that will rupture my hull. I have both practical and theoretical reasons to try to understand, despite my limitations being stuck in the ship.
Everybody else is in a similar ship, though I can't know how their screens and microphones are working. I try to get knowledge from them in those areas of the ocean I have yet to explore.
It will be impossible for me to ever know if I am totally right as to the nature of the ocean, but that doesn't mean I can't try. There are plenty of times that I find out I am wrong, and these can serve as guide posts as we go along. The more wrong ideas I get rid of, the closer I am getting to the truth. Though it is certainly possible that there is really nothing outside of my sub, that seems a flat, uninteresting, and implausible explanation for the richness of what I experience through my portals.
The take away points for me here are the following:
- There is no answer key or users guide for life. We all do the best we can with the faculties we have, and there are no guarantees.
- It is always possible we are vastly mistaken, even in our most deeply held beliefs.
- Even with no guarantees or certainties, we should still try to do our best to develop good ways to eliminate false beliefs and maintain true beliefs.
- We can't get outside of ourselves to see the world from an "objective" viewpoint. It isn't even clear if such a viewpoint is even coherent.
Obviously, these are just starting points from the position of epistemology. They say nothing of values, or how we should act if such a view is correct. What I suggest is simply that these points be kept in mind when we reason about things that are beyond the mundane.