If one accepts general skepticism, every proposition is false — at best merely useful fictions. In other words, skepticism is more than compatible with general fictionalism, it practically endorses it. And through fictionalism, a way can be provided to mitigate or even completely avoid what makes skepticism so problematic: Cognition isn’t dismissed as worthless just because it’s recognized as unable to produce truth, because this is countered by the recognition that thought structures of surprising accuracy can be built with the stuff of fiction. What is surprising is that reality is simple enough for us to capture so well with our entirely fictional models. Why this is, we cannot account for, except in fictional terms, with models produced by physics or metaphysics.
Presumably, there is a real world. Strictly speaking, we can’t know for sure, and it’s important to keep this in mind, but the belief is practically indispensable, so we’ll make the short “skip of faith” and presume that it’s true. This real world is by definition outside or beyond our fictional bubble of experience, so we can postulate these as separate metaphysical domains. Transcendent reality on the one hand, fictionality on the other.
At this point, we can appeal to the computationalist theory of mind for support. Specifically, the domain of fictionality can be identified with the realm of possible experience as defined by the supposedly computational limitions of the brain. Following this analogy one step further, we can substitute the term “fictionality” with “virtuality”, which is better, because it is more neutral (and more gramatically versatile).
Our many different worldviews, from the scientific ones to the more directly experienced ones, can all be thought of as mentally constructed virtual worlds, with varying degrees of accuracy with regard to different aspects of reality. — But how can we justify saying that our entirely virtual models are accurate, in the context of a metaphysical picture where we’re confined to the domain of virtuality, unable to compare our models with reality? The solution must be to define accuracy without referring to the domain of reality. Then, we can proceed to investigate whether such a virtual basis justifies calling it accuracy, a word which inevitably conjures up the notion of correspondence between thought and reality, which we’ve just ruled out as impossible.
The natural ground for accuracy claims is sense data. Intuitively, using this as the basis is obviously referring to reality. But in the above outlined metaphysics, it has to be understood as internal to virtuality, simply because we’re able to access it at all. This might seem as an absurd statement, to which one might object that even if sense data itself isn’t placed in the domain of reality, at least it has reality as its original source. But this can be dismissed by an appeal to our current scientific understanding of the senses. For instance, what makes us see is signals from photoreceptor neurons in our eyes that triggers when light of a certain wavelength hits it. These neurons are the original source of sense data as data, not the light that triggers them. Light, sound, smells etc. are at best merely potential information.
Putting the above analysis aside, we do in fact trust our senses, and base our virtual construction work on the information we receive from them. Usually, we even believe that whatever is in accordance with sense data is in accordance with reality. Strictly speaking, this is a mistake, but it’s a very fruitful mistake, so in most circumstances we can allow ourselves to commit it. Especially as the more accurate alternatives typically are a lot more demanding. The same goes to some degree for even the most certain of our beliefs, like the belief in the existence of a real world, or the belief that our senses are caused to generate information by physical events in reality, and that we can build virtual constructions of varying degrees of correspondence with reality on the basis of this information.
We call our cognition accurate merely because we accept the belief in some kind of correspondence, but a very strict analysis of cognition (such as the one above) will not be able to substantiate this — or any other belief for that matter, if we put the bar high enough.
Accepting skepticism makes one give up the hope that a belief might be true, but this should not be taken as the end-all for belief. Radical fictionalism makes it possible to believe even in the harsh climate of general skepticism. When truth is understood to be impossible, it is a small step to recognize that “mere usefulness” is not such a weak principle of justification after all.
Certain beliefs helps us in our cognitive endeavors — and that includes any particular belief that our beliefs have to be justified in accordance with some principle. A belief of this kind can be conceived of as a “virtual frame” we can apply methodologically, to filter virtual content in ways that makes sense. The scientific method is a particularly fruitful example. But no frame is universally applicable (except perhaps the amorphous principle “usefulness”, insofar as the question of in what regard usefulness is to be evaluated is left open). Philosophy should stop obsessing with this issue.
When our goals change, we should filter and organize virtuality accordingly. This plasticity is provided by fictionalist metaphysics.
Fictionalist metaphysics can itself be seen as a frame, but it’s not one that excludes any virtual content, because the only thing it demands is a change in one’s stance toward what is thought/believed/experienced. Everything is to be seen as fiction, with no possibility of truthbearing, but every possibility of being useful to us in our various endeavors. Thus, fictionalist metaphysics includes all its competitors, as shown in the diagram below. What is portrayed on the left is scientific realism as a dogmatic metaphysical theory. And on the right, the same scientific realism as embedded within the frame of fictionalist metaphysics. I realize this raises a lot of questions, especially when you realize that the square representing fictionalist metaphysics itself is included within its own frame. But these issues are far too complicated to start investigating yet. The basic picture has to be settled first.