Scepticism and Naturalism

Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1995)
Descartes' First Meditation presents a serious challenge to the theoretical enterprise of science by raising doubts about our belief that we know truths. The various strategies for refuting the challenge, represented by Descartes, Putnam and Austin, have proven unsuccessful, leaving theoretical knowledge without foundations. If we are to provide a secure basis for the scientific enterprise, we must provide an alternative to Descartes' conception of theoretical knowledge. ;Naturalists attempt to establish such an alternative by appealing to the continuity between the beliefs of other animals and our theoretical beliefs. Thus Hume urges that our beliefs owe to instinct and conditioning. The pragmatic naturalists--Peirce, Dewey, and Quine--may be seen as extending Hume's account to include the use of language and a fortiori, our beliefs that we know truths. However, these efforts fall short because they neglect the reflective character of theoretical knowledge. ;I argue for a more classical conception of naturalism, according to which theoretical activity as part of our natural history. This account provides an alternative to Descartes' conception of theoretical knowledge, without neglecting the reflective character of such knowledge
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