David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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In S. Luper (ed.), The Skeptics. Ashgate 227--247 (2003)
Throughout the 20th century, an enormous amount of intellectual fuel was spent debating the merits of a class of skeptical arguments which purport to show that knowledge of the external world is not possible. These arguments, whose origins can be traced back to Descartes, played an important role in the work of some of the leading philosophers of the 20th century, including Russell, Moore and Wittgenstein, and they continue to engage the interest of contemporary philosophers. (e.g., Cohen 1999, DeRose 1995, Hill 1996, Klein 1981, Lewis 1996, McGinn 1993, Nozick 1981, Schiffer 1996, Unger 1975, Williams 1996) Typically, these arguments make use of one or more premises which the philosophers proposing them take to be intuitively obvious. Beyond an appeal to intuition, little or no defense is offered, and in many cases it is hard to see what else could be said in support of these premises. A number of authors have suggested that the intuitions undergirding these skeptical arguments are universal – shared by everyone (or almost everyone) who thinks reflectively about knowledge. In this paper we will offer some evidence indicating that they are far from universal. Rather, the evidence suggests that many of the intuitions epistemologists invoke vary with the cultural background, socioeconomic status and educational background of the person offering the intuition. And this, we will argue, is bad news for the skeptical arguments that rely on those intuitions. The evidence may also be bad news for skepticism itself – not because it shows that skepticism is false, but rather because, if we accept one prominent account of the link between epistemic intuitions and epistemic concepts, it indicates that skepticism may be much less interesting and much less worrisome than philosophers have taken it to be.
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