David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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International Journal of Philosophical Studies 7 (2):141 – 158 (1999)
Robert Fogelin agrees that arguments for Cartesian sceptism carry a heavy burden of theoretical commitment, for they take for granted, explicitly or implicitly, the foundationalist's idea that experimental knowledge is in some fully general way 'epistemologically prior' to knowledge of the world. He thinks, however, that there is a much more direct and commonsensical route to scepticism. Ordinary knowledge-claims are accepted on the basis of justificatory procedures that fall far short of eliminating all conceivable error-possibilities. As a result, it is always possible, by bringing new errorpossibilities into play, to raise the 'level of scrutiny' to which a given knowledge-claim is subject, so that it no longer seems adequately justified. Philosophical theories of justification can be seen as attempts to repair this fragility of ordinary knowledge. But they fail, all succumbing to the Pyrrhonian modes of assumption, circularity or infinite regress. I argue that Fogelin's conception of varying levels of scrutiny leads at most to fallibilism and not to radical scepticism. More importantly, I show that changing the range of relevant defeaters to a given knowledge claim can do more that impose stricter standards for justification: it can change the subject by altering the direction of inquiry. We see from this that the introduction of 'sceptical hypotheses' (such as that Descartes's Evil Deceiver) are not best seen as raising standards to some maximal level but as introducing a new kind of evaluation which, without commitment to what I call 'epistemological realism,' does nothing to impugn the justificational status of ordinary knowledge-claims entered in ordinary contexts.
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