I focus on a key argument for global external world scepticism resting on the underdetermination thesis: the argument according to which we cannot know any proposition about our physical environment because sense evidence for it equally justifies some sceptical alternative (e.g. the Cartesian demon conjecture). I contend that the underdetermination argument can go through only if the controversial thesis that conceivability is per se a source of evidence for metaphysical possibility is true. I also suggest a reason to doubt (...) that conceivability is per se a source of evidence for metaphysical possibility, and thus to doubt the underdetermination argument. (shrink)
McDowell has argued that external world scepticism is a pressing problem only in so far as we accept, on the basis of the argument from illusion, the claim that perceiving that p and hallucinating that p involve a highest common factor.
The Socratic Paradox (that only Socrates is wise, and only because only he recognizes our lack of wisdom) is explained, elaborated and defended. His philosophical scepticism is distinguished from others (Pyrrhonian, Cartesian, Humean, Kripkean Wittgenstein, etc.): the doubt concerns our understanding of our beliefs, not our justification for them; the doubt is a posteriori and inductive, not a priori. Post-Socratic philosophy confirms this scepticism: contra-Descartes, our ideas are not transparent to us; contra-Verificationism, no criterion distinguishes sense from nonsense. (...) The import of this scepticism for professional ethicists is examined. (shrink)
In The Realm of Reason (2004), Christopher Peacocke develops a “generalized rationalism” concerning, among other things, what it is for someone to be “entitled”, or justified, in forming a given belief. In the course of his discussion, Peacocke offers two arguments to the best explanation that aim to undermine scepticism and establish a justification for our belief in the reliability of sense perception, respectively. If sound, these ambitious arguments would answer some of the oldest and most vexing epistemological problems. (...) In this paper I will evaluate these arguments, concluding that they are inconclusive at best. Despite offering some interestingly original arguments, Peacocke gives us no reason to think that scepticism is false, and that perception is generally reliable. (shrink)
So-called 'hinge propositions', Wittgenstein's version of our basic beliefs, are not propositions at all, but heuristic expressions of our bounds of sense which, as such, cannot meaningfully be said but only show themselves in what we say and do. Yet if our foundational certainty is necessarily an ineffable, enacted certainty, any challenge of it must also be enacted. Philosophical scepticism – being a mere mouthing of doubt – is impotent to unsettle a certainty whose salient conceptual feature is that (...) it is lived. I appeal to psychopathology to show that the lived refutation of a basic certainty is not a manifestation of uncertainty, but of madness. (shrink)
Coping with everyday life limits the extent of one’s scepticism. It is practically impossible to doubt the existence of the things with which one is immediately engaged and interacting. To doubt that, say, a door exists, is to step back from merely using the door (opening it) and to reflect on it in a detached, theoretical way. It is impossible to simultaneously act and live immersed in situation S while doubting that one is in S. Sceptical doubts—such as ‘Is (...) this really a door?’, ‘Am I really walking?’ — require a reflective withdrawal in thought from the situation at hand. Maintaining sceptical doubt while coping with everyday life requires a split consciousness, a bad faith, with one part of consciousness doubting the existing of things that the other part takes forgranted. For this reason, a sustained lived sceptical doubt is sometimes thought to be impossible. -/- In this article, I examine Wittgenstein's response to scepticism in "On Certainty". I argue that one of his responses is "the response based on action", which is (as other Wittgenstein interpreters have noted) a characteristically pragmatist response. I then evaluate the quality of this pragmatist response to scepticism, noting that actions just as much as representations are susceptible to mis-interpretation. It is argued that despite the insights contained in it, Wittgenstein's contextualism about meaning is inadequate to rescue the Wittgensteinian response to scepticism. (shrink)
[FIRST PARAGRAPHS]The role of Professor McLaughlin's sceptic is to introduce certain 'sceptical hypotheses', hypotheses which imply the falsity of most of what we believe about the world. Professor McLaughlin asks whether these hypotheses are coherent and thus whether they can tell us anything about what are entitled to believe, or to claim to know. He concludes that, semantic externalism notwithstanding, these hypotheses are both coherent and threatening. I shall not question this conclusion but I do wonder whether the fate of (...)scepticism hangs entirely on the coherence of the sceptical hypotheses. I shall maintain that the root of scepticism, at least as we find it in Descartes and Hume, is the demand for certainty. Recent writers are likely to dismiss this demand for certainty: in their view, inconclusive evidence is quite sufficient both to justify belief and to give us knowledge (should the proposition in question turn out to be true). Like Professor McLaughlin, recent debate focuses rather on the possibility that we might have no evidence at all for our beliefs, that our belief-forming processes might be completely unreliable, undermining both knowledge and justification. It is the sceptical hypotheses which generate this worry - ordinary error does not - and so it is they alone, not the prosaic fact of our fallibility, which provide grounds for a real sceptical doubt. Descartes and Hume are standard reference points for discussion of the sceptical hypotheses. Yet, I shall argue, in both Descartes and Hume, the sceptical hypotheses are secondary; what is really doing the work is their demand for certainty. Furthermore Descartes, at least, suggests a way in which this demand might be motivated. Both philosophers do indeed raise 'the problem of the external world' but this is only one aspect of their scepticism; we can't dispatch either the Cartesian or the Humean sceptic just by demonstrating that thought or experience presupposes the existence of an external world. Their sceptical problem is more than the problem posed by the sceptical hypotheses. (shrink)
This article explores the relationship between epistemic relativism and Pyrrhonian scepticism. It is argued that a fundamental argument for contemporary epistemic relativism derives from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. Pyrrhonian scepticism is compared and contrasted with Cartesian scepticism about the external world and Humean scepticism about induction. Epistemic relativism is characterized as relativism due to the variation of epistemic norms, and is contrasted with other forms of cognitive relativism, such as truth relativism, conceptual relativism and (...) ontological relativism. An argument from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion to epistemic relativism is presented, and is contrasted with three other arguments for epistemic relativism. It is argued that the argument from the criterion is the most fundamental argument for epistemic relativism. Finally, it is noted how the argument of the present paper fits with the author’s previous suggestion that a particularist response to the Pyrrhonian sceptic may be combined with a naturalistic view of epistemic warrant to meet the challenge of epistemic relativism. (shrink)
The classical arguments for scepticism about the external world are defended, especially the symmetry argument: that there is no reason to prefer the realist hypothesis to, say, the deceitful demon hypothesis. This argument is defended against the various standard objections, such as that the demon hypothesis is only a bare possibility, does not lead to pragmatic success, lacks coherence or simplicity, is ad hoc or parasitic, makes impossible demands for certainty, or contravenes some basic standards for a conceptual or (...) linguistic scheme. Since the conclusion of the sceptical argument is not true, it is concluded that one can only escape the force of the argument through some large premise, such as an aptitude of the intellect for truth, if necessary divinely supported. (shrink)
Donald Davidson has argued that 'most of our beliefs must be true' and that global scepticism is therefore false. Davidson's arguments to this conclusion often seem to depend on externalist considerations. Davidson's position has been criticised, however, on the grounds that he does not defeat the sceptic, but rather already assumes the falsity of scepticism through his appeal to externalism. Indeed, it has been claimed that far from defeating the sceptic Davidson introduces an even more extreme version of (...)scepticism according to which we cannot even know the contents of our own minds. This paper argues that these criticisms are mistaken and that Davidson does indeed have grounds to argue that scepticism is false. The externalism that figures in Davidson's antisceptical arguments is shown to be merely an element in Davidson's overall holism according to which the very possibility of having beliefs that could be true or false depends on most of those beliefs being true and their contents known. (shrink)
While Cavell is well known for his reinterpretation of the later Wittgenstein, he has never really engaged himself with post-Investigations writings like On Certainty. This collection may, however, seem to undermine the profoundly anti-dogmatic reading of Wittgenstein that Cavell has developed. In addition to apparently arguing against what Cavell calls ‘the truth of skepticism’ – a phrase contested by other Wittgensteinians – On Certainty may seem to justify the rejection of whoever dares to question one’s basic presuppositions. According to On (...) Certainty, or so it seems, the only right response to someone with different certainties is a reproach like ‘Fool!’ or ‘Heretic!’. This article aims to show that On Certainty need not be taken to prove Cavell wrong. It explains that Wittgenstein, in line with the first two parts of The Claim of Reason, does not reject scepticism out of hand but rather questions the sceptic’s self-understanding. Using arguments from Part Three of The Claim, the article moreover argues that a confrontation with divergence calls for self-examination rather than self-righteousness. Precisely because Wittgenstein acknowledges ‘the groundlessness of our believing’ or, in Cavellian terms, ‘the truth of skepticism’, he is not the authoritarian thinker that some have taken him to be. (shrink)
Nick Bostrom’s ‘Simulation Argument’ purports to show that, unless we are confident that advanced ‘posthuman’ civilizations are either extremely rare or extremely rarely interested in running simulations of their own ancestors, we should assign significant credence to the hypothesis that we are simulated. I argue that Bostrom does not succeed in grounding this constraint on credence. I first show that the Simulation Argument requires a curious form of selective scepticism, for it presupposes that we possess good evidence for claims (...) about the physical limits of computation and yet lack good evidence for claims about our own physical constitution. I then show that two ways of modifying the argument so as to remove the need for this presupposition fail to preserve the original conclusion. Finally, I argue that, while there are unusual circumstances in which Bostrom’s selective scepticism might be reasonable, we do not currently find ourselves in such circumstances. There is no good reason to uphold the selective scepticism the Simulation Argument presupposes. There is thus no good reason to believe its conclusion. (shrink)
Despite the prevalence of human rights talk in Western jurisprudence, there has never been less belief in or acceptance of, any genuine form of objective morality. Academics reject the reality of moral objectivity and proclaim, as an objective truth, that morality is a mere “socio-historical construct”, illusory because always outweighed by worse consequences, expressions of subjective preference or mere evidence of culturally relative predilections. If morality is not that, then it is thought to be evidence of the power of the (...) ruling elite in an essentially value-free universe. This article examines moral scepticism and moral relativism as a bedrock for human rights laws. It argues that if we are to retain any coherent and meaningful concept of human rights we will have to jettison our moral relativism. (shrink)
We offer an overview of what we take to be the main themes in Annalisa Coliva’s book, Moore and Wittgenstein: Scepticism, Certainty and Common Sense. In particular, we focus on the ‘framework reading’ that she offers of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty and its anti-sceptical implications. While broadly agreeing with the proposal that Coliva puts forward on this score, we do suggest one important supplementation to the view—viz., that this way of dealing with radical scepticism needs to be augmented with (...) an account of the meta-sceptical problem which this proposal generates, which we call epistemic vertigo. (shrink)
Kant criticizes the so-called hypothesis at the end of the B-Deduction on the ground that it entails scepticism. I examine the historical context of Kant's criticism, and identify the targets as both Crusius and Leibniz. There are two claims argued for in this paper: first, that attending to the context of the opposition to certain forms of nativism affords a way of understanding Kant's commitment to the so-called , by contrasting the possession conditions for the categories with those for (...) innate ideas; secondly, it provides an insight with regard to Kant's understanding of the dialectic with scepticism. Kant's claim is that a certain explanatory lacuna that attaches to Humean empiricism can be seen to apply equally to any nativist theory. The lacuna concerns the explanation of the modal purport of a priori necessity, i.e. how it is that our consciousness can even distinguish contents that are represented as necessary features of objects. (shrink)
Descartes’ circle has been extensively discussed, and I do not wish to add another paper to that literature. Rather, I use the circle to facilitate our understanding of two types of scepticism and the proper attitude to them. Descartes’ text is especially apt for this purpose, because a case can be made for attributing to him both types. Although I will touch on the interpretative question, that is not my main aim. My contention is that one brand - whether (...) or not it is the one that Descartes favoured - should be taken very seriously, and Descartes’ failure to respond to it non circularly cannot be met with equanimity. (shrink)
In a recent paper McCain (2012) argues that weak predictivism creates an important challenge for external world scepticism. McCain regards weak predictivism as uncontroversial and assumes the thesis within his argument. There is a sense in which the predictivist literature supports his conviction that weak predictivism is uncontroversial. This absence of controversy, however, is a product of significant plasticity within the thesis, which renders McCain’s argument worryingly vague. For McCain’s argument to work he either needs a stronger version of (...) weak predictivism than has been defended within the literature, or must commit to a more precise formulation of the thesis and argue that weak predictivism, so understood, creates the challenge to scepticism that he hopes to achieve. The difficulty with the former is that weak predictivism is not uncontroversial in the respect that McCain’s argument would require. I consider the prospects of saving McCain’s argument by committing to a particular version of weak predictivism, but find them unpromising for several reasons. (shrink)
It has become almost a conventional wisdom to argue that Cartesian scepticism poses a far more radical sceptical threat than its classical Pyrrhonian counterpart. Such a view fails to recognise, however, that there is a species of sceptical concern that can only plausibly be regarded as captured by the Pyrrhonian strategy. For whereas Cartesian scepticism is closely tied to the contentious doctrine of epistemological internalism, it is far from obvious that Pyrrhonian scepticism bears any such theoretical commitments. (...) It is argued here that by viewing the Pyrrhonian style of sceptical argument in terms of this contemporary epistemological externalist/internalist distinction one can gain a new insight into some of the more problematic elements of this variety of classical thought and also get a handle on certai contemporary worries that have been raised regarding the anti-sceptical efficacy of externalist theories of knowledge. (shrink)
This paper (in English) highlights a hitherto neglected feature of Hegel’s 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit: its critique of the content of our basic categorial concepts. It focusses on Hegel’s semantics of cognitive reference in ‘Sense Certainty’ and his use of this semantics also in ‘Perception’ and ‘Force and Understanding’. Explicating these points enables us to understand how Hegel criticizes Pyrrhonian Scepticism on internal grounds.
Paul Russell (2006). Practical Reason and Motivational Scepticism. In Heiner F. Klemme Dieter Schönecker & Manfred Kuehn (eds.), “Practical Reason and Motivational Scepticism”, in Heiner F. Klemme, Manfred Kuehn, Dieter Schönecker, eds., Moralische Motivation. Kant und die Alternativen. Kant-Forschungen. Felix Meiner Verlag.score: 15.0
In her influential and challenging paper “Skepticism about Practical Reason” Christine Korsgaard sets out to refute an important strand of Humean scepticism as it concerns a Kantian understanding of practical reason.1 Korsgaard distinguishes two components of scepticism about practical reason. The first, which she refers to as content scepticism, argues that reason cannot of itself provide any “substantive guidance to choice and action” (SPR, 311). In its classical formulation, as stated by Hume, it is argued that reason (...) cannot determine our ends. Our ends are determined by our desires and reason is limited to the role of identifying the relevant means to these ends. The second component, which Korsgaard calls motivational scepticism, suggests doubt about the scope of reason as a motive. The claim here, as Korsgaard interprets Hume’s view on this matter, is that “all reasoning that has motivational influence must start from a passion, that being the only possible source of motivation” (SPR, 314).2 Korsgaard’s fundamental objective in “Skepticism about Practical Reason” is to show that motivational scepticism must always be based on content scepticism. In other words, according to Korsgaard, motivational scepticism has no independent force. In this paper I argue that Korsgaard’s attempt to discredit motivational scepticism is unsuccessful. (shrink)
In this paper I show that David Armstrong is wrong to claim that the regularity theorist must be an inductive sceptic by demonstrating that even those who support worldly ontologies devoid of metaphysical glue (or as Hume might say, necessary connections ‘in the objects’) can justifiably make many inductive inferences. As well as branding the regularity theorist an inductive sceptic, Armstrong also claims that regularity theory (RT) laws have no explanatory value whatsoever. I try to show that Armstrong is also (...) wrong in this respect, and that as a matter of fact, observed regularities are best explained by laws of this kind, or at least something like them. (shrink)
The paper starts by describing and clarifying what Williamson calls the consequence fallacy. I show two ways in which one might commit the fallacy. The first, which is rather trivial, involves overlooking background information; the second way, which is the more philosophically interesting, involves overlooking prior probabilities. In the following section, I describe a powerful form of sceptical argument, which is the main topic of the paper, elaborating on previous work by Huemer. The argument attempts to show the impossibility of (...) defeasible justification, justification based on evidence which does not entail the (allegedly) justified proposition or belief. I then discuss the relation between the consequence fallacy, or some similar enough reasoning, and that form of argument. I argue that one can resist that form of sceptical argument if one gives up the idea that a belief cannot be justified unless it is supported by the totality of the evidence available to the subject—a principle entailed by many prominent epistemological views, most clearly by epistemological evidentialism. The justification, in the relevant cases, should instead derive solely from the prior probability of the proposition. A justification of this sort, that does not rely on evidence, would amount to a form of entitlement, in (something like) Crispin Wright’s sense. I conclude with some discussion of how to understand prior probabilities, and how to develop the notion of entitlement in an externalist epistemological framework. (shrink)
Abstract: This paper is an attempt to identify and to suggest reasons to reject those assumptions about the nature and scope of perceptual knowledge that appear to make an unacceptable scepticism the only strictly defensible answer to the philosophical problem of knowledge of the world in general. The suggestion is that our knowing things about the world around us by perception can be satisfactorily explained only if we can be understood to sometimes perceive that such-and-such is so, where what (...) we perceive to be so is the very state of the world that we thereby know to be so. This is not proposed as a better answer to the philosophical problem, but as a way of seeing how that problem as traditionally understood could not really present a threat to anyone who can think about the world at all. (shrink)
1. What are called ‘intuitions’ in philosophy are just applications of our ordinary capacities for judgement. We think of them as intuitions when a special kind of scepticism about those capacities is salient. 2. Like scepticism about perception, scepticism about judgement pressures us into conceiving our evidence as facts about our internal psychological states: here, facts about our conscious inclinations to make judgements about some topic rather than facts about the topic itself. But the pressure should be (...) resisted, for it rests on bad epistemology: specifically, on an impossible ideal of unproblematically identifiable evidence. 3. Our resistance to scepticism about judgement is not simply epistemic conservativism, for we resist it on behalf of others as well as ourselves. A reason is needed for thinking that beliefs tend to be true. 4. Evolutionary explanations of the tendency assume what they should explain. Explanations that appeal to constraints on the determination of reference are more promising. Davidson’s truth-maximizing principle of charity is examined but rejected. 5. An alternative principle is defended on which the nature of reference is to maximize knowledge rather than truth. It is related to an externalist conception of mind on which knowing is the central mental state. 6. The knowledge-maximizing principle of charity explains why scenarios for scepticism about judgement do not warrant such scepticism, although it does not explain how we know in any particular case. We should face the fact that evidence is always liable to be contested in philosophy, and stop using talk of intuition to disguise this unpleasant truth from ourselves. (shrink)
In my remarks, I discuss Sosa's attempt to deal with the sceptical threat posed by dreaming. Sosa explores two replies to the problem of dreaming scepticism. First, he argues that, on the imagination model of dreaming, dreaming does not threaten the safety of our beliefs. Second, he argues that knowledge does not require safety, but a weaker condition which is not threatened by dreaming skepticism. I raise questions about both elements of his reply.
In the Treatise of Human Nature , Hume argues that, because we have adequate ideas of the smallest parts of space, we can infer that space itself must conform to our representations of it. The paper examines two challenges to this argument based on Descartes's and Locke's treatments of adequate ideas, ideas that fully capture the objects they represent. The first challenge, posed by Arnauld in his Objections to the Meditations , asks how we can know that an idea is (...) adequate. The second challenge, implicit in Locke's Essay , asks how an empiricist can characterize an idea as inadequate, as both picking out an object and yet failing to capture it fully. In showing how Hume responds to these challenges, his theory of perceptual representation is explained and his treatment of space is related to his scepticism. His conclusion is shown not to be a characterization of space as it exists wholly apart from our powers of conception. Instead, in an adumbration of Kant, his claim is restricted to space as it appears to us. (shrink)
Wittgenstein has been likened to a Pyrrhonian sceptic, one who employs dialectical skills to avoid rather than defend doctrine, but it is his role in exposing and excavating the sands upon which modern scepticisms have been built that is the subject of this new volume of largely original essays. The first three chapters, by Crispin Wright, Akeel Bilgrami and Michael Williams find inspiration in On Certainty for singling out key moves in the initial set-up of external world scepticism; the (...) next four chapters, by James Conant, Denis McManus, Ilham Dilman and Jane Heal involve discussions of external world (Cartesian) scepticism, semantic (Kantian) scepticism, scepticism about language (linguistic idealism) and the factuality of the mental that are either commentaries on, or discussions inspired by, Wittgenstein’s writings. The last five chapters focus on Stanley Cavell’s important and under-appreciated work on other minds scepticism—a form of scepticism that, on Cavell’s reading, is never far from the surface of Philosophical Investigations. Responses to modern scepticisms can be broadly divided into two categories: (1) Problem- Accepting Responses: those that regard the sceptical problem as legitimate and seek an answer that takes the form of an appropriate justification for (what the sceptic characterizes as) our ordinary knowledge or beliefs; and (2) Problem-Rejecting Reponses: those that regard the sceptical ‘problem’ as illegitimate (and so, not requiring an answer) because of hidden and contestable theoretical commitments or because it subtly transgresses conditions of sensemaking. This is a volume devoted entirely to the second of these categories, responses that are directed to, as McManus puts it, “a layer in which our philosophical questions are constituted”(p. (shrink)
Spinoza's response to a certain radical form of scepticism has deep and surprising roots in his rationalist metaphysics. I argue that Spinoza's commitment to the Principle of Sufficient Reason leads to his naturalistic rejection of certain sharp, inexplicable bifurcations in reality such as the bifurcations that a Cartesian system posits between mind and body and between will and intellect. I show how Spinoza identifies and rejects a similar bifurcation between the representational character of ideas or mental states and the (...) epistemic status of these ideas, a bifurcation to which Spinoza sees the radical sceptic committed. Spinoza's rejection of this bifurcation helps to explain some of his most cryptic statements concerning scepticism and also reveals a promising and highly metaphysical strategy for understanding and responding to scepticism. (shrink)
An overview of Wittgenstein’s remarks on scepticism in On Certainty is offered, especially with regard to the notion of a “hinge proposition”. Several possible interpretations of the anti-sceptical import of this text are then critically assessed, with each view situated within the contemporary literature on scepticism.
Nursing ethics centres on how nurses ought to respond to the moral situations that arise in their professional contexts. Nursing ethicists invoke normative approaches from moral philosophy. Specifically, it is increasingly common for nursing ethicists to apply virtue ethics to moral problems encountered by nurses. The point of this article is to argue for scepticism about this approach. First, the research question is motivated by showing that requirements on nurses such as to be kind, do not suffice to establish (...) virtue ethics in nursing because normative rivals (such as utilitarians) can say as much; and the teleology distinctive of virtue ethics does not transpose to a professional context, such as nursing. Next, scepticism is argued for by responding to various attempts to secure a role for virtue ethics in nursing. The upshot is that virtue ethics is best left where it belongs – in personal moral life, not professional ethics – and nursing ethics is best done by taking other approaches. (shrink)
Alan Bailey offers a clear and vigorous exposition and defence of the philosophy of Sextus Empiricus, one of the most influential of ancient thinkers, the father of philosophical scepticism. The subsequent sceptical tradition in philosophy has not done justice to Sextus: his views stand up today as remarkably insightful, offering a fruitful way to approach issues of knowledge, understanding, belief, and rationality. Bailey's refreshing presentation of Sextus to a modern philosophical readership rescues scepticism from the sceptics.
Scepticism has been one of the standard problems of epistemology in modern times. It takes various forms – the most general one being the thesis that knowledge is impossible; but equally prominent are such versions as the notorious doubt about the existence of an external world, inaugurated by Descartes'Meditations, or doubts about the existence of objective values. Philosophers who undertake to refute scepticism – still a very popular exercise – try to show that knowledge is possible after all, (...) or to prove the existence of an external world, and so on. Sceptics, generally speaking, are seen as radical doubters – philosophers who call into question assumptions that are usually taken for granted by ordinary people as well as by other philosophers. Those doubts have to be refuted by showing that they are in some way unjustified. (shrink)
This paper is about three of the most prominent debates in modern epistemology. The conclusion is that three prima facie appealing positions in these debates cannot be held simultaneously. The first debate is scepticism vs anti-scepticism. My conclusions apply to most kinds of debates between sceptics and their opponents, but I will focus on the inductive sceptic, who claims we cannot come to know what will happen in the future by induction. This is a fairly weak kind of (...)scepticism, and I suspect many philosophers who are generally anti-sceptical are attracted by this kind of scepticism. Still, even this kind of scepticism is quite unintuitive. I’m pretty sure I know (1) on the basis of induction. (1) It will snow in Ithaca next winter. Although I am taking a very strong version of anti-scepticism to be intuitively true here, the points I make will generalise to most other versions of scepticism. (Focussing on the inductive sceptic avoids some potential complications that I will note as they arise.) The second debate is a version of rationalism vs empiricism. The kind of rationalist I have in mind accepts that some deeply contingent propositions can be known a priori, and the empiricist I have in mind denies this. Kripke showed that there are contingent propositions that can be known a priori. One example is Water is the watery stuff of our acquaintance. (‘Watery’ is David Chalmers’s nice term for the properties of water by which folk identify it.) All the examples Kripke gave are of propositions that are, to use Gareth Evans’s term, deeply necessary (Evans, 1979). It is a matter of controversy presently just how to analyse Evans’s concepts of deep necessity and contingency, but most of the controversies are over details that are not important right here. I’ll simply adopt Stephen Yablo’s recent suggestion: a proposition is deeply contingent if it could have turned out to be true, and could have turned out to be false (Yablo, 2002)1. Kripke did not provide examples of any deeply contingent propositions knowable a priori, though nothing he showed rules out their existence.. (shrink)
According to Roger Scruton, it is not possible for photographs to be representational art. Most responses to Scruton’s scepticism are versions of the claim that Scruton disregards the extent to which intentionality features in photography; but these cannot force him to give up his notion of the ideal photograph. My approach is to argue that Scruton has misconstrued the role of causation in his discussion of photography. I claim that although Scruton insists that the ideal photograph is defined by (...) its ‘merely causal’ provenance, in fact he fails to take the causal provenance of photographs seriously enough. To replace Scruton’s notion of the ideal photograph, I offer a substantive account of the causal provenance of photographs, centred on the distinctive role of ‘the photographic event’. I conclude that, with a proper understanding of the photographic process, we have good reason to re-open the question of photography as a representational art. (shrink)
Robert Stern investigates how scepticism can be countered by using transcendental arguments concerning the necessary conditions for the possibility of experience, language, or thought. He shows that the most damaging sceptical questions concern neither the certainty of our beliefs nor the reliability of our belief-forming methods, but rather how we can justify our beliefs.
The most prominent arguments for scepticism in modern epistemology employ closure principles of some kind. To begin my discussion of such arguments, consider Simple Knowledge Closure (SKC): (SKC) (Kxt[p] ∧ (p → q)) → Kxt[q].1 Assuming its truth for the time being, the sceptic can use (SKC) to reason from the two assumptions that, firstly, we don’t know ¬sh and that, secondly, op entails ¬sh to the conclusion that we don’t know op, where ‘op’ and ‘sh’ are shorthand for (...) ‘ordinary proposition’ and ‘sceptical hypothesis’ respectively. (SKC), however, fails for familiar reasons: since knowledge entails belief (KB), we can derive the falsity (F) from (SKC) by hypothetical syllogism, and thus reduce (SKC) to absurdity: (KB) Kxt[p] → Bxt[p]. (F) (Kxt[p] ∧ (p → q)) → Bxt[q]. (shrink)
In a recent article Dylan Dodd has argued that anyone who holds that all knowledge is evidence must concede that we know next to nothing about die external world. The argument is intended to show that any infallibilist account of knowledge is committed to scepticism, and that anyone who identifies our evidence with the propositions we know is committed to infallibilism. I shall offer some reasons for thinking Dodd's argument is unsound, and explain where his argument goes wrong.
Scepticism is a disease in which healthy mental processes run pathologically unchecked. Our cognitive immunity system, designed to protect our conception of the world from harmful errors, turns destructively on that conception itself. Since we have false beliefs, we benefit from the ability to detect our mistakes; removing our errors tends to do us good. Our cognitive immunity system should be able to destroy bad old beliefs, not just prevent the influx of new ones. But that ability sometimes becomes (...) indiscriminate, and destroys good beliefs too. That can happen in several ways. I start by considering two of them. (shrink)
In the works of Sextus Empiricus, scepticism is presented in its most elaborate and challenging form. This book investigates - both from an exegetical and from a philosophical point of view - the chief argumentative forms which ancient scepticism developed. Thus the particular focus is on the Agrippan aspect of Sextus' Pyrrhonism. Barnes gives a lucid explanation and analysis of these arguments, both individually and as constituent parts of a sceptical system. For, taken together, these forms amount to (...) a formidable and systematic challenge to any claim to knowledge or rational belief. The challenge had a great influence on the history of philosophy. And it has never been met. This study reflects the growing interest in ancient scepticism. Quotations from the ancient sources are all translated and Greek terms are explained. Notes on the ancient authors give a brief guide to the sources, both familiar and unfamiliar. (shrink)
Hegel’s Science of Logic is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest works of European philosophy. However, its contribution to arguably the most important philosophical problem, Pyrrhonian scepticism, has never been examined in any detail. Pyrrhonian Scepticism and Hegel's Theory of Judgement fills a great lacuna in Hegel scholarship by convincingly proving that the dialectic of the judgement in Hegel’s Science of Logic successfully refutes this kind of scepticism. Although Ioannis Trisokkas has written the book primarily for (...) those students of philosophy who already have an interest in Hegel’s epistemology and philosophy of language and/or his Science of Logic, it will also appeal to those who investigate the problem of scepticism independently of the Hegel corpus. (shrink)
Wittgenstein's relationship to skepticism has always been complex. It has even been argued in recent years that Wittgenstein can be best understood as an inheritor of scepticism. Wittgenstein and Scepticism is the first collection to explore this relationship and review our understanding of scepticism. Boasting a stellar collection of contributors, the essays in this volume address the nature of skepticism and Wittgenstein's approach in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language and epistemology. Wittgenstein and Scepticism (...) is a fascinating exploration of one of the most important philosophers. (shrink)
Descartes claims that God is both incomprehensible and yet clearly and distinctly understood. This paper argues that Descartes’s development of the contrast between comprehension and understanding makes the role of God in his epistemology more interesting than is commonly thought. Section one examines the historical context of sceptical arguments about the difficulty of knowing God. Descartes describes the recognition of our inability to comprehend God as itself a source of knowledge of him; section two aims to explain how recognizing limits (...) to our cognitive powers is supposed to yield knowledge of anything other than ourselves. Section three aims to give a partial account of the role that awareness of the limitations of our cognitive powers is supposed to play in anchoring our knowledge of other things, and to show how such an approach to knowledge could still contribute to the development of a response to scepticism in the contemporary context. (shrink)
This précis summarizes my book Moral Skepticisms, with emphasis on my contrastivist analysis of justified moral belief and my Pyrrhonian moral scepticism based on meta-scepticism about relevance. This complex moral epistemology escapes a common paradox facing moral philosophers.
This paper examines the relevance of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty to the contemporary debate regarding the problem of radical scepticism. In particular, it considers two accounts in the recent literature which have seen in Wittgenstein’s remarks on “hinge propositions” in On Certainty the basis for a primarily epistemological anti-sceptical thesis—viz., the inferential contextualism offered by Michael Williams and the ‘unearned warrant’ thesis defended by Crispin Wright. Both positions are shown to be problematic, both as interpretations of Wittgenstein and as anti-sceptical (...) theses. Indeed, it is argued that on a reading of On Certainty which has Wittgenstein advancing a primarily epistemological thesis, there is in fact strong evidence to suggest that Wittgenstein thought that no epistemic response to the sceptic was available—at best, it seems, only a pragmatic antisceptical thesis is on offer. Such a conclusion is not without import to the present debate regarding radical scepticism, however, since it poses a general challenge for how the sceptical argument is conceived in the contemporary literature. (shrink)
Malcolm; but the sharp attacks in the last decade on Malcolm's assumptions have led some philosophers to suppose that Descartes' dreaming problem is a cogent support for scepticism.  In this paper, I hope to dispose of the problem without using controversial assumptions of the sort used by Malcolm.
On the assumption that we may learn from our elders and betters, this paper approaches some fundamental questions in perceptual epistemology through a dispute between McDowell and Wright about external world scepticism. As explained in section 2, the dispute turns on what McDowell means by claiming that we have “direct perceptual access to environmental facts”. On the interpretation offered in section 3 (and further elaborated in section 7), if we do have “direct perceptual access” then the relevant sceptical argument—in (...) each of its two versions—is defused. The sceptical argument fails for other reasons (sections 5 and 7); however, these reasons provide materials for defending McDowell’s claim of “direct perceptual access” (section 8). (shrink)
It is increasingly common to suggest that the combination of evolutionary theory and normative realism leads inevitably to a general scepticism about our ability to reliably form normative beliefs. In what follows, I argue that this is not the case. In particular, I consider several possible arguments from evolutionary theory and normative realism to normative scepticism and explain where they go wrong. I then offer a more general diagnosis of the tendency to accept such arguments and why this (...) tendency should be resisted. (shrink)
In this paper I will discuss Michael Williamss inferential contextualism – a position that must be carefully distinguished from the currently more fashionable attributer contextualism. I will argue that Williamss contextualism is not stable, though it avoids some of the shortcomings of simple inferential contextualism. In particular, his criticism of epistemological realism cannot be supported on the basis of his own account. I will also argue that we need not give up epistemological realism in order to provide a successful diagnosis (...) of scepticism. (shrink)
It is argued that it is beneficial to view the debate regarding radical scepticism through the lens of epistemic value. In particular, it is claimed that we should regard radical scepticism as aiming to deprive us of an epistemic standing that is of special value to us, and that this methodological constraint on our dealings with radical scepticism potentially has important ramifications for how we assess the success of an anti-sceptical strategy.
A commonly expressed worry in the contemporary literature on the problem of epistemological scepticism is that there is something deeply intellectually unsatisfying about the dominant anti-sceptical theories. In this paper I outline the main approaches to scepticism and argue that they each fail to capture what is essential to the sceptical challenge because they fail to fully understand the role that the problem of epistemic luck plays in that challenge. I further argue that scepticism is best (...) thought of not as a quandary directed at our possession of knowledge simpliciter, but rather as concerned with a specific kind of knowledge that is epistemically desirable. On this view, the source of scepticism lies in a peculiarly epistemic form of angst. It is always by favour of Nature that one knows something. [Wittgenstein 1969: §505]. (shrink)
In this paper, Crispin Wright’s unified strategy against scepticism is put under pressure through an examination of the concept of entitlement. Wright’s characterisation of a generalised form of scepticism is first described, followed by an examination of the concept of entitlement and of the role played by presuppositions in his strategy. This will make manifest the transcendental structure of this response to scepticism. The paper ends with a discussion of the effectiveness of this transcendental strategy in providing (...) a satisfying response to scepticism. (shrink)
This paper examines two recent objections against contextualism. The first is that contextualists are unable to assert their own position, and the second is that contextualists are forced to side with common-sense against scepticism. It is argued that once we get clear on the commitments of contextualism, neither objection succeeds in what it aims to show.
In that book I had two different, though not unrelated aims. The first chapter was concerned with traditional scepticisms about, e.g., the external world and induction. In common with Hume and Wittgenstein (and even Heidegger) I argued that the attempt to combat such doubts by rational argument was misguided: for we are dealing here with the presuppositions, the framework, of all human thought and enquiry. In the other chapters my target was different. It was that species of naturalism which tended (...) to discredit, or somehow to reduce to more scientifically acceptable, physicalistic terms, whole regions of ordinary human thought, language, and experience – in particular the regions of moral discourse, of the subjectively mental and of the intensional. Here my reaction, as well as my target, was different. I did not merely stress the inescapability of the natural or common human standpoint from which we normally take for granted all that is called in question by scientistic naturalism. I also allowed the latter its own validity from its own limited standpoint.2 Philosophical scepticism and scientistic naturalism represent two types of challenge to ‘central features of our ordinary thought and talk’.3 The overall aim of Scepticism and Naturalism is to respond to these challenges and thereby to vindicate what Strawson refers to elsewhere as ‘our natural metaphysics’. (shrink)
Recent work on Descartes has drastically revised the traditional conception of Descartes as a paradigmatic rationalist and foundationalist. The traditional picture, familar from histories of philosophy and introductory lectures, is of a solitary meditator dedicated to the pursuit of certainty in a unified science via a rigourous process of logical deduction from indubitable first principles. But the Descartes that has emerged from recent studies strikes a more subtle balance between metaphysics, physics, epistemology and the philosophy of science. There is much (...) to be praised in this revaluation, but a dangerous amount of over-compensation has gone on, particularly in the reinterpretation of the role of sceptical doubt in Descartes' thought. This reinterpretion plays down the epistemological reasons for worrying about scepticism, suggesting that Cartesian physics is what ultimately drives the introduction of scepticism in the First Meditation. (shrink)
Some opponents of the incommensurability thesis, such as Davidson and Rorty, have argued that the very idea of incommensurability is incoherent and that the existence of alternative and incommensurable conceptual schemes is a conceptual impossibility. If true, this refutes Kuhnian relativism and Kantian scepticism in one fell swoop. For Kuhnian relativism depends on the possibility of alternative, humanly accessible conceptual schemes that are incommensurable with one another, and the Kantian notion of a realm of unknowable things-in-themselves gives rise to (...) the possibility of humanly inaccessible schemes that are incommensurable with even our best current or future science. In what follows we argue that the possibility of incommensurability of either the Kuhnian or the Kantian variety is inescapable and that this conclusion is forced upon us by a simple consideration of what is involved in acquiring a concept. It turns out that the threats from relativism and scepticism are real, and that anyone, including Davidson himself, who has ever defended an account of concept acquisition is committed to one or the other of these two possibilities.1. (shrink)
I offer a critical treatment of the contrastivist response to the problem of radical scepticism. In particular, I argue that if contrastivism is understood along externalist lines then it is unnecessary, while if it is understood along internalist lines then it is intellectually dissatisfying. Moreover, I claim that a closer examination of the conditions under which it is appropriate to claim knowledge reveals that we can accommodate many of the intuitions appealed to by contrastivists without having to opt for (...) this particular brand of epistemological revisionism. (shrink)
This paper compares Wittgenstein's conception of ?objective certainty? with Descartes's ?metaphysical certainty?. According to both conceptions if you are certain of something in these senses, then it is inconceivable that you are mistaken. But a striking difference is that for Descartes, if you are metaphysically certain of something it follows both that the something is so and that you know it is so; whereas on Wittgenstein's conception neither thing follows. I try to show that there is a form of ? (...) class='Hi'>scepticism? in Wittgenstein's outlook on the concept of certainty, although it is not the familiar Philosophical Scepticism. The Appendix takes issue with a recent essay by John Cook which argues that the ?hinge propositions? of On Certainty are based on ?the metaphysics of phenomenalism? (shrink)
In a recent, and influential, article, Crispin Wright maintains that a familiar form of scepticismwhich finds its core expression in Descartes’ dreaming argumentcan be defused (or, to use Wright’s own parlance, “imploded”), by showing how it employs self-defeating reasoning. I offer two fundamental reasons for rejecting Wright’s ‘implosion’ of scepticism. On the one hand, I argue that, even by Wright’s own lights, it is unclear whether there is a sceptical argument to implode in the first place. On the (...) other, I claim that even on the supposition that Wright has indeed succeeded in setting-up such an argument, he nevertheless fails to follow-through with an adequate response. A diagnosis of the failure of Wright’s approach is then given in the context of the wider sceptical debate. (shrink)
If we add as an extra premise that the agent does know H, then it is possible for her to know E H, we get the conclusion that the agent does not really know H. But even without that closure premise, or something like it, the conclusion seems quite dramatic. One possible response to the argument, floated by both Descartes and Hume, is to accept the conclusion and embrace scepticism. We cannot know anything that goes beyond our evidence, (...) so we do not know very much at all. This is a remarkably sceptical conclusion, so we should resist it if at all possible. A more modern response, associated with externalists like John McDowell and Timothy Williamson, is to accept the conclusion but deny it is as sceptical as it first appears. The Humean argument, even if it works, only shows that our evidence and our knowledge are more closely linked than we might have thought. Perhaps that’s true because we have a lot of evidence, not because we have very little knowledge. There’s something right about this response I think. We have more evidence than Descartes or Hume thought we had. But I think we still need the idea of ampliative knowledge. It stretches the concept of evidence to breaking point to suggest that all of our knowledge, including knowledge about the future, is part of our evidence. So the conclusion really is unacceptable. Or, at least, I think we should try to see what an epistemology that rejects the conclusion looks like. (shrink)
This paper contributes to the current debate about radical scepticism and the structure of warrant. After a presentation of the standard version of the radical sceptic’s challenge, both in its barest and its more refined form, three anti-sceptical responses, and their respective commitments, are being identified: the Dogmatist response, the Conservativist response and the Dretskean response. It is then argued that both the Dretskean and the Conservativist are right that the anti-sceptical hypothesis cannot inherit any perceptual warrants from ordinary (...) propositions about the environment—and so the Dogmatist response founders. However, if this is so Epistemic Closure lacks any clear rationale. There is therefore good reason to agree with both the Dretskean and the Dogmatist that perceptual warrants for ordinary propositions about the environment are enough in order for those propositions to enjoy a positive epistemic status—and so the Conservativist response founders. However, the Conservativist is nonetheless right that a warrant for the anti-sceptical hypothesis is needed. For contrary to what much of the recent literature suggests, the radical sceptic need not appeal to Epistemic Closure in order to cast doubt on the legitimacy of our beliefs in ordinary propositions about the environment: there is a Pyrrhonian version of scepticism that, though equally radical, is consistent with failure of Epistemic Closure. For this reason, the Dretskean response is insufficient to answer scepticism. (shrink)
Arguments for scepticism about perceptual knowledge are often said to have intuitively plausible premises. In this discussion I question this view in relation to an argument from ignorance and argue that the supposed persuasiveness of the argument depends on debatable background assumptions about knowledge or justification. A reasonable response to scepticism has to show there is a plausible epistemological perspective that can make sense of our having perceptual knowledge. I present such a perspective. In order give a more (...) satisfying response to scepticism, we need also to consider the standing of background beliefs. This is required since the recognitional abilities that enable us to have perceptual knowledge are informed by, or presuppose, a picture or conception of the world the correctness of which we have not ascertained. The question is how, in the face of this, to make sense of responsible belief-formation. In addressing this problem I make a suggestion about the standing of certain crucial beliefs linking appearances with membership of kinds. (shrink)
Strawson's philosophical attitude towards scepticism is frequently thought to have undergone a significant shift from the “strong” or “robust” employment of transcendental arguments in Individuals to a more “modest” understanding of the efficacy of such arguments in Skepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties. I argue that this interpretation is based upon a misunderstanding of the function of transcendental arguments in Strawson's earlier works. Examining the continuity of Strawson's modest naturalistic approach to scepticism can offer some insight as to the (...) continuing overestimation of the anti-sceptical efficacy of transcendental arguments. (shrink)
One argument put forward by Christine Korsgaard in favour of her constructivist appeal to the nature of agency, is that it does better than moral realism in answering moral scepticism. However, realists have replied by pressing on her the worry raised by H. A. Prichard, that any attempt to answer the moral sceptic only succeeds in basing moral actions in non-moral ends, and so is self-defeating. I spell out these issues in more detail, and suggest that both sides can (...) learn something by seeing how the sceptical problematic arises in Kant. Doing so, I argue, shows how Korsgaard might raise the issue of scepticism against the realist whilst avoiding the Prichardian response.1. (shrink)
Two of the main forms of anti-scepticism in the contemporary literature—namely, neo-Mooreanism and attributer contextualism—share a common claim, which is that we are, contra the sceptic, able to know the denials of sceptical hypotheses. This paper begins by surveying the relative merits of these views when it comes to dealing with the standard closure-based formulation of the sceptical problem that is focussed on the possession of knowledge. It is argued, however, that it is not enough to simply deal with (...) this version of the sceptical challenge, since there is a more fundamental sceptical problem underlying the standard closure-based sceptical argument that can be expressed in terms of the evidential basis of our beliefs. Whilst it is argued that neo-Mooreanism has a slight edge over attributer contextualism when it comes to dealing with the closure-based formulation of the sceptical problem, it is claimed that this view is in an ever stronger dialectical position when it comes to the more pressing evidential formulation of the sceptical problem. It is shown that this is so even if one adapts the attributer contextualist thesis along the lines suggested by Michael Williams and Ram Neta so that it is explicitly designed to deal with the evidential variant of the sceptical problem. (shrink)
P F Strawson advocates a descriptive metaphysics. Contrary to Kant, he believes that metaphysics should be ‘content to describe the actual structure of thought about the world’, there is no need of postulating a world that lies beyond our grasp. We neither need to refute nor accept scepticism since we can ignore it with good reasons. Yet this paper argues that Strawson fails to provide us with good reasons. He fails to realise that one cannot do metaphysics by construing (...) its claims as being merely descriptive of a conceptual scheme we find ourselves to possess without even purporting to establish the legitimacy of that scheme. The paper shows that it is possible to overcome this impasse if we endorse Kant's transcendental idealist position. The significance of Kant' position is that it not only allows us to describe our conceptual scheme but moreover that it acknowledges that the world may be (radically) otherwise without however instantiating the truth of scepticism (Published Online October 13 2005) Footnotes1 I am grateful to Steven Kupfer for his helpful comments and should like to thank the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences for providing me with a year's fellowship which has made this study possible. (shrink)
Until recently, philosophical scholarship has not been kind to Hume’s arguments in “Of scepticism with regard to reason” (A Treatise of Human Nature, 1.4.1).  Reid gives the negative arguments a pretty rough ride, though in the end he agrees with Hume’s conclusion that reason cannot be defended by reason. Stove’s comment that the argument is “not merely defective, but one of the worst arguments ever to impose itself on a man of genius” (Stove 1973), while extreme, is not (...) untypical. Many important books on Hume (e.g. Stroud 1977) simply ignore it, though this may be because it is difficult to find any trace of the arguments in the Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding. Furthermore, when attention was paid to the arguments, it was devoted mainly to the second of the two negative arguments Hume puts forward, and that argument was held to contain an elementary mistake concerning beliefs about beliefs (McNabb 1951). (shrink)
This is the third edition of a classic book first published in 1960, which has sold thousands of copies in two paperback edition and has been translated into several foreign languages. Popkin's work ha generated innumerable citations, and remains a valuable stimulus to current historical research. In this updated version, he has revised and expanded throughout, and has added three new chapters, one on Savonarola, one on Henry More and Ralph Cudworth, and one on Pascal. This authoritative treatment of the (...) theme of scepticism and its historical impact will appeal to scholars and students of early modern history now as much as ever. (shrink)
In Conspiracies and Lyes I aim to provide an epistemological account of testimony as one of our faculties of knowledge. I compare testimony to perception and memory. Its similarity to both these faculties is recognised. A fundamental difference is stressed: it can be rational to not accept testimony even if testimony is fulfilling its proper epistemic function because it can be rational for a speaker to not express a belief; or, as I say, it can be rational for a speaker (...) to lye. This difference in epistemic function provides the basis for a sceptical argument against testimony. Scepticism is presented as a method rather than a problem: considering how to refute the sceptical argument is taken to be a means of evaluating theories as to how testimonial beliefs are warranted. I consider two strategies for refuting scepticism and, correlatively, two accounts of how testimonial beliefs are warranted. I show these accounts to be neutral across all theories of justification that entertain the project of investigating our faculties of knowledge. A reductionist account explains the warrant supporting our testimonial beliefs in terms of our inductive ground for accepting testimony. An anti-reductionist account explains the warrant supporting our testimonial beliefs in terms of our possessing an entitlement to accept testimony. I show how both positions can be intuitively motivated. In presenting reductionism I appeal to probability theory, empirical psychology and invoke David Hume. In presenting anti-reductionism I invoke John McDowell and Tyler Burge. A refutation of scepticism is provided by a hybrid of reductionism and anti-reductionism. The hybrid is conceived as part social externalism and part individual internalism. In developing this account I provide a means of conceptualising the dynamic that exists between individual knowers and communities of knowledge. (shrink)
The article investigates the sceptical challenge from an information-theoretic perspective. Its main goal is to articulate and defend the view that either informational scepticism is radical, but then it is epistemologically innocuous because redundant; or it is moderate, but then epistemologically beneficial because useful. In order to pursue this cooptation strategy, the article is divided into seven sections. Section 1 sets up the problem. Section 2 introduces Borel numbers as a convenient way to refer uniformly to (the data that (...) individuate) different possible worlds. Section 3 adopts the Hamming distance between Borel numbers as a metric to calculate the distance between possible worlds. In Sects. 4 and 5, radical and moderate informational scepticism are analysed using Borel numbers and Hamming distances, and shown to be either harmless (extreme form) or actually fruitful (moderate form). Section 6 further clarifies the approach by replying to some potential objections. In the conclusion, the Peircean nature of the overall approach is briefly discussed. (shrink)
The Renaissance sceptic and medical doctor Francisco Sanchez has been rather unduly neglected in scholarly work on Renaissance scepticism. In this paper I discuss his scepticism against the background of the ancient distinction between Academic and Pyrrhonian scepticism. I argue that Sanchez was a Pyrrhonist rather than, as has been claimed in recent years, a mitigated Academic sceptic. In keeping with this I shall also try to show that Sanchez was crucially influenced by the ancient medical school (...) of empiricism, a school closely allied with Pyrrhonism. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to examine the medieval posterity of the Aristotelian and Pyrrhonian treatments of the infinite regress argument. We show that there are some possible Pyrrhonian elements in Autrecourt's epistemology when he argues that the truth of our principles is merely hypothetical. By contrast, Buridan's criticisms of Autrecourt rely heavily on Aristotelian material. Both exemplify a use of scepticism.
In ‘Ramseyan Humility’ David Lewis argues that a particular view about fundamental properties, quidditism, leads to the position that we are irredeemably ignorant of the identities of fundamental properties. We are ignorant of the identities of fundamental properties since we can never know which properties play which causal roles, and we have no other way of identifying fundamental properties other than by the causal roles they play. It has been suggested in the philosophical literature that Lewis’ argument for Humility is (...) merely an instance of traditional scepticism, to which traditional responses to scepticism are applicable. I agree that in ‘Ramseyan Humility’ Lewis does present an argument to which it is appropriate to consider the applicability of responses to traditional scepticism—he argues that we irredeemably lack the evidence to rule out possibilities in which different properties occupy the causal roles described by our best physical theory. And prima facie this is just the kind of argument responses to traditional scepticism are designed to tackle. However, I will argue that Lewis bolsters this argument with a second. This second argument serves to deepen Lewis’ case and cannot be met with a response to traditional scepticism. For Lewis argues that not only do we lack evidence for which properties play which roles, we lack the ability to grasp any such proposition about role-occupancy. And if we cannot grasp any such proposition we cannot know it. (shrink)
Epistemology is too far-flung and diverse for a survey in a single essay. I have settled for a snapshot which, though perforce superficial and partial, might yet provide an overview. My perspective is determined by the books and articles prominent in the recent literature and in my own recent courses and seminars. Seeing that the boundaries of our field have shifted through the ages and are even now very ill-marked, I have chosen two central issues, each under vigorous and many-sided (...) discussion in recent years and at present: (A) Scepticism, and (B) Theories of Justification; and in each case I shall focus on work either published or widely discussed within the last five years. (shrink)
Michael Williams believes that scepticism about the externalworld seems compelling only because the considerations that underpin it are thoughtto be ``mere platitudes'''' about e.g., the nature and source of human knowledge, and hence,that if it shown through a ``theoretical diagnosis'''' that it does not rest upon suchplatitudes, but contentious theoretical considerations that we are no means bound toaccept, we can simply dismiss the absurd sceptical conclusion. Williams argues thatscepticism does presuppose two extremely contentious doctrines, however, he admits (...) thatif these doctrines are themselves motivated by ``platitudes'''' then scepticism follows. Iaddress Williams''s arguments for thinking scepticism must presuppose these doctrines,and argue that he overlooks a way that they can be seen as motivated by mere platitudes.Thus, I conclude that William''s novel rejection of scepticism fails. (shrink)
This paper explores the possibility of resisting meaning scepticism – the thesis that there are many alternative incompatible assignments of reference to each of our terms - by appealing to the idea that the nature of reference is to maximize knowledge. If the reference relation is a knowledge maximizing-relation, then some candidate referents are privileged among the others - i.e., those referents we are in a position to know about – and a positive reason against meaning scepticism is (...) thus individuated. A knowledge-maximizing principle on the nature of reference was proposed by Williamson in a recent paper (Williamson 2005). According to Williamson, such a principle would count as a defeasible reason for thinking that most of our beliefs tend to be true. My paper reverses Williamson’s dialectic, and argues that reference is knowledge-maximizing from the premise that most of our beliefs tend to be true. (shrink)
In both the Principles and the Three Dialogues, Berkeley claims that he wants to uncover those principles which lead to scepticism; to refute those principles; and to refute scepticism itself. This paper examines the principles Berkeley says have scepticial consequences, and contends that only one of them implies scepticism. It is also argued that Berkeley's attempted refutation of scepticism rests not on his acceptance of the esse est percipi principle, but rather on the thesis that physical (...) objects and their sensible qualities are immediately perceived. (shrink)
Introduction -- Pyrrho and Timon: the origin of Pyrrhonian scepticism -- Arcesilaus: the origin of academic scepticism -- Carneades -- Cicero: the end of the sceptical academy -- Aenesidemus: the Pyrrhonian revival -- Sextus empiricus: the consistency of Pyrrhonian -- Scepticism -- Pyrrhonian arguments -- The (ordinary) life of a Pyrrhonist.
According to Hume, no knowledge attainable by human beings would ever justify rational belief in recurrent physical properties and causal effects. He arrived at this conclusion because he denied the possibility of knowing--but not the reality of--either the 'inner natures' or the 'secret powers' of objects which would enable one to intuit or to demonstrate a 'necessary connection' between the internal structures of objects and their observable properties, or between the causal powers of entities and their effects. The purpose of (...) this article is to show that while Hume's scepticism was justifiable in his day given the generally accepted limitations then of scientific inquiry and explanations, it no longer is reasonable in light of later scientific discoveries and theories. To a degree to which no eighteenth-century philosopher or scientist could anticipate, experimental inquiry has disclosed the inherent natures of objects and the underlying causes of phenomena that attest to the interconnectedness of physical reality and thus justify, at least to some extent, our instinctive beliefs in the uniformity of nature and predictability of events. (shrink)
In his essay 'The Scandal of Skepticism', Stanley Cavell discusses aspects of the work of Emmanuel Levinas with a view to understanding how 'philosophical and religious ambitions so apparently different' as his own and those of Levinas can have led to 'phenomenological coincidences so precise'. The present paper explores themes of scepticism and alterity as these emerge in the work of these two increasingly influential philosophers. It shows education to be a sustained preoccupation in their work, crucially related to (...) these guiding themes. In the process it seeks to dispel certain assumptions regarding poststructuralism, on the one hand, and the religious implications of Levinas's thought, on the other. This lays the way for an account of the criticality of human being, of the significance of this for community, and of the demands this makes on education. (shrink)
The central contentions of this paper are two: first, that contextualism about knowledge cannot fulfil the eirenic promise which, for those who are drawn to it, constitutes, I believe, its main attraction; secondly, that the basic diagnosis of epistemological scepticism as somehow entrapping us, by diverting attention from a surreptitious shift to a special rarefied intellectual context, rests on inattention to the details of the principal sceptical paradoxes. These contentions are consistent with knowledge-contextualism, of some stripe or other, being (...) true. What follows will not bear directly on that. (shrink)
For many reasons mainstream Hegel scholarship has disregarded Hegel's interests in epistemology, hence also his response to scepticism. From the points of view of defenders and critics alike, it seems that 'Hegel' and 'epistemology' have nothing to do with one another. Despite this widespread conviction, Hegel was a very sophisticated epistemologist whose views merit contemporary interest. This article highlights several key features and innovations of Hegel's epistemology-including his anti-Cartesianism, fallibilism, realism (sic) and externalism both about mental content and about (...) justification-by considering his systematic responses to Pyrrhonian, Humean, Cartesian and Kantian scepticism. (shrink)