The literature on perception and skepticism can be helpfully organized around two skeptical arguments: closure arguments and underdetermination arguments. Where H = I have hands and ~BIV = I am not a handless brain in a vat, one familiar closure argument proceeds as follows: (1) If I am justified in believing H, then I am justified in believing ~BIV. (2) But I am not justified in believing ~BIV. (3) So, I am not justified in believing H. The popular response is to reject (2). According to liberal Mooreans, (2) is false because one’s perceptual experience gives one immediate justification for H and thus mediate justification for ~BIV (by closure). According to conservatives, we lack immediate perceptual justification for H. Non-skeptical conservatives reject (2) by arguing that our justification for H partly consists in some antecedent justification for ~BIV. According to some non-skeptical conservatives, the antecedent justification is an a priori entitlement. According to others, the justification is inferential—say, an abductive argument from the patterning of our perceptual experience to the probable truth of our perceptual beliefs. While liberal Mooreanism and conservatism are often taken to be the only ways to deny (2), the liberal rationalism of Silins (2008) affords a subtle compromise.
Some other important work in the literature on perception and skepticism responds to the following underdetermination argument:
(A) I have the same perceptual evidence whether ~BIV or BIV is true.
(B) So, my evidence does not favor believing ~BIV over BIV.
(C) But if (B) is true, then I am not justified in believing H.
(D) So, I am not justified in believing H.
Epistemological disjunctivists reject (A). Although epistemological disjunctivism has gained adherents in recent years, it is not a majority view. Most epistemologists reject either (C) or the inference from (A) to (B). Some externalists reject (C) by denying that justification supervenes on evidence and holding that non-evidential factors justify our belief in H. Some conservatives reject the move from (A) to (B) by insisting that there is a non-skeptical alternative to BIV that better explains one’s perceptual evidence.
The locus classicus of liberal Mooreanism is Moore 1939. Landmarks of contemporary liberal Mooreanism include Pryor 2000 and Pryor 2004. Classic illustrations of entitlement-based conservatism include Wright 2002 and Wright 2004. Vogel 1990 is a major conservative who appeals to abduction. Iconic works by epistemological disjunctivists include McDowell 1983, McDowell 2008, and Pritchard 2012; key critics include Comesaña 2005 and Conee 2007.
Fumerton 1985, Pryor 2000, and Huemer 2001 serve as great introductions to skeptical issues in the epistemology of perception. BonJour 2007 and Siegel & Silins 2015 provide introductory discussions of skeptical problems in connection with other issues in the epistemology of perception. Millar 2017 offers an overview of the literature on epistemological disjunctivism and skepticism. Brueckner 1994 clarifies the relationship between the closure and underdetermination arguments.
Graduate studies at Western
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David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
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