About this topic

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.

Key works

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 1985Pryor 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.

Related categories

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1 — 50 / 219
  1. Animal Minds, Skepticism and the Affective Stance.Elisa Aaltola - 2010 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy (2):69-82.
    External descriptions, which approach animals via external mechanisms rather than internal mental states, have gained a prominent position. However, according to strong objectivism, attention needs to be placed on the presumptions that lay behind given beliefs. When applied to the topic of animal minds, it reveals that perhaps inter-nal rather than external descriptions would offer a fruitful option. This claim is sup-ported by the Wittgensteinian criticism of skepticism, which seeks to avoid “deflection” and brings forward an “affective stance”. Still, in (...)
  2. The Common Sense View of Sense-Perception.R. I. Aaron - 1958 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 58:1-14.
  3. Hutcheson, Perception, and the Sceptic's Challenge.Fred Ablondi - 2012 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 20 (2):269-281.
    Francis Hutcheson's theory of perception, as put forth in his Synopsis of Metaphysics, bears a striking similarity to that of John Locke. In particular, Hutcheson and Locke both have at the centre of their theories the notion of ideas as representational entities acting as the direct objects of all of our perceptions. On first consideration, one might find this similarity wholly unremarkable, given the popularity of Locke's Essay. But the Essay was published in 1689 and the Synopsis in 1742, and (...)
  4. Descartes's Method of Doubt.Leslie Allan - manuscript
    Enlightenment philosopher, René Descartes, set out to establish what could be known with certainty, untainted by a deceiving demon. With his method of doubt, he rejected all previous beliefs, allowing only those that survived rigorous scrutiny. In this essay, Leslie Allan examines whether Descartes's program of skeptical enquiry was successful in laying a firm foundation for our manifold beliefs. He subjects Descartes's conclusions to Descartes's own uncompromising methodology to determine whether Descartes escaped from a self-imposed radical skepticism.
  5. Perception and Basic Beliefs: Zombies, Modules, and the Problem of the External World.Keith Allen - unknown
  6. Epistemic Entitlement.Jon Altschul - 2011 - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    In the early 1990s there emerged a growing interest with the concept of epistemic entitlement. Philosophers who acknowledge the existence of entitlements maintain that there are beliefs or judgments unsupported by evidence available to the subject, but which the subject nonetheless has the epistemic right to hold. Some of these may include beliefs non-inferentially sourced in perception, memory, introspection, testimony, and the a priori. Unlike the traditional notion of justification, entitlement is often characterized as an externalist type of epistemic warrant, (...)
  7. A Direct Realist's Challenge to Skepticism. [REVIEW]Ari Armstrong - 2004 - Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 5 (2):421 - 440.
    Armstrong reviews Michael Huemer's Skepticism and the Veil of Perception and finds in it strong support for the perceptual theory of direct realism. However, Huemer incorrectly assumes perceptual experiences can contain conceptual—and thus causal —information. Regardless, Huemer's theory of "phenomenal conservatism" serves to justify our perceptual judgments and refute skepticism in a way compatible with the preliminary work of Objectivist philosophers, such as David Kelley and Leonard Peikoff.
  8. Perception, Reason & Knowledge.Douglas Gene Arner - 1972 - Glenview, Ill., Scott, Foresman.
    The causal theory, by J. Locke.--Phenomenalism, by G. Berkeley.--Skepticism, by D. Hume.--Traditional rationalism, by G. W. Leibniz.--Critical rationalism, by I. Kant.--Empiricism, by C. I. Lewis.--The quest for certainty, by R. Descartes.--Knowing and believing, by H. A. Prichard.--The right to be sure, by A. J. Ayer.
  9. Stipulation, Logic, and Ontological Independence.Jody Azzouni - 2000 - Philosophia Mathematica 8 (3):225-243.
    A distinction between the epistemic practices in mathematics and in the empirical sciences is rehearsed to motivate the epistemic role puzzle. This is distinguished both from Benacerraf's 1973 epistemic puzzle and from sceptical arguments against our knowledge of an external world. The stipulationist position is described, a position which can address this puzzle. Methods of avoiding the stipulationist position by using pure logic to provide knowledge of mathematical abstracta are discussed and criticized.
  10. Perceptual Justification and the Cartesian Theater.David James Barnett - forthcoming - Oxford Studies in Epistemology 6.
    According to a traditional Cartesian epistemology of perception, perception does not provide one with direct knowledge of the external world. Instead, when you look out to see a red wall, what you learn first is not a fact about the color of the wall—i.e., that it is red—but instead a fact about your own visual experience—i.e., that the wall looks red to you. If you are to justifiably believe that the wall is red, you must be in a position to (...)
  11. A Five-Fold Skepticism in Logical Empiricism.Carlton W. Berenda - 1950 - Philosophy of Science 17 (2):123-132.
  12. Gupta's Gambit.Selim Berker - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 152 (1):17-39.
    After summarizing the essential details of Anil Gupta’s account of perceptual justification in his book _Empiricism and Experience_, I argue for three claims: (1) Gupta’s proposal is closer to rationalism than advertised; (2) there is a major lacuna in Gupta’s account of how convergence in light of experience yields absolute entitlements to form beliefs; and (3) Gupta has not adequately explained how ordinary courses of experience can lead to convergence on a commonsense view of the world.
  13. Euclid and the Sceptic: A Paper on Vision, Doubt, Geometry, Light and Drunkenness.Sylvia Berryman - 1998 - Phronesis 43 (2):176-196.
    Philosophy in the period immediately after Aristotle is sometimes thought to be marked by the decline of natural philosophy and philosophical disinterest in contemporary achievements in the sciences. But in one area at least, the early third century B.C.E. was a time of productive interaction between such disparate fields as epistemology, physics and geometry. Debates between the sceptics and the dogmatic philosophical schools focus on epistemological problems about the possibility of self-evident appearances, but there is evidence from Euclid's day of (...)
  14. John McDowell, Mind and World.Monika Betzler - 1998 - Erkenntnis 48 (1):117-122.
  15. Review of John McDowell, Perception as a Capacity for Knowledge. [REVIEW]Tim Black - 2011 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
  16. Epistemological Problems of Perception.Laurence BonJour - 2007 - Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    The historically most central epistemological issue concerning perception, to which this article will be almost entirely devoted, is whether and how beliefs about physical objects and about the physical world generally can be justified or warranted on the basis of sensory or perceptual experience—where it is internalist justification, roughly having a reason to think that the belief in question is true, that is mainly in question (see the entry justification, epistemic: internalist vs. externalist conceptions of). This issue, commonly referred to (...)
  17. HUEMER, M.-Skepticism and the Veil of Perception.E. Borg - 2002 - Philosophical Books 43 (4):307-308.
  18. Sensory and Noetic Consciousness.Franz Clemens Brentano - 1981 - Routledge.
  19. Review of Richard Gaskin, Experience and the World's Own Language: A Critique of John McDowell's Empiricism[REVIEW]Jason Bridges - 2007 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (2).
  20. Notes on Hume and Skepticism of the Senses.Bryson Brown - 2003 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 3 (3):289-303.
    In A Treatise of Human Nature Hume wrote a long section titled “Of skepticism with regard to the senses.” The discussion examines two key features of our beliefs about the objects making up the external world: 1. They continue to exist, even when unperceived. 2. They are distinct from the mind and its perceptions. The upshot of the discussion is a graceful sort of intellectual despair:I cannot conceive how such trivial qualities of the fancy, conducted by such false suppositions, can (...)
  21. Sound Sleep and Sound Scepticism.Robert Brown - 1957 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 35 (1):47-53.
  22. Perceptual Anti-Individualism and Skepticism.Anthony Brueckner - 2012 - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism 2 (2):145-151.
    In “Perceptual Entitlement, Reliabilism, and Scepticism,“ Frank Barel explores some important and under-discussed questions regarding the relation between Tyler Burge's views on perceptual entitlement, on the one hand, and the problem of skepticism, on the other. In this note, I would like to comment on a couple of aspects of Barel's article. First, I have my own take, different from Barel's, on the question of whether we can sketch an a priori anti-skeptical argument proceeding from perceptual anti-individualism. Second, I discuss (...)
  23. Skepticism and the Veil of Perception.Anthony Brueckner - 2004 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 69 (1):234-237.
  24. The Structure of the Skeptical Argument.Anthony Brueckner - 1994 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54 (4):827-835.
    Much has been written about epistemological skepticism in the last ten or so years, but there remain some unanswered questions concerning the structure of what has become the canonical Cartesian skeptical argument. In this paper, I would like to take a closer look at this structure in order to determine just which epistemic principles are required by the argument.
  25. E = K and Perceptual Knowledge.Tony Brueckner - 2009 - In Patrick Greenough & Duncan Pritchard (eds.), Williamson on Knowledge. Oxford University Press.
  26. Sources of Scepticism in Atomic Theory.Gerd Buchdahl - 1959 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 10 (38):120-134.
  27. Falsehood: An Analysis of Illusion's Singularity.Marc Burock - manuscript
    It is a common tactic, going back to the beginnings of religion and philosophy, to presume that we are enveloped in a world of untruth and illusion, thereby fueling our movement toward truth. In more modern times, Descartes demonstrates this process clearly with his Meditations. This work extends the Cartesian skeptical position by challenging the concept of illusion itself, asking those who have ever called something ‘an illusion’ to question the meaning of these assertions. This broader skepticism partially annihilates itself (...)
  28. The Untruth and the Truth of Skepticism.Panayot Butchvarov - 1994 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 67 (4):41 - 61.
    The skepticism I propose to discuss concerns the reality of an external world of perceivable material objects. There are three questions our skeptic may ask. The first is nonmodal and nonepistemic: Are some of the objects we perceive real? The second is also nonmodal but epistemic: Do we know, or at least have evidence, that some of the objects we perceive are real? The third is both modal and epistemic: Can we know, or at least have evidence, that some of (...)
  29. Natural Instinct, Perceptual Relativity, and Belief in the External World in Hume’s Enquiry.Annemarie Butler - 2008 - Hume Studies 34 (1):115-158.
    In part 1 of Enquiry 12, Hume presents a skeptical argument against belief in external existence. The argument involves a perceptual relativity argument that seems to conclude straightaway the double existence of objects and perceptions, where objects cause and resemble perceptions. In Treatise 1.4.2, Hume claimed that the belief in double existence arises from imaginative invention, not reasoning about perceptual relativity. I dissolve this tension by distinguishing the effects of natural instinct and showing that some ofthese effects supplement the Enquiry’s (...)
  30. The CROW and the Coconut: Accident, Coincidence, and Causation in The.Nicholas Buxton - 2006 - Philosophy East and West 56 (3).
    : This article explores the way in which the Yogavāsistha's account of causation as coincidence relates to its soteriological agenda and the view that the 'existence' of the world—deemed to be an illusion anyway—is a mere accident. Comparison is made to similar ideas about causality articulated by David Hume, who nonetheless stops short of drawing quite such radical metaphysical conclusions, in spite of his epistemological skepticism concerning the existence of external objects.
  31. The Crow and the Coconut: Accident, Coincidence, and Causation in the "Yogavāsiṣṭha".Nicholas Buxton - 2006 - Philosophy East and West 56 (3):392 - 408.
    This article explores the way in which the Yogavāsiṣṭha's account of causation as coincidence relates to its soteriological agenda and the view that the 'existence' of the world-deemed to be an illusion anyway-is a mere accident. Comparison is made to similar ideas about causality articulated by David Hume, who nonetheless stops short of drawing quite such radical metaphysical conclusions, in spite of his epistemological skepticism concerning the existence of external objects.
  32. McDowell and Wright on Anti-Scepticism Etc.Alex Byrne - 2014 - In Dylan Dodd & Elia Zardini (eds.), Scepticism and Perceptual Justification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    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.
  33. Out-Gunning Skepticism.L. S. Carrier - 1987 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 17 (3):655 - 657.
  34. Skepticism Disarmed.L. S. Carrier - 1983 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 13 (1):107 - 114.
  35. O argumento da ilusão/alucinação e o disjuntivismo: Ayer versus Austin.Eros Moreira de Carvalho - 2015 - Skepsis: A Journal for Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Research 12:85-106.
    The argument from illusion/hallucination have been proposed many times as supporting the strong conclusion that we are always perceiving directly sense-data. In Sense & Sensibilia, Austin argues that this argument is based on a “mass of seductive (mainly verbal) fallacies”. In this paper, I argue that Austin's argumentative moves to deconstruct the argument from illusion is better understood if they are seen as due to his implicit commitment to some disjunctivist conception of perception. His considerations should be taken as a (...)
  36. Disjunctivism and the Ethics of Disbelief.Marc Champagne - 2015 - Philosophical Papers 44 (2):139-163.
    This paper argues that there is a conflict between two theses held by John McDowell, namely i) the claim that we are under a standing obligation to revise our beliefs if reflection demands it; and ii) the view that veridical experience is a mode of direct access to the world. Since puts no bounds on what would constitute reasonable doubt, it invites skeptical concerns which overthrow. Conversely, since says that there are some experiences which we are entitled to trust, it (...)
  37. The Empirical Foundation and Justification of Knowledge.Jiaming Chen - 2008 - Frontiers of Philosophy in China 3 (1):67-82.
    Whether empirical givenness has the reliability that foundationalists expect is a point about which some philosophers are highly skeptical. Sellars took the doctrine of givenness as a “myth,” denying the existence of immediate perceptual experience. The arguments in contemporary Western epistemology are concentrated on whether sensory experience has conceptual contents, and whether there is any logical relationship between perceptions and beliefs. In fact, once the elements of words and conceptions in empirical perception are affirmed, the logical relationship between perceptual experience (...)
  38. Perception and Metaphysical Skepticism.Paul Coates - 1998 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 72 (72):1-28.
    Much recent discussion about the nature of perception has focused on the dispute between the Causal Theory of Perception and the rival Disjunctive View. There are different versions of the Causal Theory (the abbreviation I shall use), but the point upon which they agree is that perception involves a conscious experience which is logically distinct from the particular physical object perceived. 1 On the opposed Disjunctive View, the perceptual experience is held to be inseparable from the object perceived; what is (...)
  39. Perception and Metaphysical Scepticism.Paul Coates - 1998 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 72 (1):1-28.
    In this paper I introduce and critically examine a paradox about perceiving that is in some ways analogous to the paradox about meaning which Kripke puts forward in his exegesis of Wittgenstein's views on Rule-following. When applied to vision, the paradox of perceiving raises a metaphysical scepticism about which object a person is seeing if he looks, for example, at an apple on a tree directly in front of him. Physical objects can be seen when their appearance is distorted in (...)
  40. The Inaugural Address: Perception and Metaphysical Scepticism.Paul Coates - 1998 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 72 (1):1–28.
  41. Extended Rationality: A Hinge Epistemology.Annalisa Coliva - 2015 - Palgrave-Macmillan.
    Extended Rationality: A Hinge Epistemology provides a novel account of the structure of epistemic justification. Its central claim builds upon Wittgenstein's idea in On Certainty that epistemic justifications hinge on some basic assumptions and that epistemic rationality extends to these very hinges. It exploits these ideas to address major problems in epistemology, such as the nature of perceptual justifications, external world skepticism, epistemic relativism, the epistemic status of basic logical laws, of the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature, of our (...)
  42. Justified Vs. Warranted Perceptual Belief: Resisting Disjunctivism.Juan Comesaña - 2005 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71 (2):367-383.
    In this paper I argue that McDowell’s brand of disjunctivism about perceptual knowledge is ill-motivated. First, I present a reconstruction of one main motivation for disjunctivism, in the form of an argument that theories that posit a “highest common factor” between veridical and non-veridical experiences must be wrong. Then I show that the argument owes its plausibility to a failure to distinguish between justification and warrant (where “warrant” is understood as whatever has to be added to true belief to yield (...)
  43. Opposing Skepticism Disjunctively.Earl Conee - unknown
    Disjunctivists hold that perceiving external objects is fundamentally different from any experiential state that is not a perception. In fact, roughly speaking, disjunctivists say that they have nothing in common. Suppose that it appears to someone as though she perceives something. Disjunctivists say that there are two disparate sorts of facts that could make this true. Either she is genuinely perceiving something, or she is in an experiential state of merely apparent perception. An apparent perception is fundamentally unlike a perception. (...)
  44. Disjunctivism and Anti-Skepticism.Earl Conee - 2007 - Philosophical Issues 17 (1):16–36.
  45. Hume's Scepticism with Regard to the Senses.John W. Cook - 1968 - American Philosophical Quarterly 5 (1):1 - 17.
  46. Sceptical Notes on the Sense-Datum.C. De Boer - 1931 - Journal of Philosophy 28 (19):505 - 519.
  47. Berkeley et les philosophes du XVIIe siècle. Perception et scepticisme Richard Glauser Collection «Philosophie et langage» Liège, Mardaga, 1999, 352 p. [REVIEW]Roselyne Dégremont - 2002 - Dialogue 41 (3):614-.
  48. Review of Unnatural Doubts: Epistemological Realism and the Basis of Scepticism.Keith DeRose & Michael Williams - 1993 - Philosophical Review 102 (4):604.
  49. Scepticism and Perceptual Justification.Dylan Dodd & Elia Zardini (eds.) - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    One of the hardest problems in the history of Western philosophy has been to explain whether and how experience can provide knowledge about the objective world outside the experiencer's mind. A prominent brand of scepticism has precisely denied that experience can provide such knowledge. How, for instance can I know that my experiences are not produced in me by a powerful demon? This volume, originating from the research project on Basic Knowledge recently concluded at the Northern Institute of Philosophy, presents (...)
  50. Skeptical Essays.Richard Double - 1987 - Philosophical Studies 31:482-485.
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