Skepticism

Edited by Everett Fulmer (Loyola University, New Orleans)
About this topic
Summary Skepticism involves doubt, or at least a reluctance to commit. For example, some philosophers are moral skeptics, claiming that no one can know what is right or wrong. Skepticism about the "external world" is more general, denying that there is knowledge of the world “outside our minds.”  Even more generally, some skeptics claim that there is no knowledge at all.  Philosophers have long explored reasons for and against various skeptical positions and argued about the consequences of adopting various skeptical stances.   In the ancient world, skepticism was recommended as a way of life.  The general claim was that living with an attitude of skeptical doubt is superior (morally and/or practically) to living with an attitude of dogmatic certainty.  In the modern world (i.e., the 1600s through the 1800s), skepticism was more often treated as something to be avoided, and considerable philosophical energy was put into strategies for doing so.  In contemporary philosophy, skepticism is typically framed as a theoretical problem rather than a practical one. The concern is to closely consider the best arguments for skepticism and to explore how best to respond to them.  Attempts to answer skeptical arguments have inspired philosophers to adopt substantive positions in epistemology, but also in ontology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and moral philosophy.  
Key works The Oxford Handbook of Skepticism provides a comprehensive introduction to skeptical arguments and responses to skepticism.  Influential volumes include Popkin 1960Unger 1975Stroud 1984; and Williams 1991.   
Introductions Useful introductory articles include DeRose 1995; Greco 2007Pritchard 2002.
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  1. Free Will Skeptics Can Have Their Basic Desert and Eat It Too.Leigh Vicens - 2022 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 1:1-12.
    In this essay, I argue that if we assume with free will skeptics that people lack moral responsibility, or at least a central form of it, we may still maintain that people are ‘basically’ deserving of certain treatment in response to their behavior. I characterize basic-desert justifications for treatment negatively, as justifications that do not depend on consequentialist, contractualist, or relational considerations. Appealing to attributionist accounts of responsibility as well as the symbolic value of protest, I identify protest as a (...)
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  2. Reforming Responsibility Practices Without Skepticism.Marcelo Fischborn - 2022 - Philosophical Psychology (NA):1-17.
    Derk Pereboom and Gregg Caruso argue that humans are never morally responsible for their actions and take that thesis as a starting point for a project whose ultimate goal is the reform of responsibility practices, which include expressions of praise, blame, and the institution of legal punishment. This paper shares the skeptical concern that current responsibility practices can be suboptimal and in need of change, but argues that a non-skeptical pursuit of those changes is viable and more promising. The main (...)
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  3. Cosmic Skepticism and the Beginning of Physical Reality (Doctoral Dissertation).Linford Dan - 2022 - Dissertation, Purdue University
    This dissertation is concerned with two of the largest questions that we can ask about the nature of physical reality: first, whether physical reality begin to exist and, second, what criteria would physical reality have to fulfill in order to have had a beginning? Philosophers of religion and theologians have previously addressed whether physical reality began to exist in the context of defending the Kal{\'a}m Cosmological Argument (KCA) for theism, that is, (P1) everything that begins to exist has a cause (...)
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  4. The Propagation of Suspension of Judgment. Or, Should We Confer Any Weight to Crucial Objections the Truth-Value of Which We Are Ignorant?Aldo Filomeno - forthcoming - Erkenntnis.
    It is not uncommon in the history of science and philosophy to encounter crucial experiments or crucial objections the truth-value of which we are ignorant, that is, about which we suspend judgment. Should we ignore such objections? Contrary to widespread practice, I show that in and only in some circumstances they should not be ignored, for the epistemically rational doxastic attitude is to suspend judgment also about the hypothesis that the objection targets. In other words, suspension of judgment "propagates" from (...)
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  5. Getting Accurate About Knowledge.Sam Carter & Simon Goldstein - 2022 - Mind:1-28.
    There is a large literature exploring how accuracy constrains rational degrees of belief. This paper turns to the unexplored question of how accuracy constrains knowledge. We begin by introducing a simple hypothesis: increases in the accuracy of an agent’s evidence never lead to decreases in what the agent knows. We explore various precise formulations of this principle, consider arguments in its favor, and explain how it interacts with different conceptions of evidence and accuracy. As we show, the principle has some (...)
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  6. Hayek, Scepticism, and Democracy: A Wittgensteinian Critique.Robert Vinten - 2021 - Dewey Studies 5 (2):109-119.
    Given the multiple crises that are occurring after decades of neoliberalism we should take care to examine neoliberalism’s claims and subject them to critical scrutiny. What I propose to do here is to examine some of the philosophical claims made by Friedrich Hayek and then submit them to scrutiny using tools from Hayek’s cousin, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
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  7. Practical Intelligibility and Moral Skepticism: Should Realists Worry About Grass-Counters and Hand-Claspers?Micah Lott - 2021 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 102 (1):103-125.
    The focus of this paper is the following claim: as a purely conceptual matter, the moral truths could be pretty much anything, and we should assume this in assessing our reliability at grasping moral truths. This claim, which I call No Content, plays a key role in an important skeptical argument against realist moral knowledge – the Normative Lottery Argument. In this paper, I argue that moral realists can, and should, reject No Content. My argument centers on the idea of (...)
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  8. Skepticism in Hume's Dialogues.Hsueh Qu - 2022 - Hume Studies 47 (1):9-38.
  9. The paradigm response to skepticism.Daniel Immerman - 2022 - Synthese 200 (3):1-16.
    This paper introduces and defends the paradigm response to external world skepticism. To understand it, consider an analogy. One of the hallmarks of being a bird is an ability to fly. A penguin lacks this hallmark and thus fails to be a paradigm bird. Likewise, there are various hallmarks of knowledge. Some of your external world beliefs lack some of these hallmarks, and thus fail to be paradigm cases of knowledge. Just as the inability of penguins to fly doesn’t prevent (...)
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  10. Renaissance Skepticism.Margaret Matthews - 2022 - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Renaissance Skepticism The term “Renaissance skepticism” refers to a diverse range of approaches to the problem of knowledge that were inspired by the revitalization of Ancient Greek Skepticism in fifteenth through sixteenth century Europe. Much like its ancient counterpart, Renaissance skepticism refers to a wide array of epistemological positions rather than a single doctrine or … Continue reading Renaissance Skepticism →.
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  11. "Knowledge First" and Its Limits.Tammo Lossau - 2022 - Dissertation, Johns Hopkins University
    I discuss three understandings of the idea of “Knowledge First Epistemology”, i.e. Timothy Williamson’s suggestion that we should take knowledge as a starting point, rather than trying to analyze it. Some have taken this to be a suggestion about the role of the concept of knowledge, but Williamson also seems to be concerned with intuition-based metaphysics. As an alternative, I develop the idea that knowledge may be a social kind that can be understood through a functional analysis in the tradition (...)
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  12. Pragmatic Skepticism.Susanna Rinard - 2022 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 104 (2):434-453.
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Volume 104, Issue 2, Page 434-453, March 2022.
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  13. Socratic Scepticism.Roger Wertheimer - 1993 - Metaphilosophy 24 (4):344-362.
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  14. Does illusionism imply skepticism of animal consciousness?Leonard Dung - 2022 - Synthese 200 (3):1-19.
    Illusionism about consciousness entails that phenomenal consciousness doesn’t exist. The distribution question concerns the distribution of consciousness in the animal kingdom. Skepticism of animal consciousness is the view that few or no kinds of animals possess consciousness. Thus, illusionism seems to imply a skeptical view on the distribution question. However, I argue that illusionism and skepticism of animal consciousness are actually orthogonal to each other. If illusionism is true, then phenomenal consciousness does not ground intrinsic value so that the non-existence (...)
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  15. Austin’s Way with Skepticism Revisited.Mark Kaplan - forthcoming - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism:1-27.
    In “Other Minds,” Austin maintained that, unless there is a special reason to suspect the bird he saw is stuffed, he does not need to do enough to show it is not stuffed in order to be credited with knowing what he has just claimed to know: that the bird he saw is a goldfinch. But suppose Austin were presented with the following argument: You don’t know the bird is not a stuffed goldfinch. If you don’t know the bird is (...)
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  16. Knowledge of Language and a Radical Scepticism.Tomáš Čanal - 2019 - Filozofia i Nauka 2 (7):265-281.
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  17. The Lottery Paradox, the No-Justification Account, and Taiwan.Kok Yong Lee - forthcoming - Episteme:1-20.
    To resolve the lottery paradox, the “no-justification account” proposes that one is not justified in believing that one's lottery ticket is a loser. The no-justification account commits to what I call “the Harman-style skepticism”. In reply, proponents of the no-justification account typically downplay the Harman-style skepticism. In this paper, I argue that the no-justification reply to the Harman-style skepticism is untenable. Moreover, I argue that the no-justification account is epistemically ad hoc. My arguments are based on a rather surprising finding (...)
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  18. Moral underdetermination and a new skeptical challenge.Marius Baumann - 2022 - Synthese 200 (3):1-22.
    In this paper, I introduce a new challenge to moral realism: the skeptical argument from moral underdetermination. The challenge arises as a consequence of two recent projects in normative ethics. Both Parfit and a group called consequentializers have independently claimed that the main traditions of normative theories can agree on the set of correct particular deontic verdicts. Nonetheless, as Dietrich and List :421–479, 2017) and myself :191–221, 2018; Australas J Philos 97:511–527, 2019; Ethical Theory Moral Pract 24:999–1018, 2021a) have argued, (...)
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  19. Knowing Falsely: the Non-factive Project.Adam Michael Bricker - 2022 - Acta Analytica 37 (2):263-282.
    Quite likely the most sacrosanct principle in epistemology, it is near-universally accepted that knowledge is factive: knowing that p entails p. Recently, however, Bricker, Buckwalter, and Turri have all argued that we can and often do know approximations that are strictly speaking false. My goal with this paper is to advance this nascent non-factive project in two key ways. First, I provide a critical review of these recent arguments against the factivity of knowledge, allowing us to observe that elements of (...)
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  20. Why We Need Skepticism in Argument: Skeptical Engagement as a Requirement for Epistemic Justice.Lucy Alsip Vollbrecht - 2022 - Argumentation 36 (2):269-285.
    The Argumentative Adversariality debate is over the question of whether argument must be adversarial. A particular locus of this debate is on skeptical challenges in critical dialogue. The Default Skeptical Stance in argument is a practical manifestation of argumentative adversariality. Views about the on-the-ground value of the DSS vary. On one hand, in “The Social & Political Limitations of Philosophy”, Phyllis Rooney argues that the DSS leads to epistemic injustice. On the other, Allan Hazlett in his recent piece “Critical Injustice” (...)
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  21. On the Continuity of Metaphysics with Science: Some Scepticism and Some Suggestions.Jack Ritchie - 2022 - Metaphilosophy 53 (2-3):202-220.
  22. The Subjective Deduction and Kant’s Methodological Skepticism.Huaping Lu-Adler - 2022 - In Giuseppe Motta, Dennis Schulting & Udo Thiel (eds.), Kant’s Transcendental Deduction and the Theory of Apperception. Berlin, Germany: pp. 341-60.
    The deduction of categories in the 1781 edition of the Critique of the Pure Reason (A Deduction) has “two sides”—the “objective deduction” and the “subjective deduction”. Kant seems ambivalent about the latter deduction. I treat it as a significant episode of Kant’s thinking about categories that extended from the early 1770s to around 1790. It contains his most detailed answer to the question about the origin of categories that he formulated in the 1772 letter to Marcus Herz. The answer is (...)
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  23. Dialectical Pyrrhonism: Montaigne, Sextus Empiricus, and the Self-Overcoming of Philosophy.Roger Eichorn - 2022 - Sképsis: Revista de Filosofia 24 (13):24-46.
    In her book Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher, Ann Hartle argues that Montaigne’s thought is dialectical in the Hegelian sense. Unlike Hegel’s progressive dialectic, however, Montaigne’s thought is, according to Hartle, circular in that the reconciliation of opposed terms comes not in the form of a newly emergent term, but in a return to the first term, where the meaning of the first is transformed as a result of its dialectical interaction with the second. This analysis motivates Hartle’s claim that (...)
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  24. Humble Theism: Wykstra’s Skeptical Theism and Moral Paralysis.Soren Moody - manuscript
    William L. Rowe cites Stephen Wykstra's skeptical theism as the most powerful objection to the evidential argument. Initially, I object to skeptical theism on the basis that skeptical theism leads to moral paralysis. I then will conclude that the skeptical theist has other resources that enable the formation of a moral code.
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  25. Skepticism.Annalisa Coliva & Duncan Pritchard - 2021 - Routledge.
    Skepticism is one of the perennial problems of philosophy: from antiquity, to the early modern period of Descartes and Hume, and right through to the present day. It remains a fundamental and widely studied topic and, as Annalisa Coliva and Duncan Pritchard show in this book, it presents us with a paradox with important ramifications not only for epistemology but also for many other core areas of philosophy. In this book they provide a thorough grounding in contemporary debates about skepticism, (...)
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  26. Skepticism in Philosophy: A Comprehensive, Historical Introduction.Henrik Lagerlund - 2020 - Routledge.
    In this book, Henrik Lagerlund offers students, researchers, and advanced general readers the first complete history of what is perhaps the most famous of all philosophical problems: skepticism. As the first of its kind, the book traces the influence of philosophical skepticism from its roots in the Hellenistic schools of Phyrronism and the Middle Academy up to its impact inside and outside of philosophy today. Along the way, it covers skepticism during the Latin, Arabic, and Greek Middle Ages and during (...)
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  27. Ричард Бет. Як бути Пірроністом?Bett, R. (2019). How to Be a Pyrrhonist: The Practice and Significance of Pyrrhonian Skepticism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. [REVIEW]Владислав Артюшенко - 2019 - Sententiae 38 (2):116-118.
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  28. Did Kant Solve Skepticism?Thomas Morrison - 2022 - Philosophy Now 150:20-23.
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  29. Rethinking Liberalism for the 21st Century: The Skeptical Radicalism of Judith Shklar.Giunia Gatta - 2018 - Routledge.
    Rethinking Liberalism for the 21st Century offers an indispensable reexamination of the life, work, and interventions of a prominent liberal political theorist of the 20th century: Judith Shklar. Drawing on published and unpublished sources including Shklar¿s correspondence, lecture notes, and other manuscripts, Giunia Gatta presents a fresh theoretical interpretation of Shklar¿s liberalism as philosophically and politically radical. Beginning with a thorough reconstruction of Shklar¿s life and her interest in political theory, Gatta turns her attention to examining the tension between Shklar¿s (...)
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  30. Cicero: The Philosophy of a Roman Sceptic.Raphael Woolf - 2014 - Routledge.
    Cicero's philosophical works introduced Latin audiences to the ideas of the Stoics, Epicureans and other schools and figures of the post-Aristotelian period, thus influencing the transmission of those ideas through later history. While Cicero's value as documentary evidence for the Hellenistic schools is unquestioned, Cicero: The Philosophy of a Roman Sceptic explores his writings as works of philosophy that do more than simply synthesize the thought of others, but instead offer a unique viewpoint of their own. In this volume Raphael (...)
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  31. Skepticism and Belonging in Shakespeare's Comedy.Derek Gottlieb - 2015 - Routledge.
    This book recovers a sense of the high stakes of Shakespearean comedy, arguing that the comedies, no less than the tragedies, serve to dramatize responses to the condition of being human, responses that invite scholarly investigation and explanation.Taking its cue from Stanley Cavell's influential readings of Othello and Lear, the book argues that exposure or vulnerability to others is the source of both human happiness and human misery; while the tragedies showcase attempts at the evasion of such vulnerability through the (...)
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  32. Skepticism in Classical Islam: Moments of Confusion.Paul L. Heck - 2013 - Routledge.
    The first major treatment of skepticism in Islam, this book explores the critical role of skeptical thinking in the development of theology in Islam. It examines the way key thinkers in classical Islam faced perplexing questions about the nature of God and his relation to the world, all the while walking a fine line between belief in God's message as revealed in the Qur'an, and the power of the mind to discover truths on its own. Skepticism in Classical Islam reveals (...)
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  33. Beyond the Philosopher's Fear: A Cavellian Reading of Gender, Origin and Religion in Modern Skepticism.Ludger H. Viefhues-Bailey - 2007 - Routledge.
    Based on a detailed analysis of gender in Stanley Cavell's treatment of the skeptical problem, this book addresses the relationship between gender and religion in modern skepticism. Engaging in dialogue with Julia Kristeva's philosophy, Viefhues claims that a religious problem underlies Cavell's understanding of the feminine.
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  34. Thackeray’s Skeptical Narrative and the ‘Perilous Trade’ of Authorship.Judith Law Fisher - 2002 - Routledge.
    The perilous trade of authorship to which Thackeray refers in his famously succinct observation is the subject of Judith Fisher's study into skepticism and its literary connotations.
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  35. Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge.Renford Bambrough - 1994 - Routledge.
    Originally published in 1979, this book shows that a recognition of the rationality of moral judgment and moral action in no way involves us in diminishing our respect for liberty, authenticity, sincerity or integrity. It maintains that the resolution of these issues lies in recognising that the necessary involvement of the emotions in moral judgments and moral choices need not give rise to any hesitation or reluctance to treat moral questions as needing and permitting the use of the resources of (...)
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  36. Hume’s Skepticism in the Treatise of Human Nature.Robert J. Fogelin - 1985 - Routledge.
    This work, first published in 1985, offers a general interpretation of Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. Most Hume scholarship has either neglected or downplayed an important aspect of Hume's position - his scepticism. This book puts that right, examining in close detail the sceptical arguments in Hume's philosophy.
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  37. Semantic Scepticism and the Possibility of Meaning.Alexandra Olivia Sultanescu - 2019 - Dissertation, University of York
    Nearly four decades ago, Saul Kripke articulated a semantic version of scepticism, according to which no finite goings-on, either mental or behavioural, can establish what someone means by an expression. The semantic sceptic reveals, among other things, the hopelessness of a deeply temptingand widely madeassumption, to the effect that we must be able to articulate what it is for a subject to use expressions meaningfully without presupposing meaning. According to a strain of thinking that is influential in contemporary philosophy, this (...)
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  38. Philosophical Progress, Skepticism, and Disagreement.Annalisa Coliva & Louis Doulas - forthcoming - In Maria Baghramian, J. Adam Carter & Richard Rowland (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Disagreement. Routledge.
    This chapter serves as an opinionated introduction to the problem of convergence (that there is no clear convergence to the truth in philosophy) and the problem of peer disagreement (that disagreement with a peer rationally demands suspending one’s beliefs), and some of the issues they give rise to, namely, philosophical skepticism and progress in philosophy. After introducing both topics and surveying the various positions in the literature we explore the prospects of an alternative, hinge-theoretic account.
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  39. Kybernétův Skeptický Stín: O Povaze Lemova Odmlčení.Radim Brázda - forthcoming - Pro-Fil:3.
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  40. Kaplan’s Way with Skepticism.Michael Williams - forthcoming - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism:1-19.
    Austin is not much in fashion these days. In Austin’s Way with Skepticism, Mark Kaplan swims against the current, arguing that Austin still has much to teach us about how to do epistemology. Methodologically, Austin’s insistence on fidelity to ordinary ways of talking about knowledge is a non-negotiable constraint on epistemological theorizing. Substantively, Austin has important things to say about knowledge. But while I am fully in accord with the spirit of Kaplan’s enterprise, I take Austin to occupy a more (...)
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  41. Nuno Venturinha, Description of Situations: An Essay in Contextualist Epistemology.Robin McKenna - forthcoming - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism:1-6.
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  42. Justin Clarke-Doane, Morality and Mathematics.Hallvard Lillehammer - forthcoming - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism:1-5.
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  43. What Is Negative Disjunctivism?David de Bruijn - forthcoming - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism:1-21.
    Negative disjunctivists like Mike Martin and Bill Fish understand hallucinations in purely epistemic terms, and do not attribute phenomenal character to these visual misfires. However, the approaches by Martin and Fish are importantly different, and there has been little systematic work on how negative disjunctivism is motivated. In this paper, I argue for a version of negative disjunctivism that centers on the idea that perception involves the exercise of a fallible self-conscious capacity. I claim that this at once explains hallucinations (...)
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  44. Concessive Knowledge Attributions Cannot Be Explained Pragmatically.Gregory Stoutenburg - forthcoming - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism:1-12.
    “I know that p but it is possible that not-p” sounds contradictory. Some philosophers, notably David Lewis, have taken this as evidence that knowledge requires infallibility. Others have attempted to undermine that inference by arguing that there is a plausible pragmatic explanation of why such sentences sound odd, and thus do not undermine fallibilism. I argue that the proffered pragmatic explanations fail and I raise challenges for any possible pragmatic explanation of the character of concessive knowledge attributions. It is reasonable (...)
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  45. Lever Vi Skeptisisme I Forhold Til Andre?Stina Bäckström - 2008 - Agora 26 (1-02):66-83.
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  46. Verden Tapt Av Syne? Antirealisme, Skeptisisme Og Empirisme.Christopher Norris - 2002 - Agora 20 (1-02):110-150.
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  47. Stanley Cavell Om Film, Skeptisisme Og Modernisme.Espen Hammer - 2001 - Agora 19 (2-03):143-156.
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  48. The Price of Mathematical Scepticism.Paul Blain Levy - forthcoming - Philosophia Mathematica.
    This paper argues that, insofar as we doubt the bivalence of the Continuum Hypothesis or the truth of the Axiom of Choice, we should also doubt the consistency of third-order arithmetic, both the classical and intuitionistic versions. -/- Underlying this argument is the following philosophical view. Mathematical belief springs from certain intuitions, each of which can be either accepted or doubted in its entirety, but not half-accepted. Therefore, our beliefs about reality, bivalence, choice and consistency should all be aligned.
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  49. (R.) Bett (Trans.) Sextus Empiricus. How to Keep an Open Mind. An Ancient Guide to Thinking Like a Skeptic. Pp. L + 225. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2021. Cased, £13.99, US$16.95. ISBN: 978-0-691-20604-2. [REVIEW]Johanna Schmitt - 2022 - The Classical Review 72 (1):360-360.
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  50. Tragic Flaws.Nathan Ballantyne - 2022 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 8 (1):20-40.
    In many tragic plays, the protagonist is brought down by a disaster that is a consequence of the protagonist's own error, his or her hamartia, the tragic flaw. Tragic flaws are disconcerting to the audience because they are not known or fully recognized by the protagonist—at least not until it is too late. In this essay, I take tragic flaws to be unreliable belief-forming dispositions that are unrecognized by us in some sense. I describe some different types of flaws and (...)
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