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. Error and Doubt.Douglas Odegard - 1993 - Philosophia 22 (3-4):341-359.
Brains in Vats
  1. Disjuntivismo epistemológico e ceticismo radical.Breno Ricardo Guimarães Santos - 2017 - Veritas 62 (3):624-656.
    Epistemological disjunctivism is a philosophical theory that has received special attention in the recent years. Particularly because it has been seen by many as a way of renewing discussions that range from the nature of justification of our daily beliefs to the possibility of unveiling the structure of the problem of radical skepticism and of responding to it. Duncan Pritchard is one of the authors who have offered a particular view of disjunctivism and ways of conceiving of disjunctivist treatments to (...)
  2. Structuralism as a Response to Skepticism.David J. Chalmers - 2018 - Journal of Philosophy 115 (12):625-660.
    Cartesian arguments for global skepticism about the external world start from the premise that we cannot know that we are not in a Cartesian scenario such as an evil-demon scenario, and infer that because most of our empirical beliefs are false in such a scenario, these beliefs do not constitute knowledge. Veridicalist responses to global skepticism respond that arguments fail because in Cartesian scenarios, many or most of our empirical beliefs are true. Some veridicalist responses have been motivated using verificationism, (...)
  3. II—‘This Is the Bad Case’: What Brains in Vats Can Know.Aidan McGlynn - 2018 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 92 (1):183-205.
    The orthodox position in epistemology, for both externalists and internalists, is that a subject in a ‘bad case’—a sceptical scenario—is so epistemically badly off that they cannot know how badly off they are. Ofra Magidor contends that externalists should break ranks on this question, and that doing so is liberating when it comes time to confront a number of central issues in epistemology, including scepticism and the new evil demon problem for process reliabilism. In this reply, I will question whether (...)
  4. Duncan Pritchard’s Epistemic Angst.John Greco - 2018 - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism 8 (1):51-61.
    _ Source: _Page Count 11 _Epistemic Angst: Radical Skepticism and the Groundlessness of our Believing_. By Duncan Pritchard. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016. Pp. xv + 239. ISBN 978-0-691-16723-7.
  5. Ignorance and Knowledge: The Viability of Externalist Neo-Mooreanism as a Resonse to Radical Scepticism.John Asquith - 2017 - Dissertation, King's College London
    Here, I shall be examining the viability of a Moorean response to the Argument from Ignorance; i.e., one that tries to rebut the argument by denying its first premise that we cannot have knowledge that we are not BIVs. After first explicating the Argument from Ignorance in detail, I then go on to try and motivate this approach by critically examining two alternative approaches to dealing with radical scepticism: closure-denial, and attributer contextualism. Finding them wanting, I then turn to a (...)
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  6. Closure, Deduction and Hinge Commitments.Xiaoxing Zhang - forthcoming - Synthese.
    Duncan Pritchard recently proposed a Wittgensteinian solution to closure-based skepticism. According to Wittgenstein, all epistemic systems assume certain truths. The notions that we are not disembodied brains, that the Earth has existed for a long time and that one’s name is such-and-such all function as “hinge commitments.” Pritchard views a hinge commitment as a positive propositional attitude that is not a belief. Because closure principles concern only knowledge-apt beliefs, they do not apply to hinge commitments. Thus, from the fact that (...)
  7. Perspectival Externalism Is the Antidote to Radical Skepticism.Lisa Miracchi - 2017 - Episteme 14 (3):363-379.
  8. Dreams in a Vat.Danilo Suster - 2016 - European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 12 (2):89-105.
    Putnam’s semantic argument against the BIV hypothesis and Sosa’s argument against dream skepticism based on the imagination model of dreaming share some important structural features. In both cases the skeptical option is supposed to be excluded because preconditions of its intelligibility are not fulfilled (affirmation and belief in the dream scenario, thought and reference in the BIV scenario). Putnam’s reasoning is usually interpreted differently, as a classic case of deception, but this feature is not essential. I propose to interpret BIV’s (...)
  9. What It Means to Live in a Virtual World Generated by Our Brain.Jan Westerhoff - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (3):507-528.
    Recent discussions in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind have defended a theory according to which we live in a virtual world akin to a computer simulation, generated by our brain. It is argued that our brain creates a model world from a variety of stimuli; this model is perceived as if it was external and perception-independent, even though it is neither of the two. The view of the mind, brain, and world, entailed by this theory has some peculiar (...)
  10. Why Boltzmann Brains Are Bad.Sean M. Carroll - forthcoming - In Shamik Dasgupta & Brad Weslake (eds.), Current Controversies in the Philosophy of Science. Routledge.
    Some modern cosmological models predict the appearance of Boltzmann Brains: observers who randomly fluctuate out of a thermal bath rather than naturally evolving from a low-entropy Big Bang. A theory in which most observers are of the Boltzmann Brain type is generally thought to be unacceptable, although opinions differ. I argue that such theories are indeed unacceptable: the real problem is with fluctuations into observers who are locally identical to ordinary observers, and their existence cannot be swept under the rug (...)
  11. What to Believe About Your Belief That You're in the Good Case.Alex Worsnip - forthcoming - Oxford Studies in Epistemology 6.
    Going about our daily lives in an orderly manner requires us, once we are aware of them, to dismiss many metaphysical possibilities. We take it for granted that we are not brains in vats, or living in the Matrix, or in an extended dream. Call these things that we take for granted “anti-skeptical assumptions”. What should a reflective agent who believes these things think of these beliefs? For various reasons, it can seem that we do not have evidence for such (...)
  12. How to Undercut Radical Skepticism.Santiago Echeverri - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (5):1299-1321.
    Radical skepticism relies on the hypothesis that one could be completely cut off from the external world. In this paper, I argue that this hypothesis can be rationally motivated by means of a conceivability argument. Subsequently, I submit that this conceivability argument does not furnish a good reason to believe that one could be completely cut off from the external world. To this end, I show that we cannot adequately conceive scenarios that verify the radical skeptical hypothesis. Attempts to do (...)
  13. The New Evil Demon and the Devil in the Details.Mikkel Gerken - 2018 - In Veli Mitova (ed.), The Factive Turn in Epistemology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 102-122.
    I will argue that cases of massive deception, such as New Evil Demon cases, as well as one-off cases of local deception present challenges to views according to which epistemic reasons, epistemic warrant, epistemic rationality or epistemic norms are factive. In doing so, I will argue is that proponents of a factive turn in epistemology should observe important distinctions between what are often simply referred to as ‘bad cases.’ Recognizing epistemologically significant differences between deception cases raises serious challenges for those (...)
  14. Reassessing the Case Against Evidential Externalism.Giada Fratantonio & Aidan McGlynn - forthcoming - In Veli Mitova (ed.), The Factive Turn in Epistemology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    This paper reassesses the case against Evidential Externalism, the thesis that one's evidence fails to supervene on one's non-factive mental states, focusing on two objections to Externalism due by Nicholas Silins: the armchair access argument and the supervenience argument. It also examines Silins's attempt to undermine the force of one major source of motivation for Externalism, namely that the rival Internalist picture of evidence is implicated in some central arguments for scepticism. While Silins concludes that the case against Evidential Externalism (...)
  15. A Closer Look at Closure Scepticism.Michael Blome-Tillmann - 2006 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Paperback) 106 (3):381-390.
    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 (...)
  16. An Argument for External World Skepticism From the Appearance/Reality Distinction.Moti Mizrahi - 2016 - International Journal for the Study of Skepticism 6 (4):368-383.
    In this paper, I argue that arguments from skeptical hypotheses for external world skepticism derive their support from a skeptical argument from the distinction between appearance and reality. This skeptical argument from the appearance/reality distinction gives the external world skeptic her conclusion without appealing to skeptical hypotheses and without assuming that knowledge is closed under known entailments. If this is correct, then this skeptical argument from the appearance/reality distinction poses a new skeptical challenge that cannot be resolved by denying skeptical (...)
  17. Transcendental Arguments, Conceivability, and Global Vs. Local Skepticism.Moti Mizrahi - 2017 - Philosophia 45 (2):735-749.
    In this paper, I argue that, if transcendental arguments are to proceed from premises that are acceptable to the skeptic, the Transcendental Premise, according to which “X is a metaphysically necessary condition for the possibility of Y,” must be grounded in considerations of conceivability and possibility. More explicitly, the Transcendental Premise is based on what Szabó Gendler and Hawthorne call the “conceivability-possibility move.” This “inconceivability-impossibility” move, however, is a problematic argumentative move when advancing transcendental arguments for the following reasons. First, (...)
  18. How I Know I'm Not a Brain in a Vat.José L. Zalabardo - 2009 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 64:65-88.
    I use some ideas of Keith DeRose's to develop an (invariantist!) account of why sceptical reasoning doesn't show that I don't know that I'm not a brain in a vat. I argue that knowledge is subject to the risk-of-error constraint: a true belief won’t have the status of knowledge if there is a substantial risk of the belief being in error that hasn’t been brought under control. When a substantial risk of error is present (i.e. beliefs in propositions that are (...)
  19. Realism and Skepticism: Brains in a Vat Revisited.Graeme Forbes - 1995 - Journal of Philosophy 92 (4):205.
  20. The Limits of Realism, by Tim Button. 264 + Xi P., Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013. [REVIEW]Nathan Wildman - 2014 - Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung 68 (3):433-37.
  21. Escepticismo y Desacuerdo.Rodrigo Laera - 2012 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 16 (1):81-97.
    Within the framework of the epistemological debate on disagreement, this paper aims to examine the sceptical thesis that holds that, if it is impossible to rationally choose among two excluding positions, the only sensible or rational thing to do is to suspend judgement. The idea that ordinary life does not constitute the source of scepticism is presented, which rules out real disagreement between epistemic pairs as its foundation. Sceptical scenes differ ontologically from everyday scenes, without such ontological difference entailing an (...)
  22. Brains, Vats, and Neurally-Controlled Animats.Neil C. Manson - 2004 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35 (2):249-268.
  23. Reply to Sawyer on Brains in Vats.H. W. Noonan - 2000 - Analysis 60 (3):247-249.
  24. Generalizing Brains in Vats.B. Weiss - 2000 - Analysis 60 (1):112-123.
  25. The Underdetermination Argument for Brain-in-the-Vat Scepticism.A. H. Goldman - 2007 - Analysis 67 (1):32-36.
  26. Johnsen on Brains in Vats.Anthony Brueckner - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 129 (3):435-440.
    This is a response to a recent Philosophical Studies article by Bredo Johnsen, in which he makes a number of criticisms of Putnamian anti-skeptical arguments.
  27. Scepticism and Epistemic Kinds.John Greco - 2000 - Philosophical Issues 10 (1):366-376.
  28. 7. Brains in Vats.Mark Quentin Gardiner - 2000 - In Semantic Challenges to Realism: Dummett and Putnam. University of Toronto Press. pp. 183-198.
  29. New Terms of Envatment.Samuel Montplaisir - 2013 - Ithaque 12:77-87.
    The argument against skepticism relying on content externalism, which was made famous by Hilary Putnam, has been considered inconclusive by many philosophers. However, some believe that this argument has precluded the possibility of skeptical hypotheses. These hypotheses typically are fictional scenarios where a deceptive power makes your experiences indistinguishable from those you would have if you were not in such a scenario, making most of your justified belief false. Some philosophers, such as Anthony Brueckner and Jon Altschul, have taken this (...)
  30. Debating Self-Knowledge.Anthony Brueckner & Gary Ebbs - 2012 - Cambridge University Press.
    Language users ordinarily suppose that they know what thoughts their own utterances express. We can call this supposed knowledge minimal self-knowledge. But what does it come to? And do we actually have it? Anti-individualism implies that the thoughts which a person's utterances express are partly determined by facts about their social and physical environments. If anti-individualism is true, then there are some apparently coherent sceptical hypotheses that conflict with our supposition that we have minimal self-knowledge. In this book, Anthony Brueckner (...)
  31. How You Know You Are Not a Brain in a Vat.Alexander Jackson - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (10):2799-2822.
    A sensible epistemologist may not see how she could know that she is not a brain in a vat ; but she doesn’t panic. She sticks with her empirical beliefs, and as that requires, believes that she is not a BIV. (She does not inferentially base her belief that she is not a BIV on her empirical knowledge—she rejects that ‘Moorean’ response to skepticism.) Drawing on the psychological literature on metacognition, I describe a mechanism that’s plausibly responsible for a sensible (...)
  32. The Limits of Realism.Tim Button - 2015 - Oxford University Press UK.
    Tim Button explores the relationship between minds, words, and world. He argues that the two main strands of scepticism are deeply related and can be overcome, but that there is a limit to how much we can show. We must position ourselves somewhere between internal realism and external realism, and we cannot hope to say exactly where.
  33. Scepticism.Neil Gascoigne - 2001 - Routledge.
    The history of scepticism is assumed by many to be the history of failed responses to a problem first raised by Descartes. While the thought of the ancient sceptics is acknowledged, their principle concern with how to live a good life is regarded as bearing little, if any, relation to the work of contemporary epistemologists. In "Scepticism" Neil Gascoigne engages with the work of canonical philosophers from Descartes, Hume and Kant through to Moore, Austin, and Wittgenstein to show how themes (...)
  34. Challenging Closure: Is It A Way To Answer The Skeptic?Fred Dretske - 2013 - The Harvard Review of Philosophy 19:61-68.
  35. The (Un)Holy Grail of Epistemology.Paweł J. Zięba - 2015 - Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 22 (1):21-33.
    As formulated by Duncan Pritchard and John McDowell, epistemological disjunctivism is the claim that perceptual experience can provide the subject with epistemic justification that is reflectively accessible and externally grounded at the same time. Pritchard calls this thesis ‘the holy grail of epistemology’, since it reconciles two traditionally rival theories of justification, namely epistemic internalism and epistemic externalism. The main objection against epistemological disjunctivism thus understood is that it does not do justice to the well-known internalist intuitions expressed in The (...)
  36. Deflationary Approaches to Scepticism.Robert Reid Buchanan - 1999 - Dissertation, Mcmaster University (Canada)
    This dissertation examines a traditional philosophical problem within a novel framework. The so-called "problem of the external world" is a problem about how knowledge, and even reasonable belief, about the world are possible, and it is best characterized as the challenge to show how and why scepticism about the external world---the absurd view that such knowledge is impossible---is incorrect. My framework for the examination of this problem involves two major elements. ;The first element involves a general characterization of the nature (...)
  37. Putnamian Anti-Envattor Ver. 3.00: New Features – Same Results.Jonas Dagys - 2010 - Problemos 77:39-48.
    The paper is devoted to a discussion and critical evaluation of antisceptical arguments in epistemology that are based on causal theory of reference, with the special focus upon the revised version of the Hilary Putnam‘s Brain-in-a-Vat argument presented by Olaf Müller. Müller claims that his argument is based on the metaphysically neutral principles of semantic externalism and disquotation, however more thorough analysis of these principles and of the possibility to use them for antisceptical purposes reveals the flaw in his argument. (...)
  38. Rutnam's Argument on Brains in a Vat.M. Venieri - 1996 - Skepsis: A Journal for Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Research 7.
  39. Water, Phlogiston, Brains, and Vats.Jussi Haukioja - 2002 - Sorites 14:16-20.
    Ted Warfield has presented a new version of the Putnamian argument for the conclusion that we are not brains in a vat. This version is intended to avoid reliance on some questionable background assumptions which other versions have made. It seems that Warfield's argument fails, for reasons pointed out by Anthony Brueckner. However, in this paper I present a new version of the argument -- my version relies on assumptions no more objectionable than Warfield's, yet it is immune to Brueckner's (...)
  40. Brains in Vats and Model Theory.Tim Button - forthcoming - In Sanford Goldberg (ed.), The Brain in a Vat. Cambridge University Press.
    Hilary Putnam’s BIV argument first occurred to him when ‘thinking about a theorem in modern logic, the “Skolem–Löwenheim Theorem”’ (Putnam 1981: 7). One of my aims in this paper is to explore the connection between the argument and the Theorem. But I also want to draw some further connections. In particular, I think that Putnam’s BIV argument provides us with an impressively versatile template for dealing with sceptical challenges. Indeed, this template allows us to unify some of Putnam’s most enduring (...)
  41. Skepticism, Objectivity, and Brains in Vats.Gary Ebbs - 1992 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 73 (3):239-266.
  42. Ebbs on Skepticism, Objectivity and Brains in Vats.Anthony Brueckner - 1994 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 75:77-87.
  43. Brains in Vats Revisited.S. Leeds - 1996 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 77 (2):108-131.
  44. Can Brains in Vats Think as a Team?Hans Bernhard Schmid - 2003 - Philosophical Explorations 6 (3):201-217.
    The specter of the ‘group mind’ or ‘collective subject’ plays a crucial and fateful role in the current debate on collective intentionality. Fear of the group mind is one important reason why philosophers of collective intentionality resort to individualism. It is argued here that this measure taken against the group mind is as unnecessary as it is detrimental to our understanding of what it means to share an intention. A non-individualistic concept of shared intentionality does not necessarily have to get (...)
  45. World Brains, Giant Brains and Brains in Vats.Charlie Gere - forthcoming - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C.
  46. Vats, Sets, and Tits.A. W. Moore - 2011 - In Joel Smith & Peter Sullivan (eds.), Transcendental Philosophy and Naturalism. Oxford University Press. pp. 41--54.
  47. Putnam on Brains in Vats.Sanford Goldberg (ed.) - forthcoming - Cambridge University Press.
  48. Putnam on Brains-in-Vats and Radical Skepticism.Duncan Pritchard & Chris Ranalli - 2016 - In Sanford Goldberg (ed.), The Brain in a Vat. Cambridge University Press.
  49. The Skeptic's Dogmatism: A Constructive Response to the Skeptical Problem.Kaplan Levent Hasanoglu - 2011 - Dissertation,
    The problem of philosophical skepticism relates to the difficulty involved in underwriting the claim that we know anything of spatio-temporal reality. It is often claimed, in fact, that proper philosophical scrutiny reveals quite the opposite from what common sense suggests. Knowledge of external reality is thought to be even quite obviously denied to us as a result of the alleged fact that we all fail to know that certain skeptical scenarios do not obtain. A skeptical scenario is one in which (...)
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