The Return of the Evil Genius

Abstract

Descartes refuted skepticism in 1641. George Berkeley refuted skepticism in 1710. O.K. Bouwsma refuted skepticism in 1949. Hilary Putnam refuted skepticism in 1981. The locus classicus for the form of skepticism refuted is Descartes' Meditations -- which also goes on to set out a famous realist refutation of skepticism. Indeed, Descartes is the principal inventor of the philosophic enterprise of skepticism refutation so central to Modern philosophy and its epistemic preoccupations. What the cited successors of Descartes and many others have in common is a rejection of both skepticism and Descartes' refutation of it. Berkeley, Bouwsma and Putnam offer a sophisticated, undercutting, refutation which undermines the very coherence of skepticism. And for all, issues of language and meaning rise to the fore, determining the coherence of any skeptical doubts and constraining the possibilities of systematic error and deception (for Berkeley, these appear as issues about the objects of thought, which in turn are the foundation of the meaning of language).

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David Cole
University of Manchester

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