Does Putnam's argument Beg the question against the skeptic? Bad news for radical skepticism

Erkenntnis 54 (3):299-320 (2001)
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Are we perhaps in the "matrix", or anyway, victims of perfect and permanent computer simulation? No. The most convincing—and shortest—version of Putnam's argument against the possibility of our eternal envattment is due to Crispin Wright (1994). It avoids most of the misunderstandings that have been elicited by Putnam's original presentation of the argument in "Reason, Truth and History" (1981). But it is still open to the charge of question-begging. True enough, the premisses of the argument (disquotation and externalism) can be formulated and defended without presupposing external objects whose existence appears doubtful in the light of the very skeptical scenario which Putnam wants to repudiate. However, the argument is only valid if we add an extra premiss as to the existence of some external objects. In order to avoid circularity, we should run the argument with external objects which must exist even if we are brains in a vat, e.g. with computers rather than with trees. As long as the skeptic is engaged in a discussion of the brain-in-a-vat scenario, she should neither deny the existence of computers nor the existence of causal relations; for if she does, she is in fact denying that we are brains in a vat.

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Olaf L. Müller
Humboldt University, Berlin

Citations of this work

Mózgi w naczyniu.Tomasz Albiński - forthcoming - Filozofia.

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References found in this work

The meaning of 'meaning'.Hillary Putnam - 1975 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.
Ontological relativity.W. V. Quine - 1968 - Journal of Philosophy 65 (7):185-212.
The semantic conception of truth and the foundations of semantics.Alfred Tarski - 1943 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4 (3):341-376.

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