The Reliability of Sense Perception

The Reliability of Sense Perception

The Reliability of Sense Perception

The Reliability of Sense Perception

Synopsis

"Alston has written a readable and intelligent book. His results will not surprise many philosophers, but his 'nothing-up-my-sleeves' lucidity will assist them in thinking through a range of possible positions. At a time when epistemology has been widely understood to be passé, Alston's account, interwoven as it is with discussion of work by Goldman, Nozick, and others, indicates that epistemology is not yet only a thing of the past."-Russell B. Goodman, University of New Mexico, Review of Metaphysics, 48 (September 1994)

Excerpt

This monograph is an outgrowth of a part of my book Perceiving God (Alston 1991a, copyright © 1991 by Cornell University). In arguing that putative experience of God can be a source of epistemic justification for certain kinds of beliefs about God, I found myself taking the position that it is impossible to give an effective noncircular demonstration of the reliability of any of our basic modes of belief formation. (Hence the fact that we cannot do this for religious experience is no special demerit of that source of belief.) Rather than try to argue this in detail for every way of forming beliefs, I took sense perception as a test case and devoted chapter 3 of the book to presenting a fairly detailed case for the impossibility of showing in a noncircular way that sense perception is a reliable source of belief about the external environment. It occurred to me, and I was encouraged in this thought by others, that many philosophers who would not open a book entitled Perceiving God would be interested in this line of argument. I decided to expand the treatment in chapter 3 of that book and publish it separately. Hence the present work. I have prefaced the central argument with some stage setting, and have appended to it a brief indication of where I think we should go from there -- what attitude it is most reasonable to take toward the situation I have claimed to exhibit.

I have been thinking, off and on, for decades about the prospects for validating modes of belief formation, and my thoughts on the subject have been nourished by many more sources than I can recall. The most recent major contributions have come from Robert Audi . . .

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