Pyrrhonian Skepticism

Pyrrhonian Skepticism

Pyrrhonian Skepticism

Pyrrhonian Skepticism

Synopsis

Throughout the history of philosophy, skepticism has posed one of the central challenges of epistemology. Opponents of skepticism--including externalists, contextualists, foundationalists, and coherentists--have focussed largely on one particular variety of skepticism, often called Cartesian or Academic skepticism, which makes the radical claim that nobody can know anything. However, this version of skepticism is something of a straw man, since virtually no philosopher endorses this radical skeptical claim. The only skeptical view that has been truly held--by Sextus, Montaigne, Hume, Wittgenstein, and, most recently, Robert Fogelin--has been Pyrrohnian skepticism. Pyrrhonian skeptics do not assert Cartesian skepticism, but neither do they deny it. The Pyrrhonian skeptics' doubts run so deep that they suspend belief even about Cartesian skepticism and its denial. Nonetheless, some Pyrrhonians argue that they can still hold "common beliefs of everyday life" and can even claim to know some truths in an everyday way. This edited volume presents previously unpublished articles on this subject by a strikingly impressive group of philosophers, who engage with both historical and contemporary versions of Pyrrhonian skepticism. Among them are Gisela Striker, Janet Broughton, Don Garrett, Ken Winkler, Hans Sluga, Ernest Sosa, Michael Williams, Barry Stroud, Robert Fogelin, and Roy Sorensen. This volume is thematically unified and will interest a broad spectrum of scholars in epistemology and the history of philosophy.

Excerpt

Recently as well as traditionally, skepticism has posed one of the central challenges in epistemology. Externalists and contextualists, as well as good old-fashioned foundationalists and coherentists, often present their theories as reactions to skepticism. A few philosophers have even defended skepticism, at least in part.

This discussion has focused largely on one particular variety of skepticism. This version is often called Cartesian skepticism, although it was not held by Descartes (who attacked it). So-called Cartesian skepticism is usually defined as a claim that nobody knows anything, at least about a large area (such as the external world). Opponents respond by arguing that this skeptical claim is incoherent or unjustified or false or true only in esoteric contexts.

When these opponents attack skepticism, their definitions show that they are concerned solely with Cartesian skepticism. A foundationalist, Robert Audi, defines knowledge skepticism “as the view that there is little if any knowledge.” A coherentist, Keith Lehrer, writes, “The deepest form [of skepticism] denies that we know anything at all.“ An externalist, Robert Nozick, says, “The skeptic argues that we do not know what we think we do.” And a contextualist, Keith DeRose, asserts, “One of the most popular skeptical claims is that the targeted beliefs aren’t known to be true.” These definitions differ in detail, and these authors distinguish many kinds of skepticism, but they still share the assumption that skepticism should be defined by some claim concerning the . . .

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