The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

Synopsis

This book raises questions about the nature of philosophy by examining the source and significance of one central philosophical problem: how can we know anything about the world around us? Stroud discusses and criticizes the views of such philosophers as Descartes, Kant, J. L. Austin, G. E. Moore, R. Carnap, W. V. Quine, and others.

Excerpt

Philosophical scepticism goes back to antiquity, and in writing of it as I do in this book I am not doing justice to that tradition. For the followers of Pyrrho of Elis, for example, a life of contentment or tranquillity was to be the reward for giving oneself up to 'appearances' and adopting no beliefs at all as to how things are. Suspending judgement was a way of freeing oneself from the anxieties and disturbances inevitably involved in seeking the truth and then encountering conflict among the things one feels forced to believe. Scepticism as a way of life is not my subject here. But some of the steps by which suspension of judgement was to have been achieved, and the difficulty of achieving it on all questions as to how things are, he closer to my theme. the contrast implicit in sceptical practice between 'appearances' and 'the way things are' is also perhaps one version of an elusive distinction I examine from several different angles in what follows. My concerns are to that extent continuous with those of ancient scepticism, but I do not discuss such historical questions here. That is a subject I wish I knew more about.

In modern, and especially recent, times scepticism in philosophy has come to be understood as the view that we know nothing, or that nothing is certain, or that everything is open to doubt. That is a thesis or doctrine about the human condition, not itself a way of life. It is thought to rest on many of the same considerations ancient sceptics might have invoked in freeing themselves from their opinions or opposing the doctrines of others, but as a philosophical thesis it does not obviously lead to any one way of life rather than another, let alone to tranquillity or human happiness. One issue I raise in this book is just what relation philosophical scepticism does bear to the familiar concerns of everyday life.

As an account of human knowledge, scepticism in this modern form need not apply to everything we believe.

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