Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader

Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader

Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader

Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader

Synopsis

Skepticism: Contemporary Reader brings together the most important recent contributions to the discussion of skepticism. Covering major approaches to the skeptical problem, it features essays by Anthony Brueckner, Keith DeRose, Fred Dretske, Graeme Forbes, Christopher Hill, David Lewis, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, Hilary Putnam, Ernest Sosa, Gail Stine, Barry Stroud, Peter Unger, and Ted Warfield.

Excerpt

Keith DeRose

1. THE ARGUMENT BY SKEPTICAL HYPOTHESIS

For almost anything you might think you know, there are powerful skeptical arguments that threaten to establish that you know no such thing. Take, for instance, your belief that you have hands. (Those who don't have hands should change the example.) Surely there is something you not only believe, but also know! What kind of skeptical argument could possibly undermine that solid piece of knowledge?

Well, skeptical arguments come in many varieties, but some of the most powerful of them proceed by means of skeptical hypotheses. Hypotheses explain. What does a skeptical hypothesis explain? It explains how you might be going wrong about the very things you think you know.

Consider, to use an old example, the scenario Descartes describes in the First Meditation, in which he is the victim of a very powerful and very deceitful "evil genius" who "has directed his entire effort to misleading" Descartes. This hypothesis could explain how Descartes has come to have any number of false beliefs. On this supposition, "the heavens, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds, and all external things" are, Descartes writes, "nothing but the deceptive games of my dreams, by which [the evil genius] lays snares for my credulity." What becomes of Descartes's supposed knowledge of the existence of his hands? Descartes makes it clear that his evil genius hypothesis has cast this belief into doubt when, in keeping with his resolution to regard as false anything for which he finds a reason to doubt, he reacts: "I will regard myself as having no hands, no eyes, no flesh, no blood, no senses, but as nevertheless falsely believing that I possess all these things" (Descartes 1980, p. 60).

Much the same effect can be attained by means of the more up-to-date skeptical hypothesis according to which you are a bodiless brain in a vat . . .

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