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Josh Schechter

I'm tempted by a different view of the significance of skepticism than either of the two you discuss. (I think I originally picked it up from Crispin Wright.) On this view, the trouble is not that there is some character out there - the skeptic - that we have to engage with and (hopefully) somehow refute. There aren't really very many skeptics out there. And even if there were, one might ask, who cares what some oddballs think? Rather, the trouble is that we ourselves are tempted by principles that seem to lead to skeptical conclusions. The difficulty is to avoid being rationally committed to skepticism ourselves. So what we need to do is to show what is wrong with these principles, explain why we are tempted by them, and figure out how to replace them or otherwise go on without them. If one has this picture of the significance of skepticism, showing that skeptical views (or skeptical arguments) are self-refuting isn't very helpful. If the trouble is that we may ourselves be falling into a skeptical view, that the view we may be falling into is self-refuting makes things look worse, rather than better.

Ned Markosian

I like what Josh says here. I think that is the right way to think about skepticism. That's what moved me to write this paper: http://www.logos-and-episteme.proiectsbc.ro/sites/default/files/DO%20YOU%20KNOW%20THAT%20YOU%20ARE%20NOT%20A%20BRAIN%20IN%20A%20VAT.pdf.

Ned Markosian

Uh-oh. I think that might be a bad link. Sorry about that! Maybe this is right?


(If not, Eric, please feel free to delete both of my comments.)

Eric Schliesser

Josh, thank you for your comment. I like the way you articulate the alternative (Schecter/Wright) view. But I don't think it is wholly different from the main position in the original post. For it it follows from that position that the principles we use in philosophy are, indeed, the means toward skepticism. Even so, a key difference between your proposed alternative and the (second) one that I hint at in the post is that your approach allows a kind of piecemeal response by replacing principles that lead to skeptical worries one at a time. That is not available to the skeptic who thinks the problem is a systematic feature of reasoning. Yours is, in fact, the more natural approach in so far as analytical philosophy is disinclined to be wholly systematic.

Josh Schechter

Hi Eric - Yes, I agree that the view I was sketching is compatible with the main position in your post. But I do think the emphasis is different. There seem to be two different reasons for thinking that self-defeat is not a problematic charge for a skeptic: (i) skeptics won't find self-defeat worrisome if their point is to challenge reason as such; (ii) attributing self-defeat to skeptical views does nothing to show how we can avoid falling into skepticism.

I also agree that the approach I sketched allows for a piecemeal response to skepticism. That strikes me as appropriate, though. There seem to be several different kinds of skeptical worries and we should say different things to different worries. I'm not sure that this approach falls out of the methods of analytic philosophy - if I were to think that there was a unified skeptical argument, I'd be content to focus attention on it and try a more systematic approach.

I agree, of course, that it would be nice to "vindicate reason's ability as such". There are important questions about just what such a "vindication" could amount to. If it would suffice to present an _explanation_ of why we're justified/entitled to reason as we do - and, in particular, it's not required to present a non-circular _justification_ of our reasoning, then I'm not sure the project of vindicating reason is quite as daunting as your post suggests. (It's certainly daunting, but it doesn't obviously face intractable circularity worries.)

Eric Schliesser

Fair enough!

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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