Skepticism Against Skepticism One of Term Paper

  • Length: 10 pages
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  • Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #87063827

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Ex-hypothesi, however, this is impossible, and thus you are unable to know that you have two hands (and much else besides) (Pritchard 2007).

Indeed, Moore's common sense approach to the problem is far too limited. It needs further elucidation in order not to appear suspect to the skeptic.

Suppose one were to attempt an evidential form of Mooreanism, such as in the following example (Pritchard 2007):

know E.

If I know E, then my evidence for E. favors E. over the known to be incompatible BIV hypothesis.

My evidence for E. favors E. over the known to be incompatible BIV hypothesis.

This argument surpasses the common sense approach taken by Moore, and thus requires further elucidation. Once you claim that you have evidence in favor of one hypothesis over another, then such simple formulations as expressed above will not do.

Pritchard thus brings in other forms of anti-skepticism in his formulation of a neo-Moorean anti-skeptical approach. In particular he takes in to consideration contextualism. This theory holds that the word "knows" is sensitive to the context in which it is used, as well as the agent it is used by. It thus can be argued that different contexts utilize different epistemic standards that cannot be reduced to one universal epistemic standard. The epistemic standards in one context in which an ascription is made might stand up, but might not necessarily in another context. As Pritchard (2007) writes,

Given the broadly indexical nature of 'knows', however, there is no conflict between these two claims, since the proposition that is being expressed in the one context is not the same proposition that is being expressed in the other, and thus the one can be true while the other is false without contradiction.

Contextualism can thus be considered as a linguistic theory in need of an epistemological basis. The idea, then, behind forging an effective neo-Mooreanism is to deny the first premise of the skeptic's argument without advancing contextualism.

One theory that Pritchard proposes in the two texts being considered here is that knowledge is rooted in non-lucky true belief.

There are various ways of formulating this principle, not all of them plausible, but the basic formulation has it that for a true belief to be safe it must be the case that, across a wide range of near-by possible worlds, where the agent believes the target proposition (on the same basis), that belief continues to be true (Pritchard 2007).

Another is that proposed by John McDowell, which Pritchard (2007) summarizes as follows:

claim in the spirit of epistemic internalism which demands of a knower that she be in a position to know by reflection alone what the reasons which support her knowledge are; and content externalist claim of the disjunctivist sort... which allows that one's reasons can be both empirical and factive - i.e., can be reasons for believing an empirical proposition and entail what it is that they are a reason for.

McDowell argues that one's experience can function as one's reasons. The content of an individual's experiences will often be determined by the conditions of one's environment at the time of having them. This poses a problem to the classic internal/external debate at the root of skepticism in that it is commonly believed that what one has reflective access to cannot extend beyond the "inner" in order to take in factive empirical reasons (Pritchard 2007). McDowell dismisses this notion as false. Such a picture, he offers, invites the skeptical challenge, rather than managing to quell it. Instead, McDowell favors a system that endorses his particular branch of content externalism.

From a pragmatic standpoint, one can easily refute skepticism by following the line of reasoning that Pritchard develops through the recent debates in epistemological inquiry, as outlined above. In order to do so, one must reject the standard readings of Moore in favor of a neo-Mooreanism, as Pritchard develops it. This involves the development of an anti-luck epistemology. Such an epistemological system avoids contextualizing our knowledge while simultaneously attaining closure. What is more, contextualist intuitions must be accommodated in this scheme. This is accomplished through the integration of a context-sensitivity mechanism inherent in the proprietary conditions for "explicit knowledge self-ascriptions" (Pritchard 2007).

Such a pragmatic approach to the problems posed by skepticism effectively demarcates classical Mooreanism from neo-Mooreanism through an explanation of why Moore's argument was both deeply flawed and partly true.

Furthermore, the evidential skeptical problem can be resolved - and without having to result to evidential forms of contextualism - via the adaptation of content externalism in support of a classical epistemological scheme (such as those briefly outlined in the beginning of this paper) or McDowell's conception of epistemic internalism.

Despite the conclusive edge that Pritchard seemingly brings to his findings, he is quick to point out that there is some truth in what the skeptic proposes:

There is one further element of the neo-Moorean account that I think is required, though I will not explore it at length here. This is that the neo-Moorean would be wise, I think, to concede something to the skeptic; to say that there is something right about the skeptical challenge. The key to this concession lies in the fact that the neo-Moorean anti-skeptical response is in a certain way necessarily mute, since it is part of the view that one cannot properly respond to the skeptical challenge by repeating one's everyday claims to know. I think that there is a deep point here about the limits of our cognitive responsibility, [...]. Making such a concession to the skeptic does not undermine the view so long as one steadfastly retains the core claim that knowledge is nonetheless possessed in such cases, so that the epistemic lack at issue here, if that is the right way to characterize it, is not an epistemic lack that would undermine knowledge. Such a characterization would thus only strengthen the view by accounting for our visceral attraction to skeptical arguments, even despite our strong anti-skeptical intuitions. The point would be that there is a deep truth in skeptical arguments, though not the deep truth that the skeptic advertises. Neo-Mooreanism, while obviously a particularly robust anti-skeptical theory, need not be a view that dismisses the skeptical problem entirely (Pritchard 2007).

Pritchard brings up several interesting points in this "inconclusive conclusion," and effectively returns us to the beginning of the skeptical inquiry. In doing thus, he forces us to question why the skeptical question might have come about in the first place. To return for a moment to the "common sense" approach adapted by such philosophers as Reid and Moore, we must take into account the inherent absurdity of the skeptic inquiry. This is particularly true of the more extreme case of skepticism - global skepticism - wherein all forms of knowing are taken into doubt. What, then, is the "deep truth" in skepticism that Pritchard acknowledges at the end of his essay on Neo-Mooreanism?

Indeed, the deep truth that that the skeptic brings out is the fact that it is quite difficult to determine from whence knowledge comes. I believe that one finds the answer to this in Reid, who came to the conclusion that there was no real way of knowing how one attains knowledge - whether it derives from purely internal processes, the external world, or some combination thereof. Thus, while the skeptic makes us aware of this concern, he in no way comes to a valid conclusion. The denial of all knowledge is obviously fallacious, because it would then have to negate the system of reasoning that one had to employ in order to arrive there, as Pritchard has gone to great pains to show in his writings.


Pritchard, D. (2005). Epistemic Luck. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pritchard, D. (2007). "How to be a Neo-Moorean," Internalism and Externalism in…

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