Epistemological Skepticism


Epistomological Skepticism poses the question of whether knowledge, in the first place, is possible. Skeptics argue that the belief in something does not necessarily justify an assertion of knowledge of it. In this, skeptics oppose dogmatic foundationalism, such as Spinoza maintained which states that there have to be some basic positions that are self-justified or beyond justification, without reference to others. The skeptical response to this can take several approaches. First, claiming that "basic positions" must exist amounts to the logical fallacy of argument from ignorance combined with the slippery slope.

Among other arguments, skeptics used Agrippa's Trilemma, named after Agrippa the Sceptic, to claim no certain belief could be achieved. Foundationalists have used the same trilemma as a justification for demanding the validity of basic beliefs.

This skeptical approach is rarely taken to its pyrrhonean extreme by most practitioners. Several modifications have arisen over the years, including the following:

Epistomological Skepticism can be contrasted to general philosophical skepticism which is both a philosophical school of thought and a method that crosses disciplines and cultures. Many skeptics critically examine the meaning systems of their times, and this examination often results in a position of ambiguity or doubt. This skepticism can range from disbelief in contemporary philosophical solutions, to agnosticism, to rejecting the reality of the external world.

Discussions and Debates

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Books about Epistomological Skepticism

The following books concern epistomological skepticism:

Pyrrhonian Skepticism - 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.

Skepticism About the External World - One of the most important and perennially debated philosophical questions is whether we can have knowledge of the external world. Butchvarov here considers whether and how skepticism with regard to such knowledge can be refuted or at least answered. He argues that only a direct realist view of perception has any hope of providing a compelling response to the skeptic and introduces the radical innovation that the direct object of perceptual, and even dreaming and hallucinatory, experience is always a material object, but not necessarily one that actually exists. This leads him to a metaphysics in which reality is ultimately constructed by human decisions out of objects that are ontologically more basic but which cannot be said in themselves to be either real or unreal.

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