The skeptic's dogmatism: a constructive response to the skeptical problem

Dissertation, (2011)
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The problem of philosophical skepticism relates to the difficulty involved in underwriting the claim that we know anything of spatio-temporal reality. It is often claimed, in fact, that proper philosophical scrutiny reveals quite the opposite from what common sense suggests. Knowledge of external reality is thought to be even quite obviously denied to us as a result of the alleged fact that we all fail to know that certain skeptical scenarios do not obtain. A skeptical scenario is one in which we have neurological occurrences just like any normal situation in which we actually perceive spatio-temporal objects, but where we are deceived in some sense as a result of the manipulation of our brains from some outside source. In this work I attempt to address the problem of philosophical skepticism by claiming that most of us are able to come to know plenty about external reality, since we can come to realize that a certain philosophical theory of perception is correct. The theory I have in mind is what I call a non-cognitive theory of perception. According to this view, perceptual experience is defined by continuous, sensitive behavioral interaction with spatio-temporal objects of the appropriate size, shape, hardness, speed, etc. Knowing that this theory of perception is correct is equivalent to knowing that we know plenty about external reality. This is ultimately because by knowing that a non-cognitive theory of perception is true, we know that any skeptical scenario must fail to obtain. The structure of the work proceeds by first discussing the significance of the problem of philosophical skepticism in some detail. Chapter 1 lays out how the problem does indeed forcefully arise if it is conceded that we fail to know that the skeptical scenarios fail to obtain. Chapter 2 develops the sort of view of our epistemological situation that falls out of accepting without qualification that the problem exists. Chapter 3 examines and criticizes certain popular responses to the skeptical problem. The main goal of these first three preliminary chapters is to indicate that once it is admitted that we fail to know that the skeptical scenarios fail to obtain, the problem of philosophical skepticism forcefully presents itself. Chapter 4, however, attacks the idea that we fail to know that the skeptical scenarios fail to obtain. In this chapter I argue that this idea is wedded to the position that a certain theory of perception is correct. The theory in question is what I call a conjunctive theory of veridical experience. According to this view, normal experience of spatio-temporal objects occurs when a subject has a certain perceptual experience, and that experience also happens to match up with and/or be satisfied by what is really the case. Only when a theory of this sort is assumed, I argue, is the claim that we fail to know that the skeptical scenarios fail to obtain found to be obvious. In chapter 5 I argue that, in fact, a non-cognitive theory, rather than a conjunctive theory, is the correct view to maintain. In the final chapter 6 I develop the epistemological position that falls out of accepting a non-cognitive theory.
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