Meta-epistemological Scepticism: Criticisms and a Defence

Dissertation, University of Edinburgh (2015)
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Abstract

The epistemological problem of the external world asks: (1) “How is knowledge of the world possible given certain obstacles which make it look impossible?” This is a “how-possible?” question: it asks how something is possible given certain obstacles which make it look impossible (cf. Cassam 2007; Nozick 1981; Stroud 1984). Now consider the following question, which asks: (2) “How is a philosophically satisfying answer to (1) possible?” Scepticism is the thesis that knowledge of the world is impossible. It therefore represents a negative answer to the first question. Meta-epistemological scepticism is the thesis that a satisfying philosophical explanation of how our knowledge of the world is possible is itself not possible. It therefore represents a negative answer to the second question. In this thesis, I explore the prospects of meta-epistemological scepticism. In particular, I structure the thesis around two master arguments from Stroud (1984, 2000, 2004, and 2009) for meta-epistemological scepticism. The first argument is what I call “Stroud’s puzzle”, and the second argument is “Stroud’s dilemma” (cf. Cassam 2009). I argue that Stroud’s puzzle fails to provide adequate support for meta-epistemological scepticism. However, I also argue that Stroud’s dilemma withstands serious objections (e.g., from Sosa 1994, Williams 1996, and Cassam 2009). In short, while Stroud’s puzzle fails to provide adequate support for meta-epistemological scepticism, Stroud’s dilemma does seem to provide adequate support for meta-epistemological scepticism. This thesis therefore represents a partial defence of meta-epistemological scepticism. Meta-epistemological scepticism is therefore a live option in epistemology.

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Christopher Ranalli
VU University Amsterdam

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