Scepticism, Rationalism, and Externalism

Oxford Studies in Epistemology 1:311-331 (2006)
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This paper is about three of the most prominent debates in modern epistemology. The conclusion is that three prima facie appealing positions in these debates cannot be held simultaneously. The first debate is scepticism vs anti-scepticism. My conclusions apply to most kinds of debates between sceptics and their opponents, but I will focus on the inductive sceptic, who claims we cannot come to know what will happen in the future by induction. This is a fairly weak kind of scepticism, and I suspect many philosophers who are generally anti-sceptical are attracted by this kind of scepticism. Still, even this kind of scepticism is quite unintuitive. I’m pretty sure I know (1) on the basis of induction. (1) It will snow in Ithaca next winter. Although I am taking a very strong version of anti-scepticism to be intuitively true here, the points I make will generalise to most other versions of scepticism. (Focussing on the inductive sceptic avoids some potential complications that I will note as they arise.) The second debate is a version of rationalism vs empiricism. The kind of rationalist I have in mind accepts that some deeply contingent propositions can be known a priori, and the empiricist I have in mind denies this. Kripke showed that there are contingent propositions that can be known a priori. One example is Water is the watery stuff of our acquaintance. (‘Watery’ is David Chalmers’s nice term for the properties of water by which folk identify it.) All the examples Kripke gave are of propositions that are, to use Gareth Evans’s term, deeply necessary (Evans, 1979). It is a matter of controversy presently just how to analyse Evans’s concepts of deep necessity and contingency, but most of the controversies are over details that are not important right here. I’ll simply adopt Stephen Yablo’s recent suggestion: a proposition is deeply contingent if it could have turned out to be true, and could have turned out to be false (Yablo, 2002)1. Kripke did not provide examples of any deeply contingent propositions knowable a priori, though nothing he showed rules out their existence..

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Brian Weatherson
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


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