The Skeptic and the Climate Change Skeptic

In Michael Hannon & Jeroen de Ridder (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Political Epistemology. New York: Routledge (2021)
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Outside the philosophy classroom, global skeptics – skeptics about all (purported) knowledge of the external world – are rare. But there are people who describe themselves as “skeptics” about various more specific domains, including self-professed “skeptics” about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. There is little to no philosophical literature that juxtaposes the climate change skeptic with the external world skeptic. While many “traditional” epistemologists assume that the external world skeptic poses a serious philosophical challenge in a way that the climate change skeptic doesn’t, many “applied” or “social” epistemologists assume that there isn’t much to be learned from debates about the external world skeptic, finding her challenge to be distant from both common sense and real-world concerns. I try to show that both of these views are mistaken. The external world skeptic raises deep questions that are important for our everyday deliberation about what to believe, and there are significant structural parallels between the arguments for external world skepticism and those for at least a form of climate change skepticism that is idealized – but not too idealized! – from the views of flesh-and-blood climate change skeptics. As such, we have strong reasons to think in parallel about how to reply to both skeptics’ challenges. I thus finish by (briefly) considering how different widespread responses to the external world skeptic might or might not generalize happily to the climate change skeptic’s challenge.

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Alex Worsnip
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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