Conee and Feldman on Skepticism

Here’s a synopsis for a paper by Richard Feldman and Earl Conee titled Making Sense of Skepticism.

The point of this paper is to explore both evidentialist and non-evidentialist theories, how they make sense of skepticism, and how they answer the problems that epistemological skepticism espouses.  Non-evidentialist theories are shown to not give an adequate account of why people are attracted to skepticism and to not adequately answer the skeptical challenges.  Evidentialist theories are able to take the challenges seriously and answer them.  A fallibilist view of evidentialism is defended as the view that appreciates skeptical challenges and meets those challenges.

1)      If skepticism has any power as a challenge to external world knowledge, then it is because it targets our reasons and evidence for our external world beliefs.

2)      Skepticism has power as a challenge to external world knowledge.

3)      Therefore, it is because it targets our reasons and evidence for our external world beliefs.

4)      If skepticism targets our reasons and evidence for our external world beliefs, then we answer skepticism using non-evidentialist theories or evidentialist theories.

5)      We cannot answer skepticism using non-evidentialist theories.

6)      Therefore, if skepticism targets our reasons and evidence for our external world beliefs, then we answer skepticism using evidentialist theories.

Skepticism targets our reasons or evidence for our knowledge claims and argues that they are not strong enough to be considered knowledge.  The problem with non-evidential theories of knowledge such as reliabilism and causal theory is that they make conditions for knowledge that are not at all in danger of skeptical arguments.  This, however, does not take skeptical considerations seriously and there are no good reasons to deny the view that knowledge requires good reasons.

A fallibilist evidentialism (FE) is the best theory that can take skeptical considerations seriously and answer skeptical challenges.  According to this theory, a belief is justified if you have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it is true.  “Proof” in this sense is understood not as mathematical proof, but legal proof where there is enough evidence to convict a criminal and no good reasons to doubt it.

Our ordinary external world beliefs meet the standards of FE because skeptical possibilities do not provide a good reason to doubt our external world beliefs.  The mere possibility that I could be a brain in a vat does not defeat my belief that I have hands or that there is a tree in front of me because I have no reason to believe that it is true.  Some skeptics might say that we do not know that some skeptical possibility is false, so we cannot be said to know something that is challenged by the skeptical possibility.  However, our perceptual evidence of the external world and beliefs generated by it provide ample evidence against a skeptical possibility.  Some skeptics will argue that we have no better evidence for our ordinary beliefs than we do for skeptical possibilities. The best response is that commonsense beliefs provide better explanations for our experiences than skeptical possibilities.  Skeptical possibilities often times rely on strange scenarios that are largely unexplained, like the powers and the existence of the evil demon or the unexplained complexity of the computers and technology giving your brain the experiences it has.  Ordinary experiences do not have these issues.

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