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|Title:||Scepticism and Metaphilosophy|
|Authors:||Smith, Derek Danny|
|Abstract:||Scepticism, taken as a challenge to the possibility of justifying knowledge claims in general, has a history perhaps as long and varied as attempts to construct positive theories of knowledge. The relation that holds between scepticism and the rest of epistemology is often assumed to be straightforwardly adversarial. However, in light of the widespread "end or transformation" debate within epistemology in recent decades, the proliferation of sophisticated scholarship concerning scepticism and justification may be taken as a prima facie endorsement of the continuing vitality of traditional epistemology. The publication in 1984 of Barry Stroud's The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism, focused interest in the epistemological community on the burden of specifically modem (global, post-Cartesian, external world) scepticism. However, during the overlapping two decades since Significance, the influence of Richard Rorty's work (particularly Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature published in 1979) has led to a growing suspicion that epistemology has neither a stable nor defensible mandate. In this thesis, I try to connect the two discussions in a novel way, by arguing that the metaphilosophical problems arising from the stalemate I diagnose in the vibrant contemporary scepticism debate does not suggest that epistemology as a discipline is robustly healthy. I characterize metaphilosophical issues as a cluster of concerns involving the methodology, nature, aim, self image and criteria of satisfaction of doing philosophy. Most generally, metaphilosophy is a philosophical exploration of the nature of philosophy; more specifically, it deals with the expectations and aspirations of inquiry. David Hume is rightly remembered as a thoughtful exponent of the power of sceptical reasoning. More recently, he has been recognized for his influential attempt to develop a naturalistic theory of belief that serves to explain how we form and tenaciously cling to our most deeply held beliefs-despite our inability to rationally justify them. I contend that there are metaphilosophical lessons to be learned from Hume's struggle to maintain and defend the theoretical invulnerability of scepticism, despite his evident discomfort adjusting to the potential consequences of such a position. Michael Williams has been an insightful critic of the "pessimism" that he detects in the work of Stroud and "the New Humeans." I outline the major issues in his exchange with Stroud, and evaluate the strengths of each position. I also argue that Williams' "contextualism" fails to rescue epistemology in any substantial way from the fundamental sceptical challenges that can be raised. For each of the central philosophers under consideration (David Hume, Barry Stroud, and Michael Williams), I construct an account of what I call their criteria of satisfaction. The specific classification of particular criteria is much less important here than the metaphilosophical lesson that I extract from the nature of the frequent clashes between different epistemologist's favoured criteria. Into the contemporary debate about modem scepticism, I introduce ancient sceptical concerns like the "problem of the criterion" and the Five Modes of Agrippa, which serve to illustrate the importance of long-standing sceptical metaphilosophical considerations for this discussion. I contend that these ancient problems can help clarify the nature of the contemporary stalement in the debate about modem scepticism. Even if epistemologists become dissatisfied with what they take to be the criteria of satisfaction of the traditional project, motivating the adoption of revised criteria of satisfaction will still encounter grave difficulties. Finally, I discuss possible morals to be drawn from the wider metaphilosophical concerns. I ultimately argue that the remarkably active state of contemporary literature about scepticism should not be mistaken as a straightforward positive indicator of the continued health of philosophical theories of knowledge. To the contrary, an examination of the metaphilosophical issues surrounding scepticism reveals even more urgent problems with the inherent variability and instability of epistemic criteria of satisfaction. An exploration of these issues threatens to lead if not to metaphilosophical scepticism, then at least to a thorough reevaluation of the nature and self-image of the epistemological project.|
|Appears in Collections:||Open Access Dissertations and Theses|
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