Philosophical Skepticism: Doubt, Evidence, Justified Belief
96 Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249
How is it that human beings, despite the fallibility of their senses and the limitations inherent in their individual subjective perspectives, can nevertheless manage to achieve knowledge of what objective reality is like, both in ordinary language and, better yet, in scientific discourse? To philosophical skeptics, whose vexing arguments were first posed by the Greeks, the answer is: we cannot. A demon is tricking us; or, we’re dreaming; or, we’re merely brains in a vat. How can we know that we are not?
In this course, we’ll explore the many possible answers to these questions. Though few philosophers espouse the impossibility of knowledge of a world external to our conscious minds, the very idea of the possibility of such a denial has often served as a kind of bogeyman within epistemology, the branch of philosophy interested in the origins and credentials of human knowledge. Must skepticism be refuted before philosophy or science can even get underway? Is not skepticism itself internal to scientific inquiry? Are such direct attempts to refute skepticism fully convincing? Is the burden of proof otherwise: is it the very possibility of skepticism that’s self-defeating or incoherent? Or, is skepticism, inescapably, a basic fact of the human condition? In diving into these questions we will be reading from Rene Descartes, J. L. Austin, Hilary Putnam, and Stanley Cavell, among others.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 12 — December 03, 2018