When a Skeptical Hypothesis Is Live
Article first published online: 9 NOV 2005
Volume 39, Issue 4, pages 559–595, December 2005
How to Cite
Frances, B. (2005), When a Skeptical Hypothesis Is Live. Noûs, 39: 559–595. doi: 10.1111/j.0029-4624.2005.00540.x
- Issue published online: 9 NOV 2005
- Article first published online: 9 NOV 2005
I’m going to argue for a set of restricted skeptical results: roughly put, we don’t know that fire engines are red, we don’t know that we sometimes have pains in our lower backs, we don’t know that John Rawls was kind, and we don’t even know that we believe any of those truths. However, people unfamiliar with philosophy and cognitive science do know all those things.
The skeptical argument is traditional in form: here's a skeptical hypothesis; you can’t epistemically neutralize it, you have to be able to neutralize it to know P; so you don’t know P. But the skeptical hypotheses I plug into it are “real, live” scientific-philosophical hypotheses often thought to be actually true, unlike any of the outrageous traditional skeptical hypotheses (e.g., ‘You’re a brain in a vat’). So I call the resulting skepticism Live Skepticism. Notably, the Live Skeptic's argument goes through even if we adopt the clever anti-skeptical fixes thought up in recent years such as reliabilism, relevant alternatives theory, contextualism, and the rejection of epistemic closure. Furthermore, the scope of Live Skepticism is bizarre: although we don’t know the simple facts noted above, many of us do know that there are black holes and other amazing facts.