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Not Giving the Skeptic a Hearing: "Pragmatism and Radical Doubt"

Erik J. Olsson
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
Vol. 70, No. 1 (Jan., 2005), pp. 98-126
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40040781
Page Count: 29
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Not Giving the Skeptic a Hearing: "Pragmatism and Radical Doubt"
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Abstract

Pragmatist responses to radical skepticism do not receive much attention in contemporary analytic epistemology. This observation is my motivation for undertaking a search for a coherent pragmatist reply to radical doubt, one that can compete, in terms of clarity and sophistication, with the currently most popular approaches, such as contextualism and relevant alternatives theory. As my point of departure I take the texts of C. S. Peirce and William James. The Jamesian response is seen to consist in the application of a wager argument to the skeptical issue in analogy with Pascal's wager. The Peircean strategy, on the other hand, is to attempt a direct rejection of one of the skeptic's main premises: that we do not know we are not deceived. I argue that while the Jamesian attempt is ultimately incoherent, Peirce's argument contains the core of a detailed and characteristically "pragmatic" rebuttal of skepticism, one that deserves to be taken seriously in the contemporary debate.

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