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Talking to Skeptics

Goldhaber, Charles (2021) Talking to Skeptics. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Skeptics argue that we can know very little, threatening our claims to knowledge. Many philosophers now think there is no use in talking to skeptics—that nothing can change their minds, curing them of skepticism. These philosophers opt for mere prevention, aiming to convince only non-skeptics that skeptical arguments fail. I argue that a cure is needed, viable, and theoretically illuminating.

First, I argue that the mere prevention of skepticism is likely to fail. To succeed, it would need to show why skeptical arguments appear compelling. Showing this either reveals that the arguments are compelling, demonstrating the need for cure, or reveals how they merely appear so, constituting a cure.

Second, I show that we can change a skeptic’s mind. I argue that influential arguments for skepticism about the external world all rely on a shared, tacit premise: that perception never guarantees that things are as we seem to perceive them to be. I then argue that arguments for this premise are question-begging. Showing the skeptic that her skepticism lacks foundation clears obstacles to her accepting, on ordinary grounds, a view on which perception can provide us with knowledge of how things are around us, thus curing her.

Third, I argue that my cure helps us understand the nature, significance, and history of skepticism. For Hume, I explain, skepticism is a temperament, which leads to madness when overly dominant, but only carefulness when balanced with other temperaments. Tracing skepticism to a groundless intuition helps motivate Hume’s focus on temperaments, while Hume’s conception of proper temperamental balance helps to diagnose and moderate skepticism.

I then argue that Kant tries to cure a skeptical empiricist not by showing skepticism’s incoherence, but by offering an alternative explanation of our knowledge. Kant’s portrayal of skepticism as arising from despair of understanding human knowledge explains why the skeptic is apt to find his alternative appealing, and teaches a general lesson about curing skepticism: Offering the skeptic a way to make sense of our knowledge allows him to overcome the frustration from which his skepticism arises.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Goldhaber, Charlescag109@pitt.educag1090000-0001-9114-0065
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcDowell,
Committee MemberEngstrom,
Committee MemberShaw,
Committee MemberSchafer,
Date: 20 January 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 29 October 2020
Approval Date: 20 January 2021
Submission Date: 9 September 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 193
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: skepticism, knowledge, perception, temperament, Hume, Kant
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2021 18:41
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2021 18:41


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