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Logos & Episteme

Volume 5, Issue 3, 2014

Michael Shaw Perry
Pages 275-301

Externalism, Skepticism, and Belief

In this paper I analyze epistemological externalism and its adequacy as a response to skepticism. Externalism is defined by denial of accessibility: a subject can know if a particular condition beyond truth and belief is satisfied, even if the subject has no reflective access to the satisfaction of the condition. It hence has quick responses to skepticism. Three sorts of skepticism are differentiated and discussed: high standards skepticism, Cartesian-style skepticism, and Pyrrhonism. If we decouple high standards and Cartesian-style skepticism, a simple fallibilism is a superior response to the first and externalism is an unsatisfying response to the second. Pyrrhonism reveals what it is missing in externalism. Pyrrhonism targets belief and so redefinitions of knowledge are insufficient as a reply. Externalism assumes we have beliefs and asks what must be added to achieve knowledge, but if we look at the epistemic situation the externalist puts us in, it is not clear we would form or retain beliefs. In similar circumstances the Pyrrhonist suspends judgment. Once we are clear how Pyrrhonism actually challenges externalism it provides a direct and more revealing critique, making clear what is given up and pointing the way for further epistemological inquiry.

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