Stance: An International Undergraduate Philosophy Journal

Volume 13, April 2020

Nicolien Janssens
Pages 106-116

We Don’t Know We Have Hands and It’s Fine
Being Optimistic About Skepticism

Based on the brain in a vat thought experiment, skeptics argue that we cannot have certain knowledge. At the same time, we do have the intuition that we know some things with certainty. A way to justify this intuition is given by semantic contextualists who argue that the word “knows” is context sensitive. However, many have objected to the intelligibility of this claim. In response, another approach called “moderate pragmatic contextualism” was invoked, which claims that “knows” itself is not context sensitive, but knowledge assertions are. I show, however, that to refute skepticism, moderate pragmatic contextualism rests on unjustified and implausible assumptions as well. Since no form of contextualism works as a response to skepticism, I argue that we should simply accept skepticism. However, I argue that skepticism is not a problem because skeptic pragmatic contextualism can offer a plausible explanation of why we have the intuition that our ordinary knowledge claims are true, even though they are not. I conclude that skeptic pragmatic contextualism offers the most plausible response to the brain in a vat thought experiment.