Sympathy for a Skeptic

Epistemologiae

Knowledge, for the epistemic skeptic, has had a long running tradition of being unattainable. From René Descartes, one of the greatest exemplars of the skeptical approach to epistemology, we have inherited the idea that any grasping for knowledge by way of the senses is vanity.

In Book I of his Meditations, Descartes finds that he is unable to free himself from the thought that he is dreaming – even in the moment of his writing. Descartes pushes the idea further, proposing that there is a malignant demon who is “exceedingly potent and deceitful, [who] has employed all his artifice to deceive” him — leading Descartes to the devastating conclusion that one can know nothing about the external world outside of one’s mind. (Essentially, one can never truly know that he or she is not in the Matrix.)

Philosophers, such as Barry Stroud, have criticized Descartes on this solipsistic view…

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