Meets Mondays from 9-11 in 65/1143 and Thursdays from 12-1 in 7/3027
In this module we will study different forms of philosophical scepticism, both historical and contemporary.
In the first and longest part of the module, we will examine scepticism in the history of philosophy, with an attempt to construct a historiography that corrects oversimplifications from introductory modules in your earlier years. We will begin with ancient Greek scepticism in its ‘Academic’ and ‘Pyrrhonian’ forms, and compare the liberating aims of Pyrrhonian scepticism with similar aims in a broadly sceptical tradition in classical Indian philosophy (the Mādhyamaka Buddhism of Nāgārjuna). We will then turn to sceptical thinking in medieval philosophy (including Islamic philosophy), Renaissance philosophy, and early modern philosophy. We will seek to put Descartes in his place as a reactionary figure: as we will see, most of Cartesian scepticism was anticipated by earlier writers (e.g., Al-Ghazali, Augustine, and Avicenna), and Descartes was largely responding dogmatically to nouveaux Pyrrhoniens of the previous century, such as Montaigne. Finally, we will examine some attempts to resuscitate insights from the skeptical problems considered by Berkeley and Kant in the work of Quassim Cassam, Heather Logue, and Rae Langton.
In the second part of the module, we will look at contemporary responses to sceptical arguments in three forms: ambitious, 'Moorean', and diagnostic. We will see that the best of these responses are only adequate to address a certain kind of academic scepticism, and do not fully address some deeper issues raised by Berkeley and Kant, or unseat Pyrrhonian/Nagarjunan themes.
In the final part of the module, we will consider some cutting-edge attempts to examine scepticism from practical and moral angles, examining the response to scepticism offered by ‘pragmatic encroachers’, and the role of sceptical doubt in certain kinds of oppressive behavior (e.g., gaslighting).
SCHEDULE OF READINGS
For each week, the readings mainly divide into required, strongly recommended, and optional further readings. I include the optional readings just in case you find the topic especially interesting and would like to write a paper on it or simply learn more.
Students who are registered for the module can find links to all readings to which the University has access through the library on this password-protected page. Below there are links to readings in the public domain for others, as well as links to journal articles to which others may have access at their universities.
Part 1. Scepticism in the History of Philosophy
Week 1: Introduction and a Bit about Academic Skepticism
Required reading Katja Vogt. ‘Ancient Skepticism’, Sections 1-3 LINK
Strongly recommended reading and listening Cicero. Selections from the Academica History of Philosophy without Any Gaps podcast on the Academic sceptics. LINK
Optional further reading Lloyd Gerson. Selections from Ancient Epistemology ‘Ancient Greek Skepticism’ in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy LINK Week 2: Pyrrhonian Skepticism
Required reading Katja Vogt. ‘Ancient Skepticism’, Section 4 LINK Peter Klein. ‘Skepticism’, Sections 7-11 LINK
Strongly recommended reading and listening Sextus Empiricus. Outlines of Pyrrhonism. LINK History of Philosophy without Any Gaps podcasts on Pyrrhonian scepticism. LINK-1, LINK-2
Optional further reading Gisela Striker. ‘Scepticism as a Kind of Philosophy’ Lloyd Gerson. Selections from Ancient Epistemology.
Week 3: Pyrrhonian Skepticism and Mādhyamaka Buddhism
Required reading Berger, D. ‘Nāgārjuna’, Sections 1-4. LINK J. L. Garfield. ‘Epoche and Śūnyatā: Skepticism East and West.
Strongly recommended reading and listening Jan Westerhoff. ‘Nāgārjuna’, Sections 1-2, 3.1, 3.3., 3.4 LINK Chapters on Buddhism in Sue Hamilton's A Short Introduction to Indian Philosophy Selections from Nāgārjuna's The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way Selections from Nāgārjuna's The Dispeller of Disputes History of Philosophy without Any Gaps podcasts on Nāgārjuna LINK-1,LINK-2, LINK-3 Audio of Graham Priest discussing logic and Buddhism. LINK
Optional further reading R. Haynes. ‘Mādhyamaka’ LINK Garfield, J. L. Selections from Commentary on Fundamental Wisdom....
Week 4: The Anticipation of Cartesian Points in Late Antiquity and Medieval Philosophy
Required reading and listening Al-Ghazali. Deliverance from Error, Chapter 1.LINK Augustine. On the Trinity Book X, Chapter X, Section 14 LINK Augustine. Against the Academicians Book III, Chapter 9, Section 21 to Book III, Chapter 16 LINK History of Philosophy without Any Gaps podcast on Avicenna's 'Flying Man' argument. LINK
Strongly recommended reading and listening In Our Time podcast on Al-Ghazali LINK History of Philosophy without Any Gaps podcast on Al-Ghazali LINK In Our Time podcast on Avicenna. LINK History of Philosophy without Any Gaps Podcast on Augustine's On the TrinityLINK Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Avicenna. LINK
Optional further reading Selections from The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy Entry on Al-Ghazali in the Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy 'Al-Ghazali' in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy LINK
Week 5: Descartes as a Reactionary Figure
Required reading Richard Popkin. Selections from TheHistory of Skepticism from Savonarola to Bayle
Optional further reading and listening Michel de Montaigne. 'Apology for Raymond Sebond' Contained in: LINK Michel de Montaigne. 'Of Experience' Contained in: LINK In Our Time podcast on Montaigne LINK Descartes. Objections and Replies to the Meditations LINK
Week 6: The Rediscovery of Berkeley's Problem
Required reading Quassim Cassam. ‘Tackling Berkeley’s Puzzle’ LINK Heather Logue. 'Why Naive Realism?', Sections I-III LINK
Optional further reading Selections from Campbell and Cassam’s Berkeley’s Problem
Week 7: The Rediscovery of Kantian Humility
Required reading Rae Langton. ‘Ignorance of Things in Themselves’
Optional further reading Rae Langton. Selections from Kantian Humility
Part 2. Responses to Scepticism in 20th and 21st Century Analytic Philosophy
Week 8: Responses to Scepticism: Ambitious
Required reading Susanna Rinard. ‘Reasoning One’s Way out of Scepticism’ LINK
Optional further reading James Pryor. ‘The Skeptic and the Dogmatist’ LINK Timothy Williamson. ‘Scepticism and Evidence’ LINK Jonathan Vogel. ‘Cartesian Scepticism and Inference to the Best Explanation’ LINK
Week 9: Responses to Scepticism: Moorean
Required reading G. E. Moore. ‘Proof of an External World’ LINK
Strongly recommended reading James Pryor. ‘What’s Wrong with Moore’s Argument?’ LINK G. E. Moore. 'A Defence of Common Sense' LINK
Optional further reading Annalisa Coliva. Selections from Moore and Wittgenstein. Ernest Sosa. ‘Moore’s Proof’ G. E. Moore. 'Certainty' LINK
Part 3. Skepticism and the Practical
Week 10: Skepticism and Pragmatic Encroachment
Required reading Jessica Brown. ‘Knowledge and Practical Reason’ LINK
Optional further reading Jason Stanley and John Hawthorne. ‘Knowledge and Action’ LINK Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath’s ‘Evidence, Pragmatics, and Justification’ LINK
Week 11: Skepticism and Moral Encroachment
Required reading Rachel McKinnon’s ‘Gaslighting as Epistemic Injustice’ LINK
Optional further reading Miranda Fricker. Selections from Epistemic Injustice Nora Berenstain. ‘Epistemic Exploitation’ LINK José Medina. Selections from The Epistemology of Resistance