Meta-epistemological scepticism: criticisms and a defence
The epistemological problem of the external world asks: (1) “How is knowledge of the world possible given certain obstacles which make it look impossible?” This is a “how-possible?” question: it asks how something is possible given certain obstacles which make it look impossible (cf. Cassam 2007; Nozick 1981; Stroud 1984). Now consider the following question, which asks: (2) “How is a philosophically satisfying answer to (1) possible?” Scepticism is the thesis that knowledge of the world is impossible. It therefore represents a negative answer to the first question. Meta-epistemological scepticism is the thesis that a satisfying philosophical explanation of how our knowledge of the world is possible is itself not possible. It therefore represents a negative answer to the second question. In this thesis, I explore the prospects of meta-epistemological scepticism. In particular, I structure the thesis around two master arguments from Stroud (1984, 2000, 2004, and 2009) for meta-epistemological scepticism. The first argument is what I call “Stroud’s puzzle”, and the second argument is “Stroud’s dilemma” (cf. Cassam 2009). I argue that Stroud’s puzzle fails to provide adequate support for meta-epistemological scepticism. However, I also argue that Stroud’s dilemma withstands serious objections (e.g., from Sosa 1994, Williams 1996, and Cassam 2009). In short, while Stroud’s puzzle fails to provide adequate support for meta-epistemological scepticism, Stroud’s dilemma does seem to provide adequate support for meta-epistemological scepticism. This thesis therefore represents a partial defence of meta-epistemological scepticism. Meta-epistemological scepticism is therefore a live option in epistemology. In Chapter 1, I explain what meta-epistemological is, present Stroud’s puzzle and Stroud’s dilemma for meta-epistemological scepticism, and argue that meta-epistemological sceptics are not committed to first-order scepticism. In Chapter 2, I examine what I call the “anti-revisionist” premise of Stroud’s puzzle and argue that it lacks adequate support. In Chapter 3, I examine the “conditional scepticism” premise of Stroud’s puzzle and argue that it lacks adequate support. In Chapter 4, I look at Williams’s (1996) master argument against Stroud’s dilemma, and argue that it fails. In Chapter 5, I look at externalist responses to Stroud’s dilemma, and in particular, Sosa (1994). I argue that Sosa’s objection fails, and therefore Stroud’s dilemma survives serious externalist objections. In Chapter 6, I explain Cassam’s (2009) argument against Stroud’s dilemma, and I argue that it fails. Chapter 7 concludes the thesis, summarising the main results.