In a series of recent articles, Duncan Pritchard argues for a “neo-Moorean” interpretation of John McDowell’s anti-sceptical strategy. Pritchard introduces a distinction between “favouring” and “discriminating” epistemic grounds in order to show that, within the radical sceptical context, an absence of “discriminating” epistemic grounds allowing one to distinguish brain-in-a-vat from non-brain-in-a-vat scenarios does not preclude possessing knowledge of the denials of sceptical hypotheses. I argue that Pritchard’s account fails. First, the distinction between “favouring” and “discriminating” epistemic grounds only works for “mules-disguised-as zebras” examples, but breaks down in the radical sceptical case. Second, McDowellian disjunctivism neutralizes the radical sceptical threat, but does not refute it. Third, the “highest common factor” conception is itself responsible for generating the sceptical problem and once this is undermined by McDowellian disjunctivism, scepticism no longer stands in need of direct refutation. I conclude by showing that one can either be a McDowellian disjunctivist or a neo-Moorean, but not both.
Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘hinge propositions’—those propositions that stand fast for us and around which all empirical enquiry turns—remains controversial and elusive, and none of the recent attempts to make sense of it strike me as entirely satisfactory. The literature on this topic tends to divide into two camps: either a ‘quasi-epistemic’ reading is offered that seeks to downplay the radical nature of Wittgenstein’s proposal by assimilating his thought to more mainstream epistemological views, or a non-epistemic, ‘quasi-pragmatic’ conception is adopted that goes too far in the opposite direction by, for example, equating ‘hinge propositions’ with a type of ‘animal’ certainty. Neither interpretative strategy, I will argue, is promising for the reason that ‘hinges’ are best not conceived as certainties (or uncertainties) at all. Rather, what Wittgenstein says in respect to them is that doubt is “logically” excluded, and where there can be no doubt, I contend, there is no such thing as knowledge or certainty either.
It is a commonly accepted assumption in contemporary epistemology that we need to find a solution to ‘closure-based’ sceptical arguments and, hence, to the ‘scepticism or closure’ dilemma. In the present paper I argue that this is mistaken, since the closure principle does not, in fact, do real sceptical work. Rather, the decisive, scepticism-friendly moves are made before the closure principle is even brought into play. If we cannot avoid the sceptical conclusion, this is not due to closure’s holding it in place, but because we’ve already been persuaded to accept a certain conception of perceptual reasons, which both issues a standing invitation to radical scepticism and is endemic in the contemporary literature. Once the real villain of the piece is exposed, it will become clear that the closure principle has been cast in the role of scapegoat in this debate.
The overarching aim of this paper is to persuade the reader that radical scepticism is driven less by independently plausible arguments and more by a fear of epistemic limitation which can be overcome. By developing the Kierkegaardian insight that knowledge requires courage, I show that we are not, as potential knowers, just passive recipients of a passing show of putatively veridical information, we also actively need to put ourselves in the way of it by learning to resist certain forms of epistemic temptation: the Cartesian thought that we could be ‘imprisoned’ within our own representations, and, hence permanently ‘out of touch’ with an ‘external’ world, and the Reasons Identity Thesis, which has us believe that whether we are in the good case or in the bad case, our epistemic grounds are the same.
The Illusion of Doubt shows that radical scepticism is an illusion generated by a Cartesian picture of our evidential situation—the view that my epistemic grounds in both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ cases must be the same. It is this picture which issues both a standing invitation to radical scepticism and ensures that there is no way of getting out of it while agreeing to the sceptic’s terms. The sceptical problem cannot, therefore, be answered ‘directly’. Rather, the assumptions that give rise to it, need to be undermined. These include the notion that radical scepticism can be motivated by the ‘closure’ principle for knowledge, that the ‘Indistinguishability Argument’ renders the Cartesian conception compulsory, that the ‘New Evil Genius Thesis’ is coherent, and the demand for a ‘global validation’ of our epistemic practices makes sense. Once these dogmas are undermined, the path is clear for a ‘realism without empiricism’ that allows us to re-establish unmediated contact with the objects and persons in our environment which an illusion of doubt had threatened to put forever beyond our cognitive grasp.