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Michael Williams

Abstract

In his Reflective Knowledge, Ernest Sosa offers a theory of knowledge, broadly virtue-theoretic in character, that is meant to transcend simple ways of contrasting "internalist" with "externalist" or "foundationalist" with "coherentist" approaches to knowledge and justification. Getting beyond such simplifications, Sosa thinks, is the key to finding an exit from "the Pyrrhonian Problematic": the ancient and profound skeptical problem concerning the apparent impossibility of validating the reliability of our basic epistemic faculties and procedures in a way that escapes vicious circularity. Central to Sosa's anti-skeptical strategy is the claim that there are two kinds of knowledge. His thought is that animal knowledge, which can be understood in purely reliabilist terms, can ground justified trust in the reliability of our basic cognitive faculties, thus elevating us (without vicious circularity) to the level of reflective knowledge. I offer a sketch of an alternative approach, linking knowledge and justification with epistemic accountability and responsible belief-management, which casts doubt on the idea that "animal" knowledge is knowledge properly so-called. However, it turns out that this approach is (perhaps surprisingly) close in spirit to Sosa's. I suggest that the differences between us may rest on a disagreement over the possibility of providing a direct answer to the Pyrrhonian challenge.

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Michael Williams

Skeptical arguments (or problems) fall into two categories: “Agrippan” and “Cartesian.” The former revolve around what is commonly thought of today as the problem of the regress of justification; the latter make essential use of skeptical hypotheses. Cartesian arguments have no place in Pyrrhonian skepticism. By contrast, the Agrippan Problem seems to play a vital role. Nevertheless, there are reasons to think that Sextus and contemporary epistemologists understand the problem in very different ways. Whereas, in contemporary discussions, the Agrippan argument is taken to lie at the heart of a fully general “problem of knowledge,” it is questionable whether Sextus even considers such a problem. In explaining and defending this claim, I bring out some vital limitations and shortcomings of the Pyrrhonian stance—in particular, Sextus’s radical epistemic quietism—and their implications for the tenability of the Pyrrhonian stance in both Sextus’s time and ours.

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Michael A. Williams

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Joe Williams and Michael Mulryan

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Michael A. Williams