KW - Probabilistic epistemology

Cooper, David. Aesthetics: The Classic Readings. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997.

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According to foundationalism, our justified beliefs are structured likea building: they are divided into a foundation and a superstructure,the latter resting upon the former. Beliefs belonging to the foundationare basic. Beliefs belonging to the superstructure arenonbasic and receive justification from the justified beliefsin the foundation.[]

Hagberg, Garry I., ed. Art and Ethical Criticism. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. DOI:

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However, philosophers often, in the course of an argument, formulatewhat might be called extraordinary modal judgements; thesetypically are about some special philosophical concept relevant to thediscussion. Here are some examples:

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Naturally, contextualism has elicited many objections. According toone, what's wrong with contextualism is that it replaces our interestin knowledge itself with focus on the word ‘know’. Thisobjection (let us call it the replacement objection) is basedon a misunderstanding of contextualism. In the next section, we willsee why.

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Let us now focus on the second step. The basic thought is that, ifyou don't know you're not a BIV, you don't know you have hands. Thatthought is extremely plausible. After all, if you are a BIV, you don'thave any hands. So if you can't distinguish between being and not beinga BIV, you can't distinguish either between having and not havinghands. But if you can't distinguish between having and not havinghands, surely you don't know that you have hands. Putting the two stepsof the skeptic's reasoning together, we get the following argument:

St. AnselmNecessarily: God exists.

What the skeptics will point out, and what they think you willeasily agree with, is this: For any particular hypothesis on the list,you don't know that it is false. This works better for some than forothers. It works really well for the BIV hypothesis, which we discussedalready in section 2.2. The idea is that, if you are a BIV, you arereduced to a mere brain which is stimulated in such a way that thedelusion of a normal life results. So the experiences you have as a BIVand the experiences you have as a normal person are perfectly alike,indistinguishable, so to speak, "from the inside." It doesn'tlook to you as though you are a BIV. After all, you can seethat you have a body, and you can freely move about in yourenvironment. The problem is that it looks that way to a BIV, too. As aresult, the evidence you have as a normal person and the evidence youhave as a BIV do not relevantly differ. Consequently, your evidencecan't settle the question of whether or not you are a BIV. Based onthis thought, the skeptics claim you don't know that you arenot a BIV. That's the first step of the case for skepticism.

DescartesIt is possible for the mind to exist without the body.

When the skeptics get their argument started with some otherproposition about which you are likely to agree you don't know it, whatdo they have in mind? They direct your attention to what is called askeptical hypothesis. According to a skeptical hypothesis,things are radically different from what you take them to be. Here areseveral examples:

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According to skeptics, the limits of what you know are narrower thanyou would like to think. There are many things that you think you knowbut actually fail to know. For example, you think you know that youhave hands, but in fact you don't. How can the skeptics expect you totake such a strange conclusion seriously? Here's how. As a first step,the skeptics will focus on another proposition, about which you arelikely to agree that you don't know it. As a second step, they will getyou to agree that, since you don't know that second proposition, youdon't know the first one either: the proposition that you have hands.