Scepticism's Self-Refutation

John Finnis

in Reason in Action

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199580057
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729379 | DOI:
Scepticism's Self-Refutation

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First principles, whether theoretical or practical, cannot be demonstrated, but can be defended successfully against objections by arguments of the broad kind known to Plato and Aristotle as ‘dialectical’. One such refutation of objections to a first practical principle is the ‘retorsive’ argument demonstrating the self-refutation of any serious assertion that knowledge is not an intrinsic good. There are hints of such an argument in Augustine and a few other writers, but no attempt to set the argument out with explicitness and some precision. This chapter, which first appeared in 1977, seeks to do that, building on some logical exploration of various kinds of self-refutation or performative inconsistency by J. L. Mackie, and emphasizing the importance of an exact understanding of assertion. Along the way, the chapter attends to some self-refutatory argumentation concerning legal sovereignty. The whole challenges Hart's exclusion of all goods save survival from legal theory.

Keywords: indemonstrability; dialectical defence; self-refutation; performative inconsistency; knowledge as a basic good; Mackie; Hart; assertion; scepticism

Chapter.  9462 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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