Epistemic Angst

Duncan Pritchard

in Epistemic Luck

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780199280384
Published online April 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191602290 | DOI:
Epistemic Angst

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I discuss the difficulty posed by the ineliminability of reflective epistemic luck and offer one way of responding to this difficulty. I begin by considering Wittgenstein’s remarks on knowledge from On Certainty and consider, in particular, the specific claims he makes about the so-called ’hinge’ propositions that contextually determine the nature of epistemic evaluation. I claim that what underlies Wittgenstein’s remarks in this respect is a certain view about the ultimately groundless nature of our reason-giving practices. This way of thinking about the structure of reasons is, I argue, correlative to the thesis described here regarding the ineliminability of reflective luck. Moreover, I contend that it is our implicit philosophical recognition of this problem that gives rise to a certain kind of general anxiety about our epistemic position that I refer to as epistemic angst. This contention is further illustrated by critically evaluating John McDowell’s content externalist response to scepticism that incorporates a strongly anti-sceptical account of reasons. I close on a positive note by arguing that while there is no epistemic response available to the problem posed by reflective luck, there is a plausible pragmatic resolution to this difficulty. Indeed, I claim that an anti-sceptical thesis of this sort can be discerned from Wittgenstein’s own fragmentary remarks on scepticism, and I develop such a view in the light of Hans Reichenbach’s pragmatic response to the problem of inductive scepticism, which I maintain is cast along similar lines.

Keywords: assertion; content externalism/internalism; epistemic externalism/internalism; epistemic luck; epistemology; hinge propositions; induction; pragmatism; scepticism; Wittgenstein, Ludwig

Chapter.  14089 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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