In this interview with epistemologist Jim Slagle, we discuss the Epistemological Skyhook. That is, the argument that certain philosophical positions (such as naturalism and determinism) give us a reason to believe in skepticism, which in turn, gives us a reason to doubt the reasoning that got us to the position in the first place. If the argument is correct, then while it is possible that naturalism or determinism might be true, it is impossible for us to believe in them. In this first part of our two-part discussion, we focus on Alvin Plantinga’s version of the argument.
Agrippan skepticism is an ancient Greek variety. It is perhaps the hardest-hitting attack on the possibility of knowledge in the history of philosophy. I don’t know of any satisfactory solution.
Epistemologists agree on this much: in order for a belief to count as knowledge, it needs to be at least a justified true belief. What does it mean for a belief to be justified? It means we have a reason for believing it. If this reason will work as justification, it must be a reason that we know.
Of course, if we know this reason, it must be a justified true belief. So what is its justification? It has to be some other reason that we know. And we’re off on a regress.
The problem can be put this way: justification can only happen in three ways:
Regress argument: belief A is justified by belief B, which is justified by belief C, which is justified by belief D, and so on.
Circular argument: belief A is justified by belief B, which is justified by belief A.
Dogmatic argument: belief A is axiomatic. It requires no justification.
None of these options succeed in justifying a belief. Regress arguments fail to justify because they never bottom out at some belief that is already justified.…
I was staring at a fireplace listening to music. I had the following progression of thoughts:
The bass line in this song is really awesome.
It’s a very active bass line. I don’t know much about music and almost nothing about good bass playing. Any active bass line is going to sound good to me.
Does that mean that, since I don’t know much about music, none of my opinions about music matter?
I have strong opinions about music. Favorite albums, artists, songs, instrumentalists. To someone who knows a lot about music, those opinions must seem superficial and misguided.
This is true even if we agree that taste is subjective. Even among matters of subjective taste, some taste is refined and some misses all the nuances of the form. Some is based on understanding the medium and some is based on irrelevant associations.
Does this mean that all of our opinions about subjects in which we are not experts are misguided?
Actually, even if we’re experts, we can always assume that there’s another expert who knows the subject more, or we can imagine one in the future who will. That person’s opinion is based on more and better evidence than mine. Shouldn’t I just automatically adopt his position?
Does this mean we shouldn’t believe any of our beliefs? Should we assume all our beliefs are wrong? Should we just believe what the most knowledgeable expert beliefs?
My train of thought took me to radical skepticism, as they often do.…