What role, skepticism?

Ken Taylor at Philosophy Talk offers some interesting thoughts about skeptical reasoning, which can troubling if knowledge is your goal. Push hard enough and many claims to knowledge can be herded into circular arguments or end fitfully in question begging.

Dartmouth Philosopher Robert Fogelin addresses this very issue in his small book, Walking the Tightrope of Reason, which I recommend.

Taylor's question: should knowledge, which has been traditionally described as justified true belief, be the goal of the rational enterprise? In a response that may surprise you - he is after all, a philosopher - Taylor answers no. He believes that this arid definition of knowledge can never be consistently attained, and for good reason. By focusing on the concept of knowledge, rather than its practice, knowledge becomes ever susceptible to skeptical arguments. Alternatives - the "yeah, but did you consider this? - will always be at hand and are nearly impossible to eliminate. It's not very satisfying.

For that reason, he prefers rational belief, by which he means reliable belief, something that has been proved again and again. Is the belief repeatable? It's an approach that I find attractive.

Another approach that I find similarly appealing is that of Charles Taylor, winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, who I've recently begun to read and who likewise shifts epistemology away from an excessive focus on the concept of knowing toward what Ruth Abbey in her book on the philosopher's thought, calls "ways of being and doing." Like Ken Taylor, Charles Taylor seeks to ground knowledge in action as opposed to simply, or only, thought.

More on that as I get time.


Wikipedia: reliabilism