, Volume 188, Issue 2, pp 197-215
Date: 24 Mar 2011

Epistemic closure, skepticism and defeasibility

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Abstract

Those of us who have followed Fred Dretske’s lead with regard to epistemic closure and its impact on skepticism have been half-wrong for the last four decades. But those who have opposed our Dretskean stance, contextualists in particular, have been just wrong. We have been half-right. Dretske rightly claimed that epistemic status is not closed under logical implication. Unlike the Dretskean cases, the new counterexamples to closure offered here render every form of contextualist pro-closure maneuvering useless. But there is a way of going wrong under Dretske’s lead. As the paper argues, Cartesian skepticism thrives on closure failure in a way that is yet to be acknowledged in the literature. The skeptic can make do with principles which are weaker than the familiar closure principles. But I will further claim that this is only a momentary reprieve for the skeptic. As it turns out, one of the weaker principles on which a skeptical modus tollens must rest can be shown false.