, Volume 188, Issue 2, pp 197–215 | Cite as

Epistemic closure, skepticism and defeasibility



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.


Epistemic closure Deductive closure Skepticism Defeasibility Contextualism Epistemology of reasoning Fred Dretske Peter Klein 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, F. (2005). Tracking theories of knowledge. In C. De Almeida (Ed.), Perspectives in contemporary epistemology, a special issue of Veritas 50.4 (pp. 11–35). Porto Alegre, Brazil: EDIPUCRS.
  2. Adams, F., Barker, J., & Figurelli, J. (2011). Towards closure on closure. Synthese (this issue). doi: 10.1007/s11229-011-9922-8.
  3. Audi R. (1995) Deductive closure, defeasibility and scepticism: A reply to Feldman. Philosophical Quarterly 45: 494–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Audi R. (2003) Epistemology: Acontemporary introduction to the theory of knowledge (2nd ed.). Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Bergmann M. (1997) Internalism, externalism and the no-defeater condition. Synthese 110: 399–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. BonJour L. (2002) Epistemology: Classic problems and contemporary responses. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, LanhamGoogle Scholar
  7. Brueckner A. (1994) The structure of the skeptical argument. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54: 827–835CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brueckner A. (2000) Klein on closure and skepticism. Philosophical Studies 98: 139–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brueckner A. (2004) Strategies for refuting closure for knowledge. Analysis 64: 333–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brueckner A. (2008) Reply to Coffman on closure and skepticism. Synthese 162: 167–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brueckner A. (2010) Skepticism and closure. In: Dancy J., Sosa E., Steup M. (eds) A companion to epistemology (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp 3–12Google Scholar
  12. Coffman E. J. (2006) Defending Klein on closure and skepticism. Synthese 151: 257–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cohen S. (1988) How to be a fallibilist. In: Tomberlin J. (eds) Philosophical Perspectives Vol. 2. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 581–605Google Scholar
  14. Cohen S. (1998) Two kinds of skeptical argument. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 58: 143–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cohen S. (2002) Basic knowledge and the problem of easy knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65: 309–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. David M., Warfield T. (2008) Knowledge-closure and skepticism. In: Smith Q. (ed.) Epistemology: New essays. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  17. De Almeida C. (2001) What Moore’s Paradox is about. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62: 33–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. De Almeida C. (2007a) Closure, defeasibility and conclusive reasons. Acta Analytica 22: 301–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Almeida C. (2007b) Moorean absurdity: An epistemological analysis. In: Green M., Williams J. N. (eds) Moore’s Paradox: New essays on belief, rationality, and the first person. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 53–75Google Scholar
  20. Dretske F. (1970) Epistemic operators. Journal of Philosophy 67: 1007–1023CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dretske F. (2005) The case against closure. In: Steup M., Sosa E. (eds) Contemporary debates in epistemology. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 13–26Google Scholar
  22. Feldman R. (1995) In defense of closure. Philosophical Quarterly 45: 487–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Feldman R. (1999) Contextualism and skepticism. In: Tomberlin J. (ed.) Philosophical perspectives Vol. 13. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 91–114Google Scholar
  24. Feldman R. (2003) Epistemology. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  25. Foley R. (1979) Justified inconsistent beliefs. American Philosophical Quarterly 16: 247–257Google Scholar
  26. Fumerton R. (2006) Epistemology. Blackwell Publishing, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  27. Hale B. (2000) Transmission and closure. In: Sosa E., Villanueva E. (eds) Philosophical issues Vol. 10. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 172–190Google Scholar
  28. Hawthorne J. (2004) Knowledge and lotteries. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  29. Hawthorne J. (2005) The case for closure. In: Steup M., Sosa E. (eds) Contemporary debates in epistemology. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 26–43Google Scholar
  30. Klein P. (1981) Certainty: A refutation of scepticism. University of Minnesota Press, MinneapolisGoogle Scholar
  31. Klein P. (1995) Skepticism and closure: Why the evil genius argument fails. Philosophical Topics 23: 213–236Google Scholar
  32. Klein P. (1998) Knowledge, concept of. In: Craig E. (ed.) The Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  33. Klein P. (2004) Closure matters: Academic skepticism and easy knowledge. In: Sosa E., Villanueva E. (eds) Philosophical issues Vol. 14. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 165–184Google Scholar
  34. Kvanvig J. (2008) Closure and alternative possibilities. In: Greco J. (ed.) The Oxford handbook of skepticism. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 456–483CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lewis D. (1996) Elusive knowledge. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 47: 549–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nozick R. (1981) Philosophical explanations. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  37. Olin D. (2003) Paradox. McGill-Queen’s University Press, MontrealGoogle Scholar
  38. Olin, D. (2005). A case against closure. In De Almeida, C. (Ed.), Perspectives in contemporary epistemology, a special issue of Veritas 50.4, (pp. 235–247). Porto Alegre, Brazil: EDIPUCRS.
  39. Priest G. (1986) Contradiction, belief and rationality. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 86: 99–116Google Scholar
  40. Priest G. (2006) In contradiction: A study of the transconsistent (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  41. Senor T. (1996) The prima/ultima facie justification distinction in epistemology. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56: 551–566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Smullyan R. (1997) The riddle of Scheherazade and other amazing puzzles, ancient & modern. Harcourt, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Stanley J. (2005) Knowledge and practical interests. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Stine G. C. (1976) Skepticism, relevant alternatives, and deductive closure. Philosophical Studies 29: 249–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Vogel J. (2004) Skeptical arguments. In: Sosa E., Villanueva E. (eds) Philosophical issues Vol. 14. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 426–455Google Scholar
  46. Warfield T. (2004) When epistemic closure does and does not fail: A lesson from the history of epistemology. Analysis 64: 35–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul [PUCRS]Porto AlegreBrazil

Personalised recommendations