Skip to main content

Instructors: Douglas MacLean and Ram Neta. This course meets W 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. in CW 208.

Most philosophers today tend to think of skepticism as a purely intellectual puzzle, to be solved by giving an account of what it is to “know” something or to be “justified” in holding a belief.  But for most of the history of Western philosophy, skepticism was something much more.  For Socrates, skepticism was a way of criticizing unreflective moral conviction.  For the Pyrrhonians, it was a way of life.  For Descartes, it was a way of calling into question Aristotelian physics and replacing it with mathematical physics.  For Berkeley, it was a reductio ad absurdum of materialism.  For Hume, it was a way of criticizing the pretensions of reason to govern human life.  And for some early twentieth century philosophers, it was the key to understanding the nature of meaning.  In this course, we will read through much of the history of skepticism, beginning with Plato, and ending with contemporary philosophers.  Along the way, we will read Sextus Empiricus, Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, and numerous contemporary commentators.