restricted access Le doute en question: Parades pragmatistes au defi sceptique (review)
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Reviewed by
Claudine Tiercelin Le doute en question: Parades pragmatistes au défi sceptique (Doubt in Question: Pragmatist Responses to the Challenge of Skepticism) Paris & Tel-Aviv: Editions de l'eclat, 2005. 332 pp.

This book is a serious contribution to the highest standards of scholarship along with a masterful ability to re-deploy the results of that contribution in a striking display of philosophical acumen aimed at showing us how to set aside that vast body of contemporary literature devoted to taking seriously the challenge of contemporary skepticism in epistemology, metaphysics and ethics. It is not enough to say that this is an excellent book. Those who think that philosophy done well is a commanding esthetic experience will find Tiercelin's book a work of high art performed and executed with style, deep analytic insight, and grace.

The author, who teaches American Philosophy, Contemporary Epistemology and Philosophy of Language at the University of Paris, is an outstanding scholar and an incisive philosopher. She is pre-eminently equipped to elucidate and advance philosophical discourse by carefully applying the best of pragmatic thought to enduring epistemological, metaphysical and ethical problems associated with strong global skepticism. She has a sensitive and broad command of the critical texts, and shows us why the usual objections to pragmatic epistemology, for example, are, in spite of continuing popularity, unacceptable in the light of those texts. She guides us back to Peirce's doubt-belief theory of inquiry and argues carefully not only that the purpose of all inquiry is to establish reliable beliefs that allow us to adapt successfully to the myriad demands of an independent world, but also that our explication of the nature of truth and knowledge must be made consistent with that fundamental point. That in itself would be enough for [End Page 282] a fine book. But she then goes further to delineate how pragmatic thought can be redeployed to discover the inadequacy of several responses to contemporary arguments for skepticism (including the argument from ignorance) and at the same time show how those very pragmatic theses deserve a place of honor in virtue of their demonstrable power to dissolve or undermine the main arguments for the skeptic's general story.

After an introductory section outlining the new rise and nature of contemporary skepticism with its roots in ancient and modern philosophy, the book divides nicely into seven sections bearing the following titles:

  1. 1. The nature and impact of the skeptical challenge in contemporary philosophy

  2. 2. To what extent can we doubt?

  3. 3. Two pragmatic strategies in the face of doubt: Peirce and Wittgenstein

  4. 4. Pragmatism or the human logic of truth

  5. 5. The ethical response to the skeptical challenge;

  6. 6. Do we perceive the external world? and

  7. 7. The risk of error and the presumption of knowledge.

In the introduction and in the first two sections, Tiercelin shows in detail the continuity between the contemporary resurgence in skeptical thought affirming that knowledge that P requires the elimination of every possibility of error, and the Cartesian thesis to the effect that as long as one can imagine any universe of discourse in which one might be mistaken for any reason in what one believes, one's belief is not an item of knowledge. But, for Tiercelin, while knowledge may be a form of justified true belief, justification sufficient for knowledge simply does not require freedom from the logical possibility of error. Later, in the conclusion of the book (p. 253) she returns to this same issue and notes that, along with many others, even the late David Lewis accepted the unfortunate Cartesian thesis when he asserted in "Elusive Knowledge" (Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74.4 [1996]: 549ff) that there is something fundamentally contradictory with sentences such as "I know that P, but I may be mistaken". After all, so the Lewis story goes, if you know that P, there can be no sense in which what you know could be mistaken. At any rate, in the first two sections, Tiercelin delineates different kinds of doubt, and argues from a Peircean perspective on the nature and origin of real doubt to the conclusion that knowledge requires the elimination of all...


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