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Snatching Hope from the Jaws of Epistemic Defeat



Reflection on the history of skepticism shows that philosophers have often conjoined as a single doctrine various theses that are best kept apart. Some of these theses are incredible—literally almost impossible to accept—whereas others seem quite plausible and even verge on the platitudinous. Mixing them together, one arrives at a view—skepticism—that is as a whole indefensible. My aim is to pull these different elements apart and focus on one particular strand of skepticism that deserves sustained and respectful attention, which I will refer to as epistemic defeatism. Roughly, in its most global form, this is the view that, in the final analysis, we have no good evidence for the truth of any proposition. I do not attempt to argue for the truth of epistemic defeatism, but only to untangle it from neighboring views and in particular to establish its independence from questions about knowledge. Having thus established the view's autonomy, I turn to considering the options for self-consciously accepting defeat. One may despair or one may have faith. But I will ultimately propose that the most attractive option—the option that preserves the most of our epistemic integrity—is to have hope.



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