Contextualism, scepticism, and the problem of epistemic descent

Duncan Pritchard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Perhaps the most dominant anti-sceptical proposal, in recent literature - advanced by such figures as Stewart Cohen, Keith DeRose and David Lewis - is the contextualist response to radical scepticism. Central to the contextualist thesis is the claim that, unlike other non-contextualist anti-sceptical theories, contextualism offers a dissolution of the sceptical paradox that respects our common sense epistemological intuitions. Taking DeRose's view as representative of the contextualist position, it is argued, that instead of offering us an intuitive response to scepticism, contextualism is actually committed to a revisionist stance as regards our everyday usage of epistemic terms. In particular, it is argued that the thesis fails to present a satisfactory explication of a notion - that of 'epistemic descent'- that is pivotal to the anti-sceptical import of the account. On the positive side, however, it is claimed that although the contextualist response to scepticism, is ultimately unsatisfying, DeRose's theory does contain, within it the framework for a completely different - and far more persuasive - account of the 'phenomenology of scepticism which runs along non-contextualist lines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-349
Number of pages23
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


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