Skeptical Philosophy for Everyone

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9781573929363: Skeptical Philosophy for Everyone
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This lucid, informal, and very accessible history of Western thought takes the unique approach of interpreting skepticism—i.e., doubts about knowledge claims and the criteria for making such claims—as an important stimulus for the development of philosophy. The authors argue that practically every great thinker from the time of the Greeks to the present has produced theories designed to forestall or refute skepticism: from Plato to Moore and Wittgenstein. The influence of and responses to such 20th-century skeptics as Russell and Derrida are also discussed critically.

Popkin and Stroll review each major theory of philosophy chronologically and then further organize these theories into their respective subject areas: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of religion. Within each subject area the authors discuss how the skeptical challenge gave rise to new philosophical positions. The volume concludes with an especially interesting debate between the authors on the merits of skepticism today. Stroll thinks that ultimately the doubts expressed by skeptics can be refuted, while Popkin denies this.

This is an outstanding introduction to the problems of philosophy by two eminent philosophers with a gift for presenting the history of ideas in a very enjoyable fashion.

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Review:

Skeptical Philosophy for Everyone is a deliberate recounting of skepticism's role in the development of philosophy. Richard H. Popkin and Avrum Stroll contend that the history of philosophy has been propelled largely by skepticism, or more precisely, responses to skepticism. They distinguish between everyday skepticism, defined as skepticism about facts, and philosophical skepticism, the sort of thoroughgoing skepticism that denies we know anything at all. It is the latter kind of skepticism that, in their view, has driven Western thought.

As the title implies, Popkin and Stroll's account of skepticism is indeed suited for lay readers or students, but the concepts are rendered so simply as to court reductionism. The book is readable but methodical and tends to omit detail. They sketch a modest historical account of skepticism's role in philosophy, hitting the high points in summary fashion before tackling skepticism topically, doing a chapter each on the philosophy of religion, ethics, and political philosophy. The final chapter is a debate between Popkin and Avrum about skepticism's defensibility, wrangling over whether "skepticism can raise probing criticisms without being correct in itself." --Eric de Place

About the Author:

Richard Popkin (Los Angeles, CA) is professor emeritus of philosophy at Washington University, St. Louis, and adjunct professor of history and philosophy at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Avrum Stroll (San Diego, CA) is research professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego.

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