Meditations in Ethno-Epistemology1
Throughout the twentieth century, an enormous amount of intellectual fuel was spent debating the merits of a class of skeptical arguments which purport to show that knowledge of the external world is not possible. These arguments played an important role in the work of some of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, including Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein. Typically, these arguments make use of one or more of the premises which the philosophers proposing them take to be intuitively obvious. Beyond an appeal to intuition, little or no defense is offered, and in many cases it is hard to see what else could be said in support of these premises. A number of authors have suggested that the intuitions undergirding these skeptical arguments are universal—shared by everyone (or almost everyone) who thinks reflectively about knowledge. This chapter offers some evidence indicating that they are far from universal. Rather, the evidence suggests that many of the intuitions epistemologists invoke vary with the cultural background, socio-economic status, and educational background of the person offering the intuition. And this is bad news for the skeptical arguments that rely on those intuitions.
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