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  Scepticism (from Greek skepsis, ‘questioning’), in philosophy, is the doctrine that one cannot attain knowledge. There are various limited versions of scepticism, which claim that one cannot possess knowledge of certain limited kinds. Scepticism about other minds is the doctrine that one cannot possess knowledge of minds other than one\'s own; scepticism about induction is the view that one cannot acquire knowledge of the unobserved; sceptics about memory believe that one cannot know anything about the past; sceptics about the external world think that one cannot know whether physical objects (rather than one\'s sensory experiences as of them) exist.

Global scepticism is the view that one can know nothing, or at least the view that one can know almost nothing. Global sceptics may allow that one may know a very few things such as: (1) that one currently exists; (2) what one\'s own current mental states are; (3) that one knows nothing else. Global scepticism is made plausible by the point that the evidence one has for almost any of one\'s beliefs is compatible with the falsity of that belief. Assuming that we do know what we think we know, then we know that our senses can be unreliable. The tower in the distance seemed to be square but when we approached it turned out to be round. So maybe our senses are misleading us now. More worryingly, assuming that we know what we think we know, then we know that dreams can seem like waking reality. One can dream that one is reading, wake up, and discover that one was not reading but asleep. So maybe you are not reading this, but tucked up in bed having a convincing dream. And even more worryingly, the entire course of one\'s experience may be misleading. Perhaps an evil demon is fooling you into thinking that you are reading this, and has been fooling you since the day you started having experiences. Or perhaps a mad scientist extracted your brain from your body just before you were born and is using a computer to stimulate your brain so as to give you the experience as of reading this book when in fact this book and your hands on the page do not exist. You have no justification for thinking that this book exists which excludes the possibility that it does not and that you are a brain in a vat. Indeed, for nearly all of your beliefs, whatever evidence you might give in an attempt to justify them, that evidence is compatible with their falsity. So those beliefs cannot count as knowledge. AJ

See also epistemology; knowledge; other minds, problem of.Further reading J. Dancy, An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology; , B. Stroud, The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism.



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