Conant, James

Research Project
Varieties of Philosophical Skepticism

The main project I will work on divides into three parts. In the first, I provide a taxonomy of kinds of skepticism; in the second, I explore and clarify various questions that immediately arise regarding the supposed »kinds« that I am thus apparently able to distinguish; and, in the third, I try to answer these questions and to show why doing so sheds unexpected philosophical light on a number of other matters.
The taxonomy initially purports to distinguish various kinds of philosophical skepticism and the various kinds of philosophical response these skepticisms have engendered. I distinguish primarily between four varieties of philosophical skepticism – Pyrrhonian, Agrippan, Cartesian, and Kantian. The eventual aim of the taxonomic exercise is to furnish a perspicuous overview of some of the dialectical relations that obtain across the range of problems that philosophers have called (and continue to call) »skeptical«.

I then press various sorts of questions about the supposedly distinct sorts of skepticism that the taxonomy distinguishes. Some of these questions are historical (such as, »How are these varieties of skepticism historically related to one another « and »When did each variety first come up the scene?«), some are systematic (such as, »How are these varieties related to one another?«, »Do they form distinct species?«, and thus »What is a taxonomy of such varieties really a taxonomy of?«), and some are both (such as, »Why are different varieties of skepticism so easily confused with one another?« and »What have we learned when we learn the answer to this question?«).

I then go on to argue that such an overview affords four forms of philosophical insight:

  1. it allows one to command a clearer view of the sorts of relations that obtain across supposedly distinct areas of philosophy,
  2. it allows one to distinguish the very different sorts of things philosophers mean when they employ (what is apparently) the same philosophical terminology,
  3. it allows one to see more clearly what is distinctive about the respective contributions to thought about skepticism of certain major figures in the philosophical tradition (most notably, Kant and Wittgenstein), and
  4. it allows one to see more clearly why such major figures are often misread and why their best commentators often
    misread one another and misunderstand themselves.

Selected Publications

Conant, J. 2012. »Two Varieties of Skepticism« in G. Abel and J. Conant (eds.): Rethinking Epistemology Vol. 2 (forthcoming). Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, pp. 1-73.

Conant, J. 2011. »Three ways of Inheriting Austin« in C. Al-Saleh and S. Laugier (eds.): La philosophie du langage ordinaire: Histoire et actualité de la philosophie d’Oxford/Ordinary Language Philosophy: The History and Contemporary Relevance of Oxford Philosophy. Hildesheim: Olms Verlag.

Conant, J. 2011. »Wittgenstein’s Methods« in O. Kuusela (ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 620-645.

Conant, J. 2011. »The World of a Movie« in N. Forsberg and S. Jansson (eds.): Making a Difference. Stockholm: Thales, pp. 293-324.

Conant, J. 2009. »The American Scholar« in G. Marcus and W. Sollors (eds.): New Literary History of America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 239-244.