Philosophy ETDs


Ethan Mills

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I begin with the question of whether the problem of philosophical skepticism is inevitable, a question that was answered affirmatively by Hume and has come to be a source of debate in contemporary epistemology. If skepticism is an inevitable problem, then it should arise in any sufficiently sophisticated tradition of epistemology such as the tradition found in classical India. The Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu gives arguments from ignorance based on dreams that are quite similar to the dream argument of Descartes. However, while Vasubandhus arguments give an invitation to skeptical concerns (especially if he is a phenomenalist, rather than an idealist), this invitation was not accepted in quite the same way as it has been by Western philosophers. Yet there is another form of skepticism in Indian philosophy, which is more like Pyrrhonian skepticism. I call this metaphilosophical skepticism, which consists of doubts about the possibility of philosophy itself. Reading the Madhyamaka Buddhist philosopher N\u0101g\u0101rjuna as a metaphilosophical skeptic solves the puzzle of how to reconcile his arguments for the view of emptiness with his injunctions against holding any view whatsoever. Jayar\u0101\u015bi, a skeptical member of the irreligious C\u0101rv\u0101ka school, refutes any positive epistemological theory and embodies a contextualism that makes room to enjoy everyday practice. Thus, skeptical concerns in classical India invite us to question what we think we know about issues of philosophical skepticism. I conclude by considering what it is that allows concerns about metaphilosophical skepticism to arise in a philosophical tradition, arguing that it is this type of skeptical concern, rather than the problem of external world skepticism, that may be inevitable.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Hayes, Richard

Second Committee Member

Domski, Mary

Third Committee Member

Becker, Kelly

Fourth Committee Member

Chakrabarti, Arindam




Philosophical skepticism, Classical Indian philosophy, Vasubandhu, Nāgārjuna, Jayarāśi, Cross-cultural philosophy

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