Closure Reconsidered

Philosophers' Imprint Vol 12, No 9, 2012

Most solutions to the skeptical paradox about justified belief assume closure for justification, since the rejection of closure is widely regarded as a non-starter. I argue that the rejection of closure is not a non-starter, and that its problems are no greater than the problems associated with the more standard anti-skeptical strategies. I do this by sketching a simple version of the unpopular strategy and rebutting the three best objections to it. The general upshot for theories of justification is that it is not a constraint on such theories that we must somehow have justification to believe that we are not massively deceived.


Mere Faith and Entitlement

Synthese: Special Issue on Skepticism & Justification, Volume 189, Issue 2, pp 297-315, 2012.

The scandal to philosophy and human reason, wrote Kant, is that we must take the existence of material objects on mere faith. In contrast, the skeptical paradox that has scandalized recent philosophy is formulated in terms of justification, warrant, and entitlement, rather than faith. I argue that most contemporary approaches to the paradox (both dogmatist/liberal and default/conservative) do not address the traditional problem that scandalized Kant, and that the status of having a warrant (or justification) that is derived from entitlement is irrelevant to whether we take our beliefs on mere faith. For, one can have the sort of warrant that most contemporary anti-skeptics posit while still taking one’s belief on mere faith. An alternative approach to the traditional problem is proposed, one that still makes use of contemporary insights about “entitlement.”


Hawthorne on the Deeply Contingent A Priori

Philosophy and Phenomenological  Research Vol 83, Issue 1 pp 174-183, 2011

According to most contemporary philosophers, there is a special reason to doubt the possibility of deeply contingent a priori knowledge—a reason that does not apply to ordinary sorts of knowledge. Hawthorne (2002) argues that there is no such reason. First he considers what he takes to be the main reason philosophers have doubted the possibility of the deeply contingent a priori knowledge, and he argues that it is flawed. Second, he presents two hypothetical cases in which it is initially intuitive that a given subject has deeply contingent a priori knowledge; and he argues that the sorts of considerations that effectively reverse these initial intuitions are just as effective at reversing initial intuitions in favor of ordinary cases of a posteriori knowledge. He concludes that there is no special reason to doubt the possibility of deeply contingent a priori knowledge. I offer a reason for doubting the possibility of deeply contingent a priori knowledgeone that does not raise doubts about ordinary a posteriori knowledge and is immune to Hawthorne’s objections. 


In Defense of Secular Belief

Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Vol. IV (2011), Jonathan Kvanvig, Editor. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

 Many secular critics hold that religious belief is worthy of criticism because there is no evidence for religious doctrine. But secular critics themselves hold beliefs for which there is arguably no evidence. In order to avoid the charge of inconsistency, secular critics must establish that their own belief is more defensible than religious belief. Recent epistemology focuses on justification as the primary notion available in defense of belief, and this aggravates the problem. Once some alternative evaluative notions come to light, with the help of Hume and J.L. Austin, a satisfying solution emerges.


No Closure on Skepticism

Pacific Philosophical Quarterly Vol 92, Issue 4, pp 439-447, 2011

(with Anthony Brueckner and Christopher Buford)

This article is a response to an important objection that Sherrilyn Roush has made to the standard closure-based argument for skepticism, an argument that has been studied over the past couple of decades. If Roush's objection is on the mark, then this would be a quite significant finding. We argue that her objection fails.


An Old Problem for the New Rationalism

Synthese, Vol 183, Issue 2, pp 175-185, 2011.

 A well known skeptical paradox rests on the claim that we lack warrant to believe that we are not brains in a vat (BIVs). The argument for that claim is the apparent impossibility of any evidence or argument that we are not BIVs. Many contemporary philosophers resist this argument by insisting that we have a sort of warrant for believing that we are not BIVs that does not require having any evidence or argument. I call this view 'New Rationalism'. I argue that New Rationalists are committed to there being some evidence or argument for believing that we are not BIVs anyway. Therefore, New Rationalism, since its appeal is that it purportedly avoids the problematic commitment to such evidence or argument, undermines its own appeal. We cannot avoid the difficult work of coming up with evidence or argument by positing some permissive sort of warrant.


A note on unpublished work:

I do not post unpublished material online because that would undermine the "blind" review process (referees can easily google the title of a paper to see who the author is).


At the moment (September 2012) I have a paper on Hume on skepticism under submission and a paper on the notion of justification in the works. Papers on circular reasoning, "debunking," Hume on religion, and Moorean or commonsense philosophy are in the pipeline.

If you're interested in my unpublished work, please send me an email at yavnur [at] scrippscollege [dot] edu.



My dissertation, entitled 'Our Faith in the Senses' and pictured above in stylish blue binding, proposes a solution to the skeptical paradox, and a way to address the "scandal to philosophy and human reason in general," while maintaining that there is no justification for believing that we are not massively deceived.

Papers by Yuval Avnur