The problem of insulation

Philosophy 77 (3):349-373 (2002)
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Abstract

Insulation is a noticeable phenomenon in the case of most non-Pyrrhonian sceptics about human knowledge. A sceptic is experiencing insulation when his scepticism does not have any effect on his common sense beliefs, and his common sense beliefs do not have any effect on his scepticism. I try to show why this is a puzzling phenomenon, and how it can be explained. It is puzzling because insulation seems to require blindness to one's own epistemic irresponsibility and irrationality, while the sceptic presumably cares a lot about being epistemically responsible and rational. Insulation can be explained by means of a notion of philosophical detachment: to be detached from one's own beliefs about the world is to take an other-personal position towards those beliefs, treating them as if they are another person's beliefs. It is because of this that the sceptic's scepticism is insulated from his scepticism because he cannot be detached from his beliefs about the world when he is engaging in everyday, practical activities. I conclude the paper with a brief discussion of the generality of the problem of insulation.

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Wai-hung Wong
California State University, Chico

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