Thursday, November 8, 2018

Believing Out of Need

A couple of days ago, I reread parts of Mark Rowlands's The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death & Happiness (Granta, 2008). At one point, Rowlands writes: “I once had a colleague who was unusual among philosophers in that he was a believer. He always used to tell his students: when the shit hits the fan, you will believe. Maybe that's what happens. When the shit hits the fan, people look for God. When the shit hits the fan, I remember a little wolf cub”. Due to several unfortunate events that have occurred over the year, for the past few days I've been thinking about the issue of believing out of need (or desire or desperation). Over the years, I've heard or read the kind of remark made by Rowlands's former colleague; it is something most people say when confronted with someone professing, e.g., some form of radical skepticism. Even though I do understand the “logic” of such a stance, it appears to me that, in the end, it all comes down to each person's temperament. Once or twice in the course of my life, I felt the need to believe in something that is religious or metaphysical in nature, but after a few seconds, I told myself that as a matter of fact I didn't, the reason being that I couldn't hold religious or metaphysical beliefs simply because I needed to. Of course, this issue has to do with whether one can hold beliefs only on the basis of evidence of some sort or whether one can also hold beliefs out of need. In other words, do we always need epistemic reasons or are we also able to hold beliefs merely on the basis of pragmatic reasons? In my experience, it seems that quite a number of people can start believing in God, the afterlife, the soul, or what have you after having been confronted with extreme situations, but it is also clear that even when the shit hits the fan, some who would love to find solace in such beliefs are as a matter of fact unable to hold them -- for them pragmatic reasons are not enough. I'm considering the issue from a psychological point of view (is it psychologically possible for us to hold beliefs only because it is useful for us to do so?) and leaving aside the normative question of whether one should believe in x only on the basis of pragmatic reasons.

Monday, November 5, 2018

CFP for Special Issue of Theoria

There's a call for papers for a special issue of the Swedish journal Theoria devoted to medieval skepticism. Complete information below:

Guest Editor: Henrik Lagerlund (Stockholm University),

Deadline for submissions: September 1, 2019

Description: The high point of scholarly debate on the history of skepticism was the 1970’s and the 1980’s. It was Ancient and Early Modern skepticism that was debated then, and some groundbreaking books and articles were produced as a result. After that intense debate the interest waned somewhat and the history of skepticism does not attract as much interest anymore. Scholarly debate on Medieval skepticism has never reached such a highpoint, in fact, there has been relatively little interest in skeptical debates and skepticism in the Middle Ages. By devoting a special issue of Theoria to Medieval skepticism, we hope to change this and interest a new generation of scholars in questions about the role skepticism and skeptical arguments played in the Middle Ages. In this context, we define Medieval philosophy broadly to include philosophy and philosophical theology between the time of Augustine and Francisco Suárez, that is, roughly between 400 and 1600 CE. We also welcome articles dealing with skepticism in any of the four language traditions, that is, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek. Our hope is to present skepticism in the Middle Ages in a new light, and with such breadth and depth that Medieval skepticism can finally take its place in a comprehensive history of skepticism alongside Ancient and Modern.

All submitted articles should be written in English and will be subject to double blind review. To find out more about the journal and how to submit your article please go to:

Saturday, October 27, 2018


On November 9-10, the Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 will host the conference “L’incertitude chez les Anciens et les Modernes”, which is organized by Anastasios Brenner and Brigitte Pérez-Jean. The presentation and the program in French are below, and the conference's webpage can be found here.

Le concept d'incertitude paraît curieusement négligé. Les principaux dictionnaires et encyclopédies philosophiques l’omettent de leur répertoire. Pourtant ce concept a fait l'objet de débats intenses dans l'Antiquité. Les sceptiques mettaient en avant l’incertitude ou l’obscurité des raisonnements des dogmatiques, afin de justifier la suspension du jugement ou epochè. À l’aube des temps modernes, le scepticisme a connu un regain d’intérêt. Il a semblé fournir une réponse face à une situation de foisonnement et d’instabilité, provoquée par les grandes découvertes, les guerres de religion et la renaissance du modèle antique. Mais l’attitude sceptique n’a pas tardé à susciter une réaction en sens opposé: les fondateurs de la science moderne se sont servi du doute pour établir leur méthode dans la recherche de la vérité. Plusieurs historiens des idées sont venus souligner le rôle du scepticisme dans l’élaboration de la modernité. Il reste à prendre toute la mesure de cette lecture, sans négliger les résurgences ultérieures de ce courant. La science contemporaine est une longue déconstruction de la science classique dans ses notions fondamentales: espace, temps et matière. Elle tient désormais compte de l’approché, du relatif et du provisoire. Il s’agira dans ce colloque de croiser les regards de spécialistes de différentes disciplines sur l’incertitude et ses différentes formes.

Vendredi 9 novembre 2018, Site Saint-Charles (Rue du Professeur Henri Serre)

9h15: Ouverture: Anastasios Brenner. Présidence: Sabine Luciani.
9h30: Lorenzo Corti (Université de Lorraine): “Sextus Empiricus: scepticisme et incertitude”.
10h20: Sylvia Giocanti (Université Toulouse Jean-Jaurès): “La modernité de la philosophie de l’incertitude: Les Essais de Montaigne”.
11h10: Pause 
11h25: Olivier Tinland (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3): “Les transformations du scepticisme dans l’idéalisme allemand: Kant, Schulze, Fichte, Hegel”.
12h15: Discussion générale. Présidence: Jean-François Thomas.
14h30: Sabine Luciani (Aix-Marseille Université): “In diem uiuere: Cicéron et l'expérience de l'incertitude”. 
15h20: Denis Kambouchner (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne): “Descartes et les limites de la certitude”.
16h10: Pause 
16h25: Delphine Bellis (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3): “Doute, incertitude et probabilisme dans la philosophie de Gassendi”.
17h15: Discussion générale 

Samedi 10 novembre 2018. Présidence: Delphine Bellis.

9h30: Brigitte Pérez-Jean (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3): “La relation entre scepticisme et ‘philosophies voisines’ chez Sextus Empiricus”. 
10h20: Thierry Martin (Université de Franche Comté): “Pascal et l'émergence de la ‘géométrie du hasard’”. 
11h10: Pause 
11h25: Anastasios Brenner (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3): “L’incertitude des temps présents: la science entre scepticisme et dogmatisme”.
12h15: Discussion générale 
12h30: Clôture: Brigitte Pérez-Jean

Monday, October 22, 2018

Annual Lecture at MCAS

The Annual Lecture at the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies (Hamburg University) will be given by Julie Klein (Villanova University) on October 30. The lecture's title is “Scepticism in Spinoza and the Project of Critique”. For more information, click here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Suspension of Belief

On October, 26–27, the University of Mannheim will host the workshop Suspension of Belief”. Here's the workshop's presentation:

We often suspend belief. Some questions we haven’t considered yet, others are still under investigation, and yet others seem to allow for no definite answer. We often withhold belief and, more importantly, we do so rationally. Despite its core role in our doxastic everyday life, suspension of belief has not received much attention in the epistemological literature, which has mainly focused on positive belief alone. The workshop will fill this lacuna and investigate the nature and rational profile of suspension of belief.

Confirmed speakers include Wolfgang Freitag, Jane Friedman, Tim Kraft, Sven Lauer, Errol Lord, Sven Rosenkranz, Hans Rott, Miriam Schoenfield, Marc Andree Weber, Nadja-Mira Yolcu, Alexandra Zinke. The program and abstracts can be found here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Systematic Skepticism

Next Friday (October 12th), from 10h45 to 12h45, Stéphane Marchand (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne) will give the talk “Le scepticisme est-il systématique?” at the Université de Liège (Belgium), Place du 20-août, 7, Salle de l'Horloge. Then, from 14h to 17h, there will be a reading workshop on “Hume: scepticisme et système(s)” hosted by Éléonore Le Jallé (Université de Lille).

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Brill Studies in Skepticism

The new series Brill Studies in Skepticism has now an updated website, which you can check here. The first two volumes will be published at the beginning of next year.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Skepticism in Medieval Jewish Philosophy

Just out: Scepticism and Anti-Scepticism in Medieval Jewish Philosophy and Thought, edited by R. Haliva (Walter de Gruyter, 2018). More information here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Issue 8.3 of IJSS

Issue 8.3 of the International Journal for the Study of Skepticism is now out. It features articles by Roberto Horácio de Sá Pereira and Kim Davies; a book symposium with contributions by Penelope Maddy, Barry Stroud, Annalisa Coliva, and Adam Leite; and book reviews by Mark Spencer and Ted Poston. It can be accessed here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Jewish Averroism

On November 12-14, the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies (Hamburg University) will host the conference “Scepticism and Anti-Scepticism in Jewish Averroism. More information is found here.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Pyrrhonian Modes

On September 6-7, there will be a workshop on the different sets of Pyrrhonian modes at the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies, Hamburg University. For more information, go here.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Moral Realism/Anti-Realism

In recent posts, I referred to new books dealing with moral skepticism. To this list, I should now add Thomas Pölzler's Moral Reality and the Empirical Sciences (Routledge, 2018).

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Book on Jewish Skepticism

Giuseppe Veltri's new book, Alienated Wisdom: Enquiry into Jewish Philosophy and Scepticism, has just been published by Walter de Gruyter. For more information, go here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Pyrrhonian Argumentation

My paper Pyrrhonian Argumentation: Therapy, Dialectic, and Inquiry -- forthcoming in Apeiron -- is now available online ahead of print.