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The Reliability of Sense Perception Paperback – January 11, 1996

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801481017 ISBN-10: 0801481015 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

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"Alston has written a readable and intelligent book. His results will not surprise many philosophers, but his 'nothing-up-my-sleeves' lucidity will assist them in thinking through a range of possible positions. At a time when epistemology has been widely understood to be passé, Alston's account, interwoven as it is with discussion of work by Goldman, Nozick, and others, indicates that epistemology is not yet only a thing of the past."—Russell B. Goodman, University of New Mexico, Review of Metaphysics, 48 (September 1994)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (January 11, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801481015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801481017
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,612,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By not me VINE VOICE on January 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
This monograph deals with a perennial philosophical question: whether sense perception generates reliable information about the external world. The author, William Alston, reviews the contemporary philosophical literature and analyzes arguments purporting to demonstate that sense perception is reliable; he can find no argument, whether a priori or experiential, that doesn't fall into circularity by tacitly assuming that sense perception is reliable. Nevertheless, he concludes that it's rational to rely conditionally on sense perception even if we can't prove that it's reliable: we have no choice but to rely on our senses in practice, and there's no reason to think they're systematically misleading us. Along the way, Alston discusses private languages, brains in vats, and evil demons.

I've never been gripped by the problems of epistemology, nor entirely convinced they aren't pseudo-problems. I didn't like "The Matrix," either. I did, however, like this modest, intelligent book very much. I had to read some paragraphs two or three times in order to grasp their meaning fully, but that was only because the material was difficult (at least for me), not because Alston writes badly. He actually writes quite clearly for an academic philosopher. I knocked off one star only because Alson didn't situate his analysis within the history of philosophy. That was too bad, since much of his argumentation recasts in modern language 18th-century debates between David Hume and Thomas Reid. General readers are entitled to intellectual history along with technical philosophy!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on May 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is the broad question that epistemologist William Alston addresses in this work; the title topic -- the reliability of sense perception -- he holds to be a special case of the reliability of basic doxastic (belief-forming) practices generally.
"Sense perception," as Alston deals with it here, covers a variety of more or less customary ways of forming beliefs, and Alston designates the whole lot of them as "sensory perception practice" (abbreviated SP throughout most of the work). The problem he faces to begin with is that there does not seem to be a _noncircular_ demonstration that SP is reliable in this way. (Though admitting that not all circularity is vicious, he nevertheless decides to avoid circular arguments himself and -- rather too summarily, I think -- dismisses coherence theories "without a hearing" for the purposes of this work.)
He devotes the bulk of the work to considerations of various sorts of argument for the reliability of SP -- simple "track record" and pragmatic arguments, _a priori_ arguments including theological ones, and empirical arguments. The burden of his own argument here is essentially to show (a) that the noncircularity problem affects all direct arguments for the reliability of SP, and (b) that this problem is not unique to SP but affects _all_ of our usual ways of forming beliefs.
His concluding chapter takes an interesting tack. He contends that even though it is not possible to offer a _direct_ (noncircular) argument that SP is reliable, nevertheless practical rationality shows that it _is_ rational to "engage in SP (and other doxastic practices)" -- that is, practical reason demands that we do go ahead and form our beliefs in the ordinary accepted ways.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Will Sharp on December 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
A couple questions about Alston's omissions:

1) Why doesn't he include dreams as being reason to doubt SP's reliability?

2) Why doesn't he include rationality and practicality as doxastic practices?

And it might have better benefited Alston to realize that the threat of epistemic circularity works two ways (this regards his final chapter anyway): Where he claims one cannot make a case for reason's reliability without presupposing reason (thus its unsupportable reliability), the same goes for the converse: You can't refute reason without presupposing it, so any reduction would beg the question as well.

So the case for reason's (and like doxastic practices') reliability begs the question, but this question begging is informed by the question begged. This epistemic "problem", if it is one, is a little more polygonal than circular.

This is an otherwise shrewd and clearly written book.

And that's all I got.

PEACE
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