From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on skepticism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on skepticism. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy books on skepticism in no particular order.
Scepticism: A Very Short Introduction – Duncan Pritchard
Publisher description: Throughout history scepticism and the urge to question accepted truths has been a powerful force for change and growth. Today, as we are bombarded by adverts, scientific studies praising the latest superfoods, and political rhetoric, a healthy amount of scepticism is widely encouraged. But when is such scepticism legitimate – for example, as a driver of new ideas – and when is it problematic? And what role might adopting a sceptical outlook play in leading an intellectually virtuous life?
In this Very Short Introduction Duncan Pritchard explores both the advantages of scepticism, in challenging outdated notions, and also how it can have unhelpful social consequences, in generating distrust. He considers the role of scepticism at the source of contemporary social and political movements such as climate change denial, post-truth politics, and fake news. Pritchard also examines the philosophical arguments for a radical form of scepticism which maintains that knowledge is impossible, and explores some of the main responses to these arguments. Finally, he considers the part scepticism might play in applying better thinking and learning to achieve a more meaningful life.
Skepticism in Philosophy: A Comprehensive, Historical Introduction – Henrick Lagerlund
Publisher description: In this book, Henrik Lagerlund offers students, researchers, and advanced general readers the first complete history of what is perhaps the most famous of all philosophical problems: skepticism. As the first of its kind, the book traces the influence of philosophical skepticism from its roots in the Hellenistic schools of Pyrrhonism and the Middle Academy up to its impact inside and outside of philosophy today.
Along the way, the book covers skepticism during the Latin, Arabic, and Greek Middle Ages and during the Renaissance before moving on to cover Descartes’ methodological skepticism and Pierre Bayle’s super-skepticism in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, it deals with Humean skepticism and the anti-skepticism of Reid, Shepherd, and Kant, taking care to also include reflections on the connections between idealism and skepticism (including skepticism in German idealism after Kant). The book covers similar themes in a chapter on G.E. Moore and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and then ends its historical overview with a chapter on skepticism in contemporary philosophy. In the final chapter, Lagerlund captures some of skepticism’s impact outside of philosophy, highlighting its relation to issues like the replication crisis in science and knowledge resistance.
Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader – DeRose & Warfield
Publisher description: Recently, new life has been breathed into the ancient philosophical topic of skepticism. The subject of some of the best and most provocative work in contemporary philosophy, skepticism has been addressed not only by top epistemologists but also by several of the world’s finest philosophers who are most known for their work in other areas of the discipline.
Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader brings together the most important recent contributions to the discussion of skepticism. Covering major approaches to the skeptical problem, it features essays by Anthony Brueckner, Keith DeRose, Fred Dretske, Graeme Forbes, Christopher Hill, David Lewis, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, Hilary Putnam, Ernest Sosa, Gail Stine, Barry Stroud, Peter Unger, and Ted Warfield. The book opens with a thorough introduction that outlines the skeptical problem, explains the dominant responses to skepticism, and discusses the strengths, weaknesses, and unresolved issues of each response, providing undergraduate students and nonphilosophers with the background and context necessary to understand the essays. Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader serves as an ideal text for courses in epistemology and skepticism and will also appeal to professional philosophers and interested general readers.
The Oxford Handbook of Skepticism – John Greco
Publisher description: In the history of philosophical thought, few themes loom as large as skepticism. Skepticism has been the most visible and important part of debates about knowledge. Skepticism at its most basic questions our cognitive achievements, challenges our ability to obtain reliable knowledge; casting doubt on our attempts to seek and understand the truth about everything from ethics, to other minds, religious belief, and even the underlying structure of matter and reality. Since Descartes, the defense of knowledge against skepticism has been one of the primary tasks not just of epistemology but philosophy itself.
The Oxford Handbook of Skepticism features twenty-six newly commissioned chapters by top figures in the field. Part One contains articles explaining important kinds of skeptical reasoning. Part Two focuses on responses to skeptical arguments. Part Three concentrates on important contemporary issues revolving around skepticism. As the first volume of its kind, the articles make significant contributions to the debate on skepticism.
Meditations on First Philosophy – Rene Decartes
Publisher description: This edition contains Donald Cress’s completely revised translation of the Meditations (from the corrected Latin edition) and recent corrections to Discourse on Method, bringing this version even closer to Descartes’s original, while maintaining the clear and accessible style of a classic teaching edition.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – David Hume
Publisher description: A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume’s response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, which anticipates discussions developed in the Enquiry.
In his concise Introduction, Eric Steinberg explores the conditions that led Hume to write the Enquiry and the work’s important relationship to Book I of Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
On Certainty – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Publisher description: Written over the last 18 months of his life and inspired by his interest in G. E. Moore’s defense of common sense, this much discussed volume collects Wittgenstein’s reflections on knowledge and certainty, on what it is to know a proposition for sure.
The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism – Barry Stroud
Publisher description: This book raises questions about the nature of philosophy by examining the source and significance of one central philosophical problem: how can we know anything about the world around us? Stroud discusses and criticizes the views of such philosophers as Descartes, Kant, J.L. Austin, G.E. Moore, R. Carnap, W.V. Quine, and others.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Forms of Philosophical Skepticism – University of Chicago
- Skepticism – University of Pittsburgh
- Skepticism – University of Colorado Boulder
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Skepticism
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Contemporary Skepticism
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Epistemology
- The Best Philosophy Books on Truth
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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