The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

I think that when we first encounter the sceptical reasoning outlined in the previous chapter we find it immediately gripping. It appeals to something deep in our nature and seems to raise a real problem about the human condition. It is natural to feel that either we must accept the literal truth of the conclusion that we can know nothing about the world around us, or else we must somehow show that it is not true. Accepting it and holding to it consistently seem disastrous, and yet rejecting it seems impossible. But what is the 'literal truth' of that conclusion? Both responses depend on a firm understanding of what it says and means; without that there would be nothing determinate to accept as true or to reject as false. That proper understanding of the sceptical conclusion is what I want to concentrate on. That is why I suggest we look to the source of that conclusion—how it is arrived at and how it becomes so unavoidable—and in particular at just how closely Descartes's requirement that the dream-possibility must always be eliminated corresponds to our ordinary standards or requirements for knowledge in everyday life.

In suggesting that we try to determine exactly what the sceptical reasoning manages to establish I do not mean to deny that it does raise deep problems about the human condition and can reveal something of great significance about human knowledge. It might seem as if that is not so, since it might seem that as soon as we even glance in the direction of the standards and procedures we follow in everyday life we will find that there is nothing at all in Descartes's argument. It is obvious that we do not always insist that people know they are not dreaming before we allow that they know something in everyday life, or even in science or a court of law, where the standards are presumably

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