Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary

By Stephen Mulhall | Go to book overview

6
Criteria, Counting, and Recounting

As I acknowledged at the beginning of Chapter 4, my separation of Cavell's treatment of scepticism about the external world from his treatment of scepticism about other minds was a highly artificial strategy, motivated solely by the desire to enhance the surveyability of this complex material. It is, however, impossible to track the development of Cavell's thought beyond The Claim of Reason without taking very seriously the degree to which he sees these two modes or aspects of scepticism as inextricably interwoven. Accordingly, in this chapter my aim will be to isolate and examine Cavell's reasons for holding this view, and to trace out some of the consequences which flow from it. In particular, I want to examine what would follow if we could legitimately transfer a version of the idea of empathic projection (which is central to Cavell's investigation of other-minds scepticism) into our understanding of external-world scepticism. For it is with this speculation that Cavell begins to draw his work in The Claim of Reason to a close.

Doesn't the concept of empathic projection make the idea of knowing others too special a project from the beginning, as if the knowing of objects could take care of itself, whereas what goes into the knowing of others is everything that goes into the knowing of objects plus something else, something that, as it were, animates the object? . . . This idea may have the whole process of perception . . . backwards. It makes equal sense -- at least equal -- to suppose that the natural (or, the biologically more primitive) condition of human perception is of (outward) things, whether objects or persons, as animated; so that it is the seeing of objects as objects (i.e. seeing them objectively, as non-animated) that is the sophisticated development . . . ( CR441)

Of course, the crucial objection to such an idea is that it seems to introduce the notion of animism into the sceptical problematic. Cavell's investigation thus becomes focussed on the question of whether the (perhaps biologically primitive) idea of perceiving objects as animated can itself be given a sophisticated development in anything other than a merely 'literary' or 'metaphorical' sense. Is there anything in that idea from which philosophy can draw genuine guidance?

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