The Problem of the External World

Barry Stroud

in The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

Published in print July 1984 | ISBN: 9780198247616
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598494 | DOI:
 The Problem of the External World

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Chapter 1 sets out the Problem of the External World to which scepticism is a natural response: the problem, first posed by Descartes in his First Meditation, of how to show that we have any knowledge about the world around us.

Reflecting on the nature of his sensory experiences, Descartes finds himself unable to rule out the possibility that he is dreaming and, on that account, driven to the devastating conclusion that he knows nothing at all about the world around him. Stroud argues that if Descartes is right to insist that in order to know something about the world around him he must know that he is not dreaming, then he is also right that he has no such knowledge, because the condition for knowledge that Descartes accepts can never be fulfilled: fulfilling it would require knowledge which itself would be possible only if the condition were fulfilled.

The more promising strategy in the face of the sceptical argument, therefore, is to examine more carefully the requirement that we must know that we are not dreaming if we are to know anything about the world around us.

But if that requirement is a fact of our ordinary conception of knowledge, as it seems to be, we must accept it, because there is no notion of knowledge other than the ordinary one that is embodied in the procedures and practices of everyday and scientific life; and unless we find a way of rejecting the problem altogether, we will have to accept with it the conclusion that no one knows anything about world around us.

Keywords: conditions of knowledge; Descartes; dreaming; First Meditation; ordinary conception of knowledge; Possibility of knowledge; Problem of the External World; rejection of the problem; sceptical argument; sceptical experience

Chapter.  16546 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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