Philosophical Scepticism and Everyday Life

Barry Stroud

in The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

Published in print July 1984 | ISBN: 9780198247616
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598494 | DOI:
 Philosophical Scepticism and Everyday Life

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Chapter 2 focuses on the challenge to the sceptical reasoning that what Descartes says is a requirement for everyday knowledge of the world – and would destroy all everyday knowledge of the world if it were a genuine requirement because it cannot be fulfilled – is in fact no such requirement at all.

A particularly persuasive and influential version of that line of criticism is found in the work of J. L. Austin, who in his paper ‘Other Minds’ tries to show how the traditional philosophical investigation of knowledge significantly deviates from our normal practices. Austin observes that in our ordinary assessments of claims to knowledge we always presuppose a specific doubt about some specific knowledge claim, and he insists that a specific doubt about a specific knowledge claim can only be raised if there is some reason to think that a specific possibility that would undermine that knowledge claim actually obtains; if so, it would seem that there is no room for doubts about knowledge claims that rest on purely abstract considerations about possiblities that might obtain, or cannot be excluded, and therefore no room for a completely general scepticism of the kind Descartes envisions.

Drawing a distinction between conditions of assertion and conditions of truth, Stroud argues that even if we grant the point Austin makes about our ordinary assessments of knowledge it still does not follow that Descartes deviates in his reasoning from our everyday standards and procedures and changes or distorts the meaning of the word ‘know’. The requirement that there must be some ‘special reason’ for thinking a certain possibility might obtain should be seen as a requirement on the appropriate or reasonable assertion of knowledge, but not necessarily as a requirement on knowledge itself; and if the possibility that one is dreaming is a possibility that one must know not to obtain if one is to know something about the world, as the sceptic can plausibly insist it is, then one will simply not know that thing about the world if one has not been able to eliminate that possibility – even though it might be completely inappropriate or unreasonable on particular occasions in everyday life to insist on ruling out that possibility before saying that one knows.

Keywords: J. L. Austin; conditions of assertion; Conditions of knowledge; everyday life; Ordinary assessments of knowledge; ‘Other Minds’; Philosophical Scepticism; requirements of knowledge; specific reasons for doubt

Chapter.  18584 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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