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The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism$
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Barry Stroud

Print publication date: 1984

Print ISBN-13: 9780198247616

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198247613.001.0001

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Coda: The Quest for a Diagnosis

Coda: The Quest for a Diagnosis

(p.255) VII Coda: The Quest for a Diagnosis
The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

Barry Stroud (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Chapter 7 discusses two related attempts to diagnose a mistake in the sceptical reasoning on the basis of the insight that what an expression means is a function of what it is used to mean or to say on specific occasions by human beings.

S. Cavell argues that scepticism should be rejected because every claim to knowledge needs a specific context in which it is made; without such a specific context, no sceptical question can arise because no knowledge claim is made, and within such a context no sceptical question can arise either because every concrete claim to knowledge carries with it specific conditions that cannot be generalized. Stroud replies that the absence of a specific, concrete claim to knowledge does not make it impossible for us to assess our epistemic situation, and that it is so far unclear why the sceptic, in the course of such an assessment, cannot reach the kind of general conclusion he seeks.

T. Clarke employs a distinction between a ‘plain’ and a ‘philosophical’ way of understanding knowledge claims to show that the dream possibility could not be used to bring all of our knowledge of the world into question in the way the sceptic intends. But, Stroud argues, the argument rests on the assumption that, in order to call some knowledge into question, some other actual or at least possible knowledge must be presupposed, and this assumption seems mistaken, or at least highly questionable. The traditional conception of objectivity, which is bound up closely with scepticism, seems to be correct: the truth of ‘I am dreaming’, which must be ruled out if I am to know, depends on what state I am in with respect to the world around me, but not on whether anyone else does or could know about that world.

Keywords:   S. Cavell, claims to knowledge, T. Clarke, Diagnosis, objectivity, ‘philosophical’ understanding, ‘plain’ understanding, specific context

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