1 Philosophical Skepticism – Cartesian Skepticism (External World & Other Minds)


In this first lecture, James Conant introduces the epistemological problem of skepticism as it occurs within the traditional Cartesian framework. He focuses mainly on external world skepticism and the skeptical problem of other minds, but later introduces what he calls Kantian skepticism and discusses how it relates to classical Cartesian skepticism.

“How often, asleep at night, am I convinced of just such familiar events – that I am here in my dressing-gown, sitting by the fire – when in fact I am lying undressed in bed! Yet at the moment my eyes are certainly wide awake when I look at this piece of paper; I shake my head and it is not asleep; as I stretch out and feel my hand I do so deliberately, and I know what I am doing. All this would not happen with such distinctness to someone asleep. Indeed! As if I did not remember other occasions when I have been tricked by exactly similar thoughts while asleep! As I think about this more carefully, I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep … Suppose then that I am dreaming, and that these particulars– that my eyes are open, that I am moving my head and stretching out my hands – are not true. Perhaps, indeed, I do not even have such hands or such a body at all.” Descartes

“The a priori conditions of a possible experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of objects of experience. Now I maintain that the categories … are nothing but the conditions of thought in a possible experience … And without such unity no thoroughgoing, universal, and therefore necessary, unity of consciousness would be met with in the manifold of perceptions. These perceptions would not then belong to any experience, consequently would be without an object, merely a blind play of representations, less even than a dream.” Immanuel Kant

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