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That Object of Obscure Desire

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image of International Journal for the Study of Skepticism

This essay looks at Thompson Clarke’s two published essays in the context of his doctoral dissertation. In the dissertation the topics of those essays fit into a general scheme. There is supposed to be a uniform form of “inquiry,” which, as Clarke sees it, is present in both the case for skepticism (a pessimistic view of the possibility of knowledge) and a supposed case for sense data. He uses the term ‘inquiry’ to stress that it is not an argument, but rather a particular way of raising the question, which makes both skepticism and sense data seem, where they do, inescapable. The essay, “Seeing Surfaces and Physical Objects,” is meant to be a simple example of an inquiry of the relevant type. The inquiry in the case of skepticism is carried out, or at least sketched in some detail, in the other published essay, “The Legacy of Skepticism,” which argues compellingly that that case collapses. The inquiry in the case of sense data was never spelled out, or at least in neither the essays nor the dissertation. The argument of the present essay is that there simply is no such inquiry. The idea of sense data does not parallel the idea of skepticism in such ways, which helps illuminate the difference between perceptual and cognitive awareness.

Affiliations: 1: King’s College


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1. Clarke T. (1962). The Nature of Traditional Epistemology. Dissertation, Harvard University.
2. ——. (1965). “"Seeing Surfaces and Physical Objects",” in Black M. (ed.), Philosophy in America, 98114. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
3. ——. (1972). “"The Legacy of Skepticism",” Journal of Philosophy Vol 64: 754769.
4. Frege G. (1918). “"Der Gedanke",” Beiträge zur Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus Vol 2: 5877.
5. ——. (1983). “"17 Kernsätze zur Logik",” in Nachgelassene Schriften, 2nd edition, 189190. Hamburg: Felix Meiner. (First published in 1882.)
6. Prichard H. (1950a). Perception and Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
7. ——. (1950b). “"Perception",” in Prichard (1950a), 5268.
8. ——. (1950c). “"History of the Theory of Knowledge: Descartes’ Meditations",” in Prichard (1950a), 71103.
9. ——. (1950d). “"The Sense Datum Fallacy",” in Pritchard (1950a), 200214.
10. Travis C. (2011). Objectivity and the Parochial. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
11. Wittgenstein L. (1982). Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, volume Vol I. Oxford: Blackwell.

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