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In Search of the Plain and the Philosophical

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Skepticism, Transcendence, and Self-Knowledge

image of International Journal for the Study of Skepticism

In this paper, I take up Thompson Clarke’s distinction between “philosophical” and “plain” ways of understanding a question that could be expressed with the words, “how do you know…?” Clarke argues that this distinction has two important implications. First, philosophical skepticism would stand in an “indirect” relation with its “plain” counterparts, so that what the philosopher is examining is not, as it might initially seem, a plain claim to know, but rather what Clarke calls “philosophical common sense.” Second, if philosophical common sense is intelligible then it cannot be defended: philosophical skepticism would be unavoidable. For Clarke philosophical common sense is intelligible, only if our “conceptual human constitution” is of the “standard type,” and our “conceptual human constitution” is of the “standard type” only if the concepts of dreaming and waking do not have a “knowability requirement” built into them. I defend the claim that these concepts have a “knowability requirement” by tracing the “knowability requirement” to the nature of judgment itself: in particular to what I describe as the priority of the first-person point of view in the constitution of states of judgment. If this is right, the only intelligible questions of the form “how do you know…?” are of the plain variety, and any satisfying treatment of skepticism would have to forego a defense of “philosophical common sense.”

Affiliations: 1: Auburn University,


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