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From Epistemology to Romance: Cavell on Skepticism

Author(s): Richard Rorty


Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Jun., 1981), pp. 759-774
Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20127572
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FROM EPISTEMOLOGYTO ROMANCE:


CAVELLON SKEPTICISM
RICHARD RORTY

(Parts

first,

is two books in one.

The Claim of Reason

cavell's

Stanley

1 -3) was

some

drafted

the sec

ago, whereas

years

twenty

The

ond (Part 4) was written quite recently. Most of the first book is
about epistemology, and this is the book with which I want to take
issue. So I shall spend most ofmy space on it, saying only a little about
the second.

This

is unfortunate,

more than I disagree with the first.

ductory
Moore's

hand,

book

even

studied in the standard intro

in epistemology
and all that) helps

human

about
situation,
romance.
to
temology
from the shame we have
courses

epistemology

second

But one always has more to say in

Parts 1-2 suggest that the material


course

the

in agreement.

than

disagreement

I admire

since

(Descartes'
wax,
tree,
Berkeley's
us see something
the
about
important
us
to
It
human finitude.
tries
take
from epis
us philosophy
It promises
to relieve
professors
felt

merely

ever

since we

to suspect
began
clouds
of
dust
around
up

kicked

that

our

our

stu

dents, thus enabling us to win their gratitude for leading them back
into the light. Austin, Bouwsma, Wittgenstein, Wisdom, Malcolm,
Ryle, and others all suggested that we might just shrug off the claims
which

and Berkeley

Descartes

and Moore

possible for us to teach epistemology


ideas.

Now

seriously
and Austin

tells

Cavell

that

They

we

unless

take

these

claims

(in particular)
"that

can

do

for us.

We

the human

creature's

basis

he

mustn't,

too easily, for then we may miss

it

very

1
The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein,
(Oxford: Clarendon
1979).
Press,

in the world

Review ofMetaphysics

33 (June 1981): 759-74.

Skepticism,

Copyright ?

tells

us,

"the truth of

its relation to the world as such, is not that of knowing,


what we think of as knowing" (p. 241).

edy

made

indeed we shan't get the full benefit of what Wittgenstein

shrug off skepticism


skepticism":

us

on us.

made

as just the history of some bad

Morality

as a whole,

anyway not

and Trag

1981 by theReview ofMeta

physics

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760

RICHARD RORTY
us not

wants

Cavell

What

to miss

is, to be

as

sure,

as

important

he thinks it. But does he have to drag us back through Berkeley


us

to get

Descartes

to see

it? Why

aren't

and

and Thoreau

"Rousseau

and Kierkegaard and Tolstoy and Wittgenstein"


(to cite one of Ca
vell's lists of heroes) enough? Why "the external world" again?
seems

sometimes

Cavell

as follows:

to argue

or Thoreau
or Kierkegaard
is as important as Rousseau
Wittgenstein
or Tolstoy,
for getting us to see these things. Wittgenstein
spent a lot
raised
who
claimed
to
of time discussing
doubt the
by people
problems
external world.
So we had better take such doubts seriously.

This seems tome like arguing that we should take Napoleon seriously
because of the amount of time Tolstoy spent on him inWar and
Frederick

Peace.

as well,

almost
Russian.

would

the Great
especially

external

Analogously,
as just
world

general

phenomenon:

have

if he had

been

served
purposes
Tolstoy's
an Austrian
than
rather

I think we

should view skepticism


about
the
a
a handy
more
of
much
local, English,
example
to convert
what
calls "the attempt
the
Cavell

human condition, the condition of humanity," into an intellectual diffi


stayed in Central Europe he would
culty' (p. 493). Had Wittgenstein
met

have

philosophy

who

professors

more

worried

written

ably
tention

pretty

same

to the

much

tin, Moore,
more.
These
fessors.

is not Cavell's

writers,

Perhaps

unlike

cures

It is not

a minor

the sort

something

we

off
Shrugging
to a reading
of Aus
wouldn't
read
them
any
just
are just philosophy
pro

only
matter

sensibilia,

but this is the perfunctory

hero.

one
for freeing
from
or Lewis's
about
termi

gratitude

due a doctor

on by a colleague's
ailment,
brought
malpractice.
or
one feels toward
the romantic
the
hero,
psychoan
one from monsters.
does seem
Cavell,
however,

saves
alyst, who
as a romantic
view Austin
more

books,

Wittgenstein,
to Austin

feel grateful
may
worries
about unsensed

nating judgments,
who

would

world

I. Lewis.

One

Moore's

our at

and directed

things.2

however,
Wittgenstein,
the problem
of the external
or C.

same

the

tran

the

But he would prob

scendental standpoint and less about skepticism.


have

about

than

hero.

professors.

He

even
Thus

views
he

Lewis

speaks

and Moore

of the

to
as

"genuine

ness of philosophical inspiration in the teaching of C. I. Lewis." One


of his epigraphs is a tribute by I. A. Richards to Moore's "intensity."
2
Husserl"

See

treatment
of Wittgenstein
Jacques Bouveresse's
in Le Mythe
de l'Int?riorit?
(Paris: Editions Minuit,

as "the anti
1978).

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CAVELLON SKEPTICISM 761


He dedicates The Claim of Reason in part to Austin and in part to
Thompson Clarke who, Cavell says, showed him that "the dictates of
. . . were

ordinary
language
of the enterprise

as they were

as supportive

of traditional

(p. xii).

epistemology"

erally, Cavell says that one of his motives

destructive
More

gen

is to

life that
philosophical
keep lines open to the events within American
we can call the reception
of ordinary
(sometimes
language philosophy
here primarily
and represented
called then Oxford
by
philosophy,
In
some work of J. L. Austin's)
together with that of Wittgenstein's
as if certain paths
for philosophy,
by those
opened
vestigations,
are always
in danger of falling into obscurity
(p. xiv).
events,
he

For,

says,

and of Austin has yet to


ofWittgenstein
it can seem that the reception
effect on this [our American]
have its public or historical
philosophical
is
I do not say that this is a bad thing, Wittgenstein's
culture.
writing
. . . and if
not of a character
that lends itself to professionalization
it was not to be as philosophy.
Austin wished
for professionalization,
Philo
is surprising.
Nor do I say that this lack of a certain reception
of
works
the
modernist
like
the
past
major
sophical
Investigations,
That is, such works
esoteric.
century at least, is, logically speaking,
into insiders and outsiders
seek to split their audiences
(and split each
is
member
of it). . . . If I say that the basis of the present publication
I mean
to suggest
that his
is still to be received,
that Wittgenstein
and always to be re
and of course not his alone, is essentially
work,
(p.
ceived, as thoughts must be that would refuse professionalization
xvi).

But if one is not concerned about being professional, why worry


"American

about

to current

trends

tellectuals

life"?

philosophical
in fashionable

and more.

paths

for philosophy,

latter

phrase

departments.

philosophy

can only

refer
in

Among

is in fact being read, and used

generally, Wittgenstein

more

The

certain
It is only within
departments
philosophy
are vieux jeu.
mat
Such parochial
that he, and "Oxford philosophy,"
nor
to
that "certain
conclude
lead him
ters should not concern Cavell,
opened

by these

are always

events,

in danger

of

falling into obscurity." Cavell says he wants to "understand philoso


phy not as a set of problems but as a set of texts," and believes that
...
to the subject of philosophy
"the contribution of a philosopher
is not

to be understood

as a contribution

to, or of, a set o? given

prob

lems" (pp. 3-4).


So one would have expected him to conclude that
would
be better served by forgetting the academic phil
Wittgenstein
osophical scene within which Cavell himself first read the Investiga
tions

than
Cavell's

by

recapturing
ambiguous

its mood.
attitude

towards

the

"events"

of which

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he

RICHARD RORTY

762
of an equally
ambiguous
in
Sometimes
culture.
place
losophy's
means
sense
criticism
"the
in which
it

attitude

is part

speaks

he uses
a culture

sense

"professional"

academic

phi
a
in
large
"philosophy"
of itself"
(p.
produces

(p. 125). Sometimes he uses it in

175) or "the education of grownups"


a narrow

towards

in which

it is plausible

to say

that

epis

temological skepticism is central to philosophy, and inwhich fashions


in philosophy departments matter to philosophy. He plays back and
two

forth

between

these

which

treat

"philosophy"

senses
and

in such

"skepticism"

passages
as near

as

the

following,

synonyms:

sl problem
for us, show us in what
has to make
But the philosopher
so much as be a problem.
ad
And though intellectual
sense it might
vance often depends upon someone's
ability to do just that, the conclu
takes us to goes beyond anything we should ex
sion the philosopher
which seem to proceed as his does.
from
investigations
pect
the
that fact has itself, I think, proved
To some philosophers
to others it has only demon
while
of philosophy;
power and subtlety
If one has felt both of these ways
its intellectual
strated
frivolity.
then one may come to sense that this very conflict
about skepticism,
or concealing,
some critical fact about the
itself may be displaying,
to articu
side has been able, or willing,
mind, and one which neither
late (p. 159).
. . . the methods
far from trivializing
the im
of ordinary
language,
its
without
to
of
(as
not,
many
detractors,
perhaps,
pulse
philosophy
some reason, have found it to do) show how complex and serious an
remain in
which must
ambition the criticism of philosophy,
inevitably
ternal to philosophizing
itself, ought to be (p. 166).

In the latter passage, "the impulse to philosophy" is implicitly identi


fied with the impulse to raise the sort of problems (of epistemological
skepticism) in which the "ordinary language philosophers" special
ized. Nobody, after all, has thought that the criticism of culture was
frivolous. But they have thought that philosophers were frivolously
neglecting the duty to offer such criticism by getting hung up on "the
external

world."

One would

have

thought

that,

once we were

lucky

enough

to get

and Nietzsche who resist professionaliza


writers likeWittgenstein
some
we
criticism
of philosophy which didn't remain
tion,
might get
internal to philosophy.
(As Montaigne, Spinoza, and Feuerbach gave
us criticism of religion which was not internal.) But Cavell switches
with insouciance from the narrow and professional identification of
"philosophy" with epistemology to a large sense inwhich one cannot
escape philosophy by criticizing it, simply because any criticism of
culture is to be called "philosophy." To resolve this ambiguity, Ca
vell would

have

to convince

us

that

skepticism

in the narrow

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sense,

763

CAVELLON SKEPTICISM
sense

the

in ritual

used

between

interchanges
and Moore,

(Green and Bain, Bradley


for an understanding
of skepticism

Austin
in some

professors
philosophy
and Ayer),
is important
sense.
deep and romantic

He would have to show us that "skepticism"


to try
Then

leads grownups
impulse which
to try to criticize
themselves.
sense

broad

with

the narrow,

to educate
he would
sense.

"technical,"

is a good name for the


cultures
themselves,
to connect
have
this
My main

complaint

about his book is that Cavell doesn't argue for such a connection, but
takes

it for granted.
as important

Austin

tal quaestio

He

doesn't

thinkers.

Rather,

could

juris?how

help

us

see people
like Moore
and
he answers
the transcenden

appearances

they,

perhaps

to the

con

trary, be important??while
begging the quaestio facti. He is "pro
seems
it
to
in
me,
fessional,"
just the sense that he criticizes others
for being. He takes for granted that the "philosophical problems"
with which we infect freshmen by assigning Descartes and Berkeley
are

something

the freshman

needs?not

really

just

so that he can un

derstand history, but so that he can be in touch with himself, with his
own

humanity.

II

Perhaps I can make this complaint clearer by distinguishing be


tween two intellectual phenomena which I think Cavell wrongly con
flates:
created by what
(a) The "professional"
philosopher's
skepticism
Reid called "the theory of ideas" (the theory which analyzes perception
in terms of immediately,
known givens).
certainly,
(b) The Kantian,
use have any relation

Romantic,
to the way

the words
worry about whether
the world actually
is in itself.

we

two phenomena have all sorts of historical connections, but


are
they
dialectically independent. Suppose one pooh-pooh's the the
ory of ideas in good Austinian fashion. Unlike Austin, one may still
feel something like panic at the thought that there is no way to hold
the world in one hand and our descriptions of it in the other and com

These

pare

the

two?to

get,

as Cavell

says,

Both (a) and (b) seem distinct


scribed by Cavell as

"outside

language-games."

from a third phenomenon,

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de

764

RICHARD RORTY
I have called "seeing ourselves
outside
the
(c) that experience
world as a whole,"
looking in at it, as we now look at some objects from
a position
I have found to be funda
This experience
among others.
in classical epistemology
mental
It
(and, indeed, moral philosophy).
sometimes
itself to me as a sense of powerlessness
to know the
presents
or to act upon it; I think it is also working
in the existen
world,
sense of the precariousness
tialist's (or, say, Santayana's)
and arbitrari
ness of existence,
the utter contingency
in the fact that things are as
are

they

All of existence
is squeezed
rolls it toward his overwhelming

into the philosopher's


tomato when
...
question
(p. 236).

he

The tomato in question is the one about which H. H. Price, in the


says "there is much that I can doubt."
opening pages of Perception,
The differences in tone between that work, Part 1 of Fichte's Voca
tion ofMan, andNausea might normally be accounted by saying that
Price was presupposing (a), whereas Fichte was expressing (b) and
Sartre
most

(c).
writers

Price

doesn't

on the subjects

find

nor

his

questions
overwhelming,
he discusses,
most
of the writers

do

in what

Cavell calls "the English tradition" (p. xiii). Cavell, however, lumps
these writers together with Kant, and (a) together with (b), in such
as the

passages

following:

avoided
and
skepticism
only apparently,
through distraction
sense; Berkeley
good English
through God; Descartes
through God
and a special faculty of intellectual
such a
"perception"; Kant, denying
to the ex
faulty, avoided it through world-creating
categories; Hume,
tent that he did, through
"natural belief"; Moore,
furious
through
common sense.
And all who have followed the argument
respond to it
as a discovery
one catastrophic
in its implications,
about our world,
as completely
as we be
what we all, until now, believed
overturning
lieved anything
(pp. 222-23).

Locke

The "argument" in question is the usual textbook, Pricean, one in


which we are driven to admit that we don't see a whole tomato, but
only. . . .Cavell is either being obscurely ironic, or is just wrong, in
saying that "all who have followed the argument respond to it as a
catastrophic discovery." Most of them, including Locke and Hume,
thought of the skeptical consequences of the theory of ideas in the
same way as the developers
of a revolutionary
of the "anomalies"
which
(in Kuhn's
sense)
as
them
and
view
unfortunate,
They
annoying

strophic, and providing employment


"apparently"

and

"to the extent

that,"

scientific
the
but

for epigoni.
that

Locke

think

theory

generates.
theory
no
means
cata
by

(If Cavell means by


and Hume

should,

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765

CAVELLON SKEPTICISM
then he is not making

by rights, have been overwhelmed,


wants

to make.)

visibility
relieve

The

of the rest
the

who

only people
of the tomato
tedium

classroom

the point he

about the in
go all existential
on epistemology
lecturers
who
encoun
such lecturers
When

are

by hype.

ter an unstable freshman who actually does feel the tomato to have
catastrophic implications, they hasten to join his more robust class
mates in assuring him that it is all "just philosophy."
In an attempt to establish connections between (a), (b), and (c),
Cavell connects a particular notion of knowledge which he takes to be
characteristic of "the Cartesian project" with the attempt to escape
from

human

finitude

which

he

cause

to be "the

takes

of skepticism."

He says that
as a whole,
as that is
the project of assessing
the validity of knowledge
con
the
Cartesian
is
based
prosecuted
upon a particular
by
tradition,
of knowl
(and thus leads to a particular problem
cept of knowledge
with little sense of satis
edge), viz., the concept I have characterized,
as
a
as
of
of the world's
faction,
concept
knowledge
revelatory
and I contrasted
that with a concept of knowledge
such as
existence;
a concept of knowledge
as the identification
or recognition
of
Austin's,
224).
things (p.
This

seems

contrast

to me

real

but not to serve Ca


important,
as what Kant
between
knowledge

and

vell's

It is the contrast
purposes.
told us we couldn't
have?knowledge
in
formulated
those things'
selves,

as they
rather

of things
own

language,

are

in them

than

ours?

and knowledge as justified true belief, where "justification" is the or


dinary sort given by the language-game we in fact play. Kant made
and

Romantic,

epistemology

thereby

made

room

The theory of ideas as Reid knew it, before it went


was

not

Newton

for moral

faith.

transcendental,

of the Galileo
just an incidental
spin-off
one which
did not pan out well.

It was

romantic.
world-picture,

By contrast, Cavell can connect (b) with (c), Kant with Sartre.
He can view the Kantian hope for an impossible kind of knowledge, a
unmediated

knowledge
fication,

our

[not just

our world's]

ideas

by our

language-games,

or words?knowledge
existence"?as

our patterns
of justi
of the world's
"revelatory

produced

by the Sartrean

sense

that only such an impossible sort of knowledge would overcome our


terror at the sheer contingency of things. But I do not see how he
can

connect

Pricean

puzzles

about

getting

from

perceptions

to non

perceptions with either Kantian longing or Sartrean terror.


Cavell seems to think he has made this latter connection by not
ing that, in his phrase, epistemological skepticism has to be about a

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766

RICHARD RORTY
a goldfinch but "the physical object as such,"

"generic object"?not
not

whether

about

disappointed
common-sensical
man

but

justifications
we
for
up
epistemology,

mon sense.

of these
have

answers.

to generalize

one's

questions
sister

To

set

our way

is

and

answers,
the

fresh

out of com

This is a very nice point, but it does not do the job Cavell

it to do?it

wants

To

humanoid
form."
"any passing
a
or
a
whether
it's
goldcrest,
goldfinch
are common-sensical
or pleased,
there

sister

one's

does

not

take

us across

the

channel

from Berkeley

to Kant, from (a) to (b), from perceptual error to romance. All it


shows is that we can only get the freshman from the silly stuff about
tomatoes to the heavy stuff about things-in-themselves
by dropping
a
and inculcating
the "problem
of perception,"
sense-data,
skipping
contrast
"for us" and "in itself" which
between
about
per
problems

ception do not illustrate. As long as we stick to breaking the tomato


up into sensibilia, there will be, as Austin said, "the bit where you
say it and the bit where you take it back," the bit where you decon
struct the tomato and the bit where you reconstruct it. It is only
when we drop the silly Lockean question about whether the redness
is "out

or "in us" and get

there"

to the romantic

Kantian

question

"Is

there anything beyond the coherence of our judgments to which we


can be faithful?" that the student is hooked. There is no logical con
nection

between

"for us"

vs.

"in

the
itself"

"in the mind-outside


contrast.3

"For

the mind"
us" means,

contrast

and

roughly,

the

"inside

to run
have once again started
however,
Recently,
philosophers
in
his
Des
Bernard
For
these two contrasts
Williams,
example,
together.
Descartes'
tries to rehabilitate
cartes: The Project
project
of Pure Enquiry,
of reality," a notion which Wil
conception
through a notion of "the absolute
and
in our intuition about the nature of knowledge
liams thinks involved
This
is possible.
of whether
which raises the skeptical question
knowledge
a "determinate
between
formulates
it, is ambiguous
pic
notion, as Williams
of thought"
is like independent
ture of what
the world
(p. 65) (the sort of
of the world
have) and a description
thing which Kant told us we wouldn't
are
to
not
relative
and
not
which
ours,
peculiarly
peculiarly
"using concepts
our experience"
The latter phrase
isWilliams's
(unsuc
attempt
(p. 244).
An
cessful on my view) to update Locke's notion of "resembling
objects."
vs. objective"
use of the "subjective
dis
other example
is Thomas Nagel's
a "personal"
the difference
between
and an
to cover
both
tinction
of a situation
features
account of, e.g., the morally
relevant
"impersonal"
inarticulable
and the difference
between
the linguistically
phenomenological
in ordi
of the experience
character
and a characterization
of an experience
14:
Mortal
terms.
(Cf.
nary public
Questions,
"Subjective
chap.
Nagel's
on my view, misleadingly
and Nagel,
Both Williams
yoke to
Objective")
the contrast between
the veridical
(the "objective" as the "intersub
gether

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CAVELLON SKEPTICISM 767


our

our form of life, our standards


our conventions,
and probably
is an uncashed
uncash
"In the mind"
saw very clearly.
as Reid
Kant's
world
phenomenal

language-games,

of legitimation."
able metaphor,

tomato

is not Price's

sense

makes

It is a change

scale.

for generic
objects
can leave Ayer
on to the

and hasten

serious

across

thinkers

Cavell says (in unfortunately


interested in

professionalized

a tradition,
in English,

anyway an idea, of philosophizing


as that tradition
is represented
of
ing departments
philosophy.

But,

he

a way

of subject,

shows
he doesn't want
to
just what
in the care of Austin
and Price
and

one

show?that
Ryle,

on a grand

(b) rather than (a). Cavell's point that skepticism only

of expounding

the water.

terms) that he is

opposed to the tradition


in the best English-speak

says,

I have made no effort to sophisticate


amateur ef
my early, tentative
and the Continental
I
forts to link the English
because
traditions,
want
them to show that to realign these traditions,
after their long
at any rate to write witnessing
mutual
the loss in that sepa
shunning,
of mine from the earliest of the
ration, has been a formative
aspiration
work I refer to here (p. xiii).
the

Nevertheless,

of these

strategy

of linking the traditions

is the reverse

builders

our

who

start

to deromanticize
some

from

side.

by showing
that "the object

way

we

Anglo-Americans

try

tradition by showing that it has


to romanticize

tries
As

Cavell's

of that used by most bridge

Usually

the Continental

Cavell
arguments.
that it does not.

good

is clear.

attempts

he

our own

the so-called
says,
senses
the
alone"
by

tradition

"discovery"

(p. 222) is a
a
"an invention,
of dia
stage effect, produced
by intruding
production
a
construction
called
the
senses"
lectic,
historical-philosophical
(p.
is gone,

unknowable

224). To show that this invention is not just a suitable subject for
Rube Goldberg or Ronald Searle (which is how Austin thought of it),
he has got
or at least

to show

that

as interesting

the motives
as,

for its fabrication

the motives

for various

are the
bits

same

as,

of Continen

tal apparatus.

I take it that Cavell's strategy


Sartrean
scribed

sense

of

contingency?and
and Sartre,
by Heidegger

is to find these motives


to

construe

to escape

in (c)?the

the

de
attempt,
our humanity,
our fini

as the "merely apparent")


(the "subjective"
jective") and the non-veridical
with the quite different
contrast between
the communicable
(what our con
fail to catch).
(what they may, or must,
cepts catch) and the incommunicable

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768

RICHARD RORTY
as an attempt

tude,
nary

language

to evade

sense.

this
as an

philosophy"

He wants

to construe

"to reclaim

effort

the

"ordi

human

self

from its denial and neglect by modern philosophy" (p. 154) and he
thinks of the history of this topic as suitably titled "Philosophy and
the Rejection of the Human" (p. 207). I think that Cavell is dead
in analyzing

right

the Cartesian

as an expression

project

of this need

his
to transcend our condition, but I think that he over-sophisticates
a
It seems
sufficient diagnosis of Cartesianism to say (with
point.
Maritain,

Burtt,

Gilson,

Randall,

Malcolm,

and

others)

that

Carte

sianism asks for impossible certainty, that itsmethodological solipsism


is an impossible demand to do it all by oneself. This Luciferian at
to cut oneself

tempt
only

natural

one's

what

inventing

(clear

games"

ples, primitive
Cavell,

off from God, or one's fellow-humans,


been taken as sufficient
light has usually
calls

Cavell

and distinct

"absolute
ideas,

. . . outside

simples

indubitable

sense-data,

by using
motive
for
language
first princi

terms, and so on) (p. 226).

however,

things

that

"the quest

is an inad

for certainty"

equate diagnosis of the Cartesian project. He criticizes the Deweyan


dismissal of this project "not taking the problem of the existence of
objects seriously" and says that "it is too late to tell a philosopher to
forego the quest for certainty when it is the sheer existence of objects
?of
haps

seems

at all?that
anything
he just means
that

anybody

to be at stake"
who

has

(pp. 224-25).

somehow

Per
to con

managed

nect textbook skepticism about the external world with the experi
ence of "seeing oneself outside the world as a whole" will not be
responsive

tesian
that

to the usual

illness.

somebody

This
who

treatment

Gilson-Dewey-Malcolm

is doubtless
is wholeheartedly

true.

But that seems


psychotic,

rather

of the Car

like saying
than merely

What
neurotically confused, will not be helped by psychoanalysis.
we need to understand is how it ispossible to get this far out, how one
could connect (a) with (c), how anybody could think that textbook
"English" epistemology is intimately connected with a sense of the
My complaint about Cavell's treatment
contingency of everything.
of skepticism may be summed up by saying that his book never makes
this possibility clear for someone for whom it is not yet an actuality.
It is fairly easy to connect (b)with (c): the realization that the world is
available to us only under a description hooks up with the realization
that it exists without a self-description, that it has no language of its
own which
because

one
we might
is relative

sense

no sense"
Its existence
"makes
day learn.
to descriptions
and existence
is not.
But,

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769

CAVELLON SKEPTICISM

just as I do not know how to hook up (a)with (b), I do not know how
to hook (a) up with (c) either. Thus (c) seems to me not to serve as a
useful link between (a) and (b).

Ill
So much
discussion

for my complaints,
of "external
world"

which

have

centered
in parts

skepticism

around
1 and

Cavell's

2.

I hope,

however, that dissatisfaction with the argument of these Parts will


not prevent readers from forging ahead through parts 3 and 4.
These

parts

seem

to me,

in all sorts

of ways,

far better

than what

pre

cedes.

Part 3 is still a reworking


to some

(as were,

extent,

parts

from some years back

of material
1 and 2).

Mercifully,

Cavell

however,

now drops the topic of skepticism and the attempt to recapture


importance
four short

of "ordinary
language
philosophy."
on what
is wrong
with what
essays

This

part
various
people

said about the nature of moral philosophy?Stevenson,


early

"Two Concepts

of Rules"),

and Prior.

the

consists

These

Rawls
essays

of

have

(in his

remind

us

that moral reflection cannot be identified with appeals to principle,


that morality

is not

a name

for whatever

influences

choice,

that

it provides one possibil


morality must leave itself open to repudiation;
. . . Other ways
or encompassing
conflict.
of settling
ity of settling
conflict are provided by politics,
love
and
rebel
religion,
forgiveness,
is a valuable way because
the others
lion, and withdrawal.
Morality
...
are so often inaccessible
or brutal; but it is not everything
(p.
269).

Part 3, all by itself, is one of the best books on moral philosophy


which

has

Sovereignty
must

appeared

in recent

years.

It ranks

with

Iris Murdoch's

of Good as a criticism of the notion that moral philosophy

be a search

for yet more

"absolute

simples"?self-evident

prin

ciples, basic values. Like Murdoch, Cavell criticizes the Bentham


Kant-Sidgwick notion that rational action is action on principle, and
the corollary that moral reflection is the search for a discovery of the
rules by which each of us, simply as human, is committed to living.
He

says:
rule or principle
could function in a moral context the way regula
It is as essential
to the form
tory or defining rules function in games.
of life called morality
that rules so conceived be absent as it is essential
. . .
to the form of life we call playing a game that they be present.

No

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770

RICHARD RORTY
...
a suggestion
about why philosophers
to
emerges
appeal
about morality,
and about how rules are then con
rules in theorizing
to explain why such an action as
ceived.
The appeal is an attempt
is binding upon us. But if you need an explanation
for that,
promising
if there is a sense that something more than personal
commitment
is
For rules are
then the appeal to rules comes too late.
necessary,
themselves
(p. 307).
binding only subject to our commitment

He thus helps us see the quest for "foundations ofmoral obligation" as


Both
parallel to the Cartesian quest for "foundations of knowledge."
are

to get

attempts

among

people

we

whom

as we

"natural"

we

do because

have

live, who

in a certain

talk

way.

that we are mortals, who think and

Both help us avoid acknowledging


talk

some

to find

language-games,

in touch with reality or goodness which is independent

way of getting
of the actual

outside

read

the books

we

have

read,

talked

with the people we have talked with.


They encourage us to think
that philosophy will do for us what we once religion might do?take
us right outside language, history, and finitude and put us in the pres
ence of the atemporal. They lead the philosopher to think himself so
little dependent upon his community that what he says will "work on
at random,
like a ray"
people
on the
comments
Cavell's
losophers

are much

more

(p. 326).
form of life of Anglo-Saxon
moral
phi
more
and
thus
much
clearer
and
external,

useful, than his comments in parts 1 and 2 on that of Anglo-Saxon


In the case of the moral philosophers he sees why
epistemologists.
they want to do what they do, diagnoses it quickly and surely, and
then lets go of it. In the case of the epistemologist, he insisted on
regarding
to suffer,

their

plight

as a sickness

as a necessary

stage

which

in reaching

we

somehow

intellectual

above,
(the

to confuse

temporary,

seventeenth-century

historically
of ideas,
theory

all bound
His

maturity.

insistence on the pathos and ubiquity of epistemology


argued
frenzies

are

led him, I have


little

conditioned,
ordinary

language

In part 3, by con
philosophy) with aspects of the human condition.
trast, he no longer avoids history. He briskly and brilliantly explains
(pp. 259 ff.) the connection between Galilean models of scientific ex
planation and the philosophical claim that science is "rational" in a
way that moral reflection is not. He concludes:
as
If you begin by being struck with peculiarity
of ethical arguments
and
struck
with
how
other
different
perhaps unsettleable,
questions
from science which
its ca
illustrate
are, then you will pick examples
or
then
and
will
for
have
the
you
agreement,
idea,
pacity
illusion, that
not (p. 263).
science is rational and morality
you know that, and why,

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771

CAVELLON SKEPTICISM

Applying lessons learned from Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolu


tions, Cavell in these pages does a great deal to help rid us of the dis
tinctions

between

jective,"
the warp

"fact"

and

"science"

and "value,"
life
of intellectual

"non-science,"
"objective"
and "emotion" which
"reason"
in recent

and

"sub

have

been

centuries.

Part 4 is rather perversely called "Skepticism and the Problem of


Others," but is coextensive with chapter 13, which is more helpfully
A more banal
and Avoidance."
titled "Between Acknowledgement
and informative title would have been "The Relations between Love
and Knowledge."
This
else
has
he
written.
thing
five

later

years

Love"?he

or about

philosophers,

philosophy,
such

some

tells us, later than any


is, Cavell
or twenty
In particular,
it is some twenty
in parts
of the material
1-3.
In this later

in Connecticut"
of "Leopards
and "The Avoidance
comes
into his own.
Now
he is free of worry
about

manner?that

are

than

material

what

special and deep.

makes

of
rival

or skepticism,

epistemology,

or

He just reflects on the fact that there

things.

In this part Cavell is concerned with a "problem of other minds"


which does not even pretend to hook up with the "professional" prob
lem of how, given that the logical construction of the Other's body
uses

up

the

sensory

qualia

I receive,

I have

a right

to construct

mind for him as well. Wittgenstein


taught us that this problem re
one
first describes oneself to oneself in osten
sults from thinking that
sively-learned

selves.

Mental,

So one might

the Lockean

inner

language

of the

ideas

them

expect Cavell to repeat that ifwe drop Locke

the theory of ideas we shall no longer speculate


about private
inner
of
and so on.
the
the
guages,
other,
possible
emptiness
and

lan
In

stead, Cavell shrugs all that off and goes straight to a deep reading of
such

speculations:
The wish underlying
this fantasy [of a private
language] covers a wish
a
that underlies
wish
for
the
connection
between
my
skepticism,
claims of knowledge
and the objects upon which the claims are to fall
to occur without my intervention,
As the
apart from my agreements.
In the case of knowing myself,
wish stands, it is unappeasable.
such
I must disappear
self-defeat would be doubly exquisite:
in order that
. . .
search for myself
be successful
(pp. 351-52).

This reading uproots the "problem of other minds" from the soil in
which it is usually taken to have sprouted?empiricism
and phenome
across
now
nalism?and
it
the
It
is
Channel.
the sort of
transplants
problem you have after reading the Phenomenology
of Spirit, or the

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772

RICHARD RORTY

This is a
Critique of Practical Reason, or Being and Nothingness.
to
if
want
to
do
find
to
you
say about
good thing
something interesting
It ignores the question of whether the "professional,"
Other Minds.
"English," epistemological question has anything to do with romantic
Kantian questions, whether (a) has anything to do with (b).
of later over earlier Cavell?of
of the advantages
part 4 over
this question.
For now he is no
that he does
1-2?is
ignore
parts
with
what
the
do.
about
concerned
up
"professionals"
hooking
longer
One

This permits him, at last, to explain what he was hinting at in earlier


about

passages

the human

"reclaiming

self"

and modern

philosophy's

"rejection of the human." What he has inmind is summed up in such


as the

passages

following:

to which the claim of


that there are possibilities
skeptic insinuates
or:
its
the
shuts
whose
claim
of certainty
shuts.
eyes;
eyes
certainty
It is the voice, or an imitation of the voice, of intellectual
conscience.
It is the voice of human con
"They are shut."
Wittgenstein
replies,
. . . In the face of the
science.
limited
skeptic's picture of intellectual
a picture of human finitude
ness, Wittgenstein
proposes
(p. 431).
The

Where
novels,

else can we find out about human finitude?


plays,

epistemology

and works
courses,

"English" philosophy

of "Continental"
or in the

rather
philosophy
on science
of reflection

sort

in

Presumably

in

than
in which

specializes:

in it human
science fiction cannot house tragedy because
limitations
can from the beginning
This idea helps me explain my
be by-passed.
in intuition from those philosophers
who take it that a scien
difference
or fiction, is sufficient
to suggest
for ex
tific speculation,
scepticism;
a
a
I
I
in
vat
know
brain
for
that
all
be
the
may
(p.
speculation
ample,
457).

The human self which philosophy has been avoiding is the one de
scribed in all the vocabularies which are of no use for predicting and
are useless
which
for science,
vocabularies
controlling
people?the
as
"Litera
when
it
is
conceived
and for philosophy
quasi-science.
is no universal
reli
and Sartre,
that there
ture" tells us, as do Hegel

gious,

or scientific,

about,

or dealing

or philosophical

with,

our

to use

vocabulary

fellow-humans,

but

that we

in talking
cannot

help

thinking that there must be:


and comedy are all but
Tragedy
true descriptions
endless
among
Pre-Kantian,

pre-Romantic,

filled with this possibility?that


of me tells who I am (p. 388).

philosophy,

was

filled

with

one

assurance

that that possibility had been actualized. The self-knowledge which


was prevented by this kind of philosophy (a kind which survives in

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773

CAVELLON SKEPTICISM
Anglo-Saxon philosophy departments,
elsewhere) is the knowledge that

though pretty much

extinct

an initial sanity requires recogniz


respect to the external world,
cannot
whereas with respect to others a
I
live
that
my skepticism,
ing
I do (p. 451).
final sanity requires
that I can.
recognizing

with

This makes "final sanity" consist in getting out from under the im
pulse which led to "professional" philosophy, in escaping the tempta
tion

"to convert

the human

the

condition,

condition

of humanity,

into

an intellectual difficulty" (p. 493). In one of the best remarks in part


4?a part which, though it has its arid stretches, is studded with
splendid

sentences?Cavell

says

is the mark of tragedy.


This
Not finitude, but the denial of finitude,
It was to free
denial of finitude has also been taken as the mark of sin.
under
of that libel of sinfulness
that Blake and Nietzsche
humanity
to deny the distinction
the finite and the infi
between
took, as it were,
nite in thinking of the human (p. 455).

I doubt that the aim of "modern" writing has been better stated than
in this final phrase.

IV

Reason
important

I hope that my account of the various parts of The Claim of


has made clear that its second half (parts 3 and 4) makes it
book,

a prospective

and why

reader

not be daunted

should

by

parts 1 and 2, nor by Cavell's (occasionally) heavy-handed style. One


way of describing its importance is to say that it helps us realize what
did for us. Unlike Austin and Ryle, he did not just help
Wittgenstein
us

of ideas.
shrug off the theory
our
moral
of
worth
epistemology

form of life. Philosophy

came

our

might

also

courses,

professors

writers

of the century
we
which
habits

He

raised

the question

of the

discipline,

of our

of our

are lucky that one of the great

among us, and left behind


never
have
formulated

a description
of
for ourselves.

suffered from, and constantly complained about, the


Wittgenstein
company he had to keep in the course of this endeavor. But he kept
at it, and produced writings which even the determined efforts of a
host

of commentators

will

not

be able

to construe

as offering

"philo

sophical theories" or "solutions to philosophical problems." Cavell is


one of the few interpreters Wittgenstein
so far has had who (at least

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RICHARD RORTY

774

in part 4 of his book) is free from the temptation so to construe him.4


He is also one of the few who puts him in suitable company?that
of
Rousseau

and

Nietzsche,

the friends of finitude,

Thoreau,

Kierkegaard

and

Tolstoy,

Blake

and

the friends of man.5

Princeton

University.

4
of these happy few is James C. Edwards.
See his forthcom
Another
and
the
Moral
Ethics
Without
Life (Univer
Philosophy:
Wittgenstein
ing
and Edwards's
taken to
of Florida,
Cavell's
1981).
books,
sity Presses
a
has recently
turned
that Wittgenstein
commentary
suggest
gether,
corner.

5 am
I
grateful
this review.

to John Cooper

for helpful

comment

on the first draft of

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