Stroud, Austin, and Radical Skepticism

Sképsis 14:57-75 (2016)
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Is ruling out the possibility that one is dreaming a requirement for a knowledge claim? In “Philosophical Scepticism and Everyday Life” (1984), Barry Stroud defends that it is. In “Others Minds” (1970), John Austin says it is not. In his defense, Stroud appeals to a conception of objectivity deeply rooted in us and with which our concept of knowledge is intertwined. Austin appeals to a detailed account of our scientific and everyday practices of knowledge attribution. Stroud responds that what Austin says about those practices is correct in relation to the appropriateness of making knowledge claims, but that the skeptic is interested in the truth of those claims. In this paper, we argue that Stroud’s defense of the alleged requirement smuggles in a commitment to a kind of internalism, which asserts that the perceptual justification available to us can be characterized independently of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. In our reading of Austin, especially of Sense & Sensibilia, he rejects that kind of internalism by an implicit commitment to what is called today a “disjunctive” view of perception. Austin says that objectivity is an aspect of knowledge, and his disjunctivism is part of an explanation of why the alleged requirement is not necessary for a knowledge claim. Since both Stroud and Austin are committed to the objectivity of knowledge, Stroud may ask which view of perceptual knowledge is correct, whether the internalist or the disjunctive. We argue that by paying closer attention to what Austin says about our practices of knowledge attribution, one can see more clearly that it is grounded not only on a conception of objectivity, but also on a conception of ourselves as information agents, a conception that is as deeply rooted as that of the objectivity of knowledge. This gives us moral and practical reasons to favor the disjunctive view of perception.
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