Disentangling Cartesian Global Skepticism from Cartesian Problematic External-World Idealism in Kant’s Refutation

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 102 (2): 242-260. (2020)
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Kant’s Refutation targets what he calls the problematic idealist. This is understood by the mainstream of Kantian scholarship as the global skeptic that Descartes briefly adumbrated in his first Meditation. The widespread view in the literature is that the fate of the Refutation is tied to its success as an argument against this Cartesian global skepticism. This consensus is what I want to question in this paper. I argue that Kant’s opponent – the problematic idealist – is not the Cartesian global skeptic but rather what I prefer to call here the Cartesian problematic external-world idealist. According to Cartesian global skepticism, we cannot know whether our commonsensical beliefs are true until we rule out that the skeptical hypotheses are false. In contrast, the Cartesian external-world idealist sees as problematic the assumption that the underlying nature of outer things of which we have ideas is mind-independent rather than caused by our own thinking. My aim here is to disentangle Cartesian global skepticism from Cartesian problematic external-word idealism and show that, if measured against global skepticism, Kant’s Refutation is doomed to fail, while against problematic idealism, it is at least a promising argument.

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Roberto Horácio De Pereira
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro


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