Davidson Response To Skepticism Analysis

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Donald Davidson and John McDowell both present responses to skepticism of the external world. Skepticism of the external world arises from the realization that our perceptions are fallible and that there is no real justification for believing that an external world exists over believing that we are all just in a dream. Davidson presents a coherence theory as a response to skepticism, stating that a belief about the external world, in this case, is most likely true if it is not contradictory with a significant body of beliefs (Davidson 307). McDowell criticizes Davidson’s theory and presents a new theory that says experience has conceptual content, and therefore can serve as justification for our beliefs (McDowell 26). There are many issues …show more content…
He claims that Davidson’s view causes an oscillation between “frictionless spinning in the void” and the given (McDowell 14). He argues that Davidson’s view entails skepticism, rather than avoids it, because radical interpretation does not ensure that all beliefs are true (McDowell 14). McDowell provides a counterexample in which a brain in a vat believes it is having certain experiences (McDowell 16). Davidson’s radical interpretation argues that we would interpret the beliefs that the brain is having as being true beliefs about its electronic atmosphere (McDowell 17). For example, if the brain believes that it is down the beach, the radical interpreter interprets this belief to be that a certain neuron is firing. Assuming that this radical interpretation confirms the truth of a body of beliefs poses a few problems. One issue that McDowell points out is that beliefs seem disconnected from reality because, in Davidson’s model, experience is outside of the conceptual sphere, meaning that our beliefs and our experience are not in the same realm, hence the term “frictionless spinning” (McDowell 17). This is a problem because it entails that beliefs have no rational constraint from reality, thus they do not have content (McDowell 17). Also, the idea of radical interpretation causes the there to be a disconnect between the person and his/her beliefs because if a …show more content…
McDowell’s view does seem to overcome Kantian skepticism, but it does not deal with Cartesian skepticism. McDowell claims that when we experience something we take in fact, which allows experience to serve as justification for beliefs (McDowell 26). For example, if I see a pencil and then believe that I see a pencil, I can use my vision as justification for my belief that I see a pencil. I will grant that this overcomes Kantian skepticism, however; I do not think his view allows him to ignore Cartesian skepticism. The basis for Cartesian skepticism is that our perceptions are sometimes unreliable, for example, when we are dreaming or hallucinating. As a result, we cannot know if the external world actually exists or if we are in a dream. McDowell grants that perceptions can be unreliable but says that we can ignore this issue if we adopt his idea that experience is openness to reality (McDowell 112). I do agree with McDowell that his idea is not unintelligible even if we grant that our senses can be deceiving, however; I do not think this gives him authority to ignore the questions that arise from Cartesian skepticism because his theory can still be challenged by a Cartesian skeptic. For example, someone can say, “I see a desk in front of me,” but someone else can just ask “How do you know you are not dreaming,” to which

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