Cavell, Skepticism, and the Ordinary Mind
Ritter, Eric Joseph
My Cavellian argument is that the form or space of skeptical questioning – regardless of whether we are asking about the veridicality of the appearance of another’s pain, about the veridicality of the meaning of a word or phrase, about the veridicality of a perception, etc. -- leaves behind the ordinary, finite, and social activities and practices which make meaningful language use possible. But Cavell does not mean “left behind” in the sense that returning to these finite and social practices of language use will defeat skepticism; Cavell thinks that the direct attempt to defeat skepticism has still not adequately understood what the appearance of a skeptical problem has deflected. Rather, in Cavell’s philosophy, if we return to the everyday use of language after working through the threat of skepticism and after coming to terms with what lead us into skeptical thinking, what we find is a renewed (linguistic) relation to the felt life of the ordinary mind, one which acknowledges those “unhandsome” elements of our condition which skepticism would seek to deny. In later work, Cavell will describe the proper response to skepticism as a transformation of the “actual everyday” into the “eventual everyday.” With respect to the question of how language corresponds to or represents the world, I suggest, throughout this dissertation, that this question is a confused response to the fact of our inheritance of language and culture, the fact that we are born into a social, already-made system of meanings over which in many ways we have astonishingly little freedom. And that conclusion, I argue – the conclusion that a particular form of skepticism deflects – is yet another starting point for Cavell’s philosophy, an insight brought out through an engagement with skepticism.