I start with two basic lines of response to Cartesian skepticism about the ‘external world’: in the first, which is characteristic of Analytic philosophers to this day, the focus is on the meaning of ‘know’—what it ‘refers’ to, its ‘semantics’ and its ‘pragmatics’; in the second, which characterizes Continental responses to Descartes, the focus is on the philosophizing or meditating subject, and its relation to its body and world. I argue that the first approach is hopeless: if the Cartesian worry that I could be dreaming right now so much as makes sense, the proposal that—under some theory of knowledge (or of ‘knowledge’)—my belief that I am sitting in front of the computer right now may still be (or truly count as) a piece of knowledge, would rightfully seem to the skeptic to be playing with words and missing the point. I then argue that the practice of Ordinary Language Philosophy, which has mostly been linked to the first line of response to Cartesian skepticism, may be seen as actually belonging with the second line of response; and I show how a form of what may be called “Existentialist Ordinary Language Philosophy” can be used to reveal the nonsensicality of the Cartesian skeptical worry. My argument takes its cue from Thompson Clarke’s insight—an insight that Clarke himself has not pursued far or accurately enough—that our concept of Dream is not a concept of the “standard type.”
In Baz (2012) I offer an extended defense of this feature of Austin’s practice.
Thus, while I agree with Kaplan (2000) that philosophical accounts of (our concept of) knowledge should be beholden to our ordinary and normal employment of ‘know’ and cognates, on pain of being beholden to nothing real, I think he is wrong in supposing, in Kaplan (2011), that such an account can lead to direct refutation of Cartesian skepticism.