called “Knowing and Acknowledging,” Cavell introduces his special use of and The force of acknowledgment, however, perhaps nowhere informs Cavell’s. What we’ll doFor our last meeting of the year, we’ll discuss Stanley Cavell’s essay “Knowing and Acknowledging” from Must we mean. Cavell Knowing Acknowledging Red – Download as PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or read online.

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Beginning with Descartes, traditional skeptical philosophy asks whether we can know anything at all. These kinds of questions lead me to a feeling of isolation which, in its extreme, I call despair. In this paper I will explain what this despair is and how I think it arises.

Next, I will explore reasons why traditional skeptics like Russell are not in despair. Following this, I will discuss the cafell by Cavell and Wittgenstein to resolve the problem of uncertainty and, aand extension, the problem of despair. Firstly, I will clarify knoding I mean by despair and explicate the reason why I think philosophy brings one to this state.

Despair arises out of the skeptical tradition in Western European philosophy. Descartes acknowledgiing out in search of a ground that can serve as a foundation for all his knowledge. He finds this ground in his own subjective certainty that he is “a thinking thing” Descartes I think this method of doubt, by which one subjects all previously unquestioned assumptions to careful scrutiny, leads to a feeling of separateness from other human beings.

Favourite Thinkers I: Stanley Cavell

For cavsll, this slippery slope which leads inevitably to a solipsistic position is deeply disconcerting. Contemplation of this absence of certainty increases my feeling of isolation in the world and, as a result, creates what I call despair; the feeling I have at the moment when I realize that everything I have ever believed is uncertain including the existence of other minds.

We engage deeply with these skeptical questions only in philosophy. On a daily basis we operate under the assumption that these questions are secondary; we presuppose certainty. I think that when cavfll aspects of daily life which ordinarily go unquestioned are challenged, “a perfectly good reason [should] be found” Russell In the moment of despair, I “have fallen into a davell whirlpool” of confusion and I cannot see a way out Descartes In my attempts to orient myself, I have read the solutions offered by Acknowledgkng, Wittgenstein and Cavell but, still, I am not satisfied.

I have a strong sense of the magnitude of the problems these questions create. I remain in despair because I have yet to resolve them.

Why ask these skeptical questions if they lead to this despair? Wittgenstein tries to make us stop asking these questions, but Cavell tells us why we must take them seriously.

Cavell asserts in response to ordinary language critics who dismiss skeptical questions that there are good reasons why we ask skeptical questions.

The fact that I cannot know that another person is in pain is something that ought to concern me. He asserts that there is a sense of separateness that the skeptic is pointing to, it is something “real”, and neither appeals to ordinary language nor to common sense constitute an adequate “repudiation” of the skeptical position Cavell He defends this view by arguing that we can understand what the skeptic is saying because at the core of what the skeptic seeks is truth.

Taking the example of our ability to feel pain, Cavell addresses the skeptical claim that it is not possible to know that two people are actually feeling the same pain.

There are two senses in which we say that something is the same: If you and I both have the same car, this generally means that there are two cars of the same design. In this case, the cars are not numerically the same–i.


However, they are descriptively the same in so far as they are of the same design. That is, the words used to describe the cars will be, for the most part, the same. If we want to speak of something that is numerically the same, Cavell claims we can do so by using an example with colours. He claims that if we have two cars with the same colour, then the colour is numerically the same. That is, the black colour of your car and the black colour of my car is numerically the same colour; according to Cavell there is only one black.

How does all this relate to pain? According to Cavell, the skeptic realizes that pain is like cars and not like colours.

While you and I may both have the same car, “I have mine and you have yours” and the same can be said for pains Cavell Take a headache for instance: For, “if I do not the skeptic would seem justified in feeling that I was avoiding the answer, avoiding the truth” Cavell Hence, Cavell shows that there is a genuine truth to be found at the root of skeptical questions.

Nevertheless, he admits that the skeptic arrives at a “scary conclusion. According to Cavell, these questions are motivated by a sense of separateness from others. He characterizes this feeling as follows: So I give voice to it” Cavell This points to the “phenomenological pang in having to say that knowing another mind is a matter of inference” Cavell Here Cavell points to the feeling of despair.

The “phenomenological pang” is what I feel when I contemplate skeptical questions. As Cavell says, when we take the skeptic seriously, “[his] knowledge. If this prospect does not frighten you, then I do not think you are taking the skeptic seriously. As I stated above, I share this sense of “devastation” that Cavell describes.

I too feel that these questions are worth asking and that they often lead to a feeling of despair. However, I am not entirely sure that the traditional skeptic is motivated by despair. His answer to the question is clearly no, and before we come to the end of the second page he claims that “anything. He questions everything from the existence of the table to whether other minds exist. He asserts that reality is not what it appears and that “even the strangest hypothesis may not be true” Russell Regardless of this fact, Russell proceeds to explain which things are self-evident truths for him; i.

He claims that the most certain kind of self-evident truths are the “principles of logic” Russell The only other kinds of self-evident truths for Russell “are those which are immediately derived from sensation” Russell These are what Russell calls sense-data. Examples of sense data are things like “brown colour, oblong shape, smoothness, etc. The immediate perception of a patch of blue is, therefore, intuitively certain according to Russell.

I find it astonishing that he concedes that all knowledge is ultimately uncertain and then goes on to proclaim some semblance of certainty for himself.

U of Vic Philosophy Student Union

Also, he concludes by saying that it is the process of asking skeptical questions that is important to philosophy, not whether an answer can be found. He is by no means despairing. He seeks a ground for truth.

Yet, he is not the least bit concerned by the possibility that we may not be able to answer these skeptical questions. On the contrary, he claims that these questions “increase interest in the world and show the strangeness and wonder just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life” Russell Clearly, Russell is not asking these konwing to fill the void of some feeling of isolation that Cavell alludes to.


Rather, he is driven by a desire for certainty and yet there is no indication that without certain knowledge he feels any despair.

Knpwing I think Cavell is in error when he suggests that the skeptic is motivated by this sense of separateness, I think that this feeling does arise out of skeptical questions. It does for me and it does for Cavell.

So the question remains: How does he avoid it? Surely he ought to sense that there is something wrong with thinking that everything can be doubted. Beyond that, it seems he is content to question these things indefinitely. Ecofeminism offers a possible explanation about why Russell does not have this sense of despair that Cavell and I share. In her article titled “Nature, Self and Gender: Feminism, Environmental Philosophy and the Critique of Rationalism,” Val Plumwood describes something called the “relational account of self” Plumwood Plumwood claims that there is a dichotomy between reason and emotion which is “stressed in the rationalist tradition” Plumwood This dualistic perspective leads one to see the self as separate from nature.

That is, what is defining of humans is their rationality alone, and as such they are distinct from nature which is seen as non-rational or emotional.

Cvaell separation leads to the image of the self acknowledving non-relational. The non-relational self is not seen as having any necessary connections acknowledginh ways of knowing that are rooted in emotions.

She proposes instead that we adopt a model of the self-as-relational. This is one which regards “the self as embedded in a network of essential relationships with distinct others” Plumwood This dissolves the dividing line between reason and emotion; it gives the self a place in nature; it does not regard others of whatever sort as disconnected from the self.

Russell is operating in the rationalist tradition which Plumwood describes as non-relational. Perhaps the fact that Russell favors the rational attitude which contemplates the universe “dispassionately” prevents him from feeling the sense of despair that can result from this ultimate doubting Russell The ecofeminist position suggests to me that Russell may lack an understanding of the self as relational and emotional which prevents him from feeling despair after all, despair is an emotional state.

Cynical Self-Doubt and the Grounds of Sympathy

In fact, Russell does appear to have a relational concept of the self. He argues in the final chapter of The Problems of Philosophy that the ultimate goal of philosophical speculation is an expansion of the self; ackniwledging form of union of Self and not-Self” Russell He claims that this contemplation “.

He is, in some sense, acknowledging a relationship to the other.

Insofar as he acknowledges this relationship, he cannot be guilty of not regarding the self as discontinuous with the rest of the world. In addition to this concept of the relational self which seems to be present in Russell, there is also evidence acknlwledging a strong emotional component in his philosophical pursuit. One cannot help but feel that he is rejoicing in the power of what he believes to be a benevolent pursuit of skeptical cvaell.

Thus, I do not think that the ecofeminist position is an acceptable solution to the problem of why Russell does not have this sense of despair. Another possible reason for the absence, in Russell, of a sense of despair is his faith in the analytic method. He raves about the power of logic and terms it “the great liberator of the imagination, presenting innumerable alternatives which are closed to the unreflective common sense” Russell