Cavell on the skeptical moment

Excerpt from Stanley Cavell, “The Philosopher in American Life,” In Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanticism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.


I came to the idea that philosophy’s task was not so much to defeat the skeptical argument as to preserve it, as though the philosophical profit of the argument would be to show not how it might end but why it must begin and why it must have no end, at least none within philosophy, or what we think of as philosophy.

Here my thought was that skepticism is a place, perhaps the central secular place, in which the human wish to deny the condition of human existence is expressed; and so long as the denial is essential to what we think of as the human, skepticism cannot, or must not be denied. This makes skepticism an argument internal to the individual, or separate, human creature, as it were an argument of the self with itself (over its finitude).