TH E TH REAT OF S CE PTI CI S M
I do not find these claims of Cavell’s convincing. The sceptical meditation I have just rehearsed definitely arrives at a conclusion which is in conflict with one’s pre-reflective conviction that one can know if and when a friend (surely ‘the best case’?) is in pain. The argument clearly leads to hesitations and hedges beyond, and in conflict with, the ordinary. Nevertheless, Cavell is right to draw attention to differences between sceptical doubts in the two cases. First, with respect to the external world the Predicament is that I cannot get out of the circle of my immediate, purely subjective experience in order to compare it with reality. It is this ‘gap’ or possible distance between what is given to immediate experience and how things really are in the world which allows the sceptical hypothesis to be put forward as an alternative origin to experience. The ‘contours of a subjectivity’22 draw a boundary between reality and my experience of reality which I cannot cross. I must, therefore, ‘plead incapacity to prove, through immediate experience, any existence except my own’ (Kant, 1933 , B275). With respect to the problem of other minds, however, the presence of the external and independently behaving body is not in dispute. The Predicament here, therefore, does not seem to be that I cannot escape the circle of immediate experience. Rather, as the major changes to McGinn’s summary show, it is the objectivity of what I experience which seems to provide the barrier to my access to the other. I can never compare the other’s subjective experience with what I can see; the behaving body draws a boundary between the reality of the other’s experience and my experience of that reality that I cannot cross.
The common assumption This way of presenting the two sceptical arguments suggests that there is a basic difference between them. This difference lies in the fact that, while the first argument exploits the subjectivity of human consciousness, the second exploits the objectivity of the human body. On such a reading it is, as John McDowell argues, ‘the objectification of human behaviour [which] leads inexorably to the traditional problem of other minds’ (McDowell, 1983, p. 479). I think that this is misleading, and that the difference pointed out here hides a fundamental continuity between the two sceptical arguments, namely, in their shared conception of what it is to be a human ‘subject of experience’. As indicated in the first section of this chapter, this is an objectifying conception in which a person’s ‘irreducibly subjective character’ (Nagel, 1986, p. 28) is determined in terms of his or her selfpresence. A human being is, on this view, an entity which is, to itself, ‘constantly presentat-hand, both in and for a closed realm’. My claim is that it is this conception of the subject character of a human being which, when imputed to oneself, leads to external world scepticism in the first argument, and which, when imputed to others, leads to the problem of other minds in the second. In the first the problem arises because I suppose