Scepticism & transcendental arguments: Some methodological reconsiderations

  • Kenneth R. Westphal Full Professor; Department of Philosophy; Boğaziçi Üniversitesi
Keywords: scepticism, transcendental proof, mental content externalism, Kant, Hegel, C.I. Lewis, Heidegger, Wittgenstein


Kant provided two parallel, sound proofs of mental content externalism; both prove this thesis: We human beings could not think of ourselves as persisting through apparent changes in what we (apparently) experience – nor could we think of the apparent spatio-temporal world of objects, events and people – unless
in fact we are conscious of some aspects of the actual spatio-temporal world and have at least some rudimentary knowledge of it. Such proofs turn, not on general facts about (or features of) the world, but on appreciating various fundamental regards in which our finite human cognizance depends upon the world we inhabit. The ‘transcendental’ character of these analyses concerns identifying and appreciating various fundamental features of our finite form of human mindedness, and basic constraints upon, and prospects of, cognitive justification within the non-formal domain of human empirical knowledge. Such analyses and proofs have been developed in various ways, using distinctive strategies, not only by Kant, but also by Hegel, C.I. Lewis, Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Frederick Will. Here I examine and defend the methodological reflections required to understand, assess and appreciate such transcendental proofs, and why so few analytic epistemologists have found them persuasive or illuminating.


Ackerman, Felicia, 1990. ‘Analysis, Language, and Concepts: The Second Paradox of Analysis’. Philosophical Perspectives 4: Action Theory & Philosophy of Mind, 535–543.

Austin, J. L., 1946. ‘Other Minds’. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplement 20:148–187; rpt. in: idem. (1979), 76–110.

———, 1979. J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock, eds., Philosophical Papers, 3d ed. Oxford, The Clarendon Press.
Beck, Lewis White, 1978. Essays on Kant and Hume. New Haven, CT, Yale University Press.

Bird, Graham, 2006. The Revolutionary Kant: A Commentary on the Critique of Pure Reason. Chicago, Open Court.

Black, Max, 1944. ‘The “Paradox of Analysis”’. Mind 53.211:263–267.

Borchert, Donald, ed.-in-chief, 2006. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd ed., 10 vols. Detroit, Macmillan/Thomson-Gale.

Boulter, Stephen, 2011. ‘The Medieval Origins of Conceivability Arguments’. Metaphilosophy 42.5:617–641.

Bouwsma, O. K., 1949. ‘Descartes’ Evil Genius’. The Philosophical Review 58.2:141–151.

Broughton, Janet, 2002. Descartes’ Method of Doubt. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Burge, Tyler, 1979. ‘Individualism and the Mental’. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4:73–121; rpt. in: idem. (2007), 100–150 (with a 2006 Postscript, 151–181).

———, 2007. Foundations of Mind: Philosophical Papers, vol. 2. Oxford, The Clarendon Press.

———, 2010. Origins of Objectivity. Oxford, The Clarendon Press.

Carnap, Rudolf, 1928. Der logische Aufbau der Welt. Berlin, Weltkreis.

———, 1950a. Logical Foundations of Probability. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

———, 1950b. ‘Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology’. Revue International de Philosophie 4 (1950); rev. ed. in: idem., Meaning and Necessity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), 205–221.

Chalmers, Alan, 2009. The Scientist’s Atom and the Philosopher’s Stone. How Science Succeeded and Philosophy Failed to Gain Knowledge of Atoms. Dordrecht, Springer.

Chisholm, Roderick, and Richard Potter, 1981. ‘The Paradox of Analysis: A Solution’. Metaphilosophy 12.1:1–6; doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9973.1981.tb00110.x.

Cunning, David, 2010. Argument and Persuasion in Descartes’ Meditations. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Dahlstrom, Daniel, 1994. Heidegger’s Concept of Truth. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Donnellan, Keith, 1966. ‘Reference and Definite Descriptions’. The Philosophical Review 75.3:281–304.

Evans, Gareth, 1975. ‘Identity and Predication’. Journal of Philosophy 72.13: 343–63; rpt. in: idem., Collected Papers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 25–48.

Ferrini, Cinzia, 2016. Cartesio e l’invenzione della disembodied mind negli studi anglo-americani.

Fumerton, Richard, 1983. ‘The Paradox of Analysis’. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 43.4:477–497.

Gettier, Edmund, 1963. ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?’ Analysis 23.6:121–23.

Guyer, Paul, 1989. ‘Psychology and the Transcendental Deduction’. In: E. Förster, ed., Kant’s Transcendental Deductions (Stanford, Stanford University Press), 47–68.

Hare, R. M., 1960. ‘Philosophical Discoveries’. Mind 49.274:145–162.

Harper, William, 2011. Isaac Newton’s Scientific Method: Turning Data into Evidence about Gravity and Cosmology. New York, Oxford University Press.

Hume, David, 1999. T. Beauchamp, ed., An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Kant, Immanuel, 1781, 1786. J. Timmermann, ed., Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1st and 2nd rev. ed. Hamburg: Meiner, 1998; cited as usual by the pagination of its first two editions, ‘A’ and ‘B’, respectively.

———, 1998. P. Guyer, ed. & tr., A. Wood, tr., Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

King, Peter, 2007. ‘Why Isn’t the Mind-Body Problem Medieval?’ In: H. Lagerlund, ed., Forming The Mind: Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind (Dordrecht, Springer), 187–205.

Lewis, Clarence Irving, 1929. Mind and the World Order. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons; rpt. with revisions, New York: Dover, 1956.

———, 1970. J. D. Goheen and J. L. Mothershead, Jr., eds., Collected Papers of Clarence Irving Lewis. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Linsky, Leonard, 1949. ‘Some Notes on Carnap’s Concept of Intensional Isomorphism and the Paradox of Analysis’. Philosophy of Science 16.4:343–347.

Matson, Wallace, 1966. ‘Why isn’t the Mind-Body Problem Ancient?’ In: P. Feyerabend and G. Maxwell, eds., Matter, Mind, and Method: Essays in Philosophy of Science in Honor of Herbert Feigl (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press), 92–102.

Melnick, Arthur, 1989. Space, Time, and Thought in Kant. Dordrecht, Kluwer.

Piché, David, 1999. La Condamnation parisienne de 1277. Paris, Vrin; critical edition of Tempier (1277).

Rorty, Richard, 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, Princeton University Press; rpt. 2009.

Scharff, Robert, 1992. ‘Rorty and Analytic Heideggerian Epistemology – and Heidegger’. Man and World 25:483–504.

———, 2014. How History Matters to Philosophy: Reconsidering Philosophy’s Past after Positivism. London, Routledge.

Secada, Jorge, 2004. Cartesian Metaphysics: The Late Scholastic Origins of Modern Philosophy. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Sextus Empiricus 1933. Outlines of Pyrrhonism, tr. R. G. Bury. Operea 4 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press), vol. 1; cited as ‘PH’ by book:¶ number. (‘¶’ indicates ‘paragraph’)

Stern, Robert, 2015. ‘Transcendental Arguments’. In: E. N. Zalta, ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, URL = .

Strawson, Sir Peter F., 1966. The Bounds of Sense. London, Methuen.

Stroud, Barry, 1984. ‘Skepticism and the Possibility of Knowledge’. Journal of Philosophy 81.10:545–51.

———, 1989. ‘Understanding Human Knowledge in General’. In: M. Clay, ed., Knowledge and Scepticism, Boulder, Col., Westview, 31–50.

———, 1994. ‘Scepticism, “Externalism,” and the Goal of Epistemology’. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplement 68:291–307.

———, 1999. ‘The Goal of Transcendental Arguments’. In R. Stern, ed., Transcendental Arguments: Problems and Prospects (Oxford, Oxford University Press), 155–172.

Tempier, Étienne, 1277. « Opiniones ducentae undeviginti Sigeri de Brabantia, Boetii de Dacia aliorumque, a Stephano episcopo Parisiensi de consilio doctorum Sacrae Scripturae condemnatae 1277 ». Paris;; critical edition in Piché (1999).

———, 1899. Reprint of Tempier (1277) in: Denifle & A. Chatelain Hgg., Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis (4 vols.), 1:543–555.
Tetens, Johann N., 1775. Über die allgemeine speculativische Philosophie. Bützow & Wismar, Boedner.

Travis, Charles, 2006. Thought’s Footing. A Theme in Wittgenstein’s Investitations. Oxford, The Clarendon Press.

———. 2008. Occasion Sensitivity: Selected Essays. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

———, 2013. Perception: Essays After Frege. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Turnbull, Robert, 1959. ‘Empirical and A Priori Elements in Broad’s Theory of Knowledge’. In: P. A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of C. D. Broad (New York, Tudor), 197–231.

Wagner, Stephen, 2014. Squaring the Circle in Descartes’ Meditations: The Strong Validation of Reason. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Waismann, Friedrich, 1945. ‘Verifiability’. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplement 19:119–150.

Westphal, Kenneth R., 1987–88. ‘Sextus Empiricus Contra René Descartes’. Philosophy Research Archives 13:91–128.

———, 1989. Hegel’s Epistemological Realism: A Study of the Aim and Method of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Philosophical Studies Series 43, Keith Lehrer, ed.; Dordrecht, Kluwer.

———, 1997. ‘Frederick L. Will’s Pragmatic Realism: An Introduction’. In: F. L. Will, Pragmatism and Realism (Lanham, Md., Rowman & Littlefield), xiii–lxi.

———, 1998. Hegel, Hume und die Identität wahrnehmbarer Dinge. Historisch-kritische Analyse zum Kapitel „Wahrnehmung“ in der Phänomenologie von 1807. Philosophische Abhandlungen 72; Frankfurt am Main, Klostermann.

———, 2004. Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

———, 2005. ‘Kant, Wittgenstein, and Transcendental Chaos’. Philosophical Investigations 28.4:303–23; doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9205.2005.00261.x/pdf.

———, 2006. ‘How does Kant Prove that We Perceive, and not merely Imagine, Physical Objects?’ The Review of Metaphysics 59.4:781–806.

———, 2007. ‘Consciousness and its Transcendental Conditions: Kant’s Anti-Cartesian Revolt’. In: S. Heinämaa, V. Lähteenmäki, and P. Remes, eds., Consciousness: From Perception to Reflection in the History of Philosophy (Dordrecht, Springer), 223–243.

———, 2009. ‘Mutual Recognition and Rational Justification in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit’. Dialogue: Canadian Journal of Philosophy/Revue canadienne de philosophie 48.4:753–799; doi:

———, 2010a. ‘Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Analytic Philosophy’. In: P. Guyer, ed., Cambridge Companion to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 401–430.

———, 2010b. ‘Hegel, Russell and the Foundations of Philosophy’. In: A. Nuzzo, ed., Hegel and the Analytical Tradition (New York, Continuum), 174–194.

———, 2011. ‘Self-Consciousness, Anti-Cartesianism and Cognitive Semantics in Hegel’s 1807 Phenomenology’. In: S. Houlgate and M. Baur, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Hegel (Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell), 68–90; doi: 10.1002/9781444397161.ch3.

———, 2013a. ‘Hume, Empiricism & the Generality of Thought’. Dialogue: Canadian Journal of Philosophy 52:1–38; doi: 10.1017/S0012217313000279.

———, 2013b. ‘Kant’s Cognitive Semantics, Newton’s Rule Four of Natural Philosophy and Scientific Realism Today’. In: Kant and Contemporary Theory of Knowledge, Kant Yearbook 5:127–168.

———, 2015. ‘Conventionalism & the Impoverishment of the Space of Reasons: Carnap, Quine & Sellars’. Journal for the History of Analytic Philosophy 3.8:1–66.

———, 2016a. How Hume and Kant Reconstruct Natural Law: Justifying Strict Objectivity without Debating Moral Realism. Oxford, The Clarendon Press.

———, 2016b. ‘Mind, Language & Behaviour: Kant’s Critical Cautions contra Contemporary Internalism & Naturalism’. In: S. Babür, ed., Method in Philosophy (İstanbul, Yeditepe Üniversitesi Press), 113–154.

———, 2016c. ‘Kant’s Dynamical Principles: The Analogies of Experience’. In: J. O’Shea, ed., Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: A Critical Guide (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), chapter 10.

———, 2017a. ‘Epistemology, Cognitive (In)Capacities & Thought Experiments’. In: J.R. Brown, Y. Fehige and M.T. Stuart, eds., The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments (New York & London, Routledge), chapter 8.

———, 2017b. ‘Elective Empiricism or Parsimonious Pyrrhonism? Vetting van Fraassen’s Voluntarism’. In: R. Romão & P. Tunhas, eds., Pyrrhonizing Scepticisim? Porto.

———, 2017c. ‘Wilfrid Sellars, Philosophical Semantics & Synthetic Necessary Truths’. In: S. Brandt and A. Breunig, eds., Sellars’s Place in Twentieth-Century Philosophy (London, Routledge).

White, Morton, 1948. ‘On the Church-Frege Solution of the Paradox of Analysis’. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 9.2:305–308.

Wick, Warner, 1951. ‘The “Political” Philosophy of Logical Empiricism’. Philosophical Studies 2.4:49–57.

Will, Frederick L., 1969. ‘Thoughts and Things’. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 42:51–69; rpt. in: idem. (1997), 1–19.

———, 1997. K. R. Westphal, ed., Foreword by A. MacIntyre, Pragmatism and Realism. Lanham, Md., Rowman & Littlefield.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1953. G. E. M. Anscombe, tr., Philosophische Untersuchungen/Philosophical Investigations. London, Macmillan; 2nd ed.: 1958.

———, 1956. G. H. von Wright, R. Rhees, eds.; G. E. M. Anscombe, ed. & tr., Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.

Wolff, Michael, 2009. Abhandlungen über die Prinzipien der Logik, 2nd rev. ed. Frankfurt am Main, Klostermann.

———, 2016. ‘How Precise is Kant’s Table of Judgments?’ In: J. O’Shea, ed., Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: A Critical Guide (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), chapter 5.

———, forthcoming. ‘Kant’s Table of Judgments: Frege’s Critique and Kant’s Rejoinder’.

Wright, Crispin, 2001. Rails to Infinity: Essays on Themes from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.