Timothy Williamson in Evidence in Philosophy, chapter 7 section 3 of his book "Philosophy of Philosophy" (2007), conveys the notion of the Judgement Skeptic - e.g. (bold emphasis is mine)

page 220

[Judgment] skepticism does not target the distinctive features of perception, memory, testimony, or inference. Rather, it targets our practices of applying concepts in judgment. ... For example, it does not question the existence of an external world to which we are causally related in the ways appropriate to perception – at least, not until the concepts of causation and perception themselves come under scrutiny.

page 221

[Judgments skeptics] question our standards for applying ordinary concepts both in experience and in thought: the concept of a mountain, the concept of belief, the concept of knowledge, the concept of possibility, the concept of the counter-factual conditional, and so on. Philosophers tend to call judgments “intuitive” when they are considered as the primary targets of judgment skepticism.

Scenarios for judgment skepticism are often distinctive in attempting to verify the scientific image of the world while falsifying the manifest image, common sense, or what passes for it in our culture.

Page 222

Like other skeptics, judgments skeptics ask for independent evidence that favors the piece of common sense at issue over their skeptical hypothesis. The “scientific” flavor of their alternative scenario disguises the resemblance to more traditional forms of skepticism.

[J]udgment skeptics often argue that we actually are in their skeptical scenario, for example in which there are no mountains, or no beliefs.

page 223

[For judgment skeptics] We can live most of our lives on the basis of a fiction; only when we take a more scientific attitude are we forced to recognize the fiction for what it is... For judgment skeptics, appeals to intuition are nothing more than the last resort of dogmatic conservativism, in its desperate attempt to hold back the forward march of scientific and metaphysical progress.

Question: Daniel Dennett drives to explain Consciousness as an Evolved User-Illusion in chapter 14 of his book "From Bacteria to Bach and Back" (2017) - so does this place him as a judgement skeptic? E.g.

[O]ur first-person point of view of our own minds is not so different from our second-person point of view of others’ minds: we don’t see, or hear, or feel, the complicated neural machinery churning away in our brains but have to settle for an interpreted, digested version, a user-illusion that is so familiar to us that we take it not just for reality but also for the most indubitable and intimately known reality of all. That’s what it is like to be us.

If we, our selves, were all “just” part of each other’s user-illusions, wouldn’t that imply that, really, life has no meaning? No. The manifest image that has been cobbled together by genetic evolutionary processes over billions of years, and by cultural evolutionary processes over thousands of years, is an extremely sophisticated system of helpful metaphorical renderings of the underlying reality uncovered in the scientific image. It is a user-illusion that we are so adept at using that we take it to be unvarnished reality, when in fact it has many coats of intervening interpretive varnish on it. The manifest image composes our Umwelt, the world we live in for almost all human purposes—aside from science.

Updated below 11/04/2022 Tim Williamson's stance is that it is Knowledge is Basic, i.e. he directly opposes the Justified-True-Belief approach to knowledge (that Gettier famously critiqued). For Williamson evidence can be Knowledge in itself, rather than a justification for such, and evidence of our sense feeds empirical knowledge.

Furthermore the distinction between Manifest and Scientific Image employed by Dennett is taken from Wilfred Sellars in Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man (1962/3) pdf - which on page 20 states:

The fact that each theoretical [scientific] image is a construction on a foundation provided by the manifest image, and in this methodological sense pre-supposes the manifest image, makes it tempting to suppose that the manifest image is prior in a substantive sense; that the categories of a theoretical science are logically dependent on categories pertaining to its methodological foundation in the manifest world of sophisticated common sense in such a way that there would be an absurdity in the notion of a world which illustrated its theoretical principles without also illustrating the categories and principles of the manifest world. Yet, when we turn our attention to 'the' scientific image which emerges from the several images proper to the several sciences, we note that although the image is methodologically dependent on the world of sophisticated common sense, and in this sense does not stand on its own feet, yet it purports to be a complete image ...

1 Answer 1


Trying to answer, not having read the book in question.

Yes, the description and definition actually appear to be customized to try to encompass Dennett's Delusionism, the Churchlands' Eliminative Materialism, and Behaviorists' ignoring of consciousness. He explicitly casts this POV as inclusive of scientific realism -- that most of our ordinary conceptions of our world (solidity of matter, reality of composite objects are special case convenient assumptions) are not "true" per a true deeper reality of our universe. It is less clear from the passages you cited, but he may also be including all advocates of Scientism in this view -- the belief that science is the only valid method to gain knowledge.

I don't know where your author takes this "category" of thinking. Skepticism is a crucial and useful stance in philosophy, and was a central principle in Socrates thinking -- identify and examine one's assumptions. Socrates approach, to then evaluate whether they ARE appropriate or not, is the essence of the philosophic mindset.

The extension of skepticism to our assumptions in epistemology has been a major theme of philosophic thought. For Justified True Beliefs, indirect realism shows that we can never have certainty on "truth", and the Munchausen Trilemma shows that we can never provide valid "justifications" for beliefs. The Critique of Pure Reason shows that we cannot ground any knowledge about our contingent world on any a prioris, and the subsequent demonstration of the plurality of math, shows that even Kant's limited set of a priori truths is not even valid. Godel's Indeterminacy Theorem show the limits of logic systems, and the recent realization that logic itself is plural leave rationalism as a source of knowledge highly suspect. Scientific Realism did in materialism as a worldview, and its substitute, physicalism, falls afoul of Hempel's Dilemma. Scientism fails Popperian tests, as there is valid knowledge gained by all sorts of non-science disciplines (practical skill sets, academic disciplines of history, art, math, philosophy, etc). And Reductionism, which this worldview assumes, fails even in science (see SEP Scientific Reductionism, section 5) and science thinking has adopted emergence and pluralism as its working assumptions. Is the author advocating for skepticism, or critiquing skepticism, and this worldview as a result?

Meanwhile, the claim that "science has shown" consciousness to be an illusion -- is a clearly false claim. No model of consciousness has been able to pass more than a few tests (IE all fail tests), including delusionism.

Therefore what your author describes as a variant of skepticism therefore turns out to be nothing of the kind. It is a selective application of skepticism to dismiss some observations and evidence. It is also an invalid global extension of some supporting test cases that show aspects of our world (and perceptions) are illusions, to falsely claim this is a globally demonstrated claim, while NOT looking at the multiple refutations of the reductionist, scientistic and delusionism assumptions behind the advocates' own worldview. SELECTIVE skepticism, to support a specific conclusion, is not skepticism, but advocacy -- rationalization -- apologism.

Dennett, interestingly, strikes me as one of the foremost minds in our era of philosophy. AND is an advocate for a particular worldview. I believe Dennett foresaw that physicalism would not be able to deal with consciousness. At the time he wrote Consciousness Explained, the switch from neural Identity theory to algorithmic identity theory, to address Multiple Realizability was still popular, and AIT has not yet been replaced by the vagueness of "emergence" and "supervenience" to avoid the refutations of AIT. Jaegwon Kim was still four decades away from throwing in the towel on physicalism, and settling for Epiphenomenalism (See Physicalism or Something Near Enough). The ultimate rationale for delusionism, spelled out in Susan Blackmore's Very Short Introduction to Consciousness (that physicalism must be true, but physicalism can not explain consciousness per multiple test cases, therefore consciousness must not be real), was still three decades from publication. And as an advocate, Dennett would not publish either Blackmore's or Kim's arguments, as they might lead to a rejection of physicalism, rather than a rejection of consciousness or of conscious causation. Instead, Dennett constructed an elaborate worldview in which consciousness and its primary data can be dismissed as delusional, without discussing the alternative of questioning physicalism.

Karl Popper used a different term for perspectives LIKE Dennett's, which fail refutation tests, yet are claimed to be scientific. His term is pseudoscience.

  • Let me thank you @Dcleve for your detailed and considered reply, whilst I am still absorbing it. Is Algorithmic Identity Theory a serious thing? Dennett's creatures map on to a progression of learning algorithms - but I'm not sure he's fully on board with AIT. Apr 11, 2022 at 8:14
  • @GavinBrelstaff Multiple realizability showed that an idea or thought CANNOT be "identical" to a particular brain state, as the neurons keep reconnecting even as we keep the same thought. And ideas are transferred between us, despite our unique wiring. This lead to the rise of functionalism -- that doing a function == consciousness. That functionalism IS an Algorithmic Identity Theory -- is intrinsic to the == claim. But is not widely recognized or admitted. Dennett is a delusionist. Read Blackmore's Very Short Introduction to understand what he is saying. He is obscure himself.
    – Dcleve
    Apr 11, 2022 at 13:34
  • I have a review of Blackmore here: amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1C1TJFIWBZ8ZQ/…
    – Dcleve
    Apr 11, 2022 at 13:45

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