Rogers Albritton on Skepticism: “Words and their meanings are as ‘external’ as trees.”

We break in on Albritton mid-argument (from Philosophical Issues 21):

…What we know (as some unfortunate men and women might not, though they’ve heard of both baboons and human beings) is that we are human beings, not baboons, a fact (if “fact” is the word for it) from which it does not follow that we can’t be baboons or must be human beings. No such modal remarks are in order, as far as I can see, in our present situation. And it seems equally out of order that the earth may or can’t be supported by a huge tortoise or a transparent column with holes in it for the moon and so forth. Out of order in our actual situation, that is, which I can’t help. I didn’t invent it. Nobody did. One can invent others. What one can’t invent is a position outside all such epistemic confines, in which the question “Is it possible or not?” nevertheless has its usual purchase and from which it is evidently possible after all that the earth is supported by a huge tortoise and we are baboons. That position, in which, as one imagines it, no question would have an answer already, and we would be free to think absolutely anything possible (what else could we think?) would on the contrary be one in which the question, whether it is possible or impossible that p, could not have its usual sense, and indeed no question could have its usual sense, since its sense would be in question too, so to speak. In the position from which one would see that anything’s possible, if one could see anything, one couldn’t see anything, or think anything either. The idea of this position in which nothing is settled yet is illusory, as far as I can see, and so is the idea, which might seem more promising, of the position in which nothing a posteriori is settled yet, or nothing a posteriori except that it looks as if there were physical objects about (and the like), which might seem still more promising. Words and their meanings are as ‘external’ as trees. If I have to think that perhaps there are no such words, then I have to think that perhaps my very own as it were words have no meanings either, and therefore I am not, as I would have thought, thinking. And that isn’t thinking…

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