Skepticism and Perceptual Faith: Henry David Thoreau and Stanley Cavell on Seeing and Believing
- Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy
- Indiana University Press
- Volume 43, Number 3, Summer 2007
- pp. 542-561
- Additional Information
Thoreau's journal contains a number of passages which explore the nature of perception, developing a response to skeptical doubt. The world outside the human mind is real, and there is nothing illusory about its perceived beauty and meaning. In this essay, I draw upon the work of Stanley Cavell (among others) in order to frame Thoreau's reflections within the context of the skeptical questions he seeks to address. Value is not a subjective projection, but it also cannot be perceived without the appropriate kind of emotional orientation or attunement toward the world: that is, an attitude of trust or acceptance. Without this affective receptivity, or "perceptual faith," our knowledge of reality is limited. The beliefs we hold onto in the face of objective uncertainty establish the framework within which we make particular evaluations, and in this sense they are a necessary condition of practical reason. Every understanding has its mood.