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problem of the external world


Subject Philosophy » Epistemology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405139007.2010.x


An external world, as philosophers have used the term, is not some distant planet external to earth. Nor is the external world, strictly speaking, a world . Rather, the external world consists of all those objects and events which exist external to perceivers. So the table across the room is part of the external world, and so is its brown colour and roughly rectangular shape. Similarly, if the table falls apart when a heavy object is placed on it, the event of its disintegration is a part of the external world. One object external to and distinct from any given perceiver is any other perceiver. So, relative to one perceiver, every other perceiver is a part of the external world. However, another way of understanding the external world results if we think of the objects and events external to and distinct from every perceiver. So conceived the set of all perceivers makes up a vast community, with all of the objects and events external to that community making up the external world. In this essay we will understand the notion of an external world in the former way. We will thus suppose that perceivers are entities which occupy physical space, if only because they are partly composed of items which take up physical space. What, then, is the problem of the external world (hereafter the PEW)? Certainly it is not whether there is an external world; this much is taken for granted. Instead, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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