A butterfly dream in a brain in a vat

Philosophia 38 (1):157-167 (2010)
Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream story can be read as a skeptical response to the Cartesian Cogito, ergo sum solution, for it presents I exist as fundamentally unprovable, on the grounds that the notion about “I” that it is guaranteed to refer to something existing, which Descartes seems to assume, is unwarranted. The modern anti-skepticism of Hilary Putnam employs a different strategy, which seeks to derive the existence of the world not from some “indubitable” truth such as the existence of myself , but from the meaning of some particular assertion I make. In this paper, I argue, however, that Putnam’s argument fails to deliver on the promise of showing the self-refuting nature of the skeptical hypothesis, as it relies on a double use of “I”, a fallacy of equivocation, reflecting an unsolved tension between the argument’s general premise, which is rather Zhuangzian in spirit, and his unwitting adoption of that unwarranted notion about “I”. I try to show further that the skepticism in Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream not only can be used to refute the proofs of the existence of the empirical I , but also is effective against accounts concerning the existence of the transcendental I.
Keywords Zhuangzi  Butterfly Dream  Descartes   Cogito, ergo sum  Hilary Putnam  Brains in a Vat  the Transcendental I
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DOI 10.1007/s11406-009-9188-2
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