Penelope Maddy's book inaugurates OUP's publication of the annual Romanell Lectures, aimed at a general readership. Maddy takes on the problem of external world skepticism. The book is called "What Do Philosophers Do?" and Maddy aims to show a general audience how philosophy should be done. She mixes ordinary language philosophy, historical considerations, and scientifically informed common sense. Austin and the later Wittgenstein are the book's philosophical heroes. It's striking how different Maddy's 'therapeutic' philosophizing is from the contemporary analytic approach. Contemporary analytic philosophers evaluate arguments for and against their views and the main alternatives, in conversation with the literature from the last forty years or so. These practices take a back seat in Maddy's therapeutic approach to the skeptical problem. She uses Barry Stroud's (1984) to illustrate the lure of skepticism. Then she creeps up on her solution by discussing suggestive remarks by Austin and the later Wittgenstein. Reading Maddy's book made me realize how deeply committed I am to the contemporary analytic approach.---Alexander Jackson, (emphasis in original) reviewing Penelope Maddy, What Do Philosophers Do? Skepticism and the Practice of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2017, @Note Dame Philosophical Review.
It is a peculiar fact of Jackson's review, which I will stipulate makes many otherwise fair criticisms of Maddy's book, that he explicitly introduces Maddy's book (I have quoted the first paragraph of the review) with the claim that it is intended at a 'general readership.' He even reminds the reader that it is supposed to be an exemplar in the genre ("to show a general audience how philosophy should be done"). But then Jackson goes on to evaluate the book from the perspective of the ''practice" of contemporary analytic philosophy, which is -- let's stipulate -- a professional endeavor. At minimum we should be offered an explanation, if not an argument, why the purported standards of contemporary analytic philosophy are applicable to Maddy's book. My hypothesis is that such an argument is not forthcoming because even though one can allow that the tools of analytic philosophy can help diagnose argumentative flaws in a book intended for a general readership, the aptness and success norms that govern philosophical writing intended for a general readership are at crucial junctures not the same as those that govern writing primarily aimed at fellow professionals.
So far, I have said nothing about to what degree 'therapeutic' philosophizing is appropriate in an exemplary book aimed at a general audience (it is by no means obvious that, say, Wittgenstein would have thought such an enterprise intelligible) and to what degree such therapeutic philosophizing (at a general audience) has special norms of evaluation apt it for. Presumably, here one would have to explore the presumed efficacy of the proposed 'therapy' on the (presumed) reading public. Now, in medicine randomized controlled trials are said to be the purported gold standard of establishing such efficacy. I am not seriously here proposing the use of RCTs in the evaluation of philosophical therapies aimed at the public (even leaving aside some of the epistemic challenges this would involve). But is notable that Jackson does not report the effects of Maddy's book on his unsuspecting (non-professional) family members, nor even counterfactual reports about the imagined verdicts of common sense.
In fairness to Jackson, he does kind of address the challenge a few paragraphs down. After representing how "orthodoxy addresses the...skeptical argument," in the form of a numbered argument, he writes that:
The philosophical problem is that the argument is logically valid, the premises all seem true, but the conclusion seems false. Where have we gone wrong? Maddy doesn't explicitly formulate an argument for skepticism till appendix B (p. 230), and even then, she does so obliquely. Her standard way of characterizing the problem is that the skeptic poses the "from scratch challenge":
I don't find this a helpful way to explain the problem. The proper response to such a demand is simply to say: no thank you. But that's not a philosophically adequate response to a logically valid argument the conclusion of which one denies, but the premises of which seem compelling. The point is particularly pressing as the book is intended for a broad audience, who may not be able to read behind the "from scratch challenge". A direct presentation of the argument under discussion might well have helped such readers.
It is notable that here Jackson slides from what he finds 'helpful' to what might have 'helped' readers of the general public. I am not denying that all of us have experience with a (sometimes somewhat captive) audience of undergraduates and graduates who find our argumentative reconstructions illuminating even enjoyable. But I sincerely doubt that they can be encouraged to buy books for their own philosophical edification, even therapy, that do this. And it is notable that when analytic philosophers argue for stuff in their books aimed at a wider public (e.g., recent work by Stanley, Dennett, Godfrey-Smith, Nagel) such 'direct presentation' of numbered arguments are absent (on the whole; perhaps I may have forgotten an example). There is a good reason for this: reading a book full of numbered arguments is mindbogglingly dull to most folk except for those whose dispositions have been warped by decade(s) of (increasingly) professional education.
Regular readers may grow impatient with me here. They know that I have recently castigated the jury members of the Sanders prize for conflating our teaching standards with the standards of public philosophy. Why am I rehashing all this in the context of a review? But what I am really after here today is, of course, the self-presentation of the nature of contemporary philosophy and how we understand it in light of our public role(s). For Jackson is rather confident (and I have seen such confidence in many others) that "the philosophical problem" just is that the argument is logically valid, the premises all seem true, but the conclusion seems false. And the role of public philosophy then is "to set readers a good example by considering positions they disagree with, and grappling with arguments against their own views."
I am last to deny that philosophy could serve such an exemplary role in the construction of public reason; I am all for the idea that "handling disagreement"+ is one of our marketable skills that we are capable (to some degree) of teaching others (even if we often don't live up to the ideal ourselves). But as I have noted before, this magisterial conception of public philosophy completely ignores the philosophical gains from receptivity toward being shaped by one's public-facing activities.++ It also raises important questions about our comportment toward the public (and with each other) that are orthogonal to argumentative rigor (and I have discussed in terms of philosophical integrity).
Now, Jackson is right that this [argument is logically valid, the premises all seem true, but the conclusion seems false] may well be a philosophical problem.* And it is notable that if one understands philosophical problems like this, one will come to understand -- I have recently read Stoljar's very interesting book -- philosophical progress or the task of philosophy in terms of finding ways of rejecting (or adding) a premise to an argument (or showing that one is mistaken about the truth-status of the conclusion). I have suggested before that this way of conceiving philosophy is compatible with treating philosophers as (disembodied) machines. (And then before long learning algorithms will tell us which premises need to be rejected without offering any reasons at all.) On this conception philosophy is a kind of mastery of technique.** One need not be a disciple of Wittgenstein -- and regular readers know my dispositions here -- to see that this conception of philosophy, while interesting, is limiting.
Now, if we look at the quoted passage from Maddy, we see that the from scratch challenge involves a question of justification of a belief in which (pre-existing) methods of justification and other forms of knowledge are not involved (this does sound vaguely like Reid). That's an extraordinary demand, and it is one, for example, that Moore does not meet. Whatever such justification involves it seems to be very different in kind than accepting or rejecting premises (or a conclusion). This is not to deny one could offer a justification in the form of an argument, but what's been asked for here is not an argument. Rather, I assume what's being asked for is some kind of experience or practice that has authority to settle decisively the belief. And the challenge here is, in part, that relying on the authority of argument to answer the from scratch challenge seems to be ruled out by the from scratch challenge (because argument is one of the pre-existing methods of justification).
As an aside, if this much is right then in her book Maddy is asking her general reading audience to take genuine skepticism a lot more seriously than most professional philosophy papers are willing to do. The significance of this is worth pondering for those that conceive of public philosophy as a dumbed down version of philosophy; it is not impossible that it's the professionals that have been domesticated and public philosophy is our means toward (I am nodding to Della Rocca) un-taming reason.
Now, its possible that rather than meeting the from scratch challenge (with increasingly desperate appeals to elusive forms of self-vindicating patches of direct experience) one should learn not be in the grip of it. And if one thinks this (rejecting the grip of the fsc), one could be argued out of one's fascination with the from scratch challenge, but presumably it also require other tools (including, there, I said it, Wittgensteinian therapy).
Interestingly enough, elsewhere in his critical review, Jackson points to philosophical skills other than argument that may be helpful to a general audience (and, I hasten to add, members of the profession): (i) offering distinctions, (ii) articulating conceptual connections, and (iii) providing a diagnosis for what's wrong with some commitment (in addition to argumentative flaws). I am not claiming that mastery of argumentative technique is irrelevant to (i-iii), but I do assert (baldy without argument) that they are not identical to it. And (i-iii) are vindicated not merely in virtue of their contribution to the acceptance or rejection of premises in arguments; their philosophical utility (to the professional and the public) lies primarily in making more refined conversations possible, or at least, to keep it going (even if haltingly so).
My point here is not to defend the merits of Wittgensteinian therapy - regular readers know I am no friend of the quietism that is consequent of this practice - or to reject mastery of technique (which is important to our professional self-conception and even our public status; I have recently defended the significance of such mastery in print.) But rather, to remind us that neither public nor professional philosophy is reducible to the evaluation of arguments (with true seeming premises and false seeming conclusions). The Wittgensteinian (and her medicina mentis) reminds us that mastery of technique is merely an important step toward (ahh) a philosophical way of life in which we learn to engage with fellow professionals and various other publics, sometimes even, and this is arguably a greater philosophical skill, at the same time.
* Why am I hedging? I suspect that if I recast a recipe (or rules) for making pizza in terms of a logically valid argument with true premises, and treated "you have baked a delicious pizza'' as the conclusion (and this would seem false to me), no amount of progress on following the recipe or recasting the premises in terms of probabilities (etc) would be treated as philosophical progress. But I leave this issue to my friends in computer science.
+The term is Andrea Sangiocomo's and it's his idea to try to market it more widely.
++It is worth adding that Jackson actually thinks there are other purposes for books aimed at a general audience: "Maddy's book does not  try to give readers a sense of the last forty years of work in epistemology. Contemporary analytic philosophers will think that some insights are thus neglected. Maddy's approach also  forgoes the opportunity to show that philosophy is a collective effort, in which a variety of views are developed and tested by people from across the English-speaking world and beyond, including people down the road at one's local university. This inclusive vision might attract readers to the enterprise." Both [1-2] presuppose a dissemination (and marketing) model of philosophy and they surely have their place, too (I am about to apply for a government grant in which I commit to some such dissemination.) Of course, if the last forty years of work in epistemology undercut or undermine the presuppositions/arguments/approach of Maddy's book then there is a problem (and maybe Jackson thinks the title of her book is misleading).