Knowledge in Contemporary Philosophy
eBook - ePub

Knowledge in Contemporary Philosophy

Stephen Hetherington, Markos Valaris, Stephen Hetherington, Markos Valaris

  1. 304 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Knowledge in Contemporary Philosophy

Stephen Hetherington, Markos Valaris, Stephen Hetherington, Markos Valaris

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The Philosophy of Knowledge: A History presents the history of one of Western philosophy's greatest challenges: understanding the nature of knowledge. Divided chronologically into four volumes, it follows conceptions of knowledge that have been proposed, defended, replaced, and proposed anew by ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary philosophers. This volume covers contemporary discussions about scientific, social and self-knowledge and attempts to understand knowledge naturalistically, contextually and normatively. With original insights into the vast sweep of ways in which philosophers have sought to understand knowledge, The Philosophy of Knowledge: A History embraces what is vital and evolving within contemporary epistemology. Overseen by an international team of leading philosophers and featuring 50 specially-commissioned chapters, this is a major collection on one of philosophy's defining topics.

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Pragmatism and Epistemology
Scott Aikin
1. Introduction
The pragmatist tradition is motivated primarily by the thought that the only differences that make a difference are those with distinct practical effects. This broad agreement that makes pragmatism a practical philosophy nevertheless yields disagreement in how to track these differences and what differences are relevant.1 When pragmatists turn to epistemological issues such as what conditions must be met for knowledge, what the appropriate scope for doubts are, and how inquiry should proceed, their answers are focused on the differences in action and practical results yielded. Again, what differences are relevant or preferable distinguish these pragmatists from each other, but they are all focused on the practical upshot of their theoretical views.
In this short chapter, I will focus on the epistemological views of the three formative figures in pragmatism’s classical period: Charles S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Then I will turn to highlight two pragmatist themes in contemporary epistemology: questions of pragmatic encroachment in knowledge-attributions, and the neopragmatist view of knowledge and entitlement as instances of conferred social status.
2. The classical pragmatists: Peirce
Pragmatism’s core commitment is to the deep connection between theory and practice, and the three pioneering figures of the tradition developed this view in particular fashions. Charles S. Peirce conceived of himself primarily as a scientist, and his views about knowledge are devised to reflect the realities of human cognition and to mesh with the best scientific practices of the day.
The most significant realities of human thought, Peirce held, are the mind’s incapacities. Once we are clear about our limits, Peirce reasoned, we can responsibly proceed with inquiry. Failing to be clear about the mind’s limitations leads to unrealistic research programs. Consequently, Peirce identified four incapacities that we must be aware of in order to properly theorize and expand our knowledge:
1.We have no power of Introspection, but all knowledge of the internal world is derived by hypothetical reasoning from our knowledge of external facts.
2.We have no power of Intuition, but every cognition is determined logically by previous cognitions.
3.We have no power of thinking without signs.
4.We have no conception of the absolutely incognizable.2
Peirce’s reasons for holding these limits to obtain are all based on the thought that if a belief or claim means something, then it must be identifiable in terms of the differences in how one comes to hold it and what inferences about the world one makes in terms of holding it.3 The first two incapacities clearly follow from this, as they would deny that one reasons to an intuition or to instances of introspection. They must function, as Peirce terms it, as premises not themselves conclusions (CP: 5.135). The third, then, is simply that such signs of an object of thought (what leads one to think it is, and what follows from it obtaining) are all that one can think about it. And the fourth follows from these, since if one is to have a conception of something, one must have some familiarity with the things that would lead one to think it exists and what would follow were it to exist. But to do so is precisely to have cognized it, and so the incognizable is something we cannot conceive.
Two significant consequences of these few incapacities are restrictions on relevant philosophical doubts and directives as how to clarify one’s ideas. The first doubt restriction is that one’s philosophical doubts must be within the bounds of other things known. ‘Ignorance and error can only be conceived as relative to a real knowledge and truth’ (CP: 5.257). Consequently, ‘we cannot begin with complete doubt’ (CP: 5.265). We must doubt only when we have identifiable reasons that lead us to doubt, which requires a background of knowledge to support the reasoning. Doubts should be understood as contrasting with beliefs, which are ‘distinguished by the different modes of action to which they give rise’ (CP: 5.398). So doubts, as occasions that beliefs and their correlate actions falter, must be occasioned by particular reasons – those that arise as particular failures of particular practice. Any philosophical program dependent on antecedent or universal doubt is itself without determinate content. Peirce pauses to note the contrast between this view and those that are in what he calls the ‘Cartesian spirit’, proceeding on a program of universal doubt in search of intuitive and certain knowledge.4
The second consequence of Peirce’s program is that of clarifying what determinate content is. Peirce’s view is well captured by the rule that ‘our idea of anything is our idea of its sensible effects’ (CP: 5.401). This rule is often termed the Pragmatic Maxim:5 ‘Consider what effects that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object’ (CP: 5.402). This criterion for meaning, Peirce acknowledges, is a form of ‘prope-positivism’, in that, like the positivists, those using the pragmatic maxim reveal a good deal of philosophical debate to be either ‘meaningless gibberish’ or ‘downright absurd’ (CP: 5.423). For example, the issue of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist in Catholic mass is clarified, since if wine becomes blood and bread becomes flesh, then there must be some detectable difference. If the wine after the ceremony still tastes, smells, and has the same bodily effects as wine, then it is ‘senseless jargon’ to say it has become something else (CP: 5.401). However, as distinct from the positivists, who aspire to eliminate all metaphysics, Peirce holds that the pragmatic maxim provides the means to ‘extract from [some metaphysical claims] a precious essence’, in particular, a distinct form of realism (CP: 5.424).
In light of the Pragmatic Maxim, Peirce holds that a significant change in how we talk about reality must be put into effect. Given that ‘all the followers of science are fully persuaded that the process of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to every question to which they can be applied’, it follows that all questions have distinct, testable answers (CP: 5.407). Further, given that we cannot conceive of things independently of their effects and evidence, Peirce holds an inquiry-convergence theory of truth and reality: ‘The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real’ (CP: 5.407). The activity of thought in inquiry, then, is that of being carried not where we merely wish, but ‘to a foreordained goal’ (CP: 5.408). Truths are, in short, those views that are indefeasible.6
The final component of Peirce’s epistemological program is that of formulating how such inquiry works – how we are to be carried by the facts instead of pushing things along as we please. In ‘The Fixation of Belief’, Peirce surveys four methods of coming to and maintaining one’s beliefs:
1.The Method of Tenacity
2.The Method of Authority
3.The A Priori Method
4.The Method of Scientific Investigation
The first three of these methods have significant problems, primarily because they have no way, at least internally, to distinguish between properly and improperly following the methods. Only the scientific method ‘presents any distinction of a right and a wrong way’ (CP: 5.385). Tenacious believers cling to their opinions and shut out any outside influence. For sure, they have resoluteness, but ‘the social impulse is against [the method]’, since one must hold that others’ opinions (however tenaciously held) are of no worth (CP: 5.378). The method of authority, which holds lists of particular opinions to be obligatory, suffers a similar shortcoming, since there is no non-question-begging reason one can give for why one follows any one authority over another. The A Priori method is defined as the method of inquiry that identifies reason’s natural preferences, or what is ‘agreeable to reason’ (CP: 5.382). The problem, as one might expect, is that what is agreeable to one person’s reason is not always agreeable to another’s. Peirce analogizes the intellectual situation for the A Priori method to that of taste, and he notes that ‘taste, unfortunately, is always more or less a matter of fashion’ (CP: 5.383).
In contrast to all of these methods, the scientific method has as a core component a set of conditions for self-correction, because the method first identifies what the objects of inquiry are in terms of the differences in experience one would see if they are or are not. One then may go to experience, conduct an experiment, and find out one way or the other. And thereby, the facts make the determination.7 The fundamental hypothesis, then, is that a method that can allow the realities that we want to get right about determine our beliefs is preferred to the alternate methods: ‘There are real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; those realities affect our senses according to regular laws ... and any man, if he have sufficient experience and reason enough about it, will be led to the one true conclusion’ (CP: 5.384). In light of this methodological commitment, inquirers must be willing to change their views when the evidence and reasoning about the evidence runs against their views. Peirce terms this orientation of intellectual modesty fallibilism: ‘any scientific proposition whatever is always liable to be refuted and dropped at short notice... . The best hypothesis ... is the one which can be most easily refuted if it is false’ (CP: 1.120). The fallibilist holds that ‘our knowledge is never absolute, but always swims, as it were, in a continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy’ (CP: 1.170).
3. The classical pragmatists: James
William James, like Peirce, took pragmatism’s focus to be that of reformulating questions in terms of the practical differences consequent of the various options. And, like Peirce, James took the practical differences to be scientifically detectable. The difference was that Peirce’s model for scientific research was that of the laboratory sciences, but James’ model was psychology. James (1977 [1898]: 348) held that this orientation ‘broadened’ the range of relevant practical differences: ‘The ultimate test of what a truth means is indeed the conduct it dictates or inspires. But it inspires that conduct because it first foretells some particular turn to our experience which shall call for just that conduct from us.’ James’ psychological modification of Peirce’s pragmatic maxim incudes not only the passive consequences for subjects (what experiences they undergo if the object of thought obtains), but also their active consequences (what holding the content true will impel the subject to do).
James’ psychologized pragmatism is posited on the thought that there must be a reciprocity between the active and passive elements of experience.8 A further contrast with Peirce is useful to clarify this. Recall that with Peirce’s Pragmatic Maxim, the notion of transubstantiation is ‘senseless jargon’, because there are no detectable differences between the wine and bread before and after the proper ceremonies. James’ criterion includes the actions and satisfactions of believers and disbelievers as relevant differences, and this yields a different result from Peirce’s. As James (1991 [1907]: 40) puts it: ‘But tho these [the properties of wine and bread] don’t alter, a tremendous difference has been made ... that we who take the sacrament, now feed upon the very substance of divinity. The substance-notion breaks into life, then, with tremendous effect.’ Because the difference in belief makes a practical difference, James holds, there is a meaning (and a kind of truth) to the notion of transubstantiation.
This broadened notion of practical difference yields a significant change to how one inquires about a variety of issues. James’ signal contribution along these lines is about how to proceed with the question of belief in Go...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Series Information
  4. Title Page
  5. Contents
  6. List of Contributors
  7. General Editor’s Preface
  8. Introduction: Theorizing about Theorizing about Knowledge:
  9. 1 Pragmatism and Epistemology:
  10. 2 On Our Epistemological Debt to Moore and Russell:
  11. 3 What Knowledge Is Not: Reflections on Some Uses of the Verb ‘To Know’:
  12. 4 Naturalistic Descriptions of Knowledge:
  13. 5 Knowing the Unobservable: Confirmation and Theoretical Virtues:
  14. 6 Social Knowledge and Social Norms:
  15. 7 Knowledge-How and Perceptual Learning:
  16. 8 Self-Knowledge:
  17. 9 Knowledge as Contextual:
  18. 10 Knowledge and Probability:
  19. 11 The Analysis of Knowledge:
  20. 12 Conceiving of Knowledge in Modal Terms?:
  21. 13 Knowledge and Normativity:
  22. 14 Intellectual Virtue and Knowledge:
  23. Index
  24. Copyright Page