Science relies on models and idealizations that are known not to be true. Even so, science is epistemically reputable. To accommodate science, epistemology should focus on understanding rather than knowledge and should recognize that the understanding of a topic need not be factive. This requires reconfiguring the norms of epistemic acceptability. If epistemology has the resources to accommodate science, it will also have the resources to show that art too advances understanding.
Truth is standardly considered a requirement on epistemic acceptability. But science and philosophy deploy models, idealizations and thought experiments that prescind from truth to achieve other cognitive ends. I argue that such felicitous falsehoods function as cognitively useful fictions. They are cognitively useful because they exemplify and afford epistemic access to features they share with the relevant facts. They are falsehoods in that they diverge from the facts. Nonetheless, they are true enough to serve their epistemic purposes. Theories that contain (...) them have testable consequences, hence are factually defeasible. (shrink)
Philosophy long sought to set knowledge on a firm foundation, through derivation of indubitable truths by infallible rules. For want of such truths and rules, the enterprise foundered. Nevertheless, foundationalism's heirs continue their forbears' quest, seeking security against epistemic misfortune, while their detractors typically espouse unbridled coherentism or facile relativism. Maintaining that neither stance is tenable, Catherine Elgin devises a via media between the absolute and the arbitrary, reconceiving the nature, goals, and methods of epistemology. In Considered Judgment, she argues (...) for a reconception that takes reflective equilibrium as the standard of rational acceptability. A system of thought is in reflective equilibrium when its components are reasonable in light of one another, and the account they comprise is reasonable in light of our antecedent convictions about the subject it concerns. Many epistemologists now concede that certainty is a chimerical goal. But they continue to accept the traditional conception of epistemology's problematic. Elgin suggests that in abandoning the quest for certainty we gain opportunities for a broader epistemological purview--one that comprehends the arts and does justice to the sciences. She contends that metaphor, fiction, emotion, and exemplification often advance understanding in science as well as in art. The range of epistemology is broader and more variegated than is usually recognized. Tenable systems of thought are neither absolute nor arbitrary. Although they afford no guarantees, they are good in the way of belief. (shrink)
If understanding is factive, the propositions that express an understanding are true. I argue that a factive conception of understanding is unduly restrictive. It neither reflects our practices in ascribing understanding nor does justice to contemporary science. For science uses idealizations and models that do not mirror the facts. Strictly speaking, they are false. By appeal to exemplification, I devise a more generous, flexible conception of understanding that accommodates science, reflects our practices, and shows a sufficient but not slavish sensitivity (...) to the facts. (shrink)
Jonathan Bennett (1974) maintains that Huckleberry Finn’s deliberations about whether to return Jim to slavery afford insight into the tension between sympathy and moral judgment; Miranda Fricker (2007) argues that the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird affords insight into the nature of testimonial injustice. Neither claims merely that the works prompt an attentive reader to think something new or to change her mind. Rather, they consider the reader cognitively better off for her encounters with the novels. Nor is (...) her cognitive improvement restricted to acquiring new justified true beliefs about the works themselves. What the reader gleans is supposed to enhance her knowledge or understanding of the .. (shrink)
Human beings are epistemically interdependent. Much of what we know and much of what we need to know we glean from others. Being a gregarious bunch, we are prone to venturing opinions whether they are warranted or not. This makes information transfer a tricky business. What we want from others is not just information, but reliable information. When we seek information, we are in the position of enquirers not examiners. We ask someone whether p because we do not ourselves already (...) know whether p. So we cannot check our informant’s bona fides by seeing whether she is speaking the truth about p. We need grounds for trust. In What’s the Point of Knowledge? Michael Hannon maintains that this is the predicament that underlies the concept of knowledge. The we here is comprehensive. Evidently, every language has a word for knowledge. This, Hannon suggests, indicates that the concept of knowledge satisfies a universal human need. A goal, if not the goal, of epistemology is to identify that need and ascertain how it is satisfied. Following Craig, Hannon argues that the point of knowledge is to enable us to identify good – that is, suitably reliable – informants. Let us call this the information transfer view. (shrink)
"Systematizes and develops in a comprehensive study Nelson Goodman's philosophy of language. The Goodman-Elgin point of view is important and sophisticated, and deals with a number of issues, such as metaphor, ignored by most other theories." --John R. Perry, Stanford University.
The arts and the sciences perform many of the same cognitive functions, both serving to advance understanding. This paper explores some of the ways exemplification operates in the two fields. Both scientific experiments and works of art highlight, underscore, display, or convey some of their own features. They thereby focus attention on them, and make them available for examination and projection. Thus, the Michelson-Morley experiment exemplifies the constancy of the speed of light. Jackson Pollock's "Number One" exemplifies the viscosity of (...) paint. Despite their similarities, science and art might seem to differ in their attitude toward facts. Science is said to adhere to facts; art, to be indifferent to them. Such, I urge, is not the case. Science, like art, often scorns fact to advance understanding through fiction. Thought experiments, I contend, are scientific fictions; literary and pictorial fictions, aesthetic thought experiments. (shrink)
Edward Craig and Michael Hannon agree that the function of knowledge is to enable us to identify informants whose word we can safely take. This requires that knowers display a publicly recognizable mark. Although this might suffice for information transfer, I argue that the position that emerges promotes testimonial injustice, since the mark of a good informant need not be shared by all who are privy to the facts we seek. I suggest a way the problem might be alleviated.
I show that it follows from both externalist and internalist theories that stupid people may be in a better position to know than smart ones. This untoward consequence results from taking our epistemic goal to be accepting as many truths as possible and rejecting as many falsehoods as possible, combined with a recognition that the standard for acceptability cannot be set too high, else scepticism will prevail. After showing how causal, reliabilist, and coherentist theories devalue intelligence, I suggest that knowledge, (...) as contemporary theories construe it, is not a particularly valuable cognitive achievement, and that we would do well to reopen epistemology to the study of cognitive excellences of all sorts. (shrink)
I argue that trustworthiness is an epistemic desideratum. It does not reduce to justified or reliable true belief, but figures in the reason why justified or reliable true beliefs are often valuable. Such beliefs can be precarious. If a belief's being justified requires that the evidence be just as we take it to be, then if we are off even by a little, the belief is unwarranted. Similarly for reliability. Although it satisfies the definition of knowledge, such a belief is (...) not trustworthy. We ought not use it as a basis for inference or action and ought not give others to believe it. The trustworthiness of a belief, I urge, depends on its being backed by reasons—considerations that other members of the appropriate epistemic community cannot reasonably reject. Trustworthiness is intersubjective. It both depends on and contributes to the evolving cognitive values of an epistemic community. (shrink)
Exemplification is the relation of an example to whatever it is an example of. Goodman maintains that exemplification is a symptom of the aesthetic: although not a necessary condition, it is an indicator that symbol is functioning aesthetically. I argue that exemplification is as important in science as it is in art. It is the vehicle by which experiments make aspects of nature manifest. I suggest that the difference between exemplars in the arts and the sciences lies in the way (...) they exemplify. Density and repleteness are characteristic of aesthetic exemplars but not of scientific ones. (shrink)
Understanding, as I construe it, is holistic. It is a matter of how commitments mesh to form a mutually supportive, independently supported system of thought. It is advanced by bootstrapping. We start with what we think we know and build from there. This makes education continuous with what goes on at the cutting edge of inquiry. Methods, standards, categories and stances are as important as facts. So something like E. D. Hirsch’s list of facts every fourth grader should know is (...) slightly silly. What makes for a good fourth grade education is not the set of facts the fourth grader knows, but the level of understanding she has achieved and the resources she can deploy to advance that understanding. Facts are part of the story, but so are fictions, methods, standards, and categories. A major part of understanding is recognizing what problems remain to be solved. (shrink)
Testimony consists in imparting information without supplying evidence or argument to back one's claims. To what extent does testimony convey epistemic warrant? C. J. A. Coady argues, on Davidsonian grounds, that (1) most testimony is true, hence (2) most testimony supplies warrant sufficient for knowledge. I appeal to Grice's maxims to undermine Coady's argument and to show that the matter is more complicated and context-sensitive than is standardly recognized. Informative exchanges take place within networks of shared, tacit assumptions that affect (...) the scope and strength of our claims, and the level of warrant required for their responsible assertion. The maxims explain why different levels of warrant are transferred in different contexts. (shrink)
Scientific realism holds that scientific representations are utterly objective. They describe the way the world is, independent of any point of view. In Scientific Representation, van Fraassen argues otherwise. If science is to afford an understanding of nature, it must be grounded in evidence. Since evidence is perspectivai, science cannot vindicate its claims using only utterly objective representations. For science to do its epistemic job, it must involve perspectivai representations. I explicate this argument and show its power.
_The Structure of Appearance_ presents a phenomenalist system which constructs enduring visible objects out of qualia. Nevertheless Goodman does not espouse phenomenalism. Why not? In answering this question this paper explicates Goodman’s views about the nature and functions of constructional systems, the prospects of reductionism, and the character of epistemology.
Predictions concerning the end of the world have proven less reliable than your broker’s recommendations or your fondest hopes. Whether you await the end fearfully or eagerly, you may rest assured that it will never come—not because the world is everlasting but because it has already ended, if indeed it ever began. But we need not mourn, for the world is indeed well lost, and with it the stultifying stereotypes of absolutism: the absurd notions of science as the effort to (...) discover a unique, prepackaged, but unfortunately undiscoverable reality, and of truth as agreement with that inaccessible reality. All notions of pure givenness and unconditional necessity and of a single correct perspective and system of categories are lost as well.If there is no such thing as the world, what are we living in? The answer might be “A world” or, better, “Several worlds.” For to deny that there is any such thing as the world is no more to deny that there are worlds than to deny that there is any such thing as the number between two and seven is to deny that there are numbers between two and seven. The task of describing the world is as futile as the task of describing the number between two and seven.The world is lost once we appreciate a curious feature of certain pairs of seemingly contradictory statements: if either is true, both are. Although “The earth is in motion” and “The earth is at rest” apparently contradict each other, both are true. But from a contradiction, every statement follows. So unless we are prepared to acknowledge the truth of every statement, the appearance of contradiction in cases like these must somehow be dispelled. Nelson Goodman is professor emeritus of philosophy at Harvard University. He has written Of Mind and Other Matters, Ways of Worldmaking, Problems and Projects, Languages of Art, The Structure of Appearance, and Fact, Fiction, and Forecast. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “How Buildings Mean” . Catherine Z. Elgin is associate professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of With Reference to Reference and is currently writing a book entitled Philosophy without Foundations. (shrink)
Recent philosophical discussions construe disagreement as epistemically unsettling. On learning that a peer disagrees, it is said, you should suspend judgment, lower your credence, or dismiss your peer’s conviction as somehow flawed, even if you can neither identify the flaw nor explain why you think she is the party in error. Philosophers do none of these things. A distinctive feature of philosophy as currently practiced is that, although we marshal the strongest arguments we can devise, we do not expect others (...) to agree. Nor are we dismayed then they do not. Through a survey of familiar professional practices, I argue that philosophy rightly revels in responsible disagreement. This discloses important and perhaps surprising facets of the epistemology of philosophy. (shrink)
Testimony consists in imparting information without supplying evidence or argument to back one's claims. To what extent does testimony convey epistemic warrant? C. J. A. Coady argues, on Davidsonian grounds, that most testimony is true, hence most testimony supplies warrant sufficient for knowledge. I appeal to Grice's maxims to undermine Coady's argument and to show that the matter is more complicated and context‐sensitive than is standardly rocognized. Informative exchanges take place within networks of shared, tacit assumptions that affect the scope (...) and strength of our claims, and the level of warrant required for their responsible assertion. The maxims explain why different levels of warrant are transferred in different contexts. (shrink)
Cognitive advancement is not always a matter of acquiring new information. It often consists in reconfiguration--in reorganizing a domain so that hitherto overlooked or underemphasized features, patterns, opportunities, and resources come to light. Several modes of reconfiguration prominent in the arts--metaphor, fiction, exemplification, and perspective--play important roles in science as well. They do not perform the same roles as literal, descriptive, perspectiveless scientific truths. But to understand how science advances understanding, we need to appreciate the ineliminable cognitive contributions of non-literal, (...) non-descriptive symbols. (shrink)
Testimony consists in imparting information without supplying evidence or argument to back one’s claims. To what extent does testimony convey epistemic warrant? C. J. A. Coady argues, on Davidsonian grounds, that (1) most testimony is true, hence (2) most testimony supplies warrant sufficient for knowledge. I appeal to Grice’s maxims to undermine Coady’s argument and to show that the matter is more complicated and context-sensitive than is standardly recognized. Informative exchanges take place within networks of shared, tacit assumptions that affect (...) the scope and strength of our claims, and the level of warrant required for their responsible assertion. The maxims explain why different levels of warrant are transferred in different contexts. (shrink)
Nelson Goodman was one of the soaring figures of twentieth century philosophy. His work radically reshaped the subject, forcing fundamental reconceptions of philosophy’s problems, ends, and means. Goodman not only contributed to diverse fields, from philosophy of language to aesthetics, from philosophy of science to mereology, his works cut across these and other fields, revealing shared features and connecting links that narrowly focused philosophers overlook. That the author of The Structure of Appearance also wrote Languages of Art is not in (...) the end surprising. (shrink)
W. V. Quine is famous, or perhaps infamous, for his repudiation of the analytic/synthetic distinction and kindred dualisms—the necessary/contingent dichotomy and the a priori/a posteriori dichotomy. As these dualisms have come back into vogue in recent years, it might seem that the denial of the dualisms is no part of Quine's enduring legacy. Such a conclusion is unwarranted—not only because the dualisms are deeply problematic, but because "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" haunts even those who want to retain them. "Two Dogmas" (...) reconfigured the philosophical terrain and issued a challenge to philosophy's self understanding—a challenge that has yet to be fully met. The commitment to the analytic/synthetic distinction derives from the recognition that the truth of any sentence depends on two things: the way the world is and what the sentence means. It seems natural, then, that each sentence should be subject to a sort of factor analysis that disentangles the contribution of language to its truth value from the contribution of the world. Just how much each contributes varies from one sentence to the next. When the contribution of the world goes to zero, the sentence is analytic. (shrink)
Teaching is not testimony. Although both convey information, they have different uptake requirements. Testimony aims to impart information and typically succeeds if the recipient believes that informationon account of having been told by a reliable informant. Teaching aims to equip learners to go beyond the information given—to leverage that information to broaden, deepen, and critique their current understanding of a topic. Teaching fails if the recipients believe the information only because it is what they have been told.
Descartes’ demon is a crafty little devil. Despite centuries of effort by exceedingly clever thinkers, he continues to elude our clutches. Skepticism endures. The reason, Richard Foley thinks, is not hard to discover. It is simply impossible to break through the Cartesian circle. Our only means of vindicating a claim to knowledge or rational belief is to show that it is produced or sustained by our best epistemic methods, that it satisfies the best standards we can devise for rational belief. (...) That it does so is clearly better than the alternative. But the standards and methods themselves are vulnerable. How do we know that they are reliable? The point, as we all realized in Philosophy 101, is that there is no ironclad guarantee. Even if Descartes had managed to generate an unexceptionable proof that God exists and is not a deceiver, the question would arise: What insures that what we consider an unexceptionable proof actually demonstrates the truth of the conclusion? Raising our standards or improving our methods of proof will not get us out of our predicament. For no matter how high we raise our standards, the question recurs. We cannot prove that our perceptions, memories, inferences or opinions are reliable. The Cartesian circle is the epistemic circle. (shrink)