Two Points Against Naturalized Epistemology
When Plato tried to distinguish in "The Theatetus" between mere belief and knowledge, as an attempt to answer the skeptical doubts concerning the possibility of our knowledge of the external world , he has created what has become known throughout the history of philosophy as "epistemology" and what has since then, become a distinct province of inquiry whose main concern is determining the nature, the scope, the sources and limits of human knowledge.
These problems, which are known as the traditional problems are to be determined, according to the traditional approach to epistemology, as exemplified throughout the history of epistemology, by using a priori methods such as conceptual analysis, not by any kind of empirical investigation.
Such view of epistemology was rejected, partially or wholly in different ways and for various reasons by the recent trend known. as "naturalized epistemology". (1)
The aim of this paper is to raise two points against two versions of naturalized epistemology; the first is that epistemology can be restricted to doing science, as held by Quine who is cited to having held the strong version of naturalized epistemology, (2) the second is that justification can be given a naturalistic account, as held by A. Goldman and others, from which I conclude that traditional epistemology survives the attempt to naturalize. Lets put the matter in details.
What Is A Naturalized Epistemology?
In any attempt to defend or refute naturalized epistemology, no one can ignore Quine as he is considered a staunch advocate of naturalized epistemology. (3) Quine says:
What does this long text imply?
It implies at least a) eliminating traditional epistemology as the distinct province of inquiry whose concern is the nature, the limit and the sources of knowledge in favor of science or psychology. By doing psychology; i.e. by discovering the processes by which we actually arrive at belief, we arrive at the beliefs we ought to (5) because the processes by which we arrive at the latter beliefs are just the same as those by which we arrive at the former. "After psychology nothing is left over for epistemology. Epistemology is to psychology as alchemy to chemistry" (6)
b) The problem of justification is answered from within science, is given a naturalistic account. "We gave up trying to justify our knowledge of the external world by rational reconstruction" (7) "Justification is not dropped, but naturalized". (8)
Against these two points Id like to argue that: a) Epistemology cant be so restricted to doing science. b) Justification cant be given a naturalistic account. Lets focus on the 1st point.
First: Epistemology is a distinct province of inquiry:
(1) Quines account of naturalism doesnt replace epistemology with psychology but merely eliminates epistemology:
Quine claims that, having encouragement in Darwin, nature has endowed us with a predisposition for believing truths, and that we arrive at beliefs in just the way we ought to. What we need is only to discover the processes by which we actually arrive at beliefs, because in this way we discover at the same time the processes by which we ought to arrive at beliefs. Then the epistemological enterprise will be replaced by empirical psychology. (9)
Here I argue that if we were to believe in Quines theses, then the epistemological enterprise would not be replaced by psychology, but would be tout court discarded. I can put my argument as follows:
If nature, as Quine says, endows us with a predisposition for believing truths, and that we actually arrive at our beliefs by the same processes by which we ought to, then what is the merit for psychology? Why do we need to discover our processes? If we guarantee that our beliefs are true, what do we need psychology, that helps in discovering the beliefs-generating processes, for? Epistemology would not be replaced by empirical psychology, but would be totally eliminated.
Such conclusion wouldnt, however, be accepted by Quine who sees the question of justification as the original problem that is not to be dropped from epistemology but only to be naturalized, which means that epistemology is not eliminated but still goes on. Ill argue, later on, that the problem of justification cant be given a naturalistic answer, a point that, if I succeed in showing, will support, and be supported by, my claim that traditional epistemology cant be replaced by empirical psychology, as Quine wished it be.
2- The traditional questions of epistemology cant be eliminated. They are, at least, assumed in every attempt to construct an epistemology:
The main concern of epistemology has always been the nature, the limit, the sources of knowledge and an attempt to answer the skeptics doubts concerning the possibility of knowledge.
This is a historical fact that can be easily shown by just reading the history of philosophy. I argue then with Bradie that Sir Karl Popper was wrong in asserting, in the logic of Scientific Discovery, that the main problem of epistemology is and has always been the growth of knowledge. (10)
I claim that these questions, which I like to call eternal, are inevitable, indispensable and cant be eliminated from epistemology in two senses; (1) in the sense that they are assumed in every attempt to construct an epistemology, (2) in the sense that they still remain as we consciously probe them in theorizing about knowledge and are even sometimes led to such a task. To begin with the first sense in which I take traditional questions to be indispensable and hard to eliminate, I argue that they are presumed in every attempt to construct an epistemology. Sir Karl Popper has probably felt this that in attacking the traditional conception of the problem of knowledge, he didnt show it, for example, to be internally inadequate, or its questions are needless, he has rather "sought to refocus the problem of knowledge as the problem of the growth of knowledge". (11) In this way, he didnt try to give a solution to the problem of knowledge, but changed its meaning, or, rather, eliminated it.
In every attempt to construct an epistemology, we give answers to such questions, even naturalized epistemology has given answers to them to the effect that we can consider naturalized epistemology an answer to these questions:
1- For Quine, for instance, the scientific knowledge is the nature, the scope and the limit of knowledge. Beyond the scientific facts or outside science, we cant hope to get knowledge. The source of knowledge, as he states explicitly, is the combination of the subjective and objective, i.e. "The combination of two quite general, but distinguishable, factors-the contribution of the world and the contribution of the knowing or perceiving subject. (12) Quines naturalized epistemology has given, then, answers to the traditional questions.
2- In Davidsons attempt to give a theory of meaning and knowledge, he had in mind, though happy to call himself naturalized, how to give an account of the foundations of linguistic communication and its implications for truth, belief and knowledge in a way that prevents the sceptic from getting off the ground, (13) through he states very clearly that he didnt set out to refute the sceptic. (14) His attempt is, in a sense, an answer to the skeptics doubts concerning the possibility of knowledge. Davidsons attempt is another example to show how the traditional questions and answers to them are assumed even in the attempt to naturalize epistemology.
3- Epistemology cant be wholly naturalized:
a) It deals with questions distinct from the scientists practices. It has its own distinct questions.
Now, we come to the second sense in which I claimed that the traditional questions are not only assumed, but that we still ask them in a conscious way, we still need them to theorize about knowledge to the effect that gives epistemology a distinct subject-matter. I argue, first, with Maffie that "there still remains a family of pre-and extra scientific problems which motivate our doing epistemology". (15) Epistemology, for Maffie, continues to address pre-scientific questions such as "Can humans acquire knowledge of themselves and their environment?" and "Do we really know what we claim to know?" as well as extra-scientific questions such as., "Does science yield knowledge?". (16)
I ask: Arent these questions in turn tantamount to the traditional questions: "Is knowledge possible at all?" "Can we turn our beliefs into knowledge?" "What is the source of knowledge?" If Maffies pre-and extra scientific questions are no more rendered pointless or absurd than the hegemony of religious institutions rendered pointless or absurd the ethical questions, "Does religion offer an adequate morality?" and "Ought we to adopt religious moral practices and beliefs?", (17) one can analogously say: the traditional questions I see tantamount to Maffies are not absurd or pointless. They are still asked and consequently answers to them should be given.
Second, Quines conception of epistemology as a study of the input-output relation led him and others to some epistemological questions that, I doubt, they are within the scientists domain of research, but form a distinctive province of inquiry. If I am right, this will increase my and Maffies conviction that there are extra-scientific questions that motivate our doing epistemology. Quines conception of knowledge was rejected by Donald Davidson, for example, as "Cartesian in spirit and consequence" (18) as a first person approach to knowledge, and therefore susceptible to skepticism. Quines conception leads then to the question".
1- What counts as the right conception of the nature of knowledge?" It has also led to the questions: 2- What justifies our beliefs, sensations (Quine) or another belief (Davidson)?" 3-Are observation sentences the final checkpoints of science? or "What counts as observation sentences?" 4- How are they related to the neural input?" (19)
The first problem with which epistemology has arisen, viz., the distinction between knowledge and mere belief, which I will discuss later, has been tackled by most of the naturalists. (20)
If the naturalists attempts were not directly intended to probe these questions, they necessarily lead to asking and answering them, which can be taken to support my claim that traditional epistemological questions are not easy to eliminate and thus form a distinct province of inquiry.
Quine would argue that in so far as we dont deal with these questions in an a priori way, using the conceptual analysis, but we tackle them as an empirical study using the a posteriori methods, we are still within the wide domain of science. Here Id argue that even if one accepts epistemology to be using the a posteriori method-a point which Ill not tackle here but for which I intend to devote a separate paper-this doesnt prevent it from having its own subject-matter. Its distinct in at least the same way psychology, physiology, biology, sociology and physics are distinct. The methodological unity does not entail what the logical positivists call "the unity of sciences". That science is a unity, for Carnap, means that all empirical statements can be expressed in a single language, all states of affairs are of the one kind and are known by the same method. Following Neurath, he argued that this fundamental language is the language of physics in which all the propositions of science, that are to be tested by reference to experience, can be formulated. (21) The unity of science is, then, due, not only to the unity of method they all use, but also to the unity of object, i.e., yielding empirical knowledge of the world. Accordingly, if one accepts the epistemological problems to be tackled a posteriori, epistemology still retains its distinctness from all sciences in that while the sciences claim to yield knowledge of the world, epistemology is a reflection on knowledge. And this leads to the next point.
b- The Question of Normativity:
Epistemology is, then, knowledge self-reflective, and being so involves knowledge-evaluating. Science, as the only knowledge available according to naturalists, must be evaluated- Epistemology is then normative in nature. Because of this aspect critics have seen it hard to naturalize epistemology. I can formulate it as follows: Science is descriptive and to remain a genuine naturalist is either to eliminate the role of normativity altogether and thus to change the sense of epistemology, which nobody has claimed, "the normative is naturalized, not dropped" (22) or to accept it within science at the expense of an expansion in the sense of science beyond the substantial issues formulated in natural laws. The naturalists have voted for the latter, "The crowning normative principle of naturalized epistemology is nothing less than empiricism itself, For (empiricism) is both a rule of scientific method and a scientific discovery. It is natural science that tells us that our information about the world comes only through impacts on our sensory surfaces. And it is conspicuously normative, counselling us to mistrust soothsayers and telepathists". (23)
Quines argument doesnt, nevertheless, answer the question how we can evaluate the scientific method within this expanded scientific enterprise. It might be because he doesnt see normativity as evaluating or assessing. Yet, if by normativity he means just counselling, as he himself says, it may be taken in one of these two senses; it may be taken (1) as mere proposal or recommendation to adhere to the scientific method that works best, a proposal that can be simply refused, or much stronger (2) as a criterion of what we ought and oughtnt to do; we ought to adhere to the scientific method, and oughtnt to trust soothsayers and telepathists Even if such a criterion is fully justified, its against the claim that epistemology can be wholly descriptive; to state what ought and oughtnt to be done is to admit a normative component within the epistemological enterprise. In fact, it is a challenge to the imagination to reduce normativity to descriptivity, or to see epistemology as both descriptive and normative in the same time.
Second: The Question of Justification:
"How is the human knowledge in general possible?"
This is the question known as the question of justification and the question that naturalized epistemology, in their attempt to eliminate traditional epistemology, couldnt drop because" Justification is necessary for knowing, and closely related to it". (24)
But how can it be dealt with within the naturalists camp? Ill try to show how" the questions of justification are the fundamental difficulties into which the naturalist gets involved" (25) to end up by saying that justification cant be given a naturalistic account.
According to naturalized epistemology, traditional epistemology couldnt answer the general question "How is the human knowledge in general possible?" because it is not an apriori question, "naturalistic or scientific understanding of human knowledge will give us everything there is to understand about human knowledge" (26) "there is no .. apriori .. ground outside of science upon which science can either be justified or rationally reconstructed, as was the wont of traditional epistemologists". (27)
To give an answer to this question is to give an analysis of the general notion of justification that focuses on psychological processes. This is the thesis known as the thesis of reliabilism, As A. Goldmams version of this thesis was chosen among other papers in a recent anthology, edited by kornblith, about naturalizing epistemology, I take it as representing the answers given by naturalized epistemologists to the question of justification. Its this thesis as expressed, mainly, by Alvin Goldman that Ill discuss in detail.
1- Goldman sees that whats wrong with some attempts to confer the status of "justified" on a belief is that they didnt restrict on why the belief is held, i.e., on what causally initiates the belief or causally sustains it. (28)
"The correct principle of justified belief must be principles that make causal requirements, where "cause" is construed broadly to include sustainers as well as initiators of belief (i.e. processes that determine, or help to overdetermine, a beliefs continuing to be held". (29) Goldman argues that the correct processes that cause beliefs are perceptual processes, remembering, good reasoning and introspection. These processes are reliable as they produce true beliefs. In explaining "true beliefs" he suggests the notion of "conditional reliability". "A process is conditionally reliable when a sufficient proportion of its out-put beliefs are true given that its input-belief are true". (30)
From (1) it seems that truth is the last checkpoint, is what justifies a certain belief and turns it into knowledge. Justification is then tied to truth as it was the case for the traditional epistemologist (Plato and Descartes for example). But what determines the truth? What determines that the input-beliefs are true? Goldman does not give us any answer.
Maffie (1995 a) who shares with Goldman the thesis of reliability gives the answer. He says that reliabilism presupposes the truth of our current scientific beliefs about the world. (31)
Naturalists understand then that to justify is to have a true point of start. They seem to find this point of start in the presupposition of the truth of our current scientific beliefs. It is the replacement of what they call the traditional epistemologists position of zero. In answering the question of justification, the traditional epistemologist suspects all truths about the external world and tries to start from the beginning, from a position of zero.
No one would deny the truth, or at least the current truth of our scientific beliefs. Nevertheless, I argue that taking it as the point of start wont help in answering the traditional question of justification . I can put my argument as follows: What are these beliefs that we start with presupposing their truths? Quine answers: Our beliefs are mere construction or projection from stimulation. Then Id say with Stroud "Our beliefs wont amount to knowledge, or even to true beliefs. We wont be in a position to understand in general how knowledge, or even true belief, about the world is possible" (32) because these beliefs, according to Quine, are constituted from an objective as well as a subjective component, and it is this subjective component that prevents explaining how knowledge is possible.
Did Goldman manage to answer that question with his theory of justified belief? this is what is left to see.
2- If we ask Goldman: why are the perceptual processes, remembering, good reasoning and introspection examples of the processes he takes to justify our beliefs? He answers: They are the processes we believe to be reliable belief forming processes, "Such an explanation must refer to our beliefs about reliability, not to the actual facts". (33) "What matters is what we believe, not what is true". (34) So if our beliefs., according to Goldman, are justified by the processes which are reliable because, we believe them to be so, not because they are in fact. reliable, one can say that our beliefs are justified not by the reliable processes, but by the processes we believe them to be reliable, i.e., by the belief that these are the reliable processes. Our beliefs are then justified, not by processes , but rather by other beliefs.
3- Goldmans theory of justified belief, which he calls an Historical theory, since it makes the justificational status of a belief depend on its prior history, doesnt see it necessary that when a belief is justified the believer knows it is justified, or can state or give a justification for it. (35) As there are many facts about a cognizer to which he lacks "privilege access", Goldman considers the justificational status of his beliefs one of those things. "Just as a-person can know without knowing that he knows, so he can have justified belief without knowing it is justified". (36) A justified belief gets its status of being justified from some processes or properties that make it justified without implying that there must be an argument, or reason, or anything else, "possessed", at the time of belief by the believer. (37)
I see that Goldmans use of "justified" is a narrow one that leads and has led him to some difficulty. Contrary to Goldman, I think that it is necessary for a justified belief to be known to be so, otherwise, what is the merit of its being justified? Surely, some of our beliefs are justified, and are thus knowledge, without our being able to show them to be justified, but, then, this is equal to their being unjustified. Not having access to the status of a certain belief is a suspension of the matter, it is indifferent to us whether the belief is justified or unjustified if we are not sometimes in a position to decide whether a belief is justified or not. Justification, as I see it, must involve a conscious activity, which Goldman did not see necessary, or a conscious element, according to which, one is able to say that a certain belief is justified.
It seems that Goldman felt, after a while, that it was not enough for a belief to be justified when its only caused by a reliable cognitive process, as he tried to meet this difficulty by suggesting that "the cognizer must be justified in believing that the ancestry of his belief is reliable" (38) which he put in two steps:
Not wanting, correctly thinking I believe, to base his theory on subjective justification, he postulated the cognizers belief, the belief that his original belief, or the meta-belief, to be caused by a reliable cognitive process:
I think that Goldman didnt solve the matter but complicated it, because what applies to the original belief applies in the same way to the meta-belief. As he, correctly I think, noticed, if it is implied from (b) that the reliability of a beliefs own cognitive ancestry does not make it justified, but that "the reliability of a meta-beliefs ancestry confers justifiedness on the first-order belief, the question arises as to what makes the meta-belief itself- justified". (41) Even if we accept the meta-belief to be caused by a reliable process, it is justified by a process we believe to be reliable.
If from 2 and 3, it is "beliefs" -the beliefs about reliability- that justify our beliefs, one cant say that Goldman has given an account of how our knowledge is possible, one cant say that Goldmans theory of justified beliefs answers the traditional question of justification. All we can say is that Goldmans theory explains clearly, and shares, the naturalists theses that in justifying our beliefs, we cant start from a position of zero, but always from some beliefs; in Goldmans case, from the input beliefs and the beliefs about reliability.
Then, one might accept Goldmans theory, but only as a scientific theory, as an explanatory theory of when and why our beliefs are justified, as he himself puts it, (42) not as an answer to the philosophical traditional question of justification, of how knowledge in general is possible. (43) I dont know whether Goldman intends his theory as an answer to the traditional question of justification or not,but, nevertheless, I take his theory, as I said before, as an example to show that the traditional question of justification cant by given a naturalistic answer.
Some might say, as Haack for instance, that to give an analyses of the general notion of justification focusing on psychological processes is not the only alternative to answer the question of justification. One can retain the traditional concept of justification, i.e., "that criteria of justification need to be objectively grounded" (44) without having to undertake such task apriori, but relying on ones presumed knowledge about human subjects, their cognitive capacities and limitations, (45) relying on science, where "science", for her, as distinguished from science, is not restricted to natural sciences as the latter term means, but which includes philosophy as well, (46) thus remaining naturalist, or "modest reformist naturalist", as she puts it. (47)
Without going any further, it is clear to me that one can not remain genuinely naturalist while retaining the traditional concept of epistemology, and vice versa, no genuine epistemology can be given naturalistic account without a change in the concept of epistemology itself. My conviction is that: to be compatible with themselves, the naturalists should have conceded that the traditional question of justification is, for them, illegitimate or incoherent, which some didnt. Quine and Haack provide good examples of my claim; as Barry Stroud has noticed, Quine "persisted in that the original problem was that of justifying or validating our beliefs about the world, which would seem that naturalized epistemology can or should answer the question of justification", (48) Susan Haack, elsewhere, explicitly accepts the legitimacy of the problem of ratification, i.e. the relation between justification and truth. (49)
The logical positivists were more compatible than naturalists in tackling such point, when they admitted that such a question was meaningless rather than trying to answer it. According to the logical positivists principle of verifiability, as expressed by Ayer , a proposition has a meaning if it can be empirically verifiable; if it is possible for experience to render it possible. As no possible experience can lead us to answer the traditional question of justification, it is, then, a pseudo-question, or a meaningless one that no answer to it can be given. (50)
But what does it mean that some naturalists didnt see the traditional question of justification as illegitimate or incoherent, and tried to give an answer to it?
Cant this fact be taken to support my claim that the traditional questions of epistemology are in dispensable, in the sense that they impose themselves and lead us to probe them, thus, hard to eliminate? But if they are at the same time hard to be given naturalistic accounts? Does it mean returning back to the a priori methods in dealing with such questions? This I leave as an open question to a further research.
I am indebted to James Maffie for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
(1) For a good detailed survey of naturalized epistemology see, Maffie, J. 1990, "Recent work on Naturalized Epistemology "American Philosophical Quarterly 27, no, 4:281-293.
(2) See, Bradie, M. 1989. Evolutionary Epistemology as Naturalized Epistemology. In Issues in Evolutionary Epistemology, eds. K. Hahlweg and C.A. Hooker, State University of New York press p. 396.
(3) See, Gibson, R. 1996 "Quines Behaviorism" In The philosophy of psychology, eds W.U. Donohue and R. Kitchener, Sage publications, London p.96.
(4) Quine 1969 "Epistemology Naturalized" reprinted in Naturalising Epistemology, ed. H. Kornblith, 1985. Cambridge MIT press pp. 23-24.
(5) Ibid p.5.
(6) Bradie, M., 1989, op.cit, p.396
(7) Quine, 1969, op. cit., p. 25.
(8) Quine, 1990 Reply to Lauener. In Perspectives on Quine, eds. R. Barret and R. Gibson, Basel Black well p.229.
(9) Kornblith, 1985, op. cit. p.5.
(10) Bradie 1989, op. cit. p. 397.
(11) Ibid, p. 396.
(12) Stroud, B, 1981 "The Significance of Naturalized Epistemology" reprinted in H. Kornblith 1985, op. cit. p. 72.
(13) My italics.
(14) Davidson, D. "Afterthoughts, 1987" in A.R. Malachowski, ed. Reading Rorty. Oxford: Basil Black well, 1990, p. 136. It was through (R. Gibson 1994) that I took notice of that paper.
(15) Maffie, J. 1995 "Towards an Anthropology of Epistemology" in "The philosophical Forum XXVI, no, 3. p. 222.
(16) Ibid, p. 222.
(17) Ibid, p. 222.
(18) Davidson, D. 1990 "Meaning, Truth and Evidence" in Perspective on Quine, op. chit P. 76.
(19) For a detailed survey of that discussion, see Gibson, R. 1994. Quine and Davidson: Two Naturalized Epistemologists. Inquiry 37 pp. 449-63.
(20) See, for example, Kitcher 1980 "Apriori Knowledge". Goldman 1979 "What is Justified Belief "both reprinted in H. Kornblith, ed. op. cit. Haack, S.1990 "Rebuilding the ship while Sailing on the Water". In Perspectives on Quine, op. cit. To name just a few.
(21) Passmore, J., 1972 A Hundred Years of Philosophy, Penguin books, P.377. 378.
(22) Quine, 1990, op. cit. p. 229.
(23) Ibid, p. 229.
(24) Goldman, 1979 op. chit p. 91.
(25) Lauener, H. 1990 Holism and Naturalized Epistemology confronted with the problem of truth. In perspectives on Quine op. chit p. 214.
(26) Stroud, 1981, op. chit, p. 86.
(27) Gilbson, R. 1996, op. chit, p. 96.
(28) Goldman, 1979, op. chit p. 98.
(29) Ibid, p. 99.
(30) Ibid, p. 103.
(31) Maffie, 1995a, op. chit p. 231.
(32) Stroud, 1981, op. chit p. 80.
(33) Goldman, 1979 op.cit p. 107.
(34) Ibid, p.107.
(35) Ibid, p.92.
(36) Ibid, p.105.
(37) Ibid, p.93.
(38) Ibid, p.108.
(39) Ibid, p.109.
(40) Ibid, p.109.
(41) Ibid, p.109.
(42) Ibid, p.91.
(43) Susan Haack has condemned Goldman that, by his suggestion that the reliability of belief-forming processes is constitutive of justification, he has trivialized the problem as a substantial issue has been evaded (why should one care about having rational beliefs? how could one ever be in a position to tell that a belief is justified. See Haack, 1990. op. chit p.118. Lauener that empirical psychology will not solve genuine problem of justification. See Lauener, 1990, op. cit. p. 216.
(44) Haack, S. 1990, op. chit p.117.
(45) Ibid, p.112.
(46) Ibid, p.121.
(47) Ibid, p.120.
(48) Stroud, 1981 op.cit p. 75.
(49) Haack, 1990, op.cit p. 119.
(50) Ayer, A. "Language, truth and Logic "penguin books, 1980 p. 48, 50.