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Normalizing Naturalized Epistemology

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Normalizing Naturalized Epistemology

ABSTRACT: The most trenchant criticism of naturalistic approaches to epistemology is that they are unable to successfully deal with norms and questions of justification. Epistemology without norms, it is alleged, is epistemology in name only, an endeavor not worth doing (Stroud, Kim, Almeder, Rorty). What one makes of this depends on whether one takes epistemology to be worth doing in the first place (cf. e.g., Kim and Rorty). However, I shall argue, it is possible to account for justification within a naturalistic framework broadly construed along Quinean lines. Along the way I shall offer a corrective to Quine’s celebrated dictum that the Humean condition is the human condition.

The most trenchant criticism of naturalistic approaches to epistemology is that they are unable to successfully deal with norms and questions of justification. Epistemology without norms, it is alleged, is epistemology in name only, an endeavor not worth doing. (See e. g., Stroud 1984, Kim 1988, Rorty 1979) Furthermore, it is claimed, an epistemology without norms or with norms fashioned from scientific practice leaves science prey to skeptical doubts. What one makes of this depends on whether one takes epistemology to be worth doing in the first place. (cf. e.g., Kim and Rorty) However, I shall argue, it is possible to allow for justification within a broadly construed Quinean naturalistic framework. The skeptic can be disarmed as Quine has argued. Along the way I shall offer a corrective to Quine's celebrated dictum that the Humean condition is the human condition.

1. Descriptive versus Traditional Epistemologies — Three Views

Naturalized epistemologies challenge the tradition in arguing that the description of cognitive processes is a more central epistemological concern than the search for foundations and principles of justification. Traditionalists have responded by challenging the legitimacy of the descriptivist's claim to be epistemologists at all. (e.g., Dretske 1971, Dretske 1985, Kim 1988, Stroud 1981, Stroud 1984, Hull 1982, Hull 1988)

One way of sorting out the relationship between descriptive and traditional epistemology is to taxonomize their connections as follows:

(1) Descriptive epistemology is a competitor to traditional epistemology. On this view, both are trying to address the same concerns and offering competing solutions to similar problems. Insofar as the tradition has been concerned with normative and prescriptive claims, the traditionalists have argued that descriptive epistemology fails to address these traditional questions and is epistemology in name only. Purely descriptive epistemologies, it is argued, cannot deal with problems of justification.
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