Posted in Epistemology on March 8, 2012|
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Hey guys! Here is my attempt to start a discussion after many months away from the blog. 🙂
Last week, during a discussion about naturalized epistemology, a very interesting series of interconnected topics came up that I want to explore more in-depth. For those who don’t know, naturalized epistemology is the idea that epistemology should be connected with science in some way. Many epistemologists merely believe that we should consider developments in cognitive science when doing our epistemology. More radical theorists seem to want epistemology to equal cognitive science.
This brings up the first topic I want to discuss. Cognitive science tells us how we do think, perhaps even how we can think. Should we tie justification or knowledge to only how we do or can think? That would neatly do away with skepticism, but at what cost? It seems that such a method of approaching epistemology would put some serious limits on epistemological theories including excluding the concept of possible worlds (which science can tell us nothing about) and seemingly requiring separate theories of justification or knowledge for different life-forms (like Vulcans or Hobbits or Sonny from I, Robot, which would potentially have different cognitive capabilities).
So I have a few questions. First, should we tie epistemology to science in such a strong way? Do you have a problem with excluding discussions of possible worlds from epistemology? How about sacrificing a universal (or at least almost) epistemology? Is it possible to have this close tie without the above effects? Feel free to chip in any other possible ramifications of such a strong naturalized epistemology you can think of, plus any nerdier examples than Spock and Frodo.
Oh, and thank you to the reading group! Many of these ideas are theirs, not mine. Credit where credit’s due.
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“Morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes”—Michael Ruse
[The following was presented to the UNF Philosophy Club on December 9, 2011. By no means is it complete and it is my intention to develop a more coherent paper arguing against the Moral Error Theory. I am open to any comments and criticisms]
As we approach the 35th year anniversary of John Mackie’s, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, it has become an appropriate time to commemorate the arguments put forth along with more recent ones, as well as some criticisms of his argument. Though, to begin outright with the arguments discussed may create some confusion. Therefore, in an attempt to avoid this confusion, it is essential that a brief account of the origins of the Moral Error Theory be given.
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In ‘Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism,’ Alvin Plantinga argues that naturalism excludes the means to validating our cognitive faculties. In a nutshell, Plantinga argues that if the reliability of our cognitive faculties is under question, one cannot answer the question whether they are reliable by pointing out that these faculties themselves deliver the belief that they are reliable; one needs more, one needs good, independent reason to believe our cognitive faculties are reliable. Crudely, Plantinga criticisizes empiricists / naturalists for failing to provide a logically satisfactory argument for asserting that our cognitive faculties are reliable.
Plantinga’s argument, though, does not immediately commend itself to acceptance: Essentially, the empiricist / naturalist must provide an argument for the foundational reliability of our cognitive faculties only if she first accepts a foundationalist epistemology. However, empiricists / naturalists need not accept a foundationalist epistemology. Indeed, the empiricist / naturalist should instead reject the premise that knowledge requires an Archimedean foundation. (I guess Plantinga could assert that the empiricist / naturalist is somehow committed to a foundationalist epistemology, but I would like to see the argument for that. In any case, I have little confidence the argument would work.)
Rather, pace Hasok Chang (epistemic iteration), C.S. Peirce (pragmatism) or W.V.O. Quine (coherentism), the empiricist / naturalist can take other routes. Though I have significant misgivings about coherentism, it remains a viable option. However, a more promising route, I believe, would be Chang’s idea of epistemic iteration, which is a thoroughly proper empiricist epistemology (situated within a largely Peircean pragmatist framework). To see this, let us look at Chang’s analysis of the historical problem of the reliability of thermometry in early and mid 19th science. Though crude and without the requisite scholarly detail, the synopsis should suffice to give the rough view.
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“and if Christ hath not risen, vain is your faith, ye are yet in your sins;”
1 Corinthians 15:17
I want to grant the strongest possible case allowable for the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, I expect to afford much leeway- indeed, more than is rationally justified- to the claims of the historicity and reliability of the Christian texts. That is to say I will grant, though I do not think it is true, that the eyewitness reports in the gospels and the epistles are from individuals who were neither inappropriately credulous, uneducated, nor emotionally and psychologically unfit to provide generally reliable testimonies. I will further grant, though I do not think it is true, that the gospels and the epistles are independent, generally reliable and unbiased historical documents which track the events under consideration accurately- as accurately as any historical text could, that is. I will also grant, though I do not think it is true, that the testimony of the Church Fathers was generally reliable and has transmitted accurately the succeeding 1,800 years to the current day.
I shall further suppose, though I am not sure how they might accomplish this, that historians can exclude all possible naturalistic explanations, with the exception of so-called swoon hypotheses, to include even future explanations which further scientific investigation might disclose and more elaborate explanations such as extraterrestrial interventions not now seriously entertained. Even then, I shall contend, Christians are not justified in believing that Jesus’ reported postmortem sightings were the result of a Christian miracle. I will argue that even on these favorable grounds the Christian is not justified in believing the Christian god rose Jesus from the dead.
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