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January 07, 2005

Why Naturalized Epistemology Is Normative

Finally, the naturalized epistemology paper is done:

Download Why Naturalized Epistemology is Normative

Thank you to everyone who submitted comments on previous iterations!


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Is anyone else having trouble downloading this?

Just found your site via the nudibranch link, and I like what I've seen of it quite a bit (despite our near total disagreement on Quine)! I'll definitely have to add it to my links!

I found your paper interesting, and would have to read it several more times to say anything coherent about it, but your remarks on Quine's view of language acquisition jumped out at me, and brought to mind Chomsky's objection that Quine's misunderstanding of the mechanisms involved led him to ignore how semantic connections in early language acquisition cause clear analytic-synthetic distinctions to arise "as a matter of empirical fact."

Again, great site! Very thought-provoking.

The first block quote on page 7 contains this phrase: "meting out the THE experimental subject"

That said, I found the writing in your paper very energetic and very densely packed with information. Very good stuff. But, I wonder your views on philosophy of science. In particular, what connection do you see between philosophy of science and epistemology?

Personally, I see philosophy of science as more fruitful than epistemology - when applied to the search for justifiable grounds for knowledge possession. I hold this position because - as you appear to agree - scientific discovery remains the foundation upon which we base our theories of what we can and do know (naturalized epistemology). Accepting that, it appears that a meta-theoretical perspective of science, the philosophy of science, provides even further insight into the workings of knowledge production and evolution.

For instance, a familiarity of the paradigmatic nature of evolving schools of scientific thought - and hence the recognition that science only approximates truth and that all scientific movements contain innate biases of intrepreting and explaining that truth - allows a more detached and objective perspective on what we deem "knowledge."

Indeed, I believe that knowledge of current scientific findings and the laws that explain them, combined with a familiarity with the relevant philosophies of science, can altogether replace epistemology. I suspect this is exactly what naturalized epistemology claims. But since you didn't mention this, I figured I'd throw it out there. Hope this isn't something you hear every day and something you omitted from the paper because it is too obvious.

Also, and more generally, I really like your blog and its content. Keep it up (so I can continue reading)!!

What is the epistemic status of the scientific method?

I've enjoyed reading your blog, so downloaded the article ( -- no, I did not have trouble downloading).

The opening paragraph presumes familiarity with the subject and discusses the reactions to it. The second paragraph suggests a very higher-level view of the higher level subject: "Epistemology is a normative discipline".

Frankly, I do not think this starts out well. You begin by talking about what other people think, and by talking about a sideways-view of what the larger discipline is.

In the meantime, the normal reader (who would not have picked up the paper without a knowledge of what epistemology IS) has seen nothing to make his or her life better.

Quine is a hell of an important figure, and epistemology is a hell of an important discipline. So how can one talk about the combination for two paragraphs without saying anything worthwhile?

I strongly urge you to revise this. Based on your other writings, which I have read, I think you must have something to say. I urge you to start saying it at the outset.


Just for fun, toss in Religion… If there were no God, man would have created one. I’m not trying to start an argument on Wittgensteinian fideism or language games, it just seems that questions of Religious Epistemology are not held to the same standards as science or metaphysics.

Analogy... If I say the metal is lead, because of the following - atomic no. 82, atomic wt. 207.21, metal, row 7, col. 8, val. 2-4, orbits 2-8-18-18. You say, “Are you sure?” If I say the metal is lead because the bible says it is, you say “Ok,” and roll your eyes... The language was not held to the same standards. Thus religion forms without the proper process of Normalized Epistemology.

As for scientific discovery as the foundation upon which we base our theories, I think we are using postulations, and calling them theory...

Wish I had more time...

I think I’ll post as Oolon Colluphid from now on… "Well, That about Wraps It Up for God." In summary, I did like the paper!


This page seems seriously messed up. The layout is a wreck. I can't find the essay.

You said on Wednesday that you've "got marginalization" and aren't afraid to use it. I guess that explains, "Everyone already knows that Cartesian foundationalism is dead."

I agree that Descartes' and Spinoza's arguments are imperfect. But I also think everyone else gave up too easily.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading your paper. I'll read it again and see if I have anything to say about Quine vis-a-vis Kim.

Well. What a thoughtful paper. I need to re-read it a few times, like the person in the previous comment, before I can really comment, but it is inspiring.

Actually, I really must congratulate you on saying something, and being directed, and just having a real world view in the paper. (I've read a few other Grad Level papers, especially those attacking Quine, and the lack of intellectual rigor is appalling).

So, I think I'll go re-read Frege, and Kripke, and Quine, and then look for some ontological money to use at Starbucks while I re-read your gem.


Is Matthew Yglesias in love with you? If not, why?

Well one more comment. Your Apple has Palatino. You should never use ugly Times Roman for philosophy.

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'generations of philosophers believed that it was possible to make a sharp distinction between truths of meaning and truths of fact. Analytic truths were held to be known a priori, synthetic truths a posteriori.'

Apart from the world's greatest ever philosophy, Kant, of course who had already argued for synthetic a priori judgements generations and generations before Quine was born. Perhaps warrants a footnote?

kant jesus buddah ......peace on earth. i like that . i also like science. what is the meaning of life....the answer is definatly in the question! keep it goin.


You quote Quine describing a priori and a posteriori truths (or analytics and synthetics, or metaphysics and natural science) as having a nested relationship (a “reciprocal relationship”) that is impossible to sort out (your p. 7). You seem to accept this proposition, but I don’t think it stands up to scrutiny.

It is true that we cannot develop comprehension of how things work in the world in the absence of particular evidence, but that says nothing about the structure of what we will ultimately comprehend, as we discover what there is to comprehend. It is perfectly possible that what we ultimately figure out about how to make sense of the world will contain a priori components: components that have to remain the same, regardless of the evidence that they process. Just because we cannot reach comprehension except through the experience of particular examples does not mean that what we comprehend cannot of necessity apply to all examples. That is a question of how the world turns out to be made. Ironically, the claim that a priori and a posteriori are too intertwined to sort out (in effect, a claim that there can’t be a priori truths) turns out to be an untenable a priori claim. Oops.

Moral theory provides an example. (I was set to thinking about moral theory by the title question of whether Quine’s epistemology is normative. I didn’t realize epistemologists use “normative” in a completely different way than economists do. In economics (my background) positive and normative refer to fact and value respectively, or “is” and “should.” On p. 11 you describe Kim as holding that justification for belief about natural facts gives the belief a normative status, where an economist would say that it gives the belief a positive status.)

So anyway, while I see that you are not talking about moral theory, moral theory nevertheless provides an illuminating example. In moral theory, there are a priori rational constraints that have huge consequences. In particular, to be morally rational, a person must husband and follow all evidence of value. He must love everything he can see to love in the world. That alone is not going to yield conclusions about what a person will value. That will be a function of the landscape of value in the world: what a person finds to value when he follows evidence of value. But it is still an important a priori truth. Indeed, following or not following this a priori requirement is what separates the moral people from the immoral people.

Those who love everything there is to love in the world will eventually come to comprehend the Judeo-Christian commandment to love their neighbors as themselves, something that is not implied by the a priori rational requirement to love everything there is to love. It only emerges as one follows this rational requirement to a discovery of the landscape of value in the world. What we discover is that others share the same moral agency we do. That they too have this capacity, and the tendency, if we guide each other in it, to see and act for every value that open ended faculties of intelligence can comprehend. Just as our open ended faculties did not evolve under any influence from the value of being able to read, yet we are able to read, so the mind’s eye can see purposes beyond those that guided its evolution.

In this we are allies. We all witness to the same landscape of value (even if we see different parts of it). We all want to act for it, and we value each other’s efforts in this as much as our own. At least, we hope to. If only people weren’t so prone to do wrong in their efforts to do right. That is the great struggle for republicanism--the system of liberty under law--to get people to understand correctly how to act for value in the world. The great scourge has been for people, as soon as they think they see where value lies, to try to make everyone go there. The correct understanding is that all value comes through moral agency, and that to secure value, we need to empower moral agency, by securing liberty (another pillar that Christianity gets right, freeing followers from the tyranny of the letter of the Mosaic Law to follow instead the spirit of the law: the law of love).

Thus there IS an a priori part to moral theory, and it is critical. Rationality is a part of our open ended faculties, which happen also to include open ended faculties for comprehending value in the world. What the a priori requirements of moral rationality do is put the open ended faculties in the driver’s seat. It is the Kantian concept of autonomy: instinctive drives are given only the priority that comprehension says they should be given. The first step in that is to husband and follow evidence of value in the world, so that we can arrive at a comprehension of what reign our innate drives SHOULD be allowed. Then we have to try to hold to that, which is its own monstrous challenge.

Getting back to Quine: taking the discussion afield into moral theory in this way allows the epistemological issues to be addressed a bit less abstractly. As Quine noted, that is something we need to do in order to achieve comprehension. But it is only once comprehension is attained that we can then discern whether important components of comprehension are invariant to evidence. In moral theory, the a priori part is huge. Whether there could exist a landscape of value where moral rationality would not lead to the commandment to love thy neighbor is an interesting question, but in our universe, it is whether a person follows a priori requirements that determines whether she will achieve this substantive morality or not. That is a big role.

Anyway, I enjoyed your paper. Very nice to learn a little about Quine.

Dear Lindsay,

A wonderful paper! It could be a bit tighter but all in all, I got a great rise out of it!
It really does come down to Causality doesn't it?
I've attempted to construct a friendly refutation of Hume's notion of "necessary connection". Once this is accomplished most epistemology theory undergoes a paradigm shift with disturbing implications. A truly
solid theory of Epistemology would weather this "thought test" well. Carry on!

A good read, even motivated me to do some background research on some of the references, never read Quine before and such. Read some Popper recently though.

Unfortunately I left my philosphy brain back in school all those years ago, it was only a minor anyway, so I think I'll have to wait for the 'for dummies' version.

Heh, good job though.

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