Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Doing epistemology

I came out of the M&E seminar today more interested in epistemology than I have been since I first read Descartes and subsequently got my interest pounded out of me by repeated Gettier references. It occurred to me that I'm not clear what we are supposed to be doing in doing epistemology. There seems to be several somwhat related though not identical goals. One is to refure the (Cartesian) skeptic and say "I DO know that I'm not a brain in a vat." Another is to present an analysis of the concept of knowledge. This doesn't need to entail the first point since it might be that our analyzed concept doesn't overcome extreme skepticism. Another is to provide a clear explication of the role of evidence or justification in knowledge claims. This could easily be related to the other two, however unless we are trying to build a foundation for knowledge in the sense of unrevisable bedrock beliefs, it need not. There are at least those three points to epistemology. Each is independent of the other. One can give an account of knowledge without getting into skepticism as long as one's concept of knowledge doesn't include that it must answer the skeptical challenege. The evidence/justification point is indepdnent of skepticism since figuring out what role it plays in knowledge claims doesn't depend on or imply showing how it defeats the skeptic. It doesn't entail analyzing knowledge since we can either work with a concept of knowledge pregiven or generalize the inquiry to be about belief formation. In any case, one can be justified in or have evidence for false beliefs.

I think that trying to handle all three points at once will lead to some confusion. I think I see it in Unger's defense of skepticism although I do not have textual references offhand. There are probably more points to doing epistemology, but these three popped up first. I'll list others as they come to me.

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