Considered Judgment

Considered Judgment

Catherine Z. Elgin
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Considered Judgment
    Book Description:

    Philosophy long sought to set knowledge on a firm foundation, through derivation of indubitable truths by infallible rules. For want of such truths and rules, the enterprise foundered. Nevertheless, foundationalism's heirs continue their forbears' quest, seeking security against epistemic misfortune, while their detractors typically espouse unbridled coherentism or facile relativism. Maintaining that neither stance is tenable, Catherine Elgin devises avia mediabetween the absolute and the arbitrary, reconceiving the nature, goals, and methods of epistemology. InConsidered Judgment, she argues for a reconception that takes reflective equilibrium as the standard of rational acceptability. A system of thought is in reflective equilibrium when its components are reasonable in light of one another, and the account they comprise is reasonable in light of our antecedent convictions about the subject it concerns.

    Many epistemologists now concede that certainty is a chimerical goal. But they continue to accept the traditional conception of epistemology's problematic. Elgin suggests that in abandoning the quest for certainty we gain opportunities for a broader epistemological purview--one that comprehends the arts and does justice to the sciences. She contends that metaphor, fiction, emotion, and exemplification often advance understanding in science as well as in art. The range of epistemology is broader and more variegated than is usually recognized. Tenable systems of thought are neither absolute nor arbitrary. Although they afford no guarantees, they are good in the way of belief.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2229-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-20)

    Unaccountable success, like inexplicable failure, disconcerts. Even when our undertakings achieve their avowed objectives, we endeavor to understand them. We wonder how our projects, practices, interests, and institutions fit into the greater scheme of things, what they contribute to and derive from it. Our curiosity extends beyond our limited forays into art and science, beyond our parochial concerns with commerce, politics, and law. We want to comprehend the interlocking systems that support or thwart our efforts. If we start out expecting thereby to gain fame, fortune, and the love of admirable people, many of us conclude that understanding itself is...

    (pp. 21-59)

    To err is human; to do otherwise, inordinately difficult. We make mistakes even about seemingly sure things. And subjective assurance repeatedly blinds us to the untenability of our views. Is it possible to do better? In principle, the way is clear: we avoid error by sticking to what we know. The problem then is to ascertain what we know. Since the time of Descartes, the conviction that the point of having knowledge is to preclude error has structured the field of epistemology. When knowledge is seen in this light, the considerations favoring perfect procedural epistemology look powerful indeed.

    Foundationalism is...

    (pp. 60-100)

    A sea change occurs when epistemology is seen as a social practice. By our own lights at least, our cognitive endeavors often succeed. Problems are solved to our satisfaction, phenomena explained, theorems proved, questions answered. We readily distinguish getting things right from getting them wrong, justified belief from rank prejudice, knowledge from ignorance and from error. And we achieve a significant measure of intersubjective agreement about such matters. By reflecting on what we do in generating and validating claims to knowledge, we can discover what we take knowledge to be and delineate the structure of the practice that makes our...

    (pp. 101-145)

    Epistemology’s failures prove surprisingly inconsequential. We continue the cognitive quest, undaunted by our apparent inability to properly characterize its objective. We differentiate between justified and unjustified claims as a matter of course. And we stake our lives on our assessments, even if we lack a conception of justification capable of backing our claims.

    This does not mean that we are right. We might be victims of the blind confidence that lures soldiers into battle and lemmings to the sea. But perhaps not. If epistemology discredits the distinction between justified and unjustified belief, reluctance to draw that distinction should accompany philosophical...

    (pp. 146-169)

    That reason and passion are antithetical has long been an article of philosophical faith, less often argued than assumed. Emotive theories of ethics automatically construe themselves as noncognitive, and aesthetic theories that assign emotion a role in appreciation typically take themselves thereby to exclude art and its objects from the cognitive realm. Opposing stereotypes may account for complacency about the dichotomy. Stereotypical beliefs are cool, calm, settled convictions; stereotypical emotions are visceral, volatile, violent agitations. We would hardly put belief in the inverse square law in the same class as Othello’s obsessive jealousy. Nor would we feel remiss about failing...

    (pp. 170-204)

    Nothing is sacred. Even truth and literal denotation can be sacrificed to achieve a suitable balance of cognitive goals. So there is in principle no objection to integrating into our systems statements and other symbols that are not literally true. Still, what is unobjectionable in principle is not always rewarding in practice. The epistemic tenability of such symbols turns on their contribution. If they serve to maximize the tenability of the systems that accommodate them, they are tenable; otherwise, they are not. Sometimes they do. In this chapter I explore several devices that enhance understanding even when they do not...

    (pp. 205-220)

    Lots of animals learn from experience. Human beings learn from one another’s experiences. We do not need to mount our own military campaign to discover the folly of invading Russia in winter. The fate of Napoleon’s army affords evidence enough. To learn from one another’s experiences requires understanding what other people undergoasexperiences. This is not done by plotting trajectories of protoplasmic matter in motion. Nor do the findings of ethology suffice. “When we quote a man’s utterance directly,” Quine contends, “we report it almost as we might a bird call.”¹ If so, direct quotation yields little insight into...

  11. INDEX
    (pp. 221-227)