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Should Epistemology Be Done Empirically Philosophy Essay

In this essay I will argue that epistemology can in fact be done empirically by observation and experiment on the basis of analyzing theories from Bealer and Kuhn than attempt to disprove my thesis, as well as analyze Goldman and Quine who agree with the thesis. I will go into great detail using examples how Bealer and Kuhn’s theories that science isn’t cumulative and doesn’t get closer and closer to the truth and one cannot assume that science is the best way to deal with empirical matters is false. Naturalized epistemology is sparked by the alleged failure of Internalism. If someone’s belief depends on how reliable the source it comes from, then the epistemic status of the belief is settled in an empirical way. I will look at the Reductionist, Verificationalist, and Holist theories as well as the Cartesian project and Quine’s theory and illustrate how they fail to make a strong enough argument to disprove my thesis. I will analyze the normative, descriptive, and evaluative projects and will prove that the normative project is an attempt to improve our belief forming practices such that they are more in line with the epistemic norms established by the normative project and that the normative project guides all other projects.

Reductionism is the view that every theoretical term can be defined in observational terms and also that all theoretical terms can be reduced to a set of observational terms. This claim is made to establish that science actually does have an empirical foundation. For example, every substance has a boiling point. This is a physical property of the substance, but it can be reduced to even smaller molecular properties through the “statistical mechanics” theory that states why a substance boils when it reaches a specific temperature by looking at the substances properties. Therefore reduction could be a process of one theory included under another theory. If reductionism is successful, then knowledge gained through observation is inherited by knowledge gained through scientific means. This fails because theoretical statements cannot be defined in terms of observational statements and overt definitions have a different structure. If something is an instance of electromagnetic radiation (theoretical term) if and only if it is an instance of light, (observational term) the problem arises that these specific definitions are subject to numerous changes since there are other forms of electromagnetic radiation. There are other forms of electromagnetic radiation such as x rays, and microwaves, so this theory fails.

Verificationism states that we cannot induce theoretical statements to sets of verified statements, but perhaps they can be reduced to sets of verifiable statements. A statement only has meaning if we can determine that it is true. If a statement has an observable consequence, then it is not empirically meaningful. For example the discussion of when the earth came into existence the same way today as it did before would be judged as meaningless to a Verificationist because there is no way to know if it is true or not. Experience is the only way to gain knowledge and Verificationism is seen as a result of this theory. Holism states that no theoretical statement, in isolation, has observational consequences. A theoretical statement must be tested in conjunction with other theoretical principles and auxiliary assumptions about the experiment set up. Theoretical statements, taken individually, can neither be verified nor falsified.

Quine’s’ Naturalism states that we have to abandon all types of foundationalism and traditional epistemology. We shouldn’t be concerned about the justification of beliefs, but rather we should investigate the causal genesis of our beliefs. It should be descriptive (how things are), rather than normative (how things should be). We should be how we form our beliefs, not how we ought to form beliefs. Epistemology is an unavoidably normative discipline; it cannot be naturalized in the way that Quine thinks. He comes up with Protocol-sentences that are sentences about our immediate experiences and are the foundation of our knowledge. These protocol sentences closest to the sensory receptors

The Cartesian project is to firstly identify the criteria by which we ought to regulate the acceptance and rejection of beliefs, and a belief is justified when it can be derived from basic beliefs about the given. Secondly you have to determine what may be said according to those criteria if it’s either normative or descriptive. Cartesian foundationalism states that a belief is justified if and only if it cannot be doubted or derived from a belief that cannot be doubted.

Bealer attempts to defend two theses. The autonomy of Philosophy states that most questions in philosophy can be answered by philosophical investigation as opposed to relying on science.

The authority of Philosophy states that since both science and philosophy attempt to answer the same questions, the support that science can provide a better answer to these questions than philosophy is not strong, so if there is a conflict, the philosophical approach should be used in order to answer the question.

Quine and Goldman disagree with Bealer and maintain that epistemology ought to be done empirically. They say that in order for a belief to be justified in depends on the way it was caused, and the causal origin and the process of forming a belief are empirical matters, so therefore justification is an empirical issue. They state that Science is the best process in dealing with empirical matters, so epistemology ought to be done empirically.

For someone to disprove this claim there must be non-scientific and a priori sources of justification and evidence. Bealer argues that there are in fact a priori intuitions that give information about our concepts. He states that even without knowledge one can have a justified true belief. He states that these empirical, logical, and moral intuitions do not provide empirical support for beliefs, but by using the a priori method, these intuitions are recognized and evaluated. The a priori method states that we firstly investigate our intuitions, and then focus them to dialectical evaluation, then we build theories that regulate the intuitions we are left with, then we test these new theories against even more intuitions, and lastly we repeat this process until we reach an equilibrium.

Goldman correctly criticizes these intuitions by arguing how they do not take into account how the belief was formed. Goldman investigates our intuitions by stating that the justification of a belief depends on the believer’s mental states. From this he constructs a theory called Reliabilism that regulates the intuition that the justification of a belief relies, on how it was caused in the first place. Intuitions are considered good evidence because of Modal Reliabilism. Our intuitions are a reliable way in finding out the truth, just like our senses, and memories. Modal Reliabilism states that the connection between intuitions and states of affairs is necessary. Necessary principles are true not only in this world, but in every possible world.

Bealer concludes that the Autonomy and Authority of Philosophy hold. He states that the philosophical questions can be answered by a priori intuitions rather than empirically, and that a priori philosophical intuitions are a more reliable for of evidence than empirical data because there is a necessary connection between our intuitions and the philosophical facts that are intuited.

The normative project is an effort to establish standards to channel our epistemic efforts. Its attempt to improve our belief forming practices such that they are more in line with the epistemic norms established by the normative project. The descriptive project is an attempt to illustrate the ways in which epistemic terms are used. The evaluative project is an attempt to evaluate our belief forming practices on the basis of how well they accord with the epistemic norms established by the normative project. The normative project guides all other projects.

The Ameliorative Project is an attempt to improve our belief-forming practises such that they are more in line with the epistemic norms established by the Normative Project. We must ensure that our beliefs are not only justified, but well-founded, i.e., that we not only have good evidence for the propositions that we believe, but that we believe them because of the evidence. The Normative Project guides the other three projects, therefore it is the central concerns of traditional epistemology.

The problem arises how we know if there actually is a connection between what we intuit and what actually is the case. Nisbett et al did some research and concluded that East Asians and Westerners gain and process information differently. He found that East Asians think Holistically meaning their reasoning is context-sensitive and pay more attention to connections between central objects and everything around it, as well as they focus on the chronology of events. Westerners tend to think analytically meaning their reasoning is more abstract and they focus more on categorizing the central objects as opposed to the connections. They also differ from East Asians because the focus on the causal connections between events as opposed to the chronology of events. Haidt et al did more research and concluded that moral intuitions are likely to differ from one socioeconomic group to another. After completing these two studies they came up with two different hypotheses. Firstly, epistemic intuitions vary from culture to culture, and secondly, that epistemic intuitions vary from one socioeconomic group to another.

These hypothesis have been proven correct, so this illustrates that depending on what culture or socio economic group you come from, you intuit things differently, which proves that humans inevitably dissimilar in the way they intuit.

A valid and sound argument would be that regardless if a belief is justified or not, it in part, an empirical matter, and since science is the best way to deal with empirical matters, then we can conclude that epistemology ought to be done scientifically. Science is cumulative. Although theories consistently change and is consistently disproven, it is fair and rational to assume that science gets closer to the truth over time. It is much more accurate, exact and can be applied to a wide variety of knowledge achieved a different way.

Kuhn argues that the scientific endeavour is impractical because there has to be a great deal of conformity about every theory, method, and procedure. Kuhn argues that there needs to be scientific paradigms which mean that there has to be a set of theoretical principles, values, assumptions and techniques which will secure the agreement, as well as set an agenda for theories that have yet been solved. According to Kuhn, this will prevent irregularities in science. For example, Scientists only discovered the planet Neptune because of a irregularity in the study of the orbit of Uranus. Kuhn’s most important finding is the move from one theoretical paradigm to another cannot be rational, which he calls scientific revolution, because it is the paradigms that determine what is rational, and nothing else.

Another example is that Einstein’s “Special Relativity” theory replaced Newton’s “Newtonian mechanics” theory. Einstein discovered principles that hold “more generally” than Newton’s. we can presume the laws of Newtonian Mechanics from Einstein’s theory only if the terms such as mass and force have the same meaning in both theories, but the problem is that they don’t. For example, if we take a premise that all mammals have lungs, whales have lungs, therefore whales are mammals. This statement is only correct if the words “whale”, “mammal”, and “lungs” mean the same thing in every statement, which they do. The theoretical terms in Einstein’s theory mean something entirely different what they were supposed to mean in Newtonian mechanics. Theoretical paradigms are impossible to measure or compare, therefore paradigm-shifts cannot be cumulative.

Kuhn concludes that science isn’t cumulative. It doesn’t get closer and closer to the truth and it is impracticable to determine that science is the best way to deal with empirical matters. This is because any discussion about the effectiveness of science must take place within one of the theoretical paradigms whose has an efficacy issue. He states that there is no reason to privilege science over any other type of knowledge. This theory fails because science has been proven to be the most reliable form of knowledge. Although theories consistently change, we are always moving in the right direction and getting closer to the absolute truth. After analyzing different experiments it is clear that although we think our intuitions guide us in the right way, studies have shown that people think differently, which proves how we cannot go by what we intuit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/2009/12/the-empirical-epistemologists-challenge-to-experimental-epistemology.html

http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/epist.html

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