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Epistemic norms: truth conducive enough

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Abstract

Epistemology needs to account for the success of science. In True Enough (2017), Catherine Elgin argues that a veritist epistemology is inadequate to this task. She advocates shifting epistemology’s focus away from true belief and toward understanding, and further, jettisoning truth from its privileged place in epistemological theorizing. Pace Elgin, I argue that epistemology’s accommodation of science does not require rejecting truth as the central epistemic value. Instead, it requires understanding veritism in an ecumenical way that acknowledges a rich array of truth-oriented values. In place of veritism, Elgin offers a holistic epistemology that takes epistemic norms to have their genesis in our collective practice of deliberation. The acceptability of epistemic norms turns on epistemic responsibility, as opposed to reliability, and truth-conduciveness is rejected as the standard of evaluation for arguments and methods of inquiry. I argue, by way of an extended discussion of a high-profile and controversial criminal case, that this leaves epistemic practices and their products inadequately grounded. I offer an alternative, veritistic account of epistemic norms that retains a modified version of truth-conduciveness as a standard of evaluation. However, my alternative account of epistemic norms is congenial to Elgin’s holistic epistemology, and, I suggest, could be incorporated within it.
Synthese (2021) 198:2721–2741
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-019-02242-5
THEMES FROM ELGIN
Epistemic norms: truth conducive enough
Lisa Warenski1
Received: 30 September 2018 / Accepted: 7 May 2019 / Published online: 16 May 2019
© Springer Nature B.V. 2019
Abstract
Epistemology needs to account for the success of science. In True Enough (2017),
Catherine Elgin argues that a veritist epistemology is inadequate to this task. She advo-
cates shifting epistemology’s focus away from true belief and toward understanding,
and further, jettisoning truth from its privileged place in epistemological theorizing.
Pace Elgin, I argue that epistemology’s accommodation of science does not require
rejecting truth as the central epistemic value. Instead, it requires understanding veritism
in an ecumenical way that acknowledges a rich array of truth-oriented values. In place
of veritism, Elgin offers a holistic epistemology that takes epistemic norms to have their
genesis in our collective practice of deliberation. The acceptability of epistemic norms
turns on epistemic responsibility, as opposed to reliability, and truth-conduciveness is
rejected as the standard of evaluation for arguments and methods of inquiry. I argue,
by way of an extended discussion of a high-profile and controversial criminal case,
that this leaves epistemic practices and their products inadequately grounded. I offer
an alternative, veritistic account of epistemic norms that retains a modified version of
truth-conduciveness as a standard of evaluation. However, my alternative account of
epistemic norms is congenial to Elgin’s holistic epistemology, and, I suggest, could
be incorporated within it.
Keywords Epistemic norms ·Metaepistemology ·Ecumenical veritism ·Epistemic
value ·Coherentism ·Epistemological states and properties ·Central Park Five
1 Introduction
Veritism is the view that (i) true beliefs and only true beliefs have final epistemic value
and (ii) false beliefs and only false beliefs have final epistemic disvalue (Goldman
1999,p.5,2001, p. 31). In True Enough (2017), Catherine Elgin argues that a veritistic
epistemology cannot account for the successes of science. According to veritism,
BLisa Warenski
Lwarenski@gc.cuny.edu
1Department of Philosophy, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, 365 Fifth
Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA
123
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Article
Full-text available
The notion of understanding occupies an increasingly prominent place in contemporary epistemology, philosophy of science, and moral theory. A central and ongoing debate about the nature of understanding is how it relates to the truth. In a series of influential contributions, Catherine Elgin has used a variety of familiar motivations for antirealism in philosophy of science to defend a non-factive theory of understanding. Key to her position are: (i) the fact that false theories can contribute to the upwards trajectory of scientific understanding, and (ii) the essential role of inaccurate idealisations in scientific research. Using Elgin's arguments as a foil, I show that a strictly factive theory of understanding has resources with which to offer a unified response to both the problem of idealisations and the role of false theories in the upwards trajectory of scientific understanding. Hence, strictly factive theories of understanding are viable notwithstanding these forceful criticisms.
Article
This topical collection of Synthese is in honor of Catherine Z. Elgin. The idea for it arose in the context of an international book symposium dedicated to Elgin's latest book (True enough, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2017), organized by Katherine Dormandy, Christoph Jäger, and myself, which took place at the University of Innsbruck in March 2018. The topical collection comprises fourteen papers addressing a broad array of issues related to True Enough and to Elgin’s work more generally, plus a contribution by Elgin with detailed comments and replies. True Enough is an extraordinarily rich, wide-ranging book; it reflects both the breadth and sharpness of Elgin’s philosophical gaze and exemplifies the impressive variety of her philosophical interests. In this introduction, I give an overview of the topical collection’s content, zooming in on the aspects of Elgin’s work which captured the contributors’ attention. My discussion will not remotely do justice to the complexity of Elgin’s system, but I hope that it will help the reader navigate the topical collection and appreciate how the fourteen papers relate to Elgin’s overall project.
Book
Epistemology standardly holds that there can be no epistemically good reason to accept a known falsehood or to accept a mode of justification that is not truth-conducive. Such a stance cannot accommodate science, for science unabashedly relies on models, idealizations, and thought experiments which are known not to be true. We ought not assume that the inaccuracy of such devices is a sign of their inadequacy. When effective, they are felicitous falsehoods that exemplify features they share with the phenomena they bear on. Inasmuch as works of art also deploy felicitous falsehoods, they too advance understanding. True Enough develops a holistic epistemology that focuses on the understanding of broad ranges of phenomena rather than on knowledge of individual facts. Epistemic acceptability on this account is not a matter of truth or truth-conduciveness, but of what would be reflectively endorsed by members of an idealized epistemic community – a quasi-Kantian realm of epistemic ends.
Article
The paper presents a kind of normative anti-realist view of epistemology, in the same ballpark as recent versions of expressivism. But the primary focus of the paper is less on this meta-epistemological view itself than on how it should affect ground-level issues in epistemology: for instance, how it should deal with certain forms of skepticism, and how it allows for fundamental revision in epistemic practices (deductive, inductive and perceptual). It is hoped that these methodological consequences will seem attractive independent of the normative anti-realism. Indeed, some normative realists seem to embrace the view on skepticism, but it is argued that their position is unstable: the realism undermines the methodology. The general theme of the paper is that the issue of normative realism is deeply entwined with issues of methodology, in strong contrast to the common claim that meta-epistemological views in the tradition of expressivism have no first order impact.
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According to Veritism, true belief is the sole fundamental epistemic value. Epistemologists often take Veritism to entail that all other epistemic items can only have value by standing in certain instrumental relations - namely, by tending to produce a high ratio of true to false beliefs or by being products of sources with this tendency. Yet many value theorists outside epistemology deny that all derivative value is grounded in instrumental relations to fundamental value ('Instrumentalism'). Veritists, I believe, can and should follow suit. After setting the stage in §1, I explain in §2 why Veritism should not take an Instrumentalist form. Instrumentalist Veritism faces a generalized version of the swamping problem. But this problem undermines Instrumentalism, not Veritism: granting Instrumentalism, similar problems arise for any economical epistemic axiology. I show in §3 how Veritism can take a less narrow form and solve the swamping problem. After answering some objections in §4, I consider in §5 what some would regard as a less radical alternative solution and argue that it either fails or collapses into mine. I close in §6 by taking stock and re-evaluating the overall prospects for Veritism, suggesting that it is a highly promising epistemic axiology when divorced from Instrumentalism.
Article
In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest among epistemologists in the nature of understanding, with some authors arguing that understanding should replace knowledge as the primary focus of epistemology. But what is understanding? According to what is often called the standard view, understanding is a species of knowledge. Although this view has recently been challenged in various ways, even the critics of the standard view have assumed that understanding requires justification and belief. I argue that it requires neither. If sound, these arguments have important upshots not only for the nature of understanding, but also for its distinctive epistemic value and its role in contemporary epistemology.
Article
Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind.- Quine (1969) We think that some facts - for example, the fact that someone is suffering, or the fact that all previously encountered tigers were carnivorous – supply us with normative reasons for action and belief. The former fact, we think, is a reason to help the suffering person; the latter fact is a reason to believe that the next tiger we see will also be carnivorous. But how is the reason-giving status of such facts best understood? In particular, is it best understood as ultimately “conferred” upon these facts by our own evaluative attitudes, or do at least some facts possess normative reason-giving status in a way that is robustly independent of our attitudes? This is the modern, secular version of Plato's “Euthyphro question” - couched here in the philosophically useful, though not essential, language of normative reasons.