Naturalized Epistemology and the Construction of Normativity

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (2001)

Authors
Karyn L. Freedman
University of Guelph
Abstract
Naturalized epistemology gives epistemic priority to the question, 'why do people hold the beliefs that they do?', and it asks us to recognize that we can't hope to answer this question unless we look at the context in which beliefs are held. Like all epistemic naturalists, I think that the descriptive question about belief acquisition is the most important one, but I don't think that it is the only genuine one. Normativity is a legitimate epistemic concern, and in this thesis I argue that there is a place for it in a naturalized epistemology. To this end, I discuss three contemporary accounts of epistemic naturalism: W. V. O. Quine's 'Epistemology Naturalized', David Bloor and Barry Barnes' Strong Programme, and Larry Laudan's 'normative naturalism'. Each of these accounts offer something important to the current debates on naturalism: Quine shows the significance of the descriptive question of belief acquisition; Bloor and Barnes illustrate the importance of causal explanations in answering this question; and Laudan provides an argument for a normative naturalism. What I offer is an account of the source of normative notions. My position is that norms of rationality are constructed: historically contingent, but not arbitrary. This position goes hand in hand with global epistemic relativism, the view that standards of rationality are relative to cultures. I embrace this view. I argue that it is the most honest way to make sense of our normative practices, and, importantly, I show that to accept it does not entail a great loss
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