Naturalistic Epistemologies and A Priori Justification

In Marcin Milkowski & Konrad Kalmont-Taminski (eds.), Beyond Description: Naturalism and Normativity. College Publications (2010)
Broadly speaking, a naturalistic approach to epistemology seeks to explain human knowledge – and justification in particular – as a phenomenon in the natural world, in keeping with the tenets of naturalism. Naturalism is typically defined, in part, by a commitment to scientific method as the only legitimate means of attaining knowledge of the natural world. Naturalism is often thought to entail empiricism by virtue of this methodological commitment. However, scientific methods themselves may incorporate a priori elements, so empiricism does not follow from the methodological commitments of naturalism alone. And given a suitably-naturalistic conception of the a priori, a priori forms of justification may be compatible with naturalism generally. A priori justification is, in principle, compatible with naturalism – and hence naturalistic epistemologies – if the a priori is understood in a way that is free of some of the inessential properties that have been associated with the concept. I argue that some of the more prominent strategies for accommodating normative notions within a naturalistic framework allow for the possibility of a priori justification. These include reliabilism, instrumental rationality, and nonfactualism about justification. A priori justification thus need not be seen as standing in opposition to all naturalistic epistemologies. It is only with nonnormative naturalistic epistemologies that a priori justification per se is incompatible, and this only because the notion of justification itself has no role to play within a nonnormative approach to epistemology
Keywords naturalism  normativity  epistemology
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