Truth is standardly considered a requirement on epistemic acceptability. But science and philosophy deploy models, idealizations and thought experiments that prescind from truth to achieve other cognitive ends. I argue that such felicitous falsehoods function as cognitively useful fictions. They are cognitively useful because they exemplify and afford epistemic access to features they share with the relevant facts. They are falsehoods in that they diverge from the facts. Nonetheless, they are true enough to serve their epistemic purposes. Theories that contain (...) them have testable consequences, hence are factually defeasible. (shrink)
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 a via media between the absolute and the arbitrary, reconceiving the nature, goals, and methods of epistemology. In Considered 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. (shrink)
Jonathan Bennett (1974) maintains that Huckleberry Finn’s deliberations about whether to return Jim to slavery afford insight into the tension between sympathy and moral judgment; Miranda Fricker (2007) argues that the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird affords insight into the nature of testimonial injustice. Neither claims merely that the works prompt an attentive reader to think something new or to change her mind. Rather, they consider the reader cognitively better off for her encounters with the novels. Nor is (...) her cognitive improvement restricted to acquiring new justified true beliefs about the works themselves. What the reader gleans is supposed to enhance her knowledge or understanding of the .. (shrink)
I argue that constructive nominalism is preferable to scientific realism. Rather than reflecting without distortion the way the mind-independent world is, theories refract. They provide an understanding of the world as modulated by a particular theory. Truth is defined within a theoretical framework rather than outside of it. This does not undermine objectivity, for an assertion contains a reference to the framework in terms of which its truth is claimed.
Testimony consists in imparting information without supplying evidence or argument to back one's claims. To what extent does testimony convey epistemic warrant? C. J. A. Coady argues, on Davidsonian grounds, that (1) most testimony is true, hence (2) most testimony supplies warrant sufficient for knowledge. I appeal to Grice's maxims to undermine Coady's argument and to show that the matter is more complicated and context-sensitive than is standardly recognized. Informative exchanges take place within networks of shared, tacit assumptions that affect (...) the scope and strength of our claims, and the level of warrant required for their responsible assertion. The maxims explain why different levels of warrant are transferred in different contexts. (shrink)
I argue that trustworthiness is an epistemic desideratum. It does not reduce to justified or reliable true belief, but figures in the reason why justified or reliable true beliefs are often valuable. Such beliefs can be precarious. If a belief's being justified requires that the evidence be just as we take it to be, then if we are off even by a little, the belief is unwarranted. Similarly for reliability. Although it satisfies the definition of knowledge, such a belief is (...) not trustworthy. We ought not use it as a basis for inference or action and ought not give others to believe it. The trustworthiness of a belief, I urge, depends on its being backed by reasons—considerations that other members of the appropriate epistemic community cannot reasonably reject. Trustworthiness is intersubjective. It both depends on and contributes to the evolving cognitive values of an epistemic community. (shrink)
Scientific realism holds that scientific representations are utterly objective. They describe the way the world is, independent of any point of view. In Scientific Representation, van Fraassen argues otherwise. If science is to afford an understanding of nature, it must be grounded in evidence. Since evidence is perspectivai, science cannot vindicate its claims using only utterly objective representations. For science to do its epistemic job, it must involve perspectivai representations. I explicate this argument and show its power.
The arts and the sciences perform many of the same cognitive functions, both serving to advance understanding. This paper explores some of the ways exemplification operates in the two fields. Both scientific experiments and works of art highlight, underscore, display, or convey some of their own features. They thereby focus attention on them, and make them available for examination and projection. Thus, the Michelson-Morley experiment exemplifies the constancy of the speed of light. Jackson Pollock'sNumber One exemplifies the viscosity of paint. (...) Despite their similarities, science and art might seem to differ in their attitude toward facts. Science is said to adhere to facts; art, to be indifferent to them. Such, I urge, is not the case. Science, like art, often scorns fact to advance understanding through fiction. Thought experiments, I contend, are scientific fictions; literary and pictorial fictions, aesthetic thought experiments. (shrink)
I show that it follows from both externalist and internalist theories that stupid people may be in a better position to know than smart ones. This untoward consequence results from taking our epistemic goal to be accepting as many truths as possible and rejecting as many falsehoods as possible, combined with a recognition that the standard for acceptability cannot be set too high, else scepticism will prevail. After showing how causal, reliabilist, and coherentist theories devalue intelligence, I suggest that knowledge, (...) as contemporary theories construe it, is not a particularly valuable cognitive achievement, and that we would do well to reopen epistemology to the study of cognitive excellences of all sorts. (shrink)
Exemplification is the relation of an example to whatever it is an example of. Goodman maintains that exemplification is a symptom of the aesthetic: although not a necessary condition, it is an indicator that symbol is functioning aesthetically. I argue that exemplification is as important in science as it is in art. It is the vehicle by which experiments make aspects of nature manifest. I suggest that the difference between exemplars in the arts and the sciences lies in the way (...) they exemplify. Density and repleteness are characteristic of aesthetic exemplars but not of scientific ones. (shrink)
Predictions concerning the end of the world have proven less reliable than your broker’s recommendations or your fondest hopes. Whether you await the end fearfully or eagerly, you may rest assured that it will never come—not because the world is everlasting but because it has already ended, if indeed it ever began. But we need not mourn, for the world is indeed well lost, and with it the stultifying stereotypes of absolutism: the absurd notions of science as the effort to (...) discover a unique, prepackaged, but unfortunately undiscoverable reality, and of truth as agreement with that inaccessible reality. All notions of pure givenness and unconditional necessity and of a single correct perspective and system of categories are lost as well.If there is no such thing as the world, what are we living in? The answer might be “A world” or, better, “Several worlds.” For to deny that there is any such thing as the world is no more to deny that there are worlds than to deny that there is any such thing as the number between two and seven is to deny that there are numbers between two and seven. The task of describing the world is as futile as the task of describing the number between two and seven.The world is lost once we appreciate a curious feature of certain pairs of seemingly contradictory statements: if either is true, both are. Although “The earth is in motion” and “The earth is at rest” apparently contradict each other, both are true. But from a contradiction, every statement follows. So unless we are prepared to acknowledge the truth of every statement, the appearance of contradiction in cases like these must somehow be dispelled. Nelson Goodman is professor emeritus of philosophy at Harvard University. He has written Of Mind and Other Matters, Ways of Worldmaking, Problems and Projects, Languages of Art, The Structure of Appearance, and Fact, Fiction, and Forecast. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “How Buildings Mean” . Catherine Z. Elgin is associate professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of With Reference to Reference and is currently writing a book entitled Philosophy without Foundations. (shrink)
Understanding, as I construe it, is holistic. It is a matter of how commitments mesh to form a mutually supportive, independently supported system of thought. It is advanced by bootstrapping. We start with what we think we know and build from there. This makes education continuous with what goes on at the cutting edge of inquiry. Methods, standards, categories and stances are as important as facts. So something like E. D. Hirsch’s list of facts every fourth grader should know is (...) slightly silly. What makes for a good fourth grade education is not the set of facts the fourth grader knows, but the level of understanding she has achieved and the resources she can deploy to advance that understanding. Facts are part of the story, but so are fictions, methods, standards, and categories. A major part of understanding is recognizing what problems remain to be solved. (shrink)
Cognitive advancement is not always a matter of acquiring new information. It often consists in reconfiguration--in reorganizing a domain so that hitherto overlooked or underemphasized features, patterns, opportunities, and resources come to light. Several modes of reconfiguration prominent in the arts--metaphor, fiction, exemplification, and perspective--play important roles in science as well. They do not perform the same roles as literal, descriptive, perspectiveless scientific truths. But to understand how science advances understanding, we need to appreciate the ineliminable cognitive contributions of non-literal, (...) non-descriptive symbols. (shrink)
The Structure of Appearance presents a phenomenalist system, constructing enduring visible objects out of qualia. Nevertheless Goodman does not espouse phenomenalism. This is not because he considers his system inadequate. Although details remain to be filled in, he considers his system viable. And he believes his constructional methods could readily yield extensions to other sensory realms. Why isn’t Goodman a phenomenalist? This paper suggests an answer that illuminates Goodman’s views about the nature and functions of constructional systems, the prospects of (...) reductionism, and the character of epistemology. These non-standard views present attractive alternatives to currently popular positions. (shrink)
I argue that the picture theory provides both a common referential hase and a common logical syntax for languages embodying alternative conceptual schemes. I offer an analysis of depiction, explicating the Tractarian concepts of pictorial structure, pictorial relationship, and representational form. Significant failure of reference and the existence of languages with incompatible ontological commitments show that on the molar level depiction is not required for sense. Using three premises, taken to be axiomatic for Wittgenstein, I show that analysis leads to (...) a base of elementary propositions which must depict in order to be significant. There, the relations between pictorial structure, pictorial relationship and representational form are such that reference is secured and conceptual relativity precluded. (shrink)
To understand a term or other symbol, I argue that it is generally neither necessary nor sufficient to assign it a unique determinate reference. Independent of and prior to investigation, it is frequently indeterminate not only whether a sentence is true, but also what its truth conditions are. Nelson Goodman's discussions of likeness of meaning are deployed to explain how this can be so.
Testimony consists in imparting information without supplying evidence or argument to back one’s claims. To what extent does testimony convey epistemic warrant? C. J. A. Coady argues, on Davidsonian grounds, that (1) most testimony is true, hence (2) most testimony supplies warrant sufficient for knowledge. I appeal to Grice’s maxims to undermine Coady’s argument and to show that the matter is more complicated and context-sensitive than is standardly recognized. Informative exchanges take place within networks of shared, tacit assumptions that affect (...) the scope and strength of our claims, and the level of warrant required for their responsible assertion. The maxims explain why different levels of warrant are transferred in different contexts. (shrink)
The arts and the sciences perform many of the same cognitive functions, both serving to advance understanding. This paper explores some of the ways exemplification operates in the two fields. Both scientific experiments and works of art highlight, underscore, display, or convey some of their own features. They thereby focus attention on them, and make them available for examination and projection. Thus, the Michelson-Morley experiment exemplifies the constancy of the speed of light. Jackson Pollock's "Number One" exemplifies the viscosity of (...) paint. Despite their similarities, science and art might seem to differ in their attitude toward facts. Science is said to adhere to facts; art, to be indifferent to them. Such, I urge, is not the case. Science, like art, often scorns fact to advance understanding through fiction. Thought experiments, I contend, are scientific fictions; literary and pictorial fictions, aesthetic thought experiments. (shrink)
W. V. Quine is famous, or perhaps infamous, for his repudiation of the analytic/synthetic distinction and kindred dualisms—the necessary/contingent dichotomy and the a priori/a posteriori dichotomy. As these dualisms have come back into vogue in recent years, it might seem that the denial of the dualisms is no part of Quine's enduring legacy. Such a conclusion is unwarranted—not only because the dualisms are deeply problematic, but because "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" haunts even those who want to retain them. "Two Dogmas" (...) reconfigured the philosophical terrain and issued a challenge to philosophy's self understanding—a challenge that has yet to be fully met. The commitment to the analytic/synthetic distinction derives from the recognition that the truth of any sentence depends on two things: the way the world is and what the sentence means. It seems natural, then, that each sentence should be subject to a sort of factor analysis that disentangles the contribution of language to its truth value from the contribution of the world. Just how much each contributes varies from one sentence to the next. When the contribution of the world goes to zero, the sentence is analytic. (shrink)