Epistemic Value

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Neta on Contractarian Foundations of Epistemology

The May 2006 Edition of Synthese contains Ram Neta's "Epistemology Factualized: New Contractarian Foundations for Epistemology."

I think it will be of interest to many readers of this blog. He addresses the question of the nature of epistemic norms, rejecting both consequentialist and deontological approaches. His proposal--he calls it a generalization of work by Edward Craig--is a "contractarian" approach.

Here's an important passage from p. 21:

"On the account that I propose, the right epistemological norms are the norms that would be agreed to by parties who were interested in fashioning a practice of epistemological appraisal that would best serve common communicative ends."

In its broadest scope, the paper is a defense of a broadly Chisholmian approach to epistemology--addressing the question What confers positive epistemic status on our common sense beliefs?--from a dilemma proposed by Mark Kaplan in "Epistemology on Holiday". There is something here for everyone, but it will be of especial concern to epistemologists interested in normativity. It is a very engaging and creative paper.

The paper is available on Ram's website.

Brief Critical Remarks
I'm very interested in ideal agent theories of epistemic normativity--we should value and in many cases emulate ideal cognitive agents--but I'd just like to point out that in addition to the usual obstacles to idealization accounts Ram's account faces dilemma posed by Rich Feldman in his "Authoritarian Epistemology" (Phil Topics, 1995). There Feldman raises a Euthyphro-type problem for these kinds of epistemologies: Is believing p rational because the ideal agents believe it, or are they rational because they believe p and p is the right thing to believe.

Ram briefly addresses circularity concerns, but I think he does not grapple with Feldman's concerns with such theories.


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