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Croatian Journal of Philosophy

Volume 2, Issue 3, 2002

Theories of Rationality

Jonathan Knowles
Pages 283-297

Naturalised Epistemology without Norms

I seek to show that we do not need norms in a genuinely naturalistic epistemology. The argumentation is launched against a common conception of such norms as derived through a process of wide reflective equilibrium, where one aims to bring general normative statements into accord with concrete, possibly expert, intuitions about particular cases, taking simultaneously into account relevant scientific findings -- including facts about human psychological abilities -- and philosophical theories. According to this line, it is possible thus to arrive at genuine, general normative statements concerning how we should reason. I maintain that such statements are superfluous or illegitimate for several interlocking reasons. The central arguments are i) that certain norms simply repeat the content of descriptive statements which in any case would have to be taken account of in scientific reasoning; ii) if norms are merely meant to systematize an intuitive capacity for reasoning and forming beliefs, we can make do with honing that capacity; iii) there is no reason to regard principles in a psychological reasoning module as norms rather than simply prescursors of behaviour; iv) we cannot make sense of experts in relation to epistemic rationality; v) making play with the idea of purely philosophical constraints on theories of norms involves reneging on naturalism.

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