Naturalized Epistemology

Barry Stroud

in The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism

Published in print July 1984 | ISBN: 9780198247616
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598494 | DOI:
 Naturalized Epistemology

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In this chapter, Stroud discusses W. V. Quine’s project of a ‘naturalized epistemology’, and assesses its consequences for philosophical scepticism.

According to Quine, science and everyday knowledge and the languages and thought processes in which they are pursued and expressed are to be seen as natural phenomena which can be studied and described and explained scientifically like any other part of the natural world: all attempts to find out about ourselves and the world must be made from within the conceptual and scientific resources we have already developed for finding out about anything.

Stroud points out that this can make it look as if Quine is simply changing the subject; that would leave open the possibility, sometimes apparently endorsed by Quine, that scepticism is and remains the only answer to the traditional question, and that nothing he says in his naturalized epistemology affects the answer one way or the other. But Quine also appears to want to resist scepticism on the grounds of his naturalized account of our epistemic situation; the argument is that scientific knowledge can be used to meet the sceptical challenge because the challenge arises from, and within, the domain of science itself.

This is ineffective as a response to scepticism, according to Stroud, because the fact that sceptical doubts are scientific doubts does not put the epistemologist who raises such doubts in the stronger position of being free to use scientific knowledge of the world in his effort to answer those doubts and explain how knowledge is possible; in fact, the view endorsed by Quine turns out not only to tolerate scepticism but to be committed to it: the argument is that I cannot understand my own knowledge of the world as a mere ‘projection’ from ‘meagre sensory data’, and since my own knowledge of what the world is like is required for me to be able to ascribe knowledge of the world to other people, I cannot ascribe knowledge to anyone, and this is scepticism.

Keywords: changing the subject; naturalized epistemology; projection; W. V. Quine; scepticism; science; sensory data

Chapter.  18263 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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