Norris’ "Epistemology" Introduction, section I.

Book Discussion of Christopher Norris’ “Epistemology: Key Concepts in Philosophy”

Introduction, section I.

I want to say at the outset that I wish the index was also a subject index, not just a name index, and all the underlining or other emphasis in the quotes below is purely mine.

The introduction is split into four Roman-numerated (is that right?) sections. Off the top of my head, I don’t know what makes them different from eachother, but I’m betting this little exercise is going to help me find out. To prevent confusion, the “I” that follows is in fact a Roman numeral, not an incomplete sentence or some sort of existential declaration.


Epistemology-“the theory of knowledge.” … “issues of epistemology-of truth, knowledge and evidential warrant.”

Norris has attempted to: 1. Make his style accessible, 2. Make obvious the complex/technical debates’ importance to real-world topics of dispute, 3. Make obvious how epistemology in general speaks to our most pressing concerns when it comes to having to decide “on the balance of evidence” what/whom to believe. To me it seems 2 and 3 are identical.

I would just like to say that the way Norris actually came out and said the above, and the way the rest of the Introduction reads (I’ve read all five sections, but it’s taking me a while to type stuff up), was just barely accessible to me… but it did capture my interest. By the end of this book, if I can keep up, I feel I may be ready for Epistemology Olympics. I’m just glad it is accessible, even if “just barely”-it will force my brain further than I’ve previously gone-can’t be a bad thing. But my brain needs a sweat-band.

Realist – values scientific truth and progress, objectivity (“recognition-transcendence”), ‘truth’ is a strident rallying-call

Anti-realist (post-modernist, cultural-relativist, social constructivist)-see realist claims as “the merest of smokescreens designed to conceal and preserve the socio-cultural status quo”… ‘truth’ is a term of abuse… “…deny on principled grounds that truth can possibly be thought to exceed the scope and limits of human knowledge.”

Pluralist scale runs between two extremes (concealing bias toward anti-realism, or toward a weak version of realism admitting degrees of epistemic constraint):

1. “objective truth, via truth-aptness ‘in the ideal epistemic limit'” (wha??)

2. “warranted assertibility in keeping with certain communal norms or shared evaluative standards”

One example of this is response-dispositional (or response-dependence) theories, seeking a “third way” middle-ground, picking up on Locke’s “secondary qualities” (not intrinsic to the object, but involving perceptual or cognitive “response”). Covered in chapter 4.

“…there is an inbuilt tendency to privilege epistemic conceptions of truth (or assertoric warrant) even in cases, such as those of mathematics and the physical sciences, where an alethic approach seems better able to accommodate our normal range of working intuitions.”

“…project of meeting the anti-realist‘s challenge on terms that they might be brought to accept while conserving a sufficiently robust conception of truth to satisfy the realist…” “Hence such proposals as those put forward by Crispin Wright for ‘superassertibility’ and ‘cognitive command’ as criteria applying to certain kinds of statement that stop just short of specifying knowledge in full-fledged objectivist, truth-based terms but which should-so he thinks-go a long way toward resolving therealist/anti-realist dispute.”

Statements can:

Realist: possess alethic (objective) truth(objectivists)-“recognition/verification transcendence” (alethic realism). “…unless the truth-value of statements is specified in alethic (objectivist) terms, and unless knowledge is conceived as a matter of justified true belief, then clearly the way is wide open for skeptics or cultural relativists to press their case for the non-existence of any ‘truths’ beyond those that happen to enjoy credence among this or that community of like-minded believers.” Norris says that was the way Wittgenstein was going when he said that truth-claims are “all bound up with our manifold ‘language-games’, cultural practices, or ‘forms of life’ and are therefore to be judged each by its own sui generes criteria of valid or meaningful utterance.”

Anti-realist: be epistemically constrained (verificationists?)-no knowing without a knower…”strong anti-realist line…deny that it could ever make sense to assert of any given statement x that ‘xis either true or false-objectively so-despite our not being epistemically placed to prove, ascertain, or establish its truth-value.” If truth stands apart from “our best methods of proof or ascertainment-then ex hypothesi it lies beyond our utmost scope of knowledge, in which case there can be no defense against radical skepticism.”


Anglophone-word makes me feel retarded, got no idea what it means. Sounds like “anglo-saxon” and “homophone” all wrapped in one. Does it mean “arguments that sound good to white folk” or “sounds like something whitey would say”? Maybe I should look it up at some point. Just seems to me that truth would be color-blind. 2 and 2 equal 4 regardless of race or creed, yadda yadda. It should be noted I have no idea what “ex hypothesi” and “sui generes” mean, either.

Norris is going to talk about the boundaries between epistemology, ontology and metaphysics, and how such distinctions are not far removed from “getting straight about issues of wider human concern.” He’s going to “bring epistemology back down to earth.” Hear, hear!


I e-mailed this to Professor Norris and he said (among other nice things) that “Anglophone” just means English-speaking. Good to know. I can tell he is a nice guy, and it will be great to get his feedback throughout this discussion. :)

ex hypothesi: according to assumptions made
sui generis: of his, her, its, or their own kind; unique.

So… Pluto was a sui generis planet, in that, ex hypothesi it is not a planet. Hm. Sounds dumb when I use them. Strange. Maybe it’s a skill you have to acquire, like ballet. I’m totally ungraceful with these new words.


It is interesting to note that both realists and anti-realists think the other’s position leaves no defense against skepticism.

The realist thinks that anti-realists relativize truth, which defaults to skepticism.

The anti-realist thinks that the realists put truth out of our grasp (transcending verification), defaulting to skepticism.

The realist needs to answer the charge of putting truth (or, perhaps, just “certainty”?) out of reach (perhaps I already answered that in my starting point? we’ll see), and the anti-realist needs to answer the charge of relativization. Of course (when sane) we live against skepticism and behave as if we’ve got a good grasp on reality…so…this reminds me of my Ethics paper. The realist would be the essentialist, the anti-realist would be the voluntarist, and the third category is for those who think we can’t get at the truth–or that there is no truth at which to get (skeptic/nihilist).

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