Norris’ Epistemology; starting point, updates

I figured it would be cool to post my starting point, and see how it changes/grows as I study this book (Norris’ “Epistemology”). If you want to post something like that, post it in a new thread in the General Forum and let me know to move it to the Epistemology forum.

1. Certainty requires omniscience. All beliefs are varying degrees of faith, the strongest forms of faith backed by stronger evidence, and blind faith having no evidence and no longer counting as knowledge.

2. Faith: belief in, not just belief that (assurance of promises we hope for, but do not yet see; confidence in the evidence behind the promise, rather than doubting the promise despite the evidence) (or loyalty and trust rather than disloyalty and distrust)

Love is about subjective faith, not objective certainty, as John Nash discovered in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” However, subjective love without objective demonstration is not love-faith “that” God is love, believing strong evidence of God’s loving us, though it cannot be proved with certainty (certainty being reserved for the omniscient), is a prerequisite to putting faith “in” Him. Blind faith is what leads to drinking the Kool-Aid (36). A genuine leap of faith is a rational one. However, Kierkegaard thought it offensive to require evidence from God of His existence, like requiring proof of love from your lover. But, would you really marry someone, put faith in someone, who never showed you love…someone for whom there is no evidence of their existence? You cannot be certain of the future when you say “I do”-but you have a pretty good idea the person you are marrying exists and (if you’re marrying for love) loves you-faith trusts the promise which is objectively evident. It is a leap, as Kierkegaard said, beyond mere belief “that” into belief “in”-but belief “that” (strong evidence) is still a prerequisite to belief “in” (trusting His promise).

…blind faith…is for those who would drink the Kool-Aid. Unless we know something with absolute certainty, faith is required. Only the omniscient can have absolute certainty. Knowledge for everyone else is varying degrees of faith-ranging from strong to blind (blind faith would no longer be considered knowledge). But, even if we have good evidence for our faith (faith “that”), that doesn’t mean we have the sort of faith the bible talks about (faith “in”)-which is more like “trust”. You wouldn’t trust your wife unless you had knowledge of her existence (“faith that,” for those who are not omniscient) -but even if you have knowledge of her existence (“faith that”) does not mean you have “faith in” (trust) her. See the forum “Reason for God Discussion”.

3. Morality is standards and ends (the ‘how’ and ‘why’), of social character and/or conduct. Morality may be created by the individual or cultural will, or perceived to be discovered in evolving human nature, or in an eternal social essence. While it may be true that a given morality exists in reality, its standards may or may not be “truth“. Truth is that which corresponds to reality (that which is). Moral truth (or true morality) is those standards, ends, of social character and/or behavior which are true (corresponding to reality, which must necessarily include the fulfilled ought, or the ought is just a nice concept). Note that a fact is true regardless if individuals or cultures believe it to be true, and that reality (including nature) does not create facts, but is what facts are about. If the truth about morality is that it evolves (if there is no morality among all moralities which does “not” evolve)-then there is no “moral truth” (truth never changes). If a standard is ‘created’ or is a ‘construct’ it is fiction (there can be true facts about the fiction, but the fiction itself cannot be a true fact). This rules out those standards which are subjective to the individual will, relative to the cultural will, or incorrectly perceived as being justified in evolving, indifferent nature. It can be true that subjective and relative standards exist-but not that they are true, for the same reason it can be true that individual or cultural beliefs can exist without corresponding to objective reality (which explains the wide range of moralities). That there are a wide range of beliefs about reality (including morality) does not rule out the possibility of beliefs which actually correspond (are true).


I think Kierkegaard thought the objective reality of what Christ did was important, but only a starting point–it must be “personally appropriated” — it must be lived subjectively. When you are faced with the biggest “WHY?” and you know the answer must be love, and that there is no love without demonstration–there is the very real option of just believing that such demonstration (or the promise of it) is real… even if you have no access to evidence of it (to seek relationship with Him, rather than seeking evidence of Him). I think that must be where he is coming from. If you don’t have faith that there is evidence of the answer being “love”–you have settled on something less, or on nothing. And if you accept the answer is love and that there is evidence of it, and then still require evidence, you are still settling, because you are not yet living the answer. I know this to be true. I do not seek evidence and right answers in order to strengthen my faith–my faith is strong (because He made Himself obvious to me, gave me evidence). To me, evidence and right answers are bait for fishing… but I am also challenged to “live”/”be” the evidence/answers. I fall very short, unless you compare me to who I used to be before He brought me back. Grace ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure. I have told Him “this far and no farther” far too many times. :( I know He never gives up on me–I know His opinion of me, His love for me, never changes. It is my fuel. Yet I putter along sometimes… on my own power. He knew I was a ninny when He brought me back. God, change me.

Let’s hear from Kierkegaard…

The objective reality of Christ’s atonement, independent of its personal appropriation, is most clearly shown in the history of the ten lepers. All of them were healed, though only of the tenth, who thankfully returned to give honor to God, is it said: your faith has made you whole. What was it that cured the others?”

The Law of Existence: First life, then theory. Then, as a rule, there comes still a third: an attempt to create life with the aid of theory, or the delusion of having the same life by means of the theory. This is the conclusion, the parody, and then the process ends–and then there must be new life again.

Take Christianity, for example. It came in as life, sheer daring that risked everything for the faith. The change began when Christianity came to be regarded as doctrine. This is the theory; it was about that which was lived. But there still existed some vitality, and therefore at times life-and-death disputes were carried on over ‘doctrine’ and doctrinal formulations. Nevertheless doctrine became more and more the distinctive mark of being a Christian. Everything then became objective. This is Christianity’s theory. Then followed a period in which the intention was to produce life by means of the theory; this is the period of the system, the parody. Now this process has ended. Christianity must begin anew as life.”

And see the whole chapter “Existence and the Existential”…

[Edit: Kierkegaard would say to trust our moral sense, that love is the point, that God is love-because to doubt this evidence is to be like the Jews in Jesus’ time who, after seeing miracles, asked for more signs because they did not trust what they were pointing to-like doubting your lover and putting faith in the alternative. Even so, He does not leave us without evidence.]

Review of Norris’ “Epistemology” — Introduction through chapter 3. My study of this book will slow down now that I have to go back to work Friday and my college semester is starting at the end of the month. Ah, to be paid a grand a month to study all day!!!


All of this of course perks up my ears because it is relevant to my paper-where I talk about living as if we “know” there is moral truth, when we are offended when others violate our expectations, etcetera. 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). Those who would deny there are “grand narratives” (Lyotard) would fall in the third category.


Analytics thought we should stick with the scientific method, which took the “self” out of the picture and required verification. With this attitude, Quine attacked the last two dogmas of empiricism-the analytic/synthetic dichotomy, and the idea that “observation-statements or predictions could be checked one-by-one against discrete items of empirical evidence.” That any statement/theory could be saved by adjusting parts of the ‘web of belief’ was thought to be the end of empiricism, but he “came out firmly in support of the empiricist position…by adopting a thoroughly naturalized (behaviourist) approach to epistemological issues and avoiding all forms of ‘metaphysical’ obfuscation,” for example, “the typically continental idea that epistemology must have to do with intuitions or thoughts ‘in the mind’ of this or that individual knower.” The analytic tradition typically only wants to focus on “structure” (ditching “genesis” when it ditched the self’s involvement in enquiry), whereas the continental tradition also considers “genesis” important (helpful in explaining advances/progress). This is a little confusing for me, because verification requires “knowers” who verify-probably why this ended up as cultural relativism.

Skepticism’s false dilemma: either there can be truths that cannot be known (verified) (leading to “the skeptical impasse-the unbridgeable gulf between truth and knowledge”), or a redefinition of truth putting it in the bounds of knowability. The skeptical/anti-realist false-dilemma is “another version of the fallacy (in) skeptical arguments against the validity of induction, that is to say, the mistake of imposing inappropriate (deductive) standards of truth on modes of reasoning-such as inference to the best explanation-that involved much wider, more practically accountable, sources of knowledge and evidence.”

Realist – values scientific truth and progress, objectivity (“recognition-transcendence”), ‘truth’ is a strident rallying-call. The realist thinks that anti-realists relativize truth, which defaults 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), defaulting to skepticism.

Statements may: 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.”
Externalist – (semantic: “meanings just ain’t in the head!” “advanced on modal-logical grounds by…Hilary Putnam and Saul Kripke” Kripke/Putnam and the causal theory of reference-fixing was mentioned in section II of the Introduction. “Likewise highly promising are the kinds of naturalized epistemology-chiefly that developed by Alvin Goldman-which seek to conjoin a causal account of knowledge-acquisition with an adequately normative, reason-based rather than reductively physicalist (e.g., Quinean) approach.” Know: “correctly and justifiably believe on the best, most reliable or truth-conducive grounds” – “properly applies only to that subset of beliefs which meet the twofold requirement of truth and epistemic or justificatory warrant.” Knowledge about WMDs “has its truth-value fixed by the fact of their existence or non-existence.” Bertrand Russell. “Truth must be conceived (in realist terms) as always potentially transcending the limits of present-best, communally warranted, or socially desirable belief.”

Regarding ‘truth’ of statements in the “disputed class”: they can and do possess objective truth-value “just so long as the sentence in question is well-formed and truth-apt.” Statements can be “truth bearers” (if they “refer”) and the portions of reality to which the statements refer are “truth-makers” (they make the statements true). This means reality is a truth-maker even if no statement is made (truth is knowledge-independent, verification-transcendent, epistemically unconstrained). Reminds me of Russell-I like Russell. “A well-formed statement…will have its truth-value fixed by the way things once stood in reality quite aside from our lack of certainty.”

Critical-realist terms: maintain distinction between ontology – the “intransitive” domain of objects, structures, properties, causal dispositions, etc., and epistemology – “transitive” domain where human agency plays a more-or-less decisive interventionist role (mostly quoting). There is a human role in manifestation but not in reality-the situation is not a dualism, but stratified (ontology/epistemology). Critical realism rests on the following principal theses. (1) There exists a ‘real-world’, objective, mind-independent physical domain wherein various items on every scale-from electrons, atoms and molecules to chairs, continents and galaxies-exhibit certain likewise objective structures, properties and causal powers which they possess or exert quite apart from our present-best or even our future-best-attainable knowledge of them. This is basically an ontological thesis, that is to say, one having to do with matters that by very definition (as skeptics are always quick to remark) cannot be known in the sense ‘established beyond any possible doubt by our powers of cognitive or epistemic grasp’. Hence (2) the epistemological claim that we can nonetheless acquire increased knowledge of those objects, properties and powers through our various kinds of physical interaction with them, ranging all the way from everyday experience to the most refined and sophisticated methods of applied scientific research. “[There is a] wide range of reliably knowledge-conducive procedures which no doubt fall short of absolute, indubitable truth yet which nonetheless offer sufficient grounds for rejecting the kind of anti-realist ‘solution’ currently on offer.” “…it is a necessary presupposition…that there are truths which may or may not be discovered in the course of diligent enquiry and, moreover, that their standing is in no way affected by the extent of our knowledge, ignorance or uncertainty about them. Such is the starting-point or default assumption of any dispute-outside the realms of metaphysics or philosophy of language.”

Habermas conserved the critical/progressive impulses of Enlightenment thought, “deriving those emancipatory values from a theory of ‘communicative action’ based on the idea of free and equal exchange between all parties with access to the relevant (more or less specialized) information sources. In which case philosophy can take on board the whole range of anti-foundationalist arguments brought against more traditional forms of epistemology by proponents of the present-day ‘linguistic turn’ and yet maintain a principled commitment to the standing possibility of truth and progress in the scientific, ethical and socio-political spheres. This approach abandons the old subject-centred epistemological paradigm, but does so-crucially-without yielding ground to the kinds of cultural-relativist thinking that have often been advanced by followers of Wittgenstein or by those who appeal to ‘language games’ or ‘forms of life’ as the furthest we can get in the quest for validating grounds, reasons or principles.”

“[Derridas] reflections on the problematic status of a prior truth-claims are pursued in a way that contrasts sharply with the approach adopted by philosophers who either reject such claim out of hand or arrive-like Putnam-at the pyrrhic conclusion that the sole candidate for a priori status is a trivially self-evident proposition such as ‘not every statement is both true and false’.”

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

Statements may: 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 ‘x is 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.”

Internalist theories of knowledge (confused as to whether this ‘psychological’ aspect conflicts w/ the ‘analytic’ tradition, though it seems to be a consequence of requiring verification) -“first-person oriented modes of epistemological enquiry.” Know: “believe without question to the best of our knowledge or powers of rational comprehension” – “first-person [I: Internalist], ‘psychological’ state of mind (‘I simplyknow this or that to be the case’)” Knowledge about WMDs “has its truth-value fixed…by the strength of conviction (genuine or otherwise) expressed by partisans of either view.” William James. “‘Truth’ can appear only under this or that currently accepted or preferred description.” (descriptivist?) “Truth-values cannot (or should not) be thought of as exceeding the bounds of warranted assertibility.” “Justification is principally a matter of ‘what works’ in the sense of promoting our best psychological, social and ethico-political interests.” “truth just is whatever has gained credence” [Realist objection: “[I: pragmatic justification] ‘works’ only in so far as it encourages an attitude of placid and unthinking acquiescence in taken-for-granted (hence reassuring) habits of thought and belief.” “Wishing cannot make it so.”]

Regarding ‘truth’ of statements in the disputed class: Dummett: “truth” should be replaced with “warranted assertibility” and “restricted to just those statements for which we possess some bona fide means of proof or verification.” The word “truth” keeps being used, though. Again, the anti-realist position is that we shouldn’t be able to say “this is true” (or false) if we cannot also say “this is verified” (or falsified). “Statements [in the disputed class] cannot have a truth-value since it is strictly inconceivable that truth should exceed the limits of assertoric warrant.” Dummett would reject Lewis’ transworld necessary mathematical truths, and stuff like Goldbach’s Conjecture, putting them in the “disputed class” (neither true nor false, as they cannot be verified/falsified)-“as distinct from merely undecidable according to our best, most advanced or sophisticated proof procedures.”

Where this gets really interesting is that Dummett claims that any gaps in knowledge must also be gaps in reality. “…there cannot be a past fact no evidence of which exists to be discovered, because it is the existence of such evidence that would make it a fact, if it were one.” “Equally strange-from any but a hard-line anti-realist viewpoint-is the claim that our evidence (or lack of it) is ‘constitutive’ not only of our state of knowledge with respect to those events at any given time but also of their very reality, i.e., their having actually occurred or not. In which case, quite simply, the historical past must be thought of as a highly selectively backward projection from whatever we are currently able to find out and hence as including lacunae-‘gaps in reality’, as Dummett says-corresponding to our areas of ignorance.”

One example Norris uses of Dummett thinking we can bring about the past by a change in our present knowledge, is retroactively granted prayer request. To Norris, this is Dummett agreeing that “wishing (praying) makes it so”. I used to use this example (not Dummett’s-didn’t know about Dummett) when I would think about time and God’s sovereignty over it. I think differently about it now, because, unlike Dummett, I think everything in the past, present, and future is fixed/complete from God’s perspective (according to Einstein’s relativity, they ‘are’ fixed)-all affirmatively answered prayers were answered (in our past, present, future) before it all began (from His perspective). So the guy’s prayer about what already happened-isn’t “retroactively” granted (nothing changes in the past from God’s perspective-the past, present, and future are fixed/complete)-but “eternally” granted (from beyond time). And this is not a case of the guy changing the past with his knowledge, because nothing changes, and even if it does, it isn’t his “knowing it” that changes it (he does not know how it turns out when he is praying about it), but God Himself that changes it (if that were possible, and it isn’t-it’s all fixed). So “praying makes it so” is not equivalent to “wishing makes it so”.

At any rate, when you’re talking about knowledge that makes the past real, you bring up the time travel paradox of the closed causal loop. Now that I’ve said that, I’m wondering if it has anything to do with causal realism. If you (the reader) don’t know what a closed causal loop is, here’s an example based off the TV series LOST (I won’t get the details exactly correct, so it is only “based off” of it-it isn’t the exact situation). In 2007 Richard gives John a compass and tells John “The next time you see me, give this back.” John goes back in time and meets Richard again sometime in the 1950s, and gives Richard the compass, saying, “The next time you see me, give this back.” Richard gives it back to John in 2007-the event we started with. So–who is the original owner of the compass? Who even manufactured it? Applying that to Dummett’s reverse-causality powers of knowledge: If I make the past real with my knowledge-what made my knowledge happen? Shiver me timbers!!

So, back to reality, here’s what we end up with:

Incorporating Duhem’s contexts of justification and discovery (ch3.II.1) and Bachelard’s sanctioned/lapsed history categories (ch3.IV.1)–
1. Ontology. There exists a ‘real-world’, objective, mind-independent physical domain wherein various items on every scale-from electrons, atoms and molecules to chairs, continents and galaxies-exhibit certain likewise objective structures, properties and causal powers which they possess or exert quite apart from our present-best or even our future-best-attainable knowledge of them.” // Mind-independent truth-that to which knowledge refers. Only the omniscient (which, granted, requires mind-but ‘facts’ are not dependent on that mind for their truth–kind of like how God “is” good, rather than “making” good exist) is capable of certainty (does not “come to know” but “knows eternally”)-all else must approach it through reason, but never arrive (all human knowledge is varying degrees of faith, excluding blind faith).
2. Epistemology. “We can nonetheless acquire increased knowledge of those objects, properties and powers through our various kinds of physical interaction with them, ranging all the way from everyday experience to the most refined and sophisticated methods of applied scientific research.” “[There is a] wide range of reliably knowledge-conducive procedures which no doubt fall short of absolute, indubitable truth yet which nonetheless offer sufficient grounds for rejecting the kind of anti-realist ‘solution’ currently on offer.” “…it is a necessary presupposition…that there are truths which may or may not be discovered in the course of diligent enquiry and, moreover, that their standing is in no way affected by the extent of our knowledge, ignorance or uncertainty about them. Such is the starting-point or default assumption of any dispute-outside the realms of metaphysics or philosophy of language.” //
‘context of justification’histoire sanctionée (sanctioned history)-hypotheses which have ‘transcended the metaphor’ –‘absolute ideal objectivity’-the closest we get to certainty/omniscience-a statement is true because it refers/corresponds to ‘1’.
‘context of discovery’
–Genesis: “process of reasoning by which such truths [see ‘structure’ directly below] are arrived at”-“the genesis of theories or the history of scientific thought”
Structure: “distinguishes the truths of mathematics or logic” from others which require a greater degree of faith.
‘1’ and ‘2’ come together when epistemic structure matches up with (refers to, corresponds to) alethic structure, which retains its shape despite conflicting “epistemic shapes” of various observers throughout history [as opposed to the idea that the subject necessarily shapes the structure and is (necessarily) incapable of discovering the structure’s alethic shape by drawing out its alethic shape from its various conflicting epistemic shapes].

histoire perimée (lapsed history) – applies to those theories which don’t pass muster-they don’t just inhabit a different world (contrary to what Kuhn would say).
The naming/descriptivist discussion on Putnam seemed odd to me, and I tentatively concluded that names are short-hand (especially names like “orange” referring to the fruit)-descriptions are the real deal and tell us more about the object-but both names and descriptions are “place-holders” for the object being named/described.

There are a lot of thinkers I left out of this. I didn’t even mention Kant once-’til now. I’m horrible w/ names…I hold on to concepts much better.

a synthesis of Husserlian transcendental with Heideggerian existentialist phenomenology, and these in turn with an understanding of Hegel mediated by Kojeve’s strong-revisionist reading
–would love to know the ins and outs of that


If everything we know “about” is always changing, then there’s nothing on which to hang the epistemological hat–unless there is something to know about which never changes. Now that would be something to hang your hat on. That everything (temporal) is changing speaks against Plato’s Forms. But, maybe the eternal is the type of Form Plato referred to. Maybe the only Form. But this world, this temporal existence, “is” real, and has its being from that Form, which, maybe Plato would say (in different words), is “the essence of what it means to be real”. Sounds good to me. The closer to Love, the closer to what it means to be real…the more fully you exist. Every wall we put up to protect ourselves from all the dangers of love–is a wall devolving away from Being. To let Him past the wall and tear it down, to break us back down and (re)form us to His essence, is to let Him help us truly become the only thing that truly exists–Love. And we don’t need to escape this temporal reality to let Him do that. Love is here–love is now.

Philippians 2:12-“…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (NIV). God produces fear and trembling in us because He exposes the most vulnerable in us. It is like when you are terrified to ask a girl out. If asking her out remains a task until you finally ask her-you are always going to be terrified as long as you hesitate (in despair, for you deeply need her-attempting to replace her with innumerable lesser pleasures, or to erect a wall around your heart as if you need nothing, only points out the reality of your despair). But, after the task comes the relationship. And God is like a girl whose love for you never changes, so that when you are unfaithful or doubt her love-she remains constant. A girl like that is terrifying. It is terrifying enough to open your heart to an ordinary girl-but this is no ordinary girl, and she demands your entire, vulnerable heart-complete transparency. You might lose respect for a girl who would remain constant though you are unfaithful, but this is no naïve girl who lacks self-respect. She does not love from a lack. You either choose greatness with her, or the mud-in being unfaithful, you fool only yourself. She always knew which you would choose. That is why some fear death-it reminds them they chose poorly every moment of their life, and that they will no longer have time to ask that terrifying girl out. They used her creations but kept a safe distance all the while, whereas Abraham spared not even his promised son (Genesis 22:2, Hebrews 11:19, Genesis 22:13). After death they will have to spend eternity without her-they must either banish that fear and trembling from their mind and have faith she never existed (eternal spiritlessness), or choose her now, with fear and trembling.

Yes, I’ve been reading Kierkegaard.

Summary Norris’ Epistemology Ch4, Ch5, Postscript

In preparation for my discussion w/ ‘trop (zoot)… ‘physicalist’ means ‘thoroughly naturalized’.

Response dependence (RD) theory, with roots in Locke’s secondary qualities (better explained by optics and the neurophysiology of visual perception) attempts to bridge the gap between realism and anti-realism by specifying what constitutes an appropriate response, using the quantified, duly provisoed biconditional (“if and only if”). It attempts to move away from subjectivity (and the Kripkensteinian “skeptical solution” of communitarian thinking) by being choosy about its subjects and right response. However, since it is still focused on the subject and response, it still has anti-realist leanings, and does stop short of admitting truth transcends the subject/response.

It might remind one of John Stuart Mill’s consideration that the “higher pleasures” are determined by the “competent judge”—which also is a result of anti-realist thinking. However, it seems Norris’ is some sort of consequentialist—not sure which sort. In my Ethics text, letting the majority of competent judges determine which pleasures are ‘higher’ is referred to as “tyranny of the majority” but really it is the fallacy of reification, as well as the is-ought fallacy. We do not make truth up, and what we actually desire is not necessarily what we ought to desire.

I was hoping to hear how Norris explains a realist account of moral truth without sounding anti-realist, but he never did. All he did was sound consequentialist, without providing a realist justification for it, and suggesting that virtue and deontological theories were anti-realist theories.

The RD reading of the Euthyphro Dilemma says that, rather than “either” determining truth (including moral truth) with best opinion “or” being optimally qualified to recognize truth—it’s both—best opinion (determination) is optimally qualified (recognition). The realist will say “It is because statements are true that they are superassertible” (Socrates) and the superassertibilist (Wright) will say, “It is because statements are superassertible that they are true” (Euthyphro). So, it is still stuck in subjectivity, although an improvement on communitarianism (and skepticism, and nihilism)—at least everyone agrees there is truth to be ‘got at’. However, there is no external norm, only an internal norm set by the standards informing assertions w/in the discourse (according to Wright)—so, little difference from communitarianism.

Mark Johnston says we respond that x is red because x is actually red, Miller replies that our concept of x being red is response-dependent.

McDowell tries to detranscendentalized Kant without thoroughly naturalizing him–to get back the normativity lost when Quine demolished logical empiricism, to overcome the dilemma between discovery and justification, or mind and world. He says that spontaneity (conscious reason–freedom) emerges from receptivity (intuition) and is rationally constrained by it (responsible). So, the real is within our responsibly free grasp—there is nothing outside our grasp. However, when scientific discoveries are made, something that once was not within our grasp, comes within our grasp—before that, it transcended our grasp, and even after that, it transcends our grasp, since grasping it does not make it true, and it will remain true even if we forget it. The RD road leads to and ends, via skepticism, at Dummettian anti-realism…or realism, if you’d rather not settle for less.

Virtue theorists also try to get back some normativity by relying on certain epistemic virtues internal to the subject, rather than external rules which lost normativity with Quine’s demolition of logical empiricism. However, like with RD theory, it makes truth dependent on the subject—instead of the subject being a “competent judge”—the subject is, say, an “honest judge”. But, being internally, intuitionally truthful doesn’t make your facts true externally, though it will increase the probability that you will collect true facts.

Norris says that this does not actually solve the normativity problem, because of the is-ought fallacy. It’s more like the ought-is fallacy… “I’m being truthful, therefore what I’m saying must be true.” A tyranny of one, and the fallacy of reification.

This externalism (rules-based) versus internalism (intuition-based, response-based, virtue-based) thinking makes me wonder … how you be influences what you do, what you do influences how you be. If you follow rules (like the scientific method) you will develop a scientific character, and if you have a scientific character, you will be more likely to follow scientific rules. So, in a sense, it is true that if you “be scientific” you will arrive at true facts, because you will follow the scientific method. But, that is “only” if you acknowledge the external rules/method. Virtue theory does not seem to like the rules thing, and doesn’t like the realist idea that truth may exceed our grasp. That doesn’t seem very honest to me, though. Norris’ criticism that virtue focuses too much on the subject (not enough on the truth being transcendent), doesn’t hold water with me, when you consider that ‘rules’ don’t guarantee certainty, either. But, his criticism does hold water when he mentions that virtue theory usually doesn’t restrict the ‘virtue’ aspect to the context of discovery. Shouldn’t the ‘rules’ be restricted to the context of discovery, too, then? If so…doesn’t that take away normativity? Perhaps both virtue and rules help in the context of discovery, and in the context of justification we can just say that truth is true despite how well or badly we’ve managed to grasp it in the context of discovery?

It is all very weird to me that normativity in epistemology is being linked to ethics. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it. Not only virtue (internalist) theory—but deontological (external rules) theory—which are just the methods followed by an epistemically virtuous person, if you think about it. But apparently those methods are “ethical” methods? So, to get at the truth is an ethical endeavor? I can see that the ‘privation’ of it would be lying (by giving false information, or withholding information). It almost makes science out to be a duty and scientific character a virtue to develop… Am I getting this right?

So. Virtue and method are in the context of discovery, and discovery is a moral obligation, because it satisfies the hunger in us all for honest, genuine, pure, unadulterated truth. We have confidence that what we know is on the right track, because we virtuously follow the scientific method (context of discovery)—but part of that is realizing that our conclusions must always be open to revision, because no matter how virtuous we are or how meticulous the methods we obey—we can still get things wrong and fail to grasp the complete truth, which is true (context of justification) independent of our grasping.

Where does Norris’ consequentialism fit in here? Sometimes releasing the truth on people hurts them and wreaks havoc and has devastating consequences…but that doesn’t make it false. To me, the “end” of epistemology is to arrive at truth (it is not “the arriving” but “the truth” that is the end). This is not the same end as that of Ethics, which is love. That is why Kant was wrong when he said we should tell the truth to a would-be killer, rather than save a life. But that was more about truthfulness, than it was about truth. There are methods of being truthful, and there are methods of arriving at the truth—truthfulness is the “process of arriving”—it isn’t the truth itself. But, rethinking this–if discovery is a moral obligation, it is because it has the same end as the end in Ethics—love (we all hunger to be loving, to do love—true meaning). If you follow the Golden Rule you will honestly follow the scientific method (tell the truth), unless it would hurt others—then you would abandon the method and save a life (or at least not violate ethical standards governing scientific experiments, for example). Granted, we do not have certainty that the standard for how and why we should be and behave (including ‘discovery’ or ‘truth-finding’ behavior) is “real” (corresponds to the fulfilled standard) rather than reified…subjective or communitarian…but we can make sure that standard at least passes our litmus, and leave ourselves open to future revision in case the complete truth is currently eluding our grasp. This combines internalism (the hunger for truth of any sort; the question) with externalism (the requirement that what fulfills our hunger, the answer, passes the litmus)…it combines intuition with reason, being with doing, without trespassing into justification.

The version of virtue theory which trespasses into justification is at least not communitarian, bowing to the majority. But if it tries to define the virtues as realist virtues (or reliabilist virtues), it contradicts itself out of existence, since truth is no longer justified by the virtuous. It clearly leans toward anti-realism.

Like skepticism, anti-realism, communitarianism, RD-theory, paradigm relativists and paradigm shiftists, yadda yadda, it cannot explain how folks (in this case, virtuous folks) can get things wrong (implying, even while using the argument from error, that something else was right before they knew it was right), and it cannot explain scientific progress (grasping what was previously ungraspable, sometimes in bits and pieces without completely discarding whole theories).

Just sent this question to Professor Norris:

Is how I am using the words “justified” and “true” correct in the following article?

Jonathan’s lightbulb and the science of morality…-the-science-of-morality


Hi again, and thanks for sending the essay. Yes, I think you’re using ‘justified’ and ‘true’ in a perfectly valid sense – not (in the case of ‘justified’) a standard, text-book, philosophical received sense, but no harm in that – you explain what you mean by it quite clearly and you use it consistently. The argument to God’s existence isn’t so strong because he (He? s/he? It?) either has a merely place-filling role in your argument, in which case it might as well drop out, or else needs the relevant (moral) attributes filling in, in which case it is arguable (I think inescapable) that all the definitions/descriptions so far advanced by defenders of the monotheistic religions are morally repulsive or downright contradictory. If you want to see just how repulsive – and what kinds of moral/intellectual contortion they produce in otherwise intelligent apologists – then take a look at Peter Geach’s article ‘On Believing in the Right God’. It seems to me that some kind of naturalistic ethical realism is the only promising (and safe) way for moral philosophy to go, although you won’t agree with that. Still I liked you piece – lively and provocative – and I can see no objection (habitual usage/prejudice apart) to deploying ‘justified’/’justification’ in that non-standard way.  // Best wishes, Chris”

I am disappointed that he thinks I misuse ‘justification’ but…I disagree w/ him. Here is a relevant discussion:


Professor Norris, it crushes me to find out you think I am using the word ‘justified’ incorrectly. I think I’ll just disagree w/ you unless you give good reasons as to why. Here is a relevant discussion which leads me to believe you are mistaken: http://www.philosophychat…791&p=156936#p156936 but I am open to hearing your explanation.

If you think God merely has a place-filling roll in my argument, you have not fully grasped my argument, for if that were his roll, my argument would commit the fallacy of reification. Peter Geach’s argument (or, what I imagine it must be, from your e-mail—I haven’t read it)—that God is immoral (essentially)—is self-defeating, because it assumes the reality of moral truth (in order to deem God immoral) to deny the reality of the only being to which moral truth may correspond (God). Also, perhaps certain conceptions of God are morally repulsive, but it does not follow from that that a morally good God does not exist.


Maryann Spikes


Yes, that strikes me as a much better (clearer and more straightforward) statement of the case, and one that gets it exactly right about truth and justification. I’m not sure about the sections on faith & certainty – yes, certainty gets stronger as the evidence firms up but the same doesn’t apply to faith, at least in any normal (psychologically plausible) sense of the word – you might even say the reverse, i.e., that there is less & less need or role for faith as the evidence gets stronger and certainty increases. But that’s just a quibble and beside the main point, which was to get straight about truth and justification. Most likely you were on the right track all along and I was misled by some odd point of phrasing. Anyway thanks for the clarification. // Best wishes, Chris”
*does the dance of joy!*

I agree that less faith is needed as the evidence gets stronger!!!

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