Norris’ "Epistemology" Intro. III

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

Introduction, section III.

This section discusses the Anglophone (or “analytic“-maybe Frege?, maybe Quine?) versus “continental” (mainland-European–the only example I recognized was Husserl) traditions. Husserl is grouped with Frege, Duhem with Quine, Kuhn with Bachelard. “Indeed it can be argued that in many ways Bachelard’s approach to these issues is one that confounds the received idea of ‘continental‘ philosophy as deplorably prone to excesses of cultural relativism while ‘analytic‘ philosophy cleaves to the virtues of disciplined truth-seeking rigour.” Norris is going to explain their various points of convergence and divergence, and use the continental perspective to provide a different slant on typically analytic themes and concerns (pretty much stole his words and moved ’em around).

Norris admits the philosophical ‘case’ he is advancing is toward a realist standpoint, and “(more specifically) toward a form of critical realism that 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. Hence also (3) what critical realists describe as the complexly ‘stratified’ nature of that interaction, some of it transpiring at a level where objectivity is at a premium and where the knower (e.g., the observer or experimental scientist) has least involvement in setting things up with a view to finding things out, while some transpires through a far more active interventionist mode of enquiry. Even so (4), in the latter sorts of case, what is actually discovered through those various investigative methods and techniques is a range of (maybe hitherto latent or physically uninstantiated) properties and powers that are nonetheless real-there to be discovered-by just such newly devised or technologically enhanced means. Thus, for instance, there are certain kinds of entity-such as synthetic DNA proteins or transuranic elements produced in particle supercolliders-which are products of human scientific know-how but whose potential existence is now and always was a matter of real (objectively valid) microstructural attributes, capacities and laws of nature.”

Are synthetic DNA proteins, proteins not normally (naturally) (without the aid/interference of humans) produced by DNA?-or are they proteins normally “synthesized” by DNA? If the former, is this going to be how the case is made for realist ethics, even though it would be voluntarism? If the latter-good observation.

“This approach also has the great advantage of extending to the social-science disciplines where it makes allowance for the highest degree of practical, reflective and self-critical involvement on the part of human agents while explaining how the scope of that agency is both enabled and constrained bythe various physical and social realities with which it has to deal. Not least, it helps to show where cultural relativists and ‘strong’ sociologists go wrong by exaggerating the extent to which scientific knowledge (and the objects of such knowledge) should be thought of as socially or culturally ‘constructed’, while failing to take due account of just those crucial factors. At the same time it offers a useful corrective to the kinds of sharply polarized debate-as described above-in which objectivist (alethic) realists about truth are ranged against anyone who takes the view that truth must be subject to certain forms of epistemic or cognitive constraint. What critical realism chiefly brings out is the frequent confusion here between matters metaphysical and issues epistemological.”

Critical-realist terms: maintain distinction betweenontology – 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).

Shifting away from the physicalist reductionism of early logical positivists and logical-empiricist successors, allowing social sciences fair claim, but not to the point of considering all knowledge to be ‘constructed’.

Pretty much the whole section is quoted, lol-not feeling well.


About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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