Norris’ "Epistemology" Intro. IV

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

Introduction, section IV.

So, to recap, Norris is going to make the case for realism as ontological commitment and as an “accounting for the growth of scientific knowledge by way of inference to the best (most rational) explanation.” He is going to present opposing views as well, like response-dependence. Though it cannot provide objectivity while meeting the challenges of the anti-realist or sceptic, Norris is going to “emphasize the range, ingenuity and resourcefulness of various arguments advanced in this vein, especially by Crispin Wright.” Response-dependence was touched on in section I of the Introduction, and will be discussed in chapter 4.

Internalist theories of knowledge – “first-person oriented modes of epistemological enquiry.” 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.”

Chapter 2 will concentrate on the debates between realism and anti-realism, starting with “Kripke’s arguments for the existence of a posteriori necessary truths, or those that have to be discovered through some process of scientific enquiry but which nonetheless hold as a matter of necessity in any world physically congruent with our own.” Norris backs it up with Putnam’s “Twin-Earth” thought experiments, making the case for modal realism-the reference-fixing touched on in section II of the Introduction-“conserving fixity of reference across large (even radical) episodes of scientific theory-change.” The explanation given is mildly confusing. I’m not sure how you can consider a reference (like subatomic structure, or molecular constitution) fixed that was inconceivable to (could not be referred to by) previous knowers, but I’m betting I’ll find out. This is in opposition to a ‘descriptivist’ account, but I’m not exactly sure what that means, either. I think a descriptivist account says that features are not essential, that they fail to refer, that imputed properties before discovery (about some object), and imputed properties after discovery (about that object), will not be referring to the same object (if so-then how do you know what object you made a discovery about?).

Norris addresses concepts as they come up in the natural process of thinking through questions “that bear directly on matters of ethical and social (as well as more ‘narrowly’ epistemological) concern.” “Thus the book proceeds mainly through a series of interlinked debates-realism versus anti-realism, alethic versus epistemic conceptions of truth, externalism versus internalism, objectivist versus response-dispositional or otherwise specified middle-ground positions.”


I’m confused right now as to why realism isn’t synonymous to, say, alethicism, externalism and objectivism; anti-realism to, say, epistemicism, internalism and response-dependence…but I’m pretty sure it’ll all be fleshed out as I read on.

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