proceedings of the aristotelian society
issue 2 | volume cxiii | 2012 - 2013
Epistemology Past & Present john carriero university of california, los angeles
D r a P a p f t e r & p o d c a s t
1 8 8 8
c e l e b r a t i n g
1 2 5
y e a r s
2 0 1 3
proceedings of the aristotelian society 134th session
issue no. 2 volume cx111 2012 - 2013
epistemology past and present
john carriero university of california, los angeles
m o n d a y, 1 8 f e b r u a r y 2 0 1 3 17.30 - 19.15
the woburn suite senate house university of london malet street london wc1e 7hu united kingdom
This event is catered, free of charge, & open to the general public
ÂŠ 2013 the aristotelian society
biography John Carriero is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is author of Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes’s “Meditations” (2009) and co-editor with Janet Broughton of A Companion to Descartes (2008). He is especially interested in understanding early modern rationalist thought as the outgrowth of the seventeenth-century collision between the new science and Aristotelianism. His essays “Spinoza on Final Causality” (2005) and “Substance and Ends” (2008) are two significant contributions to that project. editorial note The following paper is a draft version that can only be cited with the author’s permission. The final paper will be published in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Issue No. 1, Volume CXIII (2013). Please visit the Society’s website for subscription information: www.aristoteliansociety.org.uk.
epistemology past and present john carriero The title of my talk is “Epistemology Past and Present.” I’m interested in certain differences between how 17th-century philosophers thought about knowledge and how contemporary philosophers think about it. These differences do not strike me as particularly subtle. In fact, they are gross enough that we might wonder about the extent to which 17th-century philosophers and modern philosophers are interested in the same thing. We might also wonder about the extent to which it is helpful to apply the same label—say, epistemology—to both sets of interests. I think, for example, one might reasonably raise the question, Is there any epistemology, in our sense of the term, in Spinoza or Leibniz? Indeed, the English term “epistemology” seems to have been a 19th-century invention, probably equivalent to the German Erkenntnistheorie, which was used by the Kantian K. L. Reinhold at the end of the 18th century but did not catch on until the mid-19th century.
i. Let’s begin with “epistemology past.” I want to consider some things Spinoza and Leibniz say that bear on knowledge. Take a look at the first two items in TEXT 1 and the examples of these items that Spinoza gives at the end of the extract (see Appendix below). This is one of the places where Spinoza classifies knowledge or cognition into three kinds. Let’s begin with the lowest level, which Spinoza divides into two subgroups. First, there is knowledge I have from hearsay. Spinoza gives as examples the date of one’s birth and who one’s parents are. So, I suppose, my knowledge that I was born in August 1956 and that my knowledge my parents are Nick and Kate Carriero fall into this class. Also at this bottom level, there is the knowledge I have from casual experience. Spinoza gives as examples “I shall die,” “Oil feeds fire,” and “Water extinguishes fire.” Spinoza attaches to his first example—my cognition that I shall die—the remark: “although they [those whom I have seen die] have not all lived to the same age nor have died from the same disease.” This suggests that part of what is involved in some cognition’s being at the first level—especially in its being a matter of casual experience—is a certain lack of systematicity or theory: people live to different ages and die for all sorts of reasons, and I don’t have much of an idea about what’s behind this wealth of variety; I just come to know, through experience, as a matter of more or less brute empirical fact (as we might say), that people die. Now, a question could be raised here as to whether Spinoza would count the items in either group as knowledge, or perhaps as knowledge “in our sense.” One thing that might make us wonder about this is the “by hearsay alone” in the passage. There’s a lively debate nowadays about testimony and knowledge, but basing one’s beliefs on “hearsay alone” sounds promiscuous. Going with casual experience does not sound a whole lot better.
There’s another reason to worry. Spinoza offers a similar classification in the Ethics, and there he writes (TEXT 2) that “cognition [cognitio] of the first kind is the only cause of falsity, whereas cognition of the second and third kind is necessarily true.”1 I think he means that the first kind of cognition can be false (and not simply cause falsity). And that might give us pause: can a variety of cognition that admits of falsity really be knowledge? Perhaps, then, Spinoza doesn’t really think that things that belong to this level count as knowledge, at least not knowledge in the full sense. Yet, Spinoza seems comfortable attaching the Latin scio (“I know”) to some items in this first category: he says it is through this mode of perception that I scio my date of birth and who my parents are, and that I scio that I shall die, that oil feeds fire, and that water extinguishes fire. There is no sign of hesitation or qualification. To be sure, since some of the items found at the bottom level are false, I imagine that Spinoza must be counting only the true ones as knowledge: that is, if I scio that oil feeds fire (if I know oil feeds fire), then oil must really feed fire. What else might he be requiring? His remark that these are things which “I have never doubted” suggests a certain steadiness. That is, if I find myself going back and forth over whether oil feeds fire, then I probably don’t scio that oil feeds fire, in his book. Okay, truth and constancy of belief are required for scio. What else? He does not say. And that must strike us as odd. Surely, if my firm belief that oil feeds fire counts as knowledge, there must be some further requirement—some requirement having to do with justification or warrant or the reliability of the mechanism by which the belief is formed. But I don’t see any interest here in such a further requirement. To be sure, Spinoza must think that both of these mechanisms (hearsay and casual experience), despite their unprepossessing sound, are on the whole quite reliable. After all, he says of the lowest level: “And it is in this way that I know [novi] almost everything that is of practical use in life.” My life would be something of a disaster if these mechanisms were not reliable. All the same, what is striking here is Spinoza’s lack of attention to the place of justification (or of the reliability of the mechanism) in the issue of whether I really do scio these things. It simply does not seem to be a topic that draws his interest. His attitude seems to be: If I came by my views about who my parents are, when I was born, or whether oil feeds fire in the usual ways, I scio these things. I don’t mean this by way of criticism. It does not seem to me that he is wrong to do so. I do, after all, know when I was born and who my parents are, and that oil feeds fire and that water extinguishes fire, and I probably came to this knowledge in more or less the way Spinoza describes. Further, I do not mean to be attributing to Spinoza a position in a contemporary epistemological debate. I don’t mean to be suggesting, for example, that Spinoza is in !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1
2p41: Cognitio primi generis unica est falsitatis causa, secondi autem et tertii est necessario vera. Spinoza has a similar view in the TdIE: see §§25-29, esp. §§ 26 and 27. 2
TEXT 1 staking himself to the following: If I grew up in Fake Birthday County (where everyone lied to children about when they were born) and yet it turned out through a series of fortuitous coincidences that I accidentally came to have true beliefs about when I was born, I would thereby scio (know) that I was born in August 1956. My point is rather that he does not seem to be involved with these sorts of questions; I don’t think he is a participant in this philosophical discussion. Let’s look at TEXT 3 on the handout, from Leibniz. Leibniz does not use knowledge vocabulary there—interestingly, he couches things in terms of actions and functioning—but his general stance seems in keeping with what we’ve just seen in Spinoza. In particular, Leibniz seems to have something similar in mind to Spinoza’s lower level when he writes: We are all mere empirics in three-quarters of our actions. For example, when one expects a sunrise tomorrow, one acts as an empiric, seeing that this has always been so heretofore. (It is a little hard to know where Leibniz gets the three-quarters figure, but let’s leave that aside.) Although Leibniz does not say whether my expectation that the sun will rise tomorrow counts as knowledge, I’d be a bit surprised if he didn’t think that most people know that the sun will rise tomorrow, and I am unaware of anyplace where he denies this. So, I think, he has a lower level that looks like Spinoza’s bottom tier. Spinoza and Leibniz both contrast their lower forms of cognition with other, better forms of cognition. For Spinoza, there are two better forms, each involving essence. The second form of cognition (item 3 of TEXT 1) covers a posteriori cognition, in the old sense of a posteriori, where one moves from property or effect or consequence to essence or cause or ground; the third and highest form covers a priori cognition, again in the old sense, where one moves “inside out,” from essence to property (or cause to effect, or ground to consequence). One of Spinoza’s examples in the TdIE involves sensation and mind-body union. He says that from the fact that I sense the way I do, I can infer that I am united to a body, but I “cannot understand absolutely from this what that sensation and union are” (my emphasis).2 This is a case of item 3 in his list. But if I know the essence of the soul, this tells me that the soul is united to the body. This is an example of item 4 in Spinoza’s list. For our purposes, the difference between item 3 and item 4 won’t be important; what is important is that both of the higher forms of cognition involve essence. Leibniz tells us only that there is a better level that belongs to the astronomer, who “judges by reason.” Leibniz adds in the second extract in TEXT 3 that even the astronomer’s take on things is limited. “Only the astronomer predicts [the sunrise] with !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2
Curley translation. Shirley has “positively understand what is that sensation or union [non absolute inde possumus intelligere].” 3
reason,” but “even his prediction will ultimately fail when the cause of daylight, which is by no means eternal, stops.” Leibniz goes on to describe reason in the “true sense,” which he says “depends on necessary or eternal truths, as those of logic, number, and geometry, which make the connections of ideas indubitable and their conclusions infallible.” [It is hard to know where Leibniz winds up with the empiric, the astronomer, and the mathematician. Perhaps his position is something along these lines. The empiric doesn’t know the reason for things (any more than the dog does, according to Leibniz). The astronomer has penetrated into the reason of things, but her grasp is incomplete, as is witnessed by the fact that there are limitations to her predictions. Perhaps no human being can fathom the ultimate reason for astronomical goings-on (which would convey the limitations of astronomy?). Mathematicians can—at least sometimes—get to the bottom of things.] Now, I think Spinoza and Leibniz are focused on something similar when they think about the better form of cognition. What seems central for them is what we might call understanding (at least in one sense of that multifaceted term). For Spinoza, understanding is a matter of getting to and from the essence of things. I think connection may be a quasi-grammatical matter, so that I understand why oil feeds fire to the extent, and only to the extent, that I can trace the feeding back to what oil is and what fire is (i.e., the essence of oil and the essence of fire). (For Spinoza, I believe, fully doing this would require grasping how and why oil-structure and fire-structure arise within the general order produced in extension by God or substance.) Leibniz does not use the word “essence” much,3 but I think the astronomer’s judging by reason amounts to a form of understanding (in Leibniz’s book, an understanding that is limited in certain ways). So, I take it, the primary difference between the lower and higher level of cognition is between knowing that something is so and knowing why something is so. The astronomer can tell us something about why the sun will rise tomorrow, even if her understanding is incomplete. In a famous remark (TEXT 4), Spinoza describes the lower cognition as “like conclusions without premises”; here, we should keep in mind that in the tradition the premises were paradigmatically supposed to explain the conclusion— show why it is true—and not just establish that it is true. Recognizing this can help us with the oddity of something we noticed earlier. Recall that in TEXT 1 Spinoza said I know (scio) some things by hearsay alone. We wondered how something I have by “hearsay alone” could count as knowledge. I think Spinoza’s point is probably this: Having something by “hearsay alone” is to be contrasted with seeing for oneself. When my colleague Tony Martin tells me that the continuum hypothesis is independent of ZFC and I haven’t worked through a demonstration, I have !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 3
Perhaps one reason that he doesn’t is that if the sun, e.g., is a phenomenal being, it is not clear that it is the sort of thing that has an essence. 4
this through “hearsay alone.” When I’ve worked through a demonstration myself, so that I understand why this is, then it is no longer hearsay “alone.” In other words, the force of the “alone” is to indicate the absence of understanding rather than, say, some general deficiency in character of testimony. While the center of gravity for the distinction that interests Spinoza and Leibniz lies in the difference between not-understanding and understanding, the higher form of cognition is also marked by infallibility. In TEXT 2, Spinoza tells us that “cognition of the second and third kind”—that is, essence-involving cognition—“is necessarily true.” Leibniz says that when it comes to mathematical demonstrations, only a certain kind of error is possible—errors that arise from (TEXT 5) “defective memory or attention”. Spinoza suggests in a scholium (TEXT 6) that in metaphysics (theology) and mathematics “most errors result solely from incorrect application of words to things”. Perhaps we could say that, in the settings Leibniz and Spinoza have in mind, I will get to the truth if I am being sufficiently careful; my going wrong will be traceable to some carelessness on my part. (But “carelessness” is not perfect word, and in any case we need to keep in mind that a careless mistake may be hard to detect and of some consequence.) A different sort of mistake seems intrinsic to lower or empirical cognition. Hearsay and casual experience can go wrong in ways I cannot, in principle, control through care and attention. Because Leibniz thinks my errors in mathematics must be traceable to lapses on my part, he thinks Descartes’s attempt to doubt mathematics misfired. Spinoza may be implying something similar in TEXT 6, where he insists that there is no standard of truth clearer and more certain than a true idea itself. Why are only certain kinds of error possible in this setting? Well, part of the answer seems to lie in the openness of certain subject matters—ultimately, the essences that order the subject matter—to the (human?) mind. Descartes himself writes (TEXT 8) in the Meditations of certain structural features associated with extension, that their truth is so open and so much in harmony with my nature, that on first discovering them it seems that I am not so much learning something new as remembering what I knew before; or it seems like noticing for the first time things which were long present within me although I had never turned my mental gaze [obtutum mentis] on them before. Descartes believes that when I think of a triangle, and notice that its largest side must be opposite its greatest angle, I am also witnessing a profound attunement between me and the thing that I know (the triangle’s nature). Spinoza and Leibniz agree. Indeed, I think Spinoza may have thought that when Descartes doubted mathematics, he risked turning the triangle’s essence with which I am intellectually engaged into something else—perhaps into some sort of mental picture of the nature, some superficial image of it. At least that’s one way of taking Spinoza’s intriguing remark in TEXT 7 that nobody can doubt a “true idea”—which I take to be an essence-involving idea of the second or third kind of 5
cognition—unless that person “thinks that an idea is some dumb thing like a picture on a tablet, and not a mode of thinking, to wit, the very act of understanding.” A certain temptation arises at this juncture. That temptation is to “internalize” the subject matter, the “object” known. The things we know in these cases where error seems possible only through carelessness or inattention, must, it seems, be thought-dependent in some way, must be something like concepts or ideas, or at least dependent on our justificatory and epistemic practices. Perhaps the reason error is impossible in these domains is that our justificatory or epistemic practices themselves guarantee truth. And, perhaps, further, if our ways of knowing are in a certain sense foolproof in these spheres, this is because the things we know are internal to those ways of knowing. If there is an appropriate necessary connection between our ways of knowing and essences, perhaps this is because the essences depend on those ways of knowing. I’ll try to situate this line of thought historically toward the end of this talk.4 For the moment, I want to point out that this is not how Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz saw things. They did think that there is a profound cognitive fit between us and the universe. But, in their view, this is because our cognitive nature has been made to harmonize with this subject matter, not because the subject matter has been made to harmonize with us. One way to see this, surprisingly, is to reflect on their conception of supreme beatitude/blessedness or felicity/happiness: for each of them, supreme beatitude or felicity involves having the highest form of cognition of which we are capable, a form of cognition that consists in our becoming deeply connected to the universe’s ratio. They (following a long tradition) work this idea out through our grasp of the universe’s essences, in particular through our grasp of God’s essence, which plays the central role in this cognition. (This is what the medieval visio dei was all about.) But if one had a view that the things we grasp, the essences, are merely our own mental concepts or ideas, our own constructs, as it were, then it does not seem that our grasp of them brings us in touch with the universe’s ratio. The point I have in mind is fairly naïve and simple-minded. If, for example, you think that even a stone bears the image of God, albeit remotely, then understanding, say, its extension or geometry takes us a step closer to the universe’s basic ordering principle (TEXT 9). On the other hand, if you think, with Kant for example, that that geometry is grounded in the form of our outer intuition—roughly, that that geometry is an artifact of human ways of knowing—then understanding triangles does not get you any closer to the universe’s basic ordering principle. It does not contribute to what Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz see as our highest good. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4
Some scholars do read Descartes as a “conceptualist” about essences (see next note), but it is not clear to me whether such readings are motivated by the considerations given in the text.
This last observation helps orient us toward how 17th-century thinkers thought about the ontological status of essences. Standardly, finite essences were seen as various ways of limiting God’s unbounded perfection or reality. On such a view, cognition of essences connects us with what is most real (what is most independent of us). Spinoza’s doctrine that extension is one of God’s attributes is an especially vivid version of such a view: God’s (necessarily existent) extension serves as a sort of ur-essence for the finite figures that may be carved or “described” in extension. This necessarily existing extension is a real thing for Spinoza, not a mind-dependent construct. This is an instance of the traditional idea that God’s essence serves as the (necessarily existent) ur-structure from which all finite essences or structures are derived.5
ii. Let me turn to “epistemology present.” I want to begin by drawing attention to an issue that lies at the heart of many modern discussions but which seems to me largely absent from the 17th-century context. One place this issue arises is in a certain line of thought about skepticism; another place it arises is in the Gettier problem about whether knowledge is true, justified belief. Let’s begin with skepticism. The issue I have in mind is most easily seen in discussions of the so-called closure principle. One might think that if I am to know p, I must also know that everything incompatible with my knowing that p is false: for example, if being awake is a condition of my knowing that I am giving a talk now, then if I am to know that I am giving a talk now, I must know that I am not dreaming. (As I’ve formulated the closure principle, it is too broad because it wouldn’t allow me to know a piece of number theory without also knowing everything that piece entails. Let’s put that !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5
In recent years there has been considerable attention to “conceptual” as opposed to Platonist readings of Descartes’s account of essences. See Lawrence Nolan, “The Ontological Status of Cartesian Natures,” and Raffaella De Rosa and Otávio Bueno, “Descartes on Mathematical Essences.” De Rosa and Bueno call their interpretation “quasi-Platonist,” which they characterize as the position that “essences, when considered in the abstract, are only modes of conceiving things as opposed to being either immanent forms (contra Aristotle) or forms subsisting in a ‘third realm’ (contra Plato),” p. 168, emphasis in the original. I believe that Descartes holds that our modes of conceiving track a prior reality and, in particular, that our modes of conceiving are as they are because the essences (or true and immutable natures) are as they are, rather than the other way around. For example, I have a clear and distinct idea of a triangle, because there is such a nature, and I lack a clear and distinct idea of biangle because there is no such nature, and not the other way around. (I discuss Descartes’s treatment of true and immutable natures in Between Two Worlds, pp. 290-317.) Notice, further, that on the view sketched in the text, the essences don’t ontologically float free in some objectionable “Platonist” way; rather they are grounded in the essence of a necessarily existent or actual being that is unlimited in its perfection or reality. Descartes’s views on the creation of the eternal truths signal some sort of departure from the standard view, but not in such a way, I believe, as to disrupt the basic idea that human thought about essences tracks something mind-independent that is grounded in God.
aside for present purposes.) Or, to take an example borrowed from Barry Stroud,6 if I know you are coming to the party tonight, and my knowing this is incompatible with your being struck by a meteorite on your way over (because in that unfortunate scenario, it will turn out that you won’t make it to the party), then I must also know that you won’t be struck by a meteorite on your way over. Why might you think my knowledge of whether I am dreaming or whether you will be hit by a meteorite matters to whether I know I am giving a talk or whether I know you are coming to the party? Well, I think what is at issue here is a worry about the connection between the justification for my belief (its warrant, evidential basis, or epistemic ground) and the truth. To the extent that the connection rests on factors I don’t epistemically control, it seems a matter of luck that I’m getting things right. That is, if what justificatory basis I have for a belief is compatible with a skeptical scenario (even a very outré one), then there is, to that extent, an element of luck intruding between my justification and the truth. And it is natural to wonder whether knowledge tolerates this intrusion of luck: Could it turn out that knowledge—the real thing, knowledge in the fullest sense—is held hostage to fortune in this way? Once it is noticed that our epistemic practices don’t guarantee truth—that I can be in some sense fully justified and, even so, can turn out to be wrong through some mishap—attention sometimes turns to the question of how much by way of justification is required in order for us to know. Does the concept of knowledge, or the correct use of the expression “I know,” require such things? Perhaps, for example, our concept of knowledge does not require that I know that you won’t be struck by a meteorite in order for me to know that you are coming to the party. Or perhaps its being “in order” for me to claim (legitimately?) that “I know you are coming” does not require this. At this point, the philosophical conversation becomes about our epistemic practices, and about the interplay between those practices and the concept of knowledge. Barry Stroud captures this turn of thought in The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism. In the course of assessing our prospects for avoiding external-world skepticism, he remarks (TEXT 10): That conclusion [external-world skepticism] can be avoided, it seems to me, only if we can find some way to avoid the requirement that we must know that we are not dreaming if we are to know anything about the world around us. But that requirement cannot be avoided if it is nothing more than an instance of a general procedure we recognize and insist on in making and assessing knowledge-claims in everyday and scientific life. We have no notion of knowledge other than what is embodied in those procedures and practices. So if that requirement is a ‘fact’ of our !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 6
The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism (Oxford, 1984), p. 61. 8
ordinary conception of knowledge we will have to accept the conclusion that no one knows anything about the world around us. Epistemology has become a certain sort of reflection on our epistemic practices (our “procedures and practices”) and their relation to truth and knowledge. In Stroud’s view, we have “no notion of knowledge” apart from those procedures and practices. I think the Gettier problem can also be viewed as a piece of epistemic practice theory. The Gettier problem is about whether knowledge is simply true, justified belief. More specifically, it’s about the sort of connection between justification and truth that is needed for knowledge. So, for example, I have very good reason to believe that you are coming to the party. It turns out, though, that my reason was based on a misunderstanding. A usually reliable friend told me, but on this occasion she misspoke and was thinking of somebody else. She had no idea that you were coming to the party. Still, you come to the party. So it seems I have a true, justified belief that you will be coming to the party. Yet, it is unclear that what I have should count as knowledge that you are coming; rather, it seems I got lucky, in some way that prevents me from knowing that you would come. The connection between justification and truth seems just too tenuous for me to know that you are coming to the party. Given that our justificatory or evidential basis rarely, if ever, guarantees truth, in what way must that evidential basis be connected with my getting on to the truth in order for me to know? Pure coincidence, after all, doesn’t seem enough: so what must be the nature of the nonarbitrary or nonaccidental relationship between my being justified and my being right, if I am to know? What seems to me new here is the focus on epistemic practice theory itself. The 17 -century discussions do not, for example, invoke juridical terminology—evidence, justification, warrant, and so on. (Descartes does on occasion speak of things being evident, but he does not speak of one thing’s being evidence for something else.) Spinoza’s attitude seems to me typical. He attaches the label scio (“I know”) to my views about my parents and birth acquired through hearsay and my views about my mortality and what oil does to fire acquired through casual experience, without raising any issue about whether these routes are reliable enough for the things acquired through them to count as knowledge. How reliable such routes must be in order to provide a level of justification sufficient for views to measure up to the standard necessary for them to count as knowledge, does not seem to be a question on Spinoza’s radar screen. th
Further, the point of perfecting our cognition by moving from the lower grade to the two higher grades is not to improve the justification or evidential support for my cognition. It is true, Spinoza thinks, that as I perfect my cognition, by replacing my haphazard and fragmentary acquisitions with the systematic understanding of reality, my cognition becomes more firm and secure so that error is impossible. But the point of the movement is not to achieve infallibility; rather, it is to reach systematic understanding. If 9
somehow mind could be reshaped so that it infallibly got 100% on a true/false test completely describing the universe—a guardian angel whispers the answers in my ear— Spinoza would not be impressed. What matters to him is one’s coming to an appreciation of how things fit together—an appreciation which might be manifested in doing well on such a test (or at least some parts of the test) but which is not to be identified with performing well on such test. Because he’s interested in systematic as opposed to fragmentary cognition, a focus on claims like “This is a hand” or “My friend will be coming to the party” or “That is a barn” would seem peculiar to him. My sense is that he would think reflecting on the justificatory basis or warrant we have for these claims and detailing the relationship of that basis to our concept of knowledge is unlikely to help us with what he cares about, how to achieve understanding. One might argue that a systematic understanding of the sort Spinoza is interested in will be impossible until we have first elucidated the justificatory basis of my belief that I was born in August 1956 and figured out whether that basis is enough for the belief to count as knowledge. I doubt that Spinoza would agree. I suspect he would think that these questions more or less take care of themselves, and that what is important here is not getting a better handle on a theory of our scio-ing the items hanging around at the lowest level of cognition, but rather getting some grip on how to move, where we can, from the first level to the second two, which for Spinoza means getting to a clearer cognition of essences.
Suppose that this is on the right track; suppose that epistemic practice theory is not a going concerning in the 17th century. If so, then there is an interesting historical and philosophical question of how and why philosophers became interested in epistemic practice theory. Now, the work I’ve taken the first extract from is Spinoza’s Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding, a work usually seen as Spinoza’s treatise on method. Descartes and Leibniz were also interested in method. And it seems to me that method occupies some of the territory for them that epistemic practice theory does for us. The next thing to notice is that their philosophizing about method takes place in the context of a certain background assumption. Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz all start from the assumption that the human being, especially in its intellectual dimension, is deeply attuned to the universe’s ratio. By this I mean that we are able to grasp the essences of things, which enable us to understand why things are the way they are, and we have some access to the universe’s ultimate ordering principle, God. The later involves not just cognition that God is, that there is an ordering principle, but cognition of what God is, of the nature or character of the ordering principle. As Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz see things, the task of method is to teach us how to find this attunement. Descartes tries to show us how to move from obscure and confused perception to clear and distinct 10
perception. Spinoza shows us how to move from inadequate ideas that follow the order of the affections of the body to adequate ideas that follow the order of the intellect. And Leibniz’s “Meditations on Cognition, Truth, and Ideas” is an attempt to put clarity and distinctness, and adequacy and inadequacy, on a more formal footing. There’s an underlying assumption in all this that human intellectual cognition mirrors the universe’s fundamental structure (what I’ve been calling the universe’s ratio) and that our principal cognitive task is to render this mirroring explicit, by making it as clear and distinct, as articulate, as we can. Often this process involves reconsidering our superficial reactions to experience and entrenched dogma and removing misconception inculcated through blind obedience to authority or lazy reliance on the world of the senses. This is a decidedly optimistic picture of our place as knowers and comprehenders of the universe. I think optimism was encouraged by the scientific revolution—which suggested to them that we were impressively on the right track. Locke, however, took a very different view of the situation. As the title of his major work suggests, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke, like Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, is primarily interested in understanding. His lead question is not “How is knowledge possible?” but rather “How (and to what extent) is understanding possible?” And his answer is that we have very little genuine understanding of the world. This comes out, for example, in Locke’s denial that we can grasp the real essences of things. (After all, to grasp a thing’s essential structure is to understand it.) Rather than seeing the human mind as deeply attuned to the universe’s ratio, Locke sees it as parachuted into a world that gives every indication of being cognitively beyond it. We find ourselves surrounded by fantastically complex corpuscular structures that seem to lie beyond our cognitive grasp. We don’t understand the basic nature of the corpuscles themselves. Rather than insist on the sort of understanding aspired to by Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, Locke thinks (TEXT 11) we must be prepared “to sit down in a quiet Ignorance of those Things, which, upon Examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our Capacities.” Hume is an interesting case, too. He is also, I think, interested in understanding, as is signaled by the title of the first book of his Treatise of Human Nature—“Of the Understanding.” He doesn’t pretend to (TEXT 12) “discover the ultimate original qualities of human nature”; nor, does he think “this impossibility of explaining ultimate principles should be esteemed a defect in the science of man” because it is a “defect . . . common to all the sciences.” Hume’s ultimate original qualities and ultimate principles seem to occupy roughly the same territory that essences do in the tradition. Thus, he agrees with Locke that we don’t have the sort of understanding aspired to by Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. But Hume thinks we do understand all the same, and that Locke and his rationalist predecessors have a faulty picture of what understanding looks like. The tradition took understanding to involve a necessity that resulted from getting on to essence, from insight into the universe’s ratio. Hume offers a different account of understanding, an account where the necessity that characterizes human understanding is
not a mark of our getting on to the universe’s essential structure (its ultimate principles), but rather something that comes from our side of things. For Hume, as with Locke, there’s no assumption to the effect that we are attuned to the universe’s basic order. Hume’s suggestion that we are responsible for the necessity associated with understanding may sound wild, but I think he’s responding to something real. Let me explain. In the tradition, I have been pointing out, there is a sort of internal connection between essence and understanding: An essence is a thing’s intelligible structure; to understand the thing is to grasp its essence. The necessity surrounding understanding is supposed to come from insight into a thing’s essence, an insight that tells us why something has to be so. The new science puts some pressure on this picture. As global geometrical and kinematic invariances begin to feel prior and more important, it becomes less clear how to think about local essences developed from those invariances. Nevertheless, Descartes and Spinoza, through their idea that the essence of matter is extension, are still working with the thought that these global invariances can be made as intuitive and natural as the principles of Euclidean geometry. Newton’s theory of gravity disrupts this hope, because it seems impossible to trace gravity back to the essence of matter, to principles that seem as obvious and natural as those found in geometry. And as the matter-as-extension approach becomes untenable, the attunement picture becomes harder to maintain as well. It is more difficult to think that Newtonian mechanics is built into us, available to our clear and distinct reflection, in the way the Descartes and Spinoza supposed the global geometrical and kinetic invariances to be. After Newton, it is much harder to think we are operating in the user-friendly universe that Descartes and Spinoza believed we cognitively inhabited. As Locke and Hume criticize their predecessors’ claims to grasp essences, their arguments move things in the direction of epistemic practice theory. For example, Locke’s criticisms of Descartes’s claim that the essence of the mind is to think and the essence of body is extension, are that not only are both positions implausible on their face, but also that no good reason has been brought forward in support of them. He regards the Cartesian doctrines as pieces of unwarranted or unjustified dogmatism. Hume’s criticisms of attempts to prove on the basis of reason that “whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence” seems to get us still closer to epistemic practice theory, in that Hume believes he has a very general argument to show that this is not the sort of thing that we could possibly hope to prove on the basis of reason. But, even so, Hume is more interested in telling us how it happens that we come to think that certain things are necessary, than in telling us whether we are justified or warranted in so thinking (somewhat to the frustration of his contemporary readers). Justification and warrant and their relation to knowledge are not yet being explored for their own sake.
It might be felt, of course, that the focus on justification that I don’t find in Locke and Hume was already present in Descartes. In particular, it is natural to read the skepticism in the First Meditation as moving the philosophical conversation toward issues of justification, evidence, and warrant—toward what I have been calling epistemic practice theory. A sign of this may be that Descartes asks us to reflect on the status of knowledge claims like “I am sitting by a fire” and “I have a piece of paper in my hand,” items that don’t seem to be obvious candidates for inclusion in the sort of systematic understanding that Spinoza and Leibniz are interested in. And, as a matter of fact, Stroud devotes the first chapter of his book on skepticism to the First Meditation. This is a large topic. I agree that Descartes’s Meditations can be read as an exercise in epistemic practice theory. Harry Frankfurt, for example, back in 1970 offered a reading of the First Meditation according to which it is concerned with “rules of evidence” and epistemic “policies.”7 I think that most commentators today probably still read the First Meditation as an exercise in the rules or principles “any meditator should recognize as constitutive of conscientious believing.”8 There is another school of interpretation, though, which sees Descartes as employing skeptical considerations not for the purpose of exploring practice theory, but rather in order to raise certain metaphysical questions. For my own part, I believe he is using the doubt to address very large-scale issues about the relationship between the human mind and the world, questions having to do with what I have been calling attunement. In particular, I see those arguments as part of Descartes’s effort to replace one picture of that attunement, according to which our basic attunement with reality runs through our senses, with another picture of that attunement, according to which our basic attunement with reality runs through intellectual ideas which the human mind has been innately endowed with by God. Because of the large-scale nature of the issue that Descartes was attempting to address, it was important that he get the meditator to doubt the senses in a particularly thoroughgoing way, which is why I believe that the lowly beliefs that there is the fire and that I am holding a piece of paper in my hand show up in the discussion. I don’t want to enter into a full-scale discussion of Descartes’s use of skepticism here. Rather, I’d like to consider a brief moment from the Fourth Meditation, in part to illustrate the difference between the two approaches, and in part to give some sense of why I resist locating Descartes in epistemic practice theory. The text I’m going to consider is a piece of the positive view that Descartes goes on to develop in partial response to the questions he raised in the First Meditation (TEXT 13): !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dreamers, Demons and Madmen (Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), p. 33. As Janet Broughton puts it in Descartes’s Method of Doubt (Princeton, 2003), p. 48. Her own position is interestingly different. 7 8
Now when I do not perceive clearly and distinctly enough, then if I abstain from bringing my judgment to bear, it is clear that I act correctly [recte] and am not deceived. But if in such cases I either affirm or deny, then I am not using my free will [libertate arbitrii] correctly [recte]. If I go for the alternative which is false, then obviously I shall be in error; if I take the other side, then it is by pure chance [casu quidem] that I arrive at the truth, and I shall still be at fault since it is clear by the natural light that the perception of the intellect should always precede the determination of the will. [IV, ¶12] Now, what Descartes is saying here is that if you don’t see something clearly enough and yet go ahead and affirm it anyway, you are culpable in some way (have used your will improperly, he thinks), even if it should turn out that what you affirm is true. So it is clear that there is something normative going on here. This normativity, coupled perhaps with the worry about getting on to truth by luck, might lead one to take this passage in the direction of modern epistemic practice theory: perhaps the thought is “If you affirm something with an insufficient justificatory basis, you are not an epistemically responsible believer, even if it should turn out that you should happen to get things right” or maybe “If you believe something on weak evidence, you are at fault, even if your belief is true.” And it is a short step from here to the further claim—although we should keep in mind that it is a further step not taken in this passage—that this deficiency precludes your true belief from counting as knowledge. So read, Descartes would be sounding a theme in this passage—namely, the interplay among justification, truth, luck, and knowledge—which has become central to epistemic practice theory. But is that what Descartes is doing here? Descartes does not seem to be keying on justification or evidence in this passage. Rather, he seems to be focused on the quality of perception. I think that’s important. What he’s saying is that if I take a position on some question where I do not perceive clearly and distinctly, and I turn out to get things right, this is due only to chance. Now, perceiving clearly and distinctly for Descartes often amounts to something akin to understanding, so I think another way of putting Descartes’s injunction is that I ought not take positions on matters that I do not understand very well: as he says, “the perception of the intellect should always precede the determination of the will.” Moreover, if I take a position on a question concerning something I do not understand well, and I happen to get things right, this is no cause for celebration. (Indeed, I believe that Descartes would agree with Spinoza that an angel whispering the answers in my ear so that I non-accidentally always got correct things I perceive only obscurely and confusedly, would be only very limited cause for celebration.)
Perhaps Descartes would go on to say that in cases where I get on to the truth by luck my beliefs would not amount to knowledge. I am not sure. It is hard to believe he doesn’t think that some of my beliefs about matters I do not understand well, about matters I do not clearly and distinctly perceive, count as knowledge. What I do think is clear, though, is that he would deny that my lucky conjectures have a place in what he calls scientia. There is some sort of “norm” in play in the passage: be careful about the quality of your perception, be careful about whether you really understand, before you believe. However, it seems to me a retrojection of later developments to read this norm as a piece of epistemic practice theory. Sometimes such retrojections are valuable and illuminating. Here I think there is danger of serious distortion. For when we read Descartes’s norm along the lines of “If you affirm something with an insufficient justificatory basis, you are not an epistemically responsible believer, even if it should turn out that you happen to get things right” or “If you believe something on weak evidence, you are at fault, even if your belief is true,” it is very hard not to think of your perception as evidence and to construe clarity and distinctness as marks of the quality of this evidence rather than as marks of the quality of your link to my subject matter. When I perceive clearly and distinctly, I am especially well tuned in to what I perceive. Being well tuned in occupies a different logical space from having good evidence for. For example, when I am paying attention and am focused on the nature of a triangle, noticing that its greatest side must be opposite its greatest angle, it is not as if the clarity of my perception is somehow providing me with evidence for the truth that the longest side of a triangle is opposite its greatest angle, any more than the good light and my clear unobstructed view is providing me evidence for there being a table in front of me. The clarity of my perception, like the good light and my clear unobstructed view, is rather a feature of my engagement with the subject matter.
In fact, in seems to me, it is not Descartes but Kant who sets us on the path of epistemic practice theory. At the beginning of the Transcendental Deduction (A84/B116), he famously shifts the epistemological focus from questions of fact (quid facti) to questions of law (quid juris). Kant (TEXT 14) is explicitly concerned with Locke and Hume in this discussion. In particular, neither Locke’s nor Hume’s theory can answer the normative question that he’s interested in, concerning the applicability of the categories to experience: in particular, how these concepts can entitle us to make claims that go beyond experience, as claims about causal necessity do. This is because Locke and Hume both offer empirical derivations of these concepts. Locke did not notice that the concepts needed to have a non-empirical origin, if they were to be used in an experiencetranscendent way. Hume did notice this, but was unable to explain how they could have such an origin, and gave them a subjective origin (via the laws of association). Because of this, Hume failed to secure the “reality” of “our cognition of pure mathematics and
general natural science.” What Hume missed, Kant says in that discussion, is the possibility that “the understanding itself, by means of these concepts [the categories], could be the originator of the experience in which its objects are encountered”. Kant’s emphasis on the distinction between quid facti and quid juris is a step in the direction of epistemic practice theory. It comes with an insistence that the categories must have a non-empirical origin, a sort of origin that is meant to distance the justificatory project that he’s engaged in from empirical psychology. But there is another, in some ways deeper, point here. Kant’s employment of the juridical terminology is connected with, perhaps even ultimately funded by, a second idea, namely, his Copernican revolution. The answer to his quid juris question, Kant says, lies in the thought that human understanding is, through the categories, “the originator of experience in which its objects are encountered.” Now, for Kant, categories or concepts function as rules through which we combine the manifold into the experience of objects. One way of thinking about such rules is that they are embodied in our epistemic practices. The categories represent our fundamental epistemic practices for ordering our sensory encounters with things into a coherent system of objects. For Kant, what a concept is and what an object is are understood in terms of our epistemic practices, and the point of his “origination” claim is that in important ways experience and its objects are induced by those practices. (It is worth remembering that Descartes doesn’t have the Kantian toolkit. He’s still working with ideas and things (res) rather than concepts and objects. An idea, for Descartes, is not a rule but the presentation of a thing, and a thing is not a rulegoverned combination of the manifold, but a reality.9) This move gives Kant an interesting perspective on what I have been calling the human mind’s attunement with reality. Kant’s Copernican revolution is an attempt to recover a subject matter appropriate to the human understanding—let’s call it empirical reality. Unlike Locke and Hume, Kant thinks that the human intellect is deeply attuned to that reality: the necessary structure that we discern indeed pervades the world. But that reality is to a certain extent conditioned by human epistemic practices. Our profound attunement with it does not, as Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz thought, put us in touch with the universe’s ur-principle, in touch with what Kant calls transcendental reality. So whereas Descartes thought even “stones and such like” have the image and likeness of God (albeit a “very remote, minute, and indistinct” image), Kant holds that our cognition of the stone is too much the product of our own work to tell us anything about God.
Let me conclude. I’ve tried today to articulate my sense that “traditional” epistemology may not reach as far back as is often thought—perhaps, in a way, to 1781, with the first !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 9
There’s a traditional connection between unity and reality (unity is a transcendental term), but on the preKantian picture we don’t supply the principle of the unity. 16
edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, but not, I think, to 1641, with the Meditations. I think this matters for two reasons. First, it is important not to read later agendas into earlier thinkers because it distorts their thought and makes it harder for us to learn from them. Second, I think it is important for us to understand the ways in which our projects are distinctive and how and why they came to seem philosophically compelling. On this second point I have made only a start. There is considerable distance between the sort of thing that Kant was doing and â€œtraditionalâ€? epistemology. Clearly, the justificatory practices surrounding the categories seem rather different from (but perhaps not unrelated to) the justificatory practices appealed to in contemporary discussions. There is much more work to be done.10
Thanks to Joseph Almog, Tyler Burge, Barbara Herman, Andrew Hsu, Olli Koistinen, Gavin Lawrence, and Calvin Normore for helpful discussion. 17
appendix texts for “epistemology past and present”
TEXT 1) Spinoza, TdIE, §§ 19-20: 1. There is the perception we have from hearsay, or from some sign conventionally agreed upon. 2. There is the perception that we have from casual experience; that is, experience that is not determined by the intellect, but is so called because it chances thus to occur [casu sic occurrit], and we have experienced nothing else that contradicts it, so that it remains in our minds unchanged. 3. There is the perception we have when the essence of a thing is inferred from another thing, but not adequately. This happens either when we infer a cause from some effect or when an inference is made from some universal which is always accompanied by some property. 4. Finally, there is the perception we have when a thing is perceived through its essence alone, or through knowledge of its proximate cause. All these I shall illustrate with examples. By hearsay alone I know [scio] the date of my birth, who my parents were, and things of that sort, which I have never doubted. By casual experience I know [scio] that I shall die; this I affirm because I have seen that others like me have died, although they have not all lived to the same age nor have died from the same disease. Again, by casual experience I know [scio] that oil has the property of feeding fire, and water of extinguishing it. I know that a dog is a barking animal and man a rational animal. And it is in this way that I know [novi] almost everything that is of practical use in life. TEXT 2) Spinoza, 2p41: Cognition [cognitio] of the first kind is the only cause of falsity; cognition of the second and third kind is necessarily true. TEXT 3) Leibniz, Monadology, § 28: Men function like beasts [i.e., lower animals] insofar as the connections among their perceptions come about only on the basis of memory, resembling empirical physicians who have mere practice without theory. We are all mere empirics in three-quarters of our actions. For example, when one expects a sunrise tomorrow, one acts as an empiric, seeing that this has always been so heretofore. Only the astronomer judges this by reason. [Rescher, 106-107]
PNG, Â§ 5: Men too, insofar as they are empirics, that is to say, in three-fourths of their actions, act only like beasts. For example, we expect day to dawn tomorrow because we have always experienced this to be so; only the astronomer predicts it with reason, and even his prediction will ultimately fail when the cause of daylight, which is by no means eternal, stops. But reasoning in the true sense depends on necessary or eternal truths, as those of logic, number, and geometry, which make the connections of ideas indubitable and their conclusions infallible. Animals in which such consequences cannot be observed are called beasts, but those who know these necessary truths are the ones properly called rational animals, and their souls are called spirits. TEXT 4) Spinoza, at the end of 2p28dem: Therefore, these ideas of affections, insofar as they are related only to the human mind, are like conclusions without premises; that is, as is self-evident, confused ideas. TEXT 5) Leibnizâ€™s notes on Descartesâ€™s Principles: On Article 5. There can be no doubt in mathematical demonstrations except insofar as we need to guard against error in our arithmetical calculations . . . [Loemker, 384] On Article 13. I have already observed, on Article 5, that the errors which can arise from defective memory or attention and which can also occur in arithmetical calculations even after a perfect method has been found, as in numbers, have been mentioned here to no purpose, since no method can be devised in which such errors are not to be feared, especially when the reasoning is long drawn out. So one must resort to criteria. For the rest, God seems to be called in here merely as a kind of display or showpiece, not to mention that strange fiction or doubt as to whether we are not led to err even in the most evident things [evidentissimis], which should convince no one because the nature of evidence [natura evidentiae] prevents it and the experiences and successes of the whole of life witness against it. TEXT 6) Spinoza, 2p47s: That men do not have as clear knowledge of God as they do of common notions arises from the fact that they are unable to imagine God as they do bodies, and that they have connected the word God with images of things which they commonly see; and this they can scarcely avoid, being affected continually by external bodies. Indeed, most errors result solely from the incorrect application of words to things. When somebody says that the lines joining the center of a circle to its circumference are unequal, he surely understands [intelligit] by circle, something different from what mathematicians understand. Likewise, when men make 19
mistakes in arithmetic, they have different figures in mind from those on paper. So if you look only into their minds, they indeed are not mistaken; but they seem to be wrong because we think that they have in mind the figures on the page. If this were not the case, we would not think them to be wrong, just as I did not think that person to be wrong whom I recently heard shouting that his hall had flown into his neighbor’s hen, for I could see clearly what he had in mind. [Cf. Spinoza, TdIE, § 79: Hence it follows that it is only when we do not have a clear and distinct idea of God that we can cast doubt on our true ideas on the grounds of the possible existence of a deceiving God who misleads us even in things most certain. That is, this can happen only if, attending to the knowledge [cognitionem] we have of the origin of all things, we find that there is nothing to convince us that he is not a deceiver, with the same conviction that we have when, attending to the nature of a triangle [the “gold” standard], we find that its three angles are equal to two right angles. But if we do possess such knowledge of God [cognitionem] as we have of a triangle, all doubt is removed. And just as we can attain such knowledge [cognitionem] of a triangle although not knowing [sciamus] for sure whether some arch-deceiver is deceiving us, so too we can attain such knowledge [cognitionem] of God although not knowing [sciamus] for sure whether there is some archdeceiver. Provided we have that knowledge, it will suffice, as I have said, to remove all doubt that we may have concerning clear and distinct ideas.] TEXT 7) Spinoza 2p43: He who has a true idea knows at the same time that he has a true idea, and cannot doubt its truth. From 2p43s: For nobody who has a true idea is unaware that a true idea involves absolute certainty. To have a true idea means only to know a thing perfectly, that is, to the utmost degree. Indeed, nobody can doubt this, unless he thinks that an idea is some dumb thing like a picture on a tablet, and not a mode of thinking, to wit, the very act of understanding [nempe ipsum intelligere]. And who, pray, can know [scire] that he understands [intellegere] something unless he first understands it? That is, who can know that he is certain of something unless he is first certain of it? Again, what standard of truth can there be that is clearer and more certain than a true idea? Indeed, just as light makes manifest both itself and darkness, so truth is the standard of both truth and falsity. TEXT 8) Descartes, from the Fifth Meditation: Not only are all these things [viz. continuous quantity, its extension, sizes, shapes, positions, and local motions] known and transparent to me when regarded in this general way, but in addition there are countless particular features regarding
shape, number, and motion and so on, which I perceive when I give them my attention. And the truth of these matters is so open and so much in harmony with my nature, that on first discovering them it seems that I am not so much learning something new as remembering what I knew before; or it seems like noticing for the first time things which were long present within me although I had never turned my mental gaze [obtutum mentis] on them before. [¶4; 7:63-64; 2:44] TEXT 9) From Burman’s notes of a conversation with Descartes: [Descartes] . . . For since the cause is itself being and substance, and it brings something into being, i.e., out of nothing (a method of production which is a prerogative of God), what is produced must at the very least be being and substance. To this extent at least, it will be like God and bear his image. [Burman] But in that case even stones and suchlike are going to be in God’s image. [Descartes] Even these things do have the image and likeness of God, but it is very remote, minute and indistinct. [5:156; 3:340] TEXT 10) From Barry Stroud’s The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism: That conclusion [external-world skepticism] can be avoided, it seems to me, only if we can find some way to avoid the requirement that we must know that we are not dreaming if we are to know anything about the world around us. But that requirement cannot be avoided if it is nothing more than an instance of a general procedure we recognize and insist on in making and assessing knowledge-claims in everyday and scientific life. We have no notion of knowledge other than what is embodied in those procedures and practices. So if that requirement is a ‘fact’ of our ordinary conception of knowledge we will have to accept the conclusion that no one knows anything about the world around us. [p. 31] TEXT 11) Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding: If by this Enquiry into the Nature of the Understanding, I can discover the Powers thereof; how far they reach; to what things they are in any Degree proportionate; and where they fail us, I suppose it may be of use, to prevail with the busy Mind of Man, to be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its Comprehension; to stop, when it is at the utmost Extent of its Tether; and to sit down in a quiet Ignorance of those Things, which, upon Examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our Capacities. TEXT 12) Hume, A Treatise Concerning Human Nature:
. . . any hypothesis, that pretends to discover the ultimate original qualities of human nature, ought at first to be rejected as presumptuous and chimerical (p. xvii) But if this impossibility of explaining ultimate principles should be esteemed a defect in the science of man, I will venture to affirm, that â€™tis a defect common to it with all the sciences . . . (p. xviii) TEXT 13) Descartes, from Meditation IV: Now when I do not perceive clearly and distinctly enough, then if I abstain from bringing my judgment to bear, it is clear that I act correctly [recte] and am not deceived. But if in such cases I either affirm or deny, then I am not using my free will [libertate arbitrii] correctly [recte]. If I go for the alternative which is false, then obviously I shall be in error; if I take the other side, then it is by pure chance [casu quidem] that I arrive at the truth, and I shall still be at fault since it is clear by the natural light that the perception of the intellect should always precede the determination of the will. [Âś12; 7:59-60; 2:41] TEXT 14) Kant, A Critique of Pure Reason: The famous Locke . . . because he encountered pure concepts of the understanding in experience, also derived them from this experience, and thus proceeded so inconsistently that he thereby dared to make attempts at cognitions that go far beyond the boundary of all experience. David Hume recognized that in order to be able to do the latter it is necessary that these concepts would have to have their origin a priori. But he could not explain at all how it is possible for the understanding to think of concepts that in themselves are not combined in the understanding as still necessarily combined in the object, and it never occurred to him that perhaps the understanding itself, by means of these concepts, could be the originator of the experience in which its objects are encountered, he thus, driven by necessity, derived them from experience (namely from a subjective necessity arisen from frequent association in experience, which is subsequently falsely held to be objective, i.e., custom); however he subsequently proceeded quite consistently in declaring it to be impossible to go beyond the boundary of experience with these concepts and the principles they occasion. The empirical derivation, however, to which both of them resorted, cannot be reconciled with the reality of the scientific cognition a priori that we possess, that namely of pure mathematics and general natural science, and is therefore refuted by the fact. [B127-128]
the aristotelian society
president: Sarah Broadie (St. Andrews) president-elect: E.J. Lowe (Durham) honorary director: Lucy Oâ€™Brien (UCL) editor: Matthew Soteriou (Warwick) lines of thought series editor: Scott Sturgeon (Oxford) executive committee: Ben Colburn (Glasgow) / Alison Hills (Oxford) / Rosanna Keefe (Sheffield) Marie McGinn (UEA) / Samir Okasha (Bristol) / Ian Rumfitt (Birkbeck) / Robert Stern (Sheffield) executive administrator: Mark Cortes Favis assistant editor: David Harris editorial assistant: Lea Salje
w w w. a r i s t o t e l i a n s o c i e t y. o r g . u k
Draft Paper & Podcast: "Epistemology Past and Present" by John Carriero (UCLA). John Carriero is Professor of Philosophy at the University o...