Advertisement

Epistemic Structuralism: The Limit to Radical Alternatives to Traditional Epistemology

  • G. L. Pandit
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 73)

Abstract

It is indisputable that epistemology has been, ever since antiquity, concerned with the resolution of the complexities of human knowledge. But what are the salient features, if any, of this enterprise of traditional epistemology (TE) or the theories that have been developed under it (TE-theories)? Although of considerable independent philosophical interest, this vastly complex question assumes a crucial relevance against the current background of what may be termed ‘the radical alternatives to TE’ that have been recently proposed by Karl Popper and W. V. O. Quine respectively. Common to these proposals is the view that TE is totally misconceived; that the kinds of problems it raises and the solutions it offers are all fundamentally irrelevant to our proper understanding of human knowledge.

Keywords

Human Knowledge Radical Alternative Epistemic Rationality Logical Empiricism Naturalize Epistemology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Reference

  1. 1.
    As against this I shall argue in Chapter 3 for the view that its elements are of more than one category, i.e., type-distinct.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    In Chapter 3, I develop detailed arguments for this thesis which was originally put forth in Pandit (1976).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. G. L. Pandit (1972), pp. 64–72.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Unlike Plato, Descartes makes epistemology the very basis of his entire philosophical programme of radical reconstruction on a grand deductivist pattern. As a result, all problems including the metaphysical ones came for the first time to be ‘solved’ in terms of solutions of the fundamental epistemological problems of ’what is knowledge’ and ’what can be known’.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For reconstruction of traditional definition along these lines, see R. M. Chisholm (1977), p. 102 and A. J. Ayer (1956), p. 35.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    That it owes its subjectivism to a firm ideological commitment to the dominant intellectual values of its time will be argued in Section 2.4.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See, e.g., David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, D. G. C. Macnabb (ed.), 1962, Fontana Library, pp. 115–155.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    However, their failure to overcome TE’s subjectivism is evident from, e.g., the Vienna Circle debate on the problem of ‘protocol statements’, their structure and function, or from Russell’s doctrine of sense-data statements/basic propositions as a sub-structure of epistemological premises for the rest of the structure of our knowledge. Indeed, Russell’s phenomenalist programme of ’logically reconstructing’ the structural identity of knowledge so as to distinguish the secure/rational from the insecure/irrational components in it is an excellent example of the contemporary attempts to have a recourse to a reinforced entrenchment in subjectivism.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The problem of the structural identity of knowledge, i.e., whether it is simply a type-identical structure of beliefs, propositions, sentences or a more complex kind of structure, assumes crucial importance in the wake of recent controversies in philosophy of language that have been generated by Quine’s thesis of indeterminacy of radical translation. See Quine (1960), pp. 26–79. to For example, Griffin (1964), p. 5, writes: “In the Tractatus Wittgenstein was not so much an epistemologist as a logician with a strong bent towards the sciences.” While I agree with his view that Tractarian elementary sentences/statements cannot be confused either with the positivistic protocol/observation statements or with Russell-type sense-data statements, it is mistaken to take this feature of Tractatus, as Griffin does, to entail its epistemological neutrality. On the contrary, that only entails its unique ideological neutrality in the present sense of this term.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Consider in this context Wittgenstein’s (1961, 4.11) view that “the totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science (or the whole corpus of the natural sciences).”Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Indeed this transformation shows the magnitude of impact of the seventeenth century scientific scene upon a discipline that had been struggling hard for a long time for a proper sense of direction as well as subject matter.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    These are all typical pragmatical terms in the precise semiotic sense of requiring a reference to or presupposing the knowing subject as a frame-of-reference.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    David B. Annis (1977), p. 345.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    In rejecting the view of knowledge as perception or as true belief (a belief that just turns out to be true) Plato was certainly rejecting the view that identified the epistemic structure of our K-claims with that of perception or true belief. Any such view had to be ruled out precisely because perception was found to be not only structurally unsatisfactory (in the sense, e.g., that the knowing subject and the perceiving organism are essentially type-distinct and possibly asymmetrical for Plato) but also (from the point of view of the rationality of its content) pregnant with the permanent possibility of content-variance not only from situation to situation but also from person to person. Descartes was similarly eager to rule out the possibility of content-variance in his system. The insight into a fundamental asymmetry between the preceiving organism and the knowing subject, while clearly available in Plato and later on in Descartes, seems, however, also traceable in ancient schools of Indian philosophy like Vedanta of Sankara.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Here I have in mind Popper’s (1934), (1968), (1972a), (1972b), and (1975).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    For these, see J. L. Monod (1975), p. 9.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Prior to the Darwinian revolution, epistemology and biology seemed obviously unrelated to each other without any possibility of mutual relevance. And the prolonged ideological influence of this pre-Darwinian perspective has been so powerful that even today philosophers generally see no connection between the two. For example, L. Wittgenstein (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 4.1122 ) writes: “Darwin’s theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other hypothesis in natural science.” As a result, epistemology still remains dogmatically committed to the older value-framework that is deeply embedded in the pre-Darwinian special creation theory of man. And it still follows the tradition of looking at the human knowledge-seeking activity as an activity of seeking what is true, come what may. Nevertheless, the question of the nature of the relationship between the living beings and their environment, both external and internal, being central to biology, the Darwinian revolution could not remain confined to the field of inquiry in which it originated. While dislodging the special creation theory of man as mythical and unscientific, it crossed into all other fields of inquiry rendering questionable hitherto unquestioned assumptions concerning the nature of man and his relationship with the world.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    For a discussion of the nature of this dynamic relationship, see G. L. Pandit (1976), pp. 422–32.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Cf. K. R. Popper (1972b), p. 106.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Post-Darwinian objectivistic epistemology, like pre-Darwinian subjectivistic epistemology, illustrates how the philosopher’s conception of his own field of inquiry, no less than his conception of other fields of inquiry, not only conditions his formulations of important philosophical problems but, often, reflects the pre-dominant and pervasive theoretical or intellectual values of a particular historical period.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Popper (1968), p. 98, writes: “I do not believe... that the question which epistemology must ask is `… on what does our knowledge rest?… Or more exactly, how can I, having had the experience S, justify my description of it, and defend it against doubt?’. In my view, what epistemology has to ask is rather: how do we test scientific statements by their deductive consequences? And what kind of consequences can we select for this purpose if they are to be inter-subjectively testable?”Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    See K. R. Popper (1972b), pp. 109–112 and Popper (1968), p. 22.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Notwithstanding his thesis of TE’s irrelevance, Popper (1968), p. 15, writes: “The central problem of epistemology has always been and still is the problem of the growth of knowledge. And the growth of knowledge can be studied best by studying the growth of scientific knowledge.”Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    See K. R. Popper (1972b), pp. 111–12.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    See ibid., pp. 108–9, where he says: “Epistemology I take to be the theory of scientific knowledge.” At another place (ibid.), p. 111, he writes: “What is relevant for epistemology is the study of scientific problems and problem-situations…”Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Cf. K. R. Popper (1972a), pp. 104–105.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Cf. G. L. Pandit (1971), pp. 86, 90.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    See Alan Reeves (1976), p. 82. Quire’s commitment to naturalism may be described as ideological in nature. This has to do with his belief in the self-sufficiency of the natural order of the world combined with a strong belief in the possibility of ultimate explanation of all the natural phenomena in terms of some `favoured science’ such as physics. Quine (1975b), p. 7, describes his naturalism as “my repudiation of any first philosophy logically prior to science… ” Again, Quine (1966), p. 240, writes: “Epistemology… is not logically prior somehow to commonsense or to the refined commonsense which is science; it is part rather of the overall scientific enterprise, an enterprise which Neurath has likened to that of rebuilding a ship while staying afloat in it.”Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    See W. V. O. Quine (1969), pp. 82–85.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    J. J. C. Smart (1975), p. 7.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    See Alan Reeves (1976), p. 82.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Cf. G. L. Pandit (1971), p. 86.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    W. V. O. Quine (1960), p. 11.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    W. V. O. Quine (1975a), p. 67.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Ibid., pp. 67–68.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ibid., p. 68.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
  38. 38.
    It is not possible here to digress into the details of this view which are worked out in one of my unpublished papers.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    For projecting naturalized epistemology in a psychological setting and taking the `physical’ human subject as a complex kind of input-output system, Quine explicitly identifies epistemology with a causal inquiry into the nature of the relation between (1) “the meagre input” — “certain patterns of irradiation in assorted frequencies” which the human subject is subject to — and (2) “the torrential output” — “a description of the three-dimensional external world and its history.” And this only amounts to an inquiry into the nature of the relations of interaction between man and the world. But, if we take knowledge as an orientating variable of all relations of human interaction, knowledge is seen as making these relations possible and hence it cannot be identified with them.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Cf. G. L. Pandit (1971), p. 86.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    This consequence is interesting. Popper may well be reminded of it by his own (1972a), vii, ix.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. L. Pandit
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of DelhiIndia

Personalised recommendations