Choosing epistemic methods – a Rawlsian game

I read ‘Social Epistemology’ at some point last term (see below for citation), and got a lot from it. The blending of social-normative elements of epistemology, pragmatism, and virtue epistemology are particularly interesting. I wish I’d know more about this area when I was writing my first MA thesis on the epistemic consequences of the extended mind thesis for our notion of ‘assessment’…but we live and learn, and I covered a lot of new (for me) ground in that as it was! The below is a bit of a summary of one interesting bit of the book

“Let us say that an epistemic principle is privileged when it is worthy of teaching in the schools, used in evaluating research, and seen as trumping other, possibly conflicting methods.” (Lynch, 2010, p. 275)

We are then asked to imagine an epistemic method game, in which the players must come up with reasons for selecting some method over another in some hypothetical world. The game is Rawlsian – thus they cannot presuppose methods are more reliable for producing true beliefs in the hypothetical world, nor can they presuppose that one method is better than another (because they do not know what sort of world this hypothetical world is), they should suppose that they themselves will end up in this hypothetical world, but they should not suppose any particular methods which they – “because of upbringing, education, religion, and so forth—wish to employ themselves in [the world]” (Lynch, 2010, p. 275).

“Were we to play the method game, it would seem in our self‐interest to favour privileging those methods that, to the greatest degree possible, were repeatable, adaptable, public, and widespread” (Lynch, 2010, p. 275).
That is, we should be able to use them again, adapt them to different problems, can be judged in public and not just by the deployer of the method, and they should actually be useable by people in general (not some small subset). While they acknowledge that in selecting such methods, the players also deploy such methods the point of the game is that the rules do not prohibit this, nor do they state that the players are in a state of ignorance of epistemic methods. Rather “It is one where they are asked to decide—using whatever methods they have available, and acting under the relevant constraints–which methods should be politically privileged in w. And the methods that are so privileged are those that will form the content of their subsequent epistemic standards and principles.” (Lynch, 2010, p. 276).

One significant point of this game is that the reasons given for any particular method will be practical not theoretic in nature, as an appeal to self-interest in which practical concerns and a respect for each other as epistemic agents is important. “If we are to treat each other as autonomous judgers worthy of equal respect, we must engage in the process of giving and asking for reasons, even when the question at hand concerns the reliability of our most basic methods for reaching the truth.13” (Lynch, 2010, p. 277).

Haddock, Adrian, Alan Millar, and Duncan Pritchard. Social Epistemology. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Lynch, Michael P. “Epistemic Circularity and Epistemic Incommensurability.” In Social Epistemology, edited by Adrian Haddock, Alan Millar, and Duncan Pritchard. Oxford University Press, 2010.
Lynch, Michael P. (2010). Epistemic Circularity and Epistemic Incommensurability Social Epistemology, edited by Adrian Haddock, Alan Millar, and Duncan Pritchard. Oxford University Press DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199577477.003.0013

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

This Post Has 2 Comments

Leave A Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

%d bloggers like this: