Naturalism and Rationality
paper examines a common objection to naturalized epistemology: since it only
provides a scientific explanation of cognition, it fails to address the
normative issues that are fundamental to epistemology. Quine and other naturalized
epistemologists such as Laudan try to meet this objection by arguing that all
methodological or epistemological norms are instrumental, concerning means to
the achievement of cognitive ends. The paper considers how far this strategy
can be sustained, exploring whether there are issues of epistemic evaluation
which concern ends rather than means to ends, and considering whether we need
explanations of concepts such as knowledge and justification
which cannot be understood in means-ends terms. It concludes with a discussion
of an objection to naturalized epistemology due to L. BonJour.
Introduction: naturalised epistemology and normative epistemology.
is a familiar objection to Quine�s programme of naturalised epistemology
that it fails to address some of the most fundamental questions that motivate
epistemological inquiries in the first place. The objection takes several
forms. Some would object that epistemology is obliged to take Scepticism
seriously, its fundamental task being to show whether (and, if so, how) we can satisfy
ourselves that we are not brains in vats who are systematically misled in our
view of the world by wicked scientists. Quine
would reply that if that is what epistemology is, then his programme is
not epistemology, and none the worse for that.
A more worrying
objection is that a naturalised epistemology cannot deal with normative questions
about how we ought to carry out inquiries and revise our beliefs.
Bearing in mind Quine�s proposal that epistemology should fall into
place as �a chapter of psychology�, the objection runs:
psychology can only describe and explain the ways in which our cognitive
faculties actually do work.
is concerned with the evaluation of our cognitive practices; among
other things, it describes epistemic norms and attempts to settle whether they
are legitimate or illegitimate.
the additional premise that a descriptive- explanatory account of a practice
cannot provide it with a legitimation, or defend the norms used in pursuing
it, the standard anxiety is easily understood. The issue raised here is
obviously related to a much older tradition of debate about naturalism in
ethics. The naturalistic fallacy, supposedly the fallacy of
attempting to account for norms (�oughts�) in terms of natural properties
of agents and their environments, would, it seems, be as much to be avoided in
the case of epistemic norms as in the case of ethical norms. Any description or explanation of our practices can, it
seems, invite the normative question which it is good or desirable that our
beliefs and activities should be structured in such a way.
Biting the bullet is a possibility here too.
Quine sometimes suggest that he calls his work �epistemology�
because it attempts to explain and understand how beliefs and theories are
constructed on the basis of experience, an aim it shares with the work of
philosophers such as Carnap, Locke and Hume. The failure to address normative
issues may not be an obstacle to the claim that he belongs to the
epistemological tradition. However more often he resists the suggestion that
naturalised epistemology would commit the naturalistic fallacy: there is no
difficulty in using a naturalised epistemology to settle fundamental normative
issues. This rests upon a distinctive view about the kinds of normative issues
that arise in epistemology, and it is this view that will be considered in
The core idea is straightforward.
Suppose I wish to measure the temperature of the fluid in a flask.
How should I go about it? It may be proposed that I should use a
particular thermometer which is ready to hand: is this a good method for
finding the information I require? Perfectly straightforward factual
information seems adequate to meet my needs: we can test the reliability of
the thermometer; and if it turns out to be unreliable, then I ought not to use
it. Results from the natural
sciences are commonly used to provide information about how we can most
efficiently meet our ends. Changing habits of medical diagnosis as our
knowledge of the causes of diseases grows provides a further example of how
growing scientific knowledge alters our views of what we ought to take
as giving us a reason to believe something. (Elgin, 1996, p. 97) And there
seems to be no feature of cases where our ends involve the gathering of
reliable information to prevent our saying the same thing about these cases
too. The growth in empirical knowledge provides invaluable information about
how best to pursue our cognitive ends. Since reasoning about means and ends is
often grounded in empirical or scientific information, then the possibility
emerges that all the normative issues of epistemological importance are of
They concern the relations of means to ends.
The sorts of means/ ends issues with which they
deal can be settled by appeal to empirical information.
that case, as Quine has put it, normative epistemology �gets naturalised
into a chapter of engineering�. (1990, p.19) Nobody could seriously doubt
the relevance of empirical information to questions about how we should form
our beliefs in the sorts of cases described above.
But the suggestion that such examples are typical of the
normative issues that arise in epistemology is very controversial.
Three grades of naturalistic commitment
For reasons that will become clear below, I shall not say much about
what I mean by �naturalism�. The
position can encompass a broad range of views - as can be seen from the fact
that Donald Davidson, who is presumably committed to a kind of non-reductive
realism about norms, is happy to describe his own work as �naturalised
epistemology�. It will be
useful to map out three naturalistic themes, of differing degrees of strength.
a) The first minimal grade of commitment holds simply that an adequate philosophical account of human life and rationality should make no claims that conflict with the supposition that we are material objects and that our faculties and capacities are the products of natural selection: there is nothing �supernatural� about our functioning that requires the belief that we are partially exempt from familiar biological or physical explanatory models.
second grade of commitment holds that an understanding of human life and
rationality can be obtained through investigations that are a posteriori,
that are �scientific� in a very broad sense. This might allow for history
as an indispensable source of knowledge, and it also leaves open the
possibility that ranges of knowledge which do not belong to the special
sciences may have a role. For
example, everyday descriptions and characterisations of our practices may use
classifications that are invaluable for ordering our inquiries and
understanding our lives even if those classifications are not employed in any
of the special sciences.
c) A stronger position (sometimes defended by Quine) holds that
the philosophical needs that prompt us to think about mind, cognition and
rationality can be met entirely by research in the special sciences - for
example, in psychology. Much of
Quine�s rhetoric about his naturalism fits this position.
It will be apparent that the differences between these grades of naturalistic commitment have implications for how we understand the normative side of naturalised epistemology. Are normative epistemological issues entirely a matter for psychology? For psychology and the other sciences? Or do some of the issues relate to everyday common sense observation?
should we move beyond the examples concerning the diagnosis of illness and the
reliability of thermometers that do not seem fundamental to epistemology?
Another defender of a naturalistic account of epistemic norms offers a way
ahead. In his paper
�Progress or rationality? The Prospects for Normative Naturalism�
, Larry Laudan has explored the nature of �methodological norms�.
He has in mind pieces of advice such as:
only falsifiable theories.
they are commands, he continues, �they appear decidedly not to be the sort
of utterance which could be true or false, but at best only useful� (Laudan,
1987, p.202). Moreover, he
worries, �To enquire concerning their truth conditions seems a mistake, for
they appear to be quite unlike ordinary statements.
Yet if they have no truth conditions, what would it even mean to ask
about their warrant?�.(p. 203)
His answer is that the grammar of methodological rules obscures their
underlying logical form: they are hypothetical imperatives whose form
goal is y, then one ought to do x.
the second of the Popperian maxims listed above should properly read:
wants to develop risky conjectures, then one ought to avoid ad hoc
final twist of the argument is that such imperatives �always assert a
relation between means and ends. Specifically, every such rule presupposes
that �doing x� will, as a matter of fact, promote y, or
bring us closer to the realisation of y.� (p. 203)
conclusion Laudan draws from this is confusedly expressed.
He initially suggests that methodological rules are statements
about instrumentalities. Later
formulations weaken this a little: the warrant of the rule is determined by
the warrant for the underlying statement; and anyone who asserts the rule is
committed to the truth of the means-ends claim.
The general point is close that these methodological norms are
hypothetical imperatives: they concern means to ends. that a naturalised
epistemology can provide extensive information about means to ends, and that
methodological rules (and, perhaps cognitive norms more generally) are fixed
by these facts about means to ends.
have seen, the idea that epistemic norms are all hypothetical imperatives is
found in Quine too:
Insofar as theoretical epistemology gets naturalised into a chapter of theoretical science, so normative epistemology gets naturalised into a chapter of engineering: the technology of anticipating sensory stimulation. (Quine, 1990, p.19)
Quine normally tells us that epistemology falls into place as a chapter of
epistemology is presumably applied psychology.
And, this quotation suggests, epistemic norms are hypothetical
imperatives, concerned with means to the end of �anticipating sensory
stimulation�. So we have a standard naturalistic response to the challenge
of normative epistemology. It
consists of two claims:
epistemological or methodological norms are hypothetical imperatives; they
concern means to ends.
instrumental truths upon which these imperatives depend can all be
investigated within a naturalised epistemology.
Norms and normativity
It would be hard to deny that there are epistemic norms of the sorts
described: they are hypothetical in form and they can be supported by
reference to empirical information of the kind investigated in the natural
sciences. Anyone unsympathetic to
naturalised epistemology is likely to feel that this does not settle the
matter. For present purposes, we
should note two forms that such unease can take.
A norm is a proposition which formulates a standard to be
followed in conduct or inquiry: it specifies the sorts of things we should
take as reasons for action or belief; they state what we ought
to do or believe. As we have
seen, there are questions about which norms we ought to accept, and both
Laudan and Quine argue that choice of norms can be determined by empirical
information about the reliability of instruments and the effectiveness of
strategies of inquiry. It may be doubted whether this is true of all
epistemological norms. Are there
true epistemic �ought� statements whose truth cannot be traced to
instrumental facts about nature? We might suppose that there are fundamental
principles of inductive logic which have normative status but which could not
be settled empirically without circularity.
A second concern would be that we can make use of norms specifying how
best to achieve our cognitive ends only if we have identified the norms that
tell us what our cognitive ends should be.
Thirdly: even if the naturalist can make sense of the content of the
norms that govern scientific inquiry, she will not be able to satisfy our
questions about how we ought to carry out investigations of ethical matters or
Even if the naturalist could satisfy her critics on all of these
counts, a further deeper worry remains, one that Quine seems not to address at
all. The problem of identifying
correct norms, it will be suggested, does not exhaust the normative concerns
of epistemology. The ability to
use, and reflect upon norms is a characteristic feature of human rationality,
one that distinguishes us from animals. A
naturalistic philosophy must not only provide us with materials for
understanding which norms we should adopt. It must also explain what is involved in being subject to
norms, what it is to follow norms or to be subject to normativity.
This seems to require an account of how reasons function in the
ordering of inquiries, of how active beings can take responsibility for their
beliefs and opinions and so on. The deeper worry is that even if naturalised
epistemology can account for what makes one normative standard better than
another, it provides a model of the human agent that cannot make sense of how
there can be responsible active users of norms at all.
It cannot make sense of normativity.
This charge underlies Davidson�s anomolous monism: our practice of
thinking and evaluating through the use of propositional attitudes is subject
to a �constitutive ideal of rationality� which cannot be fully explained
in naturalistic terms. It is also
the basis of McDowell�s charge that �bare naturalism� is forced to
reject the insight that thought and judgement involve �active employment of
capacities that empower us to take charge of our thinking� (McDowell, 1994
p. 66). Conceptual activity manifests �spontaneity�, a form of
freedom which is linked to rational self control and responsibility. Since
Quinean naturalised epistemology can make no sense of this, it provides no
account of what is involved in being subject to norms. There is more to being
normatively guided than knowing which norms to accept.
Textbooks in epistemology are typically organised round a discussion of
the proper analysis of some fundamental terms of epistemic appraisal: they
discuss the nature of knowledge, justification, warrant, epistemic
entitlement which belong essentially to reflection about the normative
status of beliefs. These are very
broad terms of epistemic appraisal; many would hold that once we have shown
that knowledge or justified belief are possible, we have done all that is
required for the defeat of Scepticism and the vindication of our practice of
inquiry. So closely are these terms linked to our ideas of epistemic
normativity that one may think that if naturalism can make sense of these,
then it will be able to make sense of epistemic normativity in general.
One strategy for a naturalised epistemology, in that case, would be to
show that these �evaluative kinds� correspond to what can be seen as �natural
kinds�, as kinds which can be described and understood using a naturalistic
vocabulary. Some defenders of naturalistic epistemology take up this
challenge. Alvin Goldman, for
example, in offering a reliability account of justified belief, acknowledges
the central role of this concept in our practice of epistemic evaluation, and
tries to make sense of it in naturalistic terms.
Laudan seemed to think that the only �evaluative� term used in
expressions of methodological norms was �ought�.
And Quine�s position, too, does not seem to recognise any need for a
systematic explanation of these general evaluative concepts. This may support
the view that more is needed to make sense of normative epistemology than an
account of how instrumental truths can provide guidance about how to improve
our skills as inquirers. Or, as often in the literature, it may be taken as a
sign of how radical Quinean naturalised epistemology is.
He may be turning his back on problems as traditionally formulated;
perhaps the focus on explaining knowledge and justification is
an error. Perhaps we just say that a belief is �justified� when we think
that it has been formed in a normatively sound way. There may be no
fundamental forms whose expression requires the use of this vocabulary. Either
way, we may see this as another focus for the anxiety that something important
has been missed. The remainder of
this paper introduces some themes in Quine�s work which address these
challenges. Before doing this, one further introductory observation should be
Normative epistemology: history, psychology,
science, common sense
I have presented them as adopting similar strategies in dealing with epistemic
norms, there is a large apparent difference between Laudan and Quine.
For the former, the naturalistic basis for methodological morals is
history: we learn how to do science better from seeing what has worked, and
what has impeded progress, in the past. Quine�s
official view appears to be that theoretical epistemology is part of cognitive
psychology and normative epistemology is applied theoretical epistemology.
Normative lessons, we would expect, will be obtained from psychology.
expectation, it turns out, is misplaced. When Quine offers examples of how
science can ground epistemic norms, his examples
rarely come from psychology. Having
noted how �Podiatry, appendectomy. and the surgical repair of hernias are
technological correctives of bad side effects of natural selection�, he
urges that �such also in essence is normative epistemology in its correcting
and refining of our innate propensities to expectation by induction�.
A vest-pocket specimen of this is the exposure and correction of the gambler�s fallacy: the insidious notion that a run of bad luck increases the likelihood that the next try will win. (Quine, 1994a, p.50)
correction, we learn, �is the therapeutic side of statistical theory, a
substantial branch of applied mathematics that is part and parcel of normative
epistemology� (ibid). In that case, Quine�s naturalism turns to science
for epistemological insight, but his focus on psychology is not an essential
part of the position.
Other comments make clear that Quine is not opposed to gaining help
from the History of Science as well as other non-psychological sciences such
as mathematics. In The Pursuit of Truth, he
recalls the list of five relevant epistemic virtues he had stated in The
Web of Belief (conservatism,
generality, simplicity, refutability, and modesty), and adds: �Further
counsel is available anecdotally in the history of hard science.� (Quine,
I shall discuss the
importance of �anecdotally� below. We
might also note that the merits of simplicity and modesty et al do not appear
to be discoveries from neuroscience either.
These seem, rather, to be expressions of common sense, the results of
ordinary non scientific reflections upon our practice. In his claims about
normative epistemology, �naturalism� is taken in a relatively weak sense:
we are to abandon first philosophy and the Cartesian dream, but all manner of
a posteriori information may be grist to our epistemological mill.
Indeed, we might think that psychological information will only rarely
be what is required. Worries
about the reliability of various cognitive strategies or the value of
different forms of belief formation will be expressed using a distinctive
vocabulary, one that describes states and events as beliefs, inferences,
methods and uses concepts such as inquiry, evidence, prediction
and the like. Although these have
a place in our everyday talk and thought about epistemic matters, it is
debatable whether they will have much role within cognitive psychology,
especially if we share Quine�s apparent taste for connectionist approaches.
In order to apply psychological results (and other results from theoretical
science) to our everyday practices of inquiry, we need some kind of bridge
between two vocabularies: the theoretical categories used in formulating
scientific theories; and the terms we ordinarily use in describing and
regulating our beliefs, inferences and investigations. Much a posteriori
information should be available and relevant to assessing our beliefs and
methods without taking a detour through theoretical psychology.
The matter just discussed receives very little attention in Quine�s
work. The reader who is impressed by his radical naturalism might suppose that
he is one of those eliminativists who would propose that we change the
vocabulary in which we describe ourselves and our cognitive products as our
theoretical understanding of nature grows.
The picture I have sketched, it may be objected, accords more with
the anomolous monism of Davidson than the physicalist naturalism of Quine.
Many texts support this, but we need to take account of those recent
writings in which Quine insists that he too is an anomolous monist (1990, pp.
71-2). He does not relate this directly to epistemological themes, nor is the
idea developed in detail. But we should take seriously the possibility that he
thinks that many of our everyday concerns are guided by an intentional
vocabulary which is not reducible to physical language but which is used in
reflecting on beliefs, actions and inquiries.
Using this vocabulary, we express norms which exploit information
acquired in an a posteriori manner, either in the sciences of on the basis of
everyday common sense information. If that is right - if we are correct to
take seriously Quine�s claim to be an anomolous monist - then we may wonder
whether part of his response to worries about normativity may involve
reference to the governing ideals of the use of intentional language.
What does Quine say about this �anomolous monism�?
He insists that there are �irreducibly mental ways of grouping�
events: �grouping a lot of respectably physical perceptions as perceptions
that p, and grouping a lot of respectably physical belief instances as
the belief that p�. (Quine, 1990, p, 71). Moreover there is �no
dismissing� this way of talking since it �implements vital communication
and harbors indispensable lore about human activity and motivation, past and
expected.� Since it is irreducible, we have �all the more reason to
treasure it�. All that it
provides would be lost if it were abandoned and �there is good reason not to
try to weave it into our scientific theory of the world to make a more
comprehensive system.� (p.71). It is difficult to escape the conclusion that
we possess a lot of �indispensable lore� about belief, inquiry and
reasoning, which is invaluable in ordering and evaluating our beliefs, and
which we should not try to embed in our scientific theory of the world.
Cognitive psychology will not solve all problems about the normativity
noticed a tension (albeit an unimportant one) in Quine�s characterisations
of this naturalised epistemology. Although
he often insists that epistemology should be transformed into a chapter of
theoretical and experimental cognitive psychology and he urges that normative
epistemology should thus stand to this discipline as engineering stands to the
hard sciences, his examples of normative epistemology owe little to cognitive
psychology Mathematics and
probability theory, anecdotal history of science, observations cast in our
everyday intentional vocabulary, seem to have more to contribute to regulating
our inquiries than does scientific psychology.
Given Quine�s broad
understanding of �science� this need not manifest any inconsistency in his
views, but it does make mysterious the central role he attaches to psychology.
of labour may provide part of the explanation.
Explicit �heuristic� norms govern the process of theory
construction - �thinking things up�.
Theory testing is less susceptible to explicit normative control - he
has said that induction does not present a body of normative standards,
because we have no choice over whether to rely upon induction.
Perhaps psychology is especially relevant to understanding our
inductive procedures, to understanding how evidence is related to theory. In that case, psychology may have special relevance to the
first of our two normative questions - that of grounding our confidence in our
cognitive and rational capacities. Quine�s emphasis on psychology (and on
stimulations) may reflects his heavy commitment to empiricism. Were it not for
his tough minded empiricism, psychology would be less central to Quine�s
characterisation of his practice.
This is supported by a passage from �Epistemology naturalised� in
which Quine explains why insights from the history of science should be
treated with care.
dislodging of epistemology from its old status of first philosophy loosed a
wave, we saw, of epistemological nihilism.
This mood is reflected somewhat in the tendency of Polanyi, Kuhn and
the late Russell Hanson to belittle the role of evidence and to accentuate
cultural relativism. Hanson
ventured even to discredit the idea of observation, arguing that so-called
observations vary from observer to observer with the amount of knowledge that
the observers bring with them. The
veteran physicist looks at some apparatus and sees an x-ray tube.
The neophyte, looking at the same place, observes rather �a glass and
metal instrument replete with wires, reflectors, screws, lamps and pushbuttons�.
One man�s observation is another man�s closed book or flight of
fancy. (Quine, 1969, p.88)
Quine�s central interest in psychology over history depends upon the belief
that �evidence� and �observation� have to be made fundamental if we
are not to collapse into �nihilism� or �relativism� and the belief
that those who have turned to history for a naturalistic basis for
epistemology have failed to avoid this danger.
Indeed, this emphasis was already present in his description of how
epistemic norms are to be understood as hypothetical imperatives: the end to
which we seek efficient means was stated explicitly in terms drawn from
Quinean armchair psychology - �anticipating sensory stimulations�.
Even if he is abandoning �first philosophy�, he wants to retain
psychology as a kind of �first epistemology�.
Quine holds that if we want to understand how theories are developed on
the basis of our sparse experiential input, then we have no alternative but to
turn to cognitive psychology and social psychology: let us say, to cognitive
science. There is an intelligible
cognitive task which can best be carried out scientifically. In each case, we
might think that Quine is too Cartesian, focusing on individual psychology and
ignoring the social and co-operative nature of these activities.
Moreover such investigations are likely to throw up information which
we can use to improve our performance: we can be alerted to unexpected
disrupting influences or to ways in which we can be led into error.
But these inquiries are largely theoretical, concerned with enabling us
to understand how we form our beliefs or make our evaluations.
Since Hume, Locke and
(presumably) Carnap were largely concerned with these explanatory ventures
when they studied cognition, it is not surprising that Quine saw continuities
between scientific studies of cognition and various enterprises within the
earlier epistemological tradition.
Since some of these earlier studies of cognition were largely
introspective, dealing with observable relations between metal states that
were assumed to be open to the introspective gaze, it is unsurprising that
they fed directly into claims about normative epistemological standards.
Psychological theory was not very different from careful introspective
reflection. Studying the nature of cognition and studying the normative
structure of the ways in which we reflect upon our beliefs, actions, plans and
deliberations were not wholly separate investigations.
If psychological categories were grounded in introspection, it is
unsurprising that they are well suited for the descriptions of reasoning and
beliefs that we use when trying to regulate our inquiries.
Once we move beyond an introspective psychology, there is no reason to
expect this to continue to be true. One can be a naturalist and allow that all
standards of rationality can be reassessed in the light of experience, without
adopting the belief that normative epistemology is simply applied cognitive
science. Descriptions of cognition which are cast in vocabularies well suited
to the attempt to reflect upon, and improve, our ways of thinking about the
world are more likely to be found elsewhere.
Scientific inquiry: aims and checkpoints
When we introduced the idea that epistemic norms concern means to
cognitive ends, we considered the objection that there must also be normative
issues about the ends we should adopt. Since Quine treats epistemology as
co-extensive with the epistemology of science (however narrowly or widely
construed), this becomes a question about the goal or goals of scientific
investigation. Recall the passage from Pursuit of Truth:
Insofar as theoretical epistemology gets naturalised into a chapter of theoretical science, so normative epistemology gets naturalised into a chapter of engineering: the technology of anticipating sensory stimulation. (Quine, 1990, p.19)
It would be natural, but mistaken, to infer from this that the aim of science is �anticipating sensory stimulation�. The most common goal for scientific inquiry is �technology and understanding�.
�Anticipating sensory stimulation� is the checkpoint, of science, not the goal. A theory should be rejected if its predictions fail, and it can be accepted so long as its predictions succeed: the test of an acceptable theory is that it enables us to anticipate sensory stimulation. It does not follow from this that my goal in seeking theory is to be able to make accurate predictions of future experience. But whatever my goal is, I will not succeed in achieving it unless I reach a theory that is predictively adequate. My goal may be understanding; theories which fail to pass the checkpoint will not provide the right kind of understanding. Or my goal may be a practical one, building a bridge or curing a disease; once again, my theory will not serve that purpose unless it successfully anticipates sensory stimulation. Perhaps better, I will not accept a theory unless it passes this test, and it is for this reason that it will not enable me to achieve my goal.
Whether �anticipating sensory stimulation� is
the goal of science of not, there is a question about why I should accept this
as a checkpoint. It seems to be a
fundamental norm that cannot be expressed merely as a means to some further
end. In fact, Quine insists that it �is not normative�: �I see it as
defining a particular language game, in Wittgenstein�s phrase�, �the
game of science, in contrast to other good games such as fiction and poetry.�
(Quine, 1990, p.20) He seems to hold that it is an a priori truth, indeed
analytic (!), that a form of inquiry is scientific if and only if it is
governed by this criterion of success. In
a telling analogy, we learn that prediction �is what decides the game, like
runs and outs in baseball�. To seek scientific understanding is to seek
understanding that is provided by a theory that has met this checkpoint.
It is compatible with
this that �empiricism� is normative: it decrees that the best way
of arriving at theories that anticipate sensory stimulation is to rely upon
the familiar senses, rejecting the deliverances of clairvoyance or (perhaps)
mathematical intuition. We could
conceivably learn that science should abandon empiricism, so understood, and
accept these further kinds of interaction with the world as sources of �sensory
In that case cognitive ends, whether to seek
understanding of this matter or that, whether to use the scientific method to
tackle this problem or answer that question, may be matters of practical
rationality. At least they seem
to raise no normative issues about ultimate epistemic ends which need disturb the Quinean programme. There does
remain a question about how �anticipating sensory stimulation� can serve
as a checkpoint for those who simply lack this concept: he must hold that we
can use this as a checkpoint even if we are not conscious that this is what we
are doing. I shall return to this
Limiting the scope of normative concerns
It is natural to suppose that our engagement with norms in epistemic
matters can take a number of forms. First
we sometimes address normative questions: we do not know how we should proceed
in our investigations, so we ask what we ought to do. Second, we are aware of
the force of norms when we find ourselves to be rationally constrained.
When I believe that Socrates is a man and also believe that all men are
mortal, I have no choice but to believe that Socrates is mortal.
This is not experienced as a mere physical compulsion; the fact that I
am bound to form this belief coincides with it�s being the right thing to
do. The judgement that, in the
light of my other beliefs and commitments, I ought to believe that
Socrates is mortal has no role in guiding my inquiry.
As we saw above, there are manifestations of �normativity� which do
not involve the acceptance and application of action or believe guiding
I have already suggested that Quine says little about this second kind
of phenomenon. When he says that
normative epistemology is concerned with means to ends, he means that whenever
we raise a normative question, whenever it is an open question what we ought
to do, information about instrumentalities will provide us with a solution.
Indeed, he constrains the scope of normative epistemology even further.
Claiming that �naturalised epistemology on its normative side is
occupied with heuristics generally - with the whole strategy of rational
conjecture in the framing of scientific hypotheses�, he notes that in The
Pursuit of Truth, he has been focused on �the testing of a theory after
it has been thought up� and has thus �passed over the thinking up, which
is where the normative considerations come in.� This seems to add to the
above interpretation the thought that genuine normative questions are all
concerned with heuristic matters of arriving
at new theories for inductive testing. This
seems rather implausible. We
would expect there to be norms of theory testing as well as norms for theory
testing. In that case, we should consider in more detail some things Quine
says about induction.
Let us consider a passage where Quine considers what naturalised
epistemology has to say about our inductive habits.
He rejects the need to explain why we are �entitled� to rely upon
induction as resting upon a false presupposition: we are not �entitled�,
but we are �bound to�:
bound by the innate wiring of our nervous system, conferred by natural
selection. Our tendency is to
expect similar stimulations to have sequels that are similar to each other.
the similarity here is subjective, and our scale or standard of
similarity is innate but subject to modification through experience.
Natural selection has favoured in us a similarity standard that has
made for largely successful induction by meshing pretty well with the
regularities of nature over the past few dozen millennia.
plus the happy circumstance that nature has apparently persisted pretty well
in her old ways right down to the present day, accounts for the continuing
success by and large of induction. Our
genes account for our still continuing to rely on it..
But all this is compatible with a major change, right now, in the
course of nature, so I see no entitlement [to rely upon induction].
Such a change would be contrary to our firmest scientific laws, but to
argue thus is to argue inductively, begging the question.
evidence can be decisive is rather on the negative side: refutation of an
observational categorical by an observed counter-instance.
This is how some of our false inductions get weeded out, and how
science keeps a grip on reality. (Quine
1994a, p. 502f)
paragraph or so later comes what might be Quine�s key move: �But
traditional epistemology enjoys no evident advantage over naturalism in these
normative matters� (ibid p. 503).
This passage invites some comments.
Quine resists the poor argument that we are warranted in relying on
induction because natural selection would not provide us with inductive habits
if they were not adaptive. Since
our cognitive needs differ from those of our evolutionary forebears, the
evolutionary argument does not provide any reason for believing that our
habits and capacities are well fitted to our current refined cognitive needs.
Striking, although not emphasised as much as may be appropriate, Quine
is committed to the importance of our having the capacity to revise and
develop our inductive habits in the face of predictive failure - our
similarity standard is innate �but subject to modification through
experience� and, he should have added. education.
So we possess a body of inductive habits, which we are able to modify
and develop in the light of our other knowledge and experience, which we have
never been given any reason to doubt. Indeed
those inductive habits confirm us in trusting them.
If our reliance on induction does not meet the strong degree of support
that he takes to be required for �entitlement�, we can see how reflection
does not threaten our confidence in it. And
we can see how empirical information - about our successes and about our
flexibility, as well as our growing knowledge of the mechanisms involve all
contribute to reinforcing that confidence.
If the issue is one of legitimating our confidence in our cognitive
capacities, Quine�s worries about circularity seem out of place
. Our confidence
legitimately grows with success. The
possibility that all might change tomorrow may not be answerable by an
argument that provides any sort of guarantee, but nor does it give rise to any
strong sense of epistemic vulnerability.
At worst, it brings out that we are fallible, and dependent upon the
grace of nature. Thus far it
seems reasonable to agree: there is no reason in principle why a naturalized
approach to the study of epistemic rationality should be any worse placed than
�traditional epistemology� to legitimate our confidence in our cognitive
skills. The burden of proof lies with someone who wants to deny this:
they must point to some particular aspects of our reflective practice where
our confidence would be shaken by the information that only �naturalistic�
information was available.
When we turn to explicit norms, the response is essentially the same.
We are aware of many examples of mathematical or psychological
investigations bring out inadequacies in our reasoning habits. Once we are
informed about the gambler�s fallacy, we shall see the force of norms which
call for care and caution before placing bets.
Psychological studies of inference - for example, the debate that has
grown up around the Wason selection task - alert us to areas where mistake is
likely; and we can learn to avoid these errors by adopting norms to govern our
deliberations and conversations. So
there is not problem in accepting that a naturalized study of knowledge can
ground norms of epistemic rationality. An
adequate criticism on this basis would have to show that there are more
fundamental norms that cannot receive this kind of vindication. Once again, the burden of proof lies with someone who would
persuade us that this is actually the case.
So far, we have no reason to think that naturalized epistemology is any
worse off than traditional epistemology.
An objection to naturalised epistemology
might clarify things a little further by considering an argument by Laurence
BonJour. It aims to show that a
naturalistic approach to epistemology is somehow self-defeating: in general,
an adequate epistemology must acknowledge that some beliefs about what is a
reason for what are knowable a priori.
The argument assumes that there is a distinction between those beliefs
which are immediate reports of the contents of experience and those which �cannot
be construed as strictly observational or experiential in any sense that has
the slightest plausibility: beliefs about the remote past, beliefs about the
future, beliefs about present situations where no observer is present, beliefs
about general laws, the vast majority of the beliefs that make up theoretical
science, and perhaps others� (BonJour, 1994, p. 295f).
He then asks what sort of belief can count as a reason for one of these
non-observational beliefs. The
reason must either �(i) depend on an inference of some sort from some of he
directly observational beliefs or (ii) be entirely independent of direct
observation. A reason of sort (ii) is plainly a priori�.
A reason of type (i) can obtain only if a conditional statement of the
p2, p3, etc are true then q is true
(where p1 - p3 are observational and q is
all the relevant observational material is included in the antecedent, then a
conditional of this kind �can only be a priori.�
Thus if any beliefs about non-observational matters are to be
justified, there must be a priori statements of warrant, and this
conflicts with the claim that all normative matters can be examined a
posteriori. BonJour finds
this argument �as obvious and compelling as anything in philosophy�.
His use of the argument is allied to his identification of the real gap
in naturalized approaches to epistemic issues: the naturalist cannot provide
any real reason for thinking that his beliefs are true. He believes
that this is something that cannot be provided without engaging with sceptical
arguments, and he thinks (plausibly) that we can only confront Scepticism with
the aid of a priori reasoning. Since
we have already expressed the hope that a naturalised approach to epistemology
can meet the normative demands that actually arise in the course of reflective
inquiry, I will not say anything more here about the latter move.
The question is rather: what should a defender of naturalism say about
BonJour�s �obvious� and �compelling� argument.
The applicability of the argument to Quine�s position is clear.
Testing theories, he argues, involves deriving �observation
categoricals� from collections of more theoretical beliefs and sentences.
Such derivations must be licensed by conditional propositions which can
be used to assert that if the more theoretical characterisation is true, then
experience will be as described in the observation categoricals.
BonJour�s challenge concerns the status of the conditional
propositions which license these derivations: what kind of �warrant� do
they possess? If Quine�s position is as I have described, then two lines of
response (at least) are available to him.
First, we can object that a priori is a vague and unclear term.
A naturalist would object to a notion of a priority which traced such
knowledge to our intellectual acquaintance with the contents of some platonic
realm. Equally unsatisfactory for
Quine would be an explanation which saw them as analytic in a very strong
sense: possessing determinate meanings which ensure that they are absolutely
unrevisable in principle. But there are notions of a prioricity which are less
problematic to a Quinean epistemologist.
For a moderate holist like Quine, a belief can be held firm by its role
in sustaining or integrating a substantial body of information even if the
believer cannot point to the �reasons� that warrant him in holding it.
Suppose that the agent is reflectively confident in the habits of
memory, inference and reflection which lead to the disposition to assent to
the proposition that q. Since
the weighing of evidence is `a largely passive affair�, no specific doubts
or questions are (or, perhaps, even can be) raised by reflection on that
belief. In a very loose sense,
this may be described as a priori: it is not a candidate for empirical
assessment or re-assessment and it is taken for granted in providing reasons
for believing other propositions. It is currently unnegotiable, and we could
not identify particular observations which would count for it or against it.
Alternatively it may be analytic, in Quine�s favoured sense: taught
and learned in the process of instructing someone in the use of the words
contained in its expression. The
belief is warranted, and its warrant cannot be traced to the support of
particular experiences or experiments. Does
that mean it has a �a priori� warrant?
That depends upon what �having a warrant� means.
BonJour�s argument appears to assume that for a belief is justified
or warranted only if there is something that �constitutes its warrant�.
Whether that is compatible with use of a loosened notion of a priority may not
be fully clear.
BonJour seems to believe that the relations of epistemic dependence
that hold our beliefs together have a clear and articulated structure which we
can identify (he calls this the �doxastic presumption�).
If this were the case, then I can see that reflection would lead us to
identify these structures of argument and raise questions about their
soundness. BonJour�s challenge may
then be a pressing one. Once this
assumption is abandoned (as surely it must be) then the focus of epistemic
evaluation becomes more restricted: it is a feature of our cognitive economy
that particular propositions and arguments emerge out of the murk and call for
reflective assessment. My
suggestion has been that it is not yet evident that the questions that arise
in this way cannot be answered using normative standards whose soundness can
be assessed in an a posteriori manner.
The second moral I wish to draw from this discussion of BonJour�s
remark can be put in slightly different terms.
Contrast two pictures of epistemic rationality.
One, which is characteristic of much recent �epistemology� holds
that we carry out these evaluations using a general evaluative concept of justification.
Epistemology must tell us what it is for a belief to be justified;
unless each of our beliefs is justified our overall cognitive position
is flawed; and so responsible reflective inquiry requires us to be able to
tell, for each of our beliefs, whether it possesses this virtue of �justification�.
BonJour�s challenge seems to be a call for us to identify the kind of
�justification� that his conditional possess.
This view treats justification as a sort of �evaluative kind�.
The second picture is sceptical that we possess clear substantive
general epistemic virtues such as �justification�.
However in the course of carrying out inquiries and testing our
opinions, questions can arise about how we ought to go about answering
particular problems, how we ought to respond to a surprising experience,
whether we ought to trust our instincts in some particular case and so on.
The Quinean epistemologist that I am considering holds that these
specific issues can be addressed in a naturalistic manner.
Although we might say that a belief is justified when it has
been arrived at in a normatively adequate manner, we do not need to ground our
practice of epistemic rationality in any sort of substantive account of �justification�.
It is not implausible that if you have the former picture, naturalism
may turn out to be unattractive. The naturalistic picture that I am examining
resists this picture.
Conclusion: epistemic means and ends
We should conclude by raising an obvious difficulty.
Both Laudan and Quine suggest that methodological norms all concern
means to ends. But surely there
are normative questions about what our ends should be: can a naturalised
approach to epistemic rationality say anything sensible about these questions?
What should our cognitive ends be?
It is tempting to view this as a question about the form to be taken by
the hypothetical imperatives that express the epistemic norms: what are the
prescribed standards of belief and inference means to?
Is it truth, empirically adequate belief, or what?
Since both Quine and (especially) Laudan
insist that the goals motivating scientific activity can vary over
time, there would seem to be genuine questions about what these aims should
be. In that case, we need
normative guidance with the task of choosing them.
It is surprising that neither seriously addresses the issue.
In the case of Quine, this is especially surprising because he take the
presence of competing �ends� for morality to be a source of a major
disanalogy between science and ethics, one which makes ethical realism
impossible. We have seen that in
the scientific case, he believes that the variety of goals which can motivate
scientific activity have it in common that they can be pursued only by seeking
theories that pass the checkpoint of experience.
Hence norms that relate to that goal, together with ideals of
simplicity etc, will be common to all versions of the �scientific language
game.� Quine�s confidence that normative epistemology is wholly concerned
with means - ends matters appears to depend heavily on his controversial
claims that an activity is scientific only if its success depends upon our
finding beliefs and theories that pass the checkpoint of experience and that
issues of normative epistemology are wholly concerned with how this checkpoint
can be passed.
Does reflection upon our beliefs, deliberations and inquiries give rise
to any questions about the rationality of ends which cannot be transformed
into questions about means to ends? If so, does this raise a serious
difficulty for any naturalistic treatment of the matter?
I assume that no interesting questions arise from questions about which
language game to play - whether to be a scientist or a novelist.
I also assume that no particular problems arise about which particular
theoretical issues we should occupy ourselves with - whether to be
philosophers or psychologists, which problems to work on and so on. The
remaining question, to be pursued elsewhere, concerns whether the scientific
research requires us to take account of other explicit normative issues, ones
that cannot be tackled in this way.
L. (1994). Against Naturalised epistemology. Midwest Studies in Philosophy,
C. (1996). Considered Judgement. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
S. (1993). Evidence and Inquiry. Oxford: Blackwell.
L. (1987). Progress or Rationality: The Prospects for Normative Naturalism. American
Philosophical Quarterly, 24, 19-31.
Reprinted in: Papineau (ed) (1996) Philosophy of Science.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 194-214.
References to this reprint.
L. (1990). Normative Naturalism. Philosophy of Science, 57,
J. (1994). Mind and World. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
R. (1993). The Nature of Rationality. Princeton: Princeton University
W.v.O. (1969) Ontological
Relativity. New York: Columbia University Press
(1990). Pursuit of Truth, Cambridge MA: Harvard University
(1994a). From Stimulus to Science. Cambridge MA: Harvard
(1994b) Responses. Inquiry,
 There are many passages in which Quine allies himself with those who �repudiate the Cartesian dream of a foundation for scientific certainty firmer than the scientific method itself�. But, he announces, �I remain occupied � with what has been central to traditional epistemology, namely the relation of science to its sensory data. (Quine 1990, p. 19)
 The suggestion that means ends issues can be settled by using empirical information was made plausible by appeal to examples - science can tell us how reliable a thermometer is. Such examples do not suffice to establish that all issues about the relations of means and ends can be settled empirically. Normative naturalism in epistemology is committed to the claim that all the means ends issues that arise in epistemology can be settled empirically - even if there are apparent means issues arising elsewhere that do not have this property.
 I should note one further complication here. The suggested strategy meets the challenge of explaining how naturalism can handle normative issues in epistemology only if a naturalistic account can be provided of the rationality of means/ ends reasoning. It is not clear just how problematic means/ ends rationality is. We should take it that the view under discussion is that questions of epistemic normativity raise no additional problems once we understand the nature of instrumental norms.
 This possibility might be incorporated in the pluralistic outlook found in Davidson�s Anomolous Monism.
 No significance probably attaches to the fact that in his latest book, Quine he used the name �normative naturalism� for his own position. (Quine 1994a, pp. 49f)
 However he does seem to suggest that �thinking things up� may resist very precise or rigorous sets of heuristics. �Conservatism� and simplicity appear to have �no general calibration�, �much less any comparative scale of the one against the other�: �For this reason alone - and it is not alone -there is no hope of a mechanical procedure for optimum hypothesising, Creating good hypotheses is an imaginative art, not a science. It is the art of science�. (Quine, 1994a, p. 49)
 That such revision should occur has been proposed by Paul Churchland, whose work is cited by Quine with admiration.
 Susan Haack makes this observation in Evidence and Inquiry (Haack, 1993) and urges that the attempt to cast epistemology in scientific terms is an error.
 In saying that an investigation within cognitive science can answer theoretical questions in these areas, I am not committed to the claim that such investigations can answer all relevant theoretical issues about how we carryout inquiries or make evaluations. This seems extremely unlikely.
 This may be relevant to Quine�s new found anomolous monism: do our ordinary idioms of intentional description and explanation (described in (Quine, 1960) as a �dramatic idiom�) form part of a different �game� subject to different standards of success?
 Elsewhere, Quine makes similar remarks about induction and natural selection. He addresses the question �Why should our innate subjective spacing of qualities have a special purchase on nature and a lien on the future� and after pointing out (memorably) that �Creatures inveterately bad in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind� he concludes that �These thoughts are not meant to justify induction. ..What natural selection contributes ... is a reason why induction works, granted that it does. (Quine, 1969, p. 126f)
 The view that �principles of rationality� should all be defended in means-ends terms is also defended in Robert Nozick�s The Nature of Rationality (Nozick, 1993, chapter 1). It is part of his view that we justify adopting something as a principle by showing that doing so can strengthen our motivation for doing what it requires. It accords with the picture being discussed here that principles are adopted because of the practical benefits of doing so; they are not adopted because they are somehow implicit in the foundations of the systems of evaluation that we are concerned with.
A major concern of his papers is to show that we can gain
methodological insights from (say) Newton�s achievements in spite of he
fact that one of his aims was �show the hand of the Creator in the details
of his creation� and to �discourse of [God] from the appearances of
things�. His conception of
the aim of science was strikingly different from ours.