Reading Natural Philosophy: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science and Mathematics

By David B. Malament | Go to book overview

11
Some Intellectual Obligations of
Epistemological Naturalism

ABNER SHIMONY


1. Introduction

The central thesis of epistemological naturalism, as I understand it, is the following:

Whatever knowledge human beings have, about anything in the universe, can
be understood in terms of the natural faculties of human beings and the inter-
action of these faculties with the objects of knowledge.

The natural faculties are characteristics of human beings as entities subject to natural laws, interacting with other natural entities, and participating in the evolutionary processes of the biosphere. The epistemologically relevant faculties are those for gathering and processing sensory stimuli, selecting and remembering empirical data, introspecting and imagining, formulating concepts and hypotheses and applying these to empirical data, and making inferences. According to epistemological naturalism all of these are conceived to be as natural as human anatomical and physiological features.

There is nothing surprising in epistemological naturalism as just stated, in view of the great prestige of the natural sciences in the general contemporary culture and the great influence in the philosophical profession of Quine's “epistemology naturalized” (see Quine 1960). Nevertheless, we have neither a fully satisfactory formulation of the assertions of epistemological naturalism (which need not accede to Quine's proposal to reconstruct epistemology, or something like it, as a chapter of psychology) nor a fully satisfactory set of answers to a number of serious questions about these assertions. The purpose of this paper is to state what I consider to be the main intellectual obligations of research on epistemological naturalism, if a satisfactory theory is to be achieved. A secondary purpose is to assess

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