Academic journal article Reader

Filling in Gaps "Foundherently": An Epistemologa for Reading as a Form of Inquiry

Academic journal article Reader

Filling in Gaps "Foundherently": An Epistemologa for Reading as a Form of Inquiry

Article excerpt

It may seem odd to begin a discussion of reading pedagogy with a discussion of epistemological theory, but I hope to show how acts of reading are intricately linked to acts of belief justification. The neologism in the title, foundherently, comes from foundherentism, the epistemological theory developed by Susan Haack in Evidence and Inquiry as an alternative to foundationalism and coherentism, which are the two most discussed epistemologies of the last thirty years. In English studies, however, we have mostly endorsed a generic anti-foundationalism. In other words, we have been against the notion of absolute truth or even lasting theoretical foundations for knowledge. With the onset of cultural studies, we have more often than not come to believe that if there are theoretical guides to practice, then they are historically and culturally contingent rather than lasting. We read, interpret, and teach the way we do - so the explanation goes - because what we can practice is largely determined by our current historical moment, our particular interpretive communities, and the dominant ideology. And we have been largely satisfied with or at least accepting of this set of beliefs.

The problem comes for us when some ornery epistemologist asks, "How do you know this?" At which point, we are forced to explain, based on various kinds of evidence and logical argument, why it is we believe the cultural studies insight is correct. But once we give this explanation, the epistemologist will point out that we are making truth-claims or claims to know and that we are doing so in ways more in keeping with foundationalism than we might wish. A logical argument is a logical argument regardless of whose ideology dominates, she might say. Though we may find the epistemologist annoying, her questions cannot be ignored because they interrogate our understanding of how English Studies conducts and teaches inquiry, which always begins with reading. The questions are not purely theoretical, then. They drive at the core of what we do in the classroom when we teach students to develop nuanced, intriguing, and hopefully, justified interpretations of texts. The epistemological questions of "How do you know that?" or "Where did you get that?" surface again and again in discussions of readings. The ways that students answer these questions reveal how they deal with moments of indeterminacy in texts, which Wolfgang Iser describes as gaps. Gaps in a text, once recognized as such, are also moments of interpretive possibility and call for inquiry. To fill in the gap is the project of such inquiry. If teachers of reading believe there are more and less justified ways of filling in these gaps, and also believe that we can teach students how to fill these gaps in justified ways, then they must also believe that issues of justification are inextricably linked to issues of interpretation. Furthermore, if the above holds true, one cannot describe the epistemology of reading as anti-foundationalist. Rather, it looks much more foundherentist.

Haack's Foundherentism in Brief

Foundherentism is primarily a theory of inquiry rather than a theory of what knowledge is, and thus deals with what counts as evidence for belief and how justified one is in believing this or that. The moment of belief, of course, is not an uncomplicated one. As Haack points out, "it is necessary to recognize that what causes someone to believe something, at a time, is often a matter of a balance of forces: some factors, that is, incline him towards believing that p, others incline him against it, with the former outweighing the latter" (Evidence and Inquiry 75). She calls this moment of competing forces the "causal nexus." The causal nexus includes all those perceptual states that happen at the time that someone has the belief "that p," where "p" stands for any given proposition or claim. Some of these perceptual states will confirm that p, some will inhibit that p. But all are relevant in the sense that they must be evaluated by an inquirer in order to determine whether he or she is justified in believing that p. …

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