Thursday, November 09, 2006

Haslanger on Knowledge

I should have blogged about this a few weeks ago. One of the papers I assigned was Sally Haslanger's "What Knowledge Is and What It Ought to Be." The .pdf is here.

Haslanger's approach is pragmatic: she defends an epistemological approach that starts with the question "what use is knowledge?" She calls this the "analytic" approach (a clever bit of rhetoric).

One of the advantages of this starting point is that it bypasses a bunch of standard epistemological problems: the proper analysis of "knowledge", the problem of skepticism, etc.

Haslanger's answer is that knowledge is a precondition for moral agency, and moral agency is intrinsically important for creatures like us. I like this approach (and not just because it bypasses skepticism) because it emphasizes the connection between the concept of knowledge and actual practice. Again, this is a pragmatic point: as Peirce and Dewey would have asked, "why do we have this concept at all? what difference does it make?"

These questions are all too often shunted aside, but they are desperately important.

My point in talking about Haslanger is that her argument fits in nicely with the conclusion of Bishop and Trout's Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. Like Haslanger, Bishop and Trout emphasize the practical importance of epistemology and the concept of knowledge. Moreover, the point of theorizing about knowledge isn't to arrive at a Gettier-proof definition, but rather to recognize both the practical importance this concept has and the importance of improving our ability to pursue, recognize, and defend the truth.

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