The Pathologies of Standard Analytic Epistemology

Noûs 39 (4):696-714 (2005)
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Standard Analytic Epistemology (SAE) names a contingently clustered class of methods and theses that have dominated English-speaking epistemology for about the past half-century. The major contemporary theories of SAE include versions of foundationalism, coherentism, reliabilism, and contextualism. While proponents of SAE don’t agree about how to define naturalized epistemology, most agree that a thoroughgoing naturalism in epistemology can’t work. For the purposes of this paper, we will suppose that a naturalistic theory of epistemology takes as its core, as its starting-point, an empirical theory. The standard argument against naturalistic approaches to epistemology is that empirical theories are essentially descriptive, while epistemology is essentially prescriptive, and a descriptive theory cannot yield normative, evaluative prescriptions. In short, naturalistic theories cannot overcome the is-ought divide. Our main goal in this paper is to show that the standard argument against naturalized epistemology has it almost exactly backwards.

Author Profiles

Michael Bishop
Florida State University
J. D. Trout
Loyola University, Chicago


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