Teleologies and the Methodology of Epistemology

In David Henderson & John Greco (eds.), Epistemic Evaluation: Purposeful Epistemology. Oxford University Press. pp. 31-45 (2015)
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Abstract
The teleological approach to an epistemic concept investigates it by asking questions such as ‘what is the purpose of the concept?’, ‘What role has it played in the past?’, or ‘If we imagine a society without the concept, why would they feel the need to invent it?’ The idea behind the teleological approach is that examining the function of the concept illuminates the contours of the concept itself. This approach is a relatively new development in epistemology, and as yet there are few works examining it. This paper aims to fill this gap and engender further understanding of the teleological method. I first contrast the teleological method with more orthodox approaches in epistemology. I then draw a three-way taxonomy of different kinds of teleological approach and provide an example of each kind. The teleological approach is often presented as antithetical to the more orthodox approaches in epistemology, and so in competition with them. I demur. I argue that the methods can be fruitfully combined in epistemological theorising; in the final section I suggest specific ways the teleological approach can be incorporated alongside more orthodox methods in a general methodological reflective equilibrium.
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