Experience, Knowledge and Space of Reasons

Journal of Foundational Research 28:421-450 (2020)
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Philosophers throughout the ages have struggled to explain the way or ways by which we can acquire knowledge about the external world. With an aim to meet the skeptical challenges regarding the possibility of knowledge, various accounts of knowledge have been developed across philosophical traditions. The worry to meet skeptical challenges is implicitly or explicitly present in almost every philosophical account of knowledge. Many philosophers, while explaining about the nature and the possibility of knowledge, have talked about placing it in the space of reasons or space of justifications. So, I think one of the ways in which we can respond to skeptical challenges is by developing a proper understanding of the space of reasons and justifications where we place our knowledge. When we talk about the space of reasons, it is also important to highlight, in this context, its relationship with the natural world. I would like to emphasize in this regard that there has been a normative turn specifically in the works of John McDowell and Robert Brandom after the naturalistic turn in epistemology. But one can ask- why is there a need of a normative turn after a seemingly successful naturalistic turn in epistemology? I call them normative epistemologists those who have argued that knowledge should be understood by placing it properly in the space of reasons which is necessarily a normative space. I think John McDowell, Robert Brandom and their philosophical heroes Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel fall into this category of epistemologists. Normative epistemologists have always argued that a philosophical account of knowledge in order to meet the skeptical challenges has to place our knowledge satisfactorily in the space of reasons and various ways of placing knowledge in the space of reasons have been developed in this regard. The significant questions that have been asked in this context are- what could be the best plausible way to place knowledge in the space of reasons? Is placing knowledge in the space of reasons enough to avoid the skeptical challenges regarding the possibility of knowledge? According to some philosophers, the skeptical problems arise because of a certain misunderstanding of space of reasons i.e. the interiorization of the space of reasons. On the interiorized conception of the space of reasons, there is need of extra elements beyond the space of reasons which are required for our knowledge but are not part of the logical space. In this paper, my aim, following Kant and McDowell, is to propose a critique of interiorized conception of space of reasons and show how this conception leads to various problems regarding the possibility of knowledge. In this context, I will specifically discuss argument from illusion as a skeptical challenge for the possibility of knowledge and McDowell’s response to it. In the second part of my paper, my aim is to discuss the debate between McDowell and Brandom on the nature and extent of the space of reasons.

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Manoj Panda
Presidency University


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