Descartes’s Schism, Locke’s Reunion: Completing the Pragmatic Turn in Epistemology

American Philosophical Quarterly 54 (1):25-46 (2017)
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Abstract
Centuries ago, Descartes and Locke initiated a foundational debate in epistemology over the relationship between knowledge, on the one hand, and practical factors, on the other. Descartes claimed that knowledge and practice are fundamentally separate. Locke claimed that knowledge and practice are fundamentally united. After a period of dormancy, their disagreement has reignited on the contemporary scene. Latter-day Lockeans claim that knowledge itself is essentially connected to, and perhaps even constituted by, practical factors such as how much is at stake, how important the situation is, or how one should act. Latter-day Cartesians claim, by contrast, that knowledge is entirely constituted by truth-related factors such as truth, belief, and evidence. Each side has supported its case with claims about patterns in ordinary behavior and knowledge judgments. Lockeans argue that these patterns are best explained by positing a fundamental and direct link between knowledge and practical factors. Cartesians argue that the patterns can be equally well explained by positing an indirect link, entirely mediated by the traditional factors of truth, belief, and evidence, thereby rendering the Lockean hypothesis unnecessary. We argue that Cartesians are right about some practical factors, in particular stakes and how important a situation is, which have, at best, a modest indirect relationship to knowledge. However, Lockeans are right about actionability: whether a person should pursue a course of action is unquestionably very powerfully and directly connected to knowledge.
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