“Descartes’s General Epistemology: A Contemporary Assesment”, Philosophy Study, Vol. 10, #7, July 2020: 414-23. (doi: 10.17265/2159-5313/2020.07.002) [Book Review]

Philosophy Study:414-23 (2020)
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Abstract

There is a broad distinction in Descartes’s writings between doctrine and method. The staying power of these two elements has been unequal. Descartes’s doctrinal influence on contemporary epistemology has been largely as a foil against which some of its major currents have been developed. Few contemporary philosophers have adopted his positive doctrines. The situation is brighter on the methodological side. Here, Descartes’s practice of beginning with common sense and moving, step by step, to philosophical conclusions is a model much admired by contemporary philosophers. Still, the negative verdict on doctrine stands as the main verdict. I maintain that this verdict is undeserved I first distinguish between Descartes’s general epistemology and the purpose to which he puts it – the quest for certainty. I then argue for a positive verdict for his general epistemology. I do so by showing that Descartes has a non-normative account of knowledge but an “ethics of responsible belief ” account of epistemic normativity. Unlike some contemporary accounts of epistemic responsibilism, e.g. Bonjour, in which epistemic responsibility is a condition for knowledge, on Descartes’s account, knowledge is a condition for epistemic responsibility. Descartes thus anticipates what Sylvan calls the “knowledge-first” approach in contemporary epistemology, which I defend in the paper. Relying on Audi’s distinction between “sources” and “reasons,” I show that Descartes’ analysis of knowledge proper, which I also defend in the paper, anticipates and improves on the “factive access” analysis of knowledge due to McDowell.

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