PHIL 450A:  Discussion Questions on

the Metaphysics and Epistemology of Epistemology


1.  What does Quine mean when he says:  "[E]pistemology still goes on, though in a new setting and a clarified status.  Epistemology or something like it, simply alls into place as a chapter of psychology and hence of natural science."(292)  How does this give rise to the Normativity Problem for Quine's naturalized epistemology?  (Make sure you explain what the Normativity Problem is.) 


2.  What does Quine mean by "the old threat of circularity"(293)?  Why does he think it is not a problem?


3.  Quine thinks that evolution can help to clarify induction (295).  How could it do so? 


4.  What do Quine and Kornblith mean when they reject the conception of epistemology as "first philosophy"? 


5.  What is the normative element in Kornblith's naturalistic account?


6. What does Kornblith mean when he says that the reliability of our principles of reasoning is "deeply contingent"?  In your answer, explain why he believes that it is.  


7.  What is BonJour 's argument, quoted by Kornblith, that naturalism is self-referentially inconsistent (or self-refuting)?  Explain why BonJour's claim is a version of the Intellectual Suicide Thesis.  What is Kornblith's reply?


8.  What does Nozick mean by the a priori view of reasons?  What does he mean by the factual view of reasons?  How does he propose to combine the two?  How does his proposal explain why Kant thought Euclidean geometry was synthetic a priori?


9.  What is Kant's "Copernican Revolution" in epistemology?  How does Nozick propose to reverse it?


10.  Street presents an evolutionary argument against the existence of normative truths in epistemology.  Summarize her argument.


11.  Street’s own argument seems to depend on an appeal to normative truths.  What does Street mean by “taking a dual standpoint on normative judgments”?  Explain with an example.


12.  What does Street mean by the tracking account?  What does she mean by the adaptive link account?  Why does she think that the adaptive link account beats the tracking account hands down?  What epistemic norms are assumed by her argument?  Does the adaptive link account explain why those norms would be good ones for drawing conclusions in evolutionary biology?


12.  Explain why Street’s argument that our epistemic norms were selected to promote survival and fitness does not explain why they would lead to true beliefs in evolutionary biology.


13.  For each of the philosophers listed below, consider how they would answer the following questions: 

(a) The metaphysic of epistemology:  What is the metaphysical status of truths in epistemology.  Consider, for example, principles of good reasoning.  Are they necessarily true?  Are they empirical propositions about human reasoners?

(b) The epistemology of epistemology:  How do we acquire epistemically justified beliefs in epistemology—for example, beliefs about principles of good reasoning?  Do we directly apprehend them with a priori insight?  Do we reason bottom-up from actual and hypothetical examples of what we take to be good reasoning?  Do we look for principles or processes that are reliable in the kinds of circumstances in which we typically find ourselves?

(c) When we do epistemology, we engage in reasoning about the principles of good reasoning.  What kind of reasoning is it that we engage in when we do epistemology?

(i) BonJour

(ii) Quine


(iv) the later Nozick (of The Nature of Rationality)

(v) Street