The Picture of Epistemology

Leithart | 7/10/2018 | Staff
lhumara (Posted by) Level 3
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Modern epistemology operates, Charles Taylor argues (A Secular Age); he covers some of the same ground in Retrieving Realism), within a “closed world system” (CWS). CWS describes the various “ways of restricting our grasp of things which are not recognized as such” (551).

When one operates within a CWS, his “thinking is clouded or cramped by a powerful picture which prevents one seeing important aspects of reality.” For those within the system, the perspective seems natural and obvious. But that sense of obviousness is itself a sign that the system is closed to other data (551). Reality is always richer and more complex than our systems.

Part - System - Intimations - Transcendence - Anything

The “closed” part means that the system is closed off to intimations of transcendence, closed off to anything that might exceed the system.

What are the features of the framework of modern epistemology? In some cases “this structure operates with a picture of knowing agents as individuals who build up their understanding through combining and relating, in more and more comprehensive theories, the information which they take in, and which is couched in inner representations, be these conceived as mental pictures (in earlier variants), or as something like sentences held true in the more contemporary versions” (557-8).

Epistemology - Set - Priority - Knowledge - Self

Epistemology assumes a set of “priority relations.” Knowledge of the self is prior to knowledge of the external world and of others. Knowing of neutral facts comes before the attribution of values. And knowledge of “this world” precedes any inference about realities that transcend this world (558).

These priorities aren’t just about logical or temporal precedence. The picture operates as a CWS, and the priority relations govern what inferences might be made from my knowledge. If I know myself before the world, and facts before meanings and values, then it’s “obvious that the inference to the transcendent is at the extreme and...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Leithart
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