Monday, October 03, 2011

Quote of the Day

So one reason we should take the project of defending our epistemic principles seriously is that the ideal of civility demands it. But there is also another, even deeper, reason. We need to justify our epistemic principles from a common point of view because we need shared epistemic principles in order to even have a common point of view. Without a common background of standards against which we measure what counts as a reliable source of information, or a reliable method of inquiry, and what doesn’t, we won’t be able to agree on the facts, let alone values. Indeed, this is precisely the situation we seem to be headed towards in the United States. We live isolated in our separate bubbles of information culled from sources that only reinforce our prejudices and never challenge our basic assumptions. No wonder that — as in the debates over evolution, or what to include in textbooks illustrate — we so often fail to reach agreement over the history and physical structure of the world itself. No wonder joint action grinds to a halt. When you can’t agree on your principles of evidence and rationality, you can’t agree on the facts. And if you can’t agree on the facts, you can hardly agree on what to do in the face of the facts.
Put simply, we need an epistemic common currency because we often have to decide, jointly, what to do in the face of disagreement. Sometimes we can accomplish this, in a democratic society, by voting. But we can’t decide every issue that way, and we certainly can’t decide on our epistemic principles — which methods and sources are actually rationally worthy of trust — by voting. We need some forms of common currency before we get to the voting booth. And that is one reason we need to resist skepticism about reason: we need to be able to give reasons for why some standards of reasons — some epistemic principles — should be part of that currency and some not.
Yet this very fact — the fact that a civil democratic society requires a common currency of shared epistemic principles — should give us hope that we can answer the skeptical challenge. Even if, as the skeptic says, we can’t defend the truth of our principles without circularity, we might still be able to show that some are better than others. Observation and experiment, for example, aren’t just good because they are reliable means to the truth. They are valuable because almost everyone can appeal to them. They have roots in our natural instincts, as Hume might have said. If so, then perhaps we can hope to give reasons for our epistemic principles. Such reasons will be “merely” practical, but reasons — reasons for reason, as it were — all the same.
-- Michael P. Lynch from the piece Reasons for Reason

This entire piece is fascinating.  Some of it--okay maybe a lot of it--is over my head but it is fascinating nonetheless.  I highly suggest reading the entire thing.

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