Problems of Epistemology

Topics: Epistemology, Theory of justification, Foundationalism Pages: 3 (1319 words) Published: June 2, 2008
Epistemology is the study of our right to the beliefs we have. More generally, we start from what we might call our cognitive stances, and ask whether we do well to have those stances. Cognitive stances include both our beliefs and (what we take to be) our knowings; and in another dimension they include our attitudes towards the various strategies and methods we use to get new beliefs and filter out old ones, as well as the products of those strategies and methods. Epistemology, on this showing, is explicitly normative; it is concerned with whether we have acted well or badly (responsibly or irresponsibly) in forming the beliefs we have.

In pursuing this inquiry, we do not, of course, ask only about the beliefs and strategies we find ourselves with at the beginning. We also ask whether there are not others which we would do better to have, and whether there are not others which we should have if we have these ones to start off with. The hope is to end up with a full account of how a responsible cognitive agent should behave, with some assurance that we do not fall too far short of that ideal. 1. Justification. We can distinguish between two sorts of belief: the mediated and the unmediated. Mediated beliefs are those which we reach by some strategy which starts from other beliefs we have. Inference is such a strategy (but not the only one); we infer that will rain soon from our separate beliefs that it is mid-morning and that it is growing very dark outside. Mediated beliefs raise the question of whether the strategy we adopt is one to which we have a right—one we do well to use. Unmediated beliefs are those which we adopt without moving to them from other beliefs we already have. These raise different problems, which concern the source of our right to believe. I open my eyes and, because of what I see, immediately believe that there is a book in front of me. If I do well in adopting that belief, it is justified (or I am justified in adopting it). This focus on...
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