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Alvin I. Goldman - The Relation Between Epistemology and Psychology 1985

Alvin I. Goldman - The Relation Between Epistemology and Psychology 1985

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Published by: Frank Franco on Apr 01, 2012
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ALVIN I. GOLDMANTHE RELATION BETWEEN EPISTEMOLOGYAND PSYCHOLOGYIn the wake of Frege's attack on psychologism and the subsequentinfluence of Logical Positivism, psychological considerations inphilosophy came to be viewed with suspicion. Philosophical questions,especially epistemological ones, were viewed as 'logical' questions~, andlogic was sharply separated from psychology. Various efforts have beenmade of late to reconnect epistemology with psychology. But there islittle agreement about how such connections should be made, anddoubts about the place of psychology within epistemology are still muchin evidence. It therefore remains to be clarified just how such linksshould be established, and what impact they would have on thedirection of epistemology.One reason people say very different things about the bearing ofpsychology on epistemology is their different conceptions of the aims ofepistemology. Let us begin with a brief delineation of three suchconceptions (neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive): (A)
descriptiveepistemology,
(B)
analytical epistemology,
and (C)
normative epis-temology.
If the first of these conceptions is adopted, it should not becontroversial that psychology has a vital role to play. By contrast, if thethird conception is adopted, it may seem highly doubtful that psy-chology is relevant at all. I shall briefly survey the role that psychologymight have in descriptive and analytical epistemology, and then focusmore detailed attention on normative epistemology. I shall argue thatpsychology has an important contribution to make
even
to normativeepistemology.1. DESCRIPTIVE EPISTEMOLOGYTextbook definitions frequently include among the tasks of epis-temology the identification of
"sources"
of knowledge, that is, ways inwhich knowledge can be acquired. This strongly suggests that epis-temology is concerned with the psychological processes of knowledge-acquisition, or more generally with belief acquisition. Such an inter-pretation is confirmed by the historical literature, which is replete with
Synthese
64 (1985) 29-68. 0039-7857/85.10© 1985
by D. Reidel Publishing Company
 
30
ALVIN I. GOLDMAN
descriptions and classifications of mental faculties and endowments,processes and contents, acts and operations. A sampling of thisliterature would reveal the following examples of mental or cognitiveclassification, all relevant to knowledge-acquisition.
Cognitive faculties:
The Senses, reason, memory, intuition,the active and the passive intellect, the understanding, theimagination, and the will.
Cognitive acts or processes:
Sensing, judging, doubting,imagining, conceiving, intuiting, recollecting, introspecting,comparing, compounding, distinguishing, abstracting,associating, synthesizing, schematizing, and generalizing.
Cognitive contents:
Ideas, impressions, concepts, and cate-gories.
Classifications of contents, e.g., ideas, either in terms of theirintrinsic character or their origin:
Simple, complex, clear,confused, innate, acquired, forceful, lively, vivacious.Analytic philosophers have tended to criticize or miminize the im-portance of philosophical description in the historical writings. It iscommon, for example, to regard the mentalistic dissections of theBritish Empiricists as symptomatic of a confusion, a failure to draw aproper distinction between psychological questions and epistemologicalquestions. D. W. Hamlyn (1967, p. 9): "Epistemology differs frompsychology in that it is not concerned with why men hold the beliefsthey do or with the ways in which they come to hold them." This remark,though characteristic of the analytic approach, is anomalous in itscontext. It occurs in an introductory section of Hamlyn's encyclopediaarticle on the history of epistemology, and the ensuing bulk of the articlemakes it perfectly plain that, historically speaking, epistemologists mostcertainly
were
interested in "why men hold the beliefs that they do", or"the ways in which they come to hold them". The legacy of LogicalPositivism and the Ordinary Language movement was a bifurcation ofepistemology and psychology. The latter may be concerned with theorigin of ideas; the former should be concerned with their validity,justification, or logical cogency. But even if one accepts this proposeddistinction, it cannot be denied that the
historical
philosophers had athoroughgoing interest in mental or cognitive processes.
Their
concep-tion of epistemology was at least
partly
descriptive, and this descriptivecomponent consisted primarily of the description of mental acts andoperations.
 
RELATION BETWEEN EPISTEMOLOGY AND PSYCHOLOGY
31Moreover, this descriptive approach to the epistemology is notconfined to pre-20th-century writers. In the late 1960's, W. V. Quine(1969 and 1975) began advocating an enterprise called "naturalisticepistemology", the project of describing and explaining how humanbeings come to hold their theory of the world, and how it happens thatthis theory is so successful. Naturalistic epistemology is expresslyclassified as a branch of empirical psychology, and Quine's learningtheoretic approach, as presented, for example, in
The Roots ofReference
(1974), is some form of behavioristic psychology.Jean Piaget is another influential recent writer for whom epis-temology is an empirical, descriptive subject, partly psychological innature. Piaget describes his brand of epistemology - "genetic epis-temology" - as "the theory of scientific knowledge founded on thedevelopment of this knowledge." "... genetic epistemology is the studyof successive states of a science as a function of its development". It is"the study of the mechanisms of the growth of knowledge", including,as a proper part, the growth of psychological or cognitive mechanismsin the individual. 1A third recent proponent of epistemology as an empirical, descriptivediscipline is the psychologist Donald Campbell. In his earlier workCampbell advocated an evolutionary epistemology, and his recentWilliam James Lectures characterize his conception as "DescriptiveEpistemology: Psychological, Sociological, and Evolutionary. ''2Indeed, certain components of the heritage of historical epistemologyhave been taken over by psychology and Artificial Intelligence. Manyconcerns of the classical philosophers about mental processes areexplored by cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, socialpsychology, psycholinguistics, and AI. While these investigators do notstandardly apply the label 'epistemology' to their enterprises, somemembers of the AI community have even appropriated this term, andpsychologists are increasingly aware of the close ties between theirinvestigations and epistemology (Goldstein and Papert, 1977; Nisbettand Ross, 1980).It should not be denied, then, that descriptive epistemology is oneconception of the subject, and psychology is an essential element in thisconception. (Psychology would not exhaust descriptive epistemology,since epistemology has important
social
as well as
individual
dimen-sions. Descriptive social epistemology would include such disciplines asthe sociology of science and knowledge, the history of science, andcultural anthropology. But our focus here is on
individual
epis-

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