Descartes Lecture

Descartes Lecture - Theory of Knowledge Modern Rationalism...

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Theory of Knowledge Modern Rationalism: Descartes I. The Problem of the Criterion In Roderick Chisholm’s “The Problem of the Criterion”, the philosophical question is asked “what is the proper method for deciding which are the good beliefs and which are the bad ones—which beliefs are genuine cases of knowledge and which beliefs are not?” ( Reason and Responsibility , p. 141) This problem is generated from the human need to be able to discern good beliefs from bad. Thus, we need a method, a criterion of knowledge. (Recall that for Plato, this method is described in the Meno as tethering down the thing to be known by giving a logos for it, in this case a satisfactory account of the essential characteristics of the form lest it should run away like the statues of Daedalus. So, for Plato what makes knowledge knowledge as opposed to opinion is grasping the form and this means being able to give a “dia ti”, a reason why. Chisholm’s problem of the criterion is perhaps the essential problem of all epistemology, that is, the ‘theory of knowledge’.) Chisholm stresses a further question: who we know that our methodology is working? This generates a skeptical rejoinder: “You said you wanted to sort out the good beliefs from the bad ones. Then to do this, you apply the canons of science, common sense, and reason. And now, in answer to the question “How do you know that that’s the right way to do it?” you say “ Why I can see that the ones it picks out are the good ones and the ones it leaves behind are the bad ones.” But if you can see which ones are the good ones and which ones are the bad ones, why do you think you need a general method for sorting them out?” (ibid, p. 141) So, there are a few skeptical questions to be distinguished: 1. skepticism about the basic beliefs themselves. (denying that any knowledge is possible) 2. skepticism about the need for a methodology. (denying that our cognitive faculties stand in need of a criterion) 3. skepticism about the ability to corroborate a methodology. (vicious circle) Chisholm is concerned with 3 principally. This maps on nicely to Chisholm’s states of the philosophical issues to be resolved by a Criterion. “A. What do we know? What is the extent of our knowledge? B. How are we to decide whether we know? What are the criteria of knowledge?” (RR, p. 141) 1
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The skeptics rejoinder : “you cannot answer question A until you have answered question B. And you cannot answer question B until you have answered question A.” A solution is presented by two theoretical positions, which Chisholm calls “Methodists and Particularists” The Methodist says that we first need an answer to B before we can answer A. The Particularist says we need to answer A before we can answer B.
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