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Minding the Gap: Epistemology and Philosophy…

Minding the Gap: Epistemology and Philosophy of Science in the Two…

by Christopher Norris

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My main purpose in writing this book has been to provide a critical-comparative review of recent developments in epistemology and philosophy of science. It is unusual in devoting equal attention to work on both sides of the notional rift between 'continental' (i.e., post-Kantian mainland-European) movements of thought and 'analytic' approaches in the line of descent from Frege and Russell. I challenge this conventional view by remarking the numerous points of convergence—as well as the salient differences of emphasis—which have often been ignored by more partisan commentators. Thus the two central projects of Husserlian phenomenology and Fregean philosophy of logic and language can be seen as jointly addressing a range of issues about truth, knowledge, and representation that cut accross the standard disciplinary divide. (See especially my introduction and chapters 1 and 3.) Their different approaches are deeply bound up with the distinctive self-image of each tradition yet offer the prospect of a critical dialogue that would serve to extend and to deepen their powers of self-reflective conceptual grasp. [from the Preface]
In philosophy of science, as in other fields, it would be wrong to exaggerate the depth or extent of the rift that is very often assumed to exist between work in the Anglo-American ('analytic') tradition and work carried on by thinkers in the broadly 'continental' line of descent. In this book I shall stress the various points of contact while also seeking to explain just why that perception has arisen. After all, it is a strangely foreshortened perspective that ignores their common origin in the various issues—of truth, logic, knowledge, representation, causality, laws of nature, and the status of explanatory theories—which preoccupied philosophers (rationalists and empiricists) on both siders of that notional rift and which received their most elaborate treatment in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. [from "Introduction: Epistemology and Philosophy of Science in the Two Traditions"]
Anglo-American philosophy of science has tended to define itself squarely against the kinds of (so-called) metaphysical approach that have characterised (so-called) continental philosophy in the line of descent from Husserl. Indeed, Husserl's project of phenomenological enquiry was the target of criticism by Frege—and later by Gilbert Ryle—which pretty much set the agenda for subsequent debate. That project seemed to them just a form of ill-disguised 'psychologism', one that purported to address issues of truth, validity, rational warrant, and so forth, but which fell far short of the logical rigour attained by thinkers in the other (analytic) tradition. Thus Husserl might claim—like Descartes and Kant before him—to be raising questions about the a priori forms of human knowledge and experience, forms that were given (necessarily presupposed) in every possible act of cognition. Moreover, he might claim to have advanced beyond Kant in distinguishing more clearly between formal and transcendental logic, or judgements whose necessity followed from the ground rules of this or that logically binding system of thought, and judgements that resulted froma rigorous reflection on the genesis and struture of human understanding in general. However, these claims counted for little with Husserl's critics in the other (i.e., post-Fregean) 'analytical' camp. What they chiefly objected to in Husserl's project was the approach via thoughts and ideas 'in the mind' of some perceiving or reasoning subject, even though Husserl was very often at pains to reject any merely empirical (or psychologistic) construal of his claims. To their way of thinking, all this talk about 'transcendental' truth- and validity-conditions was just another variant of the bad old Cartesian-Kantian retreat to consciousness as the last court of appeal in epistemological matters. Only by rejecting that entire line of thought—that is to say, by adopting a strictly analytical or logico-semantic approach—could philosophy at last break free of its attachment to naive, subject-centred, or 'metaphysical' notions of meaning and truth.
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