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Epistemological Critique


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"Charles Taylor in his “Philosophical Arguments,” Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 12: 

“This shows the whole epistemological construal of knowledge to be mistaken.  It doesn’t just consist of inner pictures of outer reality, but grounds in something quite other.  And in this ‘foundation,’ the crucial move of the epistemological construal–distinguishing states of the subject (our ‘ideas’) from features of the external world–can’t be effected.  We can draw a neat line between my picture of an object and that object, but not between my dealing with the object and that object.  It may make sense to ask us to focus on what we believe about something, say a football, even in the absence of that thing; but when it comes to playing football, the corresponding suggestion would be absurd.  The actions involved in the game can’t be done without the object; they include the object.  Take it away and we have something quite different–people miming a game on the stage, perhaps.”


"When we turn to the famous, now classic critiques of epistemology, we find that they have, in fact, mostly been attuned to this interpenetration of the scientific and the moral. Hegel, in his celebrated attack on this tradition in the introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit, speaks of a 'fear of error' that 'reveals itself rather as fear of the truth,' and he goes on to show how this stance is bound up with a certain aspiration to individuality and separateness, refusing what he sees as the 'truth' of subject-object identity. Heidegger notoriously treats the rise of the modern epistemological standpoint as a stage in the development of a stance of domination to the world, which culminates in contemporary technological society. Merleau-Ponty draws more explicitly political connections and clarifies the alternative notion of freedom that arises from the critique of empiricism and intellectualism. The moral consequences of the devastating critique of epistemology in the later Wittgenstein are, naturally, less evident. Wittgenstein was strongly averse to making this kind of thing explicit. But those who have followed him have shown a certain affinity for the critique of disengagement, instrumental reason, and atomism.

"It is safe to say that all these critics were largely motivated by a dislike of the moral and spiritual consequences of epistemology and by a strong affinity for some alternative." "Overcoming Epistemology," Charles Taylor, in After Philosophy: End or Transformation?, K. Baynes, J. Bohman, & T. McCarthy, MIT Press, 1987, pp. 472-3.


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Page updated 8/5/01