Philosophy long sought to set knowledge on a firm foundation, through derivation of indubitable truths by infallible rules. For want of such truths and rules, the enterprise foundered. Nevertheless, foundationalism's heirs continue their forbears' quest, seeking security against epistemic misfortune, while their detractors typically espouse unbridled coherentism or facile relativism. Maintaining that neither stance is tenable, Catherine Elgin devises a via media between the absolute and the arbitrary, reconceiving the nature, goals, and methods of epistemology. In Considered Judgment, she argues for a reconception that takes reflective equilibrium as the standard of rational acceptability. A system of thought is in reflective equilibrium when its components are reasonable in light of one another, and the account they comprise is reasonable in light of our antecedent convictions about the subject it concerns. Many epistemologists now concede that certainty is a chimerical goal. But they continue to accept the traditional conception of epistemology's problematic.
Elgin suggests that in abandoning the quest for certainty we gain opportunities for a broader epistemological purview--one that comprehends the arts and does justice to the sciences. She contends that metaphor, fiction, emotion, and exemplification often advance understanding in science as well as in art. The range of epistemology is broader and more variegated than is usually recognized. Tenable systems of thought are neither absolute nor arbitrary. Although they afford no guarantees, they are good in the way of belief.
Catherine Z. Elgin is Professor of the Philosophy of Education at Harvard University. Her books include With Reference to Reference and Between the Absolute and the Arbitrary. She coauthored Reconceptions in Philosophy and Other Arts and Sciences with Nelson Goodman.
PrefaceCh. IEpistemology's End3Quarry3Perfect Procedural Epistemology6Imperfect Procedural Epistemology10Pure Procedural Epistemology15Approach20Ch. IIThe Failure of Foundationalism21Requirements21Blueprint24Strict Strictures30Lower Standards35Meaning40Causality47Subjunctive Support51Collapse57Ch. IIIKnowledge by Consensus60The Social Construction of Knowledge60Games People Play61Playing for Real66The Inquiry Game70Puzzle Solving74Widening the Field79Diverging Paths84Normalizing Relations88Does Charity End at Home?91Summing Up93What We Do96Two Concepts of Rules98Ch. IVThe Merits of Equilibrium101Initial Tenability101Reflective Equilibrium106Going Public111Bootstrapping120Change in Focus: From Knowledge to Understanding122The Growth of Understanding129Judgment Calls134Deeper Conflicts138Restrictions on Relativism143Ch. VThe Heart Has Its Reasons146Feelings147Frames of Mind149Tenability156Emotional Honesty159Classification161Emotion and the Range of Epistemology167Ch. VIShifting Focus170Telling Instances171Learning from Examples178Fiction in Fact183Fiction's Feedback186What We Learn about What We Know189Getting Perspective192Tenable Fictions195Figurative Functions196Reconfiguration200Summing Up204Ch. VIIEpistemic Interdependence205Verstehen205Language208Indeterminacy214Index221