Normativity as engineering (Quine quotes)

February 8, 2007

 “Reply to Morton White,” (1998, 664-5):

Naturalization of epistemology does not jettison the normative and settle for the indiscriminate description of ongoing procedures. For me, normative epistemology is a branch of engineering. It is the technology of truth-seeking, or, in more cautiously epistemological term, prediction. Like any technology, it makes free use of whatever scientific findings may suit its purpose. It draws upon mathematics in computing standard deviation and probable error and in scouting the gambler’s fallacy. It draws upon experimental psychology in exposing perceptual illusions, and upon cognitive psychology in scouting wishful thinking. It draws upon neurology and physics, in a general way, in discounting testimony from occult or parapsychological sources. There is no question here of ultimate value, as in morals; it is a matter of efficacy for an ulterior end, truth or prediction. The normative here, as elsewhere in engineering, becomes descriptive when the terminal parameter is expressed.

(Pursuit of Truth, p.19).

Insofar as theoretical epistemology gets naturalised into a chapter of theoretical science, so normative epistemology gets naturalised into a chapter of engineering: the technology of anticipating sensory stimulation.

Quine, W. V. O. (1986). Reply to morton white. In L. E. Hahn & P. A. Schilpp (Eds.), The philosophy of WVO Quine (pp. 663-665). La Salle: Open Court.
Quine, W. V. O. (1990). Pursuit of truth. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


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