Tuesday 26 February 2013

Whither Epistemology?

I think the world needs a proper concept of evidentialism -- knowledge grounded in neither reason nor experience per se but rather evidence.  The whole never-ending palaver over rationalism and empiricism makes the question of knowledge far too abstract when it is, as sociologists of science have amply demonstrated, the most concrete of things.

Evidentialism is not contrary to critique -- in fact, critique is its condition of possibility since what constitutes evidence in any given situation must be open to question.  But evidentialism cannot be reduced to critique since it must, by definition, bring more to the table than argument itself -- it must bring something of the world with it.

There is a difference, I believe, between sharp, acute critical mindedness and plain, old, nasty cynicism.  I think Latour is right in that in the age of 'cynical reason' (in Sloterdijk's phrase) or after the 'miniaturisation of critique' (in Latour's phrase) we need to find a way to trust and build institutions again (see chapter 1 of his new Modes book for a discussion of institutions in this sense).

I think that one of the institutions we need to build is a reformed, evidentialist epistemology.