Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The aesthetics of speculative philosophy (and more thoughts on knowledge in history)


The Journal of Speculative Philosophy recently updated its cover, and I heartily approve of the change.  I'm one of those people who thinks that the austerity of West Point in winter is beautiful rather than dreary, so as far as I'm concerned one can rarely go wrong with charcoal gray.

I also wanted to mention an article I've just finished reading from JSP that I think gets at some of what I was recently trying to describe about two approaches to knowledge in history.  Joseph W. Long's "Who's a Pragmatist: Distinguishing Epistemic Pragmatism and Contextualism" (JSP 16.1 [2002] pp. 39-49) argues for the possibility of non-pragmatist existential approaches to epistemology against common assumptions that such epistemologies naturally tend towards, or are, pragmatist.  I take it that the epistemic contextualism Long discusses is similar to what I'm trying to identify in certain approaches to knowledge in history that are not constructive and anti-skeptical but rather employ a certain amount of skepticism in historical work. I find in this article some confirmation of my sense that there is a family resemblance in these different approaches, but that there are also important distinctions to maintain. For Long, the defining characteristics of pragmatism (and so the dividing line with other approaches to knowledge)are (pp.40-41):

(1) the regress problem [of inferential justification] is completely averted because beliefs are immediately justified or unjustified based upon the practical difference their veracity would make in our experience of and interaction with the world.
(2) There is no distinction between truth and justification (or alternately, truth is defined in terms of justification or the processes of justification)
(3) There is no distinction between the world (external to minds) and the world as we perceive and interact with it.

Long's point is to present an account of an "existential" or "social" epistemology that is not pragmatist (using Wittgenstein as the primary example). Simply extend the social aspect of these epistemologies over time, and I think this is roughly the distinction that I was trying to describe concerning knowledge in history. To what extent the term "contextualism" is similarly applied by epistemologists and philosophers of history, I'm not really sure, but that might be worth considering.

Joseph Long's 2005 dissertation Existential Epistemologies treats this thesis at greater length.


  1. Did you get this from Kevin?

  2. Sorry, I'm not sure who exactly you're referring to. I stumbled upon Long's article this morning while looking up JSP. As far as I can recall, I hadn't heard of him before then. I don't really know much more about Long's work beyond what I've put up here, but if anyone knows more, I'd be happy for them to share.