Epistemology Revisioned

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Article written before the Esalen Integral Knowing Conference of December 2005

Epistemology Revisioned

Abstract: An invocation is made to abandon the remnants of classical epistemology with its largely discredited normative program and to embrace the what-is-knowledge question within the new naturalism. An outline is given of a brain-body-environment naturalism that takes seriously distributed mind and works closely with the biology of organism-environment interactions. The provisional result is a model of mind as an organism’s use of external constraints in the same way as an organism employs internal ones to maintain process. This view leads to a consideration of the environment’s evolution through biology’s enrichment of constraints. The claim is then made that such a naturalism can better span the opposed epistemological goals of validating both personally eccentric experiences and public pragmatic discourse.

The grand project of epistemology, to separate all true knowledge from false knowledge, that was the philosophical goal of the scientific era has collapsed. In its place two new epistemological projects have been revealed. The first is the project that is showing up in cognitive science and biology to answer the question of what is knowledge–presumed to be answerable in a naturalistic way. The second project is more diverse. It covers an array of questions of how knowledge is used. There are questions of whether or how much is knowledge embodied, what is the meaning and status of knowledge communities, what are pragmatic ways of resolving differences beyond the appeal to truth, and how does one understand special types of knowing such as intuition or particular cultural ways of knowing.

The collapse of the old project of epistemology is an unheralded, slow death with immense consequences. A few years ago in a conversation with a respected epistemologist, Bill Lycan of the University of North Carolina, I asked whether in fact the widespread collapse of the old epistemology had occurred even among practicing philosophers. He said it had. I asked him if anyone had noticed. He said that no one had really noticed. But then he remembered and added that in fact, one group of people had noticed. He said that trial lawyers had noticed. He said that a professional group of trial lawyers had sponsored a conference on epistemology because they were directly effected since they were able to find “expert witnesses” who would testify for or against the same position.1

And the collapse of conventional epistemology has huge consequences because it parallels the way that belief systems interact with each other. As epistemology flourished and then collapsed, the deep structure of conviction flowed from the easy confidence of the Enlightenment to the bitter global ideologies of the twentieth century to the rather desperate and backwater fundamentalisms of today that are surrounded by the epistemologically reactionary culture of the “whatever” relativism. Epistemology is dead. And justly so. At heart, epistemology conceived as the search for the magic methodological bullet that would give us all true knowledge was really the quest for omniscience, the quest for humans to be God.

It is time for epistemology to fully embrace the two new projects that are opening up–the naturalistic formulation of knowledge and the deep pragmatic use of knowledge. These projects seem a lot less grandiose than the old project, yet they have a lot more traction and are already off and running. For convenience I will call these new projects of epistemology the what project and the how project–the what-is-knowledge question and the how-is-knowledge-used question. The what project can be somewhat over-simply traced to cognitive science. By seeking to answer the question of how do brains work, presumably cognitive scientists will give an answer to what and how people really think rather than what is truth. The what project is notably more interested in organisms other than humans. Questions of knowing monkeys and mammals and even of knowing plants and amoebae now appear in the biological literature. The way the what project of epistemology frames the question of what is knowledge is already a sea change in general beliefs. It amounts to a cultural shift over about three centuries from imagining knowledge as being a divine property on loan to human reason to imagining knowledge as being a naturalistic gift that improved markedly in the evolution to human brains. The old epistemology framed knowledge as a gift from god and then a disciplined product of human reason while the new epistemology has already framed the question of what is knowledge as answerable as a gift from our animal phylogeny.

It is here that one can see the grandeur of the new epistemology. Epistemology essentially connects humans to the intelligence of the universe. The collapse of the old epistemology, the severing of some direct rational link to god through true knowledge, will in the new epistemology take the naturalistic path of knowledge emerging through evolution to a grander view of nature. When the new epistemology explicates how knowledge emerged from evolution, it will be part of a new synthesis of evolution that will reveal a deep intelligence in nature that is far grander than any theistic vision yet proposed. Equally, the new epistemology will make the old epistemology’s project to “settle truth claims” seem quaint and manipulative. The complicated intellectual machinery to prove someone right (or especially someone else wrong) will shift from being the main avenue of disagreement to one path on a menu of approaches to disagreement when a full trust is returned to the fecundly synthetic and inherently pragmatic naturalistic nature of knowledge. Epistemology as a veiled form of combat was always a rather transparent artifice that is no doubt largely responsible for the massive disenchantment of the wider public with intellectual life.

Revisioning epistemology demands reaching beyond what is already visible. Being wrong about the contours of a new vision of knowledge is not worth the greater risk of not imagining where we should be looking for answers to the question of the naturalistic nature of knowledge. What follows is an outline of a different approach to the naturalism of mind in that it is not a brain-centric theory only but instead is also about the organism-environment interface. It takes its beginnings at four hints that have been put forward by separate traditions. The first hint is that mind is distributed out into the environment as well as in the brain and is suggested my many researchers.2 The second hint is from J.J. Gibson and the school of Ecological Psychology that suggests that features of the environment offer “affordances” as resources for behavioral activity.3 The next hint is from Gregory Bateson whose concept of mind as composed of circuits of means and ends gives an insightful way that affordances can be part of distributed mental resources. For example, a Bateson commentator describes the utility of circuits as systems to break the dualism of brain and environment:

"The self-evident quality of the boundary that divides organism and environment becomes less and less obvious the closer we approach it. Bateson, in his classic example of the man-axe-tree circuit, suggests that only the total system of tree-eyes-brain-muscles-axe-stroke-tree has the quality of immanent mind. What occurs in this system is a series of transforms and what happens in the environment is as essential to the circuit as the sensory-muscular processes in the human participant. There is danger in separating meaning and context, or participant and setting, of falling into the trap of viewing one as independent variable and the other as dependent variable.”4

The fourth hint towards a naturalistic view of mind comes in varying degrees from Bateson, J.J. Gibson and the participatory epistemology of Jorge Ferrer among others; it is that life is about regulation of the organism, about continually shifting and adjusting rather than the supposed knowing and then acting. This is a striking shift in frame of reference from the ancient, probably Homeric roots, notion of cognition and then action to the new frame of environmental harmonizing by using differences for regulation and participation.5

So, the outline of naturalism proposed here begins with these four hints: that mind is distributed, that the environment offers organism-significant features called affordances, that organisms make use of organism-environment associative circuits connecting brain circuitry and affordances and that knowing is a relation to the environment that is more like an organism’s regulation of itself than like Zeus’ acts from brilliant cognition to action effects. This proposed view of naturalism for mind is notably wider than a naturalism that would limit explanation to the brain. For this reason it should be called something else such as brain-body-environment naturalism. And its basic posture of subject to object is shifted from the rather separated observer to a frame of reference that finds the organism enmeshed in its environment. The basic metaphor for knowing is more like coupling than observing; this is the sense of mind as regulation. When this view is considered in relation to the question of consciousness, it suggests that the experience of awareness is more intuitively plausible as an inherently environmentally distributed process.

It should be noted that this outline about brain-body-environment naturalism for mind is more of a conjecture than even an hypothesis. It is different enough to potentially be framed as a new paradigm. If it has merit and is worthy of initiating a new epistemology, then the hypothesis must show that it agrees with evidence better than the old brain-perched-on-a-body-in-a-field-of-objects model. To begin to defend it is to approach it as a general question of the nature of the organism. While seeming to enlarge the question of mind hopelessly to the at least as intractable question of what is life, this move is both necessary and helpful. The two questions–that of the organism in its environment and that of the mind observing reality–are probably isomorphic and certainly carry a lot of baggage from one to the other. Hopefully understanding can also go both ways between them.

The first trend to notice in the study of organisms is the exciting new field of evolutionary developmental theory or “evo-devo.” Development refers to the part of the life cycle of an organism, particularly the more complicated multicellulars, where there is growth, change and forms that are not typically identified as adult during early phases of an individual’s life cycle. Formerly, before evo-devo and in the sway of the more gene-centric view, development was considered an incidental aspect of the genes’ doing their directive control. Now with evo-devo it is realized that development is more a process of absorbing and adjusting to environmental information where the “inner environment” such as genes and other cells are constraining influences to growth just as are the constraining influences from the environment including mothers, conspecifics, other organisms and abiotic factors. These sources of environmental influence on development are not only an important source for determining what the organism becomes but in many cases they are repeatable from one generation to the next so that there are other robust channels of form continuity in evolution besides genes. The environment is not just for selection but is also for development and the offering of variability for selection. The other emphasis from evo-devo is how modular, holistic and plastic the developmental process is. This wholeness absorbs much of the noise from environmental perturbations and from random mutations which gives organisms their robustness and freedom from the brittleness implied by genes only determined development.6

The extent to which biology particularly before evo-devo has been harnessed to a dualistic frame separating inside and outside is clear:

“The mechanistic reductionism and the clear separation of internal and external were as necessary in the nineteenth century for the creation of a scientific biology as Newton’s ideal bodies and perfect determinism were for the physics of the seventeenth. But we must not confuse the historically determined necessity of a particular epistemological stance at one stage in the development of a science with a perfect model that will guarantee all future progress.”7

And researchers are realizing that this boundary exists neither in principle nor in practice:

“The nature-nurture dichotomy disappears with the realization that the developing phenotype responds to both internal and external stimuli in much the same way.”8

The claim here is that even more than for biology a science of the mind needs to work easily and confidently across the boundary of an organism. Towards this goal my contribution in this revisioning is to offer a better understanding of the above-mentioned concept of affordances. Affordances can be seen as a more general biological characteristic–constraints. A very simple biological constraint is a catalyst, a chemical such as a protein that has enough geometrical structure to favor or inhibit certain chemical reactions. The concept is more generally from physics where it implies actual given conditions such as initial or boundary conditions that are the specific factors allowing general causal laws of physics to happen in particular ways. Organisms employ lots of them–gradients, membranes, various structures, catalytic functions of all types, innate physio-chemical patterns–to shape processes in ways that reinforce the continuity of the organism. Additionally, organisms employ constraints external to their ostensible skin/cell wall boundaries in order to favor a smaller traffic of input and output that is equally important to the processes of continuity. Selective receptors constrain the probabilities of what comes in or what comes out of cells. In the simplest instance the chemical surround of an organism constrains the metabolism of the organism just by the richness or paucity of supply of needed nutrients. Because of this organisms evolved to something like crude perception where certain environmental distributions of substrates constrained the organism to change, adapt its metabolism or move. What were real limitations in the environment became more like different types of allies. Or, constraints became less restraining and more facilitating. Internal change became coupled to external constraints. Whole, connected systems of organisms were involved in a dance with external cues large and tiny.

Now while evolution was employing vast numbers of constraints internally to organisms so that the internal connectivity of processes went way up, evolution also was increasing the number and type of external constraints for organisms. Organisms began to contribute constraints to the environment. The secretion of an enzyme might lead to more nutrients being available or even to the toxification of a competitor. The manipulation of local environments is underway. These prototypical uses of external constraints whether by passive reaction or by active changing for self or for other continued to evolve. Perception and categorical perception were passive exploitation; niche construction, skills, tool use and markings were active use of external constraints either for self (and for progeny) or against competitors. Perception became active in intentionality. It is important to notice that even passive use of constraints contributed new constraints to the environment. A new perceptual function by one class of organisms present an environment with a new detectability constraint to others. Evolution has given not just a parade of species but a growing wealth and refinement of biologically created environmental constraints.

It is through such an understanding of the interplay of organisms and constraints that the organism-environment conceptual boundary can be crossed to allow a non brain-centric view of mind and knowledge to begin. All non-simple organisms exploit and produce external constraints. Hominids made the breakthrough we made by chaining the exploitation and production of external constraints into a cumulative cycle mediated by learning. Brains and their neural plasticity gave much more flexibility to the exploitation of external constraints developmentally over the life cycle while hands and voices greatly increased the environmental construction of constraints some of which endured across generations. This same argument without the generalized sense of external constraints is made by Kim Sterelny:

“Hominids make aspects of the physical or social world more salient by marking them physically, linguistically, or behaviorally. Collectively then, hominid groups buffer the increasing cognitive demands placed on them by their own technologies, their extractive foraging, and their social relationships. Such buffering allows the further expansion of information-hungry techniques by reducing the burden of such techniques on individual agents.”9

And Sterelny again:

“A theory of human cognitive evolution needs to integrate the biological and social-scientific perspectives on human nature. Niche construction and its partial transformation into bona fide inheritance is the key to this integration. Some of the apparatus of hominid social life has become part of inherited hominid developmental resources. Hominids do not just inherit genes: they inherit epistemic resources that scaffold the development of life skills that are characteristic of their parents and of their immediate group, and which quite often distinguish them phenotypically from other hominids. Thus niche construction is a mechanism that supports developmental flexibility: a child becomes a skilled hunter rather than a fisherman because be inherits this set of developmental resources.”10

Sterelny’s argument makes more sense from the vantage of the outline of a generalized theory of biologically enriched environment of constraints. When the two are combined, mind appears like an aspect of life both of which are processes that adapt to and utilize constraints for self-continuity. This argument about the nature of life is similar to and inspired from the work on fundamental biology of Stuart Kauffman and Terrence Deacon.11

If mind is indeed like this environment-brain-body process using external constraints and neural constraints, then it exhibits all the four hints mentioned at the beginning of this outline and in particular the aspects of circuits and affordances. Knowledge would appear as circuits or patterns of constraints that are again bidirectional in either being adapted to or actively maintained. This supports the dual nature of knowledge as being both objective and constructive. This view of mind is also a view about reality. Instead of the reflective and dualistically separated view of mind from the old epistemology hovering nowhere above reality, there is a saturated view of mind as part of an environment that is actively being constrained by organisms. It is also a view that fundamentally acknowledges culture and cultures as particular constellations of constraints and their patterning with environments and history as part of the determining mix of constraints. Similarly it is a view that acknowledges that paradigms, subcultures and even individuals are nudged if not forced to make and behaviorally adapt to particular clusters of constraints. A person is an instantiation, a body and, given the hugeness of the world and its constraints, a particular subset of the world’s constraints. The everywhere and omniscient mind that was dreamed of in some of the exuberant phases of the Enlightenment is not possible.

This view of mind as employing a vast array of external constraints coupled to a vast array of neural and somatic constraints is also a claim about reality. Instead of the omniscience over the flatland of objective reality as the extreme prototype of one part of the legacy of the Enlightenment, the view of the world saturated by individual, cultural and species constraints gives a different portrait of reality itself. It is thick with meanings and semiosis of all types and is comparably complex to both the richness of the body and its brain as well as of the meaning found in the humanities. To look around is to realize that everything about us is a constraint of some type. These words are attempts to constrain a discussion; sidewalks and architecture are shaped constraints; clothes are attempts to constrain my mood and someone’s sense of my identity; learning is an absorption of constraints while language produces them; memories are both internal constraints of some sort in neural circuits as well as external constraints in their interactions with others; and so forth. The human-built environment is not just the same molecules as before humans but is a massive exploitation of form. And these forms are used, made and maintained by organisms/humans in a vast array of circuits of influence to ourselves and others.

And this view of mind supports the hinted fourth quality of participation or life as regulation. Individuals (and specific groups) in having minds that are necessarily particular constellations of constraints are both limited and also gifted with the embodied particularities of reactive patterning. This is a gift that epistemologists had forgotten until the feminists and the embodiment direction brought it back. And this view of mind and knowledge brings the what-is-knowledge question back to the how-is-knowledge-used question. To be a particular constellation of constraints and of behaviors among them is to be gifted with the possibility to directly experience the joy of their further growth. Knowledge as the experience of life rather than only the test of correctness is the great opportunity for the practice of epistemology. Epistemology can become the satisfaction and the practice of the everyday as well as the study of the exceptional throughout the whole extended organism including body, emotions and environmental synchrony.

Evolutionary developmental theory speaks of the vast array of possibilities for the development of a particular organism and even of many rather canalized alternative phenotypes in a population. When the complexity of brains and human behaviors are factored into this optionality of development, it is not surprising that humans can find so many experiential possibilities as well as cognitive choices. Conceiving of mind as a developmental process of accommodation or regulation with externalities is to have simultaneously an experiential theory (the body’s continual regulation) and a cognitive model. This view of mind strongly supports the depth of experience that embodied minds coupled to complex environments can have. Enhanced experiences such as mystical ones, the subliminal effects for intuition and psi phenomena, and just the everyday validation of personal moments of wonder, creativity or flow are all more sensible for organisms as complex, environmentally coupled adjusting wholes.

One challenge is that if knowledge is naturalistic, how does society handle the normative project of ever knowing who is right or true? The answer is that we don’t; we live and adjust our views with practical and persuasive avenues of deciding without any appeals to an absolute. The old epistemology actually interferes with progress in shifting to a new, naturalistic epistemology by continuing to dangle the possibility of deciding questions of truth in a fundamental way. What is more necessary than ever is the separation of public discourse from the culture of secular rationalism. Confusing the two keeps trying to use the culture of secular rationalism as the default pragmatic language of the political commons. Brain-body-environment naturalism underscores that cultures are always embodied instantiations and removes the pretense, even the hypocrisy of philosophy and science that theirs is an impersonal discourse while it is common cynicism that everyone thinks and acts from within their personal passions as they should. This is the Achilles’ heel of the old epistemology ever since Socrates’ appeal to a transcendent truth with its denial of the personal in knowledge.

That the old epistemology would still countenance the supposition that truth is inherently decidable should be a scandal. A fully naturalistic epistemology will support many ways and methods that have proven effective in improving the truth value of beliefs, but it will not indulge in the conceit that any universal or absolute truths are attainable. What is possible, attainable and desirable is that epistemologists join forces with university administrators and political groups as businesses have already begun and begin the work of reforming universities to reflect naturalistic codes of using practical, logical, engaged and persuasive arts to integrate differences of knowledge. The old epistemology’s appeal to absolute truth even in latent form should not be promoted in any form. Epistemologists and universities have a huge opportunity to initiate naturalistic reform in epistemic disagreements so that a culture that appreciates and uses its differences can grow up and replace the old epistemic culture that retreats behind definitive knowledge claims.12

It is worth remembering that engagement and enculturation are two of the most efficacious ways of blending opposing views–both of which are relatively slow. A favorite story comes to me secondhand of a Cherokee from Oklahoma who was asked what beliefs were required to become a Cherokee. This question was either asked by a Baptist preacher or asked in distinction to the beliefs of god and sin of a Baptist preacher. The Cherokee replied that all that was required was to dance the dances for at least three years.

In giving up absolute knowledge handed down from a god of universal truth and in turning to biology and to evolution to understand what knowledge actually is, there is the potential to be part of the unraveling of a new synthesis of evolutionary theory that will reveal that knowledge is a natural growth on the planet just like species. The human burden of defending absolute truth during the historical phase of an absentee god can relax into the understanding that knowledge happens and pragmatic truth happens despite ourselves. The brain-body-environment view also paints such a rich view of knowledge and reality that is suggests relaxing the hope of the decidibility of everything. It is impossible; new constraints of meaning are created faster than many questions can be decided as is seen in news reporting that has become spin production. From a naturalistic perspective spinning constraints on others is commonplace. What will help detoxify the vicious spin production of today will be not its impossible suppression and denial but its acceptance in a pragmatic culture fostering better personal accountability in our knowledge claims. The real revisioning in epistemology will occur when knowing becomes more about the being of knowing including our holding meaning rather than the doing of knowing with its underlying frame of conquest in which it has been so successful during the historical period. To know is to be personally connected to public constraints.


Barnlund, Richard. 1981. "Toward an Ecology of Communication." from Bateson, Gregory et al. Rigor and Imagination: Essays from the Legacy of Gregory Bateson.
Clark, Andy. 1997. Being There: Putting brain, Body, and World Together Again. MIT Press.
Deacon, Terrence. 1997. The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. W.W. Norton.
Ferrer, Jorge, N. 2002. Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality. State University of New York Press.
Jablonka, Eva & Marion Lamb. 2005. Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. MIT Press.
Johnson, Mark. 1987. The Body in the Mind; The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. The University of Chicago Press.
Lewontin, Richard. 2001. “Gene, Organism and Environment” Pps. 59-66. Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution. Edited by Susan Oyama, Paul Griffiths & Russell Gray. MIT Press.
Reed, Edward S. 1996. Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology. Oxford University Press.
Rouse, Joseph. 1996. “Beyond Epistemic Sovereignty” pps. 398-416 in Peter Galison & David Stump, editors. The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Contexts and Power. Stanford University Press.
Sterelny, Kim. 2003. Thought in a Hostile World: The Evolution of Human Cognition. Blackwell.
West-Eberhard, Mary Jane. 2003. Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. Oxford University Press.
Willard, Charles Arthur. 1996. Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy. University of Chicago Press.
Wilson, Robert A. 2004. Boundaries of the Mind: The Individual in the Fragile Sciences. Cambridge University Press.


1. At Chapel Hill in March 2001.

2. Here are two sources of support for the view that mind is distributed outside the organism:

“For starters, the nature and the bounds of the intelligent agent look increasingly fuzzy. Gone is the central executive in the brain–the real boss who organizes and integrates the activities of multiple special-purpose subsystems. And gone is the neat boundary between the thinker (the bodiless intellectual engine) and the thinker's world. In place of this comforting image we confront a vision of mind as a grab bag of inner agencies whose computation roles are often best described by including aspects of the local environment (both in complex control loops and in a variety of information transformations and manipulations). In light of all this, it may for some purposes be wise to consider the intelligent system as a spatio-temporally extended process not limited by the tenuous envelope of skin and skull." Clark (1997). Pps. 220-1.

“Although I have said less about the mind as embodied, I think that the exploitative view of representation can be applied to make sense of the embodiment of cognition as well, where the body becomes another resource that cognitive systems use to work their magic no different in kind from cognitive resources in the environment to which the individual is coupled.” Wilson (2004). P. 210.

3. See, e.g., Gibson’s successor, Reed (1996).

4. Barnlund (1981). P. 95.

5. The shift in frame of reference from cognition-action to regulation by environmental harmonizing is illustrated by the following two quotes: “The one thing that seems to have united psychologists, neuroscientists, and cognitive scientists is the assumption that the brain functions to construct and utilize representations of the world around us. The ecological psychology promoted here does not share this assumption, and instead tries to understand how organisms make their way in the world, not how a world is made inside of organisms.” Reed (1996). Pps. 10-11.

“First, participatory alludes to the fact that, after the break with Cartesianism, transpersonal events–and the knowledge they usually convey–can no longer be objective, neutral, or merely cognitive. On the contrary, transpersonal events engage human beings in a participatory, connected, and often passionate knowing that can involve not only the opening of the mind, but also of the body, the heart, and the soul. Although transpersonal events may involve only certain dimensions of human nature, all dimensions can potentially come into play in the act of participatory knowing, from somatic transfiguration to the awakening of the heart, from erotic communion to visionary cocreation, and from contemplative knowing to moral insight, to mention only a few.” Ferrer (2002). P. 121.

6. To give a sense of the logic of evo-devo there are the following supporting quotes: “Possession of a particular trait rather than an alternative trait can be either genetically or environmentally determined, but regulation–the mechanism or the process–can never be determined by genes or environment alone, because the mechanism is an aspect of structure, and structure is always a product of both genetic and environmental influence. There is no exception to this universal law of dual environmental-genetic influence.” West-Eberhard (2003). Pps. 99-100.

“When dealing with plastic traits, then, one cannot ignore the dual role of the environment in determining the strength of selection and the course of evolution: the environment is not only the agent of selection in the sense of being the arena where phenotypes are evaluated in a game of survival and reproductive success. It is also an agent of development, which by interacting differently with different available genotypes sets the phenotypes in the positions where they will be seen by selection.” West-Eberhard (2003). P. 101.

One new book speaks of three channels of evolution in addition to genes. See Jablonka, Eva & Marion Lamb (2005).

7. Lewontin (2001). Pps. 59-60.

8. West-Eberhard (2003). P. 99.

9. Sterelny (2003). P. 157.

10. Sterelny (2003). P. 171.

11. From Kauffman’s investigation of autonomous agents; see Kauffman (2000). And from two unpublished papers of Deacon’s, one on fundamental biology utilizing a model of an autocell and one on processes of emergence. See also Deacon (1997).

12. This case is made very well by Willard. For example, he ridicules the culture of the old epistemology: “I’m right; my opponent is wrong. This closure thwarts discourse with outsiders. It precludes agreement (that isn’t surprising) but its worst political effect is that it obstructs disagreement: It makes argument untenable by undercutting its necessary conditions. People don’t need to hold the same beliefs to argue, or to achieve decisions and execute policies. They need only reach agreement on a viable measure of their differences that permits working agreements, compromise, and consensus.” Willard (1996). P. 129.

Another writer, Mark Johnson, makes the same point: "The idea that standards of truth–that what counts as accurate correspondence of statement to fact–depend on our systems of description and our purposes for having descriptions is often very distressing to people. To some philosophers it seems as though there must either be absolute standards (specifying one correct view), or else no standards at all. But we have seen that this is not so, that there is indeed a middle ground between these two extremes. Fortunately, nothing important is lost by the realization that truth is not an absolute notion. It doesn't really matter that we can't see the world through God's Eyes; for we can see the world through shared, public eyes that are given to us by our embodiment, our history, our culture, our language, our institutions, etc. This does not mean, of course, that we are obliged to be happy with our present knowledge limitations. But it does mean that we can know that we are partially in touch with reality, not in the 'one correct way' but in one or more of the possible ways in which Nature can be described. Thus, we can still preserve a notion of truth-as-correspondence, as long as it is contextually situated." Johnson (1987). Pps. 210-1.

A fair assessment of what is needed practically in the circulation of legitimate knowledge through social institutions is the following: “What, then, does a post-sovereign epistemology have to say about the legitimation of knowledge? The crucial point is not that there is no legitimacy, but rather that questions about legitimation are on the same ‘level’ as any other epistemic conflict, and are part of a struggle for truth. In the circulation of contested heterogeneous knowledges, disputes about legitimacy, and the criteria for legitimacy, are part of the dynamics of that circulation. Understanding knowledge as ‘a strategical situation’ rather than as a definitive outcome places epistemological reflection in the midst of ongoing struggles to legitimate (and delegitimate) various skills, practices, and assertions.” Rouse (1996). Pps. 412-3.

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