Laudan’s proposed constraints on cognitive aims are criticized. It is argued that:
- Laudan does not distinguish impossible goals from impossible but approachable goals; and owing to that imprecision Laudan recommends conservatism and mediocrity.
- Impossible but approachable goals can be rational objectives, if we understand means/ends rationality as the attitude of someone who tries to reach the warranted optimum means to the attainment of or approximation to his desired aims.
- Ideals cannot be dispensed with, because in advance there is no satisfactory way of specifying how close to the ideal, or how far from it, is good enough.
- Laudan’s recommendation is too restrictive and counter-intuitive because it characterizes idealist conduct (such as that of saints, heroes, and martyrs) as irrational.
- A life’s struggle for a utopian and a very valuable aim can cause lasting emotions of self-respect or self-esteem — at least for certain temperaments, and in some social settings — and those emotions are necessary for a good life; therefore, the search for impossible but approachable valuable goals, and their accompanying positive emotions, may be a rational goal.
- Laudan’s banning of ‘semantically utopian’ and ‘epistemically utopian’ aims is also too restrictive, because we often pursue an end that is obscure for the conscious mind; in such cases, we still try to approach the obscure aim, by the via negativa, that is, by eliminating what it is not.
- Laudan needs to invoke some ‘prephilosophical’ cognitive canons of scientific success, and those ‘pre-philosophical’ canons cannot be justified empirically as valuable without invoking some intuitions about genuine examples of successful science — even though Laudan has told us that his meta-methodology does not require intuitions.
- Furthermore Laudan does not justify his priorization of his pragmatic canons of scientific success; Laudan’s priorization has a dogmatic character.
Filed electronically with the full edition of Sorites 10
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