Knowledge, Justification, and Truth: A Sellarsian Approach to Epistemology
BonJour (Laurence)
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Paper - Abstract

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  1. The dissertation attempts to present and develop in a systematic and non-exegetical way some of the central theses of Wilfrid Sellars' epistemology. Its particular concern is with the notions of justification and truth as they apply to empirical knowledge.
  2. The first chapter begins by considering the traditional definition of knowledge as true, justified belief. Some familiar problems are raised in connection with justification. Two alternative approaches to a theory of justification are distinguished: (i) the body of propositional claims which is human knowledge is ultimately justified by something non-propositional and non-conceptual; (ii) all justification is propositional, and the whole body of propositional claims is justified only from within. View (i) is the traditional doctrine of the Given. This view is examined at length in C. I. Lewis' version, and rejected on the grounds that no account seems available of the apprehension of the Given which both allows that apprehension of the Given which both allows that apprehension to provide justification for a propositional claim and at the same time makes the apprehension itself non-propositional so as to prevent it from itself requiring justification.
  3. Chapter two then proceeds to discuss a theory of justification of sort (ii), i.e. a coherence theory of justification, with particular attention to the problem of how the notion of observation can be fitted into such a view of justification, so as to retain a broadly empiricist epistemology. An account of observation and the justification of observation which makes this possible is developed.
  4. Chapter three then turns to consider the notion of empirical truth. Several theories of truth are discussed and rejected as not accounting for our intuitive conviction that there is something distinctive about the way empirical truth relates to the world. Sellars' view that empirical truths "picture" the world is then presented and argued for by means of a simplified example of a world and a conceptual system which describes it. It is further claimed that the picturing dimension of empirical truth provides important insights into such problems as the distinction between descriptive and non-descriptive discourse, and the instrumentalist/realist controversy over theoretical entities.

Table Of Contents
    Chapter One: Knowledge And The Given
  1. The Problem Of Knowledge.
  2. Lewis1 On The Given.
  3. Two Kinds Of Apprehension.
  4. Why The Given Is A Myth.
    Chapter Two: Observation, Coherence, And Justification
  5. The Nature Of Coherence.
  6. Observation Without The Given.
  7. Observation And Justification.
    Chapter Three: Truth And Correspondence
  8. The Problem Of Empirical Truth.
  9. Truth And Picturing: A Simplified Example.
  10. Truth And Picturing: Our Conceptual System.


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