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Arianna Falbo (Bentley University), "Should Epistemology Take the Zetetic Turn?"
Philosophical Studies, 2023.
We are inquirers: we’re curious creatures in need of answers. We don’t just sit back and relax, waiting for the evidence we need to come our way. We seek out the evidence that we want or need. To get a feel for the ubiquity of inquiry, imagine the following series of events (which may or may not be inspired by real-life events).
You wake up, grab your phone, and check the time. It's 5:48am. You go back to sleep. A few hours later you wake up (for real this time) and get ready for work. Before leaving the house, you pat down your pockets—phone, wallet, keys—everything’s there, so you leave the house. Later, your stomach grumbles, so you Google “falafel near me.” One place has good reviews, and their falafel comes with tabbouleh. You don’t know what that is, so you ask a colleague. It sounds delicious. You place an order. The food arrives and your curiosity is pleasantly satisfied: the tabbouleh is delicious.
After lunch, you go for a short walk. This handsome dog comes up to you.
You wonder if he’s friendly, so you slowly approach him and let him smell you. He smiles and licks your hands. He seems sweet, so you give him some pets. But then you start to worry: where is his human? Is he okay? Where did he come from? You notice a tag on his collar, it says “Porco” and there is a phone number. You call the number, but nobody answers. The answering machine indicates that you’ve reached Thomas. That must be Porco’s human. Suddenly, you see a man running towards you. He looks stressed, but suddenly relieved. “Porco!” he yells. Porco’s tail starts to wag uncontrollably. You ask the man if his name is Thomas. “Yes—that’s me”, he says catching his breath, “I’m so sorry, he must have escaped.” Thomas takes Porco home.
You wonder what “Porco” means, so you Google it. It means “pig” in Italian. You’re curious why someone would name their dog this, especially a Siberian Husky. You wonder if the name was inspired by the Hayao Miyazaki anime Porco Rosso. You have no way to figure this out (Thomas is long gone), so you don’t dwell on it. As your day unfolds you engage in countless other inquiries. Many of them are trivial and inconsequential, but others are more serious and significant.
Inquiry is a key part of daily life. Without the ability to inquire life would be dull and uneventful at best, and scary and life-threatening at worst. From a very young age we’re curious: we begin to inquire and explore the world around us.
But what is the relationship between inquiry and epistemology? Are epistemic norms zetetic, that is, are epistemic norms norms of inquiry? Should epistemology take the zetetic turn (Friedman 2020)? Is epistemology the theory of inquiry (Kelp 2021)?
I don’t think so, and I wrote a paper about it.
My paper, “Should Epistemology Take the Zetetic Turn?”, investigates the prospects of a purely zetetic epistemology, namely: an approach to epistemic normativity on which all epistemic norms are norms of inquiry. I develop a series of motivations for resisting this approach to epistemology.
It might seem plausible, or even obvious, to think that epistemic norms are norms of inquiry. Afterall, when we inquire, we’re clearly aiming at a distinctively epistemic end. We want knowledge or understanding or some other form of epistemic improvement upon the answer to our question.
However, just because inquiry aims at an epistemic end, this doesn’t automatically mean that inquiry is governed by epistemic norms.
Compare the following: imagine that Billy has a horticultural goal—he really wants to grow a beautiful garden. However, just because Billy’s goal aims at a horticultural end, this doesn’t mean that the actions he performs in support of this goal, like watering his plants, are governed by horticultural normativity.
I argue that the norms governing goal directed activities don’t inherit their normative status via the subject matter of the specific end that the activity is directed towards.
Instead, suggest that a better approach would be to view all goal-directed activities—everything from growing gardens to engaging in inquiry—as governed broadly by the same kind of normativity, namely: practical normativity. Hence, we should think of zetetic norms as primarily practical, not epistemic.
There are further reasons, I think, to be skeptical of the zetetic turn in epistemology.
In the paper I argue that a purely zetetic epistemology is unable to account for the rationality of belief. This approach seems unable to account for cases where intuitively irrational beliefs function to promote the success of inquiry, and cases where intuitively rational beliefs are zetetically useless or even counterproductive to inquiry.
The main lesson of the paper is that there must be a source of epistemic normativity that isn’t zetetic. The zetetic turn in epistemology should be resisted.
This paper is a part of a larger research program on the norms of inquiry. In other work, I have defend the view that inquiry aims at epistemic improvement, broadly construed (Falbo 2021, Falbo 2023). Additionally, since 2020, along with David Thorstad and Dennis Whitcomb, I’ve been helping to run The Inquiry Network’s online work-in-progress series, which aims to provide a low-stakes and inclusive space to workshop papers related to inquiry. It’s been fun! Everyone is welcome, especially early career philosophers.
I love inquiring into inquiry (this is very meta, I realize), and I’m excited about all the recent work that’s being done in this area. I hope that my paper is a helpful contribution to it!
You can read “Should Epistemology Take the Zetetic Turn?” here: https://rdcu.be/diAee
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