Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The epistemic fallacy

Here's Bryant from The Democracy of Objects, section 1.5:

"Here it is necessary to clarify what the epistemic fallacy is and is not about. A critique of the epistemic fallacy and how it operates in philosophy does not amount to the claim that epistemology or questions of the nature of inquiry and knowledge are a fallacy. What the epistemic fallacy identifies is the fallacy of reducing ontological questions to epistemological questions, or conflating questions of how we know with questions of what beings are. In short, the epistemic fallacy occurs wherever being is reduced to our access to being. Thus, for example, wherever beings are reduced to our impressions or sensations of being, wherever being is reduced to our talk about being, wherever being is reduced to discourses about being, wherever being is reduced to signs through which being is manifest, the epistemic fallacy has been committed.

"We have seen why this is so, for our experimental practice is only intelligible based on a series of ontological premises and these ontological premises cannot be reduced to our access to being. They are ontological in the robust sense. These ontological premises refer not to what is present or actual to us. Indeed, they refer, as we will see, to beings that are radically withdrawn from any presence or actuality. And as such, they are genuinely ontological premises, not epistemological premises pertaining to what is given.

"In recognizing that the epistemic fallacy emerges from foundationalist aspirations on the part of philosophers, Bhaskar hits the mark. It is the desire for a secure and certain foundation for knowledge that leads philosophy to adopt the actualist stance and fall into the epistemic fallacy. These decisions, in turn, ultimately lead to correlationism. In raising the question, “how do we know?” and seeking an argument that would thoroughly defeat the skeptic or sophist, the philosopher concludes that only what is present or given can defend against the incursions of the skeptic. But what is present or given turns out either to be mind or sensations. Therefore the philosopher finds himself in the position of restricting all being to what is given as actual in sensations. From here a whole cascade of problematic consequences follow that increasingly lead to the dissolution of the world as a genuine ontological category.

"However, once these foundationalist aspirations are abandoned, the nature of the problem changes significantly and we no longer find ourselves tied to the actualist premise that generates all of these issues. And indeed, these aspirations should be abandoned, for foundationalism is premised on the possibility of absolute presence, absolute proximity, the absence of all absence, and we have now discovered that it is being itself that is split between generative mechanisms or objects and the actual. Difference, deferral, absence, and so on are not idiosyncracies of our being preventing us from ever reaching being, but are, rather, ontological characteristics of being as such. Moreover, this split at the heart of all beings is not simply characteristic of those objects that we would seek to know, but are also characteristics of the peculiar object that we are. We ourselves are split. If, then, this split is a general ontological feature of the world, then the dream of presence required for any form of foundationalism is a priori impossible. We are then left with two paths: to persist in the correlationist thesis that would reduce ontological questions to epistemological questions and which is itself implicitly premised on the ontotheological assumption of actualism, or to investigate the split in being in a post-humanist, realist fashion that is genuinely ontological. It is the second of these two paths that I here attempt."

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