Friday, March 07, 2008

Deflating Debates over Essential Properties

Suppose we have a debate as to the essential properties of something, or over whether some x is really an F. For example, let’s say there's a dispute between an epistemic internalist and an epistemic externalist as to what knowledge or justification essentially is. It seems to me that we can avoid debates such as this in the following way: Instead of arguing over whether knowledge requires accessibility or not, or whether a belief’s being the product of reliable cognitive faculties is sufficient to justify it or not, we could simply coin terms such as “knowledge_e” and “knowledge_i”, or “justification_e” and “justification_i”. Then we could say that knowledge_i requires accessibility but knowledge_e does not. And we could say, similarly, that being the product of reliable cognitive faculties is sufficient for justification_e but not for justification_i. So long as each of these notions is consistent, there is no a priori obstacle to their all having instances. We might, of course, be able to find evidence or devise arguments to show that, as a matter of fact, either knowledge_e or knowledge_i or both do not exist. And then again, we might not. What I want to know is why we should think there is some other thing, knowledge simpliciter, concerning which we are unsure of its essential properties. If there is no reason for supposing there is such a thing, we risk only the loss of much fruitless debate if we eliminate it from our ontology.