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I know what i know, if you knowwhat i meanJane Duran aa Department of Philosophy , University of California ,Santa Barbara, CA, 93106, USAPublished online: 19 Jun 2008.
To cite this article: Jane Duran (1991) I know what i know, if you know what i mean,Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy, 5:2, 151-159, DOI:10.1080/02691729108578610
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02691729108578610
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SOCIAL EPISTEMOLOGY, 1 9 9 1 , VOL. 5, NO. 2, 1 5 1 - 1 5 9
I know what I know, if you know what Imean
Emphasis on pragamatics as a subarea of philosophy of language or linguistics seems tobecome more pronounced as time goes on. Recurring disputes about the usage ofterms in conversational contexts reminds us of the importance of speech-act theory,sociolinguistics, attention to genre, and so forth. None of the foregoing areas lendsitself to the rigorous and exquisitely sophisticated theorizing of semantics, for example,but one might be inclined to say that this is all to the good, remembering that it ispragmatics, not semantics, which speaks to the intersection of concerns of philosophyof language and concerns of everyday life.
Recently, two new lines of endeavor in metatheory seem to have left traditionalanalytic epistemology rather profoundly shaken. The first, and perhaps more obvious,line is that which asks us to naturalize epistemology; a spate of books and journalarticles attests to its importance and, indeed, its popularity.1 The second line is only nowcoming to the fore, it being not as obviously related. I refer to feminist theory, and itsimpact on epistemology and philosophy of science.2 But if we can naturalizeepistemology, at least to some extent, by referring to advances in cognitive science,empirical data about knowledge acquisition and brain functioning, and so forth, we canalso create an intersection between feminist concerns and naturalized work, byreferring to particular indices of the knower or knowledge agent, such as gender, class,ethnicity and so forth.
My concern here is not to further that particular line of inquiry, since a great deal isalready being done there. It is intriguing, however, that the very sorts of concerns thefeminist exhibits with regard to philosophy of science and or epistemology broadlyconstrued are similar to those manifested by the naturalizing epistemologist, and thatboth, as I shall argue, can profit by attention to pragmatics and the intentionality oflanguage.
In general, my argument will be that insufficient attention has been paid to work insociolinguistics, or speech-act theory itself, for that matter, which allows us tocontextualize the process of knowledge acquisition or epistemic justification with thesort of empirical data with regard to language use which are now available. A host ofvolumes in the social sciences concerned with language offers itself for our perusal;3 theenterprising philosopher of language who wishes to investigate this area can hardlyclaim that not enough work has been done. I plan, then, to make the positive argument
Author: Jane Duran, Department of Philosophy, University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara,CA 93106, USA.
0269-1728/91 $3.00 1991 Taylor & Francis Ltd.
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that the naturalizing epistemologist (and indeed, perhaps, the naturalizing philosopherof science, or other naturalizing philosopher) can utilize the new work in pragmatics tovery great effect; I also plan to spend some time arguing against the by now standardrejoinder that material which aids us in identifying the framework of the agent orspeaker impedes our construction of the view from nowhere. The first part of mypositive argument will examine some material from sociolinguistics and speech-acttheory which reminds us of the extent to which the canons of logic and normativetheorizing in general are divorced from the context of daily behavior.
One's experience teaching undergraduate philosophy classes, however unhappy,cannot be without its intellectual fruits, and one is sometimes tempted to think thatattempting to get students to do correctly structured derivations is not merely anexercise in futility but an exercise profoundly revelatory of defects in human cognition.Interestingly enough, there is available to us today evidence which not onlycorroborates (at least weakly) such a jaded view, but which allows for us to make otherinferences with regard to cognition as well. For it turns out, as we might well havesuspected, that the pragmatics of syllogistic reasoning is completely divorced from thesemantic considerations which seem to enter into it, and the capacity for syllogisticreasoning, at least insofar as postulated or hypothetical topics are concerned, isacquired.4
This information is useful not only for the harried instructor of undergraduate logic,but also for philosophers engaged in other philosophical pursuits, for it indicatessomething quite important about our powers of reasoning in general. Consider thefollowing fact: the Russian researcher Luria, and more contemporary investigatorssuch as Michael Cole and Sylvia Scribner, have shown that it is extremely difficult (insome cases, almost impossible) for persons not having had at least two or three years offormal education to reason syllogistically, at least insofar as the syllogisms constructedhave to do with hypothetical material. Why? Because there appears to be a strongpropensitycross-cultural and intra-cultural-to reason only about that with which oneis empirically acquainted, unless one has been formally educated to such a level that thistendency can be overcome. Scribner writes:
Of the many issues relating to culture and thought which have been a matter of scholarly concern in thelast century, the question of whether industrialized and traditional people share the same logicalprocesses has provoked the most bitter controversy...
In all cultures, populations designated as traditional or nonliterate have just somewhat better than achance solution rate across all types of [syllogistic] problem material...
Luria's (1976) transcripts have many such examples drawn from interviews with nonliterateUzbekistanian women... To the problem: 'In the far north all bears are white; Novaya Zemyla is in thefar north. What color are the bears there?' the women often suggested, 'You should ask the people whohave been there and seen them'; 'We always speak of only what we see; we don't talk about what wehaven't seen'.5
Now the importance of an example like this lies not only in what it tells us about thosewho have received little formal education, for their behavior may not be directlyrelevant to the concerns which we address here. But still another important pointrevolves around a general human propensity to reason in terms of context, and the
AN APPLICATION 1 53
effects of context (even where context is defined in terms other than geographicality orlocality) on what purports to be more abstract or generalizable reasoning.
Scribner goes on to make the important point that it is not that the Uzbekistanians, orothers like them, cannot reason at all; they can reason syllogistically within the boundsof what they have experienced. What they have difficulty doing, apparently, isreasoning about that which is postulated r