I know what i know, if you know what i mean

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  • This article was downloaded by: [UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE LIBRARIES]On: 12 November 2014, At: 22:51Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Social Epistemology: A Journal ofKnowledge, Culture and PolicyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tsep20

    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

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  • SOCIAL EPISTEMOLOGY, 1 9 9 1 , VOL. 5, NO. 2, 1 5 1 - 1 5 9

    An application

    I know what I know, if you know what Imean

    JANE DURAN

    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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  • 152 J. DURAN

    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.

    I

    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

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  • 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 rather than that which is already knownthrough the senses. In an effort to try to make the material more comprehensible, manytribespersons involved in the research cited by Scribner tried to remember people,places or things which had names similar to the hypothetical names employed in thesyllogisms constructed by the visiting anthropologists. They were then able to answerthe anthropologists' questions by 'correcting' them on the hypothetical material; as onerespondent put it, 'I don't know the man in person. I have not laid eyes on the manhimself.6

    The Kpelle tribespeople with little or no formal education who tried to grapple withhypothetical questions about Boima and his house tax or the trials of a Mr Ukatu wereemploying many of the rules of verbal discourse and speech-act theory with which weare already familiar from a sampling of philosophical writings. Such tacit rules ofhuman verbal behavior such as 'Speak colloquially, unless there is reason not to', 'Orconvey the amount of information requested in the briefest way' were, in fact, beingemployed by the respondents.7 Not accustomedas they admitto reasoninghypothetically (the Uzbekistanis remark 'We always speak of only what we see'), theytried to convey a response to what they took to be a question about an existing personwith whom, unfortunately, they were not acquainted. In this sense, the tribespeoplereasoned in a way that mirrors very precisely our everyday mode of reasoning on mosttopics.8

    Thus the upshot of converging the data on illiterate tribespeople with other empiricalstudies on the modes of thinking employed by people in Western societies in mundanecontexts is the realization that context is crucial to most attempts at reasoning and thatdivorce from context, although possible for the well-trained, is not nearly as easily andreadily achieved as we would like to think. Work on story grammars by sociolinguists hasindicated that our memory tries to fill in the blanks in the most convenient way possiblewhen text-processing and that, when pressed, connections are made (even, perhaps,when they are not there) to try to give the text or 'story' coherence and to make thenarration intelligible.9 In general, memory proceeds in this way for all sorts of tasks,and research on this crucial component of cognition must be taken into account whenwe theorize naturalistically about knowledge and knowledge acquisition. Thus attentionto the importance of context and the ubiquitousness of speech-act phenomena cross-culturally reminds us of ways in which knowledge is actually acquired. It is thisdifferencethe difference between what we know about knowledge acquisition andwhat we construct normatively as the ideal account of knowledge or of knowledgeacquisitionwhich is crucial to epistemology.

    II

    A second area of inquiry in pragmatics focuses on the extent to which justification (bothepistemic and otherwise) is itself a speech-act, and a process which can be modeled anddeveloped by speech-act theory. Although one might be inclined to think that thismaterial has already been well mined, Asa Kasher recently argued that much of what we

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  • 154 J. DURAN

    might be tempted to say about justification and speech act theory has not yet beenadequately said. Specifically, Kasher noted that

    . . . [it has been] suggested] that a variety exists of methods that speakers know how to use whenrequired to show why they do hold what they have asserted. Some of these methods arc shared by allspeakers, under normal contexts of utterance, but some are used only by some of the speakers, underspecial circumstances, e.g., when certain speakers participate in deliberations of a legal or a scientificnature. Notice to what extent these two methods of deliberation are different from each other: whereaswhat has been asserted, within some branch of a science, can be justified by being shown to be the bestexplanation of some data, much more than that will be required in order to justify the very sameassertion in many courts of justice.10

    The point that Kasher makes is a valuable one and, when fully developed, leads intomany other interesting areas of theory. Kasher is simply noting that what we require forthe justification of assertions varies from assertion to assertion, and from context tocontext. What is required for the justification of an assertion in the sciences is generallymuch more than what would be required for the justification of a flat assertion such as'There's a car over there', but, interestingly enough, according to Kasher, less thanwhat might be required for certain assertions in legal contexts.

    Now we might label the foregoing the 'social element' in epistemology, and somehave argued that one ought to take this element into account in any well-developedepistemics." But perhaps more intriguingly, from the standpoint of the line ofargument which I am about to develop here, many have held the counter to thisposition: that is, many have held that social elementswhatever they may bedo notneed to be taken into account in epistemology, and that to do so is indeedinappropriate, since the tasks of epistemology are largely if not entirely normative.12

    We need not delve extensively into the normative tradition of epistemology here,since it is clear that the tradition does in fact demand an account of knowledge in whichwe keep a justified claim safe from counter-examples, and which would leave us withai...