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What's really wrong with Laudan's normative naturalism

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Abstract:

The article presents a critical discussion of Larry Laudan's naturalistic metamethodological theory known as normative naturalism (NN). I examine the strongest extant objection to NN, and, with reference to ideas in Freedman (Philosophy of Science, 66 (Proceedings), pp. S526–S537, 1999), show how NN survives it. I then go on to outline two problems that really do compromise NN. The first revolves around Laudan's conception of the relationship between scientific values and the history of science. Laudan argues we can make sense of progress in science without seeing great scientists in the past as having held the cognitive values and methodological rules we hold today as important for science. I argue this is extremely implausible, and moreover that Laudan must see our values today as justified by reference to the values of past scientists if he is to avoid a pernicious form of relativism. The second problem with NN is that its conception of methodological rules—as hypothetical imperatives linking cognitive means to ends—is untenable. Such rules would not be needed in a scientific community; moreover it is doubtful whether they should class as rules at all. I conclude by suggesting that the distinction between cognitive means and ends which undergirds Laudan's view is intuitively not well founded, and in any case does not provide sufficient materials for a viable normative naturalized epistemology.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02698590220145106

Publication date: July 1, 2002

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