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Normative epistemology

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P054-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

There are three kinds of normative work in epistemology. The first is the provision of epistemic advice, which offers guidance towards improving the cognitive condition of an individual or community. This advice often concerns science. Philosophers in the tradition of Francis Bacon have sought to identify and advocate proper forms of scientific research and explanation. More generally, according to some philosophers, a principal epistemological task is that of finding and recommending ways to improve the whole range of our individual and collective cognitive activities.

A second kind of epistemology is classified as normative because evaluative concepts figure in explanations. For example, A.J. Ayer explains knowledge partly in terms of having a right to be sure. Other evaluative notions enter into work in this category, such as intellectual duties, responsibilities and virtues. Some of these are specifically ethical notions; some are non-ethical evaluative notions such as proper cognitive functioning and intellectual excellence.

Epistemic concepts such as justification and rationality appear to be normative, or at least evaluative, in a way that contrasts with purely desciptive concepts. One tendency in naturalistic epistemology is to seek either to explain away this appearance or to reconcile it with a scientific worldview. Non-naturalistic efforts in epistemology commonly find no reason to undertake this project, and are consequently often counted as normative. Most historical epistemology is normative by this standard.

Citing this article:
Conee, Earl. Normative epistemology, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P054-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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