Professor Paul Forster (University of Ottawa)

“Pragmatism or Logical Analysis: Is the "Science of Science" a Science?”
vendredi, 24 janvier 2020 - 2:30 pm5:00 pm
Denis Dumas
613 562-5800
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John Dewey (1859-1952) and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) share the view that significant progress in philosophy is attainable by the scientific method.  Yet they disagree profoundly about what scientific philosophy requires.

Dewey thinks philosophy properly informed by science reveals Russell’s epistemology to be bankrupt, Russell’s account of the human epistemological condition having been thoroughly discredited by behavioural science.  For him, there is no scientific basis for Russell’s contentions that there is a general problem concerning the possibility of knowledge of the external world and that this knowledge justified by self-evident reports of first-person experience.

In defence of his epistemology, Russell insists that his views about the foundations of empirical knowledge remain cogent even granting the biological and psychological premises of Dewey’s critique.  To his way of thinking, Dewey does not so much dissolve philosophical questions about the foundations of knowledge as ignore them, having failed to appreciate that they are forced on us by contemporary physics and physiology.  

I claim that the debate between Dewey and Russell is more profound and intractable than either of them acknowledges.  On the one hand, Dewey misunderstands Russell's epistemological project and so his criticisms miss their mark.  On the other hand, Russell misidentifies the source of Dewey's confusion and so fails to appreciate the full force of Dewey's challenge to his epistemology.  On my reading, these mutual misunderstandings are no accident.  They rest on deeper views about the nature of philosophical questions and how they are settled, views that are part and parcel of the conceptions of knowledge in dispute.  In light of this,  I conclude that the disagreements between Russell and Dewey about epistemology are not scientific—at least, not in either Dewey’s or Russell’s sense of this term.