Sunday, August 14, 2016

Knowledge as Intersubjective Agreement, a Quickie

There are matters for which we have methods that allow for “tight” intersubjective agreement. There are other matters which no known methods allow for “tight” intersubjective agreement. Science and math are as tight as these things get. Perhaps the revealed truths of religion are up there, but those truths turn out to be endlessly open to interpretation, and that can lead to sectarian divisions, which in turn give rise to some of the bitterest conflicts we’ve got. Then we’ve got simple matters like whether or not it’s raining outside. How do we settle those kinds of questions? We look out the window or step outside. Such matters generally yield intersubjective agreement.

And that, it seems to me, is the point: intersubjective agreement. That’s necessary if we are to speak of knowledge. But knowledge comes in all kinds, for there are many ways of reaching intersubjective agreement.

I am of the view that the rock-bottom basic requirement for knowledge is intersubjective agreement. Depending how that agreement is reached, it may not be a sufficient condition, but it is always necessary. Let’s bracket the general issue of just what kinds of intersubjective agreement constitute knowledge. I note however that the various practices gathered under the general rubric of science are modes of securing the intersubjective agreement needed to constitute knowledge.

As far as I know there is no one such thing as scientific method – on this I think Feyerabend has proven right. Science has various methods. The practices that most interest me at the moment were essential to Darwin: the description and classification of flora and fauna. Reaching agreement on such matters was not a matter of hypothesis and falsification in Popper’s sense. It was a matter of observing agreement between descriptions and drawings, on the one hand, and specimens (examples of flora and fauna collected for museums, conservatories, and zoos) and of creatures in the wild.

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