Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Contact Epistemology: Causal vs Representational

What I'll call "Contact Epistemology" is the epistemological view which imposes a necessary constraint on an agent's having knowledge (of some putative kind of entity), something along the lines of this:
(CE) An agent knows about $F$s only if the agent's mind is in contact with the (or some) $F$s.
Many philosophers have insisted on something like this, and required that the "contact" between the agent's mind and $F$s should be causal contact: this kind of constraint is widely assumed amongst naturalistic epistemologists. But it is what leads to so many ...
Access Problems in Epistemology
(Mathematics) If we are not causally connected to abstract entities, how can we know about them?
(Morality) If we are not causally connected to moral properties & states of affairs, how can we know about them?
(Modality) If we are not causally connected to merely possible worlds, how can we know about them?
But it seems to me that there are reasonable alternatives to this. For one might instead simply require that the agent's mind be in representational contact, rather than causal contact. For example, for my cognitive system to know about:
  • the future, 
  • or the distant past,
  • or not directly (e.g., visually) observable physical entities,
  • or moral properties, 
  • or abstract entities, 
  • or merely possible states of affairs, 
it might not be necessary that my cognitive system be causally connected to them (the future, distant past, unobservables, or moral properties, or abstract entities, or merely possible states of affairs), but it might be necessary that my mind represents these.

If so, contact epistemology may be disambiguated into at least two very different views about knowledge:
Causal Contact Epistemology
An agent knows about $F$s only if the agent's mind is in causal contact with the (or some) $F$s.
and:
Representational Contact Epistemology
An agent knows about $F$s only if the agent's mind is in representational contact with the (or some) $F$s. 

3 comments:

  1. So a causal-contact is an experiment-based contact, whereas
    a representational-contact is a theory-based contact?

    And, if so, then any causal-contact is a representational-contact and not vice versa?

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  2. Antonio,

    Casual contact would involve the Fs themselves triggering the cognitive representation somehow, causally. For example, our representations of cats might well be caused by cats. But this needn't be a carefully planned as an experiment. This is closely connected to "semantic externalism".

    Representational contact is merely having the representation---even if it wasn't caused by contact with the Fs. It is more like having the concept of the Fs. For example, if I know that Halley's comet will return to the vicinity of Earth in 2061, then I cannot know this by the event itself causing my cognitive representation of it, for the event lies in the future, and cannot cause my present mental states.

    So, yes, one might have representational contact without causal contact.

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ok, got it. And agreed. Thanks

    ReplyDelete