I had the great pleasure of listening to Susan Haack today. Her talk was entitled “Epistemology: Who Needs It?” (see the abstract below). She was wonderfully lucid and engaging without ever coming over as dry or pompous nor losing her stance as a “passionate and unfashionable moderate.” She would be the perfect ambassador for the public understanding of science. Susan must rate as one of the greatest female philosophers around whose expertise ranges from the highly technical to the very accessible. To her credit she has never portrayed herself in clichéd “I’m a female philosopher therefore I’m a feminist philosopher” terms. Her intellectual honesty and openness is beyond reproach. Susan is also a most generous person. She kindly agreed to participate in the first issue of EPISTEME that I edited. Not only that, she hopped off a plane in London for the launch of EPISTEME from China feeling like crap and being the trooper that she is, delivered her paper without any indication of her discomfort. She also participated in the EPISTEME Dartmouth conference three years ago – see her paper here. My favourite book of hers is admittedly not her best one – but it somehow captures her – Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate. Her best and most challenging book is Evidence and Inquiry.
Epistemology: Who Needs It?
This reflection on the real-world relevance of epistemological ideas begins with the thought that all of us—when we wonder what to make of newspaper reports of supposed medical breakthroughs, of failures of military intelligence, etc., etc.— call, implicitly or explicitly, on epistemology; and shows how an understanding of, e.g., the differences between genuine inquiry and advocacy research, the nature of wishful and fearful thinking, and the material character of the relevance and its bearing on what relevant evidence we may be missing, can illuminate the ways in which inquiry can go wrong and evidence can mislead us.