Paper Example: Quine's Naturalism

Published: 2023-08-01
Paper Example: Quine's Naturalism
Essay type:  Definition essays
Categories:  Knowledge Philosophy Science
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1384 words
12 min read

Naturalistic epistemology is one of the approaches in studying the theory of knowledge that emphasizes the underlying methodologies, results, and methods within the realms of empirical sciences. Naturalistic Epistemology is opposed to the arguments which focus on the initial conceptual analysis or those that focus on a theory of knowledge. Such knowledge is free from specific scientific details, especially of mind-brain functions (Ebbs 2019). Its features are quite different concerning how empirical science and epistemology relate as well as the extent of their reliance on empirical science in developing theories about knowledge. The science they find to be quite relevant to the questions about epistemology. Willard Van Orman Quine is one of the Naturalistic epistemologists. They perceive epistemology as an aspect of psychology, whereas other scholars like Alvin Goldman regard it as if it needs aid from empirical sciences. However, other scholars, such as Thomas Kuhn, assert that it is better to apply social sciences to epistemology. Whichever the situation, the significance of epistemology is indispensable in the realms of naturalistic epistemologies.

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Quince’s Naturalistic Epistemology

Quine outlines that naturalism is "the recognition that it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described." In this ideology in science, two main points can be sighted: The first one is that it is less confining than it appears since Quine perceives the natural sciences as classical, more so physics. He asserts and generally uses the term ''science'' to include disciplines such as psychology, economics, history, and sociology. Secondly, Quine never perceives knowledge of science as distinct in any way from common knowledge but instead views it as the outcome of our endeavor to increase ordinary knowledge capacity. He quotes, “Science is not a substitute for common sense but an extension of it.” Quine claims that the scientist is inseparable from the ordinary person in the sense of evidence only that the scientist does it with lots of care, and is more inclined to facts and objectivity in a more systematic manner.

Quine is credited for starting the wave of the present-day naturalistic epistemology in his essay, ‘‘Epistemology Naturalized’’. He perceives epistemology in this essay as a branch of psychology and views epistemology and empirical sciences as if they are confining each other (Ebbs 2019). The uniqueness of Quine’s naturalistic epistemology erupts as soon as we begin to question the justification of naturalistic affirmation: can we reasonably presume that the accurate ways of acquiring knowledge about the world are strictly through scientific methods and techniques? This is since quite several philosophers would undoubtedly welcome the idea that scientific procedures and techniques are one of the reliable means of acquiring knowledge concerning worldview. Quine would claim that this affirmation must also be formed on the basis of natural science. Therefore, Quine's naturalism lacks foundations and can be said to be based on any other thing since the Philosopher embraces circularity.

The argument of Quine relies on three possibly contentious premises. First is confirmation holism- this is the perspective that only essential aspects of theory, other than individual assertions, are verifiable empirically. Secondly, Quine assumes that the primary concern in epistemology is explaining the underlying connection between methods and their pieces of evidence that are observable in nature. Third, Quine presumes that only two approaches can be used in this concern. One is to psychologically study ways in which people give theoretical output from sensory input, whereas the other is logically constructing people's conceptual vocabulary in receptive terms. Quine views the second approach to be stagnant, hence opting for psychology. Therefore, Quine holds that the human attempt at knowledge is subjected to standards of evidence and the displayable and implementable justification in the natural sciences, applying both to philosophy and other branches of knowledge.

The problem issue with Quine’s naturalistic epistemology is that he is more inclined to negative philosophy since he criticizes other philosophers. Although Quine does not disregard philosophical terms that several philosophers ignore in epistemology, he views them as meriting an objective place in science. One of the examples is his renowned criticisms of the idea of meaning in regard to the purpose of a specific statement (Smirnova 2018). Quine holds that sense is a notable entity of philosophy as well as scientific explanations and examinations, and is not suitable for rational as well as scientific classification and analysis. The terms that other philosophers deem fit in philosophy and more so in naturalistic epistemology, such as thought, belief, and experience, is entirely disregarded by Quine, and he holds that philosophers should not rely on them. He claims that such terms are insufficiently clear in epistemology, and the explanations are quite hard to comprehend, thereby impeding the progress of science.

Can we assume that epistemology can be wholly naturalized as Quine presumes? Epistemology in the present day continues to address pre-scientific questions such as ‘‘Are humans able to acquire self-knowledge as well as that of their environment? Or do they possess the knowledge that they claim to have? Such classical questions are assumed and need theorization on expertise for the effect that gives epistemology a distinct subject matter. There, therefore, still exist some scientific concerns which motivate the predominant epistemology. In the case of an attempt by the naturalists to directly tackle these questions, the questions naturally lead to questioning and answering them as well, in which classical epistemology is not easily eliminated hence creating a specific aspect of inquiry (Smirnova 2018). Quine would naturally hold that in as much as we don't reasonably tackle such questions, but rather handle them empirically using scientific methods in the realms of science. The fact that naturalistic epistemology uses empirical methods; it still possesses its subject matter.

Quine's Epistemology Naturalized evolved into gross incoherent conclusions in different versions. First, Quine compares traditional epistemology with Cartesian epistemology, which was outdated at the time he was writing it. Works such as rational constructions had already been abandoned by scholars when he wrote his essays. Furthermore, naturalistic Epistemology is also viciously circular. One of the significant functions of epistemology is to create a basis for the establishment of possible empirical knowledge that people may solely rely on as a source of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, Quine would have made epistemologists create free usage of the results of science from the beginning. He seeks a naturalistic account and creates an idea that people know about the world basically from the impacting forms of energy in people’s senses.

Moreover, how Quine responded to skepticism was not satisfactory. Skepticism mainly possesses the challenges that lead to the establishment of the possibility of knowledge hence using some methods of forming beliefs as well as common sense, and this is hardly able to strike the skeptic as genuine. Quine assumes that arguments that are skeptical unknowingly trade on illusions, therefore likely to appeal to common sense fair game. Fundamentally, naturalized epistemology should strive to challenge adequate reasons as to why people tend to accept certain beliefs. And such concerns can be formed without necessarily appealing to illusion. He asserts that the worldview can accommodate any human knowledge and that knowledge is a natural phenomenon with natural processes ignited by sensory stimulation. Hence, these stimulations lead to the formation of theories concerning the contemporary world, and the procedures scientifically studied for a better acquisition of knowledge.


Conclusively, the naturalistic epistemology of Quine is therefore held in psychology as a subdiscipline. Quine, however, maintains that there is a sense in which Naturalistic Epistemology is holding other branches of sciences (Ebbs 2019). People’s theories and beliefs regarding their environments, which comprise science, are part and parcel of the subject matter of epistemology. Since they hold each other, epistemology and other sciences can sometimes be refraining mutually. Therefore, our scientific theories should not only pass the epistemological roundup but also significantly fit with our different worldviews about science. The conception of how science and epistemology relate; is, therefore, vividly different from the significant epistemological viewpoints of classical science. Naturalistic Epistemology is presumably the most highly influential work of Quine.


Ebbs, G. (2019). Quine on the Norms of Naturalized Epistemology. In Science and Sensibilia by WV Quine (pp. 115-136). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Smirnova, N. (2018, July). Naturalistic Challenge to Contemporary Epistemology. In Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy (Vol. 75, pp. 209-214).

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