G. Naturalism & Normativity > New to JB Library: James Maffie's Ethnoepistemological Critique of Veritism

Critics of veritism have advanced several arguments. Thomas Kelly argues against the adequacy of the instrumentalist conception of epistemic normativity it is associated with in Alvin Goldman's account. Pragmatists remind us that our interest is in interesting truths, and that having true beliefs and avoiding false ones are not synonymous goals, issuing always into the same epistemic advice. And responsibilists, of course, have typically argued against the epistemic value monism, or monistic epistemological axiology it presupposes (Goldman & Olsson are explicit that the defense of veritism is a version of, and therefore requires a more general defense of epistemic value monism).

New JBer Jim Maffie offers a different critique of veritism in two papers now included in JB Library. Both derive from the comparative approach of "Ethnoepistemology." In his "Why Care about Nezahualcoyotl?:
Veritism and Nahua Philosophy," Maffie writes that "In keeping with his naturalistic approach to epistemology, Goldman advances veritism as an a posteriori thesis about human epistemic practices." Maffie's criticism is focused around this point, as "In what follows I assess the a posteriori plausibility of veritism against the philosophical contributions of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples of Mexico at the time of the Conquest" (1521). Through comparison of epistemic practices, Maffie exposes what he then argues that veritism employs as universals what ethnoepistemology reveals as culturally-specific, 'thick' conceptions of truth (a semantic conception), knowledge (theoretical not practical; knowing 'that' not 'knowing how,' etc., etc., and of epistemology itself (the proper concerns of epistemology & the 'epistemology is the theory of knowledge' claim, as found in other ardent veritists like Marian David in his exchange with Kvanvig in the Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (2005) collection from Blackwell.

One of veritism's faults that Maffie thinks ethnomethodology reveals is that by thickly "defining the practice of epistemology per se in terms of a particular normative level theory about the nature of knowledge [veritists] commit the fallacy of treating a normative level claim as a meta-epistemological level claim." ("Ethnoepistemology") On issues such as these that bear upon the question of what kind of claim, desciptive or normative, veritism should be construed as, Maffie develops the following dilemma for Goldman's veritism:

"My discussion focuses upon the Nahuatl word standardly translated as "truth": neltiliztli. I argue that translating neltiliztli poses the following dilemma for veritism. Either: (a) we translate neltiliztli as "truth" and so attribute a concept of truth to the Nahuas; or (b) we do not translate neltiliztli as "truth" and deny a concept of truth to the Nahua. If (a) then veritism is false. Why? The Nahua did not understand truth semantically in terms of correspondence; they understood truth in terms of well-rootedness-cum-alethia. Truth as well-rootedness-cum-alethia enjoys a better fit with central components of Nahua philosophy including its metaphysics, philosophy of language, epistemology, and underlying problematic. If (b) then veritism is also false. If the Nahua did not have a concept of truth, then they did not have a semantic concept of truth. In either case, veritism is false."

Comments on this or other current critiques of veritism?
August 6, 2007 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell