I discuss the role of translatability in philosophical justification. I begin by discussing and defending Thomas Reid’s account of the role that facts about comparative linguistics can play in philosophical justification. Reid believes that common sense offers a reliable but defeasible form of justification. We cannot know by introspection, however, which of our judgments belong to common sense. Judgments of common sense are universal, and so he argues that the strongest evidence that a judgment is a part of common sense is that it is to be found in all languages. For Reid, then, evidence that a certain distinction is to be found in all languages is evidence that the distinction is part of common sense rather than being a common local prejudice. From such a perspective, empirical work in comparative linguistics can play a defeasible justificatory role in philosophical arguments. I contrast Reid’s position with the more radical position of defenders of the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach, such as Anna Wierzbicka, who argues that only judgments that are translatable into all natural languages are justifiable. I show how such a position is rooted in an implausible view, although one common among cognitive scientists and linguistics, about the nature of concepts, which does not allow for novel concepts.
This paper defends a version of common sense epistemology, influenced by the work of Thomas Reid, according to which appeals to common sense can play a defeasible evidentiary role in philosophical arguments. Such a Reidian common sense epistemology is committed to a version of epistemic conservatism. Commonly epistemic conservatives offer an individualistic epistemology, arguing that if an individual believes a proposition the mere fact that the individual believes it provides it with a certain favorable epistemic status for him or her. In contrast, the form of epistemic conservatism defended in this paper is non-individualistic; if we are committed to something (for example, a particular ontological position or principle) then this gives my commitment to the thing a favorable epistemic status. The Reidian common sense epistemologist, then, thinks that there exists a shared common-sense metaphysics, including a common-sense metaphysics of mind, and our default position should be to accept the deliveries of this metaphysics. In disputes, the burden of proof lies with the opponent of common sense metaphysics, and unless we have positive reasons to reject the deliverances of common-sense metaphysics, we should endorse them. Thus, what I am calling Reidian Common Sense epistemology can be expressed by the following principle:Principle of Common Sense: If a commitment is a part of common sense, then it is incumbent upon the opponent of the position to provide positive reasons to reject the commitment…
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