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Designing Epistemic Concepts

Luke E Elwonger, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The analysis and theorizing about concepts like “knowledge” and “justification” has played a central role in much of epistemology in the past half century. This dissertation argues for the claim that we should understand this conceptual concern as one of design. Concepts are tools and the concepts of interest to epistemologists must be those that we can best use in service of our epistemic interests. On this understanding of the conceptual project, we determine the content of epistemic concepts, not by consulting our naïve linguistic intuitions, but by determining what concepts will best help us express and enforce the epistemic norms that serve our interests. The determination of what concepts will do this job best will pull on information from many empirical sources like psychology and sociology. It will also require some means of determining what our epistemic interests are. In defending this view of the methodology of epistemology, we examine how one might go about designing and thinking about the purposes of an example epistemic concept: “epistemic ought”. We also consider how thinking about things from a design prospective can help in the determination of our epistemic interests by considering how design considerations feature in the debate between scientific realism and anti-realism. We also examine and respond to a few potential problems for this methodological view from Selim Berker’s arguments against epistemic teleology to problems with the design method’s potentially problematically self-undermining or self-reinforcing character.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Elwonger, Luke E, "Designing Epistemic Concepts" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13418780.