Chapter 4: Some Points from Epistemology and Philosophy of Science To Help Us Think
Chapter 4 Discussion Questions
Epistemology – Knowledge and Science
- Baer claims that American culture has few of the rites of passage common in most primitive cultures through which the adolescent learns to confront death. Why would this matter to environmental values? Do you agree with Baer’s claim? What do you think are the main rites of passage in contemporary American culture?
- Baer argues that Western culture has lost some of the balance between ratio and intellectus that was evident in previous eras. What are ratio and intellectus, and how do they relate to the different kinds of knowledge that Baer discusses? Do you agree with Baer’s suggestion that a better balance between ratio and intellectus would help us address environmental problems? Why or why not?
- Do you agree with Baer that in addition to new science and technology and the restructuring of political, economic, and social institutions, the healing of nature will come about only with the healing of persons? Why or why not?
- Baer says that Max Scheler argued that the practical requirements of survival, including the need to perpetuate the conquest of nature, helped shape the scientific perspectives that remain in force today, and that this results in a certain disregard for ethical, religious, and aesthetic dimensions of existence, in preference for what is measurable, quantifiable, and empirically verifiable? What do you think?
- Do you agree with Baer that “we have become woefully deficient in other kinds of understanding, including intuition, wisdom, and aesthetic, ethical, and religious understanding”?
- What do you think of Baer’s point about the aggressive view of the mind and intellectual processes that is revealed in university settings?
Knowledge Across the Spectrum: What Do We Know About Nature and Knowing?
- What are the strong points of the Allen Wood article on relativism? Do you find any flaws in his argument?
- Do you believe that you can say anything valid about moral questions in cultures other than your own? In light of the Allen Wood article, say why or why not.
- Why, according to Wood, is relativism self-refuting? If relativism is self-refuting, then what is the truth that relativists are trying to uphold?
- Is civilization possible without making judgments about other people and their actions?
- Why do you think the Western world, at least since the Enlightenment, has up until fairly recently so persistently defined knowledge as certainty?
- What does it mean to “know” something?
- Is it ever right to impose our moral judgments on others?
- What is autonomy? Do you consider it good to be autonomous?
- Discuss and evaluate Allen Wood’s argument in “Relativism” that relativism serves as an intellectual defense mechanism. “Relativism comes to the rescue by protecting my opinions (making them all ‘true for me,),” writes Wood. Do you agree with Wood when he says that relativism makes us tolerant of our own “intellectual cowardice, laziness, and incompetence”?
- Is scientific knowledge the only truly reliable knowledge we have? What other kinds of reliable knowledge can you think of?
- What moral imperatives are found among all human cultures?
- What is religion?
- What are the different ways we define “nature”?
- What is science?