The Aims of Inquiry and Cognition

May 25, 2012 - May 26, 2012
University of Edinburgh

United Kingdom

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Kristoffer Ahlstrom
University of Copenhagen
Stephen Grimm
Fordham University
Carolyn Price
Open University
Theodore Sider
Cornell University
Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen
University of Aarhus

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The idea of a teleology of inquiry is familiar to epistemologists from Aristotle's oft-quoted opening sentence of the Metaphysics, on which "all men by nature desire knowledge." The picture is complicated, however, as at least three distinct aims might be posited: mere knowledge (suggested by the letter of the slogan), understanding (which Aristotle takes to be knowledge of explanations), and understanding of fundamental causes and principles (which is what Aristotle is seeking in the Metaphysics). Other candidates for the aims of inquiry and cognition present themselves: mere true belief, revealing nature's fundamental structure, fitting the world or the situation, or the promotion of our practical or pragmatic goals.

Two related sets of questions arise here: the first having to do with the very idea that inquiry and cognition (and thought more broadly) have aims, and the second having to do with the nature of these aims. This conference seeks to advance the debate on these and related questions by bringing together scholars working in epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and philosophy of mind. Questions to be considered include:

  • Does cognition have an aim? What does it mean to say that cognition "aims" at something? Do mental states other than cognitive states have "aims"?
  • Is it a claim about the natural history of belief and/or the biological function of belief?
  • Does belief "aim at truth"? In what sense? Is the claim normative, and in what sense?
  • Are there aims essential to inquiry? Or to scientific inquiry? Is there a unique aim of inquiry, or are there a plurality of aims of inquiry? Are there aims of inquiry other than truth (e.g. understanding, "carving nature at the joints," empirical adequacy, etc.)? Are certain aims of
  • inquiry pragmatic as opposed to properly epistemic (e.g. theoretical virtues such as simplicity, elegance, etc.)?
  • Why is it appropriate to characterize inquiry as having a goal or aim?
  • Does the fact that belief or inquiry has a certain aim explain the value of knowledge? Does this fact illuminate the nature of epistemic evaluation?
  • Can metaphysical or methodological naturalists endorse a teleological conception of belief (and other mental states)? Do they or should they accept the idea that the concept of belief (or mentality in general) is normative?

Session speakers:

Anne Baril (University of New Mexico)
Jason D’Cruz (SUNY-Albany)
Miguel Ángel Fernández (National Autonomous University of Mexico)
Kareem Khalifa (Middlebury College)
Paul Noordhof (University of York)
Emily Sullivan (Fordham University)
Jan Willem Wieland (Ghent University)
Sam Wilkinson (University of Edinburgh)

Registration is free. If you'd like to attend the conference, please contact Allan Hazlett at [email protected]

The conference programme is now available at:

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May 25, 2012, 10:00am BST

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