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Objectivism: Dual Foundationalism
and the Core of Objectivist Logic

The Nature of Epistemic Norms

PURPOSE: In what follows, I will explain the distinction between acting in accordance with a norm and acting by reference to a norm. While this topic may seem esoteric to some, it is of central importance to the establishment of a foundational theory of knowledge and justification, for without it, the nature of the "self-justification" of the elements of any foundation to knowledge must remain something mysterious, and in fact, must leave the elements of any given foundation to knowledge wide open to the charge of circular reasoning. I begin by explaining the distinction regarding norms in terms of the more easily understood distinction regarding "being justified" and "knowing that one is justified," but in contrast to A Distinction Regarding Justification, this article approaches the issue in terms of the empirical foundation. After establishing the correspondance between the two distinctions, I then explain the distinction regarding the relationship between norms and action in more fundamental terms.

One of the essential points in my theory is the view that there exists a distinction between acting in accordance with a norm and acting by reference to a norm. This distinction can be approached in terms of the distinction distinction between "being justified" and "knowing that one is justified." To use my earlier example, a baby who, upon looking at a ball, sees the the ball, and believes there is a ball, is justified in his belief that there is a ball. He must be justified, since, by the primacy of existence, this is where conceptual awareness must begin: with the material provided to us by means of perception.

If this level of conceptual awareness is not justified, then no justification can be transmitted to higher levels of conceptual awareness. However, he cannot be aware of the fact that he is justified at this point, for he is not aware of the problem of justication itself. "Justified" is an attribute of a state of conceptual awareness, but, given the primacy of existence, a child must begin with the awareness of the external world, not self-awareness, and certainly not with the awareness of attributes of awareness. Prior to his discovery of the senses, a child cannot even be aware of perceptual awareness, let alone conceptual awareness or its attributes or states.

Likewise, a child may be acting in accordance with an epistemic norm (whether by opening his eyes and beginning with external reality, or by integrating the material provided by his senses into concepts and generalizations) without being self-conscious of the process involved, and he must: awareness of such processes would involve too advanced a state of knowledge and cognition. But without such self-consciousness of the processes involved, he cannot be conscious of the fact that he is acting in accordance with a norm, and thus, it is impossible for him to be acting by reference to the norm: to act by reference to a norm, one must be aware of it.

Given this, we may conclude that while the identification of the justification for a given claim to knowledge may require one's awareness of an epistemic norm, both the justification and the knowledge may exist without one's awareness of the epistemic norm. But then, from where does justification arise? What is the cause of knowledge? And what is the nature of epistemic norms, such that action in accordance with them result in knowledge?

We are used to thinking of the acquisition of knowledge as a deliberate process: one acts by reference to certain principles of method in order to acquire knowledge. But, as I have argued, the acquisition of knowledge needn't necessarily be deliberate. Knowledge is the result of a process of cognition. If one acquires knowledge, it is only because one thinks. But cognition (or equivilently-- thinking) is a species of action. And as such, it is subject to the law of causality. And considering the issue from this perspective, we may say that knowledge is the causal effect of performing the act of cognition in a certain way. If one performs the act of cognition in a specific way, the causal consequences should be independent of one's intentions, and in fact, even of whether one was aware of the process at the time.

To help make this point clear, we may consider another form of action which we would normally think of as deliberate: that of a child dropping a ball. To begin, consider a child who is merely holding on to a ball. If he releases it, the ball will act in a certain way regardless of whether the child is aware of it or not. The child is startled by the slamming of a door. He looks away from the ball, releases it, and it falls to the ground. The effect of his action is exactly the same as if he had been looking at the ball and intended to release it. In fact, the effect is exactly the same as if he had intended to drop the ball. Whether he chose to or not, he released the ball, and by releasing it, dropped it. Furthermore, even if the child had intended the ball to rise, it would still have dropped. The consequences of his actions are independent of his intentions, and even independent of his awareness of his actions.

Likewise, if a child begins by forming concepts of objects in external reality, rather than by playing with ideas which he cannot relate to reality, the consequences (i.e., knowledge) will be the same whether he was acting by reference to any norm or not. And this is how a child must in fact begin: he knows of no alternative. After releasing a ball several times, he may arrive at the belief that if he releases it again, it will fall. His conclusion, which was arrived at by means of the evidence and a volitional process of induction, is justified, justified as the result of causal law.

Furthermore, it is justified, even if the child is neither aware of the process of induction, nor the existence of any norm directing him to perform the process of induction, nor of the fact that there exists any alternative to performing this process of induction. In fact, he may perform this process of induction, anticipating the consequences of releasing the ball (or the causal consequences of an even simpler process which he can perceive), independently of any form of self-awareness.

And at some point, he must. The first form of awareness which one is conscious of is perceptual awareness. However, perceptual awareness is not something which we perceive: what we perceive are objects existing in external reality. And it is only in relation to our psychologically-direct awareness of the objects of external reality that we are able to identify perceptual awareness.

I blink. My perceptual awareness of the room which I am presently in ceases to exist, and is then re-established. Blinking has a causal consequence: that of temporarily breaking my perceptual awareness of external reality. But when I look at external reality again, it is essentially the same as it was before, perhaps with the cat being only one step closer to her food dish.

Through an unselfconscious process of induction from a number of such instances and their association with the states of my sense-organs (i.e., my ears being covered, my eyes being shut, etc.), I become aware of a form of action through which I am aware of the objects of external reality, but which is itself not one of those objects: perception. Similiarly, much later in a child's cognitive development, it is by thinking initially about his use of words, which originally, he uses to refer to that which is present before him, but which he may use to refer to things which are not present before him, that he may discover conceptual awareness.

What I perceive is something which is presented to me as something which I am directly aware of: the ball. And I may perceive something else: it is rolling, rolling across the floor. I can anticipate where the ball will be next, unselfconsciously using the previous moments and the moments which immediately succeed them as instances for an induction. Such induction is simpler, for both the ball and its motion is something which I am directly aware of.

But in the case of the induction through which awareness of perception takes place, I am becoming aware of something which is not simply presented to me as something out in the world, on the basis of that which is presented to me out in the world: my hands seem to grow larger, until I no longer see the dog which was before me-- although I still hear it. Removing my hands from my eyes, I see the dog again. But as I cover my ears, the dog's barking seems to grow fainter and fainter.

I learn to distinguish between the object which, phenomenologically, is simply there before me, and my awareness of it. I become aware of my eyes as that with which I see, and my ears as that with which I hear. I become aware of the fact that I can perceive the length of a branch by seeing it with my eyes, or by feeling it with my hands. I become aware of the means of awareness, and the act of awareness, and the causal relationship which makes one the means to the other.

Now it is true that for those who are extremely inventive, such an interpretation of the evidence regarding perception (namely, that it is a form of action through which we are aware of things in the world, but that what we are immediately aware of are things in the world) need not immediately be accepted, for they can propose different interpretations of the same evidence. This is in fact the general case with inductive arguments: the process of induction is volitional.

Likewise, a child, upon seeing a ball rolling across the floor in a straight line, might, if he were old enough, be able to consider the possibility that it will suddenly swerve left in the next moment. And if he were a bit more inventive, consider the possibility that there is some defect in the floor which he cannot see because he is too far away. "Such things are possible," he might say. But if he entertains such thin-as-air possibilities seriously for long, such inventiveness, which could take him so far if properly applied (in both the field of cognition and action) will no longer be an asset to him.

By choosing the simplest theory or hypothesis, the child acquires knowledge. And if there is in fact a defect in the floor at some point, the very fact that that the ball swerves serves as evidence through which he may discover the defect. But if he simply chooses to entertain anything as possible, and commit himself to nothing, then the fact that the ball swerves serves will serve as evidence for nothing, for no evidence can by itself force the child to commit himself to any conclusion.

Likewise, other individuals may in fact simply refuse to present any interpretation of the evidence regarding perception whatsoever, in which case, they are not being inventive, but simply removing themselves from philosophic discourse. But assuming some individuals do in fact present an alternative interpretation, for such people, there exist other arguments.

Induction and other cognitive processes through which we extend our conceptual awareness are causal, and as such, subject to causal law. By recognizing such causal law through causal principles, and then acting by reference to such principles, we may acquire knowledge, just as we ordinarily use causal principles regarding external reality in order to acquire values necessary for human existence. However, by now, it should be clear that one can act in accordance with such principles without being aware of them, and thus act in accordance with them without acting by reference to them.

By the primacy of existence, we discover causality in the world prior to discovering it in ourselves. Likewise, in accordance with the principle of the metaphysical vs. the manmade, we discover causality in the realm of perception prior to discovering causal law as it applies in the realm of cognition. But causality does apply in the realm of cognition, and we may acquire knowledge of how it applies in the realm of cognition in the form of causal principles.

Now such causal principles regarding human cognition do not, in themselves, set the purpose of human cognition, and as such they lack to normative element To set the purpose of human cognition, we must identify the source of its normative element, and to do this, we must look elsewhere, namely, to the standard of objectivity. But with the standard of objectivity and the causal principles which identify the causal laws governing human cognition, we will be in the possession of the elements at the very core of a human epistemology: the epistemic norms, norms which tell us what we should do-- in order to acquire knowledge.

The Basic Idea Behind Dual Foundationalism
The Basis for Epistemic Normativity/ Notes
A Distinction Regarding Justification
The Nature of Epistemic Norms
The Core of Objectivist Logic
Reference Tables

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©1996 by Timothy D. Chase. All rights reserved.

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