An epistemology of engagement


R Rorty
C Taylor


Within the viewpoint of representationalist epistemology it is assumed that objects can be represented in the mind or in language by rebuilding images of these objects from foundational ideas. In this article I examine the resistance to this depiction in an ongoing debate between Rorty and Taylor. Taylor argues that we should overcome the disengagement in what he sees as representationalism’s dualism of two mutually exclusive assumptions. The first assumption is the solipsist notion that our ideas can be formed without reference to the world outside the mind. According to the second tenet, however, it is paradoxically also assumed that these inner ideas are representations of the world. Because Rorty mainly targets the element of foundationalism in representationalism, he seems to argue that all we are able to know are our perspectives. I argue (in line with Taylor’s line of thought) that this view implies that Rorty leans towards solipsism and thus remains under the spell of representationalism. Taylor, on the other hand, partially accepts the strong grip of perspectives on our knowing but simultaneously devises the concept of “preunderstanding” to get beyond perspectivism. I argue that Taylor’s thinking may still leave us with a mild foundationalism. However, the holism he assumes, can be used in a re-formed way to bring us a step closer to overcoming the representationalist dualism, and to steer us in the direction of an epistemology of engagement.

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