Epistemology is a highly abstract subject that centers on the study of knowledge. Questions in epistemology include, ‘What is it to be justified in believing something?’ and, ‘What are the sources of knowledge?’ Although epistemology is a highly abstract subject, it is a discipline that is taken for granted in everyday living. In particular, academic papers require certain epistemic standards, including requirements that stem from MLA, APA and Chicago formatting. The papers I wrote in this class asserted certain propositions as true and thus, require epistemic justification. The intent of this paper is to highlight how I came to acquire the knowledge purported in the papers “The Treatment of Animals” and “Marketing Investigated.” Many of the truth claims purported in these essays depended upon the reliability of certain sources, personal experience and properly basic beliefs—beliefs that can be rationally assumed without evidence.
The first essay, “The Treatment of Animals” did not document sources. Rather, it depended upon certain truths claims that are intuitively plausible. In the absence of counter evidence, these truth claims can be rationally accepted. In epistemology, truth claims that can be accepted in the absence of counter evidence are known as “properly basic beliefs.” Examples of properly basic beliefs include belief in the reality of the external world, other minds and the existence of God. These beliefs are based upon experience rather than empirical confirmation.
In my essay, I claimed that what matters with respect to morality is not whether a being is merely part of the species homo sapiens but whether that being can suffer. Since ethics is a conceptual system used to determine what is right and wrong that cannot be empirically verified, we must look to the way our moral intuitions pump in certain thought experiments.
In reaching the conclusion that animals are morally significant, I relied upon certain thought experiments that pumped my moral intuitions in a certain direction. The most notable of these thought experiments was attributed to the philosopher Peter Singer. Singer has us imagine a person beating a horse. He then imagines that the abused horse is substituted with a mentally handicap person with a reasoning capacity equivalent to a horse. Most of us have a moral denunciation for anyone beating a mentally handicap person. So why is it not the case with respect to the horse who shares an equal capacity to suffer? The point of Singer’s thought experiment is not to degrade mentally handicap people to the status of horses. Rather, the point to be hammered is that what matters with respect to morality is not whether a being is intelligent but whether it can suffer. Of course, I cannot empirically justify this statement. Rather, I rely on certain moral intuitions that most people share to help guide my ethical beliefs.
An objection brought forth in the essay is that we do not know if animals actually suffer in the same way humans suffer. However, I argued it is more reasonable to act on the assumption that animals do suffer than they don’t suffer, in the same way that it is better for me to act on the assumption that other human minds exists. In addition, complex life forms exhibit automatic stimuli equivalent to the way in which we exhibit automatic stimuli to the external environment. Given that humans and non-human animals both evolved a nervous system from a common ancestor, it is not unreasonable to assume that the higher animals really do contain an equivalent capacity to suffer. Therefore, the assertion of these claims was brought about by a priori reasoning rather than empirical confirmation.
In contrast, my other essay, “Marketing Investigated,” did not center on moral intuitions that most of us shared. Therefore, it required appealing to a different standard of epistemic justification. Rather than relying upon moral intuitions, I depended upon the authoritative expertise of other people. However, the sources used for this paper were by no means arbitrary. Many of the references used were based upon research conducted by professors at elite universities. More importantly though, the papers referenced went through a peer review process. Not only were the author’s an expert in their respected field, but the articles has been critiqued by their “epistemic peers.” This does not mean that everything the authors wrote were correct. However, the peer review process helps minimize the risk of errors and thus, gives the paper more epistemic warrant.
Another source in the essay used was personal testimony. I referenced the personal testimony of the senior marketing major Jennifer Lloyd, who accounted the necessary courses for marketing majors in business school. Lloyd was a reliable source on the grounds that she was a senior marketing major, meaning she had taken most of the necessary courses for her major. Although personal testimony is the least reliable source of evidence in a court of law, Lloyd was not under the testimonial pressures in a court of law. In particular, Lloyd had no motive to lie about her experience as a marketing major. In addition, the courses necessary for the major can be cross confirmed by the major requirements listed at the Business School. Thus, the accumulation of personal testimony coupled with peer reviewed essays gave the claims made in “Marketing Investigated” epistemic warrant.
In conclusion, there are different standard of epistemic justification that depend upon the context of the paper. “The Treatment of Animals” centered on morality. Since ethics cannot be put in a test tube, I relied upon plucking the heart strings of the reader in the appropriate moral direction. In contrast, “Marketing Investigated” was based upon methods used in the market place. The success of certain marketing strategies can be empirically confirmed. In documenting those that do succeed, the paper referenced reliable source and personal testimony. Thus, although both papers were epistemic ally justified, the standards of epistemic justification varied.