Conservatism: toward a traditionalist normative epistemology

Burns, Ewan John (2020) Conservatism: toward a traditionalist normative epistemology. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Conservatism’s core claim is that traditions play an important, if not essential, role in the acquisition of normative knowledge. However, that thesis has never been adequately defended. Three things are missing from conservative political thought: a traditionalist account of propositional normative knowledge, an explicit and sustained positive argument for traditions’ role in the acquisition of normative knowledge, and deference to relevant work in other areas of philosophy, especially epistemology.

In this thesis, I provide an argument for conservatism which remedies each of these defects. I call it the Social Knowledge Argument. According to the Social Knowledge Argument, some beliefs formed out of deference to the traditions of one’s society constitute normative knowledge, since deference to the traditions of one’s society is a reliable process for normative belief formation in some societies. Deference to the traditions of one’s society is reliable in some societies because traditions are the outputs of cultural evolution and the latter tends to produce traditions that capture the demands of normative domains such as morality.

The Social Knowledge Argument constitutes a traditionalist account of propositional normative knowledge, is an explicit argument for traditions’ epistemic role, and utilises intellectual resources unavailable to previous generations of conservative writers. Specifically, the Social Knowledge Argument assumes a process reliabilist theory of knowledge, and these are of recent provenance, and while conservatives have always appealed to cultural evolution (consider Burke’s claim that society develops organically or Smith’s invisible hand analogy), I am able to draw on fully-fledged scientific accounts of cultural evolution which were unavailable to or neglected by previous conservative writers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: conservatism, tradition, normative epistemology, moral epistemology, political epistemology, relativism.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Supervisor's Name: Colburn, Professor Ben and Cowan, Dr. Robert
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Ewan Burns
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81427
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2020 07:02
Last Modified: 10 Jun 2020 07:05
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/81427

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