Contemporary epistemologists and philosophers of science invoke the term naturalism frequently enough that it is worth pausing to take inventory of the various kinds of views to which this label is applied. Mine is by no means the first effort of this sort. In fact, I take Kitcher*s *The Naturalists Return* as a starting point for my analysis. The naturalists have indeed returned, but often enough the welcoming party has been less than cordial. My task is to sort through the central arguments for and against naturalism in order to determine which, if any, forms of naturalism are viable.
Although naturalisms abound, the most significant distinction, which naturalists themselves do not always acknowledge, is between epistemological and metaphysical naturalism. We might also refer to this same distinction in terms of methodological and ontological naturalism. Epistemological or methodological naturalism is a claim about how we ought to investigate the world. Briefly, it is the belief that how we should engage in epistemic and scientific pursuits depends on how we actually can and do reason given our perceptual and cognitive faculties. In contrast, metaphysical or ontological naturalism is focused less on the human condition and more on the world itself. It is not merely a claim about how we know but also a claim about what there is to know. According to this version of naturalism, the world is comprised of, and only of, empirically knowable physical phenomena.
The best arguments against naturalism attack the metaphysical or ontological thesis and do little to undermine epistemological or methodological naturalism. However, both naturalists and their critics occasionally overlook this distinction. Since the relationship between epistemological and metaphysical naturalism is neither obvious nor necessary, a good argument against either version does not refute the other. I therefore argue that we should abandon the dogmatic assumption to which both naturalists and their critics silently adhere. I then argue in favor epistemological or methodological naturalism and explain why I am agnostic regarding metaphysical or ontological naturalism.
Copyright © Mimi Marinucci