A Controversy-Oriented Approach to the Theory of Knowledge

By Nicholas Rescher

Subjects: Pragmatism
Hardcover : 9780873953726, 128 pages, June 1977

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Table of contents



One. The disputational background of dialectic: the structure of formal disputation

1. Formal Disputation

2. The Structure of a Disputation

3. The Formal Analysis of Dialectical Moves and Countermoves in Disputation

4. Probative Asymmetries

5. The Microstructure of the Dialectic of Disputation

6. The Determination (Adjudication) of a Disputation

Two. Some dialectical tools: burden of proof, presumption, and plausibility

1. The Legal Origins of the Idea of Burden of Proof

2. Presumption and the Concept of a Provisionally Adequate Case

3. Presumption and Burden of Proof

4. The Locus of Presumption

5. Plausibility and Presumption

6. More on Presumptions

7. The Need for a Termination Process in Rational Controversy

Three. Unilateral dialectics: a disputational model of inquiry

1. The Shift from Disputation to a Cognitive Methodology of Inquiry

2. The Platonic Aspect of Dialectic

3. Dialectic as Evidential Cost-Benefit Analysis

4. A Digression on Written Exposition

5. The Isomorphism of the Disputational and Probative Versions of Dialectic

6. The Issue of Evaluation and Assessment

7. The Probative Isomorphism of Controversy and Inquiry

Four. Facets of "dialectical logic"

1. Introduction

2. The Tolerance of Selfcontradiction: Abandoning the Law of Contradiction

3. Curtailing the Consequences of Inconsistency: Abandoning "Ex falso quodlibet "

4. Potential Indeterminacy: Abandoning the Law of Excluded Middle

5. Constructive Negation: Abandoning the Law of Double Negation

6. Conclusion

Appendix 1: Recent Ventures in Inconsistency-Tolerant Logics

Appendix 2: Dialogue as an Instrument of Logical Exposition

Five. What justifies the dialectical rationale of probative rationality?

1. Acceptance and Probative Standards

2. Probative Mechanisms as Requisites of Rationality

3. Is Rationality a Matter of Ethics?

Six. A dialectically based critique of scepticism

1. Cognitive Scepticism

2. Scepticism and Rationality

3. The Role of Certainty

4. Scepticism and the Rules of Language

5. Scepticism and Praxis

6. Scepticism and the Methodological Turn

7. The Pragmatic Basis of Cognition

Seven. Evolutionary epistemology and the burden of proof

1. The Pragmatic-Evolutionary Justification of the Standards of Dialectical Rationality

2. Hume's Problem

3. Shifting the Burden of Proof Against the Sceptic

Eight. The disputational model of scientific inquiry

1. The Disputational Approach

2. Presumptions in Science

3. The Probative Significance of the History of Science

4. Confirmationism vs. Falsificationism

5. The Communal Aspect

Name Index

Subject Index


This book explores a disputational approach to inquiry. Such a focus on disputation is useful because it exhibits epistemological process at work in a setting of socially conditioned interactions. This socially oriented perspective reflects the anti-Cartesian animus of the dialectical approach to epistemology. It strives to avert the baneful influence of the egocentric orientation of recent approaches in the theory of knowledge.

The traditional and orthodox emphasis on the epistemological questions How can I convince myself? and How can I be certain? invites us to forget the fundamentally social nature of the ground rules of probative reasoning—their rooting in the issue of how we can go about convincing one another. The dialectic of disputation and controversy provides a useful antidote to such cognitive egocentrism by affording a point of departure in epistemology which blocks any temptation to forget the crucial fact that the buildup of knowledge is a communal enterprise subject to communal standards.

Nicholas Rescher is University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of The Coherence Theory of Truth, Methodological Pragmatism, Conceptual Idealism, and other publications.